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Songs in a Scottish Accent 1: Why I came to love Country

I had a strange epiphany on Thursday around 7 am, as I crested the rise before Falkland and saw the Howe of Fife laid out in all its glory, while Lucinda Williams growled in my ear about West Memphis: it was 5 years almost to the day since I began to appreciate country music for the first time.

Growing up in the Seventies, country seemed pretty much for old people, or at least the kind of people that would go along to country and western clubs, and/or learn to do line dancing. The stuff that came out of Nashville was slick, polished, schmaltzy, and seemingly devoid of any rebellious spirit. The only thing I knew about Willie Nelson was he featured in a pretty good joke (the punchline being: ‘well, I don’t know about the other two, but the one in the middle looks like Willie Nelson…’ if you haven’t heard it, don’t ask).

My musical tastes were pretty much guitar based rock, from Dylan and Springsteen through to punk and new wave. Anything with that whiny pedal steel noise just made me think of middle aged folks wearing checked shirts and Stetsons, trying to pretend they were from Louisiana rather than Lenzie.

Then, in 2011, I was lucky enough to get a chance to go to a conference in Nashville. We flew out the day after the last Scottish Parliamentary elections, and had a whale of a time. Seriously, all the good stories you’ve heard about Nashville was true. There was even a Gibson Guitars bus.

Actually, a lot of the stuff I heard in the bars on Lower Broadway was rock, or soul standards, but I heard enough of the real deal to begin to understand what country really was: one of the essential strands of DNA in Americana, that had gone on to influence all the music I had always liked. I read recently Springsteen saying that, before writing the songs that went into the River, he listened to Hank Williams, because he wanted to get that honesty of storytelling into the voice he used for the album. Three chords and the truth, indeed.

Back to that epiphany above Falkland, though. Although I’ve never been a massive fan of Scottish folk music, it did occur to me that it was strange, really, that all of my musical taste is really about American folk music instead – in other words, blues, country, gospel, and all those other DNA strands. Maybe it’s as simple as I consider myself more urban than rural, and Scottish folk seems to me much more rooted in its rural origins – and yes, I understand how Scottish folk has gone into the primordial soup from which Americana’s emerged, having danced a pas-de-basque (the Scottish country dance step all Scottish schoolchildren get taught, as part of an excruciatingly hormonal rite of passage in the school gym – again, if you’re not Scottish, don’t ask) to a bluegrass band when I was in Nashville.

Whatever. What I do know is that artists like Lucinda Williams and, more recently, Jason Isbell, have got me interested in country in a way I wasn’t before. One of the songs we’re doing at the gig on Saturday (Venus + Isaac: FB event here), ‘Death in Venice,’ is definitely country-influenced. I can even imagine a bit of subtle pedal steel on ‘Highway Tonight,’ one of the Venus Carmichael standards.

Of course this may just be that I am now middle aged. It is true that I am often seen wearing a check shirt; and my band leader for the second half of the gig, Mr Brutal, has been recently pictured wearing what could be described as a Stetson. But I’m not expecting any line dancing. Not to the whale song piece, at least.

And no matter how country I get, I’ll be trying my best to sing in a Scottish accent….














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I Want You (or at least, your email addy)

So I’ve been struggling for the last while with the concept of marketing via social media. Although many people claim to have the secret, that secret generally seems to involve carpet bombing everyone you have any contact with via whatever means with constant reminders about what you’re doing, how your contact can buy more stuff/get free stuff/watch a video of you/buy more stuff/become a special, valued member of an exclusive inner circle of your fan club yada yada. Frankly, it all seems a bit … exhausting.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this and, trust me, it leaves me cold. Maybe it works more with our Stateside cousins who are more, how to put this, generally positive about the world in general than dour, Presbyterian (in a strictly non-denominational sense) Scots like me. It’s just that the digital equivalent of shouting look at me! Look at Me! LOOK AT ME!!! doesn’t feel like the way to go.

