Glasgow Writers: Alistair Braidwood – Scots Whay Hae!
Alistair Braidwood, who runs the popular website and podcast Scots Whay Hae! has a passion for Scottish creativity including books, film and music. Little wonder the site is so popular as it includes a tremendous amount of fascinating features and reviews about Scottish arts events and artists. The podcasts are engrossing, reflecting not only Alistair’s interest in the people and topics being discussed but also his ease and preparedness as an interviewer.
He came along to meet Jim (Byrne), Samina Chaudry and myself, to have a chat about our project Ten Writers Telling Lies, where we had first hand experience of a podcast interview for Scots Whay Hae! It was no ordeal and we loved having an opportunity to talk about something we were passionate about to someone who showed so much interest.
I had visited Scots Whay Hae! website and very much enjoyed the reviews and podcasts prior to meeting Alistair. He really has a knack for getting people to open up and talk not just about their projects in an everyday marketing and promotional way, but also encouraging them to explore related areas. He has no problem putting his subjects at ease, drawing out their approaches and ideas.
One of the things that drives Scots Whay Hae! is helping to bring local events to life and encourage greater participation. His coverage of Glasgow Film Festival and accompanying interviews made the festival more interesting. The same can be said of Aye Write!, Glasgow’s Book Festival and his feature on highlights was well worth a read.
It’s easy to see how Scots Whay Hae! is considered by many to be the go to website if you want to keep a finger on the pulse regarding what’s happening in the arts in Scotland. Something I wanted to ask Alistair about was how it all started. Like many successful enterprises there was no carefully constructed plan with set aims and objectives. Rather it grew out of the writer’s block he experienced when he was in the final year of completing his PhD in Scottish Literature (Iain Banks, James Kelman and the art of engagement: an application of Jean Paul Sartre’s theories of literature and existentialism to two modern Scottish novelists. theses.gla.ac.uk/3024/1/2011braidwoodphd.pdf .) Alistair explained: “I had to write something, and online seemed the perfect place”. The first post was on John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti, “I had no idea if anyone would read it, but the response was fairly immediate and positive. People then started to get in touch asking for reviews of music, books and film.”
It wasn’t too long before Scots Whay Hae! was listed at number 20 on The List’s ‘Thirty Best Scottish Websites.’
One of the most popular aspects of Scots Whay Hae! are the podcasts, which arose out of discussions with one of Alistair’s close friends, Ian Gregson. Ian had studied music and sound engineering at university and he fancied having a go at podcasting, something which was still a relatively new thing at the time. One of the early podcasts was with two associates of Alistair’s from the Scottish Literature Department at Glasgow University, Chris Ward and Ronnie Young. In it they discussed ‘The Best Scottish Novels of All Time’, and this seemed to set the tone for what the podcasts would aim to do – allow people to talk at length about the best Scottish culture has to offer. Other well-received podcasts in that first year included an interview with Mark Buckland, at that time one of the driving forces behind Cargo Publishing, and then ‘young and up & coming’ writer, Allan Wilson. The podcast helped Scots Whay Hae! reach new audiences. Alistair explained that he felt there was a gap in Scottish arts coverage. “TV shows such as Halfway To Paradise, and Janice Forsyth and Brian Burnett’s NB had long since disappeared and were never sufficiently replaced”. He suggested, “There are fewer places where you can hear musicians, writers and other artists discuss what they do. They may get 5-10 minutes between the travel and news on the radio, but we wanted to give them a place where they could talk in length and in depth.” The podcasts weren’t prescriptive and “let people talk about what they wanted to.” What he and Ian found was that people were keen to “talk about what they were passionate about.”
Scots Whay Hae! also ventured into outside broadcasts and live events. This included a podcast at the first New Lanark Music Festival, and the launch of the anthology of Scottish LGBT writing Out There at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.
Part of the success of Scots Whay Hae! relates to the conviction that “there are a lot of events happening on people’s doorsteps. Art and culture being made which more people should know about”. For example, another early podcast discussed literary magazines, an area where passionate people could be seen to be doing things for themselves. This podcast featured Helen Sedgwick who was at Gutter Magazine at the time, Gabriella Bennett from Valve Journal, and Samuel Best from Octavius Magazine. It was also the podcast which made Alistair and Ian realise that more than one guest can be a good thing, helping to encourage conversation and debate.
Other favourite podcast includes a discussion on Scottish TV with actor Colin McCredie, and there have also been some featuring live musical performances, perhaps the best of which is the one with Jo Mango.
Alistair says that he is sometimes asked the question: “Why is it great because it’s Scottish?” His answer is that he’s not claiming anything is great because it is Scottish, rather he is promoting culture which is “great and Scottish”. He says, “It’s important for any society to see themselves represented in art, it helps people make sense of who they are and where they live. If you take that away everyone is lessened.”
There is certainly no end of talent out there – artists who deserve to be heard and are trying to be heard, and Alistair feels very lucky to get to speak to people about their work and help give them a platform. I’m looking forward to hearing our own podcast which should go out mid-April before the launch of Ten Writers Telling Lies at Cottiers’ Theatre in Glasgow. I’ve just listened to the podcast with Lou McLoughlan, the film maker responsible for the documentary16 Years Till Summer – it perfectly illustrates how the podcasts work at their best when a discussion about a film then moves in other fascinating directions, including the importance of documentary making, Scottish history, the politics of film, music in film, and tips for new film makers.
You can find the whole back catalogue on iTunes.
Pat Byrne, March, 2017.
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