Sunday, 27 November 2011

Shelagh Delaney Obituary

Playwright, screen-writer, author

Born November 25th 1939; died November 20th 2011.

When Shelagh Delaney, who has died of cancer aged seventy-two, saw Terence Rattigan's play, Variations On A Theme, she was appalled, both by its writing and by what she saw as an insensitive treatment of homosexuality. The response of this precocious Salford-born teenager was to pen A Taste of Honey, a play about a girl her own age who becomes pregnant to a black sailor on a one-night stand, then moves in to bring up the child with what would now be regarded as her gay best
friend.

When the play was produced in 1958 by Joan Littlewood's ground-breaking Theatre Workshop company in London's east end, its taboo-breaking in terms of its depiction of race, class and a sexuality that had only just been decriminalised in England became a hit. Delaney was just
eighteen. The play transferred to the West End, then Broadway. In 1961, Tony Richardson's film of the play that cast Rita Tushingham alongside original cast member Murray Melvin, who would become a regular at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre throughout the 1970s and 1980s, became a totem of the English new wave of post-war film and theatre that arguably began with John Osborne's Look Back In Anger.

Where the stage play was theatricalised with a series of Brechtian asides to the audience, Richardson's film out of necessity shifted Delaney's style to kitchen-sink naturalism. It was Richardson’s film, co-scripted by Delaney, that would capture the imagination of Steven
Patrick Morrissey, whose own childhood in Mancunian terraces echoed Delaney's own. When Morrissey formed The Smiths, his lyrics for the
band's debut album were fog-thick with grim-up-north romanticism.

The opening track, Reel Around The Fountain, features lines lifted wholesale from Delaney's play. Another song, This Night Has Opened My Eyes, was based on the play, while photographs of Delaney graced the covers of single, Girlfriend In A Coma and compilation, Louder Than Bombs. Smiths single Sheila Take A Bow is believed to honour the woman for whom Morrissey said that “at least fifty per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney.”

Of Irish descent, Shelagh Delaney was born on November 25th 1939 in Broughton, Salford, where she first attended secondary school, a period she described as the best education ever. Despite failing the eleven-plus, Delaney, who had already begun writing, was transferred to a grammar school, where she said later that she could already see that she knew far more than the other girls there. She left aged fifteen with five GCE O' Levels.

With A Taste Of Honey enthusiastically accepted by Littlewood and Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop, the play proved controversial, not least for its depiction of working-class characters who were a million miles from the cap-doffing servants presented by Rattigan and co. A glittering career was predicted for Delaney, but a second play, 1960's The Lion In Love, was lukewarmly received in a set of reviews described by Manchester-born novelist Jeanette Winterson, who in 2010 named
Delaney as her hero, as 'a depressing essay in sexism'. Delaney didn't write for the stage for another twenty years.

She concentrated instead on a collection of short stories, Sweetly Sings the Donkey (1963), and screen and TV plays. One, Charlie Bubbles, was directed by Salford-born Albert Finney, who played a northern English writer disillusioned by success enough to be unable to feel emotionally engaged until he returns home. Another, The White Bus, was a short for Lindsay Anderson taken from one of Delaney's stories.
It featured a young woman who flees London drudgery for her Salford home, where she embarks on an impressionistic open-top bus ride through the streets. Both films appeared in 1967, and echoed the loyalty Delaney felt to her home town.

Did Your Nanny Come From Bergen? appeared in 1970 in the Thirty Minute Theatre slot, while in 1974 St Martin's Summer was produced as part of the Seven Faces of Woman series. The House That Jack Built, a 1977 vehicle for comic Duggie Brown, was later adapted for the stage, but with
little fanfare.

There are echoes of Delaney's experience in that of Andrea Dunbar, another teenage working-class writer, whose play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, was also turned into a film. Where Dunbar died young, Delaney simply disappeared from view.

Radio plays, So Does the Nightingale (1980) and Don’t Worry About Matilda (1981) followed. While A Taste of Honey was filmed twice more, once in 1981 for Spanish TV, and again in 1994 for a Portuguese production, Delaney penned the screenplay for Dance With A Stranger, Mike Newell's 1985 feature about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett starred. Screenplays for Three Days in August and the Railway Station Man
followed in 1992, while a more recent radio play, Whoopi Goldberg's Country Life, was broadcast in 2010.

In the 1990s, Delaney's story, Abduction, appeared in Comma, a collection published by a Manchester-based press, and which featured fellow Salfordian iconoclasts Mark E Smith, who originally styled his band The Fall as defiantly northern 'white crap that talk back'; and Tony Wilson, whose championing of the north manifested itself through Factory Records and his TV presenting. Cultural commentators Michael Bracewell and Paul Morley, both steeped in northern English myth-making, also appeared. Arguably, none of these could have existed in the same way without Delaney breaking the mould.

In a fifteen-minute film made in 1960 by Ken Russell for BBC arts programme, Monitor, Delaney talked of the pull of Salford, and railed against how the rough-shod community she still lived among was being farmed out to new housing estates and high-rises, as old Salford was being gradually demolished. Delaney cut a vivacious, fiercely intelligent and articulate figure. She both pre-dated and predicted the slums immortalised in Salford-born poet John Cooper-Clarke's Thatcher era back-street epic, Beasley Street, updated later for the age of urban regeneration as Beasley Boulevard. Both works recognised a shift in ambition and social mores that Delaney might have recognised.

People of my age, “ she said in Russell's film of her Salford peers and the draw of the place that existed alongside the desire to get away, “they know what they want to do, and they're all like I was, like a sort of horse on a tether, sort of jerking about, waiting for somebody to cut the tether, and let me off.”

A shorter version of this appeared in The Herald, November 22nd 2011

ends

A Citizens Spring - Dominic Hill's First Season at the Citz

When Dominic Hill took up his post as artistic director of the Citizens
Theatre in Glasgow following his departure from Edinburgh's Traverse
Theatre, big things were expected from one of Scotland's few directors
who is capable of working on a truly epic scale. The announcement today
of his first full season of work as exclusively revealed by The Herald
confirms both the sense of expectation Hill's appointment shook up, and
the scale of his own ambitions for the Citz.

Even by themselves, the presence of a play by Pinter, a Beckett double
bill and a Shakespeare are enough cause for celebration. The fact that,
not just King Lear, but both Pinter's mid-period ménage a trois,
Betrayal, and Beckett's solo miniatures, Krapp's Last Tape and the
rarely performed Footfalls, will be directed by Hill on the theatre's
main stage rather than its two studio spaces, says much about Hill's
thinking. Betrayal, Krapp's Last Tape and Footfalls may have small
casts, but here they are being recognised as big plays on every other
level, and which deserve the space to breathe only a main stage can
provide.

The Citizens main stage in particular is a curious hybrid. As a space
it is more than capable of showing off panoramic spectacles, yet
without ever losing a sense of connection with those seated in its
auditorium. Intimately epic, is what Hill calls it.

With such all year round activity on the main stage, there will be far
less visiting companies. The studio spaces will be given over to
artists such as Roadkill director Cora Bissett to develop new work,
while Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons will be rehearsed at
the Citz.

Casting too is of major significance to Hill's way of thinking. Two
names are already in place. One is Cal MacAninch, who will appear in
Betrayal. MacAninch may be a well known TV name these days, but his
acting career began at the Citz during the theatre's glory days under
the directing triumvirate of Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and
Philip Prowse. Prowse in particular showcased the Govan-born actor's
talents, casting him in Tis Pity She's A Whore, Frankenstein, A Tale of
Two Cities and Enrico IV.

The second and even more significant casting is that of David Hayman,
who will play Lear. Hayman too is familiar from TV roles such as Lynda
La Plante's Trial and Retribution, but he was a key figure at the Citz
in the 1970s, when he played in some of the theatre's defining shows.
Most startling of these was playing the title role in Hamlet in a
radical 1970 production of the play that caused a furore. Almost a
decade later, Hayman courted controversy again with another
Shakespeare, when he played Lady Macbeth.

The symbolism of Hayman's return to the Citizens cannot be understated.
For Hayman himself, it's clearly a special moment.

“When I was in the theatre the other day,” he told the Herald this
weekend, “I managed to find a quiet moment, and I went onstage and
looked out at that auditorium, and I came out head to toe in
goosebumps. When Dominic first asked me to do Lear, I emailed him back
straight away, and said that I had a very large smile on my face. It
feels like coming home to the place where I started out, and which is
still a very special theatre, both in Glasgow and in the world.”

