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.


Scottish or British? How it feels.


In the truly excellent Unstated:  Writers on Scottish Independence Janice Galloway makes an interesting contribution in response to the Guardian’s asking her how it felt to be Scottish and British.  Interestingly the challenge proved too emotional for her and she sidestepped this issue choosing to focus only on her feelings about the British side of the equation.

But it got me thinking and I share my thoughts here.

As an advocate of Scottish self-determination you’d perhaps think I’d choose to diss the whole notion of Britishness, but you’d be wrong.  I’ve been brought up British.  I’ve been taught that to call yourself Scottish on official forms is not right.  We are British first, Scottish second.  Right?

Technically, I guess that’s true but I think you could, even in the current Union, argue the opposite.

Britishness and Scottishness can, and do, sit happily together, or at least they have for the 50 or so years that I’ve had to deal with this sometimes schizophrenic sense of nationality.

Let me take an easy example to demonstrate.  At the Olympics I’m 100% British.  On the football field 100% Scottish.

In every sporting conflict I adopt an ‘Anyone but England’ stance (I know, sorry, I just can’t help it – I’m Scottish you see) but not in Cricket.  That’s because the England cricket team is really British; Scots and Welshmen from time to time feature in their ranks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as annoyed as most Scots when Andy Murray is referred to as British and it really irritates me when BBC commentators refer to England when they mean Britain; foreigners, particularly Americans, are prone to this deeply annoying faux pas.

Andy Murray Survey 1

But that’s all a shallow argument and is hardly a reason to promulgate a breaking up of this oft-glorious Union (or perhaps that should be past- rather than oft-).

I like many aspects of Britishness.  I like the fact that it is a country with many distinctive micro-cultures, accents, dialects, climates, terraines.  I have holidayed many, many times in many different parts of Britain and had a diversity of great experiences.

I like London.  From a cultural perspective it’s, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, the most diverse and interesting city I have ever visited.  I like Londoners too.  I just don’t like what London has become in relation to the British economy.  I don’t like what it has done to British politics, with its huge population and its honeypot attraction to wealthy Home Counties residents who made their money there before colonising the surrounding countryside.

I don’t like that, aside from the Inner City it has turned vast swathes of the South blue in hue, to the extent that London can’t overcome conservative dictats.  For God’s sake, Clegg sounds more Tory than the Tories.

Blair completely upended Labour to try to out Tory the Tories.

It’s become a Cuckoo in Great Britain’s nest.  Gobbling up the lion’s share of the food so that the regional chicks have to scrabble for scraps and become the runts.

I don’t even fundamentally oppose Conservatism.  The Scottish Tories will be a necessary agent provocateur in an independent nation, checking the excesses of Scottish Labour and, in Ruth Davidson, they have an articulate and reasoned leader.

I like Wimbledon, I like roast beef, I like the seaside.  I like the BBC (OK that comes with massive caveats) and I like the British press (that’s a generalisation because some of it I abhor, but fundamentally it’s a good, balanced organ). So these bastions of Britishness, not Englishness, are good.

But I like being Scottish more.

It means more to me, it has fewer ‘yes buts’ attached to it.

Whilst Edinburgh (pound for pound, dollar for dollar the most culturally diverse city in the world for four weeks of the year) is undoubtedly a rich capital it does not divide the country like London does.  Glasgow and Aberdeen, and the rising voice of Dundee, sets Edinburgh straight on that one.

Even with an independent parliament in place Edinburgh will be kept in check.

I like the fact that Scotland has a richness and diversity of cultures within striking distance of one another.  Life in Perth is very unlike life in Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Glasgow and yet it’s barely more than an hour away from each of them.

I like the fact that when you tell people you are Scottish it nearly always elicits a positive response.  Sure, the London Cabbie response to our funny money might be an exception to the rule.

I like the fact that we are so very pro-European, perhaps thanks to the Auld Alliance, in stark contrast to the way that Farage’s Britain with its ‘bloody foreigners’ auto response is not.

I like that we are a country that leans left, but won’t become raging communists given the chance.

And I like our weather, or at least the dramatic range of it.  Four seasons in one day can be an enthralling thing.  Four seasons in one hour, even more so.  Where else can you get that?

So, come September 19th when we sit round the table, like grown ups, dividing the spoils, planning our new constitution with all that Better Together negative balderdash just an amusing historical footnote it will be with fondness that I reflect on the fact I’m finally truly Scottish nee British.



Why Hibs fans need to wake up and smell the coffee


So, Heart of Midlothian were relegated to the Championship on Saturday.  I’m sure Leigh Griffiths wet his pants in delight.  And I’m certain that many of my fellow Hibs fans will have done the same.

The delight of schadenfreude will be overwhelming amongst certain Easter Road faithful, but not this one. (Although I have to caveat that comment by saying I have been a lifelong Hibs fan, but hardly one you could describe as ‘committed’.  Consistent, yes, committed, hardly.)

But that doesn’t take away my right of opinion in the sorry tale that is the unravelling of Heart of Midlothian by a buffoon from the Baltics.

Sure, we have reason to ‘hate’ our closest rivals, after all Hearts have pumped us again and again in the last few years (actually not just then, the Robertson years were pretty painful too.)  That goes with the territory of city football rivalry, and is the same the  world over, from Milan to Manchester.

