Bobby March Forever a Gritty Look at Glasgow in 1973


Bobby March Will Live Forever (2020)

By Alan Parks

Canongate, 320 pages.





Have you read all of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache novels? Looking for something grittier until she writes another? Scottish author Alan Parks might be your cuppa. His is a hardboiled take on crime that’s more Raymond Chandler than Penny–especially if your Glasgow patter is up to snuff.


In many ways, Parks’ detective, Harry McCoy, is the anti-Gamache. He has a drinking problem, is morose, has shady friends, acts on impulse rather than reason, is rough-tongued, and hasn’t had a girlfriend since Angela moved out two years ago. Like Gamache, though, he cares little about self-aggrandizement, remains incorruptible amidst cops on the take, and must wend his way around politicians who care more about appearances than truth.


Bobby March Will Live Forever is the third installment of Parks’ Harry McCoy novels. It wouldn’t hurt to start with book one, though you can jump right into this one if you’d rather. It is set in 1973 (with flashes back to 1969-70), a time in which Glasgow is awash in drugs, casual violence, hippies, and hippie poseurs. If you’ve been to Glasgow in the past 30 years, you won’t recognize McCoy’s city: slums, dangerous alleyways, shebeens (unlicensed bars), hookers, and men with faces ruined by knife-wielders sending a message from crime bosses. That is, when they’re not corpses instead.


If you think you’re having a tough few weeks, try Harry’s on for size. Alice Kelly, a 13-year-old girl, has gone missing. It’s the sort of thing Harry normally investigates but a rival, Bernie Raeburn, has been promoted and takes charge. Raeburn got his advance by being, as they say in Scotland, an arse-licker, and a corrupt one at that. Raeburn’s loathing for Harry is made manifest by handing him low-level assignments. McCoy knows Raeburn is incompetent, but he holds his tongue lest he hand Raeburn an excuse to fire him.


The city is in the midst of a heart wave, that leaves Glaswegians sweating and reeling and the press and politicians are screaming for the polis (police) to find Alice. Alas, Harry has lesser fish to fry. He finds rock musician Bobby March dead with a syringe in his arm– a seemingly routine death for a once-promising guitarist whose fame bus left without him –and Harry is supposed to find a missing bag that Bobby’s father would like to have returned. He’s also given robbery files to investigate, which is not his métier and, as if he didn’t have enough to do, his former boss Hector Murray, asks him to look for his 15-year-old niece Laura. It’s off the record, as her father is the Deputy Head of the Glasgow Council and has parliamentary ambitions.


Harry is a good detective because he has tons of underworld contacts, not the least of which is Stevie Cooper, a boyhood friend from the same downscale neighborhood. Stevie can now afford the trappings of bourgeois life –courtesy of drug dealing– but he keeps a full stable of thugs close at hand, including one who doubles as his gardener! Stevie owes Harry a few favors, as Harry helped him kick heroin.


McCoy, with some help from younger colleague Douglas Watson (“Wattie’), must somehow make sense of all the madness going on around them. Before the dust settles, McCoy has brushes with a Bobby March fanboy, Angela, dope dealers, Wattie’s pushy girlfriend/reporter, a photographer who wants to document Glaswegian poverty, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the unwashed and the unhinged, and Raeburn. McCoy will also get the shite kicked out of him a few times.


Alan Parks’ style has been described as “tartan noir,” a descriptor that’s both catchy and appropriate. Bobby March Will Live Forever is gritty, violent, and morally ambiguous. It may be too much so for those with mild dispositions, and it will certainly be so for those who like Agatha Christie-like resolutions where everything is tied with a neat bow at the end. Harry McCoy novels are more in the mold of deciding which battles you can win and which ones you probably can’t. Verisimilitude or surrender to nihilism? You decide.


Rob Weir


Wiktionary has a useful list of Scottish phrases and slang: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_Scottish_slang_and_jargon    


December 2020 Artist of the Month Kris Angelis


Kris Angelis is a Florida native who now lives in Los Angeles, where she is an actress and singer/songwriter. Her EP, That Siren, Hope, debuted last January on iTunes, but didn’t make its way to me until October because who the hell uses iTunes anymore? It’s still hanging around the Billboard charts because: (a) It’s really good, and (b) Covid has put a lot of new projects on hold.


