SWH! Is 10…

Today (25/08/2019) marks the 10th anniversary of Scots Whay Hae!, making it the perfect time to thank all those who have supported and helped along the way.

So – with a sharp intake of breath – thanks to every writer, poet, and publisher, who has shared their words, wit and wisdom with us. The same goes to all the bands, musicians, record labels and promoters who have sent us music and songs to listen to and review. Similarly, those artists, filmmakers, theatre companies, comedians, and festivals, who have invited us to view their previews and shows. We know your art and work is something which is vital and central to who you are and we appreciate you choosing to share it with us. It’s a privilege to be able to write, review, discuss, and celebrate it, and it’s a responsibility that SWH! takes seriously.

Huge thanks to all our podcast guests, some of whom you can see in the pictures at the top of the page (as well as some ever-evolving facial hair). The first was recorded in July 2011 and we are at 122 and counting. Number 123 is with American writer Elle Nash and will be with you soon.

If you have missed any you can find them here – SWH! Podcasts.
When taken together we like to think they are an informative and entertaining record of a contemporary Scottish culture which is thrilling, thriving, and diverse.

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Special thanks must go to our sound guru Ian Gregson (right), without whom there would only be silence, and Sarah Jane Gregson for her undying support and advice. Also to our regular end of year reviewers Chris Ward, Vikki Reilly, and Wesley Shearer, and our resident ‘Dr Books’ Ronnie Young, all of whose expertise has been essential.

We are grateful to, and thankful for, our various partners over the years, including Dear Scotland, ASLS, Scottish Opera, LP Radio, and Braemar Gallery. If I have forgotten to mention others then please remind me and I will add them to this list, with sincere apologies for a memory failing.

Also kudos to the bloggers, podcasters, critics, journalists, broadcasters, and other cultural contributors, who have inspired and supported SWH! over the years. It means more than you could possible know and I hope that you feel the support and appreciation is mutual.

But most of all thanks to you, Dear Reader and Listener, as it would be fairly pointless doing this without you (although we probably still would). We value and treasure each and every one of you.

Before moving on, it’s worthwhile reflecting on the very first post which set out the aims and ideas behind Scots Whay Hae!’s inception. It’s encouraging to find that it is as relevant now as it was a decade ago, and hasn’t really changed at any time. Here it is in full so you can decide for yourself. In the meantime, ‘Cheers!’ & here’s to 10 more…

Why Hae?

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This is a little mission statement as to the reason for creating this website. Contemporary writing and commentary that deals with Scottish art and culture often obsess over questions of inclusion and exclusion, questions that usually arise from the thorny issue of nation. This blog aims to, if not ignore such questions, demote them to the sidelines as all aspects of art and culture are discussed and dissected.

I cannot deny that I am Scots, writing in Scotland, and will concentrate (although not exclusively) on Scottish writers, poets, music, films, TV, art, comedy etc, but ‘where and when’ is of far less importance to me than ‘what and why’. Discussions can be had elsewhere as to what is or is not Scots and often they become a barrier to the enjoyment of that which is under discussion.

And that is what this blog is really for, to celebrate, debate and enjoy art in its widest sense. To deal with the art itself, and allow discussion and comment that looks at the old and new anew. To not take too seriously something which I take very seriously indeed. We have an ongoing relationship with our respective cultures throughout our lives and it is important to remember the relationship as it was when first consummated. The joy, wonder and the reason we fell in love in with bands, films, poems and books. Like all relationships it changes, becomes more ‘serious’ as time goes by, and although I cannot pretend that a wary, weary and cynical side will be suppressed fully, (nor would I wish it so – where is the fun in that?) I want to focus on my belief that art in all its forms can give us a reason for living better lives.

The first post proper are thoughts on John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti. What struck me is the way that Byrne created a thoroughly Scottish drama, one that wears its roots and knowledge easily, giving reference to outside cultural influence without apology, and does so with a light touch and a self-mocking sense of humour.

It is in this spirit that I write this blog. Of course this may change at any time, but until it does please excuse the indulgence and read on…

Alistair Braidwood 25/08/2009.

