Raymond Soltysek's Blog

New Writing Scotland 32: ‘Songs of Other Places’

Posted in fiction, Poetry, Publications by raymondsoltysek on July 14, 2014
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‘Songs of Other Places’; order by clicking the cover.

New Writing Scotland 32: ‘Songs of Other Places’ is now available to order from the Association for Scottish Literary Studies. Editors Zoe Strachan and Gerry Cambridge have gone for a slimmed down volume this year, and the quality is extremely high, with great writers like Christopher Whyte, Helen Sedgewick, Graham Fulton and Ron Butlin.   Here’s an extract from my contribution,  the title story  ‘Songs of Other Places’;

‘She kneads the pie dough, working through the flour, egg slipping between her fingers, strong fingers she has, and she knows how to knead dough cause her momma showed her how. Saturday afternoons, she’d park Alice up on a big kitchen stool and they’d be side by side, her momma baking big pies, apple and blueberry and pumpkin, and Alice made little pies with the same fillings that she’d feed to her dolls. Momma would sing Buddy Holly songs, sometimes whip her off that stool for a dance, whirling her around the kitchen, Every day, it’s a getting’ closer, Goin’ faster than a roller coaster, and she’d lift Alice high and they’d bump noses at the Love like yours bit.

‘During foaling, Roger Hernandez stayed in the hayloft above the barn, put up some walls with bits of lumber and bales of hay, ran a line from the generator so he could have a little hotplate and an old Dansette cassette player. Momma loaned him some Buddy Holly tapes, and he used to play mariachi bands, and Alice would sneak in and hide underneath the hayloft and listen to those horns. Then he got inta some other stuff, foreign like, first kinda Frenchy or European, then strange instruments she’d never heard before, and women’s voices that seemed to fit together in ways that didn’t sound quite like it shoulda. She asked him once, “Roger Hernandez, where does that music you listen to come from?” but all he said was, “Little Alice, they come from other places, far, far away.” They have camels there, he said, as well as horses, and the grasslands go on forever, even bigger and wider than the Prairies.   “They don’t sing right,” she told him, and he said she was right, but it wasn’t really singing. “Ululating,” he said it was, and Alice reckoned the word sounded like the singing.’

£9.95 well spent, I say.

 

 

Wye Oak, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, 13/6/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on July 13, 2014
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Wye Oak (photo nashvillescene.com)

I picked up on Wye Oak – Baltimorians Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner – after catching ‘The Tower’ on Radio 6.  They reminded me of another indie band I fell in love with last year, Dark, Dark, Dark, so this was a speculative gig just to check out a new sound to me.  Given my mum had died the day before, I looked at the ticket and initially thought, ‘Nah’, but then decided that it was better to be not in the mood at King Tut’s than not in the mood at home on my own.  It was the right decision.

They’re an odd band musically.  Wasner is a multi-instrumentalist – bass, guitar, keyboards – and their sound has definitely changed between their breakthrough album ‘Civilian’ and their latest ‘Shriek’ because she is concentrating more on bass than guitar.  Melodies are more electro-pop than grungy, her voice modulated somewhat. Stack is even more interesting.  I’ve never seen anyone play keyboards and drums.  At the same time.  Yes, that’s right.  Left side doing the keyboards, right side doing the percussion.  And it works.  It really does.

They are really very, very good.  I’d recommend you have a listen to 1980′s-style pop anthem  ‘Glory‘, ‘The Tower‘, ‘Holy Holy‘ and their most popular track ‘Civilian‘, one of those lyrics you haven’t a bloody clue about but which nevertheless seeps into your brain and just won’t bloody leave.  It’s meaningless and marvellous and quite gorgeous.

Pretty short review because I’m doing it very much in retrospect,  but this is a band I’d happily go well out of my way to see again.

 

The National, Usher Hall, 10/7/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on July 13, 2014
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Matt Berninger giving it laldy.

