Category Archives: GUEST EDITOR

From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Leonard Cohen’s “Songs Of Love And Hate”

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

LeonardCohen

Roberts: I felt it would be appropriate to include something Canadian for MAGNET, so I’m going for the Canadian musical artist whose work has undoubtedly meant the most to me over the years. Leonard Cohen‘s album Songs Of Love And Hate has been a favourite LP of mine since I first encountered it in my late teens. It is etched on my consciousness to the extent that I don’t actually need to put the record on in order to hear it. To me, it seems like Cohen’s gesamtkunstwerk, although I don’t know whether he’d be happy to hear it framed in such Germanic terms—there’s a completeness, a wholeness to the work that manifests in each individual track (and I think that every song is a stand-alone triumph) but also within the songs collectively, taken as a complete cycle. It has many of the things I love about art and music in general: darkness, humour, depth, simplicity, humility, passion, restraint … and, of course, love and hate. Hearing Leonard sing about seeing “the serpent eat its tail” lets me know that he’s wrestled with the philosophical notion of eternal recurrence (which has been an artistic preoccupation of mine at certain points too)—and this is music to which I believe that I will eternally return.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Susan Philipsz

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

SusanPhilipsz

Roberts: Susan Philipsz is a contemporary Scottish artist, originally from Glasgow but now based in Berlin. She originally trained as a sculptor and, with a keen interest in what she refers to as “the sculptural properties of sound,” is currently doing interesting things with that medium in her work. Often the way that sound features in Philipsz’ work in the form of her own singing, revealing a concern with the emotive qualities of song and of the human voice itself. For instance, a typical work might feature Susan’s own disembodied voice singing a song, being played through speakers into a gallery space or some other public environment; a variation on this approach might find her singing two slightly different, overlapping versions of the same song in different parts of a space. Over the seven or so years since I first became aware of her work, I have observed it develop in complexity and sophistication, in various ways—conceptually, compositionally and in the scale of its execution—so it is no surprise that in 2010 Susan was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: The Fairy Mound, Aberfoyle

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

Fairy

Roberts: Near where I grew up in central Scotland is the town of Aberfoyle, which was formerly the home place of the Rev. Robert Kirk. Although a godly man, a minister in the Church of Scotland who nominally professed a faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and the redeemer of all humankind, the old beliefs nevertheless ran deep in Kirk’s soul; this is attested by his personal interactions with the Otherworld that are documented in his classic work The Secret Commonwealth Of Elves, Fauns And Fairies. I imagine that he shared with many of his countryfolk at that time a belief in the “little people,” whom according to his description were made of “congeal’d air” and, in that part of Scotland, lived in a “fairy mound” just outside Aberfoyle. Traces of ancient Scottish fairy belief can be seen in such old songs and ballads as “Thomas The Rhymer,” “Tam Lin,” “Alison Cross” and “The Broomfield Hill.” The Aberfoyle fairy mound, into which the Rev. Robert Kirk mysteriously disappeared after circumambulating it thrice, is still a site of pilgrimage for contemporary believers, who beribbon the branches of its trees with spells, prayers and incantations and scatter talismans and other such offerings on its sacred summit.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: “Nuts In May”

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

NutsInMay

Roberts: I’ve not yet seen Mike Leigh‘s most recent, widely acclaimed film Mr. Turner, but a few months back, at the recommendation of a friend, I watched one of his earliest works, Nuts In May. I thought it was very enjoyable and pretty hilarious—at least very funny to begin with, but I came to realise that it soon takes the viewer to some darker places. It concerns a sanctimonious, middle-class, vegetarian, bearded, sandal-wearing folk-singing fellow from the Home Counties and his girlfriend going on a camping trip in the country, only for their back-to-nature attempt to be disrupted by a neighbouring fellow camper with different priorities.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Tattie Scones

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

TattieScones

Roberts: I believe that tattie scones, or “potato scones,” are a uniquely Scottish foodstuff, although Ireland has the equivalent “potato farl,” which is also a very good product, but not quite the same thing. I consume tattie scones fairly regularly, normally as part of a cooked breakfast. I find that they go very well with eggs, particularly scrambled eggs. I’d really like to use tattie scones as a starting point to discuss the cuisine of Scotland more generally—haggis, stovies, Arbroath smokies, cullen skink, butteries, cranachan, whisky, Irn-Bru, Tunnock’s teacakes and so on. These are all culinary delights with which I imagine many of MAGNET’s readers are probably unfamiliar, and it is time for that state of affairs to change.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

Tivadar

Roberts: In the summer of 2014, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the grand and beautiful old city of Budapest. There, of course, I beheld myriad marvels, which other writers have covered more thoroughly than I can here; I also spent some time in the southern Hungarian city of Pécs, home of the Csontváry Museum, dedicated to that artist whose work I first discovered on that trip. Something about his paintings appealed to me greatly when I first set eyes upon them. His style was largely self-taught and very much his own, although his work engenders in me similar ineffable feelings as those I get from other painters (whom, I note with interest, all seem to be male in this instance) whose work I admire—artists who, on the surface of it would appear to have not so much in common: Samuel Palmer, Paul Nash, Lars Hertervig, Caspar David Friedrich, Nicolai Roerich. There’s a sort of mystical, spiritually infused atmosphere to all of their work that my inner romantic finds very captivating indeed.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Alasdair Gray’s “Lanark”