There Will Be Blood: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Anthropocene…

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The first opera I reviewed for Scots Whay Hae! was Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside, an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp, which was a collaboration between writer Louise Welsh and composer Stuart Macrae. Not only was it a wonderful marriage between Scottish literature and opera, but it introduced me to an art form about which I had previously known little but have now come to love. With that in mind I was excited by the prospect of Welsh and Macrae’s latest opera, Anthropocene. This time around it is an original story, and knowing Louise’s written work well I expected the unexpected. What I didn’t expect was what unfolded.

One of the things I have come to learn about opera is that it is more often than not a wonderful yet visceral assault on the senses – the sights, sounds, sets, and singing combining to affect you emotionally, but also physically. This makes it the perfect platform for Welsh’s gothic sensibilities and Macrae’s memorable music. Anthropocene is a horror story set on the boat of the same name which is on an exploratory voyage into the heart of the Arctic, with the ice closing in making the disparate crew prisoners. Continue reading

The Write Stuff: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 (+1) Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival…

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From the 11th – 27th August in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens (and George Street) once again becomes the place for book lovers to meet, greet, and be merry as the Edinburgh International Book Festival takes up its annual residence. It’s always an oasis of calm and conversation in a city gone daft, and it is one of SWH!’s favourite places to be.

There’s a lot of great events to choose from, so to help you find something just for you here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks of what to see at this year’s book festival (with a bonus extra because you’re special).

67dac432Robin Robertson, Sat 11 Aug 12:00 – 13:00 – The Spiegeltent
A renowned poet whose work often hauntingly evokes the lives of Scottish outsiders, Robin Robertson strikes out with a breathtaking new project, The Long Take. In this verse novel, Walker is a war veteran from Nova Scotia who sets out for Los Angeles in 1948. Robertson’s book demonstrates the origins of ‘noir’, presented here with period filmic and musical accompaniment.

And you can read the SWH! review of The Long Take here. Continue reading

Closing Time: A Review Of Louise Welsh’s No Dominion…

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There are always mixed feelings when a favoured series comes to an end. You want to see how things pan out, but there is also the terrible realisation that these characters you have come to know and care for will no longer be part of your lives. All you can hope for is a fitting conclusion to make that investment worthwhile. Louise Welsh’s ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ has reached its denouement with No Dominion, and while I have been waiting eagerly since 2015’s Death Is A Welcome Guest to find out what had happened to Stevie Flint, Magnus McFall and their new lives in Orkney, it is bittersweet to think that I won’t get to read what happens next. Luckily, Welsh sends them off in fine style.

After escaping the mainland, hopefully leaving the plague known as “the Sweats” behind as well, No Dominion begins seven years after the end of the last novel. Stevie and Magnus are integral parts of a small community on Orkney, a strange mix of adult survivors and local orphans who are attempting to play happy families while all time the sense of impending threat remains. Some of these children are now reaching young adulthood, which brings with it the normal teenage thoughts of familial and social rebellion combined with raging hormones, a dangerous coupling at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. Continue reading

Three Is The Magic Number: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Louise Welsh…

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The latest podcast is an interview with one of our favourite guests, the writer Louise Welsh. Previously she has been on to talk not only about her earlier fiction, but also the joys of reading Robert Louis Stevenson, and all thing Empire Cafe. Her latest novel, No Dominion, is the final part in her Plague Times Trilogy which began back in 2014 (not, as Ali suggests, five years ago) with A Lovely Way To Burn, and continued in 2015 with Death Is A Welcome Guest.

The conversation focuses on the central themes in the trilogy, which include family, Louise_400x400morality, society, and what could happen in the face of a global pandemic threat. Just the usual. Louise also reveals the influences on each book, including the Scottish literary connections in part three, and admits that recent political events, at home and abroad, had some bearing of the final draft No Dominion. There is also talk of ghost stories and opera. What more do you want from a podcast? Continue reading

Literally Literary: A Preview Of Aye Write! 2017…

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For 10 days in March there is only one place to be as Glasgow’s Aye Write! takes up its annual residency in the Mitchell Library between 9th-19th to cement its reputation as one of the best book festivals around. Pedants will point out that there are also events at the CCA, Kelvin Hall and Royal Concert Hall, but it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in this city.

