Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Band of Holy Joy - Easy Listening?

The last time street-smart Geordie visionary Johny Brown's work appeared in Scotland was when his play, William Burroughs Caught in Possession of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, appeared at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. While a reignited formation of Brown's troupe of junk-yard baroque soothsayers, The Band of Holy Joy, who had released several records on the Rough Trade label throughout the 1980s, had just released their sublimely euphoric Love Never Fails album,
Brown's epic onstage fantasia cast actor Tam Dean Burn as the eponymous author of The Naked Lunch on Coleridge's sea-faring vessel.

Also in tow were fictionalised evocations of fellow experimental novelist Kathy Acker, former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders (played by former Exploited bass player turned actor in The Acid House and Gangs of New York, Gary McCormack), and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

With such a motley crew on board, this was punk theatre personified, and continued an association between Brown and Burn that saw the pair collaborate on a series of plays for online art radio station, Resonance Fm. One of these was a view of the late Associates singer Billy Mackenzie as seen through the eyes of one of his pet whippets.

With such a mix of high drama, absurdism and polemic with an underground literary bent, it seems fitting that the first of two shows in Scotland for a decade by The Band of Holy Joy on the back of their just released new album, Easy Listening, comes at Edinburgh's premiere live literary speak-easy, Neu Reekie. Sharing a bill with Momus, aka Nick Currie, plus spoken-word artists Luke Wright and Patience Agbabi prior to a full Band of Holy Joy show in Glasgow the following night,
, Brown's urban folk demotic sounds rawer than ever on Easy Listening, whatever it's title implies.

One song, There Was A Fall/The Fall, is an angry report from the front-line concerning newspaper seller, Ian Tomlinson, who died after being struck unlawfully by a Metropolitan police officer's baton during the London G20 protests in 2009. Tomlinson was not a protester, but was on his way home from work when he fell victim to the unprovoked attack by the police officer.

The song is related by Brown in a sardonic but forensic litany of events that sounds lifted straight from a coroner's report. In its intent and its increasing intensity that eventually erupts into a cacophony of rage, it's as close to twenty-first century Brecht as you'll get. Especially when accompanied by a video that features Tam Dean Burn in a theatrical dressing room applying make-up which it soon becomes clear represents the actual wounds on Tomlinson's body.

This follows on from Burn's appearance in the even starker video for another song, He Ordered Her To Spit Like A Porn Star. With there Was A Fall/The Fall in an earlier version as the more explicitly titled Met Police Tried to Hide Police's Disciplinary Record, both songs appeared on City of Tales, a limited edition double cassette package of rediscovered archive material from 1985 and new material recorded in 2012. Other songs, including Empty Purse Found in Hotel Lobby and
It Beats Up Their Heart, He Said, were equally bleak grimoirs made even more so by their accompanying videos.

Brown and The Band of Holy Joy have been far from idle inbetween Love Never Fails and Easy Listening, with a compilation of archive material, Leaves That Fall in Spring – Seminal Moments, released by Cherry Red in 2007. This was followed by four new releases, with much of the new material developed for two song plays, Troubled Sleep – a fictional account of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen's last days at the Chelsea hotel – and Invocation to William, performed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Naked Lunch.

The songs from the show were released on the mini CD, A Lucky Thief in A Careless World, with the songs from Troubled Sleep making up the bulk of the band's 2010 Paramour album. A third song play, Beuys will Be Beuys, preceded 2011's How To Kill A Butterfly album and The North Is Another Land the following year.

With Brown's latest, stripped-down line-up of the band featuring extensive visuals, even as their Resonance FM radio show, (…) Such A Nice Radio Show, plays with the aural form, whatever happens this weekend, The Band of Holy Joy's righteous indignation remains a bruised but necessary force for good in a messed-up world it seems their mission to soundtrack until the bitter end.

The Band of Holy Joy play as part of Neu Reekie, Summerhall, Edinburgh, Friday February 28; King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow, March 1st. Easily Listening is available on Exotic Pylon now.

The List, February 2014

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Fred Frith, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow
Saturday February 22
Four stars
The idea of free improvised music appearing as part of a BBC SSO programme would have been unthinkable a decade ago except as a passing novelty. Such has been the landscape-changing effect of left-leaning music festivals in Scotland, from Free RadiCCAls and Le Weekend through to Instal, Kill Your Timid Notion, Dialogues, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra's GIOfest and the most recent additions of Counterflows, Sonica and Tectonics, that it would seem remiss of longer standing institutions not to embrace them.

So it was with this thrilling bill of works that attracted an audience perhaps more used to seeing and hearing such veterans of experimental music as guitarist Frith, trombonist and electronicist Lewis and saxophonist Mitchell in the low level confines of arts labs and other intimate off-radar gatherings. Yet, despite their avant-garde roots, all three men are major composers in their own right on scales great and small, and can more than carry their own in more formal environments than what the audience at least might associate them with.

Nowhere was this more evident than in NONAAH, a piece originally composed by Art Ensemble of Chicago co-founder Mitchell for solo alto saxophone in 1972. Over the last forty-odd years the piece has been heard in an ever-expanding variety of quartets and trios before receiving its world premiere as a fully orchestrated work here as part of a programme being recorded for BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now strand. Possibly the most sophisticated contribution of the night, NONAAH missed its composer's presence onstage, its sumptuous ensemble arrangement made for an appealing if all-consuming alternative.

Following this, after carrying his own amp onstage, Frith cut an initially understated dash as he sat barefoot at the front of the stage, guitar clutched to accompany a version of his 2003 piece, The Right Angel, receiving its Scottish premiere. While the orchestra delivered it with a wide-screen urgency off-set by piano, trumpet and flute underscores, Frith thwacked his fretboard with shoe-brushes and paint-brushes with a practised expertise that took things beyond novelty to an abruptly truncated racket

Conductor Ilan Volkov's between-set interviews with Mitchell and Lewis were charmingly chummy affairs, with Lewis coming across as a donnish and avuncular figure, who, when asked about his move into electronics, quoted fellow composer Anthony Braxton's maxim that “I want to stay interested in what I'm doing” before Lewis described himself – and Volkov – as “a cheerful post-genre radical. This was personified by Memex, a retro-future evocation of artificial intelligence expressed through the pushes and pulls of an altogether more physical means of expression.

For all it's appeal, it is nothing to the preceding improvisation by Frith, Lewis and Mitchell performing together for a short set which one suspects was the main reason many people turned out for the event. While Frith brought his full box of tricks to bear, with even a mischievous melody or two to play with, Mitchell squawked and honked his way into overdrive. Seated behind his laptop, Lewis looked positively serene as he lobbed sounds through the air while clutching his muted, lavender-coloured trombone. As the trio erupted and cut across each other, it sounded like an all too brief riot was going on before ever so gently fading out of view. 

The List, February 2014

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Gemma Whelan - Dark Vanilla Jungle

When Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan first performed Philip Ridley's devastating solo play, Dark Vanilla Jungle, during the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the actress and comedian was warned there would be walk-outs. Not because of the play's subject matter, which charts the car crash life of teenage Andrea, who is abandoned by her parents before being groomed by older men into a world that leads her deeper and deeper into an emotional morass she eventually kicks against with tragic consequences. Rather, such a reaction would likely as not be down to the more mundane response of audience members having to make a dash to other shows they've booked into.

Primed as she was, having one woman walk right across the stage just as she was in the emotional throes of one of the play's most harrowing scenes made things even harder for Whelan.

“That was a dreadful walkout,” she says, as she prepares to open a new tour of the Supporting Wall's production of Dark Vanilla Jungle at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this week. “I figured if I could get through that, I could get through anything.”