I love The National. I have done since about 2006, when ‘Boxer’ was one of the albums of the year and ‘Fake Empire’ hit the streets as one of those classic anthems you’ll never ever be able to do without. I love their music – all syncopated and, dammit, difficult at times. I love Matt Berninger’s vocals, as if he’s just had a cello surgically inserted into his oesophagus. Most of all, I love their lyrics for their ability to knock you senseless with a startling image that comes from the corner of your eyesight and whaps you on the side of the head; lines like

‘You never saw me I was falling apart / I was a television version of a person with a broken heart’

or

‘I should live in salt for leaving you behind’

or

‘I’m a confident liar / Had my head in the oven so you’d know where I’ll be’

just scream genius. They really do.

I’ve only seen them once, back in 2007 at the O2 ABC (St Vincent was on the bill) and it was one of the gigs of the year. Given that ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is easily one of the best albums of 2013, they were unlikely to disappoint. And they – themselves – don’t. Berninger doesn’t do audience interaction, despite being the thinking woman’s crumpet (well, any woman’s crumpet, probably) and leaves what chat there has to be to the Dessners on guitar. It isn’t much of a spectacle then, but by gum do they rattle through the hits. They hit the ground running with ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ (the introduction to which sounds spookily like ‘Goodbye Horses’, the soundtrack to that creepy cross dressing scene in ‘Silence of the Lambs’) and the utterly glorious ‘I Should Live In Salt’. It’s a set list dominated by the latest album, including ‘Graceless’ and ‘Pink Rabbits’ and ‘Hard to Find’, every one brilliant. I especially love ‘I Need My Girl’, Aaron Dessner’s beautiful paean to his newborn daughter, their new single with a breathtakingly  classic video. It’s pure loveliness and the quietest song of the night, and is only marginally spoiled by the dickheads who barge in front of us, snog six inches in front of our faces and bellow down the mobile phone during it. Sigh. But there’s a fair smattering of oldies and goodies too, including ‘Afraid of Everyone’ and another of my favourites, the stonking ‘Conversation 16’.

So, this should have been one of those nights that just make me say, ‘I saw The National’; but, oh dear, the sound. The Usher Hall is one of those horrendous barns that sucks up any detail, and everything is reduced to a muddy blarp. Berninger is a pretty good enunciator, but if you don’t know the songs, you’d be lost. It’s horrendous, even worse for support act Mina Tindle, a fetching French girl who may be bilingual but it’s actually impossible to tell. Having just been at Glastonbury where a setup in a field can produce brilliant sound (don’t believe the TV, it’s a million time better than the shite the BBC pumps out) I cannot understand why a hall purposely built for playing music can be so utterly incompetent at it.

I’m relatively happy though. They finish the main set with ‘Fake Empire’ in all its glory, even if those horny horns disappear in the boomy mess. I leave at that point, so frustrated with the sound I can’t face the encore. So glad I saw them, so unhappy I didn’t actually hear them. Maybe they’ll headline Glasto next year – now that would be something worth elbowing my way to the front of the Pyramid stage for…

 

 

Margaret Soltysek, 1928 – 2014

Posted in Family by raymondsoltysek on June 22, 2014
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Margaret Soltysek, 28/5/28 – 12/6/14

My mum was, in many ways, such an ordinary woman. She liked  old-fashioned,  middle of the road music like Ronnie Carroll and Frank Ifield and Frankie Vaughn, and she used to torture us with Sunday afternoon records or BBC films of Mario Lanza. Even though she was a young mum when she had me, she wasn’t keen on the excesses of the 60s; I remember her watching Top of the Pops on the tiny black and white telly we had and sticking her nose in the air and saying ‘that Mick Jagger: I can smell him from here.’

With hindsight, she could be a terrible cook – she boiled vegetables for three hours and fried lamb chops until all that was left was a postage stamp of charcoal left on the bone – but could make the world’s best pea and ham soup and mince and tatties and you haven’t lived till you’ve tried her bread and jam pudding. Her drop scones were so good, Kim the dog used to burn his mouth catching them when she flipped his share straight from the pan, and it seemed an injustice to us that there was only one Pancake Day a year.