Hayman was a key component of Hill's plans from the off.

“I wanted as quickly as possible to say that we'll put on great,
important plays, but I also thought it would be amazing to get David
Hayman to play Lear, and I'm thrilled we've managed to make that
happen. David started here, and now he's come full circle with us. That
feels right in terms of not denying our past, but celebrating it, and
using it to go forward. King Lear is also one of the greatest plays
ever written, but it's hardly ever done here, and I don't know why.”

It may be an accident, but all three main stage plays deal with the
consequences of the past on their chief protagonists.

Hill describes Betrayal as “beautiful and raw. On one level it's a very
intimate play, but on another it's huge.”

Of Beckett's work, Hill says he prefers the writer's smaller plays.

“Footfalls is like this art installation or something, and it's right
it should be seen on a big stage. That's my priority at the moment, to
re-establish our identity as a place for great theatre from the
classical repertoire on a big stage. There's a danger of losing that
identity if you have too much work on. Also, with all the trend for
mixed-media and non-text based theatre, there's a danger of the great
plays getting lost as well.”

While this will be Hill's first full season since his arrival, he did
programme the Citz's most recent main house, production, A Day In The
Death of Joe Egg. While directing duties for Peter Nichols' play were
passed over to Phillip Breen, who previously directed Pinter's The
Caretaker at the Citz, its scheduling nevertheless made its own
statement about Hill's ambitions.

Here was a taboo-busting play, after all, that received its world
premiere at the Citizens in 1967 after being rejected by almost every
theatre in the country. Michael Blakemore's production of Joe Egg
transferred to the West End and Broadway before being made into a
feature film starring Alan Bates and Janet Suzman.

Breen's confident revival featured a cast that included stand-up
comedian Miles Jupp and a cameo by Miriam Margolyes. On the opening
night, Nichols himself made an appearance for a post-show discussion
with the audience. Here was a theatre, Hill seemed to be suggesting,
that can not only get lesser-spotted contemporary classics on a main
stage. It can also get famous faces to perform alongside more
left-field cast members. It can even get major writers to talk about
their own experience of their work being performed both then and now.

“It felt like a good bridge,” Hill says of his calling card. “It says
that we are about doing classic plays, but contemporary classics as
well. It was saying that we're a hugely important theatre, and that we
can attract the best artists in the UK. That's absolutely what I want
us to be, and I think we have the opportunity to be. I've only been
here six weeks, but the kind of warmth and loyalty and devotion that
this theatre engenders in people is kind of extraordinary, and I think
we have to use that. There's a fantastic wealth of connections this
theatre has that I think we can use in the future.”

If Hayman can be taken as a barometer of the sort of connection Hill is
talking about, then the feeling would appear to be mutual. As Hayman
says, “Dominic is a very gifted director who has a vision. He wants to
put the Citz on the international map again, the way it was in those
wonderful heady days when I was here before. Not as a museum, but as a
new version of the glory days. It's all very exciting, and I'm looking
forward to a long and fruitful relationship with the new Citizens.”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2012 season go on sale on
Tuesday November 29th
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, November 22 2011

ends

Wire

Liquid Room, Edinburgh
4 stars
“Can you ever really escape your past?” Wire's glengarry-sporting
bassist Graham Lewis asks as the band return for their first encore of
a louder, punkier and less polite set than when they visited Edinburgh
in February. The answer to such a philosophical enquiry is probably no,
even if vocalist and guitarist Colin Newman has spent much of the set
peering over professorial specs reading lyrics from a twenty-first
century ipad which he later morphs into a keyboard.

Material from this year's Red Barked Tree album and some older fare is
played at a volume coruscating enough to compensate for the band's
no-nonsense lack of chat. Given their art school roots, it's surprising
how uncompromisingly basic a set-up Wire keep. Where their peers might
theatricalise or recreate an album's studio embellishments with
orchestral add-ons or such like, Wire strip everything back. There is
nothing onstage that isn't black and white other than Newman's
beautiful sea-green guitar. While Lewis, drummer Robert Grey and
touring guitarist Matt Simms sport t-shirts, Newman looks every inch
the European arts mandarin he probably could have become.

With the harmonies of sublime 1979 single, Map Ref. 41*N 93*W
studiously left out and Simms spending much of the set on his knees
manipulating a swathe of FX pedals, it all makes for a brutal assault,
which on Drill and Two People In A Room reveals Wire's debt to the
thrashy fuzz of Brian Eno's 1970s song-based albums. After a
thrillingly extended take on Pink Flag has squawled its metal machine
noise music into submission, Newman faces the audience as he departs,
holding his ipad triumphantly aloft, the future ahead of him at last.

The Herald, November 21st 2011

ends

Pass The Spoon

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
The knives are out at the start of David Shrigley, David Fennessy and
Magnetic North director Nicholas Bone's 'sort of opera'. This
shouldn't, however, signal any alarm bells in terms of what follows.
Because, for all the out and out ridiculousness of Pass The Spoon,
Shrigley's TV cooking show-based yarn is an irresistibly irreverent
riot of surreally grotesque humour and avant-garde music that waves a
refreshing two fingers at serious theatrical conventions even as it
takes them to the max.

Our hosts for the evening are June Spoon and Phillip Fork, a fawningly
supercilious Bleakly and Chiles of the Ready, Steady, Cook set. With
rictus grins fixed on an invisible autocue, Pauline Knowles June and
Stewart Cairns' Phil introduce us to a world where smiley-faced puppet
vegetables are auditioned to dive into the soup, Gavin Mitchell's
alcoholic Mr Egg is on the verge of cracking up, Martin McCormick's
pompous banana attempts to take charge while Peter Van Hulle's
celestial butcher really holds the power. Once the gluttonous Mr
Granules takes his place at the table, however, anything and everything
is on the menu.

As daft as such a stew looks, sounds and most certainly is, Bone's
large-scale production is pop culture savvy to the hilt. With
Fennessy's score played by an eleven-piece version of The Red Note
Ensemble and Tobias Wilson operating a larger than life Mr Granules,
this is Come Dine With Me as reimagined by Kurt Schwitters. Beyond the
froth, Shrigley is saying something magnificently unsubtle about how
celebrity culture devours itself, only to end up regurgitating the same
old crap to entertain us. As food for thought goes, it's shitalicious.

The Herald, November 21st 2011

ends

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Pass The Spoon - David Shrigley's 'Sort Of Opera'

In Scottish Opera's top floor rehearsal room, all talk is of
appendages. The phallic attachment in question is for Mr Granules, a
grotesque dinner guest in Pass The Spoon, visual artist David
Shrigley's 'sort of opera' for director Nicholas Bone's Magnetic North
company. Based around an absurd idea of a daytime TV cookery show, Pass
The Spoon features characters that include a life-size banana and an
alcoholic, manic depressive, mood-swinging giant egg.

Actor Gavin Mitchell has already donned a foam-based egg costume for
his turn as Mr Egg. This provoked much debate about whether or not the
foam egg should have holes for arms. With Mitchell's hands flapping
about in a ridiculously limited circumference to express Mr Egg's full
emotional range, Humpty Dumpty he most certainly isn't. If the egg does
have arms, Shrigley points out, then every movement will pull its
flexible but none too taut construction out of shape enough so it stops
being egg-shaped. Another alternative would be to start from scratch
and construct a costume made of tougher material, perhaps with the top
lopped off to allow Mitchell's head and shoulders to peep through.

As for Mr Granules, the size and shape of what the two-metre high
puppet operated by Tobias Wilson will look like is everything. In
spirit, at least, one imagines him resembling the gluttonous Mr
Creosote from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

Earlier, Pauline Knowles and Stewart Cairns as June Spoon and Philip
Fork prepared their culinary delights in camera-friendly showbiz style.
Opera singer Peter van Hulle flits between them as a Butcher, while
repetiteur Michael Bawtree plays composer David Fennessy's score which
is set to be embellished by a ten-piece version of The Red Note
Ensemble. The nonsense that follows looks to Come Dine With Me and
Ready, Steady Cook by way of The Mad Hatter's Tea Party from Alice in
Wonderland if co-opted to take part in It's A Knockout. In short, then,
Pass The Spoon is as ridiculously overblown as any other opera, sort-of
or otherwise.

“There's a whole process of trying to find the strange world it takes
place in,” says Bone over a healthy-looking and mercifully immobile
lunch. “It's a very Shrigleyesque idea of a TV studio it's set in, and
a lot of the last two and a half weeks of rehearsals has been to make
sense of these characters in their lack of sense. We also have to
balance that up with what's in David's head, because he has quite a
clear idea of what they're like. So it's been quite a strange thing,
trying to make David's two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional
characters.”

This is the complete reverse of something like Disney's stage rendering
of their animated feature film, Beauty and the Beast. In the live
show's multi-million pound franchise, actors are effectively recreating
their pen and ink big-screen forbears in a hi-tech affair with little
opportunity for any real onstage creativity. Anyone expecting Pass the
Spoon to be some flesh and blood recreation of Shrigley's drawings,
then, should think again.

“Creatively, I was interested in writing the dialogue,” Shrigley says.
“but visually it's not really based on my classic style. If it was an
animated film, then obviously it would be, but with real people that's
not the case, and there wouldn't be any reason for that to happen. It's
set in a TV kitchen, so it needs to look like one, albeit one with a
small chamber orchestra and people dressed as food-stuffs in it.”

Pass The Spoon was born after Bone and Fennessy were asked to put in a
proposal for one of Scottish Opera's Five:15 series of fifteen minute
works. Fennessy suggested Shrigley as a collaborator after recognising
something in his drawings that he felt lent itself to music. The
Five:15 idea went elsewhere, allowing Shrigley's initial scraps of
dialogue to be developed into what he calls “a big long rambling script
about a TV programme”. A first draft set over the five courses of a
meal was the result. Enabled by a Creative Scotland Vital Spark Award,
Pass The Spoon has since developed into Magnetic North's biggest
production to date.

It also marks the latest high-profile work featuring a hybrid of
art-forms, something which has become increasingly prevalent over the
last few years.

“It's interesting how someone from a different artform looks at things
differently,” Bone observes. “What's really interesting about David is
that he works very instinctively. He's very back brain.”

“I suppose it's always going to be a bit crazy, because opera is
crazy,” Shrigley says, as if to illustrate Bone's point. “It had to be
set somewhere, and I guess I just figured you needed to acknowledge
that the actors were in front of an audience. A format I was familiar
with was a TV programme, and a cookery programme lends itself to a
narrative because there's a recipe. I guess a recipe's a list of things
to do, and I like lists, so that made sense to me, but I dunno. The
fact that most of it's fun makes it really daft, anyway, and it meant I
could do whatever I wanted to.”

For all its daftness, Pass The Spoon is a musically complex affair.

“I like Dave's music,” Shrigley says. “If someone else had've asked me
to do something with music I wasn't really into, then I probably
wouldn't have done it.”

Pass The Spoon isn't Shrigley's first involvement with music. He once
played in a band called Par Cark with Turner Prize winner Richard
Wright, and has released his own spoken-word album, Shrigley Forced To
Speak With Others. Shrigley wrote Worried Noodles, a compilation of
thirty-nine songs recorded by the likes of David Byrne, Franz Ferdinand
and Aidan Moffat. Beyond his own releases, Shrigley has supplied album
cover art for Deerhoof and Malcolm Middleton, and has made videos for
Blur and 'Bonnie' Prince Billy.

Composer Fennessy's work has previously appeared at the likes of
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, who co-commissioned his
organ-based Big Lung project with Stirling's Le Weekend festival, which
was first performed at the Church of the Holy Rude. Fennessy also
wrote The Adding Machine, a short opera performed by The Paragon
Ensemble which featured a libretto by playwright Tom McGrath, who if he
were still alive would undoubtedly approve of such musical and dramatic
audacity as that contained in Pass The Spoon. Two of McGrath's later
works, The Dream Train and My Old Man, were produced by Magnetic North.

The presence of The Red Note Ensemble, the contemporary classical
ensemble led by composer John Harris, is also significant. Red Note
recently performed Philip Glass' science-fiction opera, 1000 Airplanes
on the Roof, and Brian Eno's Music For Airports at the recent Minimal
festival. All of which squares with Shrigley's notion that “If this
work's written about it might be written about in [left-field music
magazine] The Wire, and that's very much the kind of credence that I
would need to be impressed by anybody.”

Beyond its short Tramway run, Pass The Spoon will get a one-off airing
on the South Bank to accompany a major Shrigley exhibition at the
Hayward Gallery in 2012. Shrigley can't foresee himself exploring opera
any further.

“I know nothing about opera, composition or written-down music,” he
says. “I'm just quite excited by the unfamiliarity of it all.”

Pass The Spoon, Tramway, Glasgow, November 17th-19th
www.tramway.org

The Herald, November 15th 2011

ends

Bill Bollinger – Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

October 28 2011-January 8 2012
4 stars
Onscreen in black and white, a man is attempting to stand a log upright
of its own volition. Time and again the man methodically lifts the log
off the ground, moving it from horizontal to vertical before it topples
as though felled with some invisible axe. For a second it looks like
it’s there, only for it to go down with a silent thump. It’s a
Sisyphean task, and, as the film’s jump-cuts suggest, one that took an
age. Then, finally, in what’s become an unpredictably prolonged
performance, the log is up there, standing tall, proud and monumental.
So what does the guy do but only go and knock it over some more.

‘Movie’ goes some way to explaining the high-tension methodology of the
late Bill Bollinger, the aeronautical engineer turned 1960s New York
contemporary of Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse and co. Unlike
them, Bollinger died in obscurity in 1988, aged not yet fifty. This
lovingly sourced retrospective, instigated by the Kunstmuseum
Liechtenstein, Vaduz in partnership with the Fruitmarket and the ZKM
Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, shows how much Bollinger was a
sculptural and architectural stunt-riding daredevil.

Wire-mesh sheets roll into hump-backs like a skeleton for a skate-park.
A taut rope runs the length of the downstairs room, dividing it in two.
Pipes lay coupled on the floor, splayed and in repose. Strung-up wires
zig-zag the ceiling like a choreographed pas de deux between sail-boats.

Bill Bollinger was lost in space, both of his time and out of it. In
his meticulous re-arranging of the everyday there are clear umbilical
links to Martin Creed and Karla Black, both of whom have had solo shows
at the Fruitmarket in the last year. As an ante-room floor is
half-coated with graphite, it splits up the light and shade of a place
where Bollinger left his footprint for others to follow.

The List, November 2011

ends

FareWell Poetry / Matthew Collings / Hiva Oa / Opul

The Third Door, Edinburgh
Monday November 14th 2011
4 stars
Salsa class is cancelled tonight, according to the blackboard outside
what used to be after-hours hippy student dive Medina, but which now
looks intent on filling the DIY boho gap that the Roxy Arthouse and The
Forest once occupied so randomly. The lights are low and the room is
rapt for an exquisitely thought out bill to support Anglo/French sextet
and Gizeh Records artists Farewell Poetry for a nuanced evening of
low-key cinematic poetics.

The apocalypse starts early with Opul, a collaboration between poet JL
Williams and composer James Iremonger, who blasts out a laptop-sourced
blend of industrial beats and impressionistic piano sketches to frame
Williams' words. If the music resembles cities being razed and rebuilt
in some woozy dreamscape, Williams' words are witchy, her delivery
beguiling, threatening menaces with all the rhythmic performative drive
of Patti Smith or Kathy Acker, even as she looks the audience in the
eye and smiles them into submission.

Hiva Ova (named after an island in Tahiti beloved by painter Paul
Gauguin and writer/adventurers including Herman Melville, Robert Louis
Stevenson, Jack London and Jacques Brel, who penned his final works
there, pop-lit fans) creep out of the gloom with an altogether shyer
concoction that recalls the skewed murmurings of Movietone and all the
other wonky Bristol bands that pursued more twisted, trip-hop free
avenues.

Male and female vocals dovetail to a basic backing of guitar, bass and
cello. From this starting pad, a more sensurround experience of
glockenspiel and martial drums are thrown into a scratchily looped mix
that swirls and sways its way into being. Such quietude recalls the
very English avant-chamber miniatures by composer Jan Steele on his
side of an album also featuring work by John Cage and released on Brian
Eno's Obscure Records label in 1976. Like Steele's intricate
compositions, Hiva Ova stick to the shadows, erupting into a rolling
thunder as the band's swapping of instruments becomes a little
spectacle in itself before coming to a hush once more.

Matthew Collings' Glenn Branca style guitar assaults splutter and
phutter to a halt when Collings' lap-top conks out, only to be brought
back to life for a second wind that adds low-end dub sh'boom textures
to the frantic storm before the calm. At first wilfully formless, the
musical shapes Collings sculpts into play gradually ease into each
other with a sense that multiple possibilities could ensue in an
infinite work in progress.

FareWell Poetry, on the other hand, are the finished article. With the
entire sextet sat down, abstract black and white films flicker behind
them as poet Jayne Amara Ross begins a series of breathy recitations as
the band eke out a delicate dust-bowl twang beneath her musings. The
film images are opaque hints of horse-headed nightmares and white mice
in motion; the words breathy incantations of big-time sensuality; and
the music a series of increasingly wide-screen soundscapes that build
into clattering explosions of light and shade.

Together, FareWell Poetry (and note that upper-case W there) produce a
carefully crafted multi-media experience that sounds like a more
baroque, less apocalyptically inclined Godspeed You! Black Emperor if
fronted by one of the Bloomsbury Group. Either that or someone equally
plummy, Black Box Recorder's Sarah Nixey, say.

While all this is captured on their debut album and accompanying DVD,
Hoping For The Invisible To Ignite, in the flesh its even more
compelling. As the final extended piece, the Chaucer-referencing As
True As Troilus, builds to a crescendo, drums pounding like some
mediaeval call to arms, the raging calm that follows is an ornate
treasure to behold. Salsa class at The Third Door may be cancelled for
some time yet.

The List, November 2011

ends

Twin Sister

Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
Thursday November 10th 2011
4 stars
In her geek-girl specs and floppy Annie Hall hat, Twin Sister chanteuse
Andrea Estella appears as quintessentially kooky a New Yorker as any
afficionado of 1970s me-generation peak era Woody Allen movies could
wish for. The check-shirted quartet of preppy boys cooking up a post
Vampire Weekend groove behind her concur, even as they counterpoint
Estella's wispiness with something infinitely more twenty-first
century.

Guitarist Eric Cardona actually opens his mouth first to sing in a
disarmingly high voice before Estella picks things up for Bad Street, a
sassy little strut fleshed out from the band's debut album proper, In
Heaven, and which flits between bass-led punk-funk-lite, twinkly synths
and even a brief Debbie Harry style rap. With shades of Saint Etienne,
Fleetwood Mac, Broadcast and Curved Air gone disco, more often than not
in the same song, such pick and mix eclectism soars into the ether, but
shyly.

Rather, with Estella's gossamer-frail voice bobbing in, about and all
around all such tributaries, Twin Sister are a user-friendly concoction
of infectiously prettified melodies. Radio-friendly sleeper hit All
Around And Away We Go is a case in point. Toughened up for the live
arena, given a late-night slot, Twin Sister might just cut loose enough
to turn turn into a dance-floor dream.

The List, November 2011

ends

Various – Songs For Dying (PJORN72)

4 stars
The local Noiserati and associates’ recent reclaiming of their Techno
and/or Metal roots helped their clan avoid a nihilistic dead end. As
this bumper fifteen track compendium of clings, clangs, sci-fi
slapstick, sepulchral drones, lysergic loveliness, ghosts in the
machine anthropological excavations and other light and shade metal
machine music suggests, things remain in the blartiest of health. Nackt
Insecten, Blood Stereo, Jazzfinger, Culver, Dead Labour Process, UFO
Antler Band and others produce an array of increasingly subtle,
artfully mature and largely low-key meditations. All oddly
life-affirming, even as it sometimes trips the shit out of you.

The List, November 2011

ends

Star Quality

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
2 stars
Noel Coward knew a thing or two about theatre by the time his
back-stage set short story was published in 1951. With both absurdism
and the Royal Court social-realist revolution about to turn the British
stage on its head, Coward's glory days were over, and his own
dramatised version never quite grew legs. Just why Christopher
Luscombe's adaptation has managed to stay in the commercial repertoire
for more than a decade, then, is a mystery. Or at least that's the case
if Joe Harmston's flat production is anything to go by.

The clue is in the title. Amanda Donohoe plays a leading lady on the
wane who runs rings around both the wet behind the ears playwright who
fawns over her and the been-there-done-that director who's nominally in
charge. It's his 'personal assistant' who really calls the shots,
however, as the writer is sweet-talked into making changes to his
masterpiece so the dame can still appear grand.

In what's essentially a vehicle for Donohoe, you kind of get the point
of the play's bitter-sweet barbs about an industry that thrives on
celebrity casting, over-familiar routines and irrelevant froth. Coward
was a master of it, after all. The trouble is, to present a play about
dead theatre, it needs to possess life enough itself to make its
subject shine. Noises Off and 42nd Street do this with various shades
of hilarity, chutzpah and high camp which Star Quality can only flap a
limp wrist at in recognition of its lot. The fact that five of the
twelve people (and a dog) onstage needn't actually be there at all
speaks volumes. Life imitating art imitating life has rarely looked
duller.

The Herald, November 19th 2011

ends

Blackbird

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
You could hear a pin drop on the opening night of Katie Posner's
touring revival of David Harrower's blistering psycho-sexual
pas-de-deux. The fact that the bulk of the audience for this
co-production between Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal were in
their teens speaks volumes about exactly how much they can take in
terms of a thoroughly adult play that neither patronises or exploits
them. Instead, Harrower lays bare some of society's greatest taboos
through the eyes of one life-changing event's survivors.

First seen at the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival, this new,
studio size production is made all the more provocative by the close
proximity of its protagonists, Ray and Una. Caught off-guard in the
mess of his strip-lit work-place, fifty-something Ray attempts to keep
a proper distance from the brittle, tomboyish woman on a mission he had
a whirlwind affair with fifteen years earlier, when she was twelve.
With both parties desperate for some kind of closure, an emotional
mish-mash of love and anger erupts into dangerous, all-consuming life
once more.

It's hard to go wrong with such powerfully engaging writing, and there
are some frantically contrasting moments between George Costigan and
Charlie Covell, sparring throughout the play's relentless seventy-five
minutes. When the pair kick over all the gathered tea-break detritus,
it seems to signal some kind of long-suppressed, child-like liberation.
Yet when the building's lights go out, Una's sense of renewed
abandonment is painfully palpable. As Ray and Una go round and round in
increasingly urgent, self-lacerating circles, some kind of fractured
reconciliation seems likely in a troublingly honest affair which only
the grown-ups dare walk out of.

The Herald, November 17th 2011

ends

Going Dark

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Seeing stars is everything in Hattie Naylor's beautiful new play, made
in collaboration with Tom Espiner of the multi-media based Sound&Fury
company. In an impressive technical display that leaves the audience in
the dark just as Naylor leaves Max, her astronomer protagonist, it's
made painfully clear in Mark Espiner and composer Dan Jones' production
just how the centre of our universe can be rocked in the blink of an
eye.

With the audience ushered into a pod-like construction on the Traverse
stage that allows full black-out, it begins with Max giving a
planetarium style lecture, complete with a map of the galaxy on the
ceiling of Ales Valasek's intimately-styled set. If all this initially
resembles a chill-out room take on The Sky At Night, things are upended
within minutes when Max discovers he's slowly but surely losing his
sight. Continuing an ongoing dialogue with his tellingly heard but not
seen six year old son Leo, Max is forced to find new ways of seeing in
an ever dimmer world.

For all the appliance of science asking big questions about how we
perceive the world, it's Max's very personal story that matters here.
The ambience which Jones and the Espiners set up is immaculately
realised, and sets the perfect mood for John Mackay's understated and
moving performance. Watching him frantically attempt to prepare Leo's
packed lunch blind-folded has a barbed comic edge to its essential
tragedy. As Max comes to terms with his future, however, with the
cosmos as infinite as it ever was in this whisperingly intense
meditation, the light of his life, it seems, was right there all along.

The Herald, November 14th 2011

ends

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Glue Boy Blues

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
It’s swings, roundabouts and cheap thrills all the way in
writer/performer Derek McLuckie’s latest collaboration with director
Pauline Goldsmith, a rough and ready glam/punk era rites of passage for
this year’s Glasgay! festival. McLuckie’s fifty-minute solo turn
rewinds to a back-street boyhood where the only fun in town comes in a
plastic bag full of sticky stuff. One minute Derek is a church-going
angel in search of kicks beyond his dyed David Bowie cut, the next he’s
finding salvation in visions of Pegasus, the doors of perception laid
wide open to more flesh and blood pursuits.

As he fancifully immortalises his own self-created mythology,
McLuckie’s inner aesthete is torn between the Siouxsie Sioux pictures
on his wall and the Judy Garland records he discovers behind the sofa
of the Paisley high-rise that fails to hem in his wilder urges.

There are a million stories like this, but McLuckie’s tale is
infinitely less sentimental than a Billy Elliot style romance, which it
could so easily have become. The fact that McLuckie is up there on his
own speaks volumes about a full-blooded poetic monologue which recalls
the sort of spiky confessionals patented by poet Claire Dowie, and in
truth Glue Boy Blues belongs more in the speak-easy environs of the
spoken-word scene than more formal spaces.

This isn’t a slight on the piece’s inherent theatricality. The language
is vivid, and the peacock-hued projections of McLuckie’s sexually
charged visions resemble the blood and lipstick sketch-books of
post-punk artist Linder Sterling. Even together, such gifts of sound
and vision would still benefit from more pace, less speed in a coming
of age that remains raw to the touch.

The Herald, November 11th 2011

ends

George Costigan - An Actor With A Common Touch

George Costigan can’t ever see himself playing the king. Lear, that is.
The man who became a familiar face playing a council estate lothario in
Alan Clark’s big-screen version of Andrea Dunbar’s stage play, Rita,
Sue and Bob Too, doesn’t really fancy it, to be honest. He doesn’t have
the authority, he reckons. Which is why this bluffest of adopted
northerners also reckons he’s right to play Ray, a very different kind
of man on the ropes in Blackbird, David Harrower’s provocative
psycho-sexual study first seen at the 2005 Edinburgh International
Festival.

In a new co-production for Pilot Theatre Company and York Theatre
Royal, which tours to Glasgow’s Tron Theatre next week, Costigan plays
Ray, a fifty-five year old man who had a sexual relationship with Una
fifteen years earlier, when she was twelve. When Una turns up at his
workplace unannounced, old emotional scars are opened up and the new
lives each has built for themselves collapse into each other.
“It’s not an easy play to sell,” Costigan admits of a piece he first
picked up on five years ago. “It’s taken that long to get it on. We
took it to all the people we knew, and I kind of understood when they
didn’t want to do it, because no-one wants to take a risk on a play
like this, no matter how well written it is. It’s a masterpiece, which
is why we wanted to do it. If you’re not afraid of having your head
knocked about by something that’s smart and clever, then you’ll
recognise that.”

Harrower’s play has clearly tapped into something, as audiences across
the globe have made clear watching the umpteen international
productions the play has seen since 2005. Then, German heavy-weight
director Peter Stein’s production threatened to overshadow the play’s
mix of ambiguity and blazing intimacy with a grafted-on final scene
more resembling a 1980s MTV video, power ballad and all. Such excesses
have fortunately failed to define the play’s own power, which is a
somewhat exhausting gift to the two actors who are onstage throughout
the play’s full ninety minutes.

What, though, is Ray like in Costigan’s eyes?

“It’s really hard to answer that,” he says. “He’s an under-manager,
doing double shifts, and who’s not very high-achieving, but I don’t
think that’s what you mean. You never see him under anything but
pressure. You see who he could be, but you never see him relaxed. The
only time you see him relax is when he kicks the rubbish around in the
store-room.”

Costigan has made blue-collar characters something of a stock in trade,
whether playing George opposite Matthew Kelly’s Lennie in John
Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of
a Salesman, or even playing Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For
Godot.

“They’re three of the greatest plays ever written,” says Costigan, “and
I’d put David Harrower and Blackbird right up there with them. Somebody
asked me if I was going to play Lear next, and I laughed my head off.
The thing with playing Willy and George is that they have very low
status, and that kind of suits me. Lear is someone who thinks very
highly of himself, but if I raised a sword above my head and said,
‘Come on, lads, follow me’, everyone would turn round and say, ‘Oh,
f*** off, George’. And they’d be right. I think I’d struggle with so
much. That’s the reason I started thinking about Blackbird. Ray’s
someone who’s got no status at all.”

Much of Costigan’s championing of the little guy dates back to the
Portsmouth born actor’s early days at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre
after growing up in Salford. The eight years Costigan spent at the
Everyman can now rightly be regarded as something of a golden age, when
fringe and alternative theatre flirted with the mainstream on the back
of a boom in locally sourced working-class writers such as Willy
Russell and Alan Bleasdale.

It was at the Everyman under directors Alan Dossor and Chris Bond that
Costigan appeared alongside Anthony Sher, Bernard Hill, Trevor Eve and
Barbara Dickson in Russell’s first big hit, John, Paul, George,
Ringo…and Bert. In one of the earliest Beatles-based plays, Costigan
played the infinitely less acclaimed Bert.

During eight years performing alongside the likes of Julie Walters,
Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite, Costigan would appear in as many as
nine shows a season. He even directed a show called Mum’s The Word, an
early musical by a young John McGrath, then finding his feet as a stage
writer before going on to found 7:84, and transforming popular theatre
forever.

The last play Costigan did at the Everyman was Love and Kisses From
Kirkby. Ostensibly about the closure of a Birds Eye factory in the
Merseyside new town, the play became a much bigger statement on the
nature of community. For Costigan, the production also represented a
theatrical peak.

“At the time, which was 1978, apart from Glasgow Citizens, it felt like
we were the best company in the country. But it was the writing that
made it. Actors are just the glamorous bit, but in the end you learned
to spot what good writing is.”

Costigan has previously gone further, suggesting the company was doing
the best work on planet earth, comparing the experience of Love and
Kisses From Kirkby to seeing Peter Brook’s version of A Midsummer
Night’s Dream and watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
“Like theatre was rock and roll,” he said.

Costigan went on to create the role of doomed twin Micky Johnstone in
the original Liverpool Playhouse production of Russell’s class-based
musical, Blood Brothers. At which point, as with so many of his
Everyman peers, doors to even bigger things should have opened.

“Absolutely not!” Costigan counters. “You know what Liverpool’s like.
Everyone who’s not from there’s just considered a woolly-back, and
no-one knew who you were. Let’s remember as well that the first time we
did Blood Brothers it bombed. But it was the same after Rita, Sue and
Bob Too. The phone didn’t ring for six months, then when it did ring it
was to play all these saddo keyhole-lookers.”

Set in the wilds of Bradford’s Butterworth estate where Andrea Dunbar
herself lived, Rita, Sue and Bob Too was a bleak portrait of two
teenage babysitters’ affairs with married Bob, played by Costigan.
Since Dunbar’s untimely death, Costigan appeared in The Arbor, an
impressionistic portrait of the tragic playwright’s life, which
featured actors lip-synching to interviews with real Buttershaw
residents.

One part that stands out from all of these spit and sawdust affairs is
that of Roxanne, a trans-sexual Costigan played in full drag for two
episodes of long-running TV cop show, The Bill.

“I couldn’t wait,” he says. “Most male actors will take any chance they
get to wear a frock, and now, I look back at that and think, ‘Well
done, Son. From fifteen yards’."

Beyond Blackbird, Costigan will be appearing in Forests, a new piece
for Birmingham Rep directed by Catalan taboo-buster, Calixto Bieito.
Costigan previously played Claudius in Bieito’s brutal, night-club set
Hamlet in a co-production with Edinburgh International Festival.

“He’s a madman,” Costigan says of Bieito, “but smart and such a laugh
with it, and so rude! It’s just a different way of working, and these
risks are what make this job exciting. Sometimes you get frustrated
with yourself if things don’t work, but that’s okay. It cocked up. I’m
a human being. Hurrah!”

Blackbird, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, November 15-19
www.tron.co.uk

The Herald, November 8th 2011

ends

Rob St John – Weald (Song, by Toad)

4 stars
Forget the much misused F(olk)-word. Rob St John is miles better than such lazy reference points,
and putting a full electric band behind his whey-faced Lancastrian
intonations has put muscle and guts on his musings. Yet for all the
low-key chorales, musical saws and string-laden back-woods baroque
pulsing his full-length debut’s eight songs, it's St John’s increasingly
forceful mix of melancholy and other-worldly rapture that counts. At
the record’s core is the slow burning eruption of Sargasso Sea and the slash and burn revelation of Domino. If the late Nick Drake and another old Nick’s Bad Seeds ever hitch up at some
rural English crossroads, this is what such an unlikely clash of souls
might sound like.

ends

Viv Albertine

Henry’s Cellar Bar, Edinburgh
Saturday November 5th 2011

“Penis!”

Former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine may only be checking her sound
levels, but her one word opening gambit sets out her store for the
artistic splurge that’s to follow. Within seconds Albertine is relating
how she thinks about sex all the time but doesn’t believe in love;
about how her seventeen-year long marriage broke down after she picked
up her Telecaster guitar for the first time in years; about how her
first band, The Flowers of Romance, formed with Slits drummer Palm
Olive and future Sex Pistol Sid Vicious (on saxophone, no less!) used
to rehearse in Joe Strummer’s squat.

Pedigree? Without Albertine and fellow Slit Ari Up, who passed away in
2010, sisters doing it for themselves from Riot Grrrl to Muscles of Joy
would never have happened.

Slotting in this late-night ‘secret’ show on the back of her mini
Scottish tour and accompanied only by the aforementioned Tele and a
floor-load of FX boxes, Albertine’s brand of candid confessional takes
no prisoners. With her hair up and sporting a fitted red velvet jacket
and shiny shirt purloined from a Broughton Street vintage emporium, she
turns the idea of self-consciously wimpy male troubadourism on its head
with a set that’s both musically and emotionally raw.

With titles like Never Come and Couples Are Creepy, Albertine is laying
herself as bare as she dares in a post break-up purging that’s eerily
provocative and demonstratively empowering. If at times one suspects
the lady doth protest too much, it’s still pretty jaw-dropping.
Having released the Flesh EP on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label,
and with an album forthcoming featuring a different bassist on each
song (Jack Bruce, Jah Wobble and Tina Weymouth have all contributed
thus far), it should be worth getting along early to the forthcoming
dates by The Damned to see how Albertine fares as big-stage support.
Anyone who can finish a set with a song called Confessions of A MILF
should have those kohl-eyed punk boys running very scared indeed.

The List, November 2011

ends

Magazine

O2 ABC, Glasgow
Saturday November 5th 2011
4 stars
“I don’t know,” says Howard Devoto, wearily wiping his palest of faces.
“Have we done enough songs about the wrong kind of sex?” The band
behind him launch into the icy menace of 1979 album Secondhand
Daylight’s closing epic Permafrost for good measure, anyway. Devoto has
a point. As the archest man in pop entered wielding a Brechtian style placard bearing the
legend, ‘Let’s Fly Away To The World’, the band he reformed after
thirty years away strike up an opening rally of Definitive Gaze, Give
Me Everything and Motorcade. Heard in rapid-fire succession, the songs
show off the light and shade of a canon that lays bare Devoto’s soul
via an array of psycho-sexual baroque brutalist bon mots.

With new album No Thyself and bass player Jon ‘Stan’White added to the
fold to replace Barry Adamson since they first toured in 2009, Magazine sound more urgent than
ever, with Devoto’s self-absorbed confessionals offset by a dirty white
funk that sounds harder and looser than on record. Of the precious few
songs from No Thyself included tonight, Happening in English and Holy
Dotage fit seamlessly with material from their first, all too brief
incarnation. With keyboardist Dave Formula and guitarist Noko carving
out brittle soundscapes powered along by White and drummer John Doyle,
Devoto is every inch the drama queen, conducting every flourish or else
watching with aloof wonder at this thing he’s conjured up.

Shot By Both Sides is brought bang up to date with part distressed, part fame-hungry references to flash-mobs. Magazine's other classic, the Dostoyevsky-referencing A Song From Under
The Floorboards is there, but so is the lesser-sung but just as immense
Rhythm of Cruelty. Crowd-pleasing this Magazine may be, but
there still isn’t space for recent single, the rock and roll suicide of Hello Mr Curtis. Perverts.

The Herald, November 7th 2011

ends

Truant

Jordanhill Parish Church, Glasgow
3 stars
Breaking the rules is instinctive when you’re of an age whereby you’re
not entirely sure what they are yet. This was evident from the primary
school age audience watching this new show created by John Retallack
for his Company of Angels operation in a co-production with the
National Theatre of Scotland. Throughout sixteen unrelated scenes that
tackle a variety of cross-generational conflicts, these not easily
impressed charges giggled at the swear words and whispered throughout.
It’s not that they weren’t getting the seriousness of what was going
on. It’s just that, as with the characters onstage, they too were
seeing how far they could take things.

From the boy squaring up to a shopping mall security guard and the mum
whose teenage daughter is more grown up than she’ll ever be, to more
immediately recognisable forms of parental abuse and avoidance,
Retallack pulls no punches. Based on interviews with families from
Glasgow-based communities that emphasise the here and now relevance of
the play’s themes, its more lateral take on notions of truancy finds
the grown-ups coming out of things looking just as dysfunctional as
their offspring.

With each short scene top and tailed by a piece of wordless
choreography involving Retallack’s cast of eight, such a sense of
impressionistic invention breaks up any notion of being lectured to.
The play’s compactness too is just right for the production’s current
tour of off the beaten track community centres and church halls. While
it’s not always clear which age-group the play is aimed at, it never
patronises those who are in attendance. Which is why the end, whispers
have been silenced, and lessons might just have been learnt.

The Herald, November 7th 2011

ends

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Fall

HMV Picture House, Edinburgh
Thurday November 3rd 2011

The moustached man from the local tattoo parlour onstage is giving it
loads. His whine-perfect karaoke impression of Mark E Smith has the
advantage of having the most crack-shot surf-garage band around backing
him, who, for the previous half-hour, have been proving just how good
they are with a series work-outs made necessary by the prolonged
absence of their vocalist, conductor, arranger, director, gaffer and
guru.

It all started so well, with Smith practically bounding on stage on the
dot of 9pm and within a minute of the band striking up the
hundred-mile an hour chug of the forebodingly titled Nate Will Not
Return, a highlight from the new Ersatz G.B. album. Guitarist Tim
Presley from the 2006 American Fall line-up has rejoined the fold while
his replacement Pete Greenway takes time out on 'maternity leave', and
Presley's twitch-hipped boyish demeanour adds extra urgency to an
already relentless fuzz.

It's even better on a glorious Strychnine, with a pigeon-chested Smith
looking imperious as ever. Then, microphone in hand, the
fifty-something demagogue takes what looks like one of his regular
tours around the stage to mess things up. Instead, he wanders offstage,
delivering his vocals and other noises off from the wings, the stairs
or who knows where. The band power on through a surprising revisitation
of 1979's Printhead. Smith eventually slopes back on, returns the mic
to its stand, then wanders back off again. Keyboardist and
long-suffering Smith spouse Eleni Poulou attempts to fill the gap on an
even more tellingly named I've Been Duped. Musically, the band are
invincible, but without anyone to crack the whip they soon run out of
steam, and finish up.

Which is when things really get interesting. Poulou explains something
about Smith having wounded feet, only to be heckled. “Are you a
doctor?” is her retort. The band return to play a couple of
instrumentals, during which the tattoo parlour boy somehow manages to
scramble his way onstage and grabs the mic. If his well-studied
Smithian repartee at first seems like a put-up job, no matter, because
Poulou cracks a smile for the first time tonight, egging the boy on.
While he's eventually led off by security, his spontaneous turn has
nevertheless turned confusion and frustration into triumph. Something
Smith capitalises on when he returns, Lazarus-like and in
stockinged-feet, for a bouncing Mr Pharmacist. Then, with an
obliviously cheery wave, he's off, the whole experience over and done
with in an hour exactly.

Whether calculated social engineer and maestro-like orchestrator of
spectacle on a par with avant-garde Polish theatre director Tadeusz
Kantor, or self-destructive, over-the-hill fuck-up, Mark E Smith
remains the ultimate show-man. He understands exactly how to press his
audience's buttons, and they love him all the more for it. Tonight,
Matthew, with the tattoo parlour man at the vanguard, we were all The
Fall.

Uncommissioned, unsolicited and unpublished, November 2011

ends

Magazine - Howard Devoto Knows Thyself

“Suicide has always been quite an important idea to me,” says Howard
Devoto, vocalist, lyricist and mouthpiece in chief of post-punk
fabulists, Magazine. Devoto is talking about Hello Mr Curtis (with
apologies), the band's recent single which trailed No Thyself, the
first album of new Magazine material for thirty years.

The Mr Curtis in question is one Ian Curtis, the former singer with
Magazine's Manchester scene contemporaries Joy Division, who hanged
himself on the eve of what should have been the band's first American
tour in 1980. Devoto's song also references a certain Mr Cobain, as in
the late Kurt, of 1990s grunge icons Nirvana, and another rock and roll
suicide.

By the end of an appositely jaunty number in which both of his forbears
are put on the couch and encouraged to explain what caused them pain
enough to take their own lives, Devoto is declaring his own intentions
to die like a king. Such a lofty pronouncement is up-ended somewhat
when the monarch of these aspirations is revealed to be Elvis Presley,
and that the said death will take place 'on some god-forsaken toilet'.
The outro of a song dedicated at recent live shows to author,
Alzheimer's sufferer and champion of assisted suicide Terry Pratchett
finds Devoto scatting the all too familiar line, 'I hope I die before I
get old'.

“In my mind,” Devoto explains, “I'm talking about assisted suicide, and
I'm talking about a subject I feel really quite strongly about. I'm not
someone who thinks about topping himself every six months or anything
like that. Far from it. I'm the happiest now that I've ever been. But
as a young man, I was very tense, and very intense, and suicide has
always been an idea to me. I'd go as far as to say that, when my time
comes, I'd like to die by my own hand. Some people might call me a
control freak, and in some respects that's probably quite
understandable.”

This weekend's Glasgow show will be the first chance for aficionados of
a band named partly after a coffee table accessory, part loaded gun, to
see how Hello Mr Curtis and other songs from No Thyself stand up next
to material from the band's first incarnation. Since reforming for
dates in 2009, Devoto, keyboardist Dave Formula, bass player Barry
Adamson and drummer John Doyle, with guitarist Noko replacing the late
John McGeogh, have reinvigorated Magazine's sophisticated melding of
post-punk, prog and glam.

Never a comfortable figure onstage, Devoto himself looked reborn in a
theatrically inclined live show that proved the magnificence of songs
like Shot By Both Sides and A Song From Under The Floorboards, both of
which had influenced the likes of Radiohead and Jarvis Cocker. After
such a triumphant second coming, then, writing new material was a
calculated risk

“When we first talked about getting together, I thought it would be
okay for a year or so,” Devoto explains of going out to play songs
largely from the first three Magazine albums, Real Life, Secondhand
Daylight and The Correct Use Of Soap, with one or two of the better
cuts from the original band's half-formed swan-song, Magic, Murder and
the Weather, thrown in. “After we'd played on Jools Holland and at the
Electric Proms, we had a meeting and talked about the possibility of
putting one or two new songs into the set. In due course, Dave, John
and Noko knocked out six backing tracks, and I started working on them.”

The songs that later became Holy Dotage and Happening in English, both
on No Thyself, were duly forwarded to Adamson, arguably the only member
of Magazine who'd carved out a significant solo career since the band's
demise.

“We waited a long, long time,” Devoto deadpans. “Barry had always been
the most resistant of all of us to doing new material, and we
eventually got the message that he was quitting to make his first film,
which is not a task I would want to take on.”

Adamson's replacement, Jon 'Stan' White, debuted with Magazine at the
hop farm festival in June this year, and, on record at least, retains
his predecessor's understated sense of John Barryesque noir. No Thyself
as a whole is what the follow-up to The Correct Use Of Soap might have
sounded like if McGeogh hadn't left the band to join Siouxsie and The
Banshees. Led by a largely upbeat mix of Formula's science-fiction
vintage synthesiser swirls and Noko's scratchy guitar riffs, matters of
life and death are as dramatically evident in Devoto's words as they
ever were. This is the case whether in the sexually explicit Other
Thematic Material or the knowingly self-referential Of Course Howard
(1979).

The words to the latter song are taken from an introduction Devoto
wrote to a collection of lyrics penned for the first two Magazine
albums, as well as during his brief tenure as vocalist for Buzzcocks,
whose debut EP, Spiral Scratch, arguably invented DIY indie-pop as we
know it. In both the introduction and the song, Devoto somewhat
portentously declares that 'I demand special consideration as the most
human'.

“I re-read it, and I just thought, 'Wow. You were really going for it,
weren't you, lad.' I felt I wanted to interrogate my old self, and I
wanted a dialogue.”

In this respect, such diary-like dissections have long-seen Devoto
regarded as the Marcel Proust of pop, with each record a very succinct
form of memoir.

“I keep notes, and I always have a special category for lyrics and song
ideas. Hello Mr Curtis actually goes back about ten years. But
mortality is a big theme on the record. I don't know how you can avoid
it.”

Now just shy of entering his sixth decade, Devoto remains teasingly
vague on the subject of just how long Magazine will continue beyond the
band's current reincarnation.

“Stop and smell the flowers,” he says. “I'm just living in the moment.”

Magazine, O2 ABC, Glasgow, Saturday November 5th. No Thyself is
available now.

http://www.livenation.co.uk/event/241003/magazine-tickets
http://www.wire-sound.com/shop/magazine/magazine--no-thyself-cd/

The Herald, November 2 2011

ends

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
Scarlet drapes tumble about the stage in the living junk-shop that
forms the back-drop to Simon Callow’s double bill of Charles Dickens
short stories originally performed by the great man himself a century
and a half ago. Mr Callow is the ultimate patter merchant, whether
relating a yarn about a vertically challenged sideshow turn who hits
the jackpot, or else becoming the hawker whose life is turned upside
down when he adopts a speech and hearing impaired young girl.

Mr Chops is up first, with Callow acquiring the cockney rasp of
henchman Toby in a barrel-organ sound-tracked lament for his partner,
who on winning the lottery is patronised and abused by the grasping
grotesques of high-class society. In the second half, the widowed Dr
Marigold tugs the heart-strings all the way to Christmas Day.

As Chops grows in moral stature prior to his demise even as Marigold
finds salvation, it’s easy to see where sit-com scribes Galton and
Simpson copped their moves from when they created the excitedly
social-climbing but eternally disappointed Harold Steptoe. Because, as
the picture frames onstage suggest, Dickens had hit upon a form of pen
and ink portraiture that both critiqued and sentimentalised the
nineteenth century society he moved through.

Scaled up considerably since its initial 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
outing, Richard Twyman’s touring production of original director
Patrick Garland’s collaboration with Callow never quite captures the
same sense of intimacy. Callow invests proceedings with a flighty,
crowd-pleasing bravura anyway in this appealing if largely inessential
pairing. Seen together in this way, they too seem like market-place
curios vying for all the attention they can get.

The Herald, November 3 2011

ends

Raydale Dower - Piano Drop

“Anyone who has ever played a piano,” Tom Waits declared in a recent
interview, “would really like to hear how it sounds when dropped from a
twelfth-floor window.”

Waits probably hasn’t heard of Raydale Dower, but if the gravel-voiced
troubadour can bring his wonkily-inclined junkyard orchestra over to
Tramway this week for the Glasgow-based artist and musician’s new
three-dimensional audio-visual installation, he might just be able to
find out. As its title suggests, Piano Drop is a Sensurround record of
what happened when Dower let loose a winched-up keyboard from the
venue’s ceiling, filming it as it smashed into a million match-stick
size pieces.

The result, slowed down by up to forty times and relayed through a film
loop and an ambisonic speaker arrangement, aims to enhance the hidden
musicality of such a seemingly destructive action.

“It was a simple piece of musical curiosity,” Dower explains of Piano
Drop’s roots, “just to explore the straightforward absurd and anarchic
enjoyment of dropping a piano. It’s like a performance piece, but
without any performer, so it becomes this gesture. The only other way
you could do something like this would be in a war-torn city, where you
could push a piano off a building, but you’re not going to be able to
document it in the same way. My sole interest was to find out what
happened sonically if you dropped a piano. I just wanted to hear it.”

Enabled by a Creative Scotland Vital Spark award and with Tramway on
board, Dower teamed up with Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design
Studio world renowned sonic consultants, ARUP Acoustics.

“That’s when it became a much bigger event,” Dower says. “Dropping a
piano all happens in a few seconds, so you want to slow it down so you
can witness it in full and explore the repercussions. So we brought in
these really fast cameras that take a thousand frames a second. What’s
funny is you start with an absurd proposition, and you end up with this
near scientific documentation of what I think of as a sculptural
composition.”

Both Waits’ comment and Dower’s action echo the words of proto
Surrealist Tristan Tzara, who in 1918 grandly pronounced that
‘Musicians smash your instruments’. Other precedents come via Fluxus
artist Nam June Paik destroying a violin, Al Hansen’s similarly
inclined Yoko Ono Piano Drop, and even Jimi Hendrix’s very public
burning of his guitar. The Who’s Pete Townshend, meanwhile, had already
looked to Gustav Metzger’s notions of auto-destructive art by reducing
his own guitars to splinters.

Yet the smashed piano is also something of a slapstick staple. On more
than one occasion in their prolific film career, iconic comedy double
act Laurel and Hardy explored the perils of piano removal to hilarious
effect. The appeal of watching buildings being demolished is another
form of spectacle informing Piano Drop. Dower also mentions the power
of dub reggae sound systems, the covers of classic Blue Note jazz
albums and Samuel Beckett as influences on Piano Drop.

“Slowing sound down isn’t the same as slowing images down,” he says.
“An image freezes, but with sound, you just get this kind of sub-atomic
rumble. It’s like a catastrophe. You’re exploding the moment. Then when
you see it at normal speed, it looks like a Charlie Chaplin film.”

Piano Drop isn’t Dower’s first artistic exploration of sound. His first
solo show, On Memory and Chance, at Stirling’s Changing Room gallery in
2010, used chance compositions. Dower had also previously piled four
pianos on top of each other at the Talbot Rice.

In terms of events, at last year’s Glasgow international Festival of
Visual Art, Dower created Le Drapeau Noir, an ad hoc avant-garde social
space that became the festival’s informal hub. Prior to this, Dower was
bass player with Glasgow-based raw blues hollerers Uncle John &
Whitelock, and currently provides clarinet and other noises for the
more experimentally inclined Tut Vu Vu.

“I wanted to make a visual equivalent of music,” Dower says, “then I
went to art school and came out with a bass guitar and started a band.”

Dower recently found out from his mother that, as a child, he couldn’t
talk properly. To explain the world around him, he made noises,
impersonating the sounds he heard around him. Dower may be
hyper-articulate today, but Piano Drop is a logical extension of his
early behaviour.

“It should sound like an earthquake,” he says, “which is a fairly
primitive thing to hear. I want it to have an impact.”

Piano Drop, Tramway, Glasgow, November 3-6
www.tramway.org

The Herald, November 1 2011

ends

Simon Callow - A Dickensian Life

Simon Callow can’t get away from Charles Dickens. When he arrives
onstage at Edinburgh’s Kings Theatre tonight to perform Dr Marigold and
Mr Chops, it will be a continuation of Callow’s lifelong fascination
with one of the figureheads of world literature. These two stories,
adapted here by Patrick Garland, were staples of Dickens’ repertoire as
he toured theatres to give energetic renditions which one suspects were
on a par with Callow’s own all-encompassing presentations.

First presented at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms in 2008, Dr Marigold and
Mr Chops finds Callow transforming himself first into a travelling
salesman who adopts a deaf and dumb girl; then into a freak-show turn
who wins the lottery and makes his way through a well-heeled society he
becomes increasingly repulsed by.

“I really feel quite like actors of yester-year,” Callow admits,
clearly revelling in his bravura performance. “These stories were last
seen onstage a hundred and forty years ago, with Dickens himself giving
thrilling performances in these huge, three thousand seater
auditoriums. They were the rock concerts of their time, and now as well
people are quite floored by them. People who think they know their
Dickens have never heard of these stories and can’t believe their luck.
Alistair McGowan came to a matinee, and he said there were people in
the audience who were actually crying.”

Callow’s creative relationship with Dickens began as a boy when his
imagination was fired by reading The Pickwick Papers. As an actor,
Callow played Wilkins Micawber in a 1986 TV version of David
Copperfield. Callow has also played Dickens several times on stage and
screen, first in another one-man show, The Mystery of Charles Dickens,
then providing his and Ebenezer Scrooge’s voice for an animated version
of A Christmas Carol. An Audience with Charles Dickens featured Callow
giving Dr Marigold and Mr Chops a small-screen airing, while he again
appeared as the author in Hans Christian Anderson: My Life as a
Fairytale. Most recently, Callow brought Dickens to life in the
regenerated Dr Who series.

With a biography – Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World –
pending, Callow’s affinity with his subject appears to hold no bounds.
“There’s a generosity of spirit in his work,” he enthuses, “a bigness
of imagination, a recklessness and a kind of vivacity that’s utterly
contagious. There’s a buoyancy and a dangerousness there, even though
he’s fundamentally flawed as a writer. Some of his work is sentimental,
but there’s a scope and a vitality to what Dickens does that’s
irresistible.”

The last time Callow was in Edinburgh was at this year’s Festival
Fringe, when he appeared as a transvestite in another solo show,
Tuesday At Tescos. It was towards the end of the show’s run that this
newspaper chose to honour its star with a Herald Archangel award for
his considerable body of work in Edinburgh that began with his very
first professional appearance in the 1973 Assembly Hall production of
The Three Estaites.

Callow, alas, was unable to attend the Saturday morning Herald Angels
awards ceremony due to extensive preparations for Tuesday At Tescos
lunchtime slot, which included applying a full wig and make-up
ensemble. Things aren’t quite so extreme for Dr Marigold and Mr Chops,
although Callow still takes his job very seriously indeed.

“About five O’clock I have to block out everything that’s not to do
with the play,” Callow says. “You have to put your heart and soul into
the piece. You have to get into that orphan’s brain by various means,
and feel that it matters. You’ve got to live in that land as a citizen.
That comes with maturity, when you realise what the job actually is.
When you’re younger you run on adrenalin and giving it loads, but being
on the stage involves entering into that landscape completely.”

Callow’s acting career began in the heady days of the 1970s, where, for
every bread and butter bit part as an uncharacteristically well-spoken
copper in The Sweeney, Callow found himself working with grassroots
theatre collectives such as Gay Sweatshop and former Traverse Theatre
director Max Stafford-Clark’s Joint Stock company. Coincidentally, two
other of this year’s Herald Archangels were given to Stafford-Clark and
Heathcote Williams, whose book The Speakers was turned into Joint
Stock’s debut production. Callow’s connection to both speaks volumes
about the debt today’s theatre owes to such socially aware pioneers. In
this respect too there are clear links with Dickens’ own artistic
concerns.

As Callow points out, “He was incredibly generous, and I’m deeply
impressed by his commitment to the disadvantaged and those who suffer
injustice. Dickens had this remarkable self-identification with Jesus,
and he was always on the side of those who suffered.”

Having acquired mainstream fame in the film, Four Weddings and A
Funeral, Callow is a CBE these days, with stints in Andrew Lloyd Webber
musical The Woman in White as well as a more recent tenure as a judge
on TV talent show, Pop Star to Opera Star. The influence of his
theatrical breeding ground as much as his love of Dickens, however,
remains.

Even so, Callow admits that “I’ve always been very politically
agnostic. I’ve always voted Labour, blah, blah, but I’ve never been an
activist, although I always feel that it’s important for theatre to
give people a voice. So I’m committed to theatre as much as to social
change. When these two combine, I’m all for it. If theatre was for
change in the 1970s, it was about political change, but then it all
became a bit rigid. Even in Gay Sweatshop, which started out making
theatre by and for gay people, but which I think lost some of its
political vitality.

“Of course, Dickens despised all politicians without qualification, and
indeed the democratic political process of his time. He believed in the
power of the people, and he was a demagogue in a way. He wasn’t a
socialist. He believed what people should strive for was self-respect.
He believed that people should never be passive. I think he would’ve
loved what The Big Issue’s done for homeless people.”

As a keeper of the Dickens flame, Callow’s enthusiasm for performance
is boundless.

“If there is a point of connection between me and Dickens, it’s to do
with his desire to communicate. Not just in writing. He wanted to be in
direct contact with fellow human beings. That’s what you don’t get in
films. You can do fantastically subtle things there, but you don’t have
that sense of give and take between a performer and their audience.
Every actor knows how much that influences things.”

Given his stature, it would be quite easy for Callow to coast his way
through Hollywood or the West End if he chose to. As it is, as well as
forthcoming appearances in yet another Dickens show, A Christmas Carol,
Callow will be making appearances with the London Philharmonic
Orchestra. Once his book on Dickens is out, he’ll also be embarking on
a reading tour of his own.

“That’s just greed,” Callow admits. “I find it hard to turn things
down. If someone asks me to write a book on Dickens, then I’ll say yes,
then only once I start it will I realise the scale of the task I’ve
taken on. I’ve always been a girl who can’t say no.”

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops, Kings Theatre, Edinburgh, November 1-5
www.fcct.org.uk

The Herald, November 1 2011

ends