That’s Entertainment: A Review Of David F. Ross’ Welcome To The Heady Heights…

It’s always a risk when a writer leaves well-loved characters and places behind to move on to something new. David F. Ross completed his ‘Disco Days Trilogy’ with 2017’s The Man Who Loved Islandsa fitting end but one which left both writer and reader questioning what he would do next. The answer to that is now with us in the shape of Welcome To The Heady Heights, (Orenda Books) and from the opening chapter it is clear that everyone can relax, sit back, and enjoy.

It’s a novel which gets to the heart of ’70’s Glasgow, capturing, and revelling in, the city’s wit, wisdom and widoes, and using them to examine human frailty and institutional corruption at its worst. Corporation busconductor Archie Blunt is a man with a mission, a proud Glaswegian who understands the city and those who bide there, and is glad to do so. When he find himself out of work and, at the age of 52, running out of time, he feels that life is in danger of passing him by. The one thing he has going for him is that he knows where the bodies are buried and who has dirt on their shoes, and starts to realise that such knowledge may be his best hope.

This set-up allows David Ross to turn his ever-so-dark humour and coruscating eye to the second city of the Empire and the decade of flares and Findus Crispy Pancakes, and it proves to be the perfect pairing. For those who are already a fan of his writing they will be familiar with the way he uses comedy, and often controversy, to examine and comment on matters serious. While having a ball with his memorable array of characters running amok, a central theme is the systemic abuse of minors by members, often well-loved, of the apparently respectable establishment, particularly with regard to the entertainment industry.

As much outraged as outrageous, you can’t shake the feeling that Ross writes in part to vent anger and frustration at the darkness and desperation of some people’s lives, and at those who would take advantage of them – often without a second thought. And while there is clear commentary on the highly-publicised sex scandals of Savile, Glitter, Clifford, et al., more current concerns are broached such as the continued march of celebrity culture, the myth that we are all due ’15 minutes of fame’, and how the spate of TV talent shows continue to exploit the young and vulnerable.

Archie becomes the driver to Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, a well-known TV presenter who, it quickly becomes clear, will never turn down the chance to debase and defile when opportunity knocks. He plans, along with other members of the mysterious ‘Circle’, to turn the landmark Great Eastern Hotel, (the infamous drop-in for Glasgow’s homeless and destitute), into the first Heady Hotel, a place to lure the unsuspecting and susceptible.

You may think this premise too outrageous to be believed, but when you consider the actions of those icons named above and their like, and how institutions and officialdom, knowingly and unknowingly, facilitated their terrible desires then, if anything, it is all too believable. These men see themselves as untouchable, above the law.

It is this hubris that Archie seeks to exploit, using the knowledge he has to help promote his hastily formed boy-band, The High Five – ‘Satan’s Bagpipes’ being sadly rejected as a name. This is his last chance of becoming a success, someone of whom his father could be proud, a desire which leads him to make a series of questionable decisions. As the stakes for everyone get higher the pace quickens and the tension ramps up to such an extent that you are left breathless by the end.

As evocative of the ’70s as Alvin Stardust riding a Chopper, Welcome To The Heady Heights is where those well-known Williams, Connolly and McIlvanney, meet. Ross uses Glasgow’s infamous No Mean City reputation as the backdrop to a story which lifts the lid on the worlds of showbuisness and politics and finds what lies beneath rotten. It’s one of the most thoroughly and unapologetically enjoyable novels you’ll read this year – riotous, courageous, and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s also gritty, gallus and Glaswegian to its core – with Welcome To The Heady Heights David F. Ross has given us a novel to revel in.

*This review is part of the Welcome To The Heady Heights Blog Tour, and you can read what other people think by visiting the blogs and websites mentioned below…

Music Matters: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To L-space…

L-space

For the latest podcast Ali spoke to Lily, Gordon and Dickson from L-space who are, as regular readers of SWH! will know, one of our favourite bands. Their album, Kipple Arcadia (on LNFG – see below) was one of the best debuts of recent times and no discerning home should be without it. The talk moves in many directions, including discussions on expectation versus reality, how their sound and songwriting developed, contrapuntal melodies, the thinking behind the themes explored in the music, all things kipple, and what the future may hold, not just for the band but for all of us.

