Alasdair Gray: A Life in Progress
- Nicola Meighan
- 6 February 2015
Warm and affectionate soundtrack to a documentary about the Glasgow writer and artist
Larbert, Falkirk is home to De-Fence, the electronic offshoot of King Creosote's Fence Records empire, as helmed by sticksman OnTheFly (aka Gavin Brown), and amplified by a stellar back catalogue which counts rare vinyl releases from Malcolm Middleton, River of Slime and Jon Hopkins among its number.
To this DIY treasure trove of tech-pop wonders, we can now add Alasdair Gray: A Life in Progress, which is Scott Twynholm's soundtrack to Kevin Cameron's excellent documentary of the same name. The record is as warm, entertaining and enlightening as Gray himself.
Gray is no stranger to the pop world. The writer, artist and Glasgow polymath painted the sleeve for De Rosa's 2009 Prevention album, illustrated the 2007 Triptych festival brochures and posters, and collaborated with former Delgado Alun Woodward (alias Lord Cut-Glass) for 2007's Chemikal Underground LP, Ballads of the Book, which saw Scottish musicians (Aidan Moffat, King Creosote, Norman Blake) join forces with literary voices (AL Kennedy, Edwin Morgan, Ian Rankin).
Woodward and Gray's contribution to said album, 'A Sentimental Song' – with lyrics by Gray – is revisited and reinterpreted here by Twynholm (Biggi Hilmars provides vocals this time). Elsewhere, Gray's recollections of life, literature, love and the city are recalled in his own distinctive voice, which is variously underscored by spectral guitar psalms ('The Old School Clock'), chamber-pop vignettes ('The Glasgow Where I Lived'), miniature piano dramas ('Early Days') and avant-electro soundscapes ('Lanark').
The latter track is named, of course, after Gray's 1981 literary magnum opus, and opens with a clip from the film, in which the author wryly distils Lanark's essence: ‘A Scottish petit bourgeois model of the universe … I've rehearsed it and honed it down to as few words as possible.’ Twynholm's compositions are equally economic, yet engaging. The TV and film composer, whose pop credentials include stints in Looper and Hoboken, has created not only a lovely album, but a colourful and affectionate portrait of this truly singular artist's life.