Friday, 29 May 2015

FiniTribe - A New Testimony

When Edinburgh's electronic dance pioneers FiniTribe returned to active duty in 2014 with a set of remixes of their 1980s Acid anthem, De Testimony, it marked the low-key resurgence of one of the most eclectic operations to ever emerge from a club culture that saw them emerge from Edinburgh's post-punk scene in 1984 to release material through Wax Trax, One Little Indian and FFFR, subverting nursery rhyme Old MacDonald to wind up the ubiquitous hamburger joint en route.

Since their 1998 album, the more downbeat Sleazy Listening, former member Philip Pinsky has become a successful composer for theatre, with the current line up of fellow originals Davie Miller and John Vick now formally known as FiniTribe with A Finiflex Production in a nod to their old studio base.

Since returning, the new incarnation of FiniTribe have played with fellow clubland auteurs 808 State, and are slowly but surely becoming key players in an underground scene personified both by Glasgow's Poetry Club, where they play next week, and by Edinburgh's live mixed media night Neu! Reekie! At the latter they share a bill with Young Fathers and Andrew Weatherall a few days after the Poetry Club show. Like Weatherall, Miller and Vick are constantly reinventing themselves to remain a vital pan-generational force of experimental beats produced to seduce to.

FiniTribe with A Finiflex Production, Hausfrau and DJ Moggieboy, Poetry Club, Glasgow, June 5th. FiniTribe will also appear with Young Fathers and Andrew Weatherall at Neu! Reekie!'s #UntitledLive, Central Hall, Edinburgh, June 9th.

ends

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Yer Granny

King’s Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars


Douglas
Maxwell’s scurrilous West Coast of Scotland version of Argentinian writer
Roberto Cossa’s piece of comic outrage, La Nona, could have been tailor-made for
popular fun palaces like the King’s. There’s something about the 1970s setting,
the Glam Rock pre-show music and the even louder wallpaper of designer Colin
Richmond’s garish living room set in Graham McLaren’s National Theatre of
Scotland production that reeks of an unreconstructed music hall turn writ large,
loud and at times very dirty indeed.

Yet there’s revolutionary intent too in
this tale of a small town chip shop owning family caught in the midst of the pre
Thatcher recession and up against a shiny new burger bar as the Queen’s 1977
Silver Jubilee looks set to tame the masses. Jonathan Watson’s patriarch Cammy
even riffs on an imaginary conversation with HRH in-between defending his couch
potato would-be genius brother Charlie to his soon to be emancipated wife Marie.
Daughter Marissa, meanwhile, turns her prim Aunt Angela into an accidental hit
woman as all the while the over-riding presence of the play’s eponymous Granny
devours everything in sight.

All of which looks and sounds as if Shameless or
Mrs Brown’s Boys had been hi-jacked by Dario Fo and given a right good seeing
to. Playing to a packed house, Gregor Fisher as Granny lumbers guilelessly and
grotesquely around the stage like a constipated rhino on heat in McLaren’s
audacious and explosive production. Barbara Rafferty is a blast as a pilled-up
and increasingly manic Aunt Angela, with Brian Pettifer’s crumbling but
perennially randy octogenarian Donnie Francisco even more so in a piece of
serious fun that looks at extreme reactions in the face of all encroaching
greed.

The Herald, May 28th 2015
ends



Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Nicola McCartney - Crazy Jane

When Nicola McCartney was first approached by Garry Robson to write a play about Jane Avril for the Birds of Paradise theatre company, the disability-based theatre company which he is co-artistic director of, on one level McCartney seemed like the obvious choice.

“He wanted someone who had written about women and trauma,” says McCartney, “and I've done a lot about both.”

Yet the Belfast born writer of plays such as Heritage and Lifeboat hadn't penned a full length work for a decade after she stopped writing several years following a breakdown. McCartney had felt she had nothing left to say, and moved into full-time foster parenting before gradually moving back into theatre by way of dramaturgy and teaching playwriting at the University of Edinburgh.

Now she was being offered the chance to dramatise the life of a nineteenth century artist who was principal dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, where she allegedly invented the high-kick for the Can Can. Feted by the great and the good, Avril became friend, muse and real life poster girl of Toulouse Lautrec, whose response to his disability was in stark contrast to Avril's own illness. For while Avril had been abused as a child before running away from home and spending time in an asylum where she was treated for St Vitus Dance, a physical-based disorder now believed to be Sydenham's Chorea, she learnt to embrace and flaunted her imperfections in a way that made her a star on her own terms.

Out of this has come Crazy Jane, an impressionistic melange of text, dance and music that looks at Avril's life, work and relationship with Lautrec.

“There are so many elements to Crazy Jane,” says McCartney, sitting in her University of Edinburgh office where she's currently in the thick of marking end of term submissions for the MA playwriting course she runs there. “Our initial conversation was about women and psychiatry, and he wanted me to write something about how women are treated in that world of psychiatry. I was interested in doing it because these themes are all very personal to me, I guess, and very much within my field of interest.”

Crazy Jane was born after Robson visited an exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec paintings, and discovered that Avril had been a patient at the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris in the early 1880s when she was a teenager. Avril had been a patient of Jean Martin Charcot, one of the founding fathers of neuroscience who had coined the term hysteria, and who would exhibit his patients at weekly lectures before the great and the good of Paris as if they were a grotesque form of theatre.

“They would go to watch him parade the crazies,” McCartney says, “and demonstrate different types of mental illness. There's very little written about Jane Avril, and when I eventually did a bit of digging I realised that there's a lot in her story that as a foster parent I recognise and have lived with. In the four years from 2008 to 2011 I lived with many young women who had quite severe mental health problems as a result of trauma. Avril's early life was deeply tragic, and the Chorea was a response to that. I eventually said to Garry that I thought Jane Avril was a deeply heroic person. There's a lot in my work about survival, and she fitted in with that as well. She overcame really severe physical and emotional trauma to become an artist.”

Crazy Jane is the first full-length new play by McCartney to appear on a Scottish stage since 2004, when Standing Wave, her impressionistic look at electronic music pioneer and stalwart of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Delia Derbyshire, appeared at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Like that play, Crazy Jane will feature two actresses portraying its protagonist. Like Standing Wave too, Crazy Jane mixes up forms to paint a rich picture of a complex character.

Despite her absence, regular theatre audiences could be forgiven for not noticing that McCartney had ducked out of view. Her name seems to frequently pop up, whether as a dramaturg for Vanishing Point, running The Visitors, a series of readings of neglected contemporary Scottish plays, or organising a conference that looked at the last fifty years of playwriting in Scotland and the James Tait Black Award for new playwriting. McCartney has also spent time in Russia developing a version of the Traverse Theatre's Class Act initiative to nurture plays penned by high school pupils, and has just curated a season of new plays by Russian and Ukranian writers seen in translation at Oran Mor.

“It was a deliberate exit strategy I took before,” McCartney says of her extended sabbatical. “I don't think I'd ever really recovered from my breakdown, and I think it had knocked my confidence, and I just wanted out. Then as a full time foster parent I didn't have time to write. But working with the social work system and seeing some of the things that go on there, I got my anger back. It reignited my politics, and I had something to say again.”

As well as the play featuring cameos from Drs Freud, Jung, Alzheimer and Tourette, Robson's production features choreography by Janice Parker, with a musical score by Edinburgh hip hop duo, Hector Bizerk.

“There are a huge amounts of elements I'm working with,” McCartney says, “but really it's about Jane's relationship with herself, and how she accepts what happens to her, and accepts that she's crazy, but also puts limits on what people call her. All the Moulin Rouge dancers had lots of handles, but she always wanted to just be Jane Avril, which was a name she invented for herself. She refused all the other epithets that branded her and exoticised her mental illness, and she goes on this journey of accepting that actually being a bit mad is part of who she is.

