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ALAN MORRISON

Sometimes, I've come to realise, a particular venue counts as much towards the success of a gig as the music that's played there on the night.

For example, take one band (Lau) I saw twice this year in different spaces (City Halls in Glasgow and the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh).

In some ways, the buildings have strong similarities, notably those upper galleries that line three of the four walls. In the shoebox-structured City Halls, the classical baggage that comes with the venue suited the fact that the second half of the folk trio's Celtic Connections concert in early February was performed alongside the Northern Sinfonia.

Strange Attractors, a single 45-minute work composed and conducted by Brian Irvine, took a while to form itself from discordant noises and Lau fragments, but by the time it rose to the occasion with the final two of its five movements, it was another brave and bold undertaking by one of Scotland's most forward-thinking bands, but better fitted the modern classical idiom than anything the folk scene has to offer.

Skip through the calendar to November, and the warmer atmosphere of the Queen's Hall, with round tables replacing the parallel stalls seats, was better matched to a set built around Lau's latest (and best) album, Race The Loser. Here was folk-club ambiance constructed within a converted church space, where the acoustics lent support to the interplay of the instruments.

For the same reasons of acoustics, I wish I'd seen Karine Polwart in the Queen's Hall at the end of her Traces tour rather than in another church conversion, Oran Mor, on the opening date. The sound against the stone walls was rather harsh to my ears, albeit softened by the sentiment and sincerity of the songs themselves.

Both Lau and Polwart's albums are, in my opinion, among the very best of the year, from here or anywhere. Indeed, I've dedicated the vast majority of my listening time in 2012 to albums by Scottish acts (from The Twilight Sad to Jo Mango, Love And Money to We Are The Physics), and subsequently come to believe we're living in a little golden age. More on this when I list my Top 50 Scottish Albums of 2012 in the Sunday Herald on December 30.

Elsewhere on the album front, this was a year during which I was mostly impressed by what the old guard had to offer. The poetic storytelling of Patti Smith on Banga and Bob Dylan on Tempest; the political fire of Ry Cooder on Election Special and Bruce Springsteen on Wrecking Ball; Neil Young's plod through the traditional songbook on Americana and, ehm, Neil Young's trot through new material on Psychedelic Pill – all contained good and bad, but came with a sense of experience won over the decades.

Head and shoulders above them all, however, and the album from a veteran that's likely to stand the test of time, was Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen. With a voice worn by circumstance and a lyrical stance strengthened by the accumulated wit and wisdom of his 78 years, this was a collection of songs that could only have been written by someone so long in the tooth.

Will Oldham, aka Bonnie Prince Billy, is barely half as old as Cohen but he has already amassed a larger body of work. Various gems from within this ever-growing treasure trove emerged to shine in the light at the Old Fruitmarket back at the start of the year, in what is undoubtedly one of the best gigs I've ever attended.

As Oldham's quirkily shy persona was put to the test by some off-the-cuff remarks from the Glasgow crowd (an offer to suck the red wine stain from his white shirt caused a genuine double-take), he held us spellbound in this cavernous standing space. The Old Fruitmarket is not a church conversion, but the hush was reverential.

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