Given the play's subject matter, a thick skin was essential for Whelan.

“It's quite a monster to take on,” she says. “It doesn't pussyfoot around a difficult subject matter, and is unapologetically directed. I felt rather sorry for Andrea, but also rather intrigued by how someone would behave like that. She's so desperate to be loved, so desperate that she completely overlooks the things that can go wrong in the situation. We can all relate to that, I think, someone telling you they love you or that you're beautiful, so you can be quite disarmed. So I can see how it happened, and how her life descends into tragic chaos. Of course, nothing like that has ever happened to me, but even so I felt real empathy with Andrea.”

Whelan was only cast in the show, she reckons, because the producers “wanted someone who was already coming to Edinburgh.”

Whelan's other Edinburgh show was as Chastity Butterworth, a jolly hockey-sticks creation who leads something of a double life. The contrast between the two shows was one Whelan describes as “the nettle and the dock leaf.”

It's a phrase that could apply to Whelan's own childhood, which couldn't be more different than Andrea's.

“When I was three years old I was demanding that my mother take me to ballet lessons,” Whelan remembers, “so I suppose I was always going to perform in some form. My parents met on an amateur dramatics production of Desire Under The Elms. My father is hugely entertaining, and my mother was wild and rebellious, so I guess some of both of those traits must've rubbed off on me.”

Whelan initially trained as a dancer, which led her to doing stand-up, before “I was lucky enough to start working as an actor.”

While luck may have played a part, given that her CV includes stints in the West End in the National Theatre's production of One Man, Two Guvnors, one suspects ability and ambition may also have had something to do with Whelan's recent success. As far as she is concerned, her big break came in 2010 horror film The Wolfman, where she appeared alongside the likes of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins..

“That was my first proper part in a big film,” she says, “but I was terribly tenacious. I had lots and lots of noes before that.”

Luck did play a part, however, in Whelan being cast in the regular role of warrior queen, Yara Greyjoy, in HBO's TV fantasy epic, Game of Thrones. Whelan went to a casting for sit-com, Threesome, where the casting director suggested that their might be something for her on the next show he was working on. That turned out to be Game of Thrones

“It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time,” Whelan admits. She joined the programme for four episodes of series two, and, with a fourth series scheduled to be broadcast later this year, appears to have survived a third series cliffhanger.

“I'm in it,” is all Whelan can reveal about the forthcoming series. “My character's still alive, so I get to do some more swashbuckling.”

Whelan was recently in Glasgow filming for BBC 3 flat-share sit-com, Badults, a programme which might prove a more palatable watch for at least one member of her family than Dark Vanilla Jungle.
“My dad said he'll never see it again,” she says, “but my mum's seen it twice. In Edinburgh, my friends who came to see it would hang round afterwards to make sure I was okay, and one night a man was particularly moved by it, and waited for me. He said his girlfriend had been through something incredibly similar to what happens to Andrea, and watching the play really helped him understand things more.”

Ridley's writing may not be social work, but the experience of doing Dark Vanilla Jungle has made Whelan recognise it's power even more.”

“I read a lot around it,” she says, “and discovered some dreadful, horrendous things about this manipulative, duplicitous behaviour these girls were subjected to, but weren't listened to by the authorities, or were maybe not old enough to testify. As a result of that, there are so many of these people who've perpetrated these crimes who are still at large and who've never been prosecuted. So while this is a drama first, if it can raise any kind of awareness about this, that can't be a bad thing.”

Dark Vanilla Jungle, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, February 27-March 1.

The Herald, February 25th 2014

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Garry Marshall - Happy Days - A New Musical

There's something innocent about Garry Marshall when he talks about Happy Days, the 1950s teen-based sit-com he created forty years ago this year. This is fitting somehow for a writer, director and producer who himself came of age in a post World War Two era of rock and roll and high-school hops which he mythologised on a show that became a key part of a nostalgia boom that's never really gone away.

Initially piloted as a one-off episode of Love, American Style, Happy Days ran for 255 episodes between 1974 and 1985. The show's initial focus on Ron Howard's straight-laced good guy Ritchie Cunningham was soon upstaged by Henry Winkler's leather-jacketed tough guy Arthur 'The Fonz' Fonzarelli, who stole the show enough to become a household name.

Thirty years since the show ended, Happy Days – A New Musical opened in Glasgow last night as part of its UK tour in a production written by Marshall himself alongside Bugsy Malone composer, Paul Williams. Set around the time of Series 4 of the TV series, Happy Days – The Musical, which stars Ben Freeman, ex Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker and former Sugababe Heidi Range, focuses on Richie, Fonzie and the gang's attempts to save their regular hang-out, Arnold's malt shop, from a construction company's plans to turn it into a shopping mall.

This in itself speaks volumes about how much Marshall's creative heart still resides in a small town America unspoilt by the sort of commercialised landscapes that are now taken for granted in more recent teen-based television. It's this depiction of a simpler life too that Marshall sees as crucial to Happy Days' enduring appeal.

“Who would've thought we'd still be talking about it forty years later?” the 79-year old says, the morning after Happy Days – A New Musical's opening night, “but people seem to like nostalgia. Happy Days was always very positive. It's certainly not a reality show, but it was based on a lot of stuff. I grew up not too rich in the Bronx, and I was sick all the time, so I dreamt up a lot of stuff. The original request was to do something nostalgic that was set in the 1930s, but I grew up in the 50s, when there were nice days, no drugs and everything was kinda calm. How to make calm exciting was my job, but the first pilot for the show didn't sell. They said who needs the 50s, but then a wonderful film came out called American Graffiti, and everything changed.”

American Graffiti was future Star Wars director George Lucas' 1973 film about a group of teenagers coming of age in the early 1960s. Crucially, one of the cast was Ron Howard, who would go on to play Richie in Happy Days. A year later, Henry Winkler appeared in The Lords of Flatbush, a low-budget feature based around a group of teenagers in 1950s Brooklyn. Winkler's performance could be viewed as a harder-edged dry run for Happy Days, a template for Happy Days' more saccharine-based approach had already been set by Grease, Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs' 1971 musical, which would go on to mirror the success of Happy Days in its seminal 1978 film version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.

For Marshall, the son of a tap dance teacher and an industrial film director whose career began as a joke writer for assorted comedians before going on to script The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show and a TV version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple , Happy Days was to lead to a big-screen career of his own. Marshall would go on to direct Pretty Woman, Frankie and Johnny, Runaway Bride and Princess Diaries.

Happy Days – A New Musical first appeared in 2007, although it had been in development for much longer.

“There were a lot of challenges,” Marshall admits, “and we had to keep doing it till we got it right. I have a theatre in Burbank in Los Angeles, so we work-shopped it there. I had different companies telling me different things, but I wanted the storyline to stay true to the spirit of the series.”

Beyond the stage musical, the legacy of Happy Days has left its considerable mark on the film and TV world, with the programme spawning no less than eight spin-off shows. While Laverne & Shirley featured Marshall's sister, Penny Marshall, Mork and Mindy made the then unknown Robin Williams a star. While Joanie Loves Chachi, Blansky's Beauties and Out of the Blue fared less well, animated versions of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork and Mindy kept the spirit of the three hit shows alive.

Happy Days is notable too for many of its cast going on to be directors. Ron Howard left the show in 1980 to concentrate on a career that has seen him direct more than thirty features, including Splash, Frost/Nixon and How the Grinch stole Christmas. As a producer too, Howard has made his mark, and most recently was executive producer of TV drama, Arrested Development.