“That's very specific in how it's to do with disability, and how you can view disability as something other and exotic, like in the way we can stare at people with disabilities. That relates to all the politics that's going on at the moment with our horrendous government who are cutting access to work payments and are basically criminalising both the poor and the disabled in a way that's about ostracisation, not integration. Yet Jane Avril was a person with really serious mental health issues who managed to become one of the leading artists of her time, and survived, and embraced her disability to the extent that she saw that as what fuelled her art.”

Crazy Jane, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, May 28-30 then touring.
www.birdsofparadisetheatre.co.uk
 
The Herald, May 26th 2015
 
ends

Monday, 25 May 2015

Hidden Door

The Secret Courtyard, Edinburgh
Four stars

What a shame that City of Edinburgh Council is in such a mess that they're flogging off their assets to property developers who then turn them into luxury flats, hotels and restaurants with little or no cultural provision. That's what's about to happen to the Market Street Vaults, the site for last year's Hidden Door, a nine day pop-up festival of music, theatre, visual art and film brought to life by the festival's creative director David Martin and his team of volunteers.

That's what looks set to happen too to this year's Hidden Door venue, set in the former King Stables Road headquarters of the City's Departments of Lighting and Cleansing, which Martin and co have transformed into a multiple space endeavour dubbed The Secret Courtyard. With art of one form or another occupying every crumbling nook and cranny either side of the courtyard itself, the result is the sort of hippified autonomous zone and bohemian village which Edinburgh is crying out for on a permanent basis.

Perhaps Polish artist Karolina Kubik will have cast some psychic energy on the space during her gruelling performance on Sunday afternoon that may help it live again as a crucial left-field artspace. Clad in a tight-fitting evening dress, after introducing her performance through a megaphone on the road, Kubik kneels down, puts a large slab of chalk in her mouth and proceeds to crawl from the road, up the lane beside the venue, onto West Port and beyond, marking out her circular path with the chalk still in her mouth, leaving a snail-like trail as she goes.

Kubik's self-styled 'installaction' formed part of a five-hour rolling presentation under the Legacy of Kantor banner in honour of seminal Polish theatre artist Tadeusz Kantor's relationship with Edinburgh. Presented by Hidden Door in association with the Royal Scottish Academy, the University of Dundee, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Demarco Archive, Legacy of Kantor largely took place behind chicken wire in the venue's self-explanatory Caged Room. One performer read texts into a microphone, discarding them one by one across a carpet of coloured slippers. Another donned a bowler hat and business suit before warming up to radio football commentary and teaching a couple of audience members to tango on the spot while the inevitable mannequin looked on.

Most of Hidden Door's theatrical activity took place in The Peely Room, named after its decrepit interior. This is taken full advantage of in a new production of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths by the Edinburgh-based Siege Perilous company.

Given that the real life homeless are known to have used the old council building as an impromptu shelter, Gorky's near plotless study of the poverty-stricken Russian underclass is also timely. As an assortment of lowlifes, holy fools and other untouchables seek sanctuary in drink or each other, one can't help but think of the ongoing destruction of the welfare state.

As evocative of a flop-house as Andy Corelli's rough-hewn production is, it sometimes suffers from not being big enough. With the best will in the world and some fine performances, a cast of eight simply cannot double up enough to cover all bases in Gorky's raucous ramble of a play.

Also in the Peely Room were a series of miniatures developed and performed by emerging artists. Hooves was a fascinating piece of solo story-telling by Annie Lord, who in just fifteen minutes gave a dramatic history of the role horses have played on the site of The Secret Courtyard. Cooly delivered, Lord's monologue moves from jousting to reveal how Hollywood foley artists evoke equine clip-clops and gallops.

The Voice of the Lizard found Jemma Blythe regaling a hooded figure tied to a chair with evolutionary yarns that have left a latent in-built aggression in its wake. Mixing movement and text on a stage littered with cut-out paper lizard shapes, this thirty minute affair was made all the more deadly by its wide-eyed quietude.

It was The Ludens Ensemble's remarkable Macbeth in Silence, however, that was the most complete work on show. Part of the company's Collective Memory project designed to explore already existing works, Macbeth in Silence rendered Shakespeare's Scottish play wordless but far from silent in an amplified cacophony that mixed up Pierrot-faced shape-throwing, fractured film projections, silent movie captions and a score that flitted between John Carpenter style electronica, industrial clang and the sort of microphone techniques favoured by the current Noise scene.

Through all this, the show's three performers whipped up a cellophane-shrouded storm of mime with menaces over an hour-long eruption which should prove to be essential viewing when it returns to Edinburgh in August for a Festival Fringe run.

Meanwhile, by early Sunday evening, Karolina Kubik had made it as far as Lady Lawson Street, still on her knees, still chalking out her way home in one of Hidden Door's defining moments.

The Herald, May 26th 2015

ends


Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Only Fun in Town? - Going Live in Edinburgh's Grassroots Music Scenes

Whenever people say there's nothing musically going on in Edinburgh
outside of August I find myself bristling, because I know it's not true. Ten
years ago when it seemed like there were only a handful of bands, while assorted
venues and club nights that existed then have been and gone for a variety of
reasons, including fire, mismanagement and demolition, I could maybe understand
such a complaint. Right now, however, live music and a grass-roots arts scene in
Edinburgh is thriving. This despite what feels at times like every effort from
City of Edinburgh Council and it's archaic laws on noise restriction to police
or else stop live music completely.

The fact is, there is plenty of live
music – and I include a club culture here that goes beyond boys with guitars -
that takes place pretty much every night at small venues such as Sneaky Pete's,
Electric Circus, Henry's Cellar Bar, the Wee Red Bar at Edinburgh College of
Art, Citrus, the Caves, the Bongo Club, the Forest, Cabaret Voltaire, the Mash
House, Studio 24, Bannerman's, the Liquid Rooms, the Banshee Labyrinth, the
Voodoo Rooms and La Belle Angele.

If you want to move a step up to something
more formal, there is the Queen's Hall,  which has seen many artists who started
out playing Henry's or Sneaky Pete's move into a bigger arena. The Usher Hall
hosted the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, and hosts large-scale pop/rock, jazz,
folk and classical music concerts. Outwith the city centre there is the Corn
Exchange, although no-one seems to like it overly much.

Beyond that, there
are numerous one-offs at assorted church halls, working men's clubs such as
Leith Dockers Club and a lively pub circuit, with events taking place in the
back rooms of the Safari Lounge and many others. Sandy Bell's and the Royal Oak
host nightly folk sessions as they have done since the Scottish folk revival of
the 1960s, while upstairs in the Outhouse a fortnightly jazz night called
Playtime takes place. 

One church hall, the Central Hall on Lothian Road,
looks set to be the venue for a night presented by Neu! Reekie!, one of the many
nights which mix up spoken-word with live music. The Neu! Reekie! night on June
9th will feature Young Fathers, Andy Weatherall and Fini Tribe as well as
spoken-word artists.

There is the Jazz Bar, which puts on three gigs a night
364 days a year, and there are a host of one-offs in people's flats or one of
the equally thriving network of grass-roots art spaces that exists such as
Rhubaba and the Embassy. There have been gigs at Summerhall pretty much since it
opened. There are micro festivals such as LeithLate, and now in August itself
even Edinburgh International Festival has embraced pop, hosting shows by the
Sparks/Franz Ferdinand collaboration, FFS, Sufjan Stevens and Oneohtrix Point
Never.

At the time of writing I've just come home from Moonhop, a monthly
night at Henry's Cellar Bar run by the band, FOUND, who at various points have
released records on the Fence and Creeping Bent labels as well as their own
Surface Pressure imprint, and whose background at Gray's School of Art in
Aberdeen has seen them dabble with conceptual type shenanigans such as running
club nights. Social sculpture, as they probably wouldn't call it. Tonight
featured River of Slime, which is Kev Sim from FOUND doing sci-fi analog synth
stuff, while the night was headlined by The Sexual Objects playing their
instrumental Cream Split Up album, which has been played to death by BBC 6Music,
in full.

