Findlay Napier – Glasgow
Cherrygroove Records – 13 October 2017
I was much taken with Findlay Napier’s debut album, VIP: Very Interesting Persons, a collection of songs about real life characters and for Glasgow, his full-length follow-up, he’s adopted a similar approach, except instead of people these are songs about a place. Inspired by and based around his growing up in Glasgow, again working in collaboration with producer and co-writer Boo Hewardine and proudly sung in Glaswegian accent, these are love letters to the city, portraits in song, evocative of a time and assorted landmarks and the affectionate memories associated with them.
With just the occasional piano notes and backing vocals from Donna Maciocia accompanying the acoustic guitar, Napier’s reveries take him from shipyards to chip shops. The musical map opens with Young Goths in the Necropolis, church bells tolling as he unfolds memories of his time living in the Dennistoun district and the famous Victorian garden cemetery (“where all the weirdos go”) adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral that he would pass while out running. With its gently rippling guitar, it sketches memories of a young love affair to a melody that calls Don McLean’s Vincent to mind.
Written with Hewardine, built around a circling Davy Graham-like guitar pattern, Wire Burners is a bluesier number about the city’s titular homeless, the “daylight ghosts”, who haunt the buildings sites collecting and selling scrap metal. The first of five covers come with Marchtown, a new song by Emma Pollock, formerly of the Delgados, a wistful recollection of its history relating to Mary Queen of Scots and, renamed as Strathbungo, the urbanisation “pushing in the people till the sirens ring.”
There are, I suspect, very few songs written about gravediggers, but, inspired by a Radio 4 documentary, St Anthony’s Digging A Hole is one such, written for their patron saint shovelling out soil and watching the mourners.
Featuring one of several field recording samples on the album, the title track is, surprisingly, another non-original, a guitar pattern reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel underpinning local songwriter Julia Doogan’s sketch of rival football crowds spoiling for a fight or the city youth looking for love.
Inextricably linked to and faithfully channelling Hamish Imlach, Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice was actually written by Ron Clark and Carl McDougall as a double entendre littered parody of the American gospel number The Virgin Mary Had a Little Baby. Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, it’s followed by another cover, a lovely falsetto-voiced reading of The Blue Nile’s A Walk Across The Rooftops, here in memory of the gloriously carefree sunny weeks between the end of his exams and graduation.
It’s back to an original number for the powerful There’s More To Building Ships. Originally written for Shake the Chains (reviewed here), a project exploring the role of song in social change, and inspired by a conversation with his father, a marine engineer, it’s both a celebration of the Clyde shipyards and a lament on their decline and the devastating effect on the local community.
A second Hewardine collaboration, The Locarno, Sauchiehall Street 1928 is beautifully nostalgic number, Napier crooning in falsetto on the chorus, a song about the Locarno ballroom that was the home to the first Scottish Professional Dancing Championships and the winner, Alex Warren and Ceclia Bristow, but also about lonely souls looking for love and the many other Locarnos where they “come to dance to get lost and to be found.”
The last of the covers pays tribute to Michael Marra, the Bard of Dundee who wrote many songs about Glasgow, most particularly King Kong’s Visit to Glasgow, inspired by a dream had by actress Caroline Patterson with whom he was working on a show, Napier giving it an easy lazing folk blues treatment using the guitar body for percussion.
Opening with another sample, it all ends with the third Hewardine collaboration, the 30s-flavoured piano-accompanied ballad The Blue Lagoon, a song of unrequited love set in the titular Glasgow chippie at Central Station.
Perfectly framed by the 1980 cover photograph of two kids blowing bubblegum balloons by Pulitzer-Prize winning Magnum photographer Raymond Depardon, laced with sadness and joy, melancholy and anger, this is a magnificent piece of work that both celebrates the city and underscores Napier as one of the finest songwriters and storytellers of the contemporary Scottish folk scene.
Glasgow is out today. Order it via Amazon
For details of Findlay’s tour dates visit: http://www.findlaynapier.com/tour
Photo Credit: David Boni