I’ve had a little time to digest what was a rather wonderful year of music in 2021. Here is my review of the year with my favourite albums, in no particular order barring my number one!
Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe – Forevermore
A true return to form for the prog supergroup with melodies, tunes and overtures galore. Transatlantic gave us their best album since ‘Bridge Across Forever’.
Lifesigns – Altitude
I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.
Echoes & Signals – Mercurial
‘Mercurial’ trades some of Echoes & Signals’ signature post-rock sensibilities for a darker journey into the kind of prog-metal embraced by the likes of Tool and this new direction is one that I feel suits them perfectly.
Cosmograf – Rattrapante
At the time, I said, “At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!” And here it is!
League of Lights – Dreamers Don’t Come Down
Not only a nod to the past but also a completely relevant piece of music in these present times, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is a perfectly crafted collection of pop and electronica infused songs that really hit home.
Ana Patan – Spice, Gold and Tales Untold
Wearing her many influences proudly on her sleeve Ana Patan has just allowed the music and her excellent vocals to tell her many intriguing and involving stories and this has allowed them to breathe and come to life quite spectacularly. An album that has surprised me in its simple brilliance and one that, if you let it, will enrich your life in a myriad of ways.
The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event
‘Extinction Level Event’ is shaping up to possibly be the best prog metal album of the last few years at least, I honestly don’t think I’ve had a prog metal album hit me so hard since Haken’s‘The Mountain’.
Catalyst*R – self-titled
When everything that is happening around you is making your life jaded, just press play on this bewitching collection of songs, light the spark and let the music start to take your cares away…
Michael Woodman – Psithurism
A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.
Vestamaran – Bungalow Rex
Get your hands on this album and, when the sun shines, get the barbecue lit, an ice cold beer in your hand, put the stereo on, turn it up to 11 and just enjoy this incredible album for, as the press release says, “Life is not just bungalow all day long, it also includes a lot of rex in the evenings.”
Tillison, Reingold, Tiranti – Allium – Una Storia
Simple but perfectly formed and harking back to the days when music just put a smile on your face, this is one album that deserves success just because of how it makes you feel and I love it for that.
Big Big Train – Common Ground
Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!
smalltape – The Hungry Heart
I’m a massive fan of music that makes me think, music that doesn’t give up its deepest delights easily and ‘The Hungry Heart’ has that in spades. Hunger, Burning House, Dissolution, the list goes on, cuts of pure musical brilliance that showcase this young German musician as a seriously precocious talent and one to follow closely.
Giancarlo Erra – Departure Tapes
If music could tell a story of a life lived, lost and, deep at its core, loved then ‘Departure Tapes’ is it. I am along term fan of this intelligent musician’s brilliant work and this new release is another entry into his very impressive discography.
Great North Star – self-titled
Step out of this confusing and hectic world that we live in, if only for the thirty nine minutes running time, and allow your mind and your soul to recharge. A wonderful and insightful masterpiece that will stay with you for a very long time.
Three Colours Dark – Love’s Lost Property
‘Love’s Lost Property’ is an exquisite creation, nine tracks of wondrously charming music with Rachel’s honeyed vocals lifting this release well above what you may have heard already this year. I suggest you get your hands on it as soon as you can, it is definitely worth seeking out.
The Holy Road – An Unshakeable Demon
Never be afraid to challenge yourself and listen to something different, I found the eclectic and evocative wonder of ‘An Unshakable Demon’ really hit home with me.
CYAN – For King And Country
A masterpiece of intricate melodies, mellifluous vocals and intelligent songwriting, ‘For King And Country’ delights on every level and makes you smile. You can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?
Glass Hammer – Skallagrim – Into The Breach
Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, Glass Hammer have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.
Findlay Napier – It Is What It Is
‘It Is What It Is’ sees this fine musician and songwriter on a higher plane and is a must buy for anyone who appreciates and treasures original music with heart and soul.
And the top gong for album of the year goes to….
HFMC – We Are The Truth
This superlative gem of release is worthy of all the praise that is being heaped upon it and finishes 2021 on an utter high for this reviewer, the finest of a wonderful crop of albums released this year!
So, there you have it, my selection of some of the great albums that graced 2021 and I am sure that 2022 is going to be just as good!
One of Scotland’s finest singer- songwriters, Findlay Napier has been described as Michael Marra meets Elvis Costello, a Caledonian Loudon Wainwright III or a Scottish James Taylor. His songs are full of earthy humour, hopeless love and biting satire.
