The Scottish arts world is mourning the loss of author, poet, painter and illustrator Alasdair Gray, who has died, aged 85, after a short illness.
The multi-talented artist was also a great influence on the Scottish music scene, and collaborated several times with recording artists. Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand described Gray as a “huge inspiration”.
It was his publisher Canongate who broke the news, with a statement from Gray’s family: “Alasdair was an extraordinary person; very talented and, even more importantly, very humane. He was unique and irreplaceable and we will miss him greatly.”
Gray’s first foray into the world of alternative music was to read an extract from his groundbreaking novel Lanark for ‘Wheesht’, a track which appeared on the ‘Wappinschaw’ album released by Cindytalk – the brainchild of Gordon Sharp (formerly of The Freeze and part of the This Mortal Coil collective).
There was also an appearance on Future Pilot AKA’s ‘Equations of Love’, which featured on the 2006 Creeping Bent release ‘Secrets From The Clockhouse’.
LAN Formatique – electronic musician Gavin Lees – invited the poet to appear on 2012 album ‘The Sadness of Distances’ reading from ‘Mind the Gap’, ‘1st of March, 1990’, and from ‘Dictators’ on the track ‘The Stars Are But Thistles’.
Just saw the sad news that Alasdair Gray has died.
I can’t truly communicate how huge an inspiration he was. From the Glasgow of Lanark which was simultaneously familiar and fantastical to his powerful and distinctive murals.
If you haven’t already, go and read him now. https://t.co/LjgkbXoLKc
— Αλεξ Καπράνος (@alkapranos) December 29, 2019
And Gray also featured on the Ballads of the Book compilation which Chemikal Underground released in conjunction with the album’s curator Roddy Woomble. Gray worked on a track, ‘A Sentimental Song’, with former Delgado Alun Woodward, on a 18-track release which aptly read as a who’s who of Scottish music and literature. Gray, who designed the album artwork, appeared alongside the likes of AL Kennedy, Alan Bissett, Louise Welsh, Ian Rankin and Makar Edwyn Morgan, the writers collaborating variously with the likes of King Creosote, Emma Pollock, Trashcan Sinatras and Aidan Moffat.
Also featured on that release were De Rosa, for whom Gray provided the artwork for their 2009 album ‘Prevention’, and Gray’s biographer Rodge Glass, also known as a member of indie acts Burnt Island and Single Point of Light.
Alasdair Gray was also well known for his socialist and republican views and his support for Scottish independence. A familiar quotation was “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” – attributed to Canadian author Dennis Lee, the words now engraved in the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament building.
And a documentary: ‘Alasdair Gray: A Life in Progress’, was soundtracked by Scott Twynholm and released on the De-fence record label.
Other examples of Gray’s public art can still be seen, including murals in the auditorium of the Òran Mór venue on Byres Road in Glasgow, in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in the West End of Glasgow, and in Hillhead subway station.