I must admit Disciples of Verity were a new name to me, as were the majority of the band, but lead singer Corey Glover is Living Color’s lead vocalist, which boded well. The rest of the band are ex-God Forbid drummer Corey Pierce, bassist George Pond (ex-Negative Sky), and guitarists Mark Monjoy (Sekond Skyn) and Danny Puma (Negative Sky), will release their debut record Pragmatic Sanction this winter.
The band has teamed up with guitarist Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, ex-Nevermore) for their new single “Worthy”, which you can hear below. I went in not sure whether I was going to like this, it was exactly what I needed to hear. This totally blows away the cobwebs and kicks a lot of arses into gear. On the evidence of this, bring on the album!
Over the years of writing this blog, there’s been interviews conducted via email, Skype and phone, but it’s always nice to be able to do them in person. So it happens one very nice July day that I find myself driving deep through the Midlothian countryside, south of Edinburgh. I’m less than twenty miles from Scotland’s capital city, but it’s as if I’m miles from anywhere, as I head to my rendez-vous. It’s the lady herself who opens the door and fixes me a coffee.
She’s just released her new album, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook. I start by asking how the album came into being. She explains that the basis of the idea was born out of the exhibition on Scottish pop music that took place last year at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (as one of many attendees, I can attest that it was very good). Alongside this was the night of Scottish pop in a folk style that she curated at the Leith Theatre. ‘The amount of effort for one night led to four days in a studio,’ with her realising quickly just how important the songs were. ‘How can you make a go of them in a way that’s not shit karaoke?’
Don’t think that a cover album is simply a holding operation or an easy option, either. ‘I’ve never put so much effort in [to making a record]!’ she says. The eleven songs within are radical interpretations of songs from the last fifty years of Scottish popular music, done in a radically different style. ‘If you’re a traditional singer in the folk idiom, you’re going to be interpreting [the songs] raw.” The album opens with her cover of the Waterboys’ ‘The Whole Of The Moon.’ This gives an idea to what her approach of the whole album was like.
The original is perhaps marked by the distinctive trumpet playing of Roddy Lorrimer. Yet her version has no trumpet. ‘I deliberately took the anthemic element out of it,’ she acknowledges. What she didn’t do, was to remove the lyrics and the wonder within.
But whilst it might seem that it’s a raw look at what the songs might look at in written, rather than recorded form, the approach to the recorded form of her interpretations adds another level to the songs. Her cover version of Strawberry Switchblade’s ‘Since Yesterday’ features the voice of her late Grandfather. Though the recording was made in the 1980s, it was only this year that she heard his voice. ‘How I heard [‘Since Yesterday’] is a song about aging and loss. It allows me to set up the meaning of the song without staging.’
There was a massive list of songs originally considered for the project – including many that were featured in the performance that were not included in on the album. I ask her if she envisages making a second volume. ‘No concrete plan!’ she tells me. The amount of work involved in this project ‘put paid to the idea that I could just rattle one off!’
I ask her if she thinks there’s a noticeable difference between pop music and folk music at this point in history? ‘Much less now,’ she says, thoughtfully. ‘Loads of the songs stand up in the same way that folk songs do. If you can pull away the layers, it’s a folk song.’ Her favourite song on the album is her version of Big Country’s ‘Chance.’ ‘I really wish [Stuart Adamson]’ was still alive,’ she tells me with feeling.
Of course one way in which there are differences between folk and pop singers is the issue of accents. ‘Folk singers have always sung in their own accents,’ she tells me proudly.’ Yet for many years the same could not be said of many in the rock and pop world, who preferred to use an American accent, despite the fact that their roots were far closer to home. I suggest the Proclaimers as an act who stuck to their guns. ‘the Proclaimers nailed it,’ she concurs. Thinking of others, she adds’ you can tell Eddi Reader’s Scottish, she’s not labouring it.’
As well as working on this collection, she has done a number of collaborations. Her collaboration with Sushil K. Dade (AKA Future Pilot AKA) singing ‘Shenandoah’ on his fourth album, Secrets From The Clockhouse. Having been introduced backstage at Celtic Connections, it was her first foray into something ‘cool and not folky’ – the album also featured members of bands including the Go-Betweens, Belle & Sebastian and Sonic Youth. Ten years ago she also ended up collaborating with a number of 17 Seconds favourites on the Burns Unit project.
‘ It was a funded project that grew out of Burnssong, Burnssong was a funded project,’ she recalls. ‘We were sent to a house to write songs for a week.’ The ‘we’ included not only Dade, but the likes of Emma Pollock and King Creosote. ‘Now there’s a big growth in these collaborations.’ She recalls the experience as giving her the opportunity to work with a good bunch of people, adding ‘these projects don’t work if everyone’s a maverick.’
Scotland’s certainly a fertile place to work, and given its size, eighteen years of living here has shown me just how well it punches above its weight. There’s still problems that face artists here that would affect them anywhere. ‘The decimation of physical and digital sales can’t be avoided,’ she admits. She points to the fact that her profile is higher than it’s ever been, but that her sales are half of what they were.
Hopefully it’s not a situation that will remain that way for long. Shortly after we talk, the album becomes her first UK Top 40 album, and reaches no.2 in the Scottish charts. And the next twelve months look set to be just as busy. She’s playing the biggest venues she’s ever played, including the Barbican in London and the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Not only that but she’s working on a new piece of theatre, inspired by supernovas, Greek myth and nuclear waste disposal.
And with that, we have to bid farewell, she to another interview with the New Statesman, 17 Seconds to return to 17 Seconds Towers. But it’s to listen yet again to the Scottish Songbook, a fantastic piece of work.
Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook is out now on Hegri music.