To top it all, Findlay is also a really nice guy, I spent a brilliant afternoon in his company in a bar in Glasgow in December 2017, talking all things music and running (we both like a pootle now and again!).
‘It Is What It Is‘, his fourth album, was recorded and mixed at Gran’s House studio with Angus Lyon and Chris Waite. It also features a plethora of incredible people from the folk scene, including co-writes by Boo Hewerdine (The Bible / Eddi Reader), and features BBC Radio 2 Award winning singer songwriter Megan Henwood, Juno Award and Polaris Music Prize Nominee Terra Lightfoot, alongside Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow), Euan Burton (Beth Nielson Chapman/Kris Drever), Gustaf Ljunggren, Donna Maciocia and Gillian Frame.
Findlay says of the album, “I hadn’t intended to make an album. It was an accident. Producer and pianist Angus thought it might be fun for us to record for a day when the first lockdown ended. I thought two days would be more fun. By the end of those two days, we’d completed eight songs. In all, we drew from around 35 songs I had in notebooks and on my phone, with Angus editing them down to the 12 we have here”.
Findlay continues, “The album sounded great as it was, but we wondered what it would be like with a band. Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow) had set up a drum studio in his attic, and Euan Burton (Beth Nielson Chapman / Kris Drever) was doing incredible things on electric and double bass from his spare room. Donna Maciocia and Megan Henwoodwere able to record backing vocals from home, while my wife Gillian Frame was in the studio with me and layered up strings in one afternoon. The phenomenal Canadian singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot sent us the guitar we needed for the song “American Promise American Lies”, and Gustaf Ljunggren (who played on my VIP album) sent a slide guitar solo along with brass parts because he felt it needed brass. He was right.”
There’s a down to earth honesty about every song that Findlay produces, his music talks about everyday life with pathos and humour and an obvious love. ‘It Is What It Is’ has an intimacy at its core, this is a musician who believes in the ethos of less is more with a passion. Take the opening title track, a piano and Fin’s heavenly Caledonian burr are all that’s needed to convey a beautifully emotive piece of music. The music on this perfectly formed release transports you to a world of simplicity, a world of black and white where wonderfully nostalgic, sepia toned wistfulness is at the heart of everything.
The brass infused brilliance of Piece of my Heart with its delightful slide guitar is a highlight as is the exquisite pared back beauty of Under the Moon. Findlay Napier is a rarity these days, a proper, old school story teller, descended from the travelling bards of old. Take the inspired Americana of American Promise American Lies, a lesson in how to deliver a sublime piece of music with intelligence and dark humour.
Findlay’s talents seem to have no limits, the gorgeous, melancholy tinged Slip of the Tongue and the tongue in cheek whimsy of La La La Song just ooze warmth and affection. The art of songwriting is given short shrift in many areas of the musical press nowadays with a propensity for throw away music that easily pleases and it is a crying shame when you can hear the emotive and touching sombreness of White Collar Criminal, the delicate, reflective musings of Madison Avenue Worry Lines and the neo-noir feel of What’s The Bets, that could have been performed in a 1930’s speakeasy. Gates of Eden is just sublime in its gorgeous simplicity and Last to Leave closes the album with a loving farewell, a clink of whiskey filled glasses and a warm embrace.
A new album from Findlay Napier is always an event, brilliant songs with a great narrative and music that stirs the soul and invites the listener in. ‘It Is What It Is’ sees this fine musician and songwriter on a higher plane and is a must buy for anyone who appreciates and treasures original music with heart and soul. Album of the year? I don’t see why not!
Rebecca Loebe and Findlay Napier met on an EFDSS songwriting retreat in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. “Sometimes when you get thrown into a co-write sessions things just click.” Says Napier, “This was one of those times.” Over the last 18 months they have written together down the line from Loebe’s base in Austin, Texas and in Findlay’s Glasgow flat when Rebecca was touring the UK.
The ‘Filthy Jokes E.P.’ is based around a song the two wrote for Christmas 2017 – Joy To The World, I Guess – which combines the lilting Americana influenced tones of Loebe’s polished delivery along with the more traditional folk influences of Glasgow native Napier.
For any fan of these two songwriting behemoths, this E.P. is a must, Rebecca Loebe is known as a non-stop touring machine, averaging 200 performances per year for the last decade. Along the way, honing her voice to become a musical instrument in itself.