She was a shark at card games like cribbage and funny rummy, and she taught us all to play, and we’d have card schools all evening that were much more educational than maths homework.   Then there were the evenings when we’d buy rolls from the roll boy who came round, and we’d toast them on the open fire and butter them, and drink Alpine lemonade the lorry had brought round while we watched ‘Father Dear Father’ or ‘On the Buses’ or ‘The Champions’.   What happened to the Alpine lorry and boys who sold rolls off the backs of their bogies?

She always went overboard at Christmas, with the biggest trees and the most parcels and pillowcases of presents at the bottom of the bed, great games like Mousetrap or The Magnetic Driving Test, or toys like robots with TV screens in the chest or Major Matt Mason the bendy toy astronaut – all of those memories gone to the rubbish bin or given to the charity shop decades ago – and always a tangerine wrapped in silver paper.

She loved animals, from Glen the knicker-eating collie to Sherry, my rescue puppy who was a bit more ambitious and ate the sofa; she eventually got it right with her favourite, a little Beagle called Picot who only ever ate his own body weight in dog food. I remember being really anxious about persuading her of my absolute need for a rabbit, and rehearsing all 101 reasons why I had to have one: ‘Can I have a rabbit, mum?’ I asked. ‘Of course’ she said. I think I was disappointed I wasn’t going to get to practice my persuasive skills on her. We had a procession of cats, all of whom seemed to have names beginning with M (Macavity, Morgan, Mina), the best of the lot being Miffy, who grew up with me and hung around for 16 years. Then my wee sister Christine started keeping horses, and my mum found a new purpose and pastime in helping her mucking out and grooming, all that fresh air and exercise.  And she loved children. One of the favourite events at the nursing home was the visits from  her great grand-daughter Amelie, and there’s a photograph of my mum taken with all her grandchildren and great grandchildren at my niece Karen’s wedding a couple of summers ago; she looks the proudest woman in the world.

But my mum was also a hugely complex woman. She had a fierce will – I inherited her bloody good finger wag, which made teaching the perfect job for me – and for some reason you felt she couldn’t be crossed. I only remember being really cheeky to my mum once. I was 19. I was drunk. I felt brave because I was three miles away and on the other end of the phone.

I also inherited the black dog that visited her at times, when the pressure of looking after five children basically on her own got overwhelming for her. And she was an incredibly secretive woman; in the last few weeks, I discovered just how secretive when I found out I was an unexpected surprise for my brothers and sisters. My parents hadn’t told them about me, and my brothers Peter and Martin were sent off to a Cubs event and my sister Jennifer was told to go and collect them off the train, and they all arrived back at the house to find me there. Of course, that meant none of the preparation had been done, so I slept in an orange box for the first few months of my life.

Why would you not tell your children they were about to have a wee brother or sister?

I think all that complexity, all that secrecy, came in part from my mum’s background, which she rarely spoke to me about. Bits and pieces I’ve gathered over the years amount to a story of heart-breaking difficulty. Her father is unidentified on her birth certificate, and the family scandal is that my grandmother was working in service, and the lord of the manor took a fancy to her then sacked her as soon as she became pregnant, paying her about 1s/6d a week hush money to look after the baby. My mother spoke about grinding poverty, she and her mother moving from one itinerant service job to the next, never staying in the same house longer than a few months for the first ten years of her life. Her mother married and then died, and so my mother was sent to her grandmother, a fierce wee woman in the days when you didn’t spare the rod, and a succession of step relatives and foster homes. Few of these people had the time or the inclination to give her the love and attention she needed; my mum spoke about being punished by having to stand in the corner of the room facing the walls for hours on end, being refused permission even to go to the toilet. When she got her first job at 14, she turned up in her school uniform because those were the only clothes she owned.

And after the war she met my father, and then it really gets interesting. My dad too was an ordinary man. From him, I inherited a good head of hair but a distinctly dodgy hairline. He did the football pools, watched wrestling on World of Sport (he hated Mick McManus) and got tipsy on whisky at New Year. I asked him about my granddad in Poland, and all he would ever say was that he worked hard for his family.  When I visited my Polish relatives for the first time three years ago, I asked them about my grandfather and all my uncles, and they always said just one thing; they worked hard for their families. And that’s what my dad did. It was in his DNA.