Anson Williams, who played Potsie Webber in Happy Days, has directed a stream of TV shows, including Beverley Hills 90210, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Charmed. Given the nature of much of both men's work, it's clear who their inspiration was.

“I learned in show-business that you've gotta do everything,” says Marshall. “Happy Days was a phenomenon that changed my life, and enabled me to do other things, so I would encourage everyone on the show to do the same. Five directors came out of that show, and Ron Howard went on to become one of the best film directors around.”

While in London, Marshall is clearly enjoying himself. After the first night of Happy Days, “We went to a party and stayed out late, which was nice,” while at the time of talking he was planning to see Stephen Ward, Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1960s-set musical about the Profumo scandal that presents an altogether more salacious image of the period that directly follows the Happy Days era.

“Now it would have to be done edgier, darker, more risque,” Marshall says of the TV show. “In the series, they wouldn't even let us use the word 'virgin', but we did our own issues. Richie had a motorcycle accident where if he hadn't been wearing a helmet he would've died. In the end, if a show is done well, then it works, and it doesn't matter if its edgy or innocent.

While Marshall expresses a desire to do a new show, “I don't know if I'd ever get something as good as Happy Days, but you gotta keep trying.”

Happy Days – A New Musical, King's Theatre, Glasgow, February 24th-March 1; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, May 5-10; King's Theatre, Edinburgh, May 12-17.

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Garry Marshall – A life onscreen

Garry Marshall was born in the Bronx in New York in 1934, the son of a tap dance teacher and a director of industrial films.

Marshall became a joke writer for comedians such as Joey Bishop and Phil Foster, and became a writer for The Tonight Show with Jack Parr.

In 1961 Marshall moved to Hollywood, where he teamed up with writer Jerry Belson. Together the pair worked on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, The Joey Bishop Show and The Danny Thomas Show.

As creators and producers, Marshall and Belson's first series was a show called Hey Landlord, in 1966 and 1967. They then adapted Neil Simon's play, The Odd couple, for television, before creating Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy on his own.

Marshall directed his first film, Young Doctors in Love, in 1982, and scored a hit in 1984 with The Flamingo Kid. Since then, he has directed another fourteen features, including Pretty Woman, Frankie and Johnny and, in 2011, New Year's Eve.

Marshall has also appeared in numerous TV shows as an actor, most recently in Two and A Half Men.

This year Marshall was awarded the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement from the Writers Guild of America.

The Herald, February 25th 2014


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Monday, 24 February 2014

Blink

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
Life and death are everything for Jonah and Sophie, the shyly dysfunctional couple at the heart of Blink, Phil Porter's self-consciously kooky but quietly profound play, which was originally seen at the Traverse during the theatre's 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe season. As the pair talk to the audience, their story unfolds via series of criss-crossing monologues that lay bare an awkward, barely there affair that's more about confirming each other's right to be apart than anything that happens when they're not quite together.

Sophie has been brought up in the Isle of Man, Jonah in a religious commune. Both come into money via their dead parents, and end up living on top of each other in a London suburb. He watches her as one might view a reality TV show, while she keeps her distance, and they only meet for the first time after a near fatal accident brings them briefly into the same sphere until they go their separate ways once more.

Joe Murphy's co-production between Soho Theatre and the nabokov company is a charmingly quirky concoction that's as much emotional show-and-tell as drama. As Jonah and Sophie, Thomas Pickles and Lizzy Watts make a sweetly endearing pair, who punctuate the play's everyday oddness with an understated and deadpan humour that underpins the story's tenderness without any need for schmaltz. Such stylisation captures a low-key absurdity as well as a warmth that's engagingly infectious throughout. The result of all this is a moving and funny snapshot of two people who learn to live beyond their losses, even as the fleeting moment of something that might resemble happiness passes them by in an instant.

The Herald, February 24th 2014


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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Phil Minton and Simon H Fell with Edimpro, Inspace, Edinburgh, Friday February 14th; / Malcy Duff, Dylan Nyoukis, Ali Robertson and Norman Shaw, plus Tina Krekels & Grant Smith, Rhubaba Gallery, Edinburgh, Saturday February 15th.

For some time now, the University of Edinburgh-based Dialogues 
initiative has hosted residencies by a stream of major international 
figures in experimental music. The likes of guitarist Fred Frith, 
saxophonist Evan Parker and sound recordist Chris Watson have all 
worked closely with composers and musicians from the University prior 
to concerts which has seen them play solo as well as with the group now 
styled as Edimpro.

The latest of these featuring veteran improvising vocalist Phil Minton 
with double bassist and long-term collaborator Simon H Fell was a game 
of two halves. The first opened with a chirrup and a whistle, as 
Minton, perched on a chair with his legs dangling, launched into a 
tightly wrought set of shrieks, yelps, gurgles and howls that moves 
language beyond words to something more primal. There's a call and 
response of sorts with fell, who at one point uses to bows on his 
instrument to create a self-reflexive counterpoint that's feverishly 
controlled, rising and falling with Minton's own guttural utterances.

The second set finds Minton and Fell leaving generous swathes of space 
for a ten-piece incarnation of Edimpro to navigate their way through. 
Saxophone and bass clarinet, laptops, guitars, drums and two pianists 
who bob in and out of view as they concentrate on their instrument's 
unseen underbelly weave around and across each other, each taking their 
turn in fits and starts until Minton and Fell conjure up a raging calm 
to close with.

A new generation of artists using similar strategies to Minton has 
grown up over the last decade, with the likes of Edinburgh duo Usurper 
and Blood Stereo's Dylan Nyoukis lumped in with the ever-fecund Noise 
scene. It was coincidence that saw Usurper's Malcy Duff and Ali 
Robertson join forces with Nyoukis and NOB's Norman Shaw the same 
weekend as Minton, Fell and Edimpro's performance for a Saturday 
lunchtime show that turned out to be the ultimate in family-friendly 
fun and games.

Following an intensely nuanced sax and electric guitar duet from 
Muscletusk's Grant Smith and the Edinburgh-based BOAR collective 
aligned Tina Krekels, Duff and Robertson sit alongside each other in 
the centre of the floor with a cassette recorder and cassettes between 
them. In a semi-improvised exchange, the pair mutter some spiel about 
ventriloquist dummies, before proceeding to 'bring out' Shaw and a 
be-wigged Nyoukis and perching them on their laps.

Switching between assorted cassettes, the 'dummies' lip-synch their way 
through proceedings, before a power struggle takes place and a 
wrestling match of sorts collapses into a mish-mash of collapsing 
limbs. While Shaw offers up occasional outbursts of “Indefatigable”, a 
prone Nyoukis babbles a potty-mouthed riff of tabloidese unpleasantries 
before things finally phutter to a halt.

The routine is a gonzo  variation on time-served robots-rising sci-fi 
techno-fear by way of schizoid psycho-thrillers where the voices in the 
ventriloquist's head become too much. In this particular quartet's 
hands and mouths, it also becomes an absurdist parody on power, both in 
the Duracell bunny kind of way, and more insidious forms of control. 
“Autonomy” is the last word spluttered Shaw's rebellious puppet as Duff 
drags him out the door. It's a word that speaks volumes.

The List, February 2014


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Friday, 21 February 2014

Dial M For Murder

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
The scarlet drapes that hang down centre-stage surrounded by even more 
vivid rouge-flamed walls hide a multitude of sins at the start of Lucy 
Bailey's touring revival of her 2009 production of Frederick Knott's 
labyrinthine 1950s pot-boiler immortalised in Alfred Hitchcock's film. 
Such ravishing décor might well be engulfing an opulently realised 
Greek tragedy if it weren't for the elegant London town-house 
accoutrements and a tellingly red telephone that screams emergency as 
it furnishes the scene of the crime.