Scottish singer-songwriter Findlay Napier categorically commands musical VIP status and his gritty tales of Scottish life, based in and around Glasgow, have become legendary among the Folk circuit.
Joy To The World, I Guess and Bad Medicine see the duo add their own unique idiosyncrasies to two beautifully crafted songs, their songwriting prowess there for all to see and hear. There’s a languid and laconic ease to the music and the vocals match that feel perfectly. It’s a perfect amalgam of American polish along with superbly delivered Scottish grit.
Kilimanjaro sees Loebe take centre stage with a haunting, ethereal piece of music that really leaves a mark on your soul, Napier’s ghostly backing vocal and the simple guitar providing the perfect backing. Option to Buy sees Napier at his witty best with sharp lyrics and brilliant music being the core of his traditional folk style. This time Loebe adds the classy country influenced backing vocals to give just a little bit extra.
There’s a proper country music, bluegrass edge to title track Filthy Jokes, Loebe adding the required twang to her delicious vocal delivery which, along with that picking banjo in the background, leaves you feeling as if you’re in the deep south. The E.P. closes out with an excellent reprise of the opening track.
This collaboration is a glimpse into the combined songwriting minds of two of folk and country/Americana music’s most accomplished artists. A delightful appetiser to what they could achieve if they wrote long-term together. It’s a wonderful twenty minutes of sublime vocals and superb musicianship and one that should be in any music fans collection and, as an introduction to Napier and Loebe, is just about perfect.
Music and singing has been used to tell stories for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Those ancient troubadours spread the news of mighty deeds and wars won or lost, crossing mighty oceans and huge deserts to spread the word to the far corners of the earth.
Thankfully for today’s balladeers and poets, the digital age and the internet means their tales of escapism or gritty realism can be on anyone’s hard-drive in seconds and they don’t have to use donkeys and ancient ships to reach their audiences.
Folk music has always been at the core of telling the stories of the man on the street, the fisherman, the steelworker and folk singers have never hidden the darker side of these stories, tales that on-one else would tell, leaving audiences hooked on every word.
My good friend, the excellent musician Iain Sloan introduced me to the music of Scottish folk singer Findlay Napier last year and I still thank him for bringing this brilliant artist to my attention. This October sees the release of Findlay’s ode to his home town Glasgow and a collection of cleverly observed and written songs that reveal his love affair with this most gritty of cities.
There’s no need for fanfare or overindulgence on this album, Findlay’s vocals and guitar are joined on this emotional journey by long time collaborator Boo Hewerdine (high strung guitar, piano) and the delicate voice of Donna Maciocia on backing vocals.
‘Glasgow’ is a whimsical collection of songs from a musician with a quick wit and a ready eye. Findlay has lived in Glasgow for twenty-one years, having been born there originally, and his intimate knowledge shines through.
” I remember the people and their patter. I remember it like the first time I watched Blade Runner. I remember it like the first time I saw Billy Connolly.
Mostly I witnessed Glasgow from afar. On the telly it was a place full of humour: Francie & Josie, Naked Video and Rab C. Nesbitt. Taggart, bookended with Maggie Bell’s ‘No Mean City, was Glasgow’s darker side.”
The delicate guitar and subtle vocals that form Young Goths In The Necropolis are used to give Findlay’s view of the Necropolis and its magnificent views to the west and the daily happenings a nostalgic hue. There’s nothing glamorous about life at the bottom in any cities and the dark humour of Wire Burners tells the tale of how the homeless in Glasgow sell scrap metal from building sites just to stay alive. Findlay’s vocals have a way of keeping you concentrated on the story and taking in every word to build a picture up in your mind. Marchtown (written by Emma Pollock) is an area that Findlay walks through every day and this sentimental song takes you along on that daily journey. It’s a wonderfully romantic song that is touched by more than a hint of melancholy as it looks at the changes that have happened to an area that has hundreds of years of history at its heart. The perfectly judged backing vocals are a particular delight.
