Category Archives: Books

Denise Mina, Glad Café, Glasgow, November 25th, 2015 – Scottish Book Week

Denise Mina

Denise Mina

Celebrated Scottish crime writer Denise Mina appeared at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe as part of Scottish Book Week, which ran during 23rd – 29th November, 2015

Glad Cafe, Glasgow

Glad Café, Glasgow

It was an informal night of chat conducted in an easy relaxed manner by Craig Smillie. Denise was tasked with selecting three favourite songs and books, which she discussed and gave us insights into the writing of her famous crime novels, which include Garnethill, The Dead Hour and Field of Blood, among many others.


She’s a great storyteller and speaker. She drew on her large family background and originally from East Kilbride, we heard how the family moved, 21 times in 18 years. She credited this packing up and moving around, with building up a resilience, and making you a distant observer – useful traits for a writer.

In a rather self-deprecating manner, she described herself as a bit of a “chancer”, and seemed reluctant to take on the handle of author/writer.

She said she took a chance and it worked. She wanted to get some of the ideas that were generated through her studies in forensic crime into a format that could be more accessible and she wanted to open people’s eyes to a new way of understanding the world and society.

She started writing fiction by way of explaining the world she was discovering. She didn’t think anyone would read it or that it would be any good – she was wrong on both counts.

We also heard about her foray into comic writing for DC Thomson and the challenges faced by this very different writing discipline.

She spoke about her collaborations in theatre having worked on plays for Glasgow’s Oran Mor, as well as discussing the film adaptations of her novels. She often signs away film rights to many of her books, thinking they will never get made, and she stated the difficulty of controlling the filming process. She expected the TV version of Field of Blood, which starred Jayd Johnson, David Morrissey and Peter Capaldi, to be awful, but she loved it.

Field of Blood


BBC’s Field of Blood

Her chosen songs were Amen by Otis Redding, Blue Monday by New Order and Here It Comes Again by The Amazing Snakeheads. Back in the day, before music was as accessible by downloading and streaming, once you got your hands on a record, it was a prized possession. And Denise said she played a record over and over, and over again.

Favourite books were The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Victorians by A N Wilson and Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. The latter was translated into the film Angel Heart, which starred Mickey Rourke – an adaptation which Denise didn’t like.

Scotland seems to have a burgeoning crime writers circle, which includes established authors ranging from Denise Mina, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, while there is still space for new talent, such as Matt Bendoris, to join the ranks.

And Denise’s chat seemed to suggest there was a certain crime community hub in Scotland. In the 1980’s the music scene attracted the attention of those searching for the next Orange Juice or Aztec Camera, and now the Scottish crime writing circle brings its own kudos. There’s an acceptance that if it comes from Scotland, it’s quality writing and worth a look.

All that remains is for us to translate more of this creative crime writing talent to the big screen. We haven’t quite managed to rival the successes of our Nordic counterparts who bring us quality TV dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge. We’ve certainly got the talent and Scotland as a country, with its dark, grittiness and character, lends itself easily as a cinematic backdrop.

Book Week Scotland 2015


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Filed under Books, Cafes, Glasgow, Scotland, Writers and Writing

The Great Hip Hop Hoax


How far will you go to realise your dreams? 

On the outside Silibil N Brains were a young up and coming hip hop duo from California. They were taken on by entertainment impresario Jonathan Shalit, they signed a deal with Sony and were on the verge of bringing out an album and single.

Sililbil N Brains

Sililbil N Brains

But underneath the American accents, low-slung jeans, skip caps and bravado was a huge secret. They were Scottish, lived in Dundee and their real names were Gavin Bain (Brains) and Billy Boyd (Silibil). Astonishingly they fooled everyone for three years.

This film documentary excellently put together by Jeanie Finlay tells their fascinating story.

It’s hilariously funny, remarkable, sad and thought-provoking. It raises all sorts of questions about identity and highlights the fickle nature of the record industry.

The boys met at college, bonded over music, and became best friends. They spent most of their time rapping, crafting hip hop tunes and dreaming about making it big. However their dreams for the future were quickly quashed by record companies who cruelly dubbed them “the rapping Proclaimers”.  It seemed that “Scots boys can’t rap”, according to the so-called industry experts.

