It’s Shite Being Scottish

A sentiment that we all share at  times but one that has been pilfered from Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ by today’s book. And if there was ever a novel meant to be reviewed on a Scottish music blog then Doug Johnstone’s ‘The Ossians’ is surely it. Although I read about the book when it was published earlier this year, I basically completely forgot all about it until I saw it on the shelves in the Edinburgh Book Festival store.

The novel tells the story of a disastrous round Scotland tour by fictional up and coming indie band ‘The Ossians’ and it’s a terrific read. It’s also a very authentic trip around the Scottish rock’n’roll hinterland (and beyond), due in no small part to the fact Johnstone is also a musician, playing with Fence Collective associates the Northern Alliance.

In the course of the tour, singer Connor Alexander’s mental and physical state are in serious decline, something that’s not unconnected with his copious intake of illegal (and unknown) substances and the fact that he has been blackmailed into acting as a drug courier over the course of the tour. You end up not wondering whether The Ossians will get signed at the end of tour showcase at King Tut’s (ostensibly the point of the tour) but more whether Connor and the band will make it through the tour at all.

It sounds a little grim but it’s not and there are some wonderful scenes throughout, not least the invasion of Ullapool by the crew of a stranded Russian submarine. At which point a gun enters the story. Uh, oh.

If you’re reading this then I can pretty much guarantee that you will enjoy‘The Ossians’. And yet the book strongly hints that there’s more to life than rock’n’roll. Which can’t be right. But if you’re in doubt then you can read the first chapter here.

Johnstone has also recorded some of the songs from the book (CD-R available through Fence here). This sort of cross promotion is in many ways a risky thing to do, because there’s the danger that the actual music won’t live up to your expectations from reading the novel. Fortunately however, judging by the 3 tracks on the Ossians Myspace, Johnstone pulls it off.

In lots of ways, ‘The Ossians’ is a down and dirty relative of Iain Banks’s ‘Espedair Street’. It’s not as funny certainly (there’s no dog called TB for a start) but whereas Banks’s novel deals with the excesses of 70s pomp rock in suitably widescreen terms ‘The Ossians’ operates on a smaller scale which aligns perfectly with its music.

If you haven’t read these either of 2 books then I would urge you to do so as soon as possible.

Buy ‘The Ossians’ here. Buy ‘Espedair Street’ here.

A tune from a band mentioned in the book:

Mogwai – Hunted By A Freak (from ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’) [Buy the CD] [Download it]


  1. Ed says:

    Will have to investigate. Sounds not dissimilar to Jelly Roll by Luke Sutherland (ok, so I know that’s a jazz band, but…)

  2. Jacques the Kipper says:

    A highly entertaining read. Check out also Doug’s first book “Tombstoning” – not about music, but an all too realistic account of life and death in a small Scottish seaside town.

  3. Thanks, JTK – it’s on my incredibly long list of books to read!

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