The wonderful St Anthony’s Digging a hole is a tribute to the gravediggers of the West of Scotland and is based on a Radio 4 documentary about these essential workers called ‘How To Dig A Grave’ by Cathy Fitzgerald. A beautifully wistful piece of music, it shows how Findlay can take a sombre subject and turn it into such an exquisite piece of music. St Anthony is the patron saint of gravediggers. On Julia Doogan’s wonderfully written and evocative track Glasgow Findlay’s elegant vocalpaints a colourful picture of the heart of a City that lives its life around two great football teams and always makes him think of the Old Firm games when he hears it and the busy nights around the city’s many drinking establishments. A vivid and intense folk standard Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice, Findlay’s voice uses the guttural dialect perfectly to paint a gaudy picture on a wonderfully raucous pared-back track that just leaves me smiling all the way through. I actually laughed out loud at some of the lines,
“Then oot came her mammy – she was goin’ tae the cludgie, Oh-ho, I buggered of sharpish, Ah-ha, glory hallelujah, Cod liver oil and the orange juice..”
Findlay gives his take on the Blue Nile track A Walk Across The Rooftops, a song that always reminds him of days hanging out between the City Centre and the West End, barbecues, carry outs and late night sing songs in tenement flats. His tender vocal and the elegant guitar reminisce about sepia tinged times between receiving his final exam results and graduating. There’s a hushed atmosphere about the track, a time when you felt on top of the world, unbreakable even. Never quite a protest song, There’s More To Building Ships is a poignant song that Findlay was moved to write after a conversation about reopening Scotland’s shipyards with his Dad. There’s a bitter sentiment tot he vocals, one that’s echoed by the solemn guitar. A wonderfully written piece of music that sees it as an ultimately futile endeavour, without a long term plan, there’ll never be industry like that again in Glasgow. A whimsical and quirky song, The Locarno, Sauchie Hall Street 1928 is a story about the first Scottish Professional Dancing Championships held in 1928 and won by Alex Warren and Cecilia Bristow. An unhurried, sentimental track, Findlay and Donna’s vocals give it a real warmth and affection along with a maudlin nostalgia.
King Kong’s Visit To Glasgow, written by ‘The Bard of Dundee’, Michael Marra, is about a dream that actress Caroline Paterson had. Her many vivid dreams were recounted to Marra when they were working on a show together at Dundee rep. A chilled, jazzy guitar and Findlay’s bright and breezy vocal give an upbeat feeling to this subtle and engaging song, a track with a real playfulness to it. The surreal lyrics about King Kong wanting to mend his ways and visiting Glasgow are quite genius and Findlay gives it a real engaging air. The final track is about unrequited love in a Glasgow chip shop (yes, really…) and The Blue Lagoon has an air of 30’s music hall to it with Findlay’s tender vocal and the haunting piano of Boo Hewerdine. Once again Donna Maciocia’s graceful backing vocals add anther layer of class to a superbly expressive song.
Some of the best folk music is coming out of Scotland right now. ‘Glasgow’ is a fantastic collection of sentimental and evocative songs imbued with a simple but engaging honesty because, after all, music is storytelling and here Findlay is telling the grandest story of his life.
Album cover and Glasgow street scene by Raymond Depardon, Magnum Photography.
All other photos by Richard Crawford, Precious Productions.
The very best songwriters weave incredible stories via their music and lyrics, songs that are immersive, enthralling and compelling in equal measure. You can lose yourself in these mini sagas of life, love, death, hardship and happiness and forget about the real world, if only for a short while.
I’ve been fascinated by music for a lot of years now and that is all kinds of music, this webblog may be called Progradar but it is truly meant for any kind of music that deserves a place on here.
The extraordinary skills of Scottish Folk Singer/Songwriter Findlay Napier were first brought to my attention by my great friend Iain Sloan, a talented guitarist well known to fans of Abel Ganz and The Wynntown Marshals but who has also performed live with Findlay before.
Findlay has a new album in the works but I was drawn to his previous releases ‘Very Interesting Persons’ and its companion piece ‘Very Interesting Extras’ due to the stories of real life charactersand the trials and tribulations of their lives.
Here Findlay gives us some background to the project and how it got off the ground,
“‘So tell me about VIP?’
That’s what every journalist and broadcaster has asked me
first and the problem was, and still is, where to start.
I’m going to start with Simon Thoumire. Simon asked me
what I was doing, what I was really doing, with my music
career. With my head in my hands my part answer, part cry
for help was an overly honest ‘I don’t know anymore’.
Simon helped me apply for Creative Scotland’s Advanced
Mentoring funding and Boo Hewerdine agreed to be my
mentor. Boo and I began writing in March 2013 and soon
came upon the idea of writing songs about people who
have led interesting lives. We fitted in sessions between his
hectic touring schedule, my chaotic calendar and the birth
of my daughter Lucy. By March 2014 we had written and
recorded the fifteen songs in this volume.”