On the other hand, in this frantically overcrowded world of self-publicists when any idiot (even this blog) can master the basic tenets of recording and publishing material on the Internet, simply putting something up there and waiting for the world to beat a path to your door doesn’t seem quite energetic enough. And I am, of course, like any creative type, irredeemably convinced of my own genius – or at least that a few more folk than at present would enjoy, for example, Kelly’s brilliant renditions of the latest Venus Carmichael material to, ahem, arrive mysteriously through the post.

I’ve also noted that the giving out of free stuff seems to be the accepted wisdom of how to go about it.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been steadily working away on some of my own solo tracks, and I’m now going to give you them for free. The only thing I ask for in return is your email address, something which, according to that same accepted wisdom, is the best way of reaching an interested audience. Having said that, I appreciate how annoying it is to get unwanted emails, so I hereby undertake (I was going to use the word ‘vow,’ but that seems a rather over-used term these days):

  • I will not spam you. Firstly, as I say, I know how annoying it is. Secondly, I’m just not that organised. Seriously. If you get more than one email a month from me, I’ll be more surprised than you are.
  • I will only use the email group if I have something to announce – a new publication, launch of a new Venus Carmichael/Isaac Brutal CD, or, of course, a show.
  • I won’t send you repeat emails about the same thing. That gets old really quickly.
  • If you get fed up of hearing from me, just email me with ‘unsubscribe’ and I’ll do it.

So, with all of that out of the way, here’s what you get in return for messaging me with your email address by means of Facebook, Twitter (@venuscarmichael) or venus [dot] carmichael [at] gmail [dot] com:

FREE – An actual physical CD of all the tracks below, as my EP taster for a much bigger solo project, ‘Songs in a Scottish Accent;’ or,

FREE – Download codes to all of the above in mp3 format (the CD files are audio CD format); or, if you prefer,

Tribute to Venus Carmichael’s debut EP, ‘Taking Names,’ in either physical CD or download format, for the special price of £2.50!

Here are some details of the solo tracks:

Scotland as an XBox Game – one of the older tracks, featuring the wonderful Halsted M Bernard in a cameo role. When I listened back to it, I reckoned I couldn’t improve on it, so it’s as published some time ago.

Cavalcade – again, one that’s been on Soundcloud for a bit, and has been described as Nick Cave-esque, by at least two people, one of whom isn’t even related to me!

Ambulance – more recent, a poem set to music: I’ve added in a bit of cello to the original version.

Somewhere You’re Out There – redone vocals for this, although Norman Lamont’s superb version is also worth checking out:

Right Here With Me – this has been a work in progress for a while. This final version still has the kantele in, but also your man actually singing.

Hyde’s Last Words (Live at the White Horse) – the original version is still up there on Soundcloud for download as well, but in many ways I prefer this one with Kenny Mackay’s blistering guitar at the end. I intend to work on a new recorded version with bass and guitar in the coming months.

I hope to hear from you!








Although this post is all about marketing, any marketing under here isn’t my marketing, it’s someone else’s. So there.




Back on the Horse

A late-summer wasp, heady with its own venom, banks round for yet another bombing mission on unsuspecting giant bipeds. In external wall crevices, hunter spiders flex their chitinous legs and begin the long autumnal march indoors. The biomass plant facility tolls the knell of parting day, and leaves the world to darkness, and to me. The nights, as they say round these parts, are fair drawing in.

Those of you who know me best know why I’ve been quiet on the performance front this year so far. However, the two Tribute to Venus Carmichael gigs at the Free Fringe have revived my interest in not making a complete fool of myself in public again; and like the buses, I’ve a few things coming up rather than a single one.

The first thing isn’t actually a live performance: it’s a release on Soundcloud which, for reasons which will become obvious, I’m not releasing till 19th September. Watch this space for that one!