Sililbil N Brains

Sililbil N Brains

After a failed London trip, stubbornness set in, the boys returned home and pestered people on the phone. Again they were met with the same laughter and distain.

Fed up and for a laugh, they picked up the phone, spoke in an American accent, and got the record company’s attention. It was the same people, the same songs but as far as the record company was concerned, coming from a different place.

They were invited to London and when they arrived – they had a choice – own up or carry on with the charade. Sweating and waiting to be found out, they went with the charade, a decision that put them on a different path. They become “American”.

They donned the accents and constructed a back story of their origins and American life.

And they got away with it. It seemed as if they began to believe it themselves. They were living some kind of American dream funded by the coffers of their record company. They partied hard, mingled with stars, Billy went to the Brit Awards and they appeared on MTV.

Silibil N Brains on MTV

Silibil N Brains on MTV

This was a situation that grew arms and legs and showed no sign of slowing down but living with such a huge lie inevitably brought its problems. The sad casualty was their friendship. So while Billy legged it back to Scotland to his girlfriend back home, Gavin remained in London wondering what was going to happen next .  He dealt with a few demons and wrote a book, which became “Straight Outta Scotland: A True Story of Fakery, Money and Betrayal in the Music Industry”. (There is also another version called – California Schemin’) It seemed to have been a cathartic process for him.  Having picked up on the story, Jeanie Finlay set about making the documentary.

Book Cover

Book Cover

When the film was shown at Glasgow Film Theatre, there was a Q&A session with Gavin. Hearing about the actual filming process was interesting.

Quite a few years had passed, Gavin and Billy still weren’t on speaking terms. For the purposes of the film, they were interviewed separately. This meant each of them quizzing the interviewer “What did he say about that? How did he answer that?” It must have been strange for them to see the finished product.

At the GFT, we wanted to know – had they made up?

They have, and Gavin expressed regret for the missed years of their friendship. They eventually made up in a typically male and Scottish kind of way.

Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd

Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd

When they met it went something like this – “How are you doing? Listen to this mix/rap I’ve made. What about this piece of music?”

It was as if the preceding years hadn’t happened.

They are apparently recording again and seeing where this latest chapter and renewed interest takes them. They are both likeable chaps and you can’t help but wish them lots of success.

You can now buy the film on DVD.

It’s also available on BBC iPlayer for two more days and the film is showing on BBC4 Storyville on Wednesday October 23rd at 10pm.

BBC iPlayer link

For more information about the film and an interesting Q&A feature with filmmaker Jeanie Finlay – see BBC Storyville Link

For more information about the film – BBC Feature

Also worth mentioning is the great animation throughout the film by Jon Burgerman.

Animation from Jon Burgerman

Animation from Jon Burgerman

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Filed under Books, Films, Glasgow Film Theatre, Music, Scotland

Patti Smith, An Evening of Words and Music, Oran Mor, Glasgow 12/08/2013

“We were walking toward the fountain, the epicenter of activity, when an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand.

“Oh, take their picture,” said the woman to her bemused husband, “I think they’re artists.”

“Oh, go on,” he shrugged. “They’re just kids.”

Extract taken from Just Kids by Patti Smith        

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith
paperback book cover

Patti Smith is a musical living legend.

The 67-year-old created an intimate and mesmerising evening at Oran Mor, and it felt a privilege to be in her company. You could have heard a pin drop all night, and even though the audience was totally in her grasp, the iconic punk poet was confident, while also charmingly unassuming, a quality which seems to run through her excellently penned book Just Kids.

For the most part the book charts Patti’s early childhood, her move to New York and then her relationship with artist/photographer and one-time-lover Robert Mapplethorpe. Set mostly around the 1960s/70s, it’s a beautiful eulogy to Mapplethorpe and like a Woody Allen film, a fabulously romantic paean to New York city. Of Mapplethorpe, she seems in awe of his artistic talents, willing him to receive the recognition he deserves. You get the feeling Patti sometimes didn’t realise the huge talent she was steadily nurturing. Reading the book, you can’t help but love her unassuming ways and her shy awkwardness. You want her to do well, and thankfully we know the outcome of her career.

Patti had already left New York some years before Robert Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989. She had married Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and moved to Detroit, and when her husband died in 1994, Patti was left with two young children to raise.