This is significant in that The Sexual Objects front-man Davy
Henderson has roots going right back to Fire Engines, the Edinburgh band who
were key players around the city's post-punk scene from 1979 to 1981, and who
would go on to be name-checked by Franz Ferdinand as a major influence. Fire
Engines were part of a scene based around Fast Product records, the record label
run by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison from a flat in Keir Street next to ECA. Fast
put out the first records by the Gang of Four and the Human League, was a huge
influence on Factory Records – and it's interesting to note the differences
between Edinburgh and Manchester in terms of how each city's musical history has
been treated - and arguably changed the pop landscape forever, as is explained
in Grant McPhee's forthcoming documentary film, The Sound of Young
Scotland.

The sole album released by Fire Engines' Edinburgh contemporaries
Josef K, also featured in the Sound of Young Scotland, was tellingly called The
Only Fun in Town. This was undoubtedly a nod to a time in the pre-punk late
1970s when there really wasn't any kind of live music scene in Edinburgh after
many of the city's clubs and dance halls were either demolished or turned into
bingo halls.

Three and a half decades on, Moonhop was packed, and was one of
several nights I could have gone to tonight, including the first edition of the
ironically named Summerhall-based Nothing Ever Happens Here, featuring Broken
Records and others. Last Friday I had even more choices. As well as The Unthanks
at the Queen's Hall, I could have gone to see the Alabama 3 at Studio 24, retro
garage rock veterans The Thanes at the club-house of Leith Cricket Club or a
Song By Toad night at Henry's. On Sunday night I went to a bill of four
Edinburgh bands at Krafty Brew, a micro brewery set in an industrial estate off
Leith Walk, while this weekend there is live music taking place on Saturday
afternoon at the Elvis Shakespeare record and book shop.

Some people seem to
think there is no such thing as a scene in Edinburgh, and, in a way, they're
right, because rather than there just being one, there are many. Outwith the
main promoters such as Regular Music, there are regular nights put on by the
Song, By Toad label in Henry's or else at the warehouse space that forms Toad HQ
in Leith. The Gentle Invasion, run by Bart of the band Eagleowl, puts on
extravaganzas of left-field songwriters in Pilrig Church Hall and other places
as did the Tracer Trails organisation before them. Over almost a decade, Limbo
has provided monthly bills of local artists at the Voodoo Rooms.

Braw Gigs
provide a platform for the city's thriving experimental scene, following in the
footsteps of the Giant Tank label, whose 'house band', Edinburgh duo Usurper,
were recently championed by Scottish Symphony Orchestra director Ilan Volkov,
who programmed them as part of his Tectonics festival in Glasgow and Reykjavik.
Operating out of the University of Edinburgh, Martin Parker's Dialogues
initiative has promoted experimental music at the School of Music based in
Alison House and elsewhere, often in association with New Media Scotland at the
Informatics Centre. EdImpro have continued this relationship, with events at the
Talbot Rice Gallery and the Reid Concert Hall.

There has been the Pleasance
sessions at Edinburgh University featuring the likes of the Phantom Band and
Honeyblood, and a series of shows in the Traverse Theatre bar featuring the
likes of Alasdair Roberts by the Soundhouse project, whose house concerts fell
foul of the sort of noise complaints which are in part at the root of any damage
currently being caused to live music in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Folk Club puts
on regular shows at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Blues Club hosts nights at the
Voodoo Rooms, while an underground thrash metal scene operates unmolested in the
once folksy environs of Bannermans. The Wee Dub Festival now promotes reggae
nights across he city on a regular basis, and there is a thriving open mic scene
in numeropus bars around town. For a decade Olaf Furniss' Born To Be Wide and
Wide Days events have brought together local musicians and bands for a series of
music industry seminars, showcases and social events.

As a journalist I'm
privileged to be able to move across these worlds, dipping a dilettantish toe in
each as I'm wont to do, witnessing a bigger picture in a way which maybe those
steeped in a particular niche or scene perhaps aren't interested in doing simply
because they're too busy doing their own thing. But in terms of the multifarious
activities described above, Edinburgh's music scene is in no need of
revitalising, regeneration or reincarnation in any way, and anyone who thinks
otherwise probably needs to get out more. And, you know, the more the
merrier.

Edinburgh has always been a Jekyll and Hyde city, in which
establishment-based institutions project a façade of respectability while the
really interesting things happen in the shadows beyond. This is the case in the
numerous niche live music micro scenes that co-exist in Edinburgh as much as
with everything else that goes on here, and that's fine.

In terms of civic
will, however, the story is very different. Over the last decade, numerous
venues have been flattened or bulldozed away as the City has increasingly seemed
to favour property developers over grass-roots arts and culture on its own
doorstep. The result of this is that few art students arriving in Edinburgh are
aware that before the student flats, boutique hotel and the Sainsbury's Local
next to their alma mater were built, crucial venues such as the Tap O'Laurieston
and the Cas Rock hosted the like of the Planet Pop festival and provided crucial
focal points for bands and artists  by promoting gigs all year round.

Then
there is the now notorious 'inaudibility clause', which has seen pubs and other
small venues close down their live music nights at the behest of what has more
often than not been a sole complainant. While city centre living is at a premium
in Edinburgh, as the current CEC laws stand, the notion of what does or doesn't
warrant a noise nuisance is at best subjectively vague and lacks
specificity.

The most striking example of botched civic will comes in the
form of the Picture House, a much needed 1500 capacity city centre venue with a
long history as a venue dating back to the 1970s after its original incarnation
as a cinema. Two years ago the Picture House was purchased by Watford based bar
chain, JD Wetherspoon, with a view to converting the building into a 'superpub'.
In its last incarnation, the Picture House was owned by HMV, who in 2010 had
acquired the whole of entertainment venue operators the MAMA group, who had
bought the Picture House in 2008. While the building has currently lain empty
since late 2013, given that JD Wetherspoon's raison d'etre is one of music-free
bars, the chances of them retaining the Picture House as a music venue are
non-existent.

Objections were raised to this in the form of a 13,000
signature petition, although a CEC report recommended to councillors that JD
Wetherspoon should be granted a change of use for the building, despite the
report being riddled with inaccuracies including the suggestion that the venue's
prime function was as a nightclub. This hadn't been the case since an inglorious
period in the 1980s and 1990s, when closing time on Lothian Road outside what
was then known as the Amphitheatre and later Century 2000 and Revolution was
invariably accompanied by several police vans.

This raises the question of a
lack of civic knowledge concerning Edinburgh's rich musical history. It is a
lack of knowledge shared with s others who really do think nothing ever happens
here. What is required to counter that perception  is an extensive archiving
project, which puts Edinburgh's bulldozed musical legacy back into the public
domain where it can potentially inspire others as well as give CEC officers a
primer in pop history.

What is lacking most of all at the moment from CEC is
any kind of vision. Instead of planning grand schemes regarding the bogus
concept of cultural quarters and suchlike, the powers that be need to stop
listening to property developers and breweries and start listening to their
constituents and the artists and musicians contained within that
constituency.

At the moment, CEC is kow-towing to notions of gentrification,
which is the by-product of urban regeneration in which lip service is paid to
notions of art and culture without any real understanding of it.

Such
botched attempts at social engineering aren't exclusive to Edinburgh. In London,
what would now be described as a song-writing 'hub', Tin Pan Alley on Denmark
Street, is being razed in the name of development. In Liverpool, the site of
super-club Cream is being demolished to build flats. And in New York, CBGBs, the
shabby home of American punk, was forced to close because its management could
no longer afford to pay the rent in the once derelict but now gentrified East
Village district of Manhattan.

What is needed in Edinburgh is a vision that
both enables artists, musicians and promoters to put on live music in the
multitude of spaces mentioned here in a way that allows them to co-exist happily
with their neighbours. That means looking at licenses in terms of the
inaudibility clause, which, while again not unique to Edinburgh, affects it more
due to a highly residential city centre.