Then, on 2nd October, I don my spangly jacket for MC duties at Slam Factor Fife II. A stellar line up of judges – Miko Berry, Kevin Cadwallender and Rachel McCrum – will be performing as well as judging, and I might squeeze a couple of my own in. If you’re in some loose way associated with Fife, and fancy giving it a go, follow the link for an application form.

Then, I have an event to promote my Dad’s last book, A Huntly Loon Goes To War, at the Huntly Book Festival, on Saturday 4th October at 4.This event will be quite special for me, and I hope you can make it if you live locally.

On 3rd October, just before heading up to Huntly, we’re going to see Randolph’s Leap in Dundee, supported by St Kilda Mailboat and Blood Indians (for the syntactically acute, that’s Randolph’s Leap they’re supporting, not us: I don’t think we could squeeze them all in the back of the car). I plan to review Blood Indians’ excellent EP in advance, so keep the dial here for that.

Also in early October, or maybe late September, Kelly and I will be doing a session at Leith FM as Tribute to Venus Carmichael, on Ralph on the Radio. We’re really excited about this – more news soon!

Finally, on 15th November, I’m putting on a show called Stevenson Unbound. More details soon, but in the meantime, this is the spiel:

Spoken word performer Andrew C Ferguson (Writers’ Bloc, Illicit Ink) presents an atmospheric new show in back room of the White Horse, in the Canongate. On a darkening November afternoon, immerse yourself in classic RLS supernatural stories ‘Markheim,’ and ‘Thrawn Janet,’ as sound effects swirl through the half-lit space.
In the final segment, hear Ferguson’s own Stevenson-inspired poetry and prose, including Hyde’s Last Words, where Henry Jekyll’s worse half finally has his say. Do you dare to stay the afternoon?
With special guest. Part of the Edinburgh City of Literature RLS Day programme.
Stevenson Unbound, White Horse, 266 Canongate, 14:00 – 17:00 Saturday 15th November 14+

Things are starting to return, slowly, as autumn advances on us, although it’s still more music-based than fiction. On the Venus Carmichael front, the old girl has been busy writing new songs; I’ve a feeling she might have more to tell us of her life story soon too. I still have high hopes of another musical project I’m collaborating on, although it has a missing component at the moment. I even started a poem the other day. There’s a fair chance I might finish it.

In the meantime, like almost every other Scot, I have strong views on a certain question needing an answer on 18th September. However, the necessities of the day job mean I’m not able to express a view, so unlike almost every other Scot, you won’t be getting the benefit of my opinions.

I’m sure the rest of them will make up for me.

News from Venus

More to follow soon, but I just wanted to share news of our forthcoming EP – the first two tracks are uploaded to Soundcloud, including the downloadable one, Highway Tonight. It’s all quite exciting!

More news, including the promised posts on Latitude, once I’ve wrestled Soundcloud to the ground. And, in fact, now I have:

Venus Returns – Real and Virtual EP Launch
After an enforced lay off Tribute to Venus Carmichael, the only known tribute band to the eponymous singer-songwriter, come back with a bang. Two Free Fringe shows and their very first EP, showcasing their own take on 5 of Venus’s classic songs!

Check out the EP contents on Soundcloud – and until 9th August, download Highway Tonight free. Then, on 9th and 10th August, come to a very special Free fringe event – Tribute to Venus Carmichael play the songs, and spoken word performers read from her blog, telling you a little of her extraordinary life story.

We don’t know where Venus Carmichael is right now. Her blog is only updated once in a blue moon; she left no forwarding address, and her gigs are so low key they don’t make the music press these days. We do know that cassettes of previously unreleased material still make their way to her tribute band’s door. Some of these new songs will be performed for the first time on 9th and 10th August.

So come along, or tune in, to hear the story and songs of Arbroath’s most famous daughter who, back in the day, traded songs with the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young. Unlike any other show you’ll see on the Fringe – and it’s free!

Venus Returns, Cortado Cafe, 244 Canongate, EH8 8AB; 13:35 Sat 9th and Sun 10th August (1 hour)