FINDLAY NAPIER – his new album ‘Glasgow’ is due for release in September
As defined in the title of his remarkable 2015 solo debut VIP: Very Interesting Persons (No.2 in the Daily Telegraph’s top dozen folk albums that year), Scottish singer-songwriter (and sometime stand-up comic) Findlay Napier categorically commands musical VIP status.
Co-written and produced by revered UK songsmith Boo Hewerdine, VIP’s ten biographical tracks, invoking real-life sources from Hedy Lamarr to a cave-dwelling Scottish tramp, marked another career high for Napier, building on plaudits and awards for his previous line-ups Back of the Moon, Queen Anne’s Revenge and The Bar Room Mountaineers.
He now turns those same supreme songwriting and storytelling gifts, allied with magpie-minded imagination and truly magnificent vocals, to his adoptive home town, on VIP’s hotly anticipated follow-up, Glasgow.
Continuing his collaboration with Hewerdine, the new album combines freshly-penned originals with classics and rarities from Glasgow’s vast and colourful ballad canon, by authors as diverse as Hamish Imlach and The Blue Nile. Together, they form an extended musical love-letter to Scotland’s metropolis, celebrating 20 years since Napier first arrived as a student, swapping his idyllic Highland childhood home for the 14th floor of the city’s notorious (and since demolished) Red Road flats.
In 2016, too, Napier launched the Glasgow Songwriting Festival, a weekend of workshops and performances which completely sold out its inaugural outing, and returns in 2017: featured artists to date include Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, the aforementioned Abbott and Stanley Odd MC Dave Hook. In between putting the finishing touches to Glasgow, Napier also toured in spring 2017 with acclaimed contemporary protest-song showcase Shake the Chains.__
Despite these ecumenical enthusiasms, Napier himself remains happy to identify as a folk singer – even if he does enjoy stretching the term’s already elastic parameters. It’s also a definition true to Napier’s earliest inspirations. He grew up in a musical family (brother Hamish is also a leading musician), and while early piano lessons proved a non-starter, singing was part and parcel of everyday life.
As with many of Scotland’s under-40 generation of folk-based artists, these nascent passions were brought fully to life by Napier’s involvement, from age 12, in the Highlands’ Fèis network of youth music festivals, whose tutors quickly spotted and encouraged his vocal talent, meanwhile steering him to learn guitar. A particular mentor was the great Highland singer-songwriter Jim Hunter, at whose urging Napier successfully applied for the new Scottish Music degree course at the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), moving to Glasgow to join its inaugural intake.
While his chosen running routes around Glasgow have further deepened his acquaintance with the city, directly inspiring several songs on the new album, another recent addition to Napier’s creative armoury is his burgeoning comedy career. A longtime fan of the funnyman’s art, he signed up for some beginners’ workshops a couple of years back, after reading Stewart Lee’s analytical account of his craft, How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian. Dauntlessly taking the plunge into the local comedy circuit, Napier has since progressed rapidly from five-minute open slots to a gig at 2017’s Glasgow International Comedy Festival.
“Part of what blew my mind about the Stewart Lee book,” he explains, “was seeing the similarities about holding an audience, structuring a set, how you make people laugh – and realising the amount of thought he puts into these things. And they’re totally transferable skills: doing the comedy has been a massive help for me playing solo, a massive confidence-builder. Hopefully, it’s made my patter a bit funnier, too.”
In this context, as well as calling himself a folk singer, Napier simultaneously aspires to another, likewise timeless role: “I do love that old-fashioned, all-round idea of an ‘entertainer’ – I think it’s a brilliant thing,” he says. “But then that’s totally what the best folk singers are; they’ll have you in absolute hysterics, in between punching you in the gut – people like Loudon Wainwright, John Prine, Michael Marra: that’s the absolute pinnacle, as far as I’m concerned.”