Interview: Findlay Napier on his new album Glasgow, a homage to the Dear Green Place
Dedicated to the genius of memory...” Such was the ethos of the municipal visionaries who in 1831 proposed the creation of the Glasgow Necropolis, that astonishing hill-top city of the dead which bristles above the Dear Green Place. That “genius of memory” phrase finds its way into Findlay Napier’s song Young Goths in the Necropolis, on his latest album.
“I just loved the sound of it; I’d never heard that turn of phrase before,” Napier says of the line, adding that the song was inspired by two young Goths he encountered one wintry day while jogging through the Necropolis. “I could never quite make it to the top of the hill, but I saw these two guys coming and thought, ‘Oh God, they’ll slag me off,’ but instead they cheered me on and I kept going and made it to the top.”
They also inspired a song that glows with vivid imagery and yearning, and is the opening track on Glasgow (Cheerygroove Records), Napier’s fond but perceptively ranging homage to the city which has been his home now for 21 years. Although born there, he and his younger brother and fellow-musician Hamish grew up on Speyside until, at just 17, he returned to his birthplace to join the first intake of the Scottish music degree course at “the Crochet Factory”, as he engagingly terms the Royal Scottish Conservatoire.
As he observes in his sleeve notes, “First I was staying here, then I was living here, now this is my home.”
Shot through with city bells and street noise, the album features
other Napier compositions, including There’s More to Building Ships, a far from dewy-eyed elegy for a lost industry, and St Anthony’s Digging a Hole (graveyards again), but also covers material such as Hamish Imlach’s rumbustious showstopper, Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice, the Blue Nile’s blithe Walk Across the Rooftops and Michael Marra’s drolly surreal King Kong’s Visit to Glasgow. Napier co-wrote two other tracks with Boo Hewerdine, the album’s producer and a mentor to him over the years.
Speaking from a songwriting retreat he is running with Bella Hardy at Moniack Mhor creative writing centre near Inverness, Napier explains that, following the success of his album VIP (also co-written and produced by Hewerdine), he was planning his follow-up to be more of a band album. He spun the Glasgow idea to Hewerdine: “Boo said, ‘Yes, but it’s only going to be guitar and vocals and you’re not going to write all the songs. Pick the songs and write a love letter to Glasgow.’
“So I came home and posted on Facebook, asking for people’s favourite songs about Glasgow, and got 80-plus responses”
Among those suggested were, of course, the Blue Nile. Of Walk Across the Rooftops, he muses: “There’s
part of me that wonders if that song really is about Glasgow, but it certainly is to me and to everybody that posted suggestions on the Facebook link.”
Napier’s own work comes over as lyrical storytelling, rather than confessional. “I’m not sure how entertaining it is for an audience to hear somebody blethering on about their wretched life. Don’t get me wrong; there are some people who do it beautifully, but I’ve always loved the storytelling thing, growing up with the Scottish ballads or listening to the likes of John Prine or Michael Marra.”
He plans a Glasgow-based event at next January’s Celtic Connections. In the meantime, the next couple of months see him pursuing a busy UK schedule, including gigs at the Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore, this Thursday, and on Friday the village hall in Rogart, Sutherland, where, he recalls fondly, he once heard the redoubtable Imlach singing Cod Liver Oil.
Among many other things, December sees him join the Boo Hewerdine Christmas Extravaganza at the Maltings, Ely, in a bill which also, intriguingly, features Andrew Marr. Yes, that Andrew Marr, “but I don’t know what he plays.” ■