Struggling to find the perfect Christmas present? From bronze horses to Harry Hill, our team of arts writers offer their recommendations
If only he'd been around in the days of Prisoner: Cell Block H, that set-wobbling but somehow gripping Aussie women-in-jail saga, finally out on DVD (Freemantle Home Entertainment, 34.99). If you'd rather watch Davina McCall being eaten alive, Charlie Brooker's Big Brother zombie horror series Dead Set (4DVD, 19.99) is brilliantly enjoyable. For real Christmas cheer, you can't top the Johnny Cash Christmas Specials (Sony, 19.99) – four festive TV shows he made in the late 1970s, with guests including Roy Orbison.
A GERHARD RICHTER CATALOGUE
Whether or not they have seen the Gerhard Richter show at the National Gallery Complex, give an art-loving friend the catalogue, 19.95 from the gift shop. While he doesn't have the celebrity value of Andy Warhol, Richter is rated one of our greatest living artists, and with 80 reproductions of his paintings, varying hugely over 40-plus years of work, this is far more stimulating than your standard coffee table art.
The Ingleby Gallery represents contemporary artists whose top-end works sell for tens of thousands of pounds but if you're looking for something more modest they offer a Woven Poem – handkerchiefs in red and yellow check with laundry labels carrying poetic sentences such as "I carry the No that you gave me" – by Alec Finlay, for 12. If you want to go further upmarket, with something very contemporary, try a 350 framed screenprint of the Ingleby Gallery billboard put up by Turner Prize-winner Mark Wallinger, famed for his recreation of an anti-war protest camp. It carries the words "Mark Wallinger is Innocent".
A STEAMY TAKE ON HANDEL
You know that frustrating feeling when you hear a snippet of a classical melody and think: I know that, but what the hell is it? Well here's the answer – Denys Parsons's The Directory of Classical Themes (Piatkus, 12.99) makes identification easy even to the musically unsophisticated, with a coded system of ups ("U"), downs ("D") and repeated notes ("R") to help you match your tune against thousands of entries (*RRRD > Beethoven's Fifth). Alternatively, support your local vocal ensemble and spice up someone's Christmas with the Dunedin Consort and Players racy new recording of Handel's choral work Acis and Galatea on the Scots-based Linn label (LINN CKD 319, 20). .
A CALENDAR OF PAINTINGS
Puppies are not just for Christmas. Nor is art, if you get it right. At Edinburgh Printmakers you can buy an original print for from 30 to 1,000. At Glasgow Print Studio prices have been slashed on a selection of prints by well-known artists. A screenprint by Adrian Wiszniewski is on offer for 340 instead of 460, for instance. At the Open Eye you can buy a painting from between 50 and 1,850 from a choice of 400, all A5 in size, by gallery artists such as Henry Kondracki, Philip Reeves, John Bellany and many others. Or if that is all too much, you can get a calendar of Scottish Paintings from the National Gallery shop for 8.95.
A GUIDE TO JAZZ
The newly published ninth edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings by Brian Morton and the late Richard Cook, deservedly eulogised in the first entry in this new edition (Penguin, 35 pbk) is indispensable for jazz newbies and seasoned collectors alike. Much more than simply a what-to-buy guide, it offers authoritative analysis and critical insight from two of the leading jazz writers in the world, covering every style and period of the often bewildering range of music lumped under the umbrella of jazz. Richard Cook will be much missed, but this ongoing series is a fitting memorial to his work.
I'M SORRY I HAVEN'T A CLUE
Street art went mainstream in a big way this year, but even though Banksy originals now sell for six figure sums it's still possible to pick up a bargain. For the best of the Scottish spraycan scene, check out Recoat Gallery in Glasgow – all the works in their Christmas show are priced at 40 or less (www.recoatdesign.com) . 2008 was also the year I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue chairman Humphrey Lyttelton passed away. If you know a Humph fan, why not make their Christmas by getting them an ISIHAC CD (prices vary) from the BBC's online shop (www.bbcshop.com).
