Nocturne #2 Review

starring Michael Portillo £24:29
Michael Portillo continues to chart the great British romance with the railways as, armed with his copy of George Bradshaw’s famous handbook, he retraces four journeys that were first documented in the Victorian monthly guide. In this sixth series Portillo travels from Ayr to Edinburgh, Amersham to London Bridge, Derby to Lindisfarne, and Pembroke to Cambridge. During  his travels the former politician tries his hand at curling, visits the birthplace of golf, gives an old engine a fresh start in Derby, learns of the miners who fuelled the Industrial Revolution, explores the treasures of the Bodleian Library… and much more!

A L Kennedy (Jonathan Cape) £17.99
Set in London, during a single 24 hour period in 2014, this latest novel from the acclaimed Scottish writer A L Kennedy is a poignant, deeply funny, and beautifully written love story in which two damaged – yet fundamentally decent – people try to make the best choices they can in what appears to be an immoral world. Through her precise and beautiful prose, Kennedy masterfully draws her readers into the all-too-real world of 59 year old senior civil servant Jon Sigurdsson and 45 year old “bankrupt accountant” Meg Williams, two lost souls seeking honesty and a chance at tenderness.

Katherine Bryan (Linn Records) £13.00
This Classic FM Album of the Week is a genuine labour of love by the acclaimed flautist Katherine Bryan, an in-demand concerto soloist and principal flautist with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Here she presents a fresh take on some much-loved music originally written for violin, but now adapted for flute by Bryan herself. From Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending to Paganini’s 24th Caprice, Bryan dazzles the ears with her fulsome approach to a wonderful classical repertoire. As for the support from “house band”, the RSNO, it’s as broad and deep as you would expect it to be.

starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard £10.00
Australian film-maker Justin Kurzel, best known for brutal crime movie Snowtown, offers a lean, muscular take on Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play”. A ferocious, intense Fassbender is perfectly cast as the battle-weary warrior  who is persuaded to commit regicide by his ruthlessly ambitious wife (a beautifully controlled performance from Cotillard). The script – while paring back one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays to the bone, retains all the core power and horror of the original, while adding an intriguing modern twist in suggesting that Macbeth’s fits and hallucinations are down to post-traumatic stress disorder. A definitive cinematic Macbeth? Definitely pretty close.

Alistair Moffat (Birlinn) £25.00
This isn’t the first book to document the history of Scotland, nor is it likely to be the last, but this comprehensive, detailed tome by an highly readable author, is likely to stand the test of time. Divided into 13 main sections, it starts with the Ice Age and ends with the 2015 General Election, taking in everything from Neolithic humans, Picts and Romans, to the Enlightenment and Highland Clearances. Unlike previous histories, Moffat utilises a large source of recent DNA evidence to identify the ancestors of modern Scotland, and where they came from. An informative, comprehensive and astute history.

Amy Duncan (Filly Records) £7.99 (download)
Amy Duncan is not a name familiar to many, but this self-released fifth album certainly deserves wider recognition and airplay for her assured melodies and hidden-depths vocals. Sensitively produced by Calum Malcolm (of Blue Nile and Prefab Sprout fame), and financially backed in part by national arts body Creative Scotland, Undercurrents sees Duncan back with long-time collaborator and musical friend Fiona Rutherford on harp, as well as “borrowing” the string section of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Fourth track ‘Different Dimensions’, with its emphasis on strings and rumbling percussion, is a particularly haunting narrative of souls never meeting.

Full reviews first published in Nocturne, #2 (Summer 2016).