That crime isn't one of passion, but, as retired tennis star Tony 
Wendice plots to murder his faithless wife Sheila, who, as played by 
Kelly Hotten, has been conducting a long-distance amour with Philip 
Cairns' crime writer Max, it's one of pathologically driven, ice-cold 
calculation. That Tony blackmails an old school chum turned con-man to 
do the deed by proxy only serves to make it nastier, as though the 
flesh and blood of such an action is something Daniel Betts' flint-eyed 
Tony finds physically repulsive. When things go wrong, it takes 
Christopher Timothy's Inspector Hubbard to find the key that makes 
sense of the affair.

While it's hard at times to take Knott's stiff upper-lipped exchanges 
seriously, casting Max as a crime writer lends things a self-reflexive 
edge that's easy to theatricalise. At times the action is half-hidden 
by the slowly revolving and exquisitely choreographed drapes. During 
the murder scene, meanwhile, Mic Pool's brooding, trumpet-led 
underscore ups the volume to become something more jagged, with 
Sheila's amplified gasps blending in with stabbing staccato passages 
worthy of Bernard Herrmann in a psycho-sexual thriller in which the 
tension is heightened to the max.

The Herald, February 21st 2014

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Firebrand Theatre - Blackbird

When David Harrower's play, Blackbird, first appeared at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005 in a production by German maestro, Peter Stein, it provoked shock-waves among audiences who witnessed it. Given that Harrower's play was a blistering study of a reunion between a fifty-five year old man and a twenty-seven year old woman who had a sexual relationship fifteen years before when the woman was twelve, such a reaction was understandable.

However serious a dissection of an ambiguous liaison the play undoubtedly was, it was the production's closing scene that proved the most jaw-dropping. In contrast to the play's over-riding intimacy, Stein grafted on an unscripted five-minute finale in which the office block store-room where the action took place was transformed into an underground car park. Here, an actual car was driven onstage as the play's two protagonists wrestled to a power ballad soundtrack, so the whole thing resembled a 1980s MTV video epic.

Given the venues for the Borders-based Firebrand Theatre's new production of Blackbird, this experience is unlikely to be repeated. Rather, by having his actors perform the play in actual office space and a small studio theatre as well as the former veterinary demonstration room in Edinburgh's Summerhall venue, director Richard Baron is getting back to the claustrophobic emotional heart of the play as Harrower wrote it.

“Blackbird works for Firebrand,” Baron says. “Yes, it's a two-hander, and yes, it only has one setting, but more importantly, it seems to fit in with the other work we've done. It's intimate, it's brilliantly written, and I think as a play it's probably even more contemporary now than it was when it was first done. There's stuff coming out in the press every day about various court cases, and there are people coming out of the woodwork, some honourably, others not, who are talking about issues which aren't that removed from some of the issues raised in the play.

“With all that in mind, Blackbird struck me as a strong contemporary play that could take an audience on a journey. So it's a bit of a risk in some ways, but when we did another David Harrower play, 54% Acrylic, we did it as a Play, Pie and A Pint, with the audience sat at tables in a function room, and we realised how well that worked. I think Blackbird works in the same way, so when the violence and sex scenes happen, the audience are only five feet away, and the play really is in their face. By taking it to these private spaces as well, it feels like you're in a prison cell or a dungeon, so it becomes very much a symbolic backdrop to the play.”

Blackbird perhaps isn't the obvious choice for a small, rural-based company like Firebrand, which was founded by co-artistic directors Janet Coulson and Ellie Zeegan in 2011. With Baron as director of productions and designer Edward Lipscomb an associate artist, Firebrand set out to produce contemporary theatre of a kind not often seen in areas more used to seeing more obviously commercial fare onstage.

With this in mind, Firebrand launched with a production of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, which was followed by a revisitation of David Greig's short play, Being Norwegian. This was followed by a look sat David Mamet's controversial two-hander, Oleanna and revivals of Rona Munro's prison-set Iron, Peter Arnott's neglected White Rose and 54% Acrylic.

“There is an audience in Hawick for contemporary theatre like this,” Baron observes. “We're still building that, but there are some people who've come to our shows who've never been to the theatre in their lives, and in post-show discussions, what comes across is the intelligence of the audience and a real desire for the sort of work we're putting on.”

Next on the agenda for Baron and Firebrand is a new production of David Greig's play, Outlying Islands, which Baron describes as “another intimate play that throws up all sorts of different themes that still matter. In contemporary Scottish theatre there seem to be lots of those.”

None perhaps more so than Blackbird.

“Blackbird has an emotional heart in the way a lot of American plays do,” says Baron. “There's a beating heart to it, and there's blood on the carpet. These are ordinary people, who've been through these things that we've all been through, like falling in love, but this leaps a barrier. “

Blackbird, Heart of Hawick, Hawick, February 20-22; The Space, Heriot Watt/Borders College, February 24; Summerhall, Edinburgh, February 26-March 1.

The Herald, February 18th 2014


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Private Lives

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
If love is a bourgeois concept, as was suggested in the song of the same name by Pet Shop Boys last year, there are few plays that articulate it better than Noel Coward's dissection of unhappy honeymooners which he knocked out over a long weekend in 1930. Martin Duncan's production places a noticeably younger and sexier Amanda and Elyot on the adjoining balconies of designer Francis O'Connor's art deco erection of a white and pink hotel. Here each treats their new spouses Victor and Sybil with a mix of desperation and disdain, even as they cling to such classic mismatches for comfort before unfinished business of an altogether less ordinary kind comes calling.

All this may be archly played by John Hopkins as a narcissistic Elyot and Kirsty Besterman as a restlessly coquettish Amanda, but there's a brutal ennui at play too as the pair thrive on their own indulgent self-destruction. This mainly fires into life in the second act after the thrill-seeking couple have reignited their passion in Amanda's Paris flat when, beyond their post-coital tristesse, the only way to keep the flame alive is to rip each other to shreds. So, for all the play's superficial froth, there's a vulnerability at it's heart, and when Elyot hits Amanda, it's a genuinely shocking act.

Of course, in Coward's world, the morning after is as fresh a start as any, and the brittle politesse of the breakfast-time banter as the quartet scrunch up on a sofa barely disguises a rage that's picked up on by Emily Woodward's Sybil and Ben Deery's Victor as they embark on a tempestuous adventure of their own.

The Herald, February 20th 2014


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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Requiem For Detroit? - Glasgow Film Festival

It's all too fitting that Julien Temple's 2010 documentary, 'Requiem For Detroit?', is being screened at The Arches as part of this year's Glasgow Film Festival prior to a night hosted by Pressure that features Detroit Techno legend Carl Craig. It's not just reflecting the two cities' mutual interest in club culture. Nor does the fact that the event takes place in the former derelict space beneath Central Station that became an institution in any way compare with the near apocalyptic collapse of Detroit's once thriving industrial epicentre depicted by Temple in his trademark cut n'paste fashion forged in his years filming the Sex Pistols.

Yet, as other film-makers have recognised, there are similarities. Detroit's success was built on the automobile industry, a gas-guzzling personification of what in his epic verse poet Heathcote Williams dubbed 'Autogedden', a title later appropriated by eco-primitive pop star, Julian Cope. Glasgow's fortune was founded on ship-building.

The industrial ebb and flow that gave both cities their rhythm in turn drove their musical cultures, from Motown to Techno in Detroit, and from the 1960s dance-halls to the sort of club nights that fill the Arches today in Glasgow. Pressure in particular has hosted guests from Detroit, including Craig, Jeff Mills and a myriad of others.