Kipple Arcadia

The sign of a good podcast is that time flies, either when recording or listening, and if this theory holds up then you are in for a treat. There are also fine examples of the music they make with ‘Home Sweet Home’ opening proceedings and the exclusive play of two new tracks, ‘Moving Traffic Overhead’ and ‘Waking Up Bathed In The Light Of Things You Can’t Afford’ bringing things to a fitting conclusion. Quite simply, this is a podcast not to miss.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

Our next podcast will be with you very soon as it’s a Glasgow Film Festival special, so don’t go too far…

Lights, Camera, Action!: A Preview Of Glasgow Film Festival 2019…

If it’s February in Glasgow it can only be the Glasgow Film Festival, the perfect place for the more discerning film fans to take shelter from the storm while enjoying the best cinema has to offer, old and new.

Running from tomorrow (20th February) to Sunday 3rd March, it’s a festival which over the years has firmly established itself as one of the very best around. Scots Whay Hae! will be in attendance to review the best of what’s on, but before it all kicks off here is our annual preview.

2019’s programme has so much to recommend it we couldn’t possibly do anything other than make some considered suggestions here, but you can and should download the full brochure, settle back, and peruse at your leisure.

However, before you do here’s a taste of what’s on offer:

You can keep updated throughout the festival on Facebook and on Twitter @glasgowfilmfest #GFF19 and you can sign up the the GFT Enewsletter which is not only essential for the festival, but all year round.

To whet appetites even further, here are the trailers for 10 films to look forward to. They include some of the best Scottish features at this year’s festival, as well as a few other highlights.

To find out more and buy tickets, click on the films’ titles.

Beats (N/C 18+)

The Science of Ghosts (N/C 12+)

Scotch – The Golden Dram (PG)

Prophecy (N/C 15+)

Final Ascent (N/C 12+)

Vox Lux (N/C 18+)

Luz (N/C 15+)

Under the Silver Lake (15)

The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion (N/C 18+)

Midnight Cowboy (15)

Sunday Service: A Review Of The Sonnet Youth Showcase At The Tron…

Sunday afternoons – for some of us they’ve never been the same since Archie McPherson, Glen Michael and Palladin hung up their boots. There’s only so much Bargain Hunt, Songs of Praise and old Bond films you can take, and these days there are more stall holders than punters if you fancy a wander round the Barras. Sunday afternoons have become a weekly dead-zone. We need change!

This Sunday, at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, Sonnet Youth were in the house to save the day. It was the last event of their Tron Weekender where they had put on various poetry reading, theatre, spoken word events and more over three days. You could have expected that their Sunday Matinee Showcase could have been an excuse for everyone to relax and recover. Not a bit of it.

For those of you who don’t know, Sonnet Youth events are hosted and curated by Cat Hepburn and Kevin P. Gilday, both accomplished performance and published poets in their own right. They describe what they do as a Spoken Word House Party, but that description only scratches the surface.

Sunday’s Showcase was an exemplary summary of what they do. Sonnet Youth are driven by a love of the performing arts and poetry and a desire to share the best of it with like-minded folk. As well as the usual fine readings from our hosts there was a personal, poignant and often funny performance from the excellent poet Angie Strachan, music from the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter/guitarist Heir Of The Cursed (who is surely destined to be huge) before finishing with comedy from Christopher Macarthur-Boyd – fresh from supporting Jason Manford in Manchester.

If you missed it then you missed out as rarely has two hours passed so fast and entertainingly, particularly in the Twilight Zone of Sunday afternoon. Don’t make the same mistake again as Sonnet Youth have got the creation and curation of their events down to a fine art.

You don’t have to wait long as they have a shows at Drygate in Glasgow on 20th Feb, the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh on 21st Feb, as well as being at Phillies of Shawlands on the 2nd Thursday of every month with Sonnet Youth Scratch which allows established artists to try new material and open mic slots for anyone who wants to perform. Listen up as Sonnet Youth deserve your attention – Scotland’s cultural landscape would be far less interesting if they weren’t around.