Let’s focus is on the it’s-really-good part by starting with the title track. It encapsulates the theme of nearly all of the songs on the album and all I can say is, I hope Angelis hasn’t been as unlucky in love as her lyrics suggest: Thought that shine was a lighthouse/But it was that Siren, Hope/She sang me to sleep/She got me to dream/Turns out her song was just a joke. This song sums up some of the album’s potholes on Relationship Road tales, but it should be said that it has a different musical vibe. It opens with muted guitar bass notes and voice before evolving into an evocation of old-time country music as it might have been sung by a hybridized Connie Smith/Connie Francis clone. (The video is slightly different than the version  got.)


Most of the rest of her music is in a pop folk vein, with Angelis’ twin sister, Alix, adding harmonies. Angelis prefers to simplify things, which is what one should do when a song is dependent upon a clear voice to communicate emotional impact. “Brighter Blue” is a good example of how Angelis has a knack for being inside a melody rather than outside trying to pry it open. She comes at us from the quiet side, but notice how easily she can air out her voice. It’s a fine song marred only by whoa-ooh-ooh-ahh studio harmonies that have become passé and cliché in indie rock. Not needed!


That bump aside, Angelis demonstrates her versatility with two different versions of “Ghost (I’m Alive and Breathing),” the first acoustic and the second with a band. On the acoustic version, she’s a delicate songbird. She ratchets the pace ever so slightly for the ensemble version and sings with more force, as she must within the mix. Both are lovely, and Angelis adds subtle vocal ornaments that embellish but never overwhelm. For the record, it’s about ghosting as in being ignored by an ex-partner, not the incorporeal variety. I prefer the acoustic version, but that’s because I’m a folky at heart. Listen and take your pick. (But why not both?)


Angelis returns to love gone off track on “I Hope I Never Fall in Love Again,” a title that says it all and is wrapped in a pretty song with a waltz-like rhythm. “If I Can’t Have What I Want” oozes painful yearning. The link to the title is: Then I’ll want nothing at all/If I can’t have you. “Misplaced Hope” isn’t the album’s concluding track, but maybe it should be. It’s the most hopeful song in the collection and intones: All hope is not lost/It’s just been misplaced. In addition to being a gorgeous song, it has two other things to which one should pay attention. The first is another understated ornament; listen for the small catches in Angelis’ voice. As for the second, I remind you that Kris Angelis is also an actress, which helps explain why there are filmmaking references in the song.*


That Siren, Hope is (mostly) a quiet album for the quiet time of the year. Yet, somehow, I suspect Kris Angelis will soon be making bigger noises.


Rob Weir


* One lyric says, “This film has no foley yet.” Foley artists record or create background sounds that lend a sense of reality to a film. For example, a foley artist might recreate the sound of wind for a shot done on an inside set. Or if a film pirate pulls a sword from its scabbard, it’s likely not to be a deadly one; a foley artist added the effect of steel being pulled through its sheath.  




December Music II: Divahn, Anthony Garcia, Mercy Bell, The Accidentals


I am a fan of Sephardic music for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s often a pan-Middle Eastern/North African style whose roots lay in times in which Jews and Muslims were more tolerant of one another because they shared exile status. Divahn is a superb practitioner of Sephardic music and their newest album, Shalhevet (“Flame”) will light up your playlist. It is a US-based five-woman ensemble fronted by Galeet Dardashi, who is of Iranian heritage and comes from a famed musical family. She has an enormous voice adorned with many colors. Listen to the ululation in “Oseh Shalom,” which imbues a kaddish (prayer for peace in this context), or “Lecha Dodi,” a piece introduced by Elizabeth Pupo Walker’s Afro-Cuban hand drum solo. Were it not for her percussion and that of Sejal Kukadia’s tabla, you might think you were listening to an innovative jazz ensemble. That’s not far from the mark as several members have jazz backgrounds. This quintet surprises of many levels. “Bann Choshich” is a complex interweave of voices and instruments, and that’s a pretty neat trick given that the only melody instruments are Eleanor Norton’s cello and Megan Gould’s violin. “Ya’alah, Ya’allah” (Urdu for “Lord, Lord”) again displays Dardashi’s stentorian voice, though supplemented by harmonies reminiscent of Balkan singing. For pure fun, it’s hard to beat “Hamavdil,” a (sort of) round. Listen for the little breakout from Kukadia, whose Gatling gun scat-like interlude–in what I believe to be Gujarati–couldn’t be touched by modern rappers with a ten-foot ego.


