Thursday, 29 March 2012

The View - Rory Middleton Gets Cryptic


One of Rory Middleton's earliest memories is of a childhood holiday 
with his family. This isn't unusual in itself, except for the fact that 
his free-spirited parents never booked any accommodation in advance, 
but would wing it once they reached their destination. One time they 
arrived in Greece at around two in the morning, and, with Middleton in 
tow, ended up sleeping in a graveyard. Once they did find somewhere 
with a roof over their heads, misunderstandings due to the language 
barrier saw them wind up in a kitchen full of chickens.

Exposure to such environments has clearly fed into Middleton's own 
adventures in imaginary landscapes, the latest of which, The View, 
takes its audience on a bus trip to Cove Park in Argyll as the latest 
in the Cryptic company's Cryptic Nights series of one-off events. Where 
previous Cryptic Nights have explored works in progress in the CCA's 
state of art auditorium, The View gets back to nature with a panoramic 
architectural installation, as Middleton explains.

“It was originally conceived in the Rocky Mountains,” he says, already 
in residence in Cove Park following a three-week recce. “I was looking 
at the forest, stripping things back until I focused on this one 
particular view. Then I built this frame, which gave things this 
strange hyper-reality, and I did lots of field recordings as well, so 
the forest became amplified both in terms of sound and vision, and it 
became this kind of meditation. As it got to dusk, this view literally 
did glow. There was something about the forest that had its own 
mystique, and I think I've found somewhere equally special in Cove 
Park, although it's going to be a lot different here.”

As well as the Rocky Mountain version of The View, previous works by 
Middleton have included an infinity swimming pool on the terrace of a 
sixth floor building in Zagreb, while he's just completed a six month 
residency in the far snowier climes of Fogo Island in Canada, where he 
created something resembling a house made of ice. Projected onto the 
back of the structure was an out of focus sunset.

“Fogo was really dependent on the weather,” Middleton points out, “and 
there ended up being this massive snowstorm, and I went out one day and 
the entire construction had gone.”

Middleton has also been working on a film that follows the flight of an 
eagle through a modernist building.

“Everything I do is site-specific,” he says. “It's not just about 
transferring a work from one place to another. I never like to repeat 
myself in that way. Each work develops into something else as it goes, 
and tries to highlight something that's already there, but which people 
might never notice. It's very subtle, as if you're turning up the 
volume on something by one notch, but no more.”

As his conversation suggests, sound too is integral to his work, and, 
as in the Rockies, the Cove Park version of The View will incorporate a 
live score. Where the Rockies incorporated electric guitar loops into 
its atmosphere, Cove Park will utilise percussion played by drummer 
Iain Stewart of Bronco Skylift and The Phantom Band.

“He's going to be in the woods,” Middleton explains, “responding to the 
surroundings with a lot of amplified sounds. In the Rockies the 
electric guitar created a kind of wall of sound that gave an industrial 
context in this forest environment, but in Cove Park percussion feels 
right. I would actually like Iain to be completely hidden, so people 
don't realise that it's a live drummer that's attempting to create a 
lot of echo in the valley. Again, it's all about creating an atmosphere 
that allows people to focus on what they're seeing and hearing.”

Middleton came to art relatively late. After leaving school, his 
dyslexia led him away from word-based pursuits. He worked first as a 
joiner, then went to Israel, where he ended up working in a zoo. On 
moving back to Glasgow, he worked in a bar for a while before realising 
he wanted more, and decided to become a painter. That grew less 
attractive when both he and the carpet would end up covered in paint. 
It was only in his foundation year that he discovered sculpture.

“That was a real eye-opener,” Middleton says today.

Opting to train in Falmouth in Cornwall rather than Glasgow helped 
shape his work even more.
“Glasgow would've been great on one level,” he says, “but Cornwall gave me the space to develop my own style, which is large-scale. It's quite difficult to find opportunities to do what I do, so you have to stick with it. But this is something I always wanted to maintain, having control over environments.” On paper, at least, Middleton's work sounds akin to Angus Farquhar's epic manipulations of open-air spaces with his NVA company. While Middleton knows them by reputation, he's never actually witnessed any of Farquhar's work, so is unable to confirm or deny any similarities. “The pieces I've heard about sound really magical,” says Middleton, “but I can't really say that I've been inspired by them or anything, simply because I've never seen anything they've done. I get the impression, though, that they're getting people to work in 360 degree landscapes, whereas I'm trying to get people to look at something more specific. ” Inbetween creating environments, Middleton maintains a sideline as a carpenter, something he's kept up since leaving Falmouth, when he went to London and worked at Pinewood film studios. After working eighteen hour days, he was on a train to Glasgow when the call came from Pinewood's construction manager asking him to stand in for him for six months. The first thing Middleton built on his return to Pinewood was a house. “That was a massive learning curve,” he says. The house was used, appropriately enough, in construction workers abroad drama, Auf Wiedersehn, Pet. Middleton also worked on BBC costume dramas before returning to Glasgow, where he gained his Masters of Fine art degree with a sculptural structure of a mountain with a house on top. “That was when I discovered it was landscape I was interested in, but making my own landscape,” he says. “I want them to be on a scale where I can use the whole environment, so, rather than try and adapt my ideas for a gallery, you've got a much bigger place to work, where you don't have to worry about a white box, but have this space to think about things.” Beyond The View, there are already plans afoot for Middleton to create a new work in Calgary, again in Canada. Again, this will see Middleton react to the great outdoors in his own particular fashion. “Working outside is good because there aren't any real boundaries,” he says. “If you're sensible about things, there are no real health and safety issues either, whereas if you're working in a space with windows, that completely changes any atmosphere you're trying to create. But I don't know if there is an ultimate environment. I'm just happy wherever I am.” The View, March 29-30, Cove Park. Bus departs CCA, Glasgow. 6.15pm. www.ccaglasgow.ticketsolve.com www.crypticnights.org.uk

The Herald, March 29th 2012

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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

George Wyllie: A Life Less Ordinary


Collins Gallery, University of Strathclyde
March 10th-April 21st 2012
4 stars
Environmental art may be all the rage these days, but, as with the soon 
to be moth-balled Collins Gallery, George Wyllie was way ahead of the 
curve. While best known for huge public spectacles The Straw Locomotive 
and The Paper Boat, as well as fully-fledged stage show with actor Bill 
Paterson, A Day Down A Goldmine, this huge archive of small works and 
papers, posters and other ephemera taps into the ever enquiring mind of 
the now ninety-year old polymath, who was reimagining Glasgow long 
before the cultural tsars moved in to take the credit.

Having first exhibited his self-semanticised Scul?tors at The Collins 
in 1976, with other shows following in 1981 and 2005, it's fitting that 
the venue's last ever show show be the launchpad for the inaugural 
event of the Glasgow-wide Whysman Festival to celebrate Wyllie's nutty 
professor-like take on the world.

Perennially captured in perma-smiling photographs sporting overalls and 
bunnet, Wyllie may appear somewhere between Oor Wullie, Tom Weir and 
Ivor Cutler, but file him as a ukulele-playing novelty act at your 
peril. In his use of outdoor spaces, a (post) industrial tool-kit and 
playfully serious critique of capitalism in A Day Down A Goldmine, 
captured on film by Murray Grigor, Wyllie is an equal to and as deeply 
serious as Joseph Beuys,  with whom he worked, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and 
indeed Angus Farquhar's NVA Organisation, who picked up his mantle.

The Great Bum Steers that have allowed Strathclyde University 
pen-pushers to close down the Collins and the Scottish Government to 
introduce Public Entertainment Licence legislation that would 
effectively outlaw Wyllie's work should be noted. This lovingly 
gathered and utterly humane collection is a serious word to the Whys.

The List, March 2012

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I Dreamed A Dream


Theatre Royal, Newcastle
3 stars
When the lights go up on a real life Susan Boyle before she launches 
into her now anthemic take on I Dreamed A Dream, everything that’s 
happened in the previous two and a half hours pales into 
insignificance. It’s not that this musical and dramatic tribute to the 
West Lothian woman who became a global phenomenon following her 2009 
appearance on TV freak show, Britain’s Got Talent, doesn’t hit the spot 
occasionally. It’s just that the still wonderfully untutored SuBo does 
it so much better.

Written by Alan McHugh with Elaine C Smith as a star vehicle for the 
latter, the play finds Boyle hemmed-in and hounded by paparazzi and 
unable to cope with her sudden fame. The audience becomes her confidant 
as she watches over her own story, from a low-expectations birth to 
that fateful Glasgow audition that changed her life. Inbetween come 
snapshots of small-town life; school bullying, thwarted romance, low 
self-esteem, all set to a series of sixties and seventies social club 
cabaret hits.

In this respect the show is partly the sort of rock n’ roll nostalgia 
trip McHugh is so adept at, part rags to riches schmaltz with dialogue 
that at times sounds lifted straight from a greeting card. If there are 
some seriously cringe-worthy moments in Ed Curtis’ production, set on a 
back-drop of stacked-up TV sets that look leftover from The Man Who 
Fell To Earth, Smith herself cuts a sincere if at times self-reflexive 
figure. As the script itself admits, Boyle’s story has no ending yet. 
For all its heartstring-tugging, perhaps, as with its subject, it’s a 
case of too much too soon.

The Herald, March 28th 2012

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
4 stars
Eugene O’Neill’s late period epic is a tale of monstrously corrupted  
intimacy. While neither parent or sibling sleeplessly pacing the floor 
of the Tyrone clan’s  wood-lined house have actually caused any harm in 
a global sense, but, the damage they inflict on themselves and each 
other has consequences that fester before exploding into the sickly 
yellow light.

It starts innocuously enough in Anthony Page’s slow-burning but oddly 
fast-moving production, with David Suchet’s increasingly compromised 
patriarch James swapping mid-morning niceties with Laurie Metcalf as 
his  fragrant wife Mary and their grown-up sons, feckless first-born 
James Junior, played by Trevor White, and Kyle Soller as his fragile 
brother Edmund. By the time all stumble together for an after-hours 
post-mortem on their sorry lot, their sunny facade has been ripped open 
to lay bare assorted litanies of failure, disappointment, bitterness 
and addiction.

It would be easy to showboat with such potentially bombastic material, 
but, even playing an old theatrical ham more used to touring hotel 
rooms than settling anywhere resembling home, Suchet is a master of 
controlled understatement. White and Soller too relay all the messed-up 
ambitions of such a dysfunctional dynasty. It’s Metcalf who steals 
things, though, as, from the initial tilt of her white-haired head and 
accompanied by a totter, she says much more about Mary’s state of mind 
than O’Neill’s words alone can.

It’s the final image of Metcalf too that lingers at the end of a final 
act where something that almost looks like reconciliation gives way to 
a doped–up vision of a woman who only wanted a home, but got a life 
sentence instead.
 
The Herald, March 27th 2012

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Emory Douglas: Seize The Time


Kendall Koppe, Glasgow International 2012
April 12th-May 7th

'In Revolution one wins, or one dies.' When this slogan appeared aloft 
Emory Douglas' image of a couple of beret-clad African-American 
guerillas on a big-screen back-drop at major concert halls around the 
world, it was a far cry from the roots of Douglas' work thirty years 
before. Then, such visual provocations were on the front-line of the 
American black power movement via the pages of The Black Panther 
Party's weekly newspaper, which regularly sold more than 250,000 copies.

In the current climate of born-again activism, the archive of Douglas' 
newspaper images, collages, posters and lithographs that visits GI is 
especially pertinent. Fusing the iconic immediacy of poster art with a 
loaded polemical intent, the images by the Black Panthers Minister of 
Culture up until the party's demise in 1980 are a living record of one 
of the most turbulent times of American history that neither preaches 
nor patronises.

“To me it's about sharing the ideals,” says Douglas today, “It's about 
getting information out there and enlightening people. Art is something 
that people observe and learn through, whether it's subliminal or very 
provocative. It's communication. Once you understand that, you can 
learn to get your message across in a broader way. I see some young 
artists trying to do that, but it looks coded. If you learn that it's 
about communication, art can become a profound tool for change.”

The man dubbed by critic Colette Gaiter as the Norman Rockwell of the 
ghetto fell in with the Panthers while making props for plays by 
radical black writer LeRoi Jones, (who would later change his name to 
Amiri Baraka), who was presenting his work in San Francisco campuses, 
community centres and shop-front spaces. After attending a meeting he'd 
designed the poster for, Douglas visited the Panther patronised 
political/cultural centre The Black House, where the likes of Jones and 
the Art Ensemble of Chicago were regulars. Here he found Panther 
Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver poring over the first issue of 
the party's rather dry-looking tabloid weekly, and told him he could 
make it look better. It was the beginning of a great, if somewhat 
stormy, adventure.

“We were in coalition politics,” says Douglas. “We weren't in 
isolation. We had solidarity with groups in Vietnam and Korea. In 
America the latinos formed the Brown Berets inspired by us, and there 
were other groups. That whole period changed how the dialogue in this 
country worked, with young people beginning to define things for 
themselves.”

After four decades working on socially and politically aware 
community-based projects, it was only in 2007 that the world 
rediscovered Douglas via the publication of Black Panther: The 
Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas. The concerts, featuring  the likes 
of proto-Rap street-gurus The Last Poets, latter-day hip-hop troupe The 
Roots and free-jazz saxophonist David Murray, were a form of 
pop-cultural entryism rather than what Tom Wolfe dubbed in a famous 
1970 essay as radical chic.

Similarly, Douglas quite correctly points out that mainstream exposure 
of his work in museums is down to “open-minded people who open the work 
up to a new audience, where in the past it would've been black-listed, 
and that's a plus. The pictures are fine in themselves, but once you 
get the history behind them, you see it's not just art, but art with a 
meaning.”

The List, March 2012

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The Marriage of Figaro


Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Love, sex and money are all the rage in D.C. Jackson's ribald 
twenty-first century re-telling of Beaumarchais' eighteenth century 
romp. In Jackson's world, Figaro is a thrusting young banker in 
partnership with his equally on the make squeeze, Suzanne. Together 
they're about to merge with a top-floor firm that will make them the 
biggest financial institution in Scotland. To get there, the young 
lovers must negotiate their way around a series of increasingly 
compromising positions involving an even more lascivious power couple, 
predatory PA Margery, a cross-dressing Ukrainian office boy-toy and an 
overdose of Glass Ceiling perfume by Jackie Collins.

Thatcher's children are alive and kicking in Mark Thomson's production, 
which, while peppered throughout with a series of trademark  spiky 
one-liners by Jackson, also shows off a new-found maturity from a 
writer who seems to have moved on from adolescent fumbling. If the 
tub-thumping anti-capitalist polemic at the end states the obvious, it 
nevertheless feels very much of the moment.

In the main, Jackson's script allows Thomson's cast to explore the 
full grotesquerie of how money talks. While Mark Prendergast and Nicola 
Roy make a handsome couple, Molly Innes' Margery and Jamie Quinn's 
Pavlo provide much of the play's comic drive. It's Stuart Bowman's 
explosive Sir Randy, however, who provides the play's amoral compass, 
his mixture of self-important pomp and unintentional ridiculousness 
falling somewhere between Fred Goodwin and Charles Endall Esquire, 
bankrupt on every level in a comedy of considerable power.

The Herald, March 26th 2012

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The Steamie


Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
4 stars
It would be so easy to make a mess of Tony Roper’s classic wash-house 
set comedy. For all the Galloway’s mince routine, the make-believe 
telephone call and other set-pieces in this loving study of post Worlds 
War Two working-class women have become the stuff of popular theatre 
legend, one off-kilter interaction is all it takes to destroy the comic 
rhythms that make such moments so hilarious.

Fortunately, Roper’s own twenty-fifth anniversary production is flying 
 from the off, as Anita Vettesse’s Magrit, Jane McCarry’s Dolly, Fiona 
Wood as Doreen and Kay Gallie’s Mrs Culfeathers present a 
pan-generational portrait of women at work and play on one very lively 
Hogmanay between the sheets.

Beyond the beautifully observed knockabout sentimentalism, there are 
moments of pure pathos, as it’s only with hindsight that Doreen’s dream 
of a flat in Drumchapel can be recognised as the beginning of the 
attempted break-up of inner-city communities. As much it taps into the 
period its set in, Roper’s play also says much about the 1980s that 
sired it, when ideas of sisterhood trickled down the class scale in 
ways previously unacknowledged.

This is what gives The Steamie it’s heart as well as the women a 
dignity that goes beyond their common touch. Watching the quartet sing 
in raucous harmony as they pound out the dirt from their blankets in a 
row of mucky sinks, it’s as if four Glasgow nymphs have been reborn  
some celestial vineyard. It’s an image to treasure.

The Herald, March 26th 2012

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Friday, 23 March 2012

Vic Godard - Back In The Suburbs Again


Vic Godard is running late, and former Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook isn't happy. It's three nights before tonight's live Subway Sect session on Marc Riley's BBC 6Music show prior to a long weekend of Scottish dates, and, after driving across London, the band's veteran crooner and wordsmith has been put well and truly in the dog-house by his new musical director. More to the point, in true punk rock style, Cook isn't in the mood to talk to the Herald, and would rather set up his drum-kit. Godard blames himself.

“He's not very happy with me,” he mutters sheepishly as a big bass drum appears to explode behind him along with it's owner's temper. “I'm not the most popular person in the room. Paul's really keen on punctuality. He says we need every minute we can get.”

By Godard's own admission, Cook might have a point. Subway Sect played a London show the other week as part of what's proving to be a prolific patch for a band originally nudged into action by the Pistols late manager, Malcolm McLaren. Taken under the wing of Clash manager Bernard Rhodes, Godard and co went on to support Rhodes' more celebrated charges along with The Slits on the White Riot tour, with Subway Sect's performance on the tour's Edinburgh Playhouse date effectively inspiring what came to be known as The Sound of Young Scotland.

“We weren't at our best,” admits Godard of last weekend's show. “Paul's a bit of a hard task-master, and I don't know if it makes the others nervous, but there were definitely problems between the rhythm and the non-rhythm section.”

Given that the other half of that rhythm section is original Subway Sect bass player Paul Myers, who really ought to know songs such as Ambition and Nobody's Scared as well as Godard, this is saying something.

“Paul Myers was in [Cook and guitarist Steve Jones' post Sex Pistols band] The Professionals with Paul Cook, and he's musically incompetent. He says he can only exist in the group if Paul's in it. He totally relies on him for everything, but it works, because before Paul joined we were really lazy. If we didn't have a gig we wouldn't practice, but if there's not he insists on doing it anyway. If we had a gig, we'd have two practices, which was unheard of. Now we practice all the time.

Despite the McLaren connection, Godard only began working with Cook on the Edwyn Collins-produced The End Of The Surrey People album, his first collection of new material for a decade, and released on Alan Horne's briefly revived Postcard label in 1993.

He was the only drummer I knew at the time,” recalls Godard. “I hadn't kept in touch with anyone, but Paul was playing in the Post Office football team where I worked. There's a bit of a family connection as well, because my wife's dad was Paul's family's doctor. You used to see him going about in this really distinctive car, an old BMW with all the doors painted one colour and the rest of it another.”

Almost two decades on, Caledonian connections have long been confirmed via releases on the Creeping Bent label as well as occasional collaborations with former Fire Engine Davy Henderson's Sexual Objects outfit, who support Subway Sect at this weekend's Glasgow and Edinburgh Sounds of the Suburbs promoted shows. Meanwhile, Godard, Cook and Collins are also back working together again. The project in question is 1979 Now, Godard's great lost Northern Soul album, made up of old songs recorded, as with its predecessor, 1978 Now, as they were intended to be heard. The first fruits of the 1979 Now sessions look set to be released as a double a side seven-inch single on Collins' Analogue Enhanced Digital label, while the album will also feature Holiday Hymn, a Godard song covered by Orange Juice. Again, Cook's presence is very much to the fore.

“He has to get involved in all the arrangements,” says Godard. “He cuts it up and makes it presentable as an experience rather than just a song. We recorded the single at Edwyn's studio, and Paul arranged it and did a new intro. We just have to put a sax solo on it now, but it sounds like really authentic Northern Soul or Tamla. Edwyn's beaming about it.”

Which, as drums crash around Godard, is more than can be said for Cook.

Vic Godard and the Subway Sect, the Accies Club, Glasgow, March 23rd; The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, March 24th; Beat Generator, Dundee, March 25th.

Originally commissioned by The Herald in March 2012, the piece was spiked after Paul Cook didn't want to talk...

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Reasons To Be Cheerful


Dundee Rep
4 stars
It’s not every show that finds its cast serving square crisps to the 
audience as they enter a noisy auditorium that has a full band set-up 
gracing a mocked-up pub function room venue. Yet that’s exactly how 
disabled company Graeae launch into their Ian Dury inspired musical, 
co-produced with the New Wolsey Theatre, which goes for a full-pelt 
recreation of the  spit and sawdust aesthetic that existed before  
Lloyd-Webberisation turned everything into soulless cash cow spectacle.
 
At one point there’s even a cheeky nod to Mamma Mia, a show with 
similar fringe roots as this 1979-set yarn about die-hard Dury-ites 
Vinnie and Colin, who singularly fail to get to see their idol in 
residence at Hammersmith Odeon during the height of his chart success.
Taking in attitudes to death, sex, prejudice and low-rent ambition 
during the early days of Thatcherism, Paul Sirett’s script may look 
simple, but, as with Dury’s lyrics, which are beamed out on 
back-projections like back-issues of Smash Hits, there are hidden 
depths that go beyond soap opera nostalgia. These are heightened in 
Jenny Sealey’s raucous, ribald and unashamedly libidinous production, 
which allows its thirteen cast members including a six-strong band to 
vamp things up like nobody’s business.

If John Kelly and Garry Robson sound like dead ringers for Dury during 
the songs, Nadia Albina makes for a vivaciously sparky love interest 
for Stephen Lloyd’s Vinnie in a show that’s a joy to behold. Watching 
Dury’s paean to hedonism, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, transformed 
into a twenty-first century dancing in the aisles anthem may be 
unlikely, but as subversive call-to-arms gestures go, the streetwise 
spirit of genuine popular theatre lives on.

The Herald, March 22 2012

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

David Suchet - Long Day's Journey Into Night

Family matters are at the heart of David Suchet's work just now. That's certainly the case in Suchet's current pre West End tour of Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece, Long Day's Journey Into Night, which arrives in Glasgow next week. In O'Neill's Pullitzer Prize winning semi-autobiographical epic, the actor best known for his small-screen portrayal of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, plays James Tyrone Senior, the Connecticut patriarch of his dysfunctional clan. It's a mighty role for any actor to rip into, but it's one that Suchet is squaring up to as unflinchingly as anything else he's tackled.

“In my forty-three year career I think this has been my most challenging role to date,” Suchet admits, sitting backstage in Milton Keynes. “It's the most challenging piece of writing I've ever had to perform. I compare it to being like playing Bach's organ works with everything else being like a Strauss waltz. It's that complex, but if you get it right it sings. It's very taxing to do. You have to throw yourself off this cliff, so there's a total disintegration of the self, and you're imploding while you do it, really.”

Long Day's Journey Into Night was first seen in the UK in 1958, opening in Edinburgh with Anthony Quayle following in Fredric March's footsteps as Tyrone. While several major productions of the play have come and it's appearances in the UK repertoire remain few and far between.

“I think audiences in some places are meeting O'Neill's play for the first time,” Suchet muses. “I can't recall in my time any pre West End tour of the play, so watching how audiences respond has proved very interesting for me. If you think of classic American plays, you think of Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, like Miller's All My Sons which I did in 2010. But Long Day's Journey cannot be compared with anything else in the American repertoire. It's not naturalistic. It's poetic and it's auto-biographical. People have seen Greek tragedy in there. It's huge.”

Suchet's character is based on O'Neill's own father, a one-time matinee idol who became famous for his role in the Count of Monte Cristo. So associated was he with this role, in fact, that it effectively destroyed his remaining career. Unlike Tyrone, however, Suchet hasn't become typecast. Long before Poirot, Suchet was a much admired stage actor who had originally wanted to be a doctor before a stint at the National Youth Theatre changed everything.

“Someone said to me that without actors, playwrights had no voice,” Suchet remembers, “and I thought then as I do now that the performing arts are so essential to us as human beings. I thought it was a very important function for me to serve my playwrights, and to give them voice, and that's been my function all of my life since then.”

Suchet's career began as an acting stage manager in Chester before travelling the country in rep. In 1973 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he more or less stayed for the next thirteen years.

“That's where I really did my apprenticeship, “ he says, “learning about classical technique in Shakespeare, Marlowe, restoration plays, all of that.”

Suchet considers a breakthrough role came playing Caliban in The Tempest.

“As a young actor it helped break down emotional barriers for me,” he says.

Other roles that stand out include playing Iago opposite Ben Kingsley in Othello, which Suchet considers “a real change for me.”

Television roles followed, with portents of things to come when Suchet played Inspector Japp in Thirteen For dinner, a big-screen Christie adaptation featuring Peter Ustinov as Poirot. The same year, Suchet took the title role of the German gardener in Blott on the Landscape, a TV adaptation of Tom Sharpe's 1975 novel concerning civic skulduggery in an English stately home.

“That changed my whole career,” Suchet remembers. “I'd been doing major TV for ten or eleven years, but Blott became a cult programme, and catapulted me into film and West End theatre. Suddenly I was known publicly, and that led directly to Poirot, which changed everything again. I was incredibly grateful that the public would accept my portrayal. You think back to all the great Poirots like Peter Ustinov, and I was worried if my interpretation might have been boring, because I literally picked him up out of the books and did him that way. I didn't try to be funny. Albert Finney made him very theatrical, and Peter Ustinov made him a very jolly figure, so when I came along and gave him these oddities and quirks, I was frightened that wouldn't be sufficient, but thank God it worked.”

This coming October Suchet will begin filming the first of five new Poirot adaptations. Keeping him gainfully employed until summer 2013, these will complete the set in terms of Suchet playing the detective in every one one of Christie's Poirot stories.

“That stretches over a period of twenty-five years,” Suchet reflects. During that quarter of a century, Suchet has appeared in Harold Pinter's production of Oleanna at the Royal Court and played Salieri in Amadeus on Broadway, both of which earned him Variety Club awards. On television Suchet has played Sigmund Freud, George Carman QC and Robert Maxwell, winning an Emmy for the latter. Suchet also picked up a BAFTA nomination for early noughties mini-series The Way We Live Now, and in 2004 was bestowed with an OBE.

If one piece of work sums up Suchet's balancing act between classical theatre and popular TV drama, it was probably in a TV version of Bingo, in which he played an ageing Shakespeare. It was, says Suchet of Bond's play, “the most extraordinary portrait of Shakespeare.”

In 2009, Suchet's own history came under the spotlight when he took part in Who Do You Think You Are?, the documentary series in which notable public figures trace their genealogy. As the son of a doctor and an actress, and the brother of newsreader John Suchet, the experience was something of an eye-opener for all concerned.

“The whole family background was terribly complex,” Suchet admits, “finding out that we were from Lithuanian and Russian and not French. Everything you see onscreen was filmed in the moment, with me finding out these things for the first time. It was a gift.”

While Suchet isn't sure if he's ready yet to play Lear or Prospero, he does express a penchant to play Willy Loman, the doomed hero of Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman. In the meantime, Suchet keeps himself on his toes by working with a drama coach in America.

“Acting styles change,” he says, “and it's important to stay in touch with what's going on. If I acted the same way as when I started it would be very hammy. What drives me as an actor is an over-riding objective to get it right. If I say anything before I go onstage, it's 'Let me get it right for O'Neill. I'm not really interested in myself. I've never sought out stardom, or – that horrible word – celebrity, and everything that's become. I think as I get older and put out to grass, might want to join a company again, where I can play small parts, or big parts, or whatever's required. That way I can go on honouring the writers, because, without the writers, there is no theatre.”

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, March 26-31
www.atgtickets.com

The Herald, March 20th 2012

ends
 

Moonlight and Magnolias


Perth Theatre
4 stars
The story of the making of Gone With The Wind is as epic as the 
big-screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s thousand-page novel 
itself. Ron Hutchinson’s own adventures in the screen trade over 
thirty-odd years have clearly been channelled into his reimagining of 
what might have gone on in producer David O Selznick’s office during 
the fateful week he ditched both script and director. The end result is 
a relentlessly turbo-charged meeting of bullish but fragile minds, as 
Selznick puts idealistic script-doctor Ben Hecht and Wizard of Oz 
director Victor Fleming under lock and key for a five-day marathon 
where deadlines and desperation go hand in hand.

As Hecht’s desire to tell uncomfortable truths about America are 
over-ridden by Selznick’s need entertain the masses, Hutchinson’s play 
sets up a neat debate on the tug of love between art and commerce. 
Personal insecurities too are brought to the fore. While Selznick must 
prove to his father-in-law, movie mogul Louis B Meyer, that he’s no 
failure, Fleming lives in fear of winding up a chauffeur again. As for 
Hecht, well, he’s a writer.

In the closing production of her inaugural season, director Rachel 
O’Riordan navigates her cast through the play’s heightened, hyper-manic 
drive in a way she did similarly with the equally breathless The 
Gentleman’s Tea-Drinking Society a couple of years back while running 
the Ransom company. The interplay between Joseph Chance as Hecht, Benny 
Young as Fleming and especially Steven McNicoll as Selznick ricochets 
around the stage, with the only pause for breath coming from Helen 
Logan as the unflappable Miss Poppenguhl in this delicious dissection 
of Hollywood Babylon in exelcis.

The Herald, March 20th 2012

ends

Antigone

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
It may have taken a while for Lung Ha’s Theatre Company to get to the 
Greeks, but now they’re on it, it looks like near perfect if overdue 
match. Adrian Osmond’s faithful new take on Sophocles’ tragedy of one 
young woman’s willingness to die for a cause in the face of misguided 
power similarly takes advantage of the play’s choral structure to 
include some twenty-five performers with learning disabilities into the 
play’s complex web of political and inter-personal constructs without 
ever looking forced.

A wonderful addition here too is the presence of five members of the 
National Youth Orchestras of Scotland Futures programme, who play 
Kenneth Dempster’s live score for flute, French horn, clarinet, violin 
and viola with a dextrous urgency that adds much to the drama.
Spread out on Becky Minto’s monumental-looking set and dressed in 
utilitarian basics that hints at some kind of enforced collectivism, 
the cast strike heightened poses in the face of Creon’s authority, even 
as he’s shunned by the nation he claims to be acting for. Maria Oller’s 
production retains this sense of stylised classicism throughout, with 
the music at times driving the action.

At the heart of all this is Nicola Tuxworth’s Antigone, an already 
feisty and fearless heroine played with similar courage and pluck. 
Without ever over-egging any modern-day acts of defiance, as the 
curtains that mask assorted atrocities morph into angel wings for 
Antigone as her fate is sealed, it is plain that Tuxworth’s 
trouble-maker is one of the ninety-nine per cent who could have stepped 
straight from the Occupy movement to stand up for something the Creons 
of this world only see when it’s too late.

The Herald, March 20th 2012

ends

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Chaz Jankel - Reasons To Be Cheerful


When Chaz Jankel walked into Ian Dury's dressing room in a pub in 
Shepherd's Bush one night in the mid-1970s, he wasn't exactly welcomed 
with open arms. Almost forty years on, however, the legacy of that 
first meeting between the two men who a couple of years later would 
take their unholy mix of jazz-funk music hall to the top of the charts 
with Ian Dury and the Blockheads is still going strong. This should be 
made doubly clear when Reasons To Be Cheerful, Paul Sirett's play for 
disabled theatre company Graeae, arrives in Dundee next week as part of 
its current UK tour.

Set in 1979 not long after Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government 
has been elected, Reasons To Be Cheerful (not to be confused with 
Martin McArdie's play of the same name for 7:84 Scotland inspired by 
comedian Mark Steel's book) finds a gang of die-hard Blockheads fans 
locked out of a sold-out gig at Hammersmith Odeon. Over the course of 
the night, however, things turn out somewhat differently. As indeed 
they did for Jankel all those years ago in Shepherd's Bush.

It had all started the day before, when Jankel had been purchasing a 
Wurlitzer keyboard at a local music emporium, where he left his 
telephone number in search of a gig. This was picked up by guitarist Ed 
Speight of the Dury fronted pre-cursor to the Blockheads, Kilburn and 
the High Roads. Speight contacted Jankel and invited him to watch the 
High Roads the following evening with a view to auditioning for the 
band. After the show, an impressed Jankel made his way towards the open 
door of what passed for a dressing room, where he was stared out by the 
band's somewhat defensive vocalist.

“'Ere, mate, do I know you?” said Dury, without waiting for an answer. 
“Well, fuck off, then.”

Jankel backed off, but was invited to a rehearsal by Speight the next 
day anyway, whereupon “I got the gig. Ian was a bit wary, because he 
was king of the pub circuit, but it was as big as things were going to 
get, and it wasn't going anywhere beyond, but we stayed together for 
nine months.”

After the split in 1975 ,and, despite such inauspicious beginnings, 
Jankel started writing with Dury, and within a few months of the 
Blockheads being born, both debut single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, 
with it bass-line ripped off from Charlie Haden's on jazz saxophonist 
Ornette Coleman's Change of the Century album,  and it's follow-up, 
Sweet Gene Vincent, were in the bag. Part of the appeal of a sound that 
eventually charted with What A Waste and debut album, the saucily 
titled New Boots and Panties, was the glorious counterpoint between the 
band's sophisticated musical backing and Dury's cockney geezerish 
demeanour.

“Ian was labelled the godfather of punk,” remembers Jankel, from his 
home studio where he's writing and rehearsing new Blockheads material 
with Derek Hussey, aka former Dury minder Derek The Draw, who has sung 
with the band since Dury's death of cancer in 2000. “His lyrics were 
anarchic, and I think he was the first person to hang a razor blade 
 from his ear, but musically we were way ahead. Punk had no light and 
shade, which was fine for a while, but Ian loved subtlety in music, 
whether it was jazz, blues, country, all of it. His lyrics were just so 
incisive and colourful, and he wrote a lot about people who didn't get 
on the balance sheet as it were. Ian felt quite disenfranchised 
himself, because of growing up in this institution with autistic and 
disabled kids where they were all thrown in together. But he was very 
intelligent. There are so many people out there who think they write 
good lyrics, but they just don't address the people who are on the 
edges of society. Ian had an empathy with these people, your Billericay 
Dickie or Plaistow Patricia, who are where they are, not because it's 
their fault, but through circumstance, and he did that with humour.”

These songs and more are played live in Reasons To Be Cheerful, which 
is the latest treatment of Dury's back catalogue following another 
stage musical, Hit Me! The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury , in 2009, and 
the big-screen biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll the same year. In 
truth, though, Reasons To Be Cheerful sounds more akin to the mini-wave 
of fan-based musical plays kick-started by mini Edinburgh hit, Meeting 
Joe Strummer. Either way, Jankel, who isn't directly involved in the 
show, maintains he hasn't seen anything like it.

“It's probably the most special theatrical performance I've ever seen,” 
Jankel enthuses. “It's got attack, and it's got humour, and Jenny 
(Sealey) the director is deaf, so it's a remarkable feat in itself that 
she's directing a musical, literally getting into the vibrations of it 
all. I was talking to her the other day, and she's a punk at heart. 
She's really anarchic, and is cut from the same emotional cloth as Ian 
was. That's why she gets him.

“The play also captures a time that's very similar to now, but when 
you're in the middle of it you can't really see that. There was a 
Conservative government and mass unemployment then, and that's what 
you've got now as well. The only difference I can see is that then 
there were a lot more platforms for discontent. Now, it's more diffuse. 
Back then you had the eccentric old pub acts telling it like it was. 
That's where Ian came from. But now, it just seems like we're not very 
good at revolutions. The French are a lot better at it, but it's never 
been the British way. The songs we were writing then were full of 
discontent and contempt, and that comes through in the show.”

In some respects, Dury is the perfect pin-up boy for the disabled 
lobby. Having been struck down with polio aged seven, Dury spent some 
time in the school for disabled children mentioned by Jankel before 
studying at at Walthamstow Art College, where he was taught by pop 
artist Peter Blake. Dury walked with a stick, and even worked it into 
his stage act as the likely inspiration for the Blockheads 1978 number 
one, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. If 1980's I Wanna Be Straight 
hinted at a hidden yearning to be able to stand upright by Dury, the 
following year's Spasticus (Austicicus) was a provocative howl of 
defiance, which, even if it hadn't been banned by the BBC, in 
Thatcher's Britain was a commercial kiss of death anyway.

“Ian never really identified with being disabled,” Jankel admits, “even 
though he knew people could see that he was. He never really identified 
with just one group in that way, but I think he'd admire the spirit of 
Graeae. Ian was clever, and when he got ill with cancer, he became very 
humble. All those rough edges he had rubbed off, and he became a much 
more sympathetic person. The anger had been tamed out of him towards 
the end. Ian loved writing lyrics, and even when he got tired playing 
live, he loved the apres show, back at the hotel with a couple of pints 
of Guinness. He was the gang boss, and we were the gang.”

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Dundee Rep, March 20-24
www.dundeerep.co.uk
www.graeae.org

The Herald, March 13th 2012

ends

Monday, 12 March 2012

Edinburgh Stop Public Entertainment Licences Changes Campaign Deputation Address To City of Edinburgh Council Regulatory Committee – March 9th 2012


1

Good morning Councillors.

First of all, I'd like to thank the Committee, on behalf of the Edinburgh Campaign against Public Entertainment Licences changes, for allowing me to speak on their behalf today.

It's a pleasure, both for me to have the privilege to represent the group, and to see that the Regulatory committee is taking an issue which actually isn't of it's design so seriously.

Things have moved on considerably since the potential misinterpretations of the forthcoming legislation was first brought to Councillor Munn's attention by the Edinburgh campaign.

Last week I think the message from Edinburgh's creative community was really brought home at a packed public meeting at Out of the Blue, one of Edinburgh's great independent art-spaces.

This led to a very positive dialogue with Councillor Munn and a great deal of press attention, while just yesterday, there was a question raised about the new legislation at First Minister's Question Time, while the Minister for Culture was asked about it at a press conference over at The Hub.

But – today – I just want to reiterate the importance of Edinburgh's grassroots arts scene, and how it informs some of Edinburgh's bigger artistic events and institutions.

I also want to try and illustrate some of the potential – and indeed actual – absurdities of the legislation when it's left open to interpretation the way it has been in this case.


2

As an arts journalist by trade, one of my great joys is being able to move between events and spaces great and small.

One night I can be at the Royal Lyceum or the Traverse, the next I can be at an opening at the Embassy Gallery or one of the other independent spaces, the next I can be watching a band or a piece of live art in the same space.

Being able to flit between spaces like that I think allows me a sense of what's going on all around Edinburgh.

The larger spaces, like the Usher Hall or the Queens Hall, are really important, as are too the assorted international festivals that Edinburgh so proudly trades on, and which makes it one of the most exciting cities in the world.

But there's also a loose-knit network of events that are equally thrilling.

These are far smaller, and range from literary readings in libraries and book-shops, gigs in record shops, and DJs and bands who play at the opening nights of art-shows in ad-hoc spaces that exist around town.

These are arguably where the real exciting work is produced, in social and creative hubs where artists are still finding their voice before they go on to the next stage.


3

One of these artists is Craig Coulthard, who trained at Edinburgh College of Art.

Craig was one of the original collective who founded the Embassy, which is still an artist-run space that allows its artists to do things on their own terms – and indeed to find out how to do them – in a way that they couldn't in one of the larger institutions.

That's presuming the institutions are interested in new, living artists, because – although things have improved hugely over the last decade – that's not always the case.

And if the institutions aren't interested, as history has taught us time and again, you do it yourself.

That's exactly what Craig Coulthard did.

And that's exactly what a young music and arts collective called FOUND did.

FOUND performed at art openings, made crazy constructions and mixed up artforms like mad professors who've spent to long in the lab.

And yet -

As I speak, Craig Coulthard is a recipient of a major Cultural Olympiad commission for a new large-scale work.

As for FOUND, well, last year, they won a BAFTA for a science-fiction sounding project they call Cybrathon.

FOUND too have also just received a major Creative Scotland commission.

And that's how it starts.


4

But such success stories that have come from the grassroots are hardly a new thing.

In 1994 I was approached by a photographer called Neil Riley, with a view to setting up an exhibition of some of the young writers who were causing a bit of a commotion at the time.

I'd stumbled onto this scene in the back room of The Antiquary pub in St Stephen Street, where a host of writers were performing their work in a way that was a million miles away from the received idea of a poetry reading.

It was free admission and free to put on, which was just as well, because no-one involved with it – including myself – had any money, and certainly wouldn't have had a clue about how to fill in a form.

This scene later developed to presenting work in community centres and other places, and – through Kevin Williamson – inspired a magazine called Rebel Inc that eventually became an imprint of Canongate publishing house.

Around the same time as I was approached by Neil, I was alerted to a new gallery that had just opened on Blackfriar's Street.

That gallery was called Out of the Blue, and was the sort of shop-front artist-run gallery that is exactly the sort of space that this legislation puts under potential threat.

I approached the two women then running this new gallery, and proposed an exhibition of images of Edinburgh-based writers.

I also proposed that there be a series of events to go with this exhibition.

We got the gallery for a week, and set things in motion.

Over the course of that week – called by Neil The Apostolic Club – the gallery would be open in the daytime, while at night, there would be readings, recitals, musical performances and live art.

It was free to enter, people brought there own drinks, and stayed in the gallery till about ten o' clock, after which they'd make a pilgrimage to Black Bo's bar down the road.

The Apostolic Club was an amazing week.

The photographs had each of the writers posed in a unique way.

One was pictured up a tree; another with a box over his head, with the box featuring pasted-on images of himself; another merely leaning against the wall of the St James Centre.

The performances were equally eclectic if slightly chaotic, and by the end of the week I was both exhausted and elated.


5

The point of this reminiscence is two-fold.

Firstly, that exhibition and week of events was run on a shoe-string.

If I'm honest, it was actually run off mine and other people's dole cheques

One thing that never happened that week was that at no point did anybody come up and ask me to fill in a form to ask permission to do all this.

Nor did anyone ask me to pay a fee – not even a minimum fee of fifty pounds – to do so.

If they had, it's doubtful whether all the people in the room could have come up with such a sum.

Like me, most people were on the dole, and fifty quid was a lot of money then, just as, to some people, it's a lot of money now.


6

The second point of this story is what might have been missed if a fifty pound licence had prevented The Apostolic Club from happening.

Because a couple of years later, five of the writers whose photographs appeared on the walls of Out of the Blue – which itself moved onto bigger things, first with the original Bongo Club in New Street, then with the Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street – five of the writers appeared on the cover of the New Yorker magazine.

One of them – Alan Warner – is currently Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University.

Another – Irvine Welsh – had already written Trainspotting.

All of these put Edinburgh on a world literary map in a way that hadn't been done since the Enlightenment.

This wasn't because of the free events they took part in, but those events certainly helped them hone their craft.

They also set the tone for the next generation of writers.


7

In the Summer of 2010, I was approached by Nick Barley, the director of Edinburgh International Book Festival.

It was shortly after the sad death of a writer called Paul Reekie, who'd been one of the writers who'd appeared on the cover of the New Yorker, and Nick asked about the possibility of doing some kind of tribute event to Paul.

Nick wanted to put on a series of free events at the Book Festival, and get all the local literary scene in to perform in a cabaret style environment.

Sound familiar?

Some of us helped put on a night at the Book Festival called Love's Rebellious Joy, after a song that Paul wrote.

The night was packed out, and I suspect it's probably the only Book Festival event ever that's ended with the audience singing Hibs songs.


8

Nick Barley recently spoke about this night to the Guardian newspaper, using it as an example of how Edinburgh Book Festival was reaching out to people who lived in the city.

This was all true, but without the free nights at the Antiquary, without Rebel Inc and those nights at Out of the Blue, it's doubtful a night like that at the Book Festival could have happened in quite the same way.


9

But let's go back even further.

Let's go back to the early 1960s, when a young American G.I. was posted to Edinburgh, where he fell in love with the city so much that he decided to open a bookshop.

The bookshop he opened was roughly I think on the site of where Edinburgh University's Informatics Centre now stands, proudly heralding the future in its own exciting way.

The shop was unique because it was the first paperback bookshop in Britain, making literature more readily accessible to all.

It was also unique, because its proprietor, who by now had left the army and fallen in with a crowd of artists, writers and performers, began having readings in his shop – not just of poetry and literature, but of plays as well.

These just weren't any plays, but were the sort of experimental absurdist plays which at the time you could only see in Europe.

Those events arguably opened up Edinburgh's nascent artistic community to an entire new world that had hitherto been hidden away.

Again, no-one asked for a licence.

As for health and safety, as far as I'm aware, the only casualty came when several ladies from the Salvation Army turned up at the shop where they took several copies of DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover and set fire to them outside.