Follow Sonnet Youth on Twitter
Follow Sonnet Youth on Facebook

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

In most cities January is a month where people take things easy, but not in Glasgow where Celtic Connections looms large and there are still loads of other nights out to consider. It’s as if the city says, “New year, is it? Bring it on!”. So last month was packed with great gigs including the launch of Sister John’s new album at SWG3, an Olive Grove Records Showcase, a rare and righteous live sighting of The Sweetheart Revue, Broken Chanter playing with a full band, and all our yesterdays with Goosebumps: Marina Records 25th Anniversary Concert.

But that didn’t stop the new music getting through, and there are some very special treats awaiting you below, including at least two year defining records with which we have fallen head-over-heels in love There’s unforgettable ambient, classic power pop, the return of musical superheroes, the continued form of future superstars, two of the finest singers around, and even more. We are sure you’ll find something to please you. Starting with this…

One of the finest show of this year’s Celtic Connections was Andrew Wasylyk and full band (and what a band!) at Glasgow’s Blue Arrow. They were there to play songs from his latest album The Paralian, which is the result of Wasylyk’s time as an artist-in-residence at Hospitalfield, an arts centre and historic house in Arbroath. What started out as an idea to write music for a restored 19th century harp blossomed into a full set of songs with horns, strings, synthesizers, and piano.

The resulting record is quite astonishing. You could describe it as a concept album, taking it’s influences from the land and the sea (a paralian being someone who lives by the sea). You can certainly hear echoes of the ambient works of, among others, Brian and Roger Eno, Harold Budd, and Robert Wyatt, but The Paralian is very specific to place while feeling timeless. What I can say is that it is one of the finest records I have heard this year, and in many a year, and I can’t see you disagreeing with that conclusion any time soon. From it this is ‘Mariner’s Hymn’:

You wait a while for one beautiful album which makes the world a better place and then two come along at once. Blair Coron’s On The Nature Of Things is not so much a recording, more an artistic declaration of a personal philosophy, a musical thesis on a life lived and lessons learned. That is shown in the care and attention which Coron has given to the presentation and packaging of the album which is an extension of the record itself. Go and order a copy if you want to know what I mean. His heart and soul is in these songs. On The Nature Of Things is incredibly personal, and clearly means the world to him.

I’m delighted to say it also means the world to me, and it will to you. It’s the most intimate and exquisite music. The title track alone, all 20 minutes of it, is just sublime. Music this special doesn’t come along that often, despite the review of The Paralian above. The fact that the first records to feature this month are destined to be personal favourites is not the norm. It just so happens that in January of 2019 two albums have been released which deserve, no demand, your attention and devotion. We are living in special times so grab them while you can. From On The Nature If Things this is ‘Olives & Marzipan’:


Later this month in Glasgow, then Edinburgh and Dundee, The Dark Carnival comes to town. It’s the name of a new show from Vanishing Point and A New International theatre companies, and it promises “A music and theatre spectacle, The Dark Carnival features sixteen performers and musicians. They tell the story of newcomers to the afterlife who discover that death is not actually the end. Incredulous at their continuity, they form their own necropolitan community where every night is party night: songs get sung, love gets made and whisky flows.” Now, that sounds like a SWH! night out. From it this is ‘Necropolitan’, and it is reminiscent of Brecht, Weill, and even the sainted Tiger Lillies. Embrace the dark side and we’ll see you in the cheap seats:

We try to be optimistic on these pages but that’s not always an easy stance to take. A spring in your step and a smile on your face can be hard to maintain in times such as these. Desperate measures are required and it’s the perfect time to send the call out to Bis. Pop music may not be able to save us but it certainly makes things a whole lot better. One of the most influential Scottish bands of the last 30 years, they have a new album, Slight Disconnects, released on Last Night From Glasgow and I can tell you it’s reassuringly braw and brilliant. Throw your hats in the air cos Bis are back. From the album, this is ‘Sound Of A Heartbreak’:

