Category: Scotland


LANARK by Alasdair Gray (Cannongate, 1981)

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If anybody denies that Lanark is a work of genius, that man or woman is not be trusted. If that same person says that it is a work of madness, you might concede that he or she has a point.

It is, by now,  common knowledge that the line between the two concepts – genius and madness – is a fine one. Navigating life can be defined in terms of such a fine line. Imagine a tightrope walker moving between two points without the security or consolation of a safety net. On false step could prove fatal and the safest option of all is not to start the walk from point A to point B in the first place.

Fortunately, enough humans have an inbuilt drive to do things that  have not been done before.  Convention tends to stifle such urges but the risk takers and iconoclasts of this world may embark on journeys that no-one has contemplated.

Lanark is such a journey. It was written over the course of 25 years and eventually published in 1981 when Gray was 47. It is a work of diversity and perversity and is to Glasgow, Scotland what Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses is to Dublin, Ireland. Continue reading

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Illustration by Lizzy Stewart.

Illustration by Lizzy Stewart.

‘Don’t Make A Scene – A field guide to putting on DIY gigs’ is a ‘zine compiled by Rob St John and Bartholomew Owl; two dedicated Alt.Folk musicians and all round decent guys.

The 2014 booklet was originally charged at a highly reasonable £4. Now it’s an even better deal as it’s just been made available as a free to download PDF. This generous offer is a way of sticking two fingers up to Black Friday zombie consumption and to embrace the spirit of buy nothing day. Continue reading

UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (UK,USA, 2013)

ScarlettThe greatest movies are those that discretely change your perception of the world. Inspiring auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch play upon the voyeuristic nature of cinema and their strength of their vision lies in drawing the viewer into the kind of dark and sinister worlds ‘normal’ citizens would go out of our way to avoid. Jonathan Glazer can safely be added to this exclusive director’s club.

Under The Skin is loosely based on Michel Faber’s brilliant and disturbing debut novel. The operative word here is ‘loosely’ because so much of the plot has been changed it almost amounts to a different story entirely. The Scottish setting is the same but otherwise the divergences far outweigh the similarities. Even so, the movie captures the essence of the novel by being faithful to the atmosphere if not the details.

In the novel the alienated alien, Isserley, is described as “half Baywatch babe, half little old lady” which is hardly a description that applies to Scarlett Johansson who still manages to look sexy despite wearing a scraggy black wig and manky fur jacket. In fact Glazer makes sex the chief way in which the solitary males are lured to their fate; they don’t have to be drugged.

The movie is seriously creepy although not as explicitly horrific as the book. The victims disappear into a strange liquid, a symbolic and seemingly painless death which is a happy death compared to the nightmarish process of being turned into braised meat that Faber describes. Continue reading

UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber (Canongate Books, 2000)

The first time I read this novel, I found it mildly disturbing and extremely distasteful. After having just seen Jonathan Glazer’s loose but still remarkable movie adaptation, I decided to give it another try. This time around I got it!

I can now appreciate what a powerful and brilliantly sustained piece of writing it is. At the same time I can understand what I initially found so off-putting.

Faber’s precise, clinical  prose is emotionally detached to the point that he challenges readers to use their own moral compass to decipher the grotesque story of a freakish female extraterrestrial named Isserley who assumes human form to prey upon unsuspecting hitchhikers in the Scottish Highlands.

Initially you think that her motives are sexual as she seeks out muscular men and flashes her surgically enhanced boobs at them. It transpires that her intentions are far more sinister as these beefy men are quite literally wanted for their meat value.

It takes a while to realise what Faber calls human beings are actually fox-like alien creatures from Isserley’s homeland while we Homo sapiens are downgraded to ‘vodsels’ whose grim fate is to be processed into “thin fillets of braised voddissin”. Continue reading

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe 7″ single Carnival/Canter on the DIY imprint ITLAN based in Edinburgh, Scotland marks the welcome, and long overdue, return of Tissø Lake, the recording project of Ian Humberstone.

I blogged about his album Song Of The Black Dog in 2008 but since early 2010 he has gone off the radar.

Now he’s back and the good news is that the single will be closely followed (on April 14th) by a re-release of ‘The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold’ which was recorded in 2005. Unless you live in America and snapped up a copy of this on the now defunct Banazan Records label, the ten tracks on this mini album will also be new to you.

Both records are highly recommended for lovers of quiet, introspective folk music. I love ghostly yet intimate quality of his songs which, to borrow a line from the song I Am A Lake, leaves you with the feeling of being “breathless and alive”.

Ian very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his song writing and the background to these releases:

How come The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold was only released in the U.S and why has it taken 8 years to reach Europe?

Ian Humberstone

The Hollow Wood and Wondrous Cold was recorded when I was still in my teens, making music with whichever instruments fell to my hands, borrowed microphones and a reel-to-reel recorder salvaged from a local sixth-form college (it was headed for the skip, though with some care it’s served me well since). There were few people interested in releasing the album at the time and the best offer came from a U.S. label who wanted exclusive rights to the album. Those rights only recently expired, freeing up the record for re-release. Continue reading

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