This article appears as part of the Herald Arts newsletter.

She came, she saw, her strumming hand cramped up because of the cold and – after clocking up 11 hours on stage across three sell-out shows – Taylor Swift most certainly conquered. I was there on Friday, the first night, and it really was one of those pinch me moments.

But as the dust settles, as social media in the Central Belt returns to normal levels of churn, as the West Edinburgh magpies pick at the left-behind friendship bracelets, what are the main takeaways? There are several.

One is that momentum in music is very much with the distaff side at the moment. Swift, Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, Phoebe Bridgers, Lana Del Rey, Little Simz, Mitski, Olivia Rodrigo, Girl In Red, Fever Ray, Weyes Blood – the list goes on and on. Fact: it’s solo women making the waves in pop and rock right now. They’re the ones with something to say, and winning ways of saying it.

Why? Who knows. A happy by-product of the culture wars perhaps. Or maybe it’s a demonstration of the connective power of ally-ship. Either way, those are the acts I’d happily queue for an hour outside a stadium or festival to see, and clearly a lot of people feel the same way.

“Shade never made anybody less gay,” Swift sings in one of her most discussed lyrics, from You Need To Calm Down. Hard to imagine headliner blokes like Chris Martin or Bono or Thom Yorke (bless him) coming out with that. Hard to imagine the previous US president caring what those men think of him either, but here’s a headline from last weekend’s New York Magazine: “Trump Can’t Accept That Taylor Swift Hates Him.”

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Not unconnected is the subject of the gig as safe space. For some years now organisations and activist groups such as Get In Her Ears, Safe Gigs For Women and Good Night Out have been tackling the issue and confronting problems running from outright sexual harassment at gigs down to women simply feeling uncomfortable at them.

As someone who has experienced Oasis live and endured the Buckfast bacchanal that was T in the Park, I was struck on Friday by the unthreatening inclusivity of this one. Not that the gig was in any way anodyne as a result. There was a discernible hen party vibe, and long before we’d heard Champagne Problems the women making up the majority of the crowd had noisily and unconcernedly colonised the men’s loos. In terms of atmosphere, they played their role as well as any other crowd I’ve seen. And across the three nights there was only a single arrest – a 64-year-old man has been charged with voyeurism, proof of how well behaved the crowd was but also a demonstration of why the safe space issue is such a hot one.

To their credit, many venues are addressing it and, if they aren’t, musicians are increasingly demanding it of them. It makes sense. In an ecosystem where smaller venues are closing at an alarming rate, the wider you can pitch the appeal of gig-going – and the safer you can make it for women and girls – the more hope there is for the grass-roots music scene whose apogee is landmark events like Taylor Swift’s three-night stand at Murrayfield.

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That’s why a ticket levy such as the one proposed by Music Venue Trust and backed by the Scottish Greens is now imperative. It’s quite simple: take £1 from every ticket sold for stadium and arena gigs and re-invest it in grass-roots music. That benefits musicians and venues – and can help take the gig-as-safe-space idea from being a gift to becoming a given.

These are just a few thoughts among many as Scotland waves goodbye to a woman who as well as being the undisputed Queen of Pop is a genuine shaper of culture. 

This ain’t Texas

If you haven’t noticed, the Western is currently having a moment – one in which the form familiar from John Wayne films is being subverted and re-invented to bring in other stories, voices and faces.

Jordan Peele’s cult 2022 sci-fi horror Nope looks at the Black contribution to both film-making and cowboy-ing, while Houston-born Beyoncé attempted something similar for music when she popped a Stetson on her head and climbed onto a horse (literally and metaphorically) for latest album Cowboy Carter. Acclaimed indie director Kelly Reichardt turned her lens on a Chinese migrant to the Pacific Northwest of the 1820s in award-winning 2020 film First Cow, and Martin Scorsese grappled with (just a few of) the injustices inflicted on the country’s First Nation peoples in his Oscar nominated 2023 film, Killers Of The Flower Moon.

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Adding his talents to the Alt-Western genre is Booker longlisted author Kevin Barry, whose new novel The Heart In Winter is set in Butte, Montana in the early 1890s. The Limerick-born author is very much dialling into the Irish migrant experience here, but in mood and occasionally in substance his novel also tips its hat to revisionist Westerns of an earlier era such as Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971) and Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven (1978) – though Barry’s protagonists Tom Rourke and Polly Gillespie have much in common with the reckless, love-struck anti-heroes of Malick’s 1973 film Badlands. Or maybe Nick Cave and an amalgam of Nico and Amy Winehouse.

Still from McCabe & Mrs Miller, 1971 (Image: Warner Bros)
The novel is just out (Canongate, £16.99), and ahead of his trip to the capital for August’s Edinburgh International Book Festival I spoke to Kevin Barry about it. You can read the interview here.

And finally…

Next week Glasgow welcomes back the much-loved Bard In The Botanics series of outdoor performances. Ahead of the June 19 opening night, The Herald’s Brian Beacom sat down for a chat with director Jennifer Dick about her production of Measure For Measure and (because it isn’t all about Shakey) her adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 classic, Jane EyreRead the interview here.

Jennifer Dick talks about her production of Charlotte Bronte's 1847 classic Jane Eyre
Elsewhere, Craig Williams talks to architect Professor Alan Dunlop about the affecting triptych of watercolours he has created showing Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building ablaze. The work goes on display in London from June 18 as part of the Royal Academy of Arts’ prestigious Summer Exhibition. Back home, Keith Bruce was in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle on Sunday to hear the SCO Chorus perform a programme including John Taverner’s Svyata, which incorporates text from the Russian Orthodox funeral service, an arrangement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, and a new work by exciting young Scottish composer (and saxophonist!) Jay Capperauld.