Existing spaces also need
protecting, so rather than build new properties close to venues or else bulldoze
the venues away, property developers, breweries and supermarket chains should
have to take into account the cultural provision that already exists and which
they are effectively inveigling upon. This means live music having a voice in
planning decisions that may threaten historically significant live music
venues.

Promoters, musicians and every other artist in Edinburgh are already
in full possession of the sort of vision that is required . There are even
signs, through the Live Music Matters and Desire Lines initiatives, that at last
there is some kind of will from City of Edinburgh Council to help facilitate any
necessary changes to current legislation. Whether that amounts to anything in
real terms remains to be seen, but without any vision of their own, CEC run the
risk of not being able to recognise any of the wonderful live music events that
go on in this city, some of which have already changed the world.


Written quickly in March 2015, this was originally intended as a couple of paragraphs in response to an approach by Chris McCall, who was writing an article on live music in Edinburgh for Vice magazine, and asked me to expand on a post I made on the Keep Music Live Edinburgh Facebook page to be used as quotes in his piece. As yet the article hasn't appeared, and as my couple of paragaraphs had grown considerably it was published on the webpage of the University of Edinburgh's Live Music Exchange at the behest of Adam Behr. Live Music Exchange is an initiative made up of assorted academics researching live music.

ends

Lee Miller and Picasso

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
23 May − 6 September 2015

When Lee Miller met Pablo Picasso in 1937, it was a meeting of minds that lasted more than three decades up until Picasso's death in 1973. Somewhere inbetween the pair became mutual muses, with Miller photographing Picasso more than a thousand times, while Miller was painted by Picasso numerous times.

The bond between these two major artists is made clear in Lee Miller and Picasso, a major new exhibition in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery, and which forms part of the SNPG's 2015 Season of Photography. More than 100 images and objects selected from the Lee Miller Archive will highlight Miller and Picasso's friendship during turbulent times, and will include the wedding photograph of Miller and English surrealist Roland Penrose.

Miller and Picasso's legacy is still very much with us,” explains the show's curator Annie Lyden, “and their enduring friendship shows what it was like to be around at that time in history through these very intimate photographs. There are lots of images taken of Picasso and his friends and colleagues, but very few of Miller and him together.”

The two stand-out of these for Lyden show off how Miller and Picasso's friendship was sustained despite long periods apart.

One is from 1944,” Lyden says, “when Lee was working with the armed forces during the liberation of Paris, and realises she's just round the corner from Picasso's studio so she goes and sees him. There's a very tender look between them, and you can see the joy and relief of them finding one another again. The second is from 1970, and there's this look that's shared, and after everything they've been through, you can see the passing of time.

The List, May 2015

ends

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Into That Darkness

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

“What interests me is not what uniform a man has on,” says Nazi death camp commandant Franz Stangl at one point in Robert David Macdonald's piercing adaptation of Gitta Sereny's forensic journalistic dissection of Stangl. “It is what is inside the man.” The fact that his interrogator is Sereny herself, attempting to get to the root of how a lonely zither-playing boy can grow up to oversee one of the largest mass murders in history is a telling indictment, both of his own lack of self-awareness and his long buried desire to offload his previously unacknowledged guilt.

Behind plate glass in an austere grey prison office, Sereny peels back layer after layer of Stangl's psychological skin. Initially buttoned up in a tight-fitting suit, by the end of the play he's down to his shirt-sleeves. Where Cliff Burnett's Stangl appears wraith-like and haunted, he remains quietly cocksure as he wearily confronts his own crimes. In his presence, Blythe Duff as Gitta is steely as she listens to his matter of fact litanies of overseeing Treblinka's 'cargo' to the gas chamber while sporting a newly tailored white riding outfit.

With the pair flanked by Stangl's wife and other bystanders played by Molly Innes and Ali Craig, each scene of Gareth Nicholls' intense, slow-burning production is punctuated by an extended blackout and low rumbles of sound, as if the tape has run out, leaving gaps to ponder the magnitude of Stangl's actions. All of which makes for a deeply discomforting experience, made even more so by the reflections of the audience cast onto the glass by Stuart Jenkins' wilfully harsh lighting in a thrillingly mesmeric meditation on human cruelty.
 
The Herald, May 22nd 2015

ends




Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mark Thomson - On Leaving the Royal Lyceum Theatre on the Eve of its 50th Season

When the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh announced the resignation of its artistic director Mark Thomson last week after twelve years at the helm, there were some who thought Thomson's decision was in response to Scotland's arts funding quango Creative Scotland's potentially damaging seventeen per cent cut in the theatre's regular funding. Here, after all, was one of the country's leading rep companies who, as this season's productions of Brian Friel's Faith Healer, Tony Cownie's new take on Goldoni's The Venetian Twins and Thomson's own boisterous production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle have proved, is at the top of its game.

This was confirmed by the news that the Royal Lyceum has been nominated for a record breaking seventeen awards at this year's Critics Awards For Theatre in Scotland. The announcement too of the theatre's fiftieth anniversary season as a producing company has also set the country's theatre scene aflutter, with Thomson's opening production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot starring a dream team of Brian Cox, Bill Paterson and John Bett alone worth signing up for.

The Lyceum's 2015/16 season also features productions of Arthur Miller's The Crucible and Conor McPherson's The Weir. There are co-productions with the Lyric Hammersmith on Tipping The Velvet, and the National Theatre of Scotland and Told by an Idiot for I Am Thomas, a new play about Moliere, Thon Man Moliere, by Liz Lochhead and a stage version of Homer's Iliad by Chris Hannan. With such a strong season, Thomson's departure following a typically fearless statement which declared Creative Scotland's decision to make the cut a 'perverse punishment for acknowledged success' might appear to be connected. In truth, however, Thomson's departure has been in the pipeline for over a year.

“I'd already decided to go long before the funding cut,” he says of the decision, “and it feels both liberating and scary, but with absolutely no sense of, oh, God what have I done? Whatever the arc of my time here has been I do think that because of the shitty thing that has happened to the company in terms of funding, it's not wrong for someone else to come in and think really clearly and unsentimentally about what this place could this be.”

Sitting in the auditorium of the theatre he's called home for more than a decade, Thomson talks about just how special the theatre's fiftieth anniversary is.

“I've just recently passed through my fiftieth portal as well,” he says, “and there's no doubt that invites a degree of reflection on what you've been, on what you are and what you will be, so I've entered the programme with that very much on my mind. It's not about looking back in a nostalgic way, because nostalgia has no place in theatre, but to be able to field someone like Brian Cox, who was in the original Lyceum company, and Billy Paterson, who was here in the sixties, that's the trumpet. That's what a fiftieth season should be about.”

Thomson arrived at the Royal Lyceum in 1993 to take over from Kenny Ireland after running the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh for several years. A new policy in East Lothian meant that the venue would no longer be a producing house, and, with Ireland departing the Lyceum after his decade-long reign, Thomson stepped up. Prior to that, the Livingston-born director had begun his professional directing career at Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Royal Shakespeare Company before moving back to Scotland.

In the time he has been in Grindlay Street, Thomson has directed over ninety productions, twenty-eight of which were world premieres. Amongst the latter were two plays of his own, including the award winning A Mad Man Sings At The Moon. As well as this, he has built up a core team of associate artists, with director John Dove working his way through Arthur Miller's canon, while Tony Cownie has concentrated largely on more comedic fare. More recently, Amanda Gaughan has demonstrated her directing skills on a big stage with Hedda Gabler, and looks set to continue next year with her production of The Weir.

Thomson put David Tennant on a big Scottish stage playing Jimmy Porter in a production of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger just prior to him taking up his tenure as Dr Who. More recently Thomson packed out the auditorium for a brand new play by Ian Rankin.

Despite such successes, the cut came as a shock, and Thomson still isn't shy of saying what he thinks of it.

“I'm not sorry I said what I did,” he says of his original reaction. “You can't be putting on plays like The Crucible and not say what you think, otherwise I'm a fraud. Very fundamentally, Creative Scotland's decision to cut us felt ill thought out. It felt like we'd become part of a numbers game that didn't relate to the quality of the work. I didn't feel like they had a vision for us other than to do it for less, and at that point I don't know what the conversation is. I don't know how to talk to them, because I don't know what they mean.

