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Exciting cultural products

March 27, 2007

One of the things I enjoy most about living in Scotland is the cultural dynamism. Maybe it’s new, post-devolution confidence, maybe Trainspotting gave Scots a new voice, but the end result is a thriving cultural scene, and cross-pollination between disciplines, with writers and artists collaborating with musicians.

There’s some excellent contemporary artists, like Shrigley and Douglas Gordon,and cutting edge cinema, but it’s the music scene that inspires me most.

The music scene is great, whether you’re after folk, indie or post-rock. The music I’m enjoying most I like to call Caledonian Mope, miserabilist, ironic post-rock. It probably all started with The Jesus and Mary Chain back in the 80s, but for me it’s best expressed by Arab Strap, a band from Falkirk who split last year. The band specialise in humorous, bitter, often spoken lyrics over folky music. The first single, The First Big Weekend, sets the tone: it describes a weekend of travelling through to Glasgow, getting smashed, sleeping through the football and waking up to find England has won.

My favourite track is Loch Leven, which blends distorted bagpipes with lyrics reflecting a disgust at society and a desire to return to the wild:

The rain that falls on Leven’s shores/
Is the same rain that falls on superstores/
And sets off car alarms in our street/
Let’s burn our clothes and hunt our meat

The band members Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middletonn have released solo albums; Middleton’s new album A Brighter Beat is a masterpiece. The album is dark: the first line is we’re all going to die, but funny too: Middleton wants to take his duvet with him when he goes. Four cigarettes to go before I have to leave the house. Shrigley does the artwork for the album.

Other exceptional Glasgow bands include Mogwai, who collaborated with Douglas Gordon to create the soundtrack for his film Zidane, and Sons and Daughters, who do the Johnny Cash/ Nick cave/ P J Harvey thing with great style.

But what I am really enjoying at the moment is Ballads of the Book.

The album is a collaboration between writers and musicians, with some of Scotland’s top writers contributing lyrics which the musicians wrote songs around. The brainchild of Idlewild‘s Roddy Woomble, the project features tracks by many of the artists mentioned above, with lyrics from Alisdair Gray, A L Kennedy and Ian Rankin, who writes a song about the sixth Rolling Stone, a Scot who was dropped from the band because he had a ‘face like a lump of coal’ and didn’t fit the band’s image.

All the way from Pittenweem
To the rock ‘n roll dream
all the way from East Neuk, Fife
to the R & B life

Idelwild contribute my favourite track on the album, but for me the lyrics are what really makes this exceptional. This is John Burnside, on A Calvinist Narrowly Avoids Pleasure:

Give me my whisky bottle
Give me the moist, sliding pop
as the cork squeaks out of the bottle releasing
Not the soft-focus rustic gold of advertisers
but the male blood brotherhood of generations.
Let me be at home with violent, maudlin oblivion.
Let me vomit until the dry, raw retches
still my heaving soul as I kneel over the vitreous white
of the alter in the whirling room.
And unleash the hangover. Bring
Not the light, but the darkness of morning,
the Holy mechanism of pleasure
and my sin and guilt and self-loathing
brimful, in triple measure.

You can experience it all a this interactive site.

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