In what seems like no time at all OK Button are already on to their third single. It’s called ‘Flesh & Blood’ and it continues their flawless run of singles. It also helps to build a fuller picture of who they are as a band, and what’s emerging is one who refuse to be ignored, who resolutely tackle the personal and the political in their music, and for whom what they do is integral to who they are. If there is any justice in this world OK Button are going to be huge in 2019. In fact, even though justice may be thin on the ground I would still bet on that happening. Classy and classic from head to toe, but with a sting in the tale, this is ‘Flesh & Blood’:

An interesting development over the last couple of years is record labels collaborating on releases. In Scotland this seems to be driven by our good friends and regulars on these pages Last Night from Glasgow who have been working with other labels to make sure releases happen. Annie Booth’s An Unforgiving Light was on LNFG & Scottish Fiction, and later this year they & Olive Grove Records will release the debut Broken Chanter album (an early version of which I have heard and it’s just phenomenal).

LNFG have now got together with Little Tiger to release Fenella’s album A Gift From Midnight which, although it’s not out till March, you can pre-order here. I was lucky enough to see them as support to the previously mentioned Marina Records 25th Anniversary show at Celtic Connections and it was a great introduction to a band who make music unlike anyone else in Scotland at the moment. What hits you first, and what stays with you, is the voice, but there’s a hell of a lot more going on. This is an artist to get excited about as you can’t be sure just what is going to happen next. But you don’t have to worry about that for now, enjoy the here and now. From the album, this is ‘I Will Not Win’:

I hope you’re in the mood for some classic power pop – the kind that Scottish bands seem to do particularly well. Think Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits, Eugenius, The Pearlfishers, and so on. Attic Lights deserve their place in that pantheon, and the new album, the excellently titled Love In The Time Of Shark Attacks, proves this. It’s a record with so many hooks you could do yourself an injury, with every track pulling its weight to make a memorable whole. If what you are looking for is an album of timeless, classic, pop songs then this is the record for you. From it, this is ‘Come Back To Me’:

I’m going to end with the sublime sound of singer songwriter Cara Rose. The song is ‘In My Head’, recorded live at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and it shows clearly what makes Cara so special. Hers is a voice which is a thing of beauty, an instrument in itself, and having it accompanied simply by piano shows this clearly and to full effect. When you are this good, when you sound this good, that’s all you need. This is a track which you can’t just listen to once – it will stay with you. Try it and see if I’m not right. This is Cara Rose and ‘In My Head’:


That’s all for this month, but if you enjoy these reviews Ali now has a weekly radio show on LP Radio where he plays two hours of the best Scottish music every Monday night. You can find out how to listen here…

Being Boiled: A Review Of Alan Trotter’s Muscle…

One of the joys of reviewing on these pages is that every now and again you are sent a novel about which you know nothing, and it doesn’t just take you by surprise but makes you rethink what fiction can do. That was the case with Alan Trotter’s Muscle and even having read it twice now I’m still not entirely sure what it is or exactly what I have read. Is it Samuel Beckett meets Mickey Spillane? Is it noir as imagined by Neil Gaiman? Is it Pinter and Bukowski having a tear up in a car park? It’s all of those things and so much more.

Usually I wouldn’t mention the cover of a novel, but Muscle’s demands comment. As you can see above it’s the back of a man so large he can’t quite fit, with a shiv held menacingly in his mighty fist. It’s an image which not only suggests the violence and visceral nature of the narrative you are about to encounter, but also hints at what else awaits. Trotter brings so many ideas, themes and influences to bear that mere pages struggle to contain them. In every sense this is a novel which is packing.

From the beginning, where two men calmly contemplate the death they have just witnessed, with a curious detachment similar to Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon considering a carrot, it is clear that this is not going to be a straightforward undertaking. The cover may scream pulp fiction, but the content is more Pulp Fiction, with conversations about minutiae, apparent McGuffins, graphic violence, and a language rich, ripe, and rooted in noir, all of which can also be found in Tarantino’s masterpiece.