But what a complex character he was too. Born ethnic German, he only became Polish after the First World War, and when Germany invaded in 1939, my dad found himself in the German army and sent off to fight on the Eastern Front where he won a medal for bravery and got wounded. Then he was sent to the Western Front where he was captured by Americans and washed up in Aberdeen and, at the end of the war, found he unable to return home. Overnight, my dad changed from being an enemy prisoner of war who had actively fought against this country to being an immigrant asylum seeker looking to work and to make a life here. Can you imagine the Daily Mail headlines these days?

And this was the difficult man my mum devoted herself to, at the age of what? 19? 20? And it was a real devotion, because my dad’s complexity didn’t end there. Already 35 when they met, he was married in Poland and had two children, one by his Polish wife and one by – wait for it – his sister in law. Yes, my dad was a one man subplot for EastEnders. It was just as well the communists wouldn’t let him back in the country; his family over there wanted a wee word with him too. But that’s what war does; it dislocates people from their loved ones and throws them across the world, and they wash up in the unlikeliest of places and meet the unlikeliest of people and have the unlikeliest of new lives.

So two people who couldn’t marry – they didn’t finally tie the knot until the mid-1970s and, of course, never told me – built a life together. Think of the bravery of them both, but particularly of my mum. She had no experience of what a family was really like, had never been brought up with that stability around her, had no role models and no extended family to turn to, and there she was with five children to a man who worked away from home most of the time who wasn’t her husband and therefore had a lot less reason to stick around than most, and who had secrets up to his eyeballs that at any minute could come back to haunt them. The only thing she had to rely on was his pathological commitment to working hard for his family.

What a life of insecurity, living on the edge. And with that fierce will of hers, that drive, that desire to make the family she never experienced as a child, she got there. She always stuck by us; despite occasional turbulence, she was there for us, we could depend on her in times of need. I think she put a roof over all of our heads when we needed it; I certainly know that in my twenties, when I was making some catastrophically bad decisions in my personal life,  I could always turn up at the wee semi-detached  they worked so hard for and of which they were so proud and find a safe haven. I’d arrive at half past three in the morning with nowhere to stay, and my dad would answer the door and make me a cup of tea, and in the morning mum would pop her head round the door of the spare bedroom and ask what I wanted for breakfast; no judgment, no inquisition, just dedication to the cause of their children.

We’re not perfect – good grief are we not perfect – but we’ve never intentionally hurt people for our own ends, we’ve always stayed on the right side of the law (though my right foot gets me into a lot of bother with the traffic police) and we’ve always contributed to society in our own ways. In the last few years, we’ve fractured – what family doesn’t? – and it hurt her and she blamed herself for it, not realising that she’d raised five strong-minded, wilful, capable characters who simply reflect her. That was her legacy to us.

And that’s why I don’t mind sharing all that secret family stuff now; because I think it shows my mum to be a real hero. She looked at all those hurdles, those insecurities, those secrets, those troubles, and one by one she worked her way around them and made the successful family she craved. For me, her quiet, ordinary achievements in life in the face of all of that, are extraordinary. They certainly put all my selfish ‘look at me, amn’t I so clever’ achievements in perspective; I have done nothing compared to my mum.

It’s never a good time to become an orphan. If it happens early in your life, you miss out on all that could and should have happened, all that potential. But later in life, you have less time to get used to the idea that your existence has fundamentally changed, that the air around you has altered forever. And then there’s the realisation that time’s up, and you’ve spent 50-something years missing all those opportunities to be a better son.

 

 

Extract from eulogy for Margaret Soltysek for family and friends who couldn’t be there.