A FOXY ALBUM
For a stocking filler, Fleet Foxes' eponymous debut album (Bella Union, 11.49) is perfect. If ever there was a band destined for cult obscurity, this it: a bunch of guys singing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young harmonies, playing songs that evoke hard winters, cold blue skies and lost loves in the American backwoods. They have a uniquely romantic sound and outlook which means when they sing about turning the white snow "red as strawberries in the summertime" with blood, it doesn't sound arch or pretentious. This of course makes Fleet Foxes a slow-burner, but it's not too much of a stretch to say that this is the album Beach Boys' genius Brian Wilson promised but never delivered when he tried to record his 1960s opus, Smile. One to surprise the impossible-to-buy-for music lover with.
A BRONZE HORSE
Call me old fashioned, but I still listen to CDs. Nothing would be finer – or more cost-conscious – than filling in my back catalogue with oldies-but-goodies. For instance, I still don't own a copy of Space Oddity. And my impressive Prince collection contains a few gaping holes. Because this stuff's not current, you can usually snap it up for … well, for a song. And in these recessionary times, it behoves us to top up our skills. Why not treat your loved one to a residential crafts workshop? There are programmes all over the country teaching everything from glassmaking to woodturning. Try www.craftscotland.org for listings, and who knows where you'll end up? Orconsider a gift certificate to www. degreeart.com. This clearing house for the art superstars of tomorrow sells painting, sculpture, photography and prints at a range of prices. I've got my eye on stylised bronze horses from Johannes Nielsen (550 each) , in case you're wondering.
GREAT WAR SONGS
What better than the recent superb ECM jazz album Live at Belleville (14.99) by Swedish double bass wizard Arild Andersen with Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia and oor ain magic reedsman Tommy Smith, or, on the folk side, the virtuosity and energy of Lau's Live (Navigator, 12.29) or singer Fiona Mackenzie's beautiful and genre-defying solo debut, Elevate (Linn, 12.99), or – a stocking filler, this – the Boys of the Lough's seasonal Midwinter Live (Gifthorse, 14.29).
For the battlefield historian who has everything, try the Greentrax label's unique double CD of First World War songs plus today's songwriters' responses to the conflict, Far, Far from Ypres (15.99). And if you can't afford to buy your favourite fiddler a Strad, an option is Katherine Campbell's excellent The Fiddle in Scottish Culture (John Donald, 20), full of anecdotes, lore and some fine illustrations.
A WEIRD MOVIE
For the past seven years, rock band the Flaming Lips have been working on a loopy-sounding sci-fi home movie called Christmas on Mars, with a cast consisting of their friends and family. Now it's finally out on DVD (Warner Bros, 24.99) and it's a revelation – a quirky, poignant, love letter to Christmas that, as weird as this sounds, is the perfect gift for any fans of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, John Carpenter's Dark Star or – for reasons I won't go into here – David Cronenberg. It's slightly amateurish at times, admittedly, but the beautiful soundtrack, a set of haunting instrumentals by the band themselves, makes up for it.
I'm also going to recommend my favourite Christmas album – A Sunflower at Christmas by Scottish band The Pearlfishers (Marina Records, 8.49 ). It's got sleighbells, carols, Christmas tree artwork, and a brilliant Beach Boys pastiche. I'd also suggest one of my favourite books of this year – Close: A Journey In Scotland (Northfield, 19.99), photographer Allan Pollok-Morris's love letter to landscape art in Scotland, from unusual gardens like Little Sparta and the Hidden Gardens at Tramway in Glasgow, to work by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Jim Buchanan. It's a beautiful book that captures both the wildness and tranquility of this country. Find it via the website www.northfieldprint.co.uk.
AN EXOTIC MUSICAL INSTRUMENT
My present will be a cheque cashable in only one place: Ray Man's music shop in London's Chalk Farm Road. There are pan-pipes and ouds and frog-rattles in the window, and, inside, a profusion of Turkish saz's, African thumb-pianos, and every kind of drum; a low door leads into a back room bursting with string instruments from South America, Africa, India, and the Far East. Beyond that, a further door opens on a dizzy sight: there are so many gorgeous things – bowed, plucked, struck, or blown – that the eye can't take it all in. Take my cheque, buy an instrument, and start your new life. Visit http:// rmmusicshop.moonfruit.com (tel: 0207 692 6261).
A ROCK BAND IN YOUR LIVING ROOM
Easily one of the most fun games for the family this year, Guitar Hero World Tour brings the experience of playing in your own rock band to your living room. The full band set (149.99/Xbox/PS3/Wii) comes with a digital drum kit, guitar controller and a microphone. Featuring such classic rock hits as Survivor – Eye of the Tiger, Bon Jovi – Livin' on a Prayer and The Eagles – Hotel California, there are songs here to appease music fans from any generation. Just be cautious when letting drunken relatives on the mic.