Certainly the central characters of Box and ____ (who we have to assume is the titular ‘Muscle’, but who is never named) bring to mind that film’s Jules and Vincent, the philosophising hard men who menace with aforethought, but there are also heavy traces of other dangerous double acts, such as the aforementioned Neil Gaiman’s Vandemar and Croup from Neverwhere, or Goldberg and McCann from Pinter’s The Birthday Party. I’m sure you’ll come up with your own points of reference as that is one of Muscle’s many joys – it’s packed so full of allusions, none of which are overt, that it’s entirely possible – or rather entirely likely – you could ask ten different readers and they would all report back something new and diverse.

From the beginning Muscle appears firmly rooted in the tradition of hard-boiled fiction. This is a world of private eyes and late-night poker, broken hands and black hearts, which will be familiar to those acquainted with Sam Spade or Mike Hammer. However, as matters progress it places one foot firmly in the realm of science fiction. Box becomes obsessed with the ‘Amazing Stories’ and ‘Weird Tales’ written by the enigmatic Holcomb.

During episodes which could be dreams, or they could be visions, but definitely influenced by what he has read, Box begins to contemplate some extreme ideas, including the possibility of time travel. His desire for an object (“The Spherical Oracle”) grows stronger as he imbues it with a significance that is difficult to understand. It is similar to the unspecified pipes in which Patrick Doyle places his hopes of a happy future life in James Kelman’s A Dissafection. I then started to read other Kelman references in Muscle, but began to wonder if that said more about me than Alan Trotter. And of course it does.

Because that is at the heart of what makes Muscle such a fascinating and involving read. By taking familiar themes, tropes, styles and genres Trotter holds a mirror up to the reader and forces them to consider their own cultural history, and what that brings to any interpretation of what they are reading. It’s almost interactive, and there was more than one time when I imagined I was _____, or at least filled in the blanks myself. Muscle is a fantasy novel, just not in the way you may think.

As Muscle progresses Box’s fantasies begin to morph into an unnerving, and intricate, reality. As with many noir narratives, when a happy ending is even hinted at you know things are about to take a turn for the worse. Through all of this it becomes clear that Trotter is examining not only the evil that men do, but their reasons for doing it. There is greed, pride, lust and many other deadly sins on show, but there is also boredom and frustration. Box and ____ do a lot of killing, and that includes time, waiting for their next assignation which often never comes. It’s no wonder that they embrace their work as it is at least a living.

I often write notes as I read through a book which I’m going to review and the final one I had for Muscle simply said, “Begin Again”, and that’s exactly what I did. The second time around I read deeper and got more than I had the first time, and different than I got the first time. You’ll get back from Muscle as much as you are willing to put in, but effort on your part is required and so it should be. Alan Trotter has written a novel for people who are in love with fiction, who are in love with reading, and if that applies to you then you are in for a rare treat.

Muscle is out now, published by Faber & Faber Books

The Best Of All Possible Worlds: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Highlights Tour 2019…

SPRING 2019 OPERA HIGHLIGHTS 
Touring to 18 venues across Scotland

Over the last few years Scottish Opera has been taking to the highways and byways of Scotland bringing their Opera Highlights Tour to villages and towns, schools halls, community centres, and local theatres across the country. It’s a deceptively simple premise with four singers and a piano presenting various highlights from a wide range of operas framed around one uniting premise.

This time around Musical Director and pianist Elizabeth Rowe is joined by mezzo-soprano Heather Ireson, soprano Lucy Anderson, baritone Harry Thatcher and tenor Tom Smith.  From Handel’s Rodelinda (1725) to Jonathan Dove’s Flight (1998) and visiting, among others, Mozart, Bizet, Wagner, Handel, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Gershwin & Weill along the way, they present a wide range of styles and themes which give a wonderfully diverse overview of what opera has to offer.

Scots Whay Hae! were at the Cumbernauld Theatre for the latest stop on 2019’s tour. Having seen the last three tours there were no doubts it would be a memorable evening, and that was proved right. The setlist this time around is built on the idea of the picaresque novel. The episodic structure of that format, and it’s often satirical content, is perfect for such a show allowing the leitmotifs of heroes, villains, love, longing and loss to come to the fore, and the cast revel in them.