Yet, with auto manufacturing crashed and burnt-out in Detroit, and shipbuilding a rusting hulk in Glasgow, the responses have been starkly different. Where Glasgow's post-industrial reinvention has been built on a glossy façade of large-scale cultural events married to high-end consumerism, Detroit, as Temple's remarkable film shows, is getting back to its roots and building from the ground up.

The scenes of devastation in Temple's film look not unlike Britain's abandoned factories of the 1970s, where Derek Jarman made his own recession-riven collage, 'The Last of England'. Here too, 'metal-bashing' provocateurs like Test Department used remnants of the collapsed buildings as instruments, before dance culture created temporary autonomous zones to go beyond their surroundings towards something transcendent and utopian.

So it is in Detroit, where artists are reclaiming abandoned spaces and urban farmers are getting back to the land as post-capitalist pioneers finding new ways of being. Closer to home, Requiem For Detroit? has proved to be both warning and inspiration. As warning, it points to the impending collapse of capitalism, a notion which until recently would have been dismissed as the fanciful preserve of pop-eyed Trots. As inspiration, one need only look to another film made by activists living in Glasgow.

After watching 'Requiem For Detroit?', American ex-pat Don MacKeen recognised similarities between Detroit and Glasgow in terms of social deprivation, falling populations and staggeringly bad urban planning. MacKeen visited Detroit, where he filmed the city's thriving urban farming communities. The result, 'Detroit to Glasgow', is a seventy-minute study of self-determination and survival on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, while austerity is preached on the one hand, billions are spent on the circuses and bread of international sporting events, while, along the M8, a commerce-driven Babel called Caltongate is being built. As with Detroit, there can't be many more car crashes left to come. (Neil Cooper)

Requiem For Detroit? is screened at The Arches, February 28th, 8pm. Pressure featuring Carl Craig will follow later the same night and in the same venue. 'Detroit2Glasgow' can be watched here. http://www.awayyegrow.org/index.htm

The List, February 2014

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Tonight's The Night

Edinburgh Playhouse
Three stars
When gravel-voiced blues singer Rod Stewart sold his soul for a life of 
pop excess accompanied by a roll-call of ever-blonder accessories, it's 
unlikely that the devil made him do it. That's exactly what happens, 
however, to Stuart, the geeky hero of Ben Elton's jukebox musical of 
Rod the Mod's hits which has been on the go for a decade now.
Stuart works in a garage in Detroit, where he fawns over the equally 
bookish Mary. An intervention by a peroxided Satan not only gives 
Stuart the confidence and star quality of his name-sake, but his 
promiscuous proclivities as well. Taken under the wing of archetypal 
rock chick Baby Jane, Stuart  and his new band blaze a trail to the 
top, but there's a little part of Stuart that's always the nice guy.

If all this sounds ever so slightly ridiculous, bear in mind that Elton 
probably knows his Goethe and his Marlowe as well as Peter Cook and 
Dudley Moore did when they reimagined their swinging sixties take on 
Faust in Bedazzled. In terms of the sort of rock and roll mythology 
depicted here, Elton will have also been fully versed in Robert Johnson 
and the Rolling Stones.

The parade of big-haired blondes, black leather pants and hot legs 
galore probably matter more in Caroline Jay Ranger's slickly 
one-dimensional production, and the big voices of Ben Heathcote's 
Stuart, Jenna Lee-James' Mary, Jade Ewen's Dee Dee and Tiffany Graves' 
dual turn as Satan and Baby Jane even more so. Michael McKell hams 
things up deliciously as Stoner in a somewhat dated looking music 
business parable which at its best remains a thrustingly infectious 
romp.

The Herald, February 19th 2014

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Speaking in Tongues – Sonia Boyce / Pavel Buchler / Susan Hiller

CCA, Glasgow until March 23rd.
Four stars
It's the sound of clock-clacking typewriter keys that strikes you first stepping into this three-way split of a show which, in different ways, reflects on the colour of memory. In the case of all three artists, who have a long history with the CCA building when it housed the Third Eye Centre, it reveals – or not - how that memory, collective or otherwise, can be moulded, shaped and customised to order, be it through preservation, wilful negation or else, in Boyce's case, via a gloriously messy reclaiming of half-hidden pop-cultural detritus.

The typing noises come from Buchler's ''I am going to use this projector', in which a cassette recorder hung on the wall plays a recording of someone typing out a transcription of the rollingly endless text that hangs next to it. Hiller too shows how free-association can be harnessed in 'Measure by Measure Section II', which preserves the ashes of paintings burnt by Hiller in a series of jars and containers. As with the framed diary pages of Buchler's 'Idle Thoughts', in which the same pages are written over again and again until the newest present effectively obliterates the past, Hiller's piece tantalises about what's being hidden even as it creates something afresh.

It is Boyce's piece, 'The Devotional Collection', however, that remains the most immediate and affectingly joyous example of how scraps of the past captured in a record or a on a magazine cover can shape an entire culture. Against one wall, rows of artifacts from black women in music are lined up, moving from Amazulu to Winifred Atwell, Betty Boo to Neneh Cherry, Mylene Klsass to Cleo Laine, Sade to the Saturdays and beyond. These are women who found their voices, and in turn gave voice to others in a way that's gloriously refreshed every time the needle hits the groove.

The List, February 2014


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Summerhall Art Shows – Spring 2014

Loss, migration, the Holocaust and a strange form of post-apocalyptic euphoria filter in various ways through the latest sprawl of nine new exhibitions in Summerhall. The former comes into view most explicitly in 'Kindness of Strangers', the first UK show by German-American artist Stefan Roloff, whose large-scale video installation that charts the story of two refugees – a Sudanese woman and an Iranian man – in Berlin. This tented construction sits evocatively beside shadowed interviews with people describing their ideal world and an exploration of the detention of Roloff's father by the Gestapo .

The anonymity of Roloff's subjects is reflected in the black-and-white imagery of Karin Gunnarsson's 'Apparition', while the array of Beuysian detritus in Ian Hughes' remarkable 'Unearthed Tongues Set Free' mixes religious iconography with images from the Holocaust to give real life events a dignity and power, even as it reminds the viewer of their shocking roots.

Oddly, diemer Genesis vocalist and founder of world music festival, WOMAD, provides a link between Roloff and Hughes. While Hughes has provided album artwork for Gabriel, Roloff's video piece, 'Face', was produced by gim, with Gabriel using it as a prototype for the video that accompanied hos defining 1986 single, 'Sledgehammer'. The retrospective of photographic works by the late Edinburgh-based photographer Colin Jarvie is a travelogue of light which compliments an edited take on Harry Papadopoulos' celebrated images of Scotland's post-punk scene beteween 1979 and 1984. This in turn seems to erupt onto the dancefloor of 'Love To Love You Baby' , Kevin Williamson's filmic responses to eight songs by Donna Summer as produced by Giorgio Moroder, the German who revolutionised dance music for a post-war alliance between Europe and America that brought a generation back to pulsing, neon-driven life.

The List, February 2014


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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Chloe Moss - This Wide Night

When Chloe Moss was commissioned by Clean Break theatre company to spend twelve weeks developing a play from working with inmates in a women's prison, she was initially daunted by the terms laid down for her by the company set up in 1979 by two female prisoners to explore the hidden stories of women prisoners through drama. By the end of the process, things had changed somewhat for the Liverpool-born writer.

