A real new talent emerging. Hamish James Hawk. Aznavour.


You could waste an awful lot of time trying to pigeonhole the debut album by Hamish James Hawk.  But what would be the point?  Because you won’t really find a pigeon that fits.

In the year of Scottish Independence it’s a delight to hear a new, confident, Scottish voice emerge that really stops you in your tracks.

And it’s not often that  a new voice appears that makes you think “that’s proper different.”  Paolo did it when he emerged.  Willy Mason too I guess.  James Yorkston.  And King Creosote of course.

Now you can add to that list, Hamish James Hawk.

Aside from Willy Mason, in the esteemed list above, the common thread is an authentic Scots twang.  Not that this feels, to me, like a record obsessed by Scottish life.  Yet clearly it draws much of its lyrical inspiration from this mighty land and it’s probably no coincidence that Hawk has recently been hanging about with the King himself, Kenny Anderson.

His choice of album title surely alludes to great aspirations.  Aznavour (the French Sinatra) crooned his way to fame and fortune but it’s a slightly odd choice of title because I’d place him nearer to another great crooner, of sorts, Leonard Coen, stylistically.

‘Slow, simple, just the right amount of blue’ says Hawk’s Soundcloud profile and that’s just about right.  The album never tries too hard.  Never over-elaborates, but at the same time, never loses momentum. It’s blue in places, but it ain’t the Blues.

The 10 tracks are dominated by acoustic guitar and vocal (the odd bodran creeps in) with very occasional multi tracking and tambourine.  But essentially this is true singer songwriter country – with nowhere to hide.

The vocals have to be spot on throughout, and they are, in their rich baritone, treading into second tenor territory from time to time..

Opener Ramshackle intones in a slightly syncopated  rhythm (subconsciously Camberwick Green inspired perhaps?) “After 100 years of this you’ll be standing on your last legs, and when you finally open your eyes, you might be dead (aside: where were we?)”

“You have a heart with two left feet and a head full of home brew.”

After the whistled intro to John Cooper Clarke he pulls a peach out of his lyrical hat “My friend went into hospital with a glass lung and a broken heart.”

It all goes a little bit crazy on Oh! Bernard, a song about a party pseudo, a professor, where Hawk lets rip with a full backing ensemble.  “Some say you are boring, and others agree.  But no one can rival your unbridled love for Don Quixote.”  Magic.

His style is dryly witty, observational storytelling and it’s clear the lyrics have been crafted and wrung out over many a draft to reach taut and engaging outcomes.

“My singing partner moved to Norway.  That’s fine by me.”  Frankly, that’s his singing partner’s loss, not his.

Here he is in full flow singing Unlucky, unlikely, the album’s closer.

All in all, a fantastic and sensitively produced debut that delivers many excellent moments and augurs well for a  succesful carrier in the heartland of Scottish folk.


Webpage goes live soon  http://www.hjhmusic.com



Recent reading. Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan.


Richard Brautigan was one of the beat generation writers. He failed to have the impact of Ginsberg and Kerouac but many rate him higher.  Certainly, if you’ve read Kerouac you’ll realise he’s pretty dull and his reputation significantly overshadows his talent. (IMHO).

The consequence of Brautigan’s far less lauded writing career, that spans 10 novels and 10 volumes of poetry, was his suicide in 1984.

However, rather like a diluted version of John William’s Stoner success Brautigan has been rediscovered by a later generation.  This time at the hands of the rather wonderful Canongate Books‘ ‘The Canons” imprint.

Sombrero Fallout is trendily prefaced by Jarvis Cocker in a slightly gushy recollection of how the author impacted his younger life before, in around 200 pages, the story unfolds.

In fact it’s a story within a story.

The main protagonist, a humourless but highly acknowledged American humourist, aborts the task of writing his latest piece after only one page because he is in a state of distress having recently broken up with his beautiful Japanese girlfriend and is nearing hysteria.

Consigned to the waste bin the story of a Sombero that has fallen from the sky starts to write itself.

The novel flips, chapter by chapter, between the writer’s spiral into obsession about his ex-lover, her contrasting reaction, and the increasingly ridiculous consequences of the Sombrero’s completely inexplicable arrival into a small American town of some 11,000 inhabitants.

I am reminded in part of the whimsy of Ivor Cutler as I read this.

It has Gilliamesque/Pythonesque qualities too.

And, taken as a whole, it is highly reminiscent of the central section of Perfume by Patrick Susskind.

But it’s just too silly to love.  Too sixth form.  Too stoned possibly.

One word sums this short novel up.  Odd.


Recent reading. Scotland: A Graphic History.


Not being much of a historian I find it difficult to contextualise the history of Scotland and the details of the relationship with England and the Union.

This is a wonderful antidote.  Jeff Fallow’s short, sweet but hugely compelling read tells you all you ever needed to know about Scottish history in under an hour.

And don’t worry, it’s not a political treatise.  It doesn’t promulgate Independence.  (OK, well only  a little.)

This is an important read for anyone interested in creativity and Scottish Independence.


Unstated.  Writers on Scottish Independence.

Creative Scotland is to be congratulated for supporting the publication of this collection of 27 essays on the issues surrounding Scottish Independence and self determination, published by Word Power Books in 2012 and edited by Scott Hames.

All 27  writers are based in Scotland, but not all are Scottish.  In the process some take swipes at Creative Scotland (in fairness the book was written during their dark times) but the body has chosen to publish with these criticisms intact.  I respect that.

It includes mighty voices like Jo Clifford, Janice Galloway, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Christopher Whyte.

