CD Review – Ronnie Costley “Souvenirs & Scotch Mist”
Ronnie Costley was the fireball vocalist of the late and very great Glasgow band Kissing Bandits who were on the cusp of success in the eighties with a major label deal and a knock out sixties based garage punk sound. Sadly major success was not to be and the band went their separate ways with Costley relocating to Ireland where he earns a living with what is reportedly a very fine Frank Sinatra act. News of this album was intriguing as we didn’t know what to expect and when it popped through the post the first play led to a fairly flummoxed response. This wild rocker of yore and current Rat Pack purveyor had delved into his past to deliver an album that reeks of nostalgia for growing up in Glasgow and presents it in a fashion that recalls the great folklorists of the city including Matt McGinn, Adam McNaughton and Billy Connolly. There’s precious little evidence of garage punk or Las Vegas neon here, instead Costley has produced an album of songs that could appeal to grannies and grandweans alike and which has at the heart of it a genuine swell of pride.
Taking as his template the Glasgow sing along folk song for the majority of the songs here Costley manages to marry the humour and the hardness that is often thought of as uniquely Glaswegian. The album can be seen as a chronological account of his growing up with When We Were Wee capturing his earliest childhood days. Stuffed full of childhood images that any contemporaries will recognise (Popeye the sailor man lives in a caravan, Oor Willie books on Christmas day) this is a wonderfully affecting song. A little bit older and a little bit wilder Bogeyman is more raucous with the banjo driving a tale of urchins scampering through closes and captures the brash mock bravery of childhood. Adolescent stirrings lead on to the love pangs of Rose, a delicate plea to walk a girl home. The teenage years offer escape from the home to the nirvana that was Arran where girls, drink and rock ‘n’ roll beckoned, all captured in the instrumental The Purser which recalls the boat trip, Ode To Bobby D and The Lassies of Lamlash which is a great portrait of many teens’ experience away from home for the first time and which is given an authentic STV hootenanny delivery.
Older and more reflective Sail Away has a Joni Mitchell feel to it as it celebrates the freedom of the country but Mammy’s Boy takes us back to the dank and sometimes dangerous city. The album ends with a trio of songs that reflect the mature singer looking back on the past. Grandpa is an aural family tree that plays around with popular Scottish sounds. Tethered is a fabulous folk song which celebrates the simplicity and contentment of the denizens of the islands. The final song The Banks Of The Clyde is another celebration. An expats’ return to Glasgow it starts off as a simple guitar melody with Costley’s tender vocals as he describes the places of his youth. The arrangement gathers strength and swells with percussion and pipe sounds as the song progresses and by the end one realises that this is a song that captures some of the heart of Glasgow. Corny as it may sound the feelings aroused are probably similar to those experienced by our parents when they listened to the likes of Calum Kennedy or Kenneth McKellar when they sang their songs of the Clyde.
Although the album as a whole lurches from style to style the majority of the songs are very impressive. The McGinn like Bogeyman, When we Were Wee which could have come from Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor and the Alistair McDonald styled The Lassies Of Lamlash should be added to every Glasgow folk singer’s repertoire. The players include several of Costley’s eighties compadres (Jimmy Moon, banjo player and guitar maker of note, John Palmer and Martin Cotter)and they are all on top form. All in all this is probably the last thing one would expect from an ex leather clad post punk Glasgow rocker. But here it is and it is mighty fine.
You can buy it here or email Ronnie himself via his website