The change was more than evident in the play that was born from Moss' experience with Clean Break, This Wide Night, which played at Soho Theatre in 2008 prior to a tour of prisons where some of the women Moss worked with were still housed. With a major new production directed by playwright David Greig about to open at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and featuring Jayd Johnson and Elaine C. Smith in the cast, Moss reflects on the play's origins.

“At first it seemed slightly restrictive.” Moss explains, “Clean Break do one commission a year, and you write something that's for a small, women only cast, and obviously you write something that's based around women who are in the criminal justice system. Once you're involved in it, all of that is actually quite liberating, and by the end of the twelve weeks I could've written fifty or a hundred plays about the experiences of these women.”

Rather than focus on the women's life behind bars, in the play Moss looks at what happens when the women are released. This is done through two women, Marie and Lorraine, who had struck up a friendship while incarcerated. When Marie is released, that appears to be that. Only when Lorraine knocks at Marie's bedsit door are the pair forced to reassess their relationship on the outside world.

“The characters are really an amalgam of all the women I met,” Moss says. “Even before we started, I was really interested in what happened when these women came out of the criminal justice system, and what happened to them. Bonds form between women in prison, but it's hard for them to trust people, so there's a fragility to those bonds, especially when the women get out. Many women lose ties with their children and with their families, and if you're a certain age, it's going to be more difficult to get work when you get out. That's a massive part of your life. I mean, what if you're seventy when you come out, and you've lost all those connections in life that you had? What do you do?”

Women's prison drama has proved an alluring draw over the years, both on stage and on television. Both Within These Walls in the 1970s Prisoner: Cell Block H la few years later, and the more recent Bad Girls captivated huge audiences. If the latter two camped things up somewhat, such an approach was offset by the likes of Rona Munro's stage play, Iron, and the ongoing work done by Clean Break.

While This Wide Night has moved out of the prison walls, Moss' experience of her twelve weeks working with women has made her recognise the importance of dramatising experiences which most people aren't aware of.

“I can only speak from my personal experience,” she says, “but when you scratch the surface, you realise how many women are in prison, and how many of them are in for non-violent crime. The reasons a lot of women are in prison are to do with poverty, drugs or mental health issues. Where these women should be getting health and support, they get locked up instead.. So if you scratch that surface, it feels very Dickensian, and the strength that these women have when they come out and have to try and rebuild their lives is remarkable.”

While Moss stresses that This Wide Night is not a journalistic piece of work, the play's sustaining power has proved something of a benchmark for the writer, whose career began after she was picked up by the Royal Court Young Writer's Group, where she wrote her first professionally produced play, A Day in Dull Armour, in 2002. Commissions for the Royal Court, Manchester's Royal Exchange and Liverpool Everyman followed.

“I'd always wanted to write,” Moss says, “bit I didn't think it was possible to earn a living doing it. My brother's an actor, and he was a big inspiration, really. I went along to the Everyman Youth Theatre a few times, and that made me realise I didn't want to be an actor, and that writing could be another way of telling stories. Then I started going to the theatre more when I did my degree in Manchester, and things took off from there.”

Moss also has extensive TV credits under her belt, with stints on the likes of Hollyoaks, Secret Diary of A Call Girl and more recently on Switch, a fantasy-based comedy drama about four young witches living in contemporary Camden. With further commissions for the Royal Exchange and the Everyman pending, Moss may have moved on as a writer, but it's clear that This Wide Night remains an important piece of work for her.

“I feel incredibly proud of it,” Moss reflects. “It's an emotional thing for me. I have a real affection for it, and it's very close to my heart. Sometimes you look back at some plays and think ' would change that now'. I'm not saying this play is perfect, but it means a lot to me. When we took it round prisons, that was the most important audience for me. Some of the women I'd worked with had been released, but it was obviously still personal to them, and if I hadn't nailed the truth of things, they'd know in ten seconds. You just want to feel that you're respecting them. The most important thing is being truthful. Even though there's a lot of bleakness in the play, I think there's also a lot of hope.”

This Wide Night, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, February 20-March 15.


Chloe Moss – A writer's life

Chloe Moss was born in Liverpool, and studied film at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Moss joined the Royal Court Young Writers Group, where she wrote her first professionally performed play, A Day in Dull Armour, in 2002.

Moss became writer in residence at the Bush theatre, where she wrote How Love Is Spelt in 2004. The following year the play was produced off-Broadway.

For the Royal Exchange Manchester, Moss wrote Christmas Is Miles Away in 2005, and The Way Home for Liverpool Everyman in 2006.

Also in 2006, Moss co-wrote Catch, a collaboration at the Royal Court with four other playwrights; April De Angelis, Laura Wade, Stella Feehily and Tanika Gupta.

This Wide Night was commissioned by Clean Break theatre company, and opened at Soho Theatre in 2008 before touring women's prisons.

In 2012, The Gatekeeper opened at the Royal Exchange Manchester.

For television, Moss has written for Hollyoaks, Secret Diary of A Call Girl, Lip Service and Switch. Moss also wrote the TV film, Frankenstein's Wedding...Live In Leeds, and an episode of Prisoners Wives.

Moss is currently under commission for the Royal Exchange Manchester and Liverpool Everyman.

The Herald, February 18th 2014


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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all.

But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath brought their orchestras, while Ivor and Basil Kirchin's Big Band played a lengthy residence at the Palais with a combo that included future musical director for Scottish singer Annie Ross and composer of the theme to 1970s TV cop show, The Sweeney, Harry South.

Yet, for all the infectious appeal of the big band sound, the times, as coffee-bar troubadour Bob Dylan would point out a few short years later, were a-changing. While the Scottish Folk revival took hold in bars such as Sandy Bell's and the Oddfellows Hall on Forest Road, the release of films, The Blackboard Jungle and Rock Around The Clock in 1955, both of which featured Bill Haley, would have a profound effect on the psyche of the nation's youth. As would too the release of Tutti Frutti by Little Richard the same year. Elvis Presley's debut album, featuring Heartbreak Hotel and Blue Suede Shoes, and Gene Vincent's equally seminal Be-Bop-A-Lula, would follow a year later.

In the UK, while the short-lived skiffle boom was spear-headed by Glasgow-born Lonnie Donegan, it was Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Billy Fury who put British rock'n'roll on the map. In Edinburgh as elsewhere, such heart-throbs soon gave way to the groups that would lead to the 1960s Beat boom.

Showbiz wouldn't ever disappear completely, however, and it's telling that accordionist Jimmy Shand scored a hit the same year as Rock Around The Clock with country dance classic, Blue Bell Polka. A kilted teenager from Leith called Jackie Dennis, meanwhile, made it to American TV with quasi-novelty records, La Dee Dah and Purple People Eater. Scotland's biggest musical sighting of the era was Hoots Mon, an instrumental number punctuated by mock Jock interjections that took Lord Rockingham's XI to number 1 for three weeks in 1958.

'Lord Rockingham' was in fact Elgin-born band-leader and composer Harry Robinson, who worked with producer Jack Good on pioneering rock'n'roll TV shows, Six-Five Special in 1957 and Oh Boy! the following year. Robinson and Good would go on to co-write the original 1977 West End production of Elvis, for which Robinson was musical director.

As is always the case, there was resistance to the new breed, even as falling attendances at the dance halls made big bands increasingly expensive bookings. The presence of rockers was frowned upon in many venues, as was jiving, a crime which saw some guilty revellers unceremoniously ejected. A mass brawl at the Palais saw some politicians call for the venue to be closed down, despite band-leader Jeff Rowena's determination to keep on playing throughout the melee. It would be a good few years, yet, however, before the Palais, like so many classic venues, was converted into a bingo hall.