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

AlasdairGray

Roberts: Alasdair Gray is a major figure in Scottish arts and, more specifically, within the city of Glasgow, where he has lived for many years. Lanark is Gray’s most famous novel; it is a complex and multifaceted work, and so difficult to describe, but on one level, it is essentially a sort of Bildungsroman in which the city of Glasgow, transfigured and reimagined, plays a major part. I’ve lived in Glasgow for almost 20 years now, having moved there in 1995 to study (although, mostly because of the attractions of the city’s vibrant music scene; I was a poor student). In these past two decades, I have come to identify very strongly with the city (although, of course, not having been born and raised there, I will never be a “real” Glaswegian). I first read Lanark shortly after moving to Glasgow, and I re-read it again just last year, finding and understanding new things in it with the benefit of my advanced age and with several more years of Glasgow living under my belt. It’s a book I often recommend to people looking for some high-quality, distinctively Scottish modern fiction.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Pixação

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

Pixacao

Roberts: In September, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to do three concerts in Brazil—in the cities of Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Recife. In my limited experience of the place, both on the ground and in my background reading, I sensed a huge, beautiful and bewildering country full of colour and life but also with a hugely complex, extremely dark and violent history. I was fortunate to be staying with some good old Scottish friends in São Paulo. I imagine that being alone for the first time without guidance or companionship in that vast metropolis would have been very difficult, so I am hugely grateful to my friends for their hospitality. I also thank them for introducing me to many wonders of Brazilian life, too many to mention—but one thing that remains in my mind when I think back now on walking with them through the streets of São Paulo was pixação—the city’s typical form of graffiti, visible on many of its buildings. When I first saw it I thought it odd that Brazilians had developed a form of script that so closely resembles Norse runes—I wondered fancifully whether these writings, once decoded, might proclaim such things as “I, Snorri, carved these words by my own hand—may Odin protect me.” In fact with greater familiarity that strange resemblance becomes less noticeable, and I understand that pixação is used primarily for serious sociopolitical commentary (for which there is, of course, as much need in Brazil as in any other nation you care to name) rather than for Viking-style bragging.

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Sheila Stewart

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

Sheila

Roberts: I was raised in the small town of Callander in central Scotland. There has historically been some dispute as to whether the town lies within the boundaries of Stirlingshire or of Perthshire, but now my family is no longer in Callander and some of them live near the town of Blairgowrie, which is definitely in Perthshire. Blairgowrie was traditionally a part of Scotland where the Travellers, the indigenous nomadic people of Scotland (ethnically distinct from other itinerant groups such as Roma but with a similarly itinerant lifestyle), would go at certain times of the year to pick berries (strawberries and raspberries) in the surrounding fields. The Scottish Travellers are renowned as carriers of an ancient oral tradition, and their culture has historically been rich with songs, ballads and wonder tales; one of the most well-known musical families of recent years were the Stewarts of Blairgowrie. The late Sheila Stewart, who sadly died in December 2014, was the daughter of Belle Stewart, the clan matriarch, and was more or less the last in the line of tradition-carriers within the family—a formidable performer with an astounding, unique voice and powerful delivery. I had the pleasure of hearing Sheila sing several times, usually at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, and also had the great honour of appearing on the same bill as her a few years back at the Tolbooth in Stirling. Her command of what she called the “conyach”—that ineffable feeling at the emotional core of a song or a voice (perhaps akin to the Spanish concept of duende) can be heard in recordings of her performances of such auld Scots ballads as “The Twa Brothers” (a song I recorded myself on the album No Earthly Man).

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From The Desk Of Alasdair Roberts: Finland

Alasdair Roberts’ songs are difficult to digest. Like a large pill you can’t quite swallow, that lodges toward the back of the throat, they are dense, layered, poetic ballads coupled with a forcefully picked acoustic guitar, abrasively fragile vocals and a thick Scottish accent. His new self-titled album is not the kind of thing you put on while washing dishes. But it’s the kind of album you go back to again and again, trying to parse the lyrics, trying to understand why these songs grate at the base of your spine. Roberts will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on him.

Finland

Roberts: Finland is a country I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times over the past few years, thanks to the efforts of a good friend, Niko-Matti, who lives in Turku. Niko-Matti is in a great band named Kiila, which is associated with high-quality Finnish independent label Fonal. I find Finland, on the whole, very intriguing, with its distinctive non-Indo-European language (etymologically distinct from other nearby languages such as Swedish or Russian, and distantly related to Hungarian) and the things about it that are culturally unique, such as the oral history embodied in the national epic Kalevala. There’s something about the culture that I imagine has more in common with those of places I’ve never been such as the high Siberian steppes than with western Europe—there’s a definite shamanic vibe going on. The people have the quiet self-assurance, bordering on the taciturn, of those who are channelling something very deep and ancient (or maybe they’re just a bit shy … but they are nevertheless invariably friendly). Like many Finns, Niko-Matti is a big fan of the sauna. The last time I was there in December 2014, Niko-Matti and I went “winter swimming”—that’s to say, we plunged our bodies into the cold winter sea before hurrying into the sauna, where burly Finns ladled water onto the blazing hot coals to raise the temperature to the kind of heat which could almost cause the uninitiated (such as me) to pass out. Then the process is repeated to exhaustion. I think it is a very beautiful ritual, and one that defines Finland for me.

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