A particular treat for audiences on such nights is to be so up close and personal with the performers, able to see and appreciate ever smile, smirk, and sideways glance much better than you could ever do in a larger space, which worked particularly well for the more comedic moments. What you also get is the full power of these incredible trained and professional voices. They are impressive enough when on their own, or in duet, but when all four work together, as in the ‘Garden Scene’ from Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, or the opening ‘The Best Of All Possible Worlds’ from Leonard Bernstein’s adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide, then the effect is visceral and wonderful.

Indeed it is ‘Candide’, arguably the quintessential picaresque novella, that seemed to infuse the spirit of the whole evening. Published in 1759, and written to satirise the central optimistic/naive tenet of the 17th century philosopher Leibniz, (paraphrased in the words of Candide’s teacher and mentor ‘Dr Pangloss’ that, “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”), its arguments against such a quixotic attitude are as relevant today as they are in any time of turmoil. With poignant references to the modern world director Sara Brodie makes sure that the spirit of Voltaire runs throughout.

Below are some pictures of the production, as well as the future dates of the tour with links as to where you can buy tickets. Don’t miss out…

With thanks to Scottish Opera for the images – Credit to Sally Jubb

Tour Dates:
Craignish Village Hall, ARDFERN, Tue 12 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Northbay Hall, ISLE OF BARRA, Thu 14 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Liniclate School, BENBECULA, Sat 16 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Tarbert Community Centre, ISLE OF HARRIS, Tue 19 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Community Hall, GAIRLOCH, Thu 21 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Community Hall, ARDROSS, Sat 23 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Volunteer Hall, DUNS, Tue 26 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Blairgowrie Town Hall, BLAIRGOWRIE, Thu 28 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Town Hall, MAYBOLE, Sat 2 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Village Hall, DURNESS, Tue 5 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Deeside Theatre, ABOYNE, Sat 9 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Boat of Garten Community Hall, BOAT OF GARTEN, Thu 7 Mar
BOOK TICKETS

Whiting Bay Village Hall, WHITING BAY, Tue 12 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Victoria Hall, DUNBLANE, Thu 14 Mar BOOK TICKETS

The Wynd Auditorium, PAISLEY, Sat 16 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Three’s Company: The Tandem Writing Collective At The Tron…


The Tron Theatre’s Victorian Room is one of the warmest and most intimate performance spaces in Glasgow. Over the years SWH! has been there for Warren McIntyre’s Seven Song Clubs, the launch of the anthology Out There, and various poetry and spoken word events. A recent, and most welcome, addition to its regular visitors are the Tandem Writing Collective who put on nights showcasing and developing new theatre. We were lucky enough to be at their most recent night where a sold-out audience had a rare old time. There were laughs, tears, tension and tunes as everyone in the room shared a rather special experience.

Tandem is the brainchild of three playwrights – Jennifer Adam, Amy Hawes and Mhairi Quinn – who have been putting on these nights in Glasgow and Edinburgh with the aim of making audiences think as they are entertained. The running order was six short pieces, two each from the writers, with a musical interlude in-between (more of which below). Their impressive cast (see bottom of page for details) have only a short rehearsal time before taking part in these “script in hand” performances. This is as fresh as theatre gets, with risks being taken from all involved, and it creates a thrilling tension in the room that you rarely get with other art forms.

The first half began with ‘Please Charge Your Glasses’ (Amy Hawes) where a wedding reception goes spectacularly wrong, and the dangers of a live mic have never been as clear. Any wedding where the spectre of pampas grass rears its head is never going to end well (and if you don’t know the reference, Google it – just not at work unless you want to be the talk of the steamie).

This was followed by ‘The Lodger’ (Mhairi Quinn), a two-hander which looked at mental health and anxiety, how it us regarded and treated, and the pressures applied by the modern world. With the psychoanalyst from hell and a patient who fears just about everything it was a wonderful example of what two fine actors, with a tight and insightful script, can do as roles become reversed. Then came Jennifer Adams’ ‘Whispers’, which all too clearly outlined how rumours and hearsay can turn quickly into something sinister, and that it’s important to remember that even when mobs rule they are still made from individuals who bring their own fears and prejudices.