“It became very close to wondering if they want a company at all. It's a cut of over 200 grand a year, which is almost a third of our entire production budget. When you think the fabric is being damaged, not the garden, but the reason the house exists, you can't not say something.”

As it is, the conversation that has occurred has enabled the Lyceum to function at the same level for this year and next, with a massive fund-raising operation necessary to make the third year in the theatre's funding cycle happen at all. By that time Thomson will be long gone, though doing what he genuinely hasn't a clue.

For the immediate future Thomson will be looking to cast Lucky in Waiting For Godot. Given that the role requires the actor to perform one of the lengthiest speeches in modern dramatic history, this will be no easy task. As he breezes into the theatre foyer, however, it's a task he clearly relishes.

“I don't want to be ten per cent less,”he says. “That's what happens if you stay somewhere too long. I want to be a hundred per cent, but I feel quite freed about next year. It's oddly liberating, and doesn't feel at all sad for me. It's really exciting, and doesn't even feel like it's a last hurrah. I just feel like I'm coming into work really happy and positive, and that's okay, isn't it?”

Tickets for all shows in the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh's 50th anniversary season are on sale now.
www.lyceum.org.uk

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Monday, 18 May 2015

Happy Days

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When the bell rings to mark the beginning and end of Winnie's day in Andy Arnold's exquisite revival of Samuel Beckett's classic piece of existential vaudeville, it's urgent peals may suggest closing time on some kind of gladitorial struggle, but her enforced stillness says otherwise. Such contradictions of hope and despair are at the heart of Beckett's work, and, buried to her waist in the sand as if the victim of some urchins prank while sleeping, Karen Dunbar's Winnie is an equally mercurial creature.

One minute she's all smiles, rummaging through the bag beside her for an assortment of beauty aides to help keep up appearances. The next she's fondling a revolver, waxing lyrical on what the day may or may not bring. Her partner in crime Willie, meanwhile, all but ignores her, hiding from the sun behind a newspaper as he throws out monosyllabic non-sequiters.

The assorted rituals constructed from domestic minutiae Winnie uses to survive are as painfully recognisable as the studied apathy of Willie, played by Arnold himself with quiet desperation.

Designer Carys Hobbs' post-apocalyptic landscape may look to painter Max Ernst for inspiration, but Arnold and Dunbar are as akin to a saucy seaside postcard come to life out of season as to surrealism. Winnie and Willie are the ultimate end of the pier double act giving their all with a kiss me quick routine that will kill ya if it doesn't get them first.

In this respect Dunbar performs the remarkable feat of taking what can often be played as an interior monologue and externalising it. Without ever overplaying it, there's a nod to the audience here and an eye-roll there. The business with the hat and the painted on showbiz smiles are the stuff of music hall and silent movies.

As masterful Dunbar is with such comic material, she is even more so in the play's more insular and pathos-driven second half, where her wonderfully held silences speak volumes about the pain she's in, only for her to be mercifully saved by the bell. Again.

The Herald, May 18th 2015

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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Al Pacino – The Local Stigmatic

Beyond his iconic movie roles, Al Pacino is a consummate man of the theatre. His 1996 documentary, Looking For Richard, explored Shakespeare's Richard III, a role Pacino played on Broadway in 1979. Pacino had already won a Tony award a decade earlier for his career-launching performance in Don Peterson's play, Does A Tiger Wear A Necktie?

More recently Pacino played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and appeared in a revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet wrote China Doll, which has just been on Broadway, especially for Pacino. It was while appearing in a 1983 revival of Mamet's American Buffalo that Pacino first thought about filming a play that had lived with him since his early days at New York's legendary Actor's Studio.

The Local Stigmatic was an early work by poet and doyen of London's 1960s counter-cultural underground, Heathcote Williams, and was first performed at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 1966 in a double bill with The Dwarves, a short work by Harold Pinter.

Williams' play focuses on two men, Graham and Ray, who spend their time at the greyhound track or in the pub. It is in the latter they spot a well-known actor whose image appears in one of the celebrity magazines that Graham laps up. Fan-boy fawning turns to vicious retribution, however, as they walk the actor home.

Pacino first acted in The Local Stigmatic in 1968, and eventually appeared in an Off-Broadway production that looked set to close after one night before Jon Voight stepped up to fund a week-long run. Pacino returned to The Local Stigmatic six years later with his Godfather co-star John Cazale, and he eventually produced David Wheeler's 1990 film version, playing Graham opposite Paul Guilfoyle as Ray. While never commercially released, it appeared on DVD as part of an Al Pacino box set released in 2007.

Given both Pacino and Williams' ambivalence towards fame, Graham's defining statement to Ray becomes a manifesto for both men.

"Fame is the first disgrace,” says Graham, “because God knows who you are. God knows who YOU are.”

The Herald, May 16th 2015

 
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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Normal/Madness

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Three stars

It's a mad world for Kirsty, the young woman at the centre of Fiona Geddes' solo play, revived following its Edinburgh Festival Fringe run for a series of dates to tie in with Mental Health Awareness Week. One minute she's quoting French novelist Marguerite Duras regarding the unhinged proclivities of mums everywhere, the next she's rewinding her own back pages beside the seaside or else taking a phone call from her own mother to prove Duras' point. Somewhere inbetween she's taking second and third opinions from a conveyor belt of doctors regarding the nature of schizophrenia, an illness she's so au fait with that she even wore the t-shirt.

As performed by Geddes herself in Jessica Beck's production for the fledgling Kidder company, the end result is a quasi stand-up tale of ordinary madness and the hand-me-down legacy left in its wake. Barely still for a second beside a chair perched on a low angled platform, Geddes embarks on an emotional merry-go-round as she flits between wryly related anecdotes that move towards something more troubling.

It is Geddes' portrayal of Kirsty's mother that provides some of the play's most poignant moments, while a grown-up Kirsty comes to terms with a potentially childless future with a bi-polar boyfriend. Out of something that could easily have become angst-ridden comes a life-affirming display of acceptance and understanding through the mutual bond of familial love. To lend charm to such sensitive material is a difficult act to pull off, but Geddes does it with aplomb, as anyone who sees the show tonight and this weekend at the Tron in Glasgow as part of the theatre Mayfesto season should find out.
 
The Herald, May 15th 2015
 
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Live Music Matters? - How City of Edinburgh Council Killed the Picture House

The decision by City of Edinburgh Council to give Watford based pub chain JD Wetherspoon planning permission to convert the historic music venue and former cinema most recently known as The Picture House into a 'superpub' on Lothian Road is a huge blow to Edinburgh's live music scene. Based on CEC officers recommendations, this decision marked the end of a saga which has left a much needed mid-scale music venue boarded up sionce December 2013 after JD Wetherspoon bought it from HMV.

The decision was passed by CEC's Planning Committee's Development Management Sub Committee by six votes to four, with Councillor Eric Milligan, who is also head of the Licensing Board, abstaining. Four members of the fifteen-strong committee were absent. Given the significance of the issue, which prompted almost 13,500 people to sign a petition organised by the Save The Picture House campaign, this result was disappointing to many.

The impact of the Picture House's closure in terms of discouraging mid-scale touring bands to visit Edinburgh due to a lack of an appropriate city centre venue has been plain to see since 2013. While in its prime the Picture House could host shows by the likes of Bat For Lashes, Chic, the New York Dolls and Mudhoney most nights of the week, now the likes of Ride and Godspeed You! Black Emperor have noticeably left Edinburgh off their current tour itinerary. More significantly, perhaps, the signals that CEC's decision sends out to pub chains, property developers and hoteliers is potentially catastrophic to Edinburgh's year-round artistic life.