Quite a few decades later on stage at Oran Mor, she’s comfortable in her own skin and self-assured, there’s a feeling of what-you-see-is-what-you-get, you probably wouldn’t want to cross her but that charming unassuming quality is still there, and the audience are drawn to her like moths to a flame. She laughs and berates herself if she hits, in her mind, a below standard note (it doesn’t happen often and the audience probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway). She’s an odd mix of fierceness and warmth. It makes her endearing and utterly spellbinding.

A self-confessed lover of words and stories, Patti interspersed her set list with little tales and anecdotes. Amusing and funny, she was like an eccentric aunt. Someone who was always a bit exotic, entertaining, always had a good story and someone you loved visiting.

She borrowed a copy of Just Kids from a member of the audience and read a section to a silent and eager crowd who time-traveled back to a new year in New York, and to the magical atmosphere of the city’s brightly flashing neon lights trapped amid a sudden flurry of snow. It was the birth of a bright new shiny decade, the 1970s. And the wide-eyed optimism of the two young struggling artists was palpable. They felt as if they had the world at their feet, although in reality it was probably hunger and not extravagant good times that were keeping the couple awake in the city that never sleeps.

Regaling tales of previous visits to Glasgow, Patti told of her fondness for the Necropolis, and also of visiting one time with her son, but during this tour Glasgow’s famous cemetery eluded her, and she laughed at herself when the audience corrected her – she was searching for the Acropolis instead. “Well you know, Glasgow … Athens, they’re quite alike – no?” she laughed.

Accompanied by musician and vocalist Tony Shanahan, her vocal strength was astonishing and songs like Pissing In The River and Because The Night were delivered with effortless aplomb rising to fever pitch and nearly bringing the roof down.

The gentler but no less effective This Is The Girl was dedicated to Amy Winehouse while Banga was a call-to-arms rousing chant. A delicate rendition of John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy was dedicated to new royal baby George, and to all other babies out there in the world.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

“We took walks at night. Sometimes we could see Venus above us. It was the shepherd’s star and the star of love. Robert called it our blue star. He practiced forming the t of Robert into a star, signing in blue so that I would remember.”

“On November fourth, Robert turned twenty-one. I gave him a heavy silver ID bracelet I found in a pawnshop on Forty-second Street. I had it engraved with the words Robert Patti blue star. The blue star of our destiny.”

Extract from Just Kids by Patti Smith

(Published by Bloomsbury £8.99

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Aye Write Book Festival Glasgow 2013 What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos

Aye Write - Clare Grogan

“The the midst of Scotland’s punk explosion, a Glasgow maths teacher hung up his mortar board and picked up a camera. His name was Harry Papadopoulos and his photos would come to define and inform Scottish popular culture in the 1980s”

The Herald

(Excerpt from: What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos)

To promote this collection of iconic photographs taken by Harry Papadopoulos were Clare Grogan (Altered Images) and Ken McCluskey (The Bluebells), with lensman Harry sitting in the front row.

What Presence! Book Cover

What Presence!
Book Cover

There’s a stunning image of Clare standing in the rain holding an umbrella. She’s looking moody with a petulant ‘don’t mess with me’ stare. It’s 1981. She’s a tender but determined-looking young girl on the cusp of stardom. Clare sets the record straight. Harry, always on the lookout for a good photo opportunity suggested Clare get outside and stand in the rain. She had just arrived at Harry’s London flat, she was tired, fed-up and it was the last thing she wanted to do, but Harry was always able to persuade his subjects to do things they wouldn’t usually.

“His charm and easy wit put everyone at ease; conversation would flow and one would forget that one was involved in a photo session.”

Malcolm Ross, Josef K

Harry Papadopoulos

Harry Papadopoulos

As well as photos of the big stars such as Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop, most of the images in this book capture an exciting time in Glasgow and Scotland, running through 1978 – 1984. After starting a career as a teacher, Harry’s love for photography took over. It lead him to leave Glasgow for London to become a staff photographer for Sounds music weekly. His flat in Willesden became a stopover for many Scottish musicians visiting the big smoke. A lot of the photos featured were taken in and around what became affectionately nicknamed The House of Camp, or as Clare described it, this “Terry and June type of house”.

Meanwhile, the burgeoning music scene in Scotland was tempting the A&R men out of London and they were always to be found in Glasgow searching the city for “the next big thing.”