When Jim Haynes – who was that soldier turned book-seller – met Richard Demarco – Edinburgh's entire artistic history was turned upside down via the Traverse Theatre – which grew directly out of the Paperback Bookshop - the Demarco Gallery and the international literary conferences they organised.

The Traverse, Haynes and Demarco are all internationally renowned now – and rightly so – but here we are – a Unesco City of Literature – and after April 1st we might not even be able to have a free reading in a book shop without having to pay and plan for it months in advance.

If that had been the case in 1960, I suspect Jim Haynes would've stayed in the army and found another city to set up shop in, and who could blame him.


10

Walking up to the City Chambers today, my route took me up from Waverley Station – up the Scotsman Steps and up past the National Museum of Scotland.

Both of these places have undergone a transformation of late.

If I could go on a slightly wyndy route for a minute, let's look at the recently re-opened National Museum.

It's a beautiful renovation of an already beautiful space, and it's quite rightly just been announced that since it reopened its had the highest attendance figures of any similar institution outside London.

Now, that's quite a feat.

One of the main attractions of the National Museum since it reopened is Museum Late.

Museum Late, as the name hints at, is a monthly Friday night shindig, at which members of the public come into the Museum after hours.

Once in the Museum, they can enjoy looking at the exhibits accompanied by a glass of wine, a couple of bands, some DJs, and – so I'm told – the novelty of being able to touch real life lizards and other wild animals.

Yes, it's a pay-in event.

And, yes, I have no doubt that it's licenced to the hilt, but, as it's the National Museum, one presumes they can afford this.

Museum Late sounds like a wonderful event, but again, it's not a new idea.

Most weekends in Edinburgh for at least the last decade, pretty much every small-scale artist-run space in town has something similar going on, with art, music and drink making for an equally exciting social hub.

The only differences are in what are somewhat appositely named Private Views is that these are – a) free to enter, - b) don't charge for the drink, - and c) have no wild animals.

If these small-scale spaces are forced to apply and pay for licences, without the resources which the National Museum of Scotland has, the energy and the will might not be there anymore to put on these small-scale events.


11

Now – moving up the road from the National Museum of Scotland – the steps officially called the Scotsman Steps have recently been transformed into something else again.

As I'm sure this committee is already aware, when Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed was commissioned to effectively rebuild these steps with a hundred and four different types of marble, eyebrows were raised.

The end result, however – which may well be known forever after as Martin Creed's Steps – is a staggering example of how art and the environment can co-exist.

Here, after all, is a public thoroughfare that is used every day by the citizens of Edinburgh, but which is also a work of art in what is effectively a permanent exhibition, and which – to some – might also be quite entertaining.

You can go up, you can go down, you can go back up again, all the while taking in the different types of marble on show.

But how – under the new legislation – would we define Martin Creed's Steps?

It's a public thoroughfare, but it's also an artspace showing work for free in exactly the same way as a cafe or one of the small artspaces might show work – albeit in a temporary fashion – and which are branded by this legislation as places of public entertainment.

So what do we do?

Do we get the people who commissioned Martin Creed's Steps to pay a licence?

Given that this would mean asking the Fruitmarket Gallery, Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council itself to pay a licence fee – how would that work?

Or do we just ask the citizens of Edinburgh who walk up and down Martin Creed's Steps whether they think they're walking through – a) - a public thoroughfare, - b) - a work of art in an exhibition, - or – c) – a place of public entertainment - and then charge them a fee depending on whether they answer A, B, or C ?

As absurd and ridiculous as this sounds – as absurd, perhaps, as one of the plays that were read in Jim Haynes' Paperback Bookshop – if you take this legislation on public entertainment licences to its logical limit, that's where it ends.


12

Just the other day in the Highlands, a community group was informed by Highlands and Islands Council that they would be charged a three-figure sum for an Easter egg hunt and bonnet-making competition...

Now, Highlands and Islands have since realised the error of their ways, with one councillor – perhaps with egg on his face - declaring that – and I quote – 'We are not going to be charging 435 pounds for a bouncy castle.'

But – it happened, and – unless the changes to the legislation are acted on – could easily happen again.


13

I was hoping today that one of the people sitting in the public gallery would be an artist called Jenny Soep.

Unfortunately Jenny can't be here today due to other commitments, but if she had, I was hoping she was going to draw the proceedings of this meeting.

Jenny Soep's main body of work comes via an initiative she calls Drawing The Experience.

For Drawing The Experience, Jenny sits discreetly at a gig or a performance or an event of description, and does exactly that.

She draws what's going on, as it happens.

The results of Jenny Soep's work have been exhibited in shops, cafes, public libraries and art spaces all over the world – sometimes in the very space she drew them.

Now, if Jenny had been here this morning, drawing the experience of this meeting, that would effectively be turning this meeting of City of Edinburgh Council's Regulatory Committee both into a piece of performance it arguably is anyway – and into a living artwork and piece of entertainment.

If Jenny Soep had been here, would this Committee have then had to apply for a public entertainment licence six months ago from today?

I'm sure you take my point.


14

Back in the 1980s, I used to sit on a body called Edinburgh District Arts Council.

That was a body run by what I think was then Edinburgh District Council.

The function of Edinburgh District Arts Council – or EDAC as it became known – was to provide small grants to small-scale and community-based arts group.

At that time, that sector – if we wish to define it thus – was thriving.

The annual Spring Fling arts festival – designed to showcase work across all the arts by Edinburgh-based talent - took place at the Assembly Rooms and community venues and spaces across the city.

Throughout 1986, the Commonwealth Arts Festival – run alongside the Commonwealth Games, hosted in Edinburgh that year – produced a plethora of free events, from concerts in Princes Street Gardens most weekends, to cabaret nights in the Assembly Rooms to readings in libraries to exhibitions.

They were exciting times, and – personally speaking – provided me with much of my early artistic education.

Spring Fling and EDAC are long gone now.

As is usually the case, the money ran out, and here we are.

But that lack of money doesn't stop people having ideas.

If anything, it makes them have more.

Because - when people haven't got any money, the only thing they can do is make their own entertainment.

Again, this isn't a new idea.

That's how every culture began, from cave drawings onwards.

And that's exactly what the artists behind this campaign against the public entertainment licence changes are doing.

For once – you might say – artists aren't asking for any money here, because they know there isn't any.

They're asking that their work is allowed to exist without having to fork out money they haven't got.

With that in mind I trust the Committee will ensure that common sense prevails, and that, in this Year of Creative Scotland, in this Unesco City of Literature, art of all kinds and at every level is allowed to flourish.

Given on March 9th 2012 as part of what at time of writing remains an ongoing campaign to stop proposed changes to Public Entertainment Licences as part of Scottish Government Legislation

ends