 

 

 

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Angel Olsen, Mono, 9/6/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on June 10, 2014
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Angel Olsen (photo Zia Anger)

Angel Olsen is the queen of lo-fi.  Her music is capable of being scuzzy and blurred, a wall of cacophony that harks back to a hallucinatory Roy Orbison; I love ‘Sweet Dreams‘, which sounds as if Chris Isaak has been on the Jack D and a huge bag of magic mushrooms  for a week in nothing but his underpants, ‘Hi Five‘ has a woozed out fifties feel (opening line; ‘I feel so lonesome I could cry…’) and ‘Free‘ is a brilliant grunge re-realisation of  the twangly guitars of the likes of  Tommy James and the Shondell’s ‘Crimson and Clover‘. And I defy anyone to listen to the opening bars of ‘May as Well‘ and not think of ‘You Saw Me Crying in the Chapel’.

There’s a real eclecticism about her though, with heartbreaking intimate ballads that at times almost seem incoherent in the free association of both melody and lyric.   I first saw her onstage with Bonnie Prince Billy at Celtic Connections, and she stood out because of that voice of hers, unexpected yowls and yodels coming from somewhere in the pit of her stomach; watching her sing, you get the impression that she often opens her mouth and has no idea what sound is going to come out of it.

This is a fabulous set.  Playing with her new band – Joshua, Emily and Stuart is all we’re told – she absolutely rocks it.  ‘Free’ starts the set, and it just gets louder with ‘Hi-Five’, ‘High & Wild’ and an absolutely barnstorming ‘Forgiven / Forgotten’ and, star of the show, ‘Sweet Dreams’, complete with a stunning guitar solo.  It’s just flawless, head down grunge.

But this is a bit of a departure for her; she’s grown up doing those more intimate songs, her and a guitar and just that magnificent voice. The band leave her for the final three songs, and she performs an oldie, ‘Some Things Cosmic’ – listen to this al fresco performance to get the full flavour of the fabulous things she does vocally.  But the best comes next.  She sings ‘White Fire’, which supplies the title for the new album, ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’.  It is seven minutes of stunning beauty, a slow-burning malignancy that gets into your brain and anaesthetizes the senses.  Brilliant.

A big hand too for a magnificent audience.  I’ve never been to Mono, and it’s really a bar / diner, so I was expecting irritating noise bleeding into the show.  None of that.  It’s an absolute sell out crowd, hot and heaving, yet every single song is greeted with pin-drop quiet respect, essential for some of her numbers.   If this is the usual, Mono may well become my fave Glasgow venue.

I’ll see bigger and slicker shows – hell, I’m off to Glastonbury in two weeks – but at the end of the year this will have a firm place in my gigs of the year.  Loved the venue, loved the audience, loved the music, loved her.

 

 

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Smoke Fairies, SWG3, 30/5/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on June 1, 2014
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Smoke Fairies

Another woozy retro visit to Smoke Fairies, this time at tiny, cool SWG3 underneath the train line to Partick.  Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies have a new album out (and it’s on vinyl – hurray!); it’s much of the same 60s-inspired psychedelia, but feels richer and broader, their sound growing in maturity and basic balls.

Once more, stage presence is limited; I think they’re both just actually really shy.  Blamire tries small talk once, complimenting the weather, and trailing off into a story about a stand off she had with staff at the Westmoreland Services about eating a take-away Lancashire Hotpot in the seated area; as she approaches the punchline, she realises she doesn’t have one, and says meekly ‘Oh well, that’s that… this song’s called…’.  It’s really charming, but Prince they ain’t.

So it’s just as well she’s got her twangy guitar to do her talking for her; she’s well capable of opening up and letting it rip, such as on the exquisitely jangly ‘Want It Forever‘, a real stand out.  They have a real ear for a great riff, and I think that’s when they’re at their best; ‘The Three of Us‘ and ‘Strange Moon Rising’  are stonkingly riffy tracks, and they do something exceptional with my favourite, ‘Hotel Room‘.  It begins slow and downbeat, like waking up with a hangover in a  chain motel, then they kick it up and blast their way through the rest at a great lick.  Fantastic.