Musicians on ‘Very Interesting Persons’:
Findlay Napier– Lead vocals, guitar, ukulele Boo Hewerdine– Guitar, harmonium, ukulele, vocals Gustaf Ljunggren– Lap steel, mando-guitar, woodwind, piano, percussion, backing vocals Hamish Napier– Piano, backing vocals Roy Dods– Percussion, Radiator Gillian Frame– Backing vocals Louis Abbott– Backing vocals
Boo, Gustaf and Gillian also joined Findlay on ‘Very Interesting Extras’.
The first part of the review takes in the ten tracks that make-up ‘Very Interesting Persons’.
‘Hedy Lamarr Been here before Can you take anymore?’
“I came across Hedy Lamarr by accident. I was watching a
documentary on BBC4 about TV Smith & The Adverts
and their bass player, Gaye Advert, was described as
looking like Hedy Lamarr. Rather than waiting for the
library to open or calling an expert on films of the 1940s
I looked her up on Wikipedia. I scribbled her name and
‘actress…invented Wi-Fi… many husbands,’ in my notebook
and forgot about her till my first writing session with Boo.”
A plaintive tune with a wistful nostalgia at its heart, Hedy Lamarr is a pared back song of delicate beauty. The vocals are delivered perfectly, the male/female harmonies making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck with their near perfection. A winsome and charming tale of a screen beauty that nobody really knew. It is almost heartbreaking in its emotive delivery.
‘George C Parker was the man who sold New York To out-of-towner millionaires who fell for his sweet talk They’d pay for Lady Liberty they bought his every line He must have sold the Brooklyn Bridge at least a hundred times’
“I’d been planning a song about a con man for a while. For one of our writing sessions I looked up some famous confidence tricksters. George C Parker was one of the mostinteresting of an extremely interesting bunch. His con was
to sell famous New York landmarks, usually the Brooklyn Bridge, to immigrants who had just arrived in America.”
The Man Who Sold New York is a powerful tale of morality driven along by a blues guitar and Findlay’s gritty Glasgow drawl. This song is one of the first that really stood out to me when I heard this album. There’s a metronomic beat that holds you in thrall and a really tasty guitar tone that works on every level. It gives this track a real 1930’s Americana sound to it, the guitar playing on the outro is outrageously good.
‘Poor Mickey Mantle pride of the Yankees I had a card that you’d signed The end of America’s childhood An idol in decline’
“I found that flicking through Tumblr was a really great way
to find inspiring images and stories.
John Dominis’ 1965 photo inspired this song . It appeared
on the Time Magazine Tumblr page. The original headline
for the photo read ‘Twilight of the Idol: A Portrait of
Mickey Mantle in Decline’.”
A heartfelt song about the decline of a baseball great. Stripped right back to mainly vocals and piano, An Idol In Decline has a haunting grace to it. The wistful melancholia that runs through the track really does bring this story starkly into focus and Findlay’s softly delivered vocal is truly earnest and sincere in its delivery. There’s a sad resignation that things won’t ever be the same again, a look back to sepia tinged better days as it comes to a gentle close.
‘Eddie Banjo tramping in the rain Eddie Banjo picking on a biscuit tin Who’s good for a handout Where’s good for a feed Who’s good for a hard luck story Where’s good for a sleep’
“My Dad told me about a tramp that used to live in a cave
outside Wick. He would walk the streets, playing a banjo
made out of a biscuit tin, singing ‘You Are My Sunshine’.
The tramp’s real name was Teddy Banjo. When I called my
Dad to remind me of the story he was in an airport and I
couldn’t hear him properly. By the time he got back we had
recorded the song and it was too late to change the name.”
Eddy Banjo is quite an upbeat little ditty, a tale of a hometown tramp that everybody knew. It’s a pure folk track that has you toe-tapping and dancing on the spot and Findlay gives the vocals the full local inflection. Again the stripped back feel of the song really invests it with a touch of joie de vivre and the perfect segue into the ‘You Are My Sunshine’ section had me smiling.
‘What a shame about George Well he skipped class again He’s out on the street Singing songs to get paid’
“The first time I went to Canada I taught at the Sunshine
Coast Fiddle School alongside a banjo player called Chris
Coole. We sat up at night drinking, playing tunes and
singing. He kept singing amazing songs by a singer called
I was hooked and as soon as I got to Vancouver I bought
everything I could find by George Jones. I drove the rest
of the band mad listening to him in the van.”