Here are a few selected highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here. They are all at the Mitchell unless stated otherwise. Continue reading

One Green Bottle: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside…

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In 2013, Scots Whay Hae! and the Association Of Scottish Literary Studies collaborated in a series of recordings to commemorate Robert Louis Stevenson Day. Writers Alan Bissett, James Robertson and Louise Welsh read a Stevenson short story each; ‘Thrawn Janet’, The Tale Of Tod Lapraik’ and ‘The Bottle Imp’ respectively. ‘The Bottle Imp’ was already a favourite for Welsh, but reading it aloud must have bonded her more closely with the malevolent sprite as it appears she couldn’t leave it alone for long. She had to return to it at least one more time.

The result, in collaboration with composer Stuart Macrae, is Scottish Opera’s co-production with The Music Theatre of Wales, The Devil Inside, a dark, unsettling and unexpectedly moving production, which opened in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal this week. It is mesmerizing from start to end as words, music, performance and setting all work together to present this deceptively simple tale in such a manner so that the unfolding horror is heightened rather than unnecessarily distracted from.

Continue reading

We Have Lift-Off: A Preview Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015…

image.phpFor the past decade or so, I’ve been counting down my years in Edinburgh Book Festivals rather than birthdays. It’s a much less painful system, it means over two weeks of celebration, and the real birthday is in there somewhere for traditionalists.

While the Fringe rages all around it, this festival is an oasis of bookish bonhomie populated by like-minded folk, all obsessed with the written word. The festival team know they have a formula which works, so don’t overly tinker with it. The secret of that success? Invite the best writers available and get them to talk about their books all in the one place. What could be better?

This year it all happens between the 15th – 31st August, and, as usual, there’s far too much of the good stuff to mention it all here. I suggest reading the whole programme at edbookfest.co.uk, but not before you’ve read Scots Whay Hae’s preview of this year’s festival.

Scotland’s greatest writers are out in force, with  Ali Smith and John Burnside leading the way on the opening weekend. If you have to beg, borrow and steal to see those two (and you may have to) then no jury in the land would convict you. Janice Galloway has a new collection of short stories, Jellyfish, which I highly recommend and she is always worth listening to.  Others include previous SWH! podcast guests Louise Welsh, James Robertson, and Karen Campbell whose latest novel Rise is one of the best of the year so far. Michel Faber appears on the 29th, the author of Under the Skin and last year’s unforgettable The Book of Strange New Things.  The day before, the equally charismatic Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about the inspiration behind his latest novel The Illuminations.

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Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad: A Review Of Louise Welsh’s Death Is A Welcome Guest…

The first part of Louise Welsh’s ‘Plague Trilogy’, A Lovely Way To Burn, was the definition of a fast-paced thriller; a breathtaking rush through a plague ridden London as Stevie Flint tries to escape the city before it is too late. After you had caught your breath, you were already starting to think about what happens next.

Well, now you don’t have to wait any longer…sort of. The second part of the trilogy is now published, and for those waiting for news of Steve Flint you will have to show some patience. However, by that time you won’t care as Welsh has decided to look at the plague from another point of view, and in doing so seems to have included a whole new set of influences.

Whereas A Lovely Way To Burn took dystopian television such as Barry Hines’ Threads and Terry Nation’s Survivors as a starting point, this time round there are echoes of cult cinema, specifically cinema about cults, such as The Wicker Man, Race With The Devil, Children of The Corn and even The Crucible. As with all of the above, in Welsh’s book religious belief when allied to fear of disease and death is twisted to provide persuasive arguments for fundamentalism and sacrifice.

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Inside Out There: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Zoe Strachan + Live Readings…

The latest podcast is one of two halves. In the first, Ali talks to writer Zoe Strachan, (wearing her editor’s hat), about all things Out There, the anthology of LGBT writing which was published late last year, and which Scots Whay Hae! reviewed on the 18/01/15.

The two discuss the influences on and the inspirations behind the book’s conception, the perceived problems with anthologies, writer biographies, the trouble with editing, and the process of bringing so many writers together to make a coherent whole.

The second half is made up of some terrific readings from Nicola White, David Kinloch and Louise Welsh (see below), all of whom have their work included in Out There, and which were recorded at the launch of LGBT History Month at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow at the end of January. Continue reading