The musical interlude was just perfect as sister and brother Marianne and Aaron McGregor were joined by David Munn to sing and play some clearly personal songs of love, loss, and cults. A beautiful voice, and some glorious harmonies, backed simply with great playing. It may sound simple but when it’s done this well then you don’t need anything else.

The second half kicked off with ‘Knowing Me’ (Jennifer Adam) another terrific two-hander where what begins as comedy becomes pitch black as technology turns, like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror meets Westworld. You would never use Alexa or Siri again! Then came Amy Hawes’ ‘Bathgate Murder Mystery Team-Building Weekend’ where all the cast were involved in a riotous comedy/mystery, which had salient points to make about the media, and which (knowing some people involved in such events) was pretty much spot on.

The night ended with Mahiri Quinn’s ‘Politics Of The White Stuff’, a very moving and thought provoking piece on how the current reporting of, and attitudes to, bad weather reflect class prejudice and inequality – not only of expectations but of thought, or lack of it. It was the perfect end to a night where every emotion was brought to the fore.

My advice is not to miss out on the Tandem Writing Collective if you can help it as these are exactly the sort of nights Scottish theatre needs, bringing it out of the big and expensive venues to spaces which are not just affordable, but which make for the sort of visceral experience that you just can’t get elsewhere.

Tandem at the Tron Cast

Cast: Kim Allan, Karen Bartke, Daniel Cameron, Catherine Elliot, Colin Healy and Rachel Ogilvy
Directors: Amy McKenzie and Jo Rush

Tandem on Twitter
Tandem on Facebook

*Beyond Good And Evil: A Review Of David Keenan’s For The Good Times…

DSC_0814 2.jpg

*A version of this review first appeared on the Books From Scotland website. Head there & sign up to their newsletter to never miss an issue.

As regular readers will know, David Keenan’s debut novel This Is Memorial Device was not only Scots Whay Hae!’s favourite book of 2017, but many other right-minded people’s considered choice as well. It announced his arrival as a novelist in such a barnstorming manner that you couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to follow it. Well now he has, and, as we should have expected, he does so with élan, subverting all expectations. His novel, For The Good Times, is set mainly in 1970s Northern Ireland (some memorable away days aside), slap bang in the middle of that none more euphemistically titled time, ‘The Troubles’. 

For those who lived in Ireland and the UK in the ’70s-’90s there are many of the familiar and widely reported touchstones – the H-Block prison and hunger strikes, the Europa Hotel (infamous as the most bombed hotel in the world), Republican & Loyalist groups known best by three letters, gun-fire at funerals, sectarian songs, balaclavas, bombast, and bomb-blasts. Keenan captures the time and place perfectly, not only with such knowledge and detail, but also using music, fashion, and other cultural references to great effect.

The story focuses on narrator Sammy and his closest friends, a group of young Jack the Lads who just happen to be running violent, and sometimes deadly, errands for the Provisional IRA and other offshoots if they’ll have them. Buying into the more extreme mythology of the Republican cause, these boys are playing dangerous games, with a desire to be the cock of the walk as long as that walk isn’t Orange.

Obsessed with the life and style of the singer Perry Como, and dressed in only the best of gear, violence is second nature to them justified by the belief that they are committing it for a worthy cause. To most they are seen as gangsters, thugs, and smugglers, but they have a strong sense of their own worth and shared identity. If Shane Meadows and Martin Scorsese collaborated on the film adaptation of Bernard McLaverty’s Cal then the script may have been something like this, walking the fine line between condemning, or at least demonstrating, the terrible effects of self-righteous violence, and romanticising it.

This may seem like a fairly straightforward premise but Keenan uses it to explore cultural mythology and memory, place, masculinity (toxic or otherwise), the psychology of gangs and groups, and the need for individuals to belong, but also stand-alone. Just when you think you have a grasp of what is going on and understand the essence of what you are reading, things shift just enough to discombobulate. This will not be unexpected to those who read his previous novel which showed a writer almost bursting with ideas – so many that at times what unfolded came close to being overwhelming.

For The Good Times is leaner in terms of ideas and style allowing the story and the characters more time and space to breathe. The result may be a more conventional narrative (it would have to go some not to be), but it makes for an equally satisfying read, if not more so. If you tried This Is Memorial Device and found it wasn’t for you then you should give Keenan a second chance. He’s too good a writer not to.