A lot of it was down to Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, as well as Alan Horne’s Postcard Records, located at the now legendary address of 185 West Princes Street, Glasgow. Clare admits they were a catalyst. They made other bands and musicians feel that everything was possible. Their presence around town was well known, and not only in a musical sense, they also stood out for their natty way of dressing, which came courtesy of local charity shops.

Harry spent a lot of time with Orange Juice and his photos show how relaxed Edwyn and the band were with him.

Edwyn Collins

Edwyn Collins

“That to me is a very typical Harry picture, in the unobtrusive style he had. He was in and out. He really hated faffing. I never saw him set up lights. He was never pretentious. But he lived in his dark room.”

Edwyn Collins

As well as persuading his subjects to do things they wouldn’t normally, he had that camera man’s skill of invisibility. People weren’t aware he was taking photographs.

Nicknamed the guerilla lensman, he would take random shots here, there and everywhere.

Today it seems to be a dying brand of photography. Bands and musicians are more heavily controlled, photos are more staged and photographers aren’t granted the same access. Images are carefully airbrushed and pop stars are perfect. “They don’t have plooks these days” joked Clare, who also adds that Harry would just photograph you as you were.

Harry’s photos record an important and ground-breaking era of musical history. They were destined to become lost and forgotten, had it not been for Ken McCluskey of The Bluebells.

Ken visited Harry, who had returned to Glasgow in 2006. That visit made him realise that Harry had years-worth of contacts, negatives and photos in need of urgent care and attention. Harry, whose health had declined following a brain aneurysm in 2002, had no plans to do anything with his photos.

The mammoth task took over two years and started with Ken preserving, cataloguing and scanning all the photos. He then enlisted the help of Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, who eventually held a successful exhibition in their gallery from December 2011 to February 2012.

Street Level Photoworks Glasgow

Street Level Photoworks

During the process Ken had no idea what would turn up and he was often stopped in his tracks by his discoveries.

One of those images again features a young Clare Grogan, who spookily appears like a ghost watching herself on stage with Altered Images. Harry admits this was a double exposure taken by accident, but the effect is stunning.

Not only persuasive with musicians, car salesmen also succumbed to Harry’s charms. The garage showroom The Bluebells were photographed in, way back in 1980, is still trading on Glasgow’s Woodlands Road.

The Bluebells

The Bluebells

What is striking about a lot of the images is the playful but youthful naivety that Harry has captured perfectly. Ken and Clare testify that it’s a quality that was most definitely there.

Aztec Camera

Aztec Camera

Feeling like they were the most unlikely pop stars, Clare spent most of her time in awe of the people around her, but even so, Altered Images were in the right place, music was their passion and they were “nuts about it”. Even today Clare says she feels lucky to have shared the same space as a lot of her idols like Siouxsie Sioux and Nick Cave.

“He (Harry) made me feel like I belonged just a little bit more to the place I found myself.”

Clare Grogan

Ken identified The Bluebells’ naivety as their strength, because in not recognizing the enormity of what they were doing, they just went along with the flow.

They also didn’t realise how important Harry had became. He was moving in big circles, taking photos of stars like David Bowie and Nick Cave. The Bluebells took a lot of it for granted, but not in a complacent sense, they just didn’t realize the importance of what was emerging, the history that was being written, recorded and photographed.

“ … here we have a collection of photographs that succeed time and time again in getting to the heart of the subjects and giving us a glimpse of the youthful dreamers behind all the noise.”

Peter Capaldi

The foreward to the book is written by Peter Capaldi, famous for The Thick Of It, but not so famous for his time in pop band The Dreamboys, which also featured US television host Craig Ferguson on drums. Harry captures the band’s moment complete with Peter’s Frank Spencer style v-neck tank top.

The Dreamboys

The Dreamboys

“I would love to have been a pop star – anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”

Peter Capaldi

There’s also a thoughtful and well-written introduction to the book by Ken McCluskey. The affection he has for Harry is obvious and the book feels as much a well deserved gift and memoir to Harry as it is a stunning collection to be owned by the  music/photography/book loving public.

Ken McCluskey was perfectly placed to co-curate this collection. He should be very proud of his efforts and hard work.

“Harry put bands at ease with his laidback attitude. He seemed wiser – like a quieter, thoughtful older brother.”

