Monthly Archives: December 2015

MY TOP 10 SCOTTISH ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

10. SCHOOL OF VELOCITY – MIAOUX MIAOUX

The ‘Nom de Plume’ of Julian Corry this is the excellent follow up to the ground breaking ‘Light of the North’ shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year in 2013. Possibly even more accessible than its predecessor it shifts variously between classic pop to electronica to dance floor. Went to see him in an almost empty tent at T in the Park this year and was surprised just how effortlessly the album was reproduced with an almost defiant attempt by Julian to play as many instruments as possible. Miaoux Miaoux always seem just a couple of steps away from the big time but with material like this it will come.

9. WHITE MEN ARE BLACK TOO – YOUNG FATHERS

Arriving with a blaze of publicity and incredible reviews after their Mercury prize win last year this is a more than worthy successor to last years ‘Dead’. The winning formula of cleverly crafted songs based around almost uncompromising beats and defiant lyrics makes sure it can not be ignored. Didn’t see them live but the few appearance I saw on TV from the festival circuit showed an almost electric presence on stage. Next year definitely going to catch them somewhere.

a59d6bfd-5fce-48fd-814e-9f400c197d57-2060x1236

8. GRIND – THE TREACHEROUS ORCHESTRA

I’ve known Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton since they were nippers sitting at the feet of the legendary Highland Perthshire piper Gordon Duncan and there are echoes of the great man throughout all of the TO’s work. The Treacherous Orchestra’s sound is simply a traditional tour de force and this 10 piece simply sound huge. Grind is the point where they really arrive. Swirling melodies, cross rhythms and multi layered instrumentation, it is simply fantastic. Already won the Scottish Traditional Album of the Year. There will be many more awards.

7. GIRLS IN PEACETIME WANT TO DANCE – BELLE AND SEBASTIAN

We used to kill ourselves laughing when we heard the tales of how B&S would spend hours agonising whether to add a cowbell to their latest then minimalist recordings when we shared a studio in Glasgow. Now they record big albums and even sound like Talking Heads on a couple of tracks here. I simply love Belle and Sebastian and this is a fantastic album that was barely off the modern equivalent of the turntable when it came out in the spring. For me a B&S album is all about desperately trying to understand what inspires Stewart Murdoch to take such weird lyrical twists whilst been blown away by the musical ambition. It would be almost impossible for Belle and Sebastian to disappoint me and this is a confident, assertive band in their prime.

6. THE WAY BACK UP – PRIDES

No list would be complete without one of Scotland’s most successful chart bothering acts of 2015. Reminiscent of many of the great Glasgow pop acts of the 80s Prides have all the necessary pop references at their fingertips and they are a great band to have on when you want your day brightened up. The shelf life for pop acts is somewhat limited nowadays and it will be up to them to challenge but keep their existing audience happy whilst constantly looking at new ways to bring new fans in.

5. BONES YOU HAVE THROWN ME AND BLOOD I’VE SPILLED – KATHRYN JOSEPH

It’s pretty hard to say something new about this stunning Scottish Album of the Year that hasn’t been said already. It is one of these rare albums that seems to be loved by all. Haunting, passionate, fragile, it is an intense but always rewarding listening experience. The distressing conditions which brought her to compose this album is there in practically every note. A lot is made of her being a forty year old mother but life experience oozes out of this album and being so uncomfortable and uncompromising with the music circus just makes her even more interesting. I tried to get her to perform at an event I was co-hosting on the Creative Industries in the Scotland Office without any real hope of securing her. It would have been great to have got her in front of politicians and the London industry with songs so personal.

4. ARCHITECT – C. DUNCAN

Like most, I hadn’t heard of ‘C’ till Architect was perhaps surprisingly nominated as the only Scots offering at this year’s Mercury award. Famously recorded on a shoestring budget in his bedroom this former Royal Conservatoire classical student has made a rich, complex but always accessible album. It’s hard to pick out the references when listening to it and there’s everything from strange doo-wop to classical pop. I really love this album and it’s great when you hear something new like this that really challenges you. Really hope that ‘C’ makes it and will be fascinating to see what sort of musical career develops.