DATE WITH THE DARK KNIGHT
DVD making-of extras are all very well, but if you have a Dark Knight obsessive you need to buy for, The Art of the Dark Knight (Universe, 20). offers a beautifully illustrated guide to how the year's best blockbuster went from script to screen, with page after glossy page of concept art and storyboards as well as Christopher Nolan's full shooting script. At the other end of the spectrum, the BFI's excellent DVD re-issue of the Bill Douglas Trilogy (23.99) finally makes available the late Scottish film-maker's landmark films charting his poverty-stricken upbringing in the postwar years. Poignant and poetic, it's a must for anyone interested in Scotland or cinema.
UP TO THE WIRE
I envy anyone who hasn't yet immersed themselves in HBO's deservedly lauded drama, The Wire. It's one of the most intelligent and uncompromising TV shows ever made, so I urge you to snap up The Wire: Complete HBO Seasons 1 – 5 (Warner Bros, 124.99) . You won't regret it. In books, Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook's Doctor Who: the Writer's Tale (BBC, 30) offers a fascinating insight into the writing of one of TV's biggest hits, while the wonderful Turned Out Nice Again: the Story of British Light Entertainment by Louis Barfe (Atlantic, 22) pays affectionate tribute to the golden age of television.
BUILD YOUR LIBRARY
If I were a rich man, the six boxed books designed by Bill Amberg for Penguin would be my presents of choice for all my friends. They'd have read them already – The Big Sleep, The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany's, A Room with a View, Brideshead Revisited and The Picture of Dorian Gray – but that's not the point: these luxury leather-bound paperbacks not only look stunning but are on sale for 20 each. they were published at 50 each only last month, so are a clear bargain for these credit-crunched times.
While I – along with practically everyone else, it seems – want finally to get round to reading Barack Obama's Dreams from my Father, the one book I want to find more than any other under the Christmas tree is Touch and Go (The New Press, 11.99), the memoir by Obama's fellow-Chicagoan, Studs Terkel, the greatest journalist I've ever met, who sadly died four days before his friend won the US presidential election.
For an affordable piece of cutting-edge art, check out the current show at Glasgow Print Studio, which features print-making by the artists from Sorcha Dallas Gallery, including Henry Coombes, Alex Pollard and Kate Davis (prices vary, 48 King Street, Glasgow, www. gpsart.co.uk). Meanwhile, an evocative series of drawings made by the Scottish artist Hamish MacDonald while he was being treated at the Beatson Oncology Centre are being sold as cards in aid of the Beatson Pebble Appeal (5 for eight cards, 9 for 16, from [email protected] or 0141-330 3000).
Knitting is trendy and the credit crunch will make recyclers of us all, so for cool craft ideas, try Making Stuff, by Ziggy Hanaor & Victoria Woodcock (Black Dog Publishing, 16.95, available from the Fruitmarket Gallery bookshop). Two fine anthologies from the Scottish Poetry Library make great gifts – Luckenbooth: An Anthology of Edinburgh Poetry (SPL/Polygon, 9.99) and The Thing That Mattered Most: Scottish Poems for Children (SPL/Black&White, 6.99). While read the fascinating story of nocturnal London by Sukhdev Sandhu, after a year spent exploring the city with Artangel, in Night Haunts (Artangel/Verso, 10.95).
TICKETS TO THE PANTOMIME
2009 marks the tenth anniversary of Hamish Glen's brave decision to launch an ensemble theatre company at Dundee Rep, and it's paid off in fine style, offering plenty of opportunities to buy Rep-related gifts for theatre lovers. This Christmas, Dundee Rep not only offers one of the finest children's shows in Scotland with Beauty and the Beast, but also take over the stage of the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh with their Proclaimers tribute musical, Sunshine on Leith. You can buy ticket vouchers for Dundee Rep at any price from 10 upwards, and membership of the Rep's Friends group – with discounts and party invites – for 25 a year. In Edinburgh, tickets for Sunshine on Leith are available at prices from 7.50-27.00; and for those who fancy the Rep's rip-roaring scaled-up versions of all those great Proclaimers hits, CDs are on sale at both theatres, price 10.