The recent bid by developers to convert the site of the former Old Royal High School into a five star hotel is already symptomatic of current CEC thinking, although a counter proposal by the city's St Mary's Music School for the Royal High to become its new premises has also been mooted. This week has also seen the bid by Out of the Blue Arts Trust to transform the former Boroughmuir High School into a community arts hub put under threat by property developers, Cala Homes, who want to convert this historic building into flats.

The decision regarding The Picture House site was delivered a week or so prior to the publication of the Desire Lines report, a call to arms designed in part to protect, support and enable Edinburgh's assorted arts and culture scenes in the face of such decisions. The decision comes too at a time when CEC are purporting to support a grassroots live music scene with initiatives such as the Live Music Matters forum. Out of this large scale event, attended by musicians, promoters and venue managers in November 2014, two working groups were set up.

The first, Music is Audible, is focusing on the use of CEC's current licensing condition of 'inaudibility' which requires any live amplified music to be inaudible beyond the venue itself. The second, simply called Live Music Matters, is attempting to develop music industry industry-based think-tank that looks to protect and develop live music activity in the City. Having been invited to join both groups, things are at a very early stage in terms of development. While what eventually results from them in real terms remains to be seen, however, the Picture House ruling potentially undermines both.

Despite this, Edinburgh's assorted grassroots music scenes are livelier now than for at least a decade. This welter of activity would seem to be despite, rather than because of anything CEC has done during that period. Just how lively it is might become clear following the forthcoming Edinburgh Live Music Census, which can be regarded as the first positive by-product of Live Music Matters and Music is Audible.

Initiated by the University of Edinburgh-based Live Music Exchange, the Edinburgh Live Music Census will attempt to find out just how much live musical activity is currently taking place in Edinburgh, be that in pubs, cafes or concert halls, established regular venues or pop-up grassroots art spaces. The Census will take place on the weekend of June 5th/6th, and is based on a model in Australia conducted in 2012, which led to the introduction of the Agent of Change principle. This principle is designed to protect established venues from complaints resulting from encroaching gentrification.

Both the Musicians Union and the recently established Music Venue Trust are lobbying for the Agent of Change to be introduced in the UK. If live music really matters to CEC, a clear and ongoing civic will for live music provision needs to be built into council policy. If every musician, promoter and venue manager in Edinburgh takes part in the Edinburgh Live Music Census, the Agent of Change principle might eventually become a reality. With this in place, whatever venues rise from the ashes of the Picture House debacle can be protected alongside existing spaces as vital homes for Edinburgh's music scenes which allow it to flourish.

Anyone wishing to get involved in the Edinburgh Live Music Census, contact Adam Behr at Live Music Exchange at adam.behr@ed.ac.uk, or check out the website - http://livemusicexchange.org/blog/the-edinburgh-live-music-census
 
Neil Cooper is an arts writer and critic who lives and works in Edinburgh, where he has seen property developers, pub chains and hoteliers favoured by assorted local authorities over music and arts venues for a very long time. He sits on the Music is Audible and Live Music Matters working groups, and contributed to the Desire Lines report.
 
The List, May 2015

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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness Revived at the Citz

When in 1994 Robert David MacDonald staged Into That Darkness, Gitta Sereny's study of Nazi extermination camp commandant Franz Stangl, it was twenty years since the Austrian born writer's book was first published. The book itself had resulted from some sixty hours of interviews with Stangl, in which he eventually admitted his guilt before suffering a heart attack nineteen hours later.

MacDonald's production was staged under the title In Quest of Conscience at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, where with Giles Havergal and Philip Prowse he was the theatre's co-artistic director. The playwright, translator, adaptor and international polymath himself played Stangl opposite Roberta Taylor as Sereny.

Another twenty years on, and the Citz has restored the book's original title for a new look at MacDonald's version of Sereny's book which opens this week in a production by Gareth Nicholls. This time out Blythe Duff takes on the role of Sereny, with Cliff Burnett as Stangl.

Sereny, who died in 2012 aged ninety-one, went to see the original production of MacDonald's play with her entire family, including her photographer husband Don Honeyman and their two children. Sereny's daughter Mandy Honeyman will return to the Citz with her brother and sister-in-law to see Nicholls' new take on things.

“We want to go and see it again,” says Honeyman, “and remember the book and remember our mother. I remember going up to Glasgow before with my mum and dad, and I think my mother found it quite odd being represented onstage, though for me it all felt once removed.”

Into That Darkness: from Mercy Killing to Mass Murder, a study of Franz Stangl, the Commandant of Treblinka was Sereny's second book, following the equally controversial The Case of Mary Bell two years earlier. That book focused on the eleven year old girl who was convicted for killing two four year old boys in 1968, and, as with Into That Darkness, attempted to go beyond received notions of evil to find the humanity beyond her subject's actions. With Stangl, however, this wasn't easy, and the experience left their mark on Sereny.

“I think it was incredibly hard for her,” Honeyman remembers. “I was a young teenager, and my dad looked after me and my brother pretty well, but out of all of mum's books I think she found this one the most difficult. Stangl was quite an ordinary, boring man, but the conclusion she came to was that there were no redeeming features about him.

“My mother was having nightmares while she was doing the book, and afterwards she was quite ill. I was protected from all of that to a degree, although I understood everything that was going on, but we kind of lived around it for three years.”

Once published, Into The Darkness entered into the public domain to such a degree that even satirical magazine Private Eye picked up on it.

“That was the funniest thing,” Honeyman remembers. “They did a cartoon at a football match where they announced they would play my mother's voice through a megaphone to stop anyone getting out of line. My father found it very amusing, though I think she was slightly less amused.”

Into That Darkness is the biggest project to date for the Citz's Main Stage Director in Residence Gareth Nicholls, who assisted the theatre's artistic director Dominic Hill on his production of Hamlet, which featured Taylor as Gertrude.

“It's a complex piece,” Nicholls says of Into That Darkness, “especially for Blythe and Cliff in terms of the psychology of the characters. The people they're playing were real people whose actions affected a lot of people, so there's that to deal with as well.

"For me one of the great things about the book and the play is that they don't shy away from difficult questions that aren't black and white. It questions notions of responsibility through action or inaction, and notions of truth and identity. Gitta Sereny brings together so many different accents to the piece that either confirm or contradict what Stangl says. There are notions there too about otherness, and Sereny points out that the people doing these terrible things are people like you or me.”

Like Sereny, MacDonald, a scholar of German literature, returned to the Holocaust several times throughout his career. This was the case both in translations of German writer Rolf Hochhuth's plays, The Representative and Judith, as well as his own play, Summit Conference. Where The Representative, first seen in the UK in 1963 and at the Citz in 1986, suggested papal indifference to the Holocaust, Summit Conference imagined a meeting in 1941 between the mistresses of Hitler and Mussolini.

Interestingly, Hochhuth was a friend of author and Holocaust denier David Irving, and drew on some of Irving's early work for Soldiers, another play translated by MacDonald. Soldiers had its production at the National Theatre withdrawn in 1967 following a libel suit issued by the surviving pilot implicated in the play as being part of a conspiracy to kill the Polish Prime Minister in a 1943 plane crash.

Irving himself initiated a libel case against Sereny following her assertions in a newspaper that Irving had deliberately falsified the historical record in an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazis. The case never made it to court.

As for Into That Darkness, it may be seventy years since the end of the Second World War, but Sereny's dissection of Stangl remains as pertinent as ever.

“Stangl committed horrible crimes,” says Nicholls, “but there's a temptation to think he's somehow different from us. It's dangerous to think that, so instead of ignoring the reasons behind what made someone do what they did and locking them away, to stop them happening again you have to try and understand why these things occurred.”

Honeyman agrees.

“Stangl did some of the most terrible things anyone has ever done,” she says, “and people keep doing things like that in one form or another. One should always go back to re-review these things in the context of where we are now, and that's why it's good the play is being done again. People have to keep on talking about what happened around the Holocaust to realise that ordinary people can do terrible things, but nobody is born evil.”