By 1960, a nascent Beatles – with a name inspired by Buddy Holly's Crickets and with Edinburgh-born bass-player Stuart Sutcliffe having recently joined at the behest of art school contemporary, John Lennon - had already toured Scotland

Beyond the dance-halls, a network of small clubs sprang up to provide a platform for groups outwith youth clubs and church halls. While the likes of The Falcons and The Blackjacks would play in the all too appropriately named Hotplate, situated beneath a chip shop on Dalry Road, Phil and The Flintstones, who would play covers of Little Richard and Chuck Berry on a circuit that included The Cephas Club, situated in the basement of St George's West in Shandwick Place, and the Greenhill Club near Holy Corner in Morningside. The Top Storey Club, Fairleys and the Imperial Hotel were all venues based at the top of Leith Walk before the bulldozers moved in several years later to make way for the St James Centre. From here, it was a short hop across town to The Gamp Club on Victoria Terrace, and the labyrinth of The Place, just over the road.

Other bands included the Embers, The Abstracts, The Screaming Citizens, Butch and the Bandits, The Ricky Barnes All Stars, Johnny Horne and The Hornets, The Andy Russell Seven and Tam White and The Boston Dexters. While White was a Blues singer at heart, despite an ill-advised brief diversion into light entertainment, if you don't count school productions of The Beggar's Opera and The Mikado,White's musical career began singing Buddy Holly songs of all things in a skiffle group. That was before he heard Ray Charles sing What'd I Say, however, when he applied his gravel-voiced tones to grittier fare.

White would go on to create a rock'n'roll legend of sorts in the 1980s when he provided the singing voice for 'Big' Jazza McGlone, the fictional front-man of The Majestics played by Robbie Coltrane in John Byrne's 1987 TV comedy drama, Tutti Frutti.

Another group on the scene was The Crusaders, who White had played with alongside keyboard player Tam Paton. Paton had been an accomplished big-band leader on the dancehall circuit, and may have been taking note of Phil and The Flintstones tartan outfits for his most successful move a few years later when he became manager of a band who'd recently changed their name from The Saxons to the more fancifully inclined Bay City Rollers.

Producing a teeny-bopper friendly sound that transformed them briefly into an international smash-hit sensation, the Rollers' lyrical focus on nostalgia-driven Saturday night juke-box reveries showed off their dancehall roots via a form of glam-tastic rock'n'roll-lite. Not for nothing was their 1976 North American only release christened Rock and Roll Love Letter. The album also featured a track by guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart Wood called Too Young To Rock & Roll, which may well have been influenced by founding member Alan Longmur's boyhood memories of watching audiences at the Scotia Picture House on Dalry Road dance in the aisles to Elvis Presley movie, Jailhouse Rock.

If the Bay City Rollers were looking back in languor to more innocent times, the rock'n'roll scene they mourned had quickly progressed into something else. McGoos on the High Street and the International on Princes Street were where it was at, as Mod turned to psychedelia and beyond.

The Edinburgh venues and acts from the golden age of rock'n'roll may be long gone, but the music has yet to die, despite what Don McLean suggested in his epic 1971 elegy, American Pie. Rock'n'roll revival shows and 1950s vintage fairs are at a premium in Edinburgh, while musically, a younger generation of acts are looking to the past for inspiration. While the sites of venues mentioned here are more likely to be owned by commercial pub chain operators, promoters are looking more to the church halls and social clubs that housed the original wave of bands.

Clubs nights such as The Go-Go and Soulsville concentrate on retro sounds, there are rockabilly nights at the Spider's Web on Morrison Street, while Friday Night at the Parlour Bar on Duke Street in Leith is rock'n'roll central. At time of writing, the bespoke Franklin Rock'n'Roll Club hosts regular nights of live music in the suitably unfussy confines of a wooden cricket club hut on Leith Links. Rock'n'Roll in Edinburgh, it seems, is still very much alive. Rave on, indeed.

A version of this article was commissioned as programme notes for the Spring 2014 tour of Buddy - The Buddy Holly Musical to tie in with its dates at the Kings Theatre, Edinburgh from February 10th-15th 2014.

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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Gilly Roche - Team Effort

The innocuous-looking black door that leads to the Southside Studios may be in Glasgow, but the oasis of creation behind it has more of the feel of an alternative arts lab in Berlin, Prague or New York. Since last summer, Southside Studios have also been the base for Team Effort, an initiative driven by producer Gilly Roche to bring together six artists from different disciplines to work collectively and organically, without any specific end in sight.

The artists involved in Team Effort include writer of hit play, Roadkill, Stef Smith, co-founder of the Fish and Game company, Eilidh MacAskill, and writer and performer Martin O'Connor. Also on board is musician, composer and former member of the group, Zoey Van Goey, Kim Moore, while from the visual art world comes painter Fergus Dunnet, and Rose Ruane, who works with sculpture, video and live performance.

With this group having worked closely over the last few months, the Team Effort event that takes place at Tramway in Glasgow this coming Saturday night as part of the venue's Rip It Up season won't be a full production. Nor will it be a work in progress. Rather, the Team Effort collective will present something that has been shaped over a week's residency in Tramway, and is likely to exist for just one night only.

“I was really keen to retain the spirit of spontaneity and adventurousness everyone's been working with,” says Roche, “but to create a safety net in which the audience can trust us to create a new piece of work that's still powerful. Everyone will be going into Tramway with different sets of ideas taken from everywhere. There'll be bits of text and sound and other things, and we'll start to craft all these different elements over the week. Everyone works in wildly different forms, but we want to ramp up the theatricality of things and unify the audience and the artists. We'll be walking this brilliant tightrope between it being terrifying and thrilling.”

The roots of Team Effort go back to a chance meeting Roche had several years ago with Ben Walker, who had just opened Southside Studios as a going concern. Walker asked Roche if she might be interested in putting on a play there. As an emerging producer, Roche leapt at the opportunity to put on work outwith regular theatre spaces, and produced a piece by Rob Drummond. Another show followed, and “it became apparent that there was a desire for this sort of work, where there were no expectations, and where the audience and performers could become one.”

With support from the National Theatre Studio in London, the National Theatre of Scotland, Playwrights Studio Scotland and others, Roche began to look at the potential for developing work in Southside Studios in a more holistic way than is possible in many venues.

“I wanted to find a project and create a space where artists could explore their work and take risks in a way that you can't in other buildings,” Roche says. “The artists who we approached were people who I felt were at an important point in their careers, and who I felt were bold in terms of exploring ideas. The dynamic of the space here is very important as well. It's dusty and dirty, and is always constantly changing. It's very unassuming from the outside, but once you come in there's this beautiful eclectic mix of artists working in a space where ideas are constantly evolving.”

The first fruits of Team Effort's multi-faceted activity was a series of seven events held at the Southside Studios last summer under the name, IF. These were effectively a set of show-and-tells by what had effectively become a community, presented in a safe and trusting environment.

Roche stresses the support she and Team Effort have had from the likes of Caroline Newall, the director of artistic development at the National Theatre of Scotland, from Ben Harman, the Curator of Contemporary art at GoMa, and from Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail, one of the driving forces behind Fence Records before founding his own Lost Map imprint. Digital artist Kim Beveridge and trainee curator Allan Madden have also made substantial contributions to Team Effort, as has director Debbie Hannan.

Now Team Effort is venturing out of its comfort zone for the Tramway event, it will be interesting to see how audiences respond such collective approach.

“Audiences should expect to be surprised,” says Roche. “One of the things we said at the IF events was that the work is still in development, and we ask audiences to watch with a certain amount of generosity. It will be very raw.”