3. THE BELL THAT NEVER RANG – LAU

Lau played at the House of Commons last year at the AGM of the All Party Folk Group and we had a fantastic time in the Jubilee Room and later in Strangers Bar where we were then entertained by super Lau fan, Mark Radcliffe. This is a hugely ambitious and very different album from their previous works and it works on practically every level. Centred round the epic seventeen-minute title track with a gorgeous string arrangement it’s hard to believe that all of this is produced by a traditional trio. There is great chemistry between Kris, Martin and Aidan and it’s almost like they can read each others minds musically. Going to be really interesting to see what they get up to next.

2. TINY REWARDS – ADMIRAL FALLOW

I was at first disappointed with Tiny Rewards when it first came out. I wanted more of ‘Old Fools’ and ‘Isn’t the World Enough’ and the whole album seemed so understated. But it is definitely a grower and I only really got it when I saw them at T in the Park. Admiral Fallow are perhaps the most enigmatic of Scotland’s contenders and they remain determined to fully explore all the music options available in their broad armoury of musical influences. Sara O and I went to see them perform in the Fruitmarket at the Glasgow Film Festival when they preformed in front of 10 short films from a variety of Scottish film makers. When you see them in that environment it all makes sense.

1. EVERY OPEN EYE – CHVRCHES

Simply fantastic. This album has it all and the success Chvrches have enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic is more than deserved. Described as synth pop it is so much more than that. Chvrches simply use the genre to explore and get in to more exciting and innovative things. Lauren Mayberry is almost the perfect singer. A vulnerable but yet assertive vocalist, on the one stripped down track ‘Afterglow’ you hear something incredibly powerful but understated – they should do more songs like that. Lauren has also taken a very brave stance on sexism in the music industry (perhaps sexism’s last great bastion) and has already been credited for driving this agenda. There will be an invitation extended to her from the All Party Music Group to see if there is anything that we can do to give sexism in the music industry more of a political profile. I hope she accepts, just to meet her would be great.

Advertisements

THE CULT OF THE SCOTTISH DICTATORSHIP

‘What are those Scottish voters like, eh? They just will not vote the way they’re supposed to, damn them. Don’t they know they are either 1. A sheepish cult. 2. Been treated with contempt by their political overlords or 3. Being oppressed in a one party political dictatorship? Silly, silly, Scottish voters’.

Of all the ridiculous things in Scottish politics castigating the Scottish people for making a legitimate political choice must be just about the most absurd. Yet this is an agenda promoted not just by unionist zoom-bots on social media but by serious political commentators who make a living out of giving their ‘considered’ views on Scotland’s political scene. For them the fact that the Scottish people are now increasingly putting their trust in the SNP is unacceptable so they lash out at those voters incomprehensibly believing that by insulting their choice they might actually persuade them to vote for someone else.

Kim

Without a hint of irony or self awareness they rail against a Scottish ‘dictatorship’ and ‘one party state’. Yes, to them, Scotland is an equivalent of North Korea, The Soviet Union or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The people who say this must know absolutely nothing about real one party states and the real state oppression that these dictatorships direct at their citizenry. To call Scotland a one party state not only insults Scots but demeans the intolerable condition that so many people experience at the hands of real brutal dictators. In Scotland not only do we have a democracy open to any political party but in our own national Parliament we actually have a proportional form of representative democracy. Scotland is no more a ‘dictatorship’ than Kim Jong-un is a supporter of the single transferable vote. No, the truth is that we simply have woeful opposition who few people want to vote for. Where the Scottish National Party have responsibility for a whole range of devolved areas we are not responsible for the unelectability of Scottish Labour.

‘But you’re just a mindless cult’, they then retort. And this is indeed where it all gets a bit nuts. The 50% of voters who recently voted for the SNP have apparently all been brainwashed and are merely voting SNP out of blind faith and flawed emotion. That’s right, 50% of Scots have lost the faculty of original thought and are little more than a political version of the moonies. The thing is Scotland is perhaps the most politically educated and motivated nation in Europe just now with almost unprecedented political engagement. The debate that we conducted about our constitutional future brought swathes of new voters into our political process and challenged long held assumptions and political orthodoxies. It isn’t so much that the Scots have been ‘brainwashed’ it is that they have become politically stimulated and have simply determined that there is a better future for our nation beyond letting others determine what that future should be for us.