This country song tells the story of famous singer George Jones and how his life echoed his art. Laid back and mournful, it has a feeling of regret running throughout it. Findlay tells the tale with respect and yet holds nothing back and the music mirrors the repentance and sorrow perfectly. A country song for a tormented country singer who finally hung up his cowboy boots.
‘Left behind the rising sun Here until the war is won You said that you’d come back for me’
“‘Words are falling from the sky’ refers to the leaflets that
were dropped to try and convince Hirō Onoda that it was
time to surrender. It is amazing that he lasted so long.
Onoda’s commanding officer had ordered him not to
surrender until he returned. The only way Onoda would
agree to a surrender was if the authorities brought his
former commanding officer, now a bookseller, back to
I really love the treatment that Findlay gives of the well known story of the Japanese soldier who didn’t realise that the war had ended. Rising Sun treats Onada with the reverence he deserved and the simple guitar, haunting flute and plaintive, wistful vocals fit the mood perfectly. There’s an air of this song just floating along in the breeze, ethereal refined and insubstantial, an exquisite piece of songcraft.
‘No one else there saw it Just Gabriel as he fell Jimmy’s ghost, the man he killed As the keeper rang the bell’
“The Saturday before the last day of recording Louis Abbott
and I spent the day recording backing vocals for VIP. I told
him that I needed one more song. Louis suggested that
boxers probably lead interesting lives. We jumped onto the
internet and it wasn’t long before we stumbled upon the
story of Gabriel Ruelas and Jimmy Garcia.”
Sweet Science is a prime example of recounting real life stories through song. With a big ‘Heavy-folk’ feel to it throughout from the driven guitar and insistent vocals, you can almost feel like you’ve been dropped right in the middle of a brutal boxing match. Listen to the excellent guitar work and Findlay’s intonation of every word, a modern day troubadour spreading the news across the nation. When songs are this good, you don’t need anything more complicated than a guitar and a superb voice.
‘Cutting the cloth and pushing in pins Work never ends it just begins Smoke rises slow and the soot it falls Valentina’s high above us all’
“‘Valentina’, like ‘Idol in Decline’, was another Tumblr find.
I was drawn to a photo of a Russian propaganda poster
featuring Valentina wearing a space suit. I looked up her
story on Wikipedia and the song sprung from there.
Valentina trained to be a cosmonaut by correspondence
course and by enrolling in a local parachute school. She
funded her studies by working in a uniform factory.”
Valentina is a winsome song, all grace and refinement with the delicate acoustic guitar and Findlay’s graceful vocals bestowing an air of sepia tinged summer days that never end to this fine-grained tale. You have to take the time to listen to the lyrics as you let the music wash over you, leaving you calm and collected and with a feeling that all is well with the world.
‘Put it all on a piebald bow-legged mare She just backed off put her tail up in the air I hung my head in shame There’s only one sure thing Gonna lose my queen to the sport of kings’
“This came from the second Ely writing session. It was the
day after Sherburn and Napier’s first festival outing at Ely
Folk Festival. On the way down to Ely I read The Guardian
obituary of Sir Henry Cecil and that’s what inspired this
tale of gambling and womanizing. I stress that this song is
only loosely based on his life.”
Let’s head back to early 1900’s America for the pared back, sparse country blues, guitar-picking feel to The Sport Of Kings. The lap-steel guitar is brilliant and gives the song that huge nostalgic feel of old-school saloons and the depression era United States. I found myself reminiscing about the great Bugsy Malone film from the mid 70’s (yes, I am that old to have seen it at the cinema) and gangsters and their molls, an amusing look back at the life of one of horse racing’s greats transported to a whole different era.
‘I know you’ve heard this all before I cannot tell a lie Of how I flew with aces high Young men in the war But there is nothing you can do When the bugle calls You don’t feel quite so brave somehow When an angel falls’
“The more I read about Jimmie Angel the wilder his story
becomes. There’s still time for someone to make the film.
We squeezed his life into three sections but each verse
could have been expanded into a VIP song on its own.
One of the first recordings of this song, from Boo’s back
garden, contains a marvellous moment when a light
aeroplane passes overhead.”