That’s not to say that he has dispensed with the literary flourishes altogether. There are songs, poems, and comic book stories, and not many other writers would have quotations from the aforementioned crooner Como, Aleister Crowley’s ‘The Master Therion’, and Friedrich Nietzsche. They may seem incongruous bedfellows, but all tell you something about what you are about to read. There are also séances, astral connections, perversions, and rumination on the nature of art, as well as further evidence that Keenan may have an obsession with mannequins.

All of these unexpected detours remind you that this is a writer who is pushing everyone involved out of their comfort zone. He is a player of games but with serious intent, and it forces you to ask questions about what is written, and how. In my review copy the numbers on the Contents page were all “00”. I have since found out that this isn’t deliberate, but with Keenan I wouldn’t have been surprised. With doppelgangers, the bureaucracy of institutions, betrayal, the power of sex, seduction and obsession, and the need to find an identity when others simply want you subsumed, it has clear echoes of George Orwell, Franz Kafka, John Fowles and Milan Kundera.

However, for all the artistry this novel wouldn’t work without the characters being believable, especially when they are thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Keenan shows he has a keen ear for how people speak, but to do so in an accent other than your own throws in another ball to keep in the air. It’s always a risk to take on the voices of a time and place which is so infamous, but from the first sentence to the last the mask never slips, and you absolutely believe these are lives lived. He also understands how people act in their different groups, and how they think and act when they are alone. The bold and the brave versus the insecure and uncertain – this is a world where front can literally be a matter of life and death, and makes you realise that the time and place has been chosen for good reasons.

For The Good Times is a multi-layered novel of extremes set in the most extreme of times (it is also extremely funny). It plays with form and structure, yet, for all its sensational subject matter and style, it is a keen examination of the human psyche, offering hope which is as welcome as it is surprising. But more than anything else there is a truth at the novel’s core. Every sentence – every word – is there for a reason. Clearly written from the heart it will force you to reflect on the people and places which made you, for better and for worse. For David Keenan it is another magnificent, and memorable, achievement and cements his growing reputation as one of the finest writers around.

For The Good Times is published by Faber & Faber Books

David Keenan was a recent guest on the Scots Whay Hae! podcast which you’ll find here – SWH! Podcast With David Keenan.

Paisley Patter: The SAMAs Come To Town…

One of the highlights of last year was the Scottish Alternative Music Awards night at St Luke’s in Glasgow which showcased not only the best of new Scottish music, but also how the SAMAs have grown in stature and ambition. But that was then and this is now and the SAMAs show no sign of letting up. On the 15th & 16th March they are taking over Paisley (in partnership with Renfrewshire Council and Paisley First) with the promise of events, live music, workshops, seminars & spoken word.

On Friday 15th at the Paisley Arts Centre there is a Festival Welcome with writer Chris McQueer and poet Leyla Josephine followed by music from C. Duncan + Special Guests, while over at The Bungalow the Pleasure Heads, CRYSTAL and Sweaty Palms will be taking to the stage.

The Saturday is a full and varied schedule which includes Stuart Braithwaite in conversation, live sets from Megan Airlie & Michael Timmons before the weekend finishes on a high with the inimitable Kathryn Joseph. See the poster above for the full line-up, times and venues.

Here’s what SAMA’s founder Richy Muirhead has to say about the Paisley Takeover, “The festival is jam packed with music events – we’re thrilled to add the likes of CRYSTAL who recently played a sold out King Tuts, Megan Airlie who won Best Acoustic at last year’s awards, author Chris McQueer and lots more! I hope the festival brings a burst of energy to Paisley and excites music fans around the country!

Tickets are on sale now from £7 – £12 from Eventbrite UK, SAMA’s Website:http://officialsama.co.ukand Paisley Arts Centre 0300 300 1210

For more information about the festival and SAMA’s visit: http://officialsama.co.uk @officialSAMA

Here’s footage from the Awards night at St Luke’s to give you just a taste of what the SAMAs are all about: