Findlay Napier announces his new album, Glasgow

Findlay Napier

Following huge acclaim for his 2015 solo debut VIP: Very Interesting Persons, Scotland’s Findlay Napier again unites superb songwriting, magpie-minded imagination and compellingly vivid vocals on his new album Glasgow. A characteristically wry yet lyrical, offbeat yet heartfelt paean to his adopted home town – marking 20 years since Napier arrived from his Highland birthplace – it features freshly-penned, instantly memorable originals alongside classic and contemporary gems from the city’s rich ballad canon. Continuing their fruitful collaboration on VIP, revered UK songsmith Boo Hewerdine reprises his roles as producer and co-writer.

From modern-day vignettes like opener ‘Young Goths In The Necropolis’ – its bittersweet emotional charge evoking a Caledonian Loudon Wainwright – to the tenderly imagined love-story of ‘The Locarno, Sauchiehall St 1928’, reminiscent of the late great Michael Marra (whose wonderfully whimsical ‘King Kong’s Visit to Glasgow’ is also covered), the album’s musical map spans shipyards and late-night chippies, wily street veterans and warring football fans, patron saints and musical icons.

Other covers include a terrifically gallus (Scots for ‘bold, mischievous, cheeky’ – ie quintessentially Glaswegian) version of Hamish Imlach’s ‘Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice’; a dreamily ardent rendering of The Blue Nile’s ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’, and a gorgeous new ballad, ‘Marchtown’, by ex-Delgado Emma Pollock.

With accompaniment mostly distilled to artful acoustic guitar, plus occasional piano and Donna Maciocia’s delicate backing vocals, Napier’s remarkable voice – by turns burly, gritty, fierce and forlorn, bitingly acerbic and exquisitely nuanced – is rightfully foregrounded throughout, capturing scenes and characters as potently as the CD cover image by Pulitzer Prize-winning Magnum photographer Raymond Depardon.

Napier’s fast-growing stature as one of the UK’s most distinctively gifted contemporary folk artists builds on his previous band work with Back Of The Moon and The Bar Room Mountaineers, also reflecting his long-time immersion in the vibrant stylistic melting-pot of Glasgow’s world-famous music scene. As promoter of the decade-old Hazy Recollections concert series and founder of the Glasgow Songwriting Festival, he’s been particularly influential in fostering cross-fertilisation between the city’s folk and indie communities. Spring 2017 saw him touring with acclaimed contemporary protest-song showcase Shake the Chains, whose September album release is followed by more dates early next year.

While the sorrow and anger simmering through Glasgow track ‘There’s More To Building Ships’ (originally written for Shake the Chains) highlight Napier’s political leanings, humour is an equally vital element in his work, both recorded and live – as reflected in his recent sideline career as a stand-up comedic. Hence his readiness to embrace not only the oft-disparaged label of folk singer, but also another, likewise timeless role:

“I do love that old-fashioned, all-round idea of an ‘entertainer’,” he says. “But then that’s totally what the best folk singers are; they’ll have you in absolute hysterics, in between punching you in the gut – people like Loudon Wainwright, John Prine, Michael Marra: that’s the absolute pinnacle, as far as I’m concerned.”

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Findlay Napier – Glasgow link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.findlaynapier.com

‘Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice’ live:

SHAKE THE CHAINS – Shake The Chains (Quercus Records QRCD003)

Shake The ChainsEven supposing you knew nothing about this album, a quick glance down the track listing would instantly identify Shake The Chains as a politically conscious project. A new generation of protest songs sit comfortably alongside some old standards.

Despite Edwyn Collins’ complaint in ‘A Girl Like Youabout “too many protest singers, not enough protest songs”, it can sometimes be hard to imagine what it would take, in these trying times, to generate enough protest to effect real change. But here is a delightful set of songs, nonetheless.

Hannah Martin contributes songs of poetic allegory and metaphor. ‘Yarl’s Wood’ evokes the horror of a refugee ending up in a detention centre. The refugee’s flight, “the choice that is no choice” is starkly laid out and overwhelmingly powerful. ‘Song Of The Jay’ uses certain bird behaviours to draw unflattering parallels with some human ones. Similar, but viewed from another angle, is Tim Yates’s song ‘Side By Side’ which delivers a darkly moody lament on social division.

Nancy Kerr delivers a brilliantly tender pairing of poems about Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed under Pinochet’s regime. This lengthy piece allows the purity of the art form simply to shine.

Naturally, these serious subjects deserve gravity, but there is room for humour, too. Greg Russell’s country-flavoured ‘Bunch Next Door’ is a domestic scale witty deconstruction of political villains, while ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ has a drily sardonic air of resignation.

By contrast, Findlay Napier’s songs are much harder-hitting, with a raw passion. ‘Building Ships’ is a poignant song about his father’s experience of the death of that industry. The album’s title track – as well as a rallying call to action – ‘Shake The Chains’ is punchy, feisty and totally heartfelt. Its central chorus is adapted from Shelley’s poem Masque Of Anarchy, about the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, and a much-quoted work of those standing up for the poor and oppressed.

Of the stalwarts, ‘If I Had A Hammer’ has a simplicity, sincerity and even an undercurrent of anger. Likewise ‘We Shall Overcome’ – stripped back, sung a capella (with delicious harmonies) is revealed afresh as a sorrowful yet hopeful anthem.

The live recording gives an immediacy to the songs: the joy of hearing an audience respond suits the nature of the works. It provides a confirmation bias, a reassurance that the listener is not alone, as well as a desperately necessary response to the current madness in the world.

Whilst we can see how much we’ve moved on from the treatment of Alan Turing, as detailed in Kerr’s touching ‘Poison Apples’, it’s also a reminder against complacency. Rights hard-won may be all too insidiously and easily eroded.

It’s a hard album to review without clambering onto the soapbox, so tightly enmeshed are subject and medium. It is a superb album in its own right, with strong songs, gorgeously arranged and performed. It is also deeply moving: keep the tissues handy, there will definitely be something in your eye. Now, get out there and change something.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the SHAKE THE CHAINS link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist website: https://www.shakethechains.com

‘If I Had A Hammer’ – live:

SOPHIE RAMSAY – The Seas Between Us (own label SRAM003)

The Seas Between UsThe collection of Scots and Gaelic songs that form The Seas Between Us are largely taken from Burns (either by attribution or orgin), together with Hector Macneil’s ‘My Love’s In Germanie’ and a handful of traditional airs. From the opener, ’Ae Fond Kiss’, we are on well-trodden and familiar ground. However, whether in Gaelic or English, each song has been given thoughtful re-interpretation here. Even the over-familiarity of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has been carefully considered, rephrasing the lines to impart the meaning of those words so often bellowed semi-coherently at midnight, through a fug of alcohol.

Musically, the traditional has been supplemented by open, spacious arrangements with subtle electronic effects, that are quite deliciously and decidedly of the modern age. Occasionally reminiscent of some of Martin Green’s more recent work, here are ghostly plinking pianos, haunting horns and a fluttering flute. But – as if all that alliteration wasn’t tiring enough – there’s the over-use of echo to contend with. On individual tracks it works well enough, in particular on the layered vocals of ‘The Burning Of Auchindoun’ but, over the course of an entire album it starts to become a distraction. In contrast, however, the sudden absence of vocal reverb on ‘My Love’s In Germanie’, plus some disturbing tapping noises, contrives to create quite an effective airless and claustrophobic atmosphere.

A great deal of musical imagination has clearly been brought to bear in the production of this album. A delicate piano line in ‘By Yon Castle Wa’’ turns tensely choppy, ‘The Lea Rig’ features slow, deep, dragging strings, and ‘Bidh Clann Ulaidh’ subtle pipes propel the rhythm. ‘Bothan Àirigh Am Bràighe Raithneach’ (the album booklet helpfully provides translations of the Gaelic lyrics) features an array of eerie hee-haws, like a gently snoring donkey, while elsewhere notably on ‘The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow’, Findlay Napier lends vocal support to Sophie Ramsay’s gentle, breathy, fragile voice.

Overall, the album has a rather subdued and reflective feel. There’s a consistency of mood, perhaps at the expense of creating richer contrasts of emotional light and shade. However, it’s not at all a brash or showy album, simply one that wants to give the songs enough space to speak for themselves.
Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the SOPHIE RAMSAY – The Seas Between Us link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.sophieramsay.com

‘By Yon Castle Wa”:

GILLIAN FRAME – Pendulum (Cheery Groove CHEERY005)

PendulumGillian Frame was Scotland’s first Young Traditional Musician Of The Year. That was back in 2001 and it’s taken her the fifteen years since to release her first solo album. Of course she recorded three with the band she helped found, Back Of The Moon, played sessions for other bands and taught fiddle and the songs and tunes performed on Pendulum have been with her from those early days.

There are some fine musicians on the album – a core band of Mike Vass, Anna Massie and Euan Burton with guests Adam Holmes (who is making a name for himself with his own band) and Phil Hague. Despite this fine cast, what I like about this album is its essential directness and simplicity. The songs speak for themselves and the instrumental sets are not excuses for displays of ego.

The record opens with a vigour that initially surprised me. The song is ‘Rothes Colliery’, written by Gillian’s husband, Findlay Napier. It’s a straightforward song about the loss of a colliery and is sung in an appropriately straightforward manner – an excellent start. ‘Lovely Molly’ is a song of romantic trickery, played with a light touch and, like all the songs, sung without false emotion.