Anthony Garcia
is an interesting guy. In addition to speaking five languages, he’s a musical polymath. I tend to sigh when I read PR material that says a performer draws inspiration from sources as diverse as Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, and Led Zeppelin. Though I might temper the last comparison a bit, Garcia strikes those chords–and a few more. Like maybe a Gothic vibe, as his new album Acres of Diamonds often has spooky undertones. Anybody who invokes Alfred Hitchcock–as Garcia does on “Santa Rosa–is dealing dark cards from the deck. It’s an unusual song adorned by Megan Berson’s emotionally enigmatic strings, some near-yodeling from Garcia, heavy guitar turnarounds, and evocations of waiting for the Boatman to carry him back to the land of the living. “Fire” evokes a “Western” song from the days before it was combined with country music. If you want to know where the Led Zep analogies come from, check out Garcia’s guitar work on “Apparitions,” and while you’re at it, notice some fine writing. As the title suggests, memory ghosts appear: Every voice I’ve ever heard and every face I’ve ever seen/Is hanging from the limbs of what they call the Mirror Tree. Garcia goes acoustic for the contemplative “The Wind,” followed by the more lush “Haunted Halls.” We also get some grunge-like jumpiness (“My Hands Are My Eyes”), something akin to a country power ballad (“For Your Love”), and a song that really does sound like something Cohen would have done (“Jane”). Garcia doesn’t quite connect with each of the masks he pulls on–the title track, oddly, is rather ordinary–but give him credit for having the courage to mix things up.


Mercy Bell
lives in Nashville, by way of California, Boston, and New York. Because she’s now in Music City reviewers are anxious to label her a country star and compare her to Linda Ronstadt, Brandi Carlile, and Sheryl Crow. Never mind that Crow isn’t a country star or that it’s not really fair to saddle someone with a Ronstadt tag. It’s not the only thing reviewers get wrong. She’s also been tagged as Mexican American, when she’s actually half Filipino. Want a label? How about a damn good singer songwriter who–despite titles like “Chocolate Milk and Whiskey” and “All the Good Cowboys”–is really more of a folk artist. The first thing one notices about Bell is the ease with which she sings. She can go big, as she does on her stunning autobiographical song “Black Dress,” but there is nothing forced about her, nor is there a need for vocal gymnastics. You can find most of the tracks from Mercy Bell, which came out in late 2019. I like Bell’s small lyrical twists that get to the heart of things: All the good cowboys know/There ain’t no good ‘ol home sweet home…. A dollar in the jukebox just to dance with you/Oh, but all it does is play the blues. I also liked her song “Skip to the Part” a lot, with the simple linking line where we’re together.  


NPR really likes The Accidentals, but I don’t share that enthusiasm–yet. This Michigan-based trio is fronted by Savannah Buist and Katie Larson. Between them, they bust out normal instruments such as guitars and strings, plus a few oddballs like musical saw, kazoo, and glockenspiel. Michael Druse sits in back and bangs the drums. The best song I heard was “Might AsWell Be Gold,” in which the trio turns folky with harmonies blending in pleasing ways. When they add rock elements, as they do on songs such as “Rollercoaster” or “Damascus Blades,” there’s nothing particularly distinctive about them. The louder volume also makes Buist’s and Larson’s voices sound too young for the material. Mostly, they sound like the kind of band I’d like to hear again in a few years with stronger material that integrates their potential versatility.


Rob Weir