When that fails we are left with the sheer ‘stupidity’ of all these Scots voters. There is incomprehension that SNP voters just won’t agree that the SNP is just downright ‘baad’. There is genuine bewilderment that Scots voters don’t share their view that all these SNP services are badly run despite the Scottish public’s own positive experiences. So what do these commentators do? They simply shout ‘SNP baad’ even louder desperately hoping that the Scots will ‘come to their senses’.

Here’s a little tip for my unionist friends which I know they will never adopt in a million years. And it is this. If it hasn’t worked thus far there is very little prospect of success in the future. Merely doing the same thing again and again only louder and angrier won’t work. What tends to work is the careful crafting of a vision. Of the presentation of a new and positive future. Of not treating your electorate as idiots. Where we can laugh at their talk of cults, dictatorships and associated nonsense we do need a real opposition and a commentariat that can actually sensibly suggest credible alternatives.

COULD THE TORIES BEAT LABOUR?

There’s something interesting going on in the opinion polls and unfortunately for our friends in Scottish Labour is isn’t the battle for the top spot. If the opinion polls are to be believed and that’s with the usual cautionary big ‘If’ it’s the battle for second place that is proving to be the most intriguing. The last few opinion polls have shown the Tories catching Labour with many speculating that the Tories may just be about to eclipse Labour for the first time in an election for the Scottish Parliament. For the Labour party this would be an utter disaster and for the Tories a pretty dramatic turn around given that they secured another historic low in the Westminster election just a few short months ago.

_85854663_untitled-1

Political parties always try to set the agenda onto their ground and develop the narrative that they want the public to embrace and run with. For Scottish Labour this has been the SNP Government’s record of stewardship of public services and in this they have invested a great deal of energy for pretty meagre returns. For all this endeavour, they have failed to span the huge chasm between what they want the Scottish people to feel about our public services and how the public ‘actually’ experience them. They are also on the point of provoking the Scottish people to distraction with their endless ‘SNP bad’ whinge.

The Tories in the meantime try and bank on a variety of soft focus issues and fuzzy photo opportunities trying as much as possible to disassociate themselves from the ideologues at Westminster and their vulnerable and marginal bashing agenda. Their approach, unlike Labour, seems to be to try and provoke the Scottish people as little as possible. The result is that the Tories therefore now seem to rile the Scottish people rather less than the endlessly groaning Labour.

But try as much as they might the focus keeps on coming back to that hardiest of perennials – the constitution, and this is where it starts to get really bad for Labour. It would seem that the Scottish people are still not through with constitutional politics and it is this that still determines the on going fault line in our political debate. This is not good for Labour as they now seem to be outflanked on two fronts in the constitutional wars.

They are still seen to be resiliently and defiantly set against most of their former voters who have now almost totally given up on them in frustration at their ongoing unionist positioning. Labour’s lost legion of voters have now been comfortably assimilated into voting SNP believing that we best represent their national ambitions.

But it is what is happening to the twenty odd percent of Labour voters who still remain with the Scottish Labour project that must start to concern the comrades. There are Labour voters who will never be reconciled to the SNP and most of them can probably be characterised as being unionist-ly inclined and pretty hard core at that. What they want is an unwavering commitment to the union with no vacillation. What they observe, though, is a Labour Party making all sorts of overtures to independence supporters saying ‘it’s all right to want indy’ in an attempt to win them back. It is these voters who are leaking to the Tories who they see as the true union believers and standard bearers for the UK. Labour now seem to be in a dangerous constitutional no-mans land unsupported by their former independence supporting voters and being deserted by those that want a cast iron unionist discipline.

There is a solution but there is no sign that Labour are yet in a mood to grasp it and that is to go with the flow with most of their (former) voters – a position at some point they will have to get round to adopting. Now they are in just about the worst place possible. And no amount of shouting ‘SNP bad’ is going to fix that.