Ken McCluskey

Clare Grogan and Ken McCluskey at Aye Write! at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow Picture from The Herald

Clare Grogan and Ken McCluskey at Aye Write! at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow
Picture from The Herald

“Harry’s plans for our early Glasgow photo sessions generally began with him saying, “Let’s all go for an adventure and see what happens.””

Ken McCluskey

The What Presence! exhibition has been touring, currently at McManus Art Gallery & Museum, Dundee until August 11, 2013

What Presense! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos

Published by Polygon Books. £20

Birlinn Books website

Street Level Photoworks website

Street Level Photoworks Facebook

Feature from The Herald dated December 16, 2011


Filed under Aye Write!, Books, Photography

Aye Write Book Festival, Glasgow 2013 Tracey Thorn Bedsit Disco Queen

Aye Write - Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn hasn’t aged, she looks exactly the same as when she formed Everything But The Girl with her partner, now husband, Ben Watt in 1982.

The self-confessed reluctant pop star was at the Aye Write Book Festival in Glasgow in April 2013 to read from and discuss her book, a memoir called Tracey Thorn Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Became A Pop Star.

Tracey Thorn Book Cover

Tracey Thorn Book Cover

Reading sections from her book we heard how she bought her first electric guitar when she was 16, and a little wet behind the ears, she didn’t realise she needed to buy an amp – so she got used to playing it quietly at first.

It was no surprise to learn that she was never a fame-hungry child. She was more often to be found reading books than standing in front of a mirror and singing into a hairbrush.

But as Tracey reminded us “sometimes it’s the quiet ones sitting in the corner reading books that have the things to say, and the songs and stories to write.”

Even so, it took her a while to find her voice. She became a guitarist in a band called Stern Bops, and one day when their singer Paul failed to turn up, she was asked “What about you, Trace? Can you sing?”

It was something that had never occurred to her, and she agreed to give it a shot … but only if she could sing in the wardrobe. While they all agreed she sounded good, they also quickly realised that carrying a wardrobe around on tour so that Tracey could sing, wasn’t an option.

Eventually other bands followed including a spell in Marine Girls, who disbanded in 1983. Tracey had already met Ben Watt at the University of Hull and Everything But The Girl was formed in 1982. Their first album, Eden, was released in 1984.

Everything But The Girl New York 1995 Picture credit Marcelo Krasilcic

Everything But The Girl
New York 1995
Picture credit Marcelo Krasilcic

Obviously she had come out of the wardrobe and was now a front woman of a successful chart-topping band. Everything But The Girl eventually went on to release nine albums and sell nine million records.

But Tracey also wants to be remembered for being not just a singer, but a songwriter too, something she feels is overlooked.

She loved working with Massive Attack but reminded us she wasn’t just brought in to sing their hugely successful hit Protection, she wrote it.

A question and answer session at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library provoked lots of lively discussions. An advocate of the DIY approach to making records, it was interesting to hear Tracey talk about the advances in technology, making the DIY ethos of crafting music in your bedroom relatively easy. But there is a downside. As everyone starts to use the same packages and equipment, everything starts to sound the same.

Furthermore, the sophistication of technology means that music made in the bedroom can sound as if it was crafted in a high tech studio. It wasn’t like that in Tracey’s day, where charming little glitches betrayed their music’s origins.

One form of technology Tracey loves is Twitter. The connection to her fans with their feedback is important to her.

From today’s music industry, The XX were singled out for both their songs and for the fact that singer Romy Madley Croft  looks more like Tracey Thorn than Tracey Thorn.

Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn

Adele was commended for being a woman who doesn’t conform to the pop industry’s ideal of female singers, i.e she sounds amazing and she wears a cardigan! Something Rihanna should perhaps try sometime joked Tracey.

“Why didn’t I want it more? Or, not that exactly, for in many ways I really did want it, desperately. But why was I so ambivalent about the very concept of attention, both wanting and not wanting it? Making music is never just about making music. It’s about being heard, fighting for your personal vision – your own version of events – to be listened to, given weight. It’s about making people sit up and notice you, and acknowledge your worth. But while I wanted all this, I seemed to want it in an invisible kind of way. I wanted to be heard without having to be heard, or perhaps more specifically, without having to be looked at.”

Excerpt from Tracey Thorn Bedsit Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Rock Star

Published by Virago. £16.99

Virago Books

Tracey Thorn website

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