But they’re also developing a real ear for slow burning ballads:  ‘Your Own Silent Movie’ and ‘Are You Crazy’ are lovely.  Then there’s their pastoral folky stuff (‘Misty Versions’, ‘We’ve Seen Birds’, etc.) which means it all adds up to a mix that is far more eclectic than it sounds on first listening.

They’re supported by The Lake Poets, aka Martin Longstaff, a Sunderland lad who brings along some of his mates to play with him. He’s awfy good; great songs, great guitar picking, charming chat and the voice of an angel.  ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Rain‘ are particularly beautiful.  He should go far.

Little Miss Perchink and the Guid Scotch Pies: Jill Brown, Barlinnie Prison, 28/5/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on May 28, 2014
Jill Brown

Jill Brown

So – that was a pretty unique gig!

My pal Jill Brown – who was one of those stand out pupils you have in your career at Lenzie Academy 18 years ago – is a wee Renaissance gal; a PR consultant, spin doctor,TV presenter, singer songwriter and boxer (yes, boxer – her grandfather was a pro).  Her music is no nonsense AOR R&B with a slick production  (she’s worked with half of Texas, though not the really famous half), and she’s been cutting her teeth doing gigs in Scotland’s toughest prisons.  She also sleeps occasionally.

So come along, she says.  I do.  A few other of her pals do too, all of us lined up along the back of a tiny hall in the depths of the prison as a crowd of Glasgow’s finest come traipsing through the doors.  They look so tough, their faces so full of character, I think I must have wandered into a Peter Howson exhibition.  ‘Nothing has ever, ever kicked off,’ one of the warders tells us, ‘but if it does…’

The first half of the show is the prison guitar group, and there is some real talent on display.  Two of the guys play their own songs, including one about missing a beloved daughter (they can put a tune together, these blokes)  and Jill joins a pretty fine guitarist for a couple of covers.

Then there’s a break for one of the best Scotch pies I’ve ever had.   Honestly.  I dimly remember having one at a St Mirren match,  one of those legendary Kilmarnock pies that were the only reason anyone ever went to Rugby Park.  This one is better.  And it’s with Irn Bru.  Diet tomorrow, I think…

Second half, Jill gets her band up to crack through eight or so of her songs.   I can hear her developing as a songwriter.  Much of her work is informed by the industrial amounts of shit she’s had to face in her life (she won’t mind me saying that, she freely admits it on stage) so you can hear the pain and the fight and the redemption behind the toe-tapping tunes.  Two I haven’t heard – ‘Neverending Song’, a startlingly good love song, and ‘A Right Hook’s Coming, and a Whole Lot More’ (yes, I told you, she’s a boxer) – are especially good.

And that audience?  Well, they’re perfect.  There’s no even good natured heckling of  their fellow inmates who are performing – they’re treated warmly, because they all share the same sentiments – and, apart from a couple of wolf whistles as tiny, perchink Jill takes the stage (which she charmingly deals with PDQ), they are perfectly respectful.  Applause is genuine, songs are greeted with careful attention and they take Jill’s quips and barbs and jokes with good humour (‘What is it?  Do we fancy him?’ she asks, as her bass player gets a particularly loud cheer).  How I wish they’d been the audience at Pokey LaFarge’s gig in Amsterdam earlier this month…

So – a great wee evening.  Jill works so hard at her music, she deserves a lot more success.  I’m very proud of my pupil.  I’m very proud of my pal.

 

 

 

Prides, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, 22/5/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on May 25, 2014
Lewis Gardiner, Stewart Brock, Callum Wiseman

Lewis Gardiner, Stewart Brock, Callum Wiseman

After their great mini-set at Sofar Glasgow a couple of months, ago, I was damned sure I was going to see Glasgow’s biggest up and coming band; seems everyone else had the same idea, because Tut’s is an absolute sell out, groaning at the seams for a band that, remarkably, only put their first track online about a year ago.  They are going far, and they deserve to.