It could not be described in any way as a light read and not all views concur, in fact far from it.  But one thing shines brightly throughout.  The value of self determination and the importance of uncensored artistic views go hand in hand.

It also supports my view then, but one that is rapidly diminishing, that the quality of the debate is poor.  This was most certainly the case in 2012 but I believe the quality has significantly increased.  Not on the front lines in our national media that mostly support Better Together and base their slanging matches on factual dispute, but in the online community most notably in the pages of BellaCaledonia that is represented here by Mike Small.

One passage in his essay says much.  He derides the negative campaigning of Better Together…

“Whilst the will may be there for a positive case for the Union, it remains elusive.  It oscillates from the banal to the ridiculous…Would you move house in a Hurricane? asked one dark tweet…The very institutions that could hold Britain together as an idea have been picked apart, privatised, sold off or dismantled by two decades of neo-liberal politicians who can hardly now appeal to the NHS, The Post Office or a common media voice as indicators of a common future, never mind a shared past.  The lesson for the No campaign team: if you place so little value in these institutions then don’t rely on them to tell your political story…A fractured, discredited print media, a London government that appears like a throwback to the Edwardian era and the catastrophic failure of the Labour party to create a political narrative are combining.”

Magi Gibson uses a, possibly obvious, but brilliant nonetheless, metaphor of a woman in an unloving marriage with a husband she doesn’t love or respect to illustrate the argument.

Janice Galloway harks back to the recent root of our discontent…

“The awful nineties ‘greed is good’ years when the North in general became the Conservative Party’s petri dish were a caustic reminder of our increasing inconsequentiality to just about any Westminster-based party.”

Margaret Elphinsone concludes her contribution by saying “It [post Independence Scotland] needs to know itself, which means being honest, and being ready to listen to all its different voices.  And I think it needs to be psychologically independent, or it won’t be able to anything for itself at all.”

Jo Clifford’s scathing summation is this.  “Can we really not find just a tiny bit of courage?  Does it really make sense to stay attached to England?  To a  failing state governed in the interest of the City of London with its tiny coterie of obscenely wealthy bullies, thieves and robbers?  A state hopelessly stuck in dreams of past glory, forever trying to ‘punch above its weight’, humiliatingly stuck in a self-deluding ‘special relationship’ with its colonial master, incapable of creating any positive vision of its future?”

Sure, it’s leftward leaning, but an articulate, open-eyed, intelligent left.

But then, you show me an artist that leans right and you’ll have to take me to London.

Scotland can become an open-eyed, articulate, intelligent left wing country if we vote Yes and then govern with responsibility under a likely Labour leadership.

Ben Watt and Bernard Butler. Danger: Genius at work!


Last night something unquestionably serendipitous happened to me and my wife.  We were staying in Newcastle where I was working.  Leaving the excellent Sleeperz hotel at 6.30 to wander about the Toon the astoundingly friendly and helpful new guy on the front desk enquired as to our evening’s plans.

“None really, just going to wander.” I replied “But I’m going to pay a visit to the Free Trade Inn  and possibly The Cluny.”

“Excellent choices my friend, let me look and see what’s on at The Cluny.” replied Dean (for that was, no is, his name.)

“Hmmm, it’s their folk rock night.”

“Hmmm.” I replied. “Who’s on?”

“Some guy called Ben Watt.”

“Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl?”  I gasped.

“Yeah that’s what it says.”

“Who’s the support.”

“Someone called Bernard Butler.”

“Bernard Butler of Suede?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

So, off we went.  “It’ll be sold out.” I speculated to Jeana “But if we can get in do you want to see them?”

“Why not?” She replied.

Fast forward an hour.  Not only to be we grab two of the few remaining tickets (twice we’d been told it was sold out) but we also get the best seats in what is a very good house.  On the balcony barely 20 feet from stage.

As it turns out Bernard Butler isn’t supporting Ben Watt, they are playing together, mostly his beautiful new album, Hedra, but four old Cherry Red songs (including the gorgeous Some Things Don’t Matter, that was surely an early precursor for Everything But The Girl material).

This is remarkable.  Not only do the pair have 12 UK top ten hits between them and probably more in album hits but Ben Watt is a celebrated Club DJ too.  And here they are in Cluny 2 on a Wednesday night in Newcastle and we have tickets.  I have been a fan of Ben (and Tracey and Bernard) since my university days 34 years ago but have never seen any of them live.  In that time Ben has nearly died, become a father and released his second solo album 31 years after his debut.  It was a wait worth enduing because it is wonderful.

Stripped down to just him and Butler on electric guitar and the occasional Wurlitzer the atmosphere is respectful.  The sound is killer.  Maybe the best I have ever heard at a gig.  Every word perfectly enunciated, every finger pick heard, every click of the guitar pedals audible too which gives us a real sense of the artistry at work here.

Putting to one side Ben Watt’s excellent musicianship you just have to bow your head in awe of the craft that Bernard Butler displays with a Gibson in his hands.

16 songs and a decent dollop of insightful singer songwriter chat later we are at an end.

“That’s all I’ve got.” says Watt modestly.

That’s all we needed.

Absolute 5 star.  Nailed on.

As we walked back to the hotel on Newcastle’s glorious quayside a young man in red jogs past us.  Turning and waving, he shouts  “Did you enjoy the Free Trade Inn?”

It was Dean.

“Yeah, but we saw Ben Watt.   Ben Fucking Watt.”  I yelled as he disappeared into the distance.

Then we had Souvlaki.  The night was complete.