Into That Darkness, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, May 18-30.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, May 12th 2015

ends

Friday, 8 May 2015

Mermaid

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

In a run-down seaside down where Tesco has left the local fishing industry bereft, teenage Blue sits chained to her mobile phone, desperate for the seemingly grown up world beyond to let her into the party. While her brightly-dressed peers follow their hormones, Blue dreams up a world of her own, where mermaids live in harmony beneath the sea, untouched by the wars that rage above them. One, however, becomes smitten with a drowning prince and the allure of the shiny world above.

It can't be understated just how gorgeous, how poignant and how downright radical Polly Teale's twenty-first century reboot of Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale of The Little Mermaid is in her own touring production for Shared Experience and Nottingham Playhouse. Set against a backdrop of peer-group pressure and privilege, of Royal weddings and media scrums, of anti war marches and beach bodied airbrushed perfection, its not hard to spot the real-life antecedents at play in Blue's stormy rites of passage.

Natalie Gavin as Blue and Sarah Twomey as The Little Mermaid lead a set of eight spikily realised performances supported by a fourteen-strong teenage female choir sourced locally from an on-line shout-out. Liz Ranken's choreography enables the ensemble to throw Busby Berkely shapes brimming with muscle, guts and yearning. Watching The Little Mermaid be taught how to walk in high heels by royal flunkies is a contemporary ballet by itself. For Blue and The Little Mermaid, at least, there is a happy ending, in that they learn to be who they are. As for the Prince, he goes on doing his duty, shell-shocked ever after.

The Herald, May 11th 2015

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Rites

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's the close-up of a razor blade that strikes you first in this unflinching study of Female Genital Mutilation co-created by director Cora Bissett with actor and writer Yusra Warsama. Beyond the simple out-front declaration of the play's verbatim status by Paida Mutonono, who plays Fara, a young woman who realises she is the victim of something neutered to the more user-friendly FGM, it's this flash of cold steel that makes you flinch as it is projected onto hospital screens care of Kim Beveridge's video collage.

What follows over the next ninety minutes is a patchwork of first-hand experience of this most hidden form of abuse and the complex roots that sired it. Victims, campaigners and even a cutter tell their stories from as far afield as Gambia and Somalia to as close to home as Manchester, Bristol and Scotland. There is commentary too from social workers, lawyers and academics, all woven together in an understated if relentlessly troubling litany of everyday barbarism.

There's a starkness to this co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Manchester-based Contact company with support from the Scottish Refugee Council and the Dignity Alert Research Forum. This comes through in both the playing style of Mutonono, Janet Kumah, James Mackenzie, Beth Marshall and Elena Pavli, who between them play a global village's worth of parts. This is leavened, both by a surprisingly witty script as dramaturged by George Aza-Selinger and the sensitive pulse of Patricia Panther's electronic score. When the entire ensemble sing Bissett, Dougal Gudim and Hilary Brooks' low-key musical setting of Maya Angelou's poem, Still I Rise, it sounds unexpectedly but joyously triumphal.
 
The Herald, May 8th 2015

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Edinburgh Art Festival - The Improbable City

There was a moment during the 2014 Edinburgh Art Festival when festival director
Sorcha Carey found herself sitting above the city's old Royal High School, where
work by Amar Kanwar and Shilpa Gupta was being shown inside and outside
architect Thomas Hamilton's neo-classical Greek Doric creation built between
1826 and 1929. Indian curator Vidya Shivadas, who was standing beside Carey,
looked out at the city's panoramic view.

“Sorcha,” Carey remembers Shivadas saying. “You live in a picture postcard.”

This confirmed something Carey had always thought.

“Edinburgh as a city has a vocabulary of the
imagination,” she says. “There's something profoundly fairytaleish about it.
There's a magic castle and at times it looks like a dark kingdom.”

Out of
this has come The Improbable City, a series of seven public art commissions for
this year's Edinburgh Art Festival featuring brand new interventions by artists
including Charles Avery and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, and set to be situated in some
of the city's more interesting locales.

The initiative was inspired too by
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino's 1972 volume, in which explorer Marco Polo
describes a series of fifty-five cities to ageing emperor Kubla Khan. As the men
talk, it becomes clear that the cities Polo is describing are imaginary, with
each brief prose poem categorised in the book into eleven groups. Where Dorothea
and Anastasia come under Cities & Desire, Melania and Adelma are collected under
Cities & the Dead. Others are Thin Cities, Continuous Cities and Hidden
Cities.

All of which sounds tailor-made for Avery, whose entire practice is
focused on a fictional island.
“The capital city, port and gateway to
this imagined world is called Onomatopoeia,” he explains. “The project I have in
mind could be read as an export from that territory, a specimen from that city,
the meaning of which is to illuminate and articulate the urban environment. A
gift from the great Khan of Onomatopoeia to Edinburgh.

“The space that
we hope to situate the work in has unique properties in terms of the type of
building it is, and is ideally suited to what I want to bring about. It
represents a challenge, which initially I was reticent about, but which I have
now embraced, and I hope the work will too. But this thing is an export from
another imagined culture. It is not specifically reactive to the city of
Edinburgh but it will engage with its environment, rather like a recently landed
alien spacecraft involved in a period of pre contact surveillance. By the end of
the festival dogs will be lifting their legs on it.”

Edinburgh Art
Festival's previous commissions have already left a permanent mark on the city,
from the multi-hued marble of Martin Creed's Work 1059, a Fruitmarket Gallery
commission which that revitalised the Scotsman Steps in 2011, to The Regent
Bridge, Callum Innes' light-based work commissioned by EAF and the Ingleby
Gallery in 2012. Based beneath Archibald Elliot's bridge designed in 1814 to
create an entrance to Edinburgh where London Road met the New Town, Innes' piece
flooded the normally dark tunnel on Calton Road with light that exposed its
architectural beauty, and the installation has remained in place ever
since.

Carey points too to Christine Borland and Brody Condon's 2013
commission, daughters of Decayed Tradesmen, which was housed in the burnt out
watchtower of New Calton Burial Ground.

“We had to clear out the entire
building and put a roof on it to make it safe,” Carey explains. “So even though
the artwork wasn't permanent, the fact that we had to do that has left its
mark.”

The Improbable City comes at a time when the shape of the real life
Edinburgh, along with other cities, is undoubtedly changing. With property
developers having already bulldozed away significant artistic landmarks and
places where the imagination could run riot such as the original multi-purpose
Bongo Club on New Street, which has left a gap site for more than a decade, such
changes haven't always been a good thing.

The Old Royal High School
itself, where the idea for The Improbable City was partly hatched, and which was
once mooted to house the Scottish Parliament, has come under scrutiny following
proposals by developers to convert it into a luxury hotel. This has been
followed by a less destructive counter proposal from St Mary's Music School to
become its new premises. Urban regeneration, however, is not in The Improbable
City's blueprint.

“I hope the over-riding legacy of The Improbable City is
to engage the present with the past,” says Carey. “We think of history as being
in the past, but for the next generation to keep hold of that history, and to
connect the past, present and future, you have to find a meaning for that
history in the present that we live in. I hope that by inviting contemporary
artists in to create new work in the city like this, that we can go some way
towards doing that.”

The Improbable City runs as part of Edinburgh Art
Festival at various venues, July 30th-August 30th. Charles Avery will also have
a solo exhibition on at the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, July 30th-September
26th.

www.edinburghartfestival.com

Scottish Art News, May 2015

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Graham Fagen: Scotland + Venice 2015

May 9th-November 22nd

Graham Fagen appears to be making gold when Scottish Art News comes calling at the Glasgow-based artist's home studio. Alchemy of one kind of another is certainly on Fagen's agenda as he fires up lumps of clay in the kiln in his garden shed. These rough-hewn cubes will form part of a set of works that make up Fagen's solo show which, under the auspices of Hospitalfield House in Arbroath, will represent Scotland at this year's Venice Biennale.

Upstairs, the floor is lined with small bronze trees, on the branches of which will eventually hang some of the cubes currently being fired. For Venice, Fagen is planning to mount a large-scale bronze tree, which as he explains, he's “trying to take the life out of it, so it's some kind of cross between nature, architecture and function.”

