Since the beginning of my career as a music journalist four years ago Ciaran Mac has been on my radar. From guerrilla-style pop-up gigs stood on a stool at the edge of a festival, to playing the NHC shop, to rocking main stages and collaborating with such greats as Jackal Trades, Girobabies, Loki, Gasp, and many more. When the Gonzo Division were in their embryonic stages covering Kelburn Garden Party 2013, Ciaran Mac was also bursting onto the scene, with his first full live set at that very event, I believe, at the Making Things Happen stage, which is a sort of ‘planned open mic’ gateway stage before the main nerve of the festival.
Most of what I have seen of Ciaran has been as one half of acoustic hip-hop duo with Rory O’B, who sort of invented their own genre of folk/hip-hop, and who play comely homespun tunes that will warm an audience like a good califacient. Auris vermis ‘Unplug The Speakers’ will be stuck in your head for days after you hear it. Ciaran also features on one of the best tracks of Jackal Trade’s ‘Need The Characters’ rapping the opening verse for ‘Jack The Lad’. So apart from the debut EP ‘Took Your Time’ in 2014 and the odd cracking live set here and there, I haven’t heard much of Ciaran’s solo work.
So it is with great delight that I receive a copy of his debut album to review. I know it’s going to be good straight away, because I know one or two of the songs on it are good from hearing them develop in his live sets, and because the track listing’s producers reads like a who’s who of Scottish hip-hop, coruscating with such names as Steg G, Loki, and some of my favourite producers in the form of Mistah Bohze, Andy Martin, Sun-Dogs and more. So let’s get this listened to…
In the opening track ‘Gimme A Second’, Cutz Cobain provides a grooving beat and good scratching for debonair Ciaran’s tongue-twisting turbulent torque, rotating the track round in a tornado of tachyphrasia, spitting out vowels volubly and consonants with characteristic complexity. A great track to start the proceedings, and Mac establishes his distinctive style immediately.
A signature trumpet-toting boogaloo-esque jazz-like beat from the legendary Mistah Bohze (Character Building is probably my fave song on NTC) for Ciaran to wrap his gums around, no pun intended, on ‘Bag of Rations’, and he is once again demonstrating his dexterity with diction. My only criticism of this track is its brevity, I think after the slightly psychedelic jazzy break-down towards the end it could have done with kicking back in for one final verse, it’s two and a half minutes long but feels like less, so a short track, but sweeter than one of Will Johnstone’s ‘twenty-five-sugars please’ coffees. The lyricism in this track is great too, if you can keep up with it… And on second thoughts, Ciaran’s packing so many syllables into a line that maybe it didn’t need that extra verse after all, it just seemed to go by in a blink on the first listen, but that’s probably owed to the breakneck delivery of the rap. It’s hard to tell if the rapper is trying to keep up with the beat, or if it’s the beat trying to keep up with the rapper, but I’ll just put it back to the beginning and listen again. Brilliant track.
A melodious and melancholy offering for the third track ‘Late Night’ which weaves the tales of what it’s like to grow up in a fuliginous, often-dangerous city like Glasgow. A nice piano riff rolls the whole thing along nicely as Ciaran spits his autobiography into a song.
‘Let Em’ Be’ (produced by Steg G), follows the same kind of vein as the last track, slightly poppier, but with that hardened hip-hop edge that would never let you call it ‘pop’ it’s too soulful to be pop and has all the hallmarks of being well-produced, as you would expect from Steg. Once again Ciaran is expressing a wisdom way beyond his years with his metaphors and slightly abstract lines. So far, there has not been a bad track on this record, and it has all the hoofprints of a grower too.
‘Multicoloured’ has the signature wheezy, sinister but beatific beat of Sun-Dogs behind it. And once again, rhyming skills unparalleled from Ciaran, with intellectual lyricism and expert flow. Interesting how the vocals work with the trip-hop-esque beat, but they do, very well. A strange, but pleasing-to-the-ear offering for the fifth chapter.