But losing Hearts from the top division not only robs Hibs of a priceless rivalry but also of gate receipts and, actually, more importantly, a sense of being.  We simply cannot get as het up about a rivalry with Dundee Utd, Partick Thistle, even Aberdeen.

In a report in the press this weekend I read of the complete and utter lack of atmosphere that has overwhelmed Celtic Park since their ticket to league glory was guaranteed the second Rangers left the league.  (Actually my experience of Celtic Park was pretty much like that even when Rangers WERE in the league.)

Celtic fans just find the whole thing BORING.  And school kid tickets are being given away free in increasing numbers as full paid ticket buyers desert Parkhead.

Aidan Smith writes a very good piece about the demise of Heart of Midlothian FC in today’s Scotsman.  It’s well timed as today Hearts’ potential funders Bryan Jackson and Trevor Birch are  to meet with the administrators of UBIG and Ukio Bankas.  So, not only have Hearts been relegated but there’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll be liquidated too.

Cue further hilarity amongst The Cabbage’s hardcore support.

But be careful what you wish for.  We’ll be saying bye bye to local derbies for at least three more years (pre-supposing that Butcher manages to keep Hibs away from the drop this year mind you.  And that ain’t a given.  Is it?)

Following Scottish football is bad enough, but to now have lost the 8 most meaningful games in a season, arguably 16 as Hibs/Rangers and Celtic/Hearts matches were pretty passionate affairs too, is simply disastrous.

Sorry Jam Tarts (and die hard Hibby, Jambo haters) but as far as I’m concerned we can’t live with you, we can’t live without you.




Self-determination. It’s a very big word.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 20.44.14

Noun: The process by which a person controls their own life.

The power or ability to make a decision for oneself without influence from outside.

Freedom to live as one chooses, or to act or decide without consulting others.

Essentially, it’s how a person behaves, decides, how to live.

Or a nation.

Self-determination. It sounds so much grander, so much more, hell, romantic, than independence.  It is, of course the very embodiment, the very DNA of independence, and it nurtures a positive philosophy.

Adventure rather than escape.

Whereas “Independence” suggests conflict, separatism, divorce.  All bad.  It riles many of the undecided.  It doesn’t bring them with us.

Yet, independence, in Scotland’s current constitutional debate, is the given word for self-determination.

And it’s easy to see why.

It’s jingoistic, it’s a short cut to a rational end game, but self-determination is actually what this is all about.

Self-determination doesn’t shriek “Fuck you, English rulers and bastards.”  It says instead “With due respect, we’d like to go our own way, make our own mistakes, take care of our own laundry, find new friends, keep old ones.”

But it’s a bloody mouthful.

All the same I say this.

“Vote Yes for Scottish self-determination.”

And, as for my patronising headline?

Well, I can’t let an opportunity for a wonderful English band to explain it.  (Not that it does it just makes me think of the lyric of Blind Youth every time I hear the word).

(@50 seconds)

The Hidden Doors Festival. A good addition to Edinburgh’s cultural landscape.

On Saturday Jeana and I went to this interesting new festival in the lock up arches on lower Market Street.

Here’s what it’s all about (from their website).

Hidden Door is a not-for-profit arts production organisation set up in 2010 by David Martin, a visual artist and art lecturer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. The aims of the organisation are to:

• Develop a platform for delivering the arts to the general public through events that create an exciting, innovative and high-impact audience experience, and bring about a deeper engagement with the arts as a result.

• Encourage new innovative collaborative projects across art forms through the staging of events.

• Provide opportunities to showcase the best new creative work being made in Scotland, and support emerging creative practitioners.

• Develop a model for the arts that can deliver high-quality, ground-breaking events, without depending on government funding.

One of the things that inspired e was a big “mobile” made of reclaimed and broken bits of plastic.

I have re-imagined  this re-imagining.  Hope you like it.

hidden doors mobilesmall

On Friday, Mersault and Miaoux, Miaoux are playing.  Should be good.




How do you like your spaghetti sir? Free range? Off the bone?

“For those that love this dish there’s nothing like real home grown spaghetti.” concludes Richard Dimbleby, the voice of Britain’s top current affairs programme, Panorama,  on 1st April 1957.

Not a hint of irony taints this 3 minute masterpiece of social documentary.  It’s dry as a bone reportage.  How could it not be true?

No silly names sow seeds of doubt, like Mr I.D.Ott, that typically gives the game away in newspaper pranks.

No, this is the Real McCoy.  This is pranksterism on an Wellesian scale. (On Halloween 1938 Welles had the USA in a state of sheer panic as he presented War of the Worlds under he guise of fake news bulletins).

A full on, unexpurgated, national piss take.

But back to Dimbleby.  It is alleged that no-one at the BBC even knew of his prank and so it went out unannounced and completely unexpected.  Post war Britain was just stumbling upon the likes of simple foreign dishes like spaghetti and probably had no idea of its origins, other than it came from Italy.

So it was Dimbleby’s genius that he set his mockumentary not in Italy but in the growing district of Southern Switzerland (lesser known cousin of the mighty Italians).  This adds to the authenticity of the broadcast.

Thanks to a mild winter the trees were blooming early on the shore of Lake Lugano promising a massive boost for the Swiss Spaghetti industry.  Talk of genetic manipulation to reach uniformity of length, images of the harvest and of the (true actually) air drying techniques added up to make this the world’s greatest and most convincing April Fool, bar none.