When I was a boy I was fascinated by the story of how Jimmy Angel crashed his plane into a waterfall in Venezuala thereby finding the highest waterfall in the wrorld and having his name bestowed upon it so I was really interested in hearing this song. Angel Falls is a tribute the man who was larger than life, a beautiful piece of emotive songwriting and really brings a lump to your throat. The perfectly simple and uncomplicated music brings pathos to the song and Findlay’s plaintive vocal is delivered with poignant sentiment, a fitting tribute to a man who bestrode the world he lived in.
Five extra tracks were released on the companion ‘Very Interesting Extras’, two months after the original album…
‘Suspended from the gods you spin The rope’s about to break Bound in danger locked and chained How will you escape?’
“Although the song is now about Harry Houdini, when
I started it I was using escape artist imagery to view the
troubled life of Amy Winehouse: the idea of giving the
audience something astounding, beautiful and personal
and then the media machine says ‘Okay. That’s great.
What’s next? We want more and bigger and better and
The gentle banjo and piano give How Will You Escape an old school Americana/Country feel of the wistful old days, regret and fifteen minutes of fame that never lasts. The vocals are bitter sweet and match the frailness of the music perfectly. It is a graceful track but one which hides much pain and remorse and leaves you feeling slightly sad and sombre.
‘Princess Rosanna graceful and tall Was she pushed or did she fall Didn’t make the front page just an inch or two inside Princess Rosanna drowned in the Clyde’
“I like a snappy title…
This is another running song. I wrote it while running
down the side of the Clyde between Glasgow Green and
Someone had spray painted ‘RIP Princess Rosanna’ in
foot-high luminous pink letters underneath Jamaica St
Bridge. I’ve never really been sure of who Rosanna is. By
the time I went back to photograph the graffiti the City
Council had removed it and all that was left was a faded
RIP and the letter ‘R’.”
A proper singer/songwriter track, Princess Rosanna Drowned in the Clyde is one man and his guitar that has a feel of Richard Thompson or Steven Stills about it. The powerful strumming of the acoustic guitar and Findlay’s dynamic vocal inject it with realism. It gets under your skin, the way this musician can conjure up a story from graffiti written on a bridge, a believable tale of a life lost is incredible and leaves you reflective and thoughtful as it closes out.
‘So Des what’s with the personalized plate What’s with the paint job, the alloys, on this council estate So Des is that number, which begins 52, A badge for the crisis you’re driving into’
“I wrote the words to this while I was out running in the
East End of Glasgow.
52DES was a real number plate of a real dark blue BMW
M sport. I had run up over Haghill, down over Duke Street
and west along the Gallowgate and had seen the car parked
outside a dodgy looking tenement building.
The last line came from every heist movie I have ever
watched. There’s always some idiot who flashes their illgotten
gains too soon. Like Lester Freamon says in The
Wire, ‘Follow the money.’”
There’s a real feel of Oasis’ Half The World Away throughout 52Des, a sort of ‘homegrown’ track where Findlay’s inventive songwriting mind weaves a tale from nothing more than a number plate on a flash BMW parked outside a’dodgy tenement building’. Unhurried and laid back, it has a sarcastic humour at its core but is delivered in a sweet, sugar-coated manner. The elegantly strummed acoustic guitar and Findlay’s languid vocal add a nonchalant touch to this great little song.
‘After the last bell rings Will I be on my own Sleeping beneath the stars Nowhere to call home A million lights above me When all I want is one Will I be on my own After the last bell rings’
“‘After the Last Bell Rings’ was inspired by two things. The
spark of the idea was a joke Chris Sherburn used to tell at
Last Night Fun gigs. Just as Nick Scott was about to play a
beautiful, and long, slow air on the uilleann pipes, Chris
would invite the audience to stack their chairs quietly
during the performance, supposedly to save time at the
end of the night.
The rest of the song is based round the end of every Sunday
Funday at the open mic night in Bar Bloc, Glasgow. I used
to run the night there with Louis Abbott and Jamie Sturt.
After twelve hours of music and drinking the musicians of
Glasgow still had the energy to keep partying into the early
hours of Monday morning.”
A proper slice of Americana inspired country music, After The Last Bell Rings leaves you feeling that you really could be in a saloon bar in Texas listening to some good ol’ boys playing this fantastic song. The guitars are note perfect and Findlay has an easygoing, insouciant tone to his carefree vocals. A song for lazy days and drinking whiskey, the lap-steel solo is jaw-droppingly good, breathe in the tobacco soaked atmosphere of the old days and just enjoy brilliant music delivered in a simple but impressive fashion.