Team Effort, Tramway, February 15.

The Herald, February 11th 2014

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Lucy Bailey - Dial M For Murder

It's not easy getting Lucy Bailey on the phone. For a director who is reviving her production of Frederick Knott's play, Dial M For Murder, in which a telephone call plays a crucial part in a botched domestic homicide, this may be for the best. When contact is eventually made, it transpires that actor Iain Glen has been forced to drop out of Bailey's production of Turgenev's Fortune's Fool at the Old Vic theatre in London, and the headache of recasting and redirecting that show inbetween overseeing technical rehearsals for Dial M For Murder has left her little time for talking. Only when things settle down does Bailey have a chance to take stock on a show she first directed for the Fiery Angel company at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in 2009.

“It's very exciting,” Bailey says in Colchester, where Dial M For Murder opens prior to arriving in Edinburgh next week. “Sometimes going back to something you can get a bit haunted by what you were doing before, but my approach has just been to forget about it. I've cast very different actors this time round, so it's going to be different in that way. The technical side of things has been very much about 'What did we do last time?'. When we did it before, it was quite an intimate affair, so it's about trying to retain a sense of that as well.”

Knott's play might not be an obvious choice for Bailey, who was originally a flautist, before writing to Samuel Beckett while she was at Oxford to ask the writer's permission to stage his short story, Lessness. Looking at her design model, Beckett told Bailey that she'd got it all wrong, but let her do it anyway. Bailey went on to found radical music theatre company, The Gogmagogs, directed opera at Glyndebourne, and has worked extensively with the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she has developed a reputation for a bloody and passionate approach to the bard. It is a similar sort of passion that Bailey has applied to Dial M For Murder.

“When I read it there was this basic feeling that it was a real page-turner,” Bailey says. “I always do this really childish thing, in that if I can't put a play down, then I have to do it.”

In this respect, Bailey sounds equally as obsessive as the play's author.

“Frederick Knott wrote it in his mother's house,” Bailey explains, “and he would sit there in his dressing gown, and his mother would leave his meals at the door. It took him eighteen months, and it shows, because the attention to detail is meticulous. It's not a whodunnit. It's about why.”

Dial M for Murder was originally produced on television, and only made it to the stage for the first time in 1952 prior to it being picked up by Hitchcock for his 1954 feature film. Knott, who wrote the screenplay, went on to pen Write Me A Murder in 1960, and, in 1966, Wait Until Dark, which was also made into a film.

“Wait Until Dark is a brilliant play,” Bailey says. “I remember when I saw the film I was so scared by it.”

Any forthcoming production of the play by Bailey, however, is currently on hold. This is in part down to rights issues, though is mainly due to ongoing work commitments. Now Fortune's Fool is up and running, Bailey is preparing to revisit Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus at the Globe.

“That's a thriller,” she says of the play. “That's a bloody massacre.”

Dial M For Murder isn't Bailey's first flirtation with material more readily associated with the big-screen. Dark thrillers with an erotic edge in particular have captured her imagination, with stage versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Baby Doll and Don't Look Now featuring in her canon. The Postman Always Rings Twice was taken from a novel by James M Cain, and was most recently filmed in 1981 by Bob Rafelson, with a screenplay by David Mamet. Baby Doll saw Tennessee Williams adapt his own short play, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, for an iconic film made by Elia Kazan. Don't Look Now may have started life as a short story by Daphne du Maurier, but became best known via Nicolas Roeg's 1973 film.

“A lot of the films I saw when I was very young had a huge impact,” Bailey explains of her choices, “and when I got older I looked into this library of the imagination. Baby Doll came out of seeing it when I was fifteen, with the opening scene especially affecting me. But I didn't go to the films when I was directing them. I went to the source material, and It's different again with Dial M For murder, which, as a film, when I saw it I didn't think was Hitchcock's best. I always preferred The Birds or Rear Window. I thought Dial M For Murder seemed very self-conscious and traditional, but looking at the play, you really have to get under the skin of it.”

Prior to Bailey hooking up with them, Fiery Angel had had previously produced a stage version of another Hitchcock classic, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which was taken from John Buchan's novel. While that show, directed by former Citizens Theatre stalwart Maria Aitken and still running in the West End, made a virtue of its small cast by turning it into a poor theatre pastiche, in terms of her approach to Dial M For Murder, Bailey plays it straight.

“Dial M For Murder is about killing a beautiful woman,” she says. “It sounds terrible, but I suppose there's a vicarious thrill we get from that, from seeing this beautiful person in terror of evil. But, while there's this desire to not see somebody so beautiful get hurt, in a way we're also behind the killer because he's so charming. The play's very claustrophobic and intense, but it's also erotic, dangerous, witty and impeccably polite, and that leaves a lot of dark undercurrents to play with.”


Dial M For Murder, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, February 18-22.


Lucy Bailey – A life in theatre

Lucy Bailey was born in Somerset, and from an early age became a fan of the films of Pasolini.

Bailey became interested in theatre while working as a telephonist at Glyndebourne, and was advised by her flute teacher to pursue a career directing for the stage.

While studying English at Oxford, Bailey approached Samuel Beckett for permission to stage his short story, Lessness. Beckett told Bailey her ideas were all wrong, but let her do it anyway.

In 1995 Bailey founded The Gogmagogs music theatre group before working as an assistant director at the Royal National Theatre, Glyndebourne Opera and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Bailey blazed a bloody trail with her own productions of Shakespeare, including looks at Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter's Tale.

As well as Dial M For Murder, Bailey gas directed Don't Look Now, Baby Doll and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Outside of this, Bailey co-founded the small Print Room theatre in London.

Bailey's production of Turgenev's Fortune's Fool is currently running at the Old Vic in London.

The Herald, February 11th 2014


ends

Monday, 10 February 2014

Miss Julie

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
Everyone knows that it's in the kitchen where parties really start 
cooking up a storm. So it goes in Miss Julie, August Strindberg's 
revolutionary nineteenth century play about the cross-class lust 
between the eponymous daughter of the manor and her father's servant, 
John, who Julie grew up beside. Zinnie Harris' version may relocate the 
action to the post First World War Scottish Highlands in the midst of a 
strike among the village workers, but the simmering essence of 
Strindberg's original is retained in a brief but fiercely intense 
exchange in Dominic Hill's blistering production.

The schism between the two worlds is delineated from the off via the 
stark grey interior of Neil Haynes' design that's highlighted even more 
by the sickly yellow lighting that contains them. This contrasts 
sharply with the party noises off and occasional flashing lights 
beyond. It is not Julie we see first, however, but the maid, Christine. 
Played with steely resignation by Jessica Hardwick, Christine is here 
given more emotional weight by Harris, who makes her a near equal 
partner in a three-sided battle.

Once Louise Brealey's Julie wafts into the kitchen in search of some 
sense of self-determination beyond privilege, however, Keith Fleming's 
John takes full advantage of Julie's needy mix of  brattishness and 
brittleness. As the pair spar their way in and out of bed,sometimes 
with a surprising amount of humour, their fluctuating power games  
becomes a verbal extension of their unseen physical tryst.

Both Brealey and Fleming give their all with a pair of performances 
possessed with nuanced light and shade in what is ultimately a play 
about sex and power, the power of sex and the sexiness of power. In 
this case, the class of both parties may be crucial to giving their 
liaison a frisson of forbidden fruit, but, behind closed doors, sex is, 
or can be, a great leveller too. Judging by the gasps that came from 
the front stalls on Saturday night, the final, fateful role-play 
between the pair makes Miss  Julie as shocking as it ever was.

The Herald, February 10th 2014

ends