I’m in no way swayed by the fact that one of my all-time favourite Scottish songs, ‘Silver Tassie’, is included in the set with Holmes sharing lead vocals and that it’s followed immediately with ‘Fine Flooers In The Valley’ with ‘The Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ as a bonus. This is an excellent album.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.gillianframe.com

SINGLES BAR

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Grateful‘Grateful’ is the first single from the album …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing from Scottish singer-songwriter BLUE ROSE CODE also known as Ross Wilson. The lead track is a languid jazz-inflected piece and that’s followed by the more up-tempo ‘Midnight’s Mass In Suffolk’s Breast’, a song which immediately puts one in mind of a kinder relative of ‘Fairytale Of New York’. The James Yuill remix of ‘My Heart, The Sun’ is the set’s production number and finally we have ‘In The Morning Parts 1, 2 & 3’ live for BBC Radio Scotland. Ross has been around a while and it’s a great shame that he hasn’t come to our attention before now.
http://bluerosecode.com/

VIP ExtrasFollowing on from his critically-acclaimed album VIP, FINDLAY NAPIER brings us Very Interesting Extras, five new songs three of which are written or co-written by producer Boo Hewerdine. Gustaf Ljunggren adds a huge variety of sounds to the guitars, harmonium and ukulele played by Napier and Hewerdine. Findlay has a similar deadpan delivery to the late Michael Marra, but without the latter’s penchant for delivering comedy in the same vein. Top tracks are ‘After The Last Bell Rings’ and ‘Princess Rosanna Drowned In The Clyde’, a delightfully odd song. Who was Princess Rosanna? Did she even really exist?
http://www.findlaynapier.com/

Near The Sea‘Near The Sea’ coupled with ‘Alright Again’ is the second single to be taken from Secret Garden, the second album from AMY GODDARD which is due for release in April. It is a beautiful song about finding safety and contentment in a familiar, comforting environment and this theme is echoed in ‘Alright Again’. The two songs are very different in style – the first is full of sweeping strings whilst the second is backed by jangling guitar and hand percussion. On this evidence the album is keenly anticipated.
http://www.amygoddardmusic.co.uk

Desert SongsDesert Songs is a five track EP from songwriters DAWN LANDES AND PIERS FACCINI. The Anglo-American duo first worked together in 2013 but this is their first release as a duo. This is very much a meeting of equals: both have solo careers and the songs are joint efforts both in writing and performance. Piers brought a number of exotic acoustic instruments to the sessions and later Dawn took the tapes home to New York to add the drum parts. All the tracks boast tight harmonies and the lead song, ‘Heaven’s Gate’, is very catchy as is ‘Book Of Dreams’. Their strong melodies are what really sell the record.
www.piersfaccini.com / www.dawnlandes.com

Findlay Napier – new album

Findlay Portrait Final_2VIP VERY INTERESTING PERSONS on Cheerygroove Records CHEERY002

There are many who find themselves described as stalwarts, some for the rugged determination to keep slogging away and others because they contribute so much to stay actively involved on a whole range of levels, keeping sharp artistically and selflessly championing others who deserve attention. Findlay Napier is one of the most highly-regarded performers and creative forces on the Scottish music scene – thoroughly active and a truly energised with a heart-warming zing. He made his name touring and recording with multi-award winning traditional Scottish folk band Back of the Moon. In his more recent projects Queen Anne’s Revenge and The Bar Room Mountaineers his song-writing took centre stage and was described by The Sunday Herald as “Genuine songcraft and wit following in the Difford & Tilbrook tradition”. Findlay is also well known for hosting Glasgow’s premier open mic night at Bar Bloc, as the host of Celtic Connections’ Late Night Sessions and for his Hazy Recollections concert series which showcases the very best in new roots music.

This new album contains ten songs about real life characters that have led very interesting lives. The album was co-written and produced by Boo Hewerdine and features performances from Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott, Gillian Frame, Roy Dodds, Hamish Napier and incredible Danish multi instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren. The VIP project came together when Findlay began Creative Scotland’s Advanced Mentoring project with Boo Hewerdine. The first song they wrote together is the oft covered ‘After the Last Bell Rings’. It quickly became obvious that the pair worked well together and they decided a themed album was the way forward. ‘Heddy Lamaar’, a song about the actress who invented Bluetooth and WiFi, was the second piece that came from the creative pairing – and inspired the tone that would follow to bring VIP about.

Other interesting individuals include Valentina the first woman in space; the master conman who sold the Brooklyn Bridge at least once a week for thirty years; the ghost of a pugilist; the stunt pilot who discovered Angel Falls, and the Japanese soldier who fought the Second World War well into the 1970s.

“Clever lyrical lines, interesting contemporary, semi-acoustic, rocking arrangements… courageous and creatively skilled.” ∗∗∗∗ Scotland on Sunday

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.