It’s short set, but it oozes class.  My only complaint is that they start the set with my favourite,  ‘The Seeds You Sow‘, a huge track that demands that you chant along and dance your bollocks off.  However, they don’t really let up, and those big chants and tingly synths come thick and fast with ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘Cold Blooded’ and their brilliant new single ‘Messiah‘ (the video is a hoot).    They’re a great band, tight as a drum; it’s noticeable that all those difficult syncopations and startling abrupt entries are pin point sharp.  Stuart Brock, too, has a wonderful voice, shown to great effect on a kitsch cover of ‘Time after Time’ and an a capella ‘When Doves Cry’, two songs that suit their big, romantic aesthetic.

Fab stuff.  A band to watch, big time.

 

 

Revere, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, 15/5/14

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on May 25, 2014
Ellie Wilson, Stephen Ellis, Kathleen McKie  and The Beard...

Ellie Wilson, Stephen Ellis, Kathleen McKie and The Beard…

A reprise of last year’s gig, this time thankfully a little better supported.  The Youth and Young share the bill again, and hammer their way fetchingly through a setlist that gets them and the audience hot and bothered.  This is a lovely band who love their music.  ‘Our Father’s Wars‘ is a cracking track with that big anthemic ‘Whoa’ stomping throughout, and ‘Blanket’ and ‘The Colour Upstream’ are clearly radio friendly.  I don’t know if Radio 6 has picked them up yet, but they should.

Then on to Revere, with Stephen Ellis back in fine voice and with a beard that has become Old Testamental in proportions since last year.  They’re travelling light this time round – no Nick Hirst on keyboards or Ellie Wilson on violin and vocals – which means the use of samples and soundfiles.  It feels a little bit less of an event without them, but there’s no denying the quality.  They rip through their operatic anthems undeterred:  I really do love ‘I Won’t Blame You‘ and, especially, ‘Maybe We Should Go Outside’ simply because they are so ambitious, so over the top.  Brilliant stuff.

Afterwards, I get a hug from Ellis and have a chat with bassist Russell Cook.  They’re happy to be back, he says, and feels they’re slowly building a fan base here; ‘Aberdeen was difficult, though’, he says, and I wish I’d alerted some of my pal’s up there to go along.  Big things are, deservedly, beginning to happen for them though;   European label V2 has picked up their latest album, ‘My Mirror / Your Target’.  Here, they’re going to work more with The Youth and Young to plug into their local knowledge – there seems to be a genuine bond between two very different bands – and they’re playing house gigs to build support, and if my living room was big enough, I’d have them round tomorrow.  If they’re going down that route a little way, I reckon Sofar in London should snap them up.

However, I go out the door happy, because I’ve got ‘My Mirror / Your Target’ on vinyl; and cool, crystal clear vinyl it is too.  Yum yum.  Next time, I’ll buy them a pint to say thanks.

 

 

‘Songs of Other Places’ – New Writing Scotland 32

Posted in Publications, Writing by raymondsoltysek on May 12, 2014

Very, very pleased to be included in New Writing Scotland for the third year running – and even more pleased that my story has been chosen as the title for the whole collection.  Many thanks to Zoë Strachan and, one of my favourite poets, Gerry Cambridge for choosing me.

‘Songs of Other Places’ is one of a number of American-set stories I’ve written over the last couple of years, and is a companion piece to ‘Spree Killer‘, which was included in NWS 30.  Both are set in a Texas that is slowly but inexorably dying from the effects of economic devastation and human indifference.

In the latest story, Alice is a thirtysomething wife of a cop, mother of two sons, who is being marginalised in her own life.  She dreams of happier times on the ranch with her mother, and falling in crush with the farm hand, Roger Hernandez.  I’m really proud of it; it’s one of the most beautiful and empathetic stories I think I’ve ever written.  It’s never easy writing as a woman, but I’m hoping I’ve pretty much got it spot on.

The collection will be published in the summer.  I had been saving  ‘Songs of Other Places’ as the title of a new collection – I’m trying to have enough written by late next year for a new book on the shelves – but I’m proud it’ll be used for what is a Scottish literary institution.

 

 

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