‘I don’t why I never grew The world too much for me Fell in with clowns and acrobats Nothing else to be I saw the limelight of New York I saw the Golden Mile A life as memorabilia I was here to make you smile’
“Film maker Jono McLeod, one of the major pledgers for
the VIP project, asked Boo and I to write him a song. The
song was to be about his Uncle, an actor,comedian and
Very Interesting Person called Jimmy Mac.”
Songs about true life always seem to throw up the most interesting stories and this elegantly delivered tale of Jimmy Mac’s marriage to a circus midget called Winnie Yelland and the media circus that surrounded it is no exception. Brilliant delivered mainly using a simple banjo and Findlay’s cultured vocal, it has a smooth class about it that exudes from every line. When the violin joins in it takes on a touch of the gypsey/traveller music that you would have heard from travelling Circus performers in the early decades of the 20th Century. The charming chorus really lingers on your mind, I found my self singing it for hours after. The addition of a harmonium is just genius and it is that instrument that brings the song, and this review to a most satisfying end.
I’ve found that over the last few months I’ve really taken a liking to the Scottish folk and singer/songwriter scene and , to me, Findlay Napier is right there at the vanguard of these new artists that are coming to the fore. Brilliantly composed songs with humour and pathos, written about people and places that this gifted musician knows and appreciates. You almost feel humbled that he wants to share them with you and I can’t wait for the next chapter in his tales of life and love in Scotland and afar.
‘Very Interesting Persons’ was released on 1st December 2015 and you can buy it from bandcamp here:
Scottish Singer-Songwriter Findlay Napier has announced details of his forthcoming new album ‘Glasgow’, which can be ordered now via his Kickstarter campaign.
Findlay describes the project:
“Just before my 18th birthday I moved from the banks of the River Spey to the 14th floor of the Red Road flats in Glasgow. I’d come to study Traditional Scottish Folk Music at what is now The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Twenty years later I want to make an album that reflects on the time I’ve spent in Glasgow making music, hanging out and growing up.
Boo Hewerdine is producing the album and we have already started recording the album in Motherlode Studio, Norfolk. We need your help to finish the recording and release the album.
Glasgow has a rich history of music and, of course, songwriting. From Adam MacNaughton‘s ‘Jeely Piece’ song to The Blue Nile‘s ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’ hundreds of songs have been written about this wonderful city. My new album will contain a mixture of some of my favourite songs, some that I’ve written especially for the project and some co-writes with Boo Hewerdine.
I’ll keep you informed all along the way either through short video blogs, blogs and sneaky listens to works in progress.
Why use Kickstarter? A few reasons for this 1) It is a simple way for you to pre-order the album. Kickstarter is a well known an trusted crowdfunding site. 2) Unless you are signed to a major label it makes more sense for a small independent act like myself to use a crowdfunding platform. 3) It’s fun to have fans involved album making process.
What are you going to do with my money? All of the money you contribute will go straight into the project. The main areas of spending are: Recording (recording, mixing and mastering), design (Photographs & design) and promotion (Local, National and Online Press plugger and radio plugger… I do the social media stuff myself… as you may have noticed). The final major expense is duplication (‘pressing’ the CD, setting up download, liscensing fees, barcode)…. and then there’s all the little things (travel expenses, tea/coffee/food for the studio, guitar strings etc.) The more money you contribute the more I can do with the album.
You can check out this this exciting project here:
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 truly energised with a heart-warming zing.
His last album, ‘VIP: Very Interesting Persons’, contains ten songs about real life characters with interesting lives was co-written and produced by Boo Hewerdine.‘VIP’ was The Telegraph’s #2 Folk Album of the Year 2015 and was Album of the Week in The Daily Express received many excellent reviews. To coincide with his successful 2016 solo tour Napier released an EP containing 5 new VIP songs and a behind the lyrics book.
Findlay, an inaugural graduate of The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland‘s BA(Scottish Music) program, 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 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.
In Feb 2017 Findlay will be touring with ‘Shake the Chains’ a new touring commission of protest songs from Folk by The Oak with support from Arts Council England, Help Musicians UK and Folk Alliance International. The tour features Nancy Kerr, Hannah Martin and Tim Yates with musical director Greg Russell.
Aside from his touring commitments Findlay performs regular Stand-Up Comedy shows around Glasgow.In September he organised and sold out Glasgow Songwriting Festival.