” JARV IS simply the new vehicle which Jarvis Cocker has assembled in order to play his best known songs from his back catalogue. He delivers a set that draws on the almost the entirety of Different Class, and the big hitters from Pulp albums His ‘n’ Hers, This Is Hardcore and We Love Life. It’s a set purely based on giving the audience what they want and it’s as if time has stood still. We don’t get any new songs, just the greatest hits set that we all come to hear and sing along to for a blast of easy nostalgia.”
Relax, folks. Those one hundred words bear no resemblance to JARV IS’ performance at the Edinburgh International Festival. Instead, the performance served as a reminder how, even at the height of Britpop – now a quarter of a century ago – Jarvis Cocker was always his own man, and always a compelling performer. Balancing himself on two boxes at the front of the stage, he may have given any health and services bods watching a heart attack, but the rest of us were in for a compelling performance.
‘Good Evening!’ he greeted us. ‘Are you prepared to take Leith of your senses?’ Well, we were – and it wasn’t the last time during the evening he would make a daft joke that he pulled off perfectly. During a performance of JARV IS’ sole release to date, the single ‘Must I Evolve?’ the pontification about becoming a father features a line about ‘dragging my knuckles…while listening to Frankie Knuckles’ and…well, maybe you had to be there, but it worked perfectly.
A greatest hits set this was not, but there were nods to his work across the decades. The title track of his second album ‘Further Complications’ gets an airing, and perhaps more surprisingly, he performs ‘Mary’ from the Relaxed Muscle project. So disconnected was this from his work with Pulp that this barely appears even on his Wikipedia page, but it fits in perfectly with the evening.
New material can always be risky, but it is clear that JARV IS are playing to a room full of Jarvis fans who clearly have more than a passing knowledge of his work. So we get some fantastic new songs that I hope will see the light of day on an official release soon. ‘Swanky Modes’ and ‘When Julie Rules The World’ are great but the highlight is ‘House Music’ about a man who doesn’t want to leave his house but stay there and listen to house music.
‘Would it be okay if we sought political asylum here? I’m not even kidding,’ he tells us. It’s apt that one of his most celebrated solo songs is the apt and very bitter ‘Running The World’ which even gets a singalong going, no mean feat for a song that features the ‘c’ word in its chorus. The encores give us a Pulp rarity –‘His’n’Hers’ (from a 1994 EP) and a spectacular finish with ‘Elvis Has Left the Building.’
The covers album can be a tricky thing to get right. There are occasions where some artists seem to be so reliant on covers they can almost forget what made them so special when they started out with their own material (hello UB40 and Rod Stewart). Some are themed (I love the fact that k.d.lang, a non-smoker, did a whole album of songs about smoking called Drag) and some can be an interesting insight into how the act got where they are (Bowie’s Pin-Ups and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Through The Looking Glass are excellent examples of this). Karine Polwart latest album sees her take eleven songs from the last fifty years of Scottish popular music, and the result is absolutely fantastic.
As Ms. Polwart explains in her own notes to the album (would that more musicians were articulate enough to do this), whilst she is known as a singer of traditional songs, she did grow up as a child to a soundtrack of Scottish pop. Last year saw an excellent exhibition of Scottish pop at the Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, and this acted as the catalyst to a one-off gig, and now this album, eleven choices from the last fifty years of Scottish pop.
The album kicks off with her interpretation of The Waterboys’ ‘The Whole Of The Moon.’ Mike Scott. Right away, this version strips it down to the song. So, it remains anthemic, but most crucially, Roddy Lorimer’s trumpet solo has gone. And it works. It asks: what is the essence of the song about, not specifically a recording of a song?
The album runs a whole heap of emotions in this listener alone, so God only knows what it was like making it. Her cover of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ maintains the beauty of the original, and is relentlessly stirring and optimistic. Yet to read the sleevenotes (well, more like beautiful stories) is to wipe away tears as she pays tribute to Frabbits’ lead singer, Scott Hutcheson, who sadly took his own life last year.
Oh yes, the writing. I suppose to describe this as a multimedia project would sound pretentious and curiously dated. But what she writes matters just as much as what she says. Another selection from the 1980s that is here is Big Country’s ‘Chance.’ If you only remember them for bagpipe-guitars and bombast, you missed this bittersweet beautiful ballad.
Don’t you know the words?
“He came like a hero from the factory floor With the sun and moon as gifts But the only son you ever saw Were the two he left you with.”
As heartfelt and agonising as Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All,’ Karine writes about her own experiences at school, the girls who became pregnant before they were sixteen, those who grew up dealing with abuse. The song is poignant as it ever was, a million miles away from ‘One Great Thing’ or ‘In A Big Country.’ Moving in a different way is the sample of her Grandfather’s voice singing at the start of her version of ‘Since Yesterday,’ Strawberry Switchblade’s mid-80s smash.
Across its eleven tracks it really is a perfect sample of music, like a really concise side of a C-90 9fittingly, there’s one on the album cover). It stretches from the folky likes of John Martyn (‘Don’t Want To Know’) and the underrated gem that is Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Whatever’s Written In Your Heart.’ It takes in the aforementioned 80’s acts, to the more recent likes of Biffy Clyro and Chvrches, and of course Deacon Blue’s ‘Dignity.’ It takes precious little notice of what is hip, rather what is heritage. It closes with a wonderful cover of Ivor Cutler’s ‘Women Of The World’ which serves as both a warning and a celebration.
So a triumph, then. Not only is the album brilliant in its own right, but beautifully put together as a package, and presented in word as well as art, but it offers scope for discussion about the concept of song as well. Don’t question choices or offer suggestions, this is damn near perfect in its own existence. Respect is due.
Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook is out now on Hegri Music.