‘Mutiny’ is class, because it draws on a bhangra-style beat from Shamu (who also appears on the track), with what sounds like sitars and tablas creating the backdrop. Halfway through the record it is definitely demonstrating its diversity and eclecticism. Ciaran is not fazed by the challenging beat, he rides it and marries himself to it perfectly.
Again, another quality beat, this time from Kid Robotik/Kutz Cobain, this one is eerie, and has a slight fairground-ska feel to it, the keyboard carries it along as Ciaran recites his Glaswegian poetry with some good scratching bringing it to its conclusion. Another cracking tune, so by the seventh track we’re running at a firm 7/10.
Hot off the heels of dropping his excellent opus ‘Trigger Warning’ Loki crops up again in ‘Bogginn Bits’ and Andy Martin (I Am The Fear) provides the excellent beats which Ciaran lyrically embraces with his wry, wistful wordplay. Loki swaggers in with his trademark gritty, visceral approach, to polish it off nicely as a stand-out track that is worthy of status as the single. Ciaran and Loki go together well on a track, but we already knew this. That brings the record to 8/10, with two to go.
‘Hopeless Wishin’’ (Uncle Ade) is another melodious, elegiac offering, that is really the general feel of the album overall, interspersed though it is with wild forays into unchartered genres for hip hop. The song has some nice guitar licks in it, with Floydian undertones, the outro could have happily played for me for another several hours while I imbibed some magic mushrooms. By the ninth track we’re at a strong 9/10.
And I know it’s gonna’ be a ten out of ten, because the final track is one I’m familiar with. ‘Escape Plan’ is already a firm fan favourite. A tale of drugs, pub crawls and hedonism, this is Ciaran Mac at his fundamental roots, this song’s flow and lyrics are good enough that it could even be carried as an acapella track (and I’m sure it probably has been, live, many times). Ten tracks, ten approvals from me, leaves you (logically) with a ten out of ten album.
Scottish hip-hop has went over the decades from being non-existent, to being shite, to being good, to being really good, and now it’s firmly on the map, and it’s not hard to see why with a cast of characters like Loki, Mog, Gasp, Mark McGhee, Steg, all the other notables and now Ciaran Mac too. A boy who has honed his skill over the years the real way, by playing live to audiences wherever he got the chance, and with a patient wisdom that belies his age he has waited until perfection to present us with his work in the form of ‘Rainy Daze’.
In the words of Mark McG; “Ciaran Mac, one of the best up-and-coming artists who’s not even up-and-coming he’s established himself now as one of the best. His forthcoming album is sounding brilliant, so look out for that. Ciaran Mac is amazing.” Or as Garry Barstow less eloquently put it “Balls-out-and-dick-erect-good, best flow in Scotland besides the Clyde.”
It’s shaping up to be a great year for Scottish rap, Loki’s recent opus, a forthcoming masterpiece from Steg G and Wee D, another Jackal Trades one in the pipeline, new shit from Gasp, releases from Rory O’B, and much more. My last three album reviews have been hip hop, which is testament to the prolific productivity of the genre at the moment, and it keeps gaining momentum, with each passing year. Scottish hip hop is the punkest thing around right now!
At the time of writing it is the album launch for Rainy Daze (Making Things Happen @ The Art School), Ciaran Mac is now firmly established with an LP full of great music and well worth the dollar so don’t hesitate to purchase that here https://ciaranmac.bandcamp.com/album/rainy-daze
The fact I have once again wrote far too much on the subject at 1525 words is testament to the fact that the album was good enough to inspire me to do so, and as Dave Sweeney recently said “I Like lengthy journalism, brevity is often at the expense of depth”. So with nothing left to say but, Let Em’ Be and Gimme’ A Second, and I’ll seeya’ in the pit, Late Night, with a Multicoloured Bag Of Rations and some Bogginn Bits, committing Mutiny like a Thorn In The Side, Hopefully Wishin’ for an Escape Plan from this Rainy Daze…