Fagen has previously shown in Venice in 2003 as part of Scotland's first year at the Bienale in the group show, Zenomap, as well as non-country based group shows in 2001 and 2005. This year,'s solo show sees Scotland's Venice programme move into new premises, with Fagen's work being seen across four rooms in the Palazzo Fontana, a sixteenth century palace knee-deep in faded grandeur overlooking the city's Grand Canal.

At the entrance area above the door, audiences will be greeted by an Italian version of 'Come into the garden and forget about the war', a neon installation originated during a project for the Talbot House Museum in Poperinge, Belgium, a former World War I rest house run by Australian clergyman Philip 'Tubby' Clayton, who put tongue in cheek signs regarding the centre's house rules around the building. With the signs recreated when the house became the museum, as the Imperial War museum's former Official War artist in Kosovo, Fagen recognised the potential power such signs might have if seen in countries with very different but still deep-set experiences of war.

“It set up an idea that opened up a lot of possibilities depending on what context you see it in terms of language and place” Fagen says. “Depending on where you see it, war's going to be pertinent to the collective psychology of that country at that time. It was interesting when I first made it in German, because things like Iraq and stuff like that were the conversation we were having, but then inevitably, being in Berlin you're going to talk about the Wall and things like that.

“Then in France, I did it in Marseilles, and that brought up a lot of discussion about the islands around Marseilles which were captured by the Germans. So it opened up a lot of conversations, but it also sets up a lot of conceptual ideas about a garden, and if that is a place where you can get away from war.”

One of the rooms in Venice looks set to be dominated by drawings of heads based on Fagen feeling each of his teeth with his tongue. He would then mark each drawing with Indian ink based on the perceptions of the spaces in his mouth.

“The first stage was quite pragmatic,” Fagen explains, “then the stage with the Indian ink was really freeing. I did lots of these drawings, and after a while thought I'd better have a look and see what I'd been doing. I realised that what I've been trying to do in some way is to draw consciousness and try and represent the self, and there was a difference between ones I'd done on a Monday morning, which were really dark, and ones I'd done on a Saturday, where the colours were really bright.”

Much of Fagen's work for Venice echoes previous pieces, with earlier incarnations of the bronze trees and teeth drawings seen in Cabbages in an Orchard, Fagen's contribution to the year-long Generation showcase of contemporary art in Scotland over the last twenty-five years, and which was seen at Glasgow School of Art in 2014.

The centrepiece of Fagen's Venice show will be an audio-visual installation which continues his ongoing fusion of the work of Robert Burns with dub reggae in what he describes as “a remake of a remake” of his version of Burns' The Slave's Lament, as performed by reggae singer Ghetto Priest with dub producer Adrian Sherwood at the controls. Added to the mix here are composer Sally Beamish and musicians from the Scottish Ensemble. Such a multi-faceted collaboration was inspired by Estonian composer Arvo Part after Fagen heard his setting of Burns' My Heart's in the Highlands .

“It's a ridiculously fantastic version,” says Fagen. “Before I heard it I thought there's a classic cliché of how Burns gets dressed up by a particular culture with a song like that, but Part's version is so haunting, and the sonic spaces he sets up allows the lyrics to get into our heads and invest them with a completely different meaning to how I first read them.”

Like Burns, Fagen is Ayrshire-born, although, weaned on a musical diet of punk and reggae, it was only later he started to connect with words and music from a heritage altogether closer to home. The connections Fagen eventually made were compounded by the discovery that, blighted by poverty, Burns almost travelled to Jamaica to take a job overseeing slaves as a plantation book-keeper.

Fagen's melding of Burns and dub reggae dates right back to 2005, when he first collaborated with Sherwood and Ghetto Priest on the audio-visual installation, Clean Hands Pure Heart, which married Auld Lang Syne and The Slave's Lament to a reggae beat at Tramway in Glasgow. This was followed in 2009 with a live rendering of four Burns songs by Ghetto Priest, Sherwood, Tackhead guitarist and long-term Sherwood collaborator Skip MacDonald, percussionist Pete Lockett and English folk guitarist Ian King.

The songs – A Man's A Man For A' That, A Red Red Rose, The Tree of Liberty and I Murder Hate – were recorded for a CD that was given away at the live gig at the Stirling-based Changing Room Gallery where the concert took place alongside Fagen's show, somebodyelse. Another CD, featuring War and I Murder Hate, was given away as part of a show by Fagen at The Empire Cafe in Glasgow to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I.

In this respect, Fagen's roots are easy to spot in this new work, which forms part of a continuum which Fagen is happy to acknowledge, grateful to begin a show with experience than from a completely blank slate.

“The hardest part is to find out what you want to do,” he says. “Once you've worked that out you can start to work towards it. It's like Lee says,” Fagen grins in a nod to pioneering dub reggae icon Lee 'Scratch' Perry. “Everything starts from Scratch.”
 
Scottish Art News, May 2015.
 
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Artist Rooms: Joseph Beuys

Timespan, Helmsdale, June 5th-September 6th
 
When Richard Demarco brought Joseph Beuys to Edinburgh College of Art as part of the 1970 Edinburgh International Festival exhibition of iconoclastic contemporary German artists, Strategy: Get Arts, it fostered a relationship between Beuys and Scotland which impacted and influenced both ever after. The latest encounter comes in one of the National Galleries of Scotland's ongoing Artist Rooms series of touring shows, which puts some of Beuys' fat and felt based work into Timespan, the Helmsdale based gallery and museum which is the only public contemporary art gallery in Sutherland.

Given Beuys' focus on the environment and notions of community, the connection with a relatively isolated village such as Helmsdale is clear, as Timespan curator Frances Davis explains.

“For us it makes perfect sense,” Davis says. “Not just to do with the symbolic properties of fat and felt in terms of nourishment and warmth, but the engagement with the materials in general. There;s a real kind of social, political and ecological strain running throughout all of Beuys' practice that's still relevant today, particularly in terms of what it means to present his work in a small rural community and how that community works together.”

To highlight Beuys' continuing influence, Timespan will be appointing a yet to be announced artist in residence, who will take up their post a month prior to the Beuys show, working in situ throughout its run. A one-day symposium will also take place, bringing together some of the show's concerns and opening them out in an ongoing dialogue that remains at the heart of Beuys' notion of social sculpture.

“We accept that there might not be a wider knowledge about Beuys' work,” says Davis, “so bringing in a contemporary artist to respond to the work before the show opens is a way of looking at how Beuys has a continuing influence on contemporary artistic practice. That's also about building a relationship with the local community, whereby a contemporary artist can build a larger conversation and sense of anticipation before the exhibition opens.

“One of the great things about the Artist Rooms project,” Davis observes, “is how it recognises the importance of how work by artists like Beuys can relate to and are relevant to areas outwith a central belt context. Our audience is very seasonal, and that in itself affects how our work is seen. Beuys' influence on art goes beyond art itself, and in its social and environmental concerns looks at important questions about how we live.
 
Scottish Art News, May 2015
 
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Katy Dove

December 1st 1970-January 27th 2015

It is with sadness that Scottish Art News reports the death of Glasgow-based artist and musician Katy Dove, aged forty-four. Dove's vibrant animations were invested with a sense of colour and rhythm, something she also applied to the music of Muscles of Joy, the all-female band which Dove was a key member of.

Dove was born in Oxford and grew up one of five sisters in Jemimaville on the Black Isle. After studying psychology at the University of Glasgow, Dove made jewellery before gaining a scholarship to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee in 1996. Here Dove began to explore sculpture, and introduced animation to her automatic drawings with Fantasy Freedom (1999), a ninety-second film that formed the core of her degree show. Dove went on to become part of Zenomap, Scotland's first Venice Biennale show in 2003.

While recent works such as Meaning in Action (2013) continued her exploration of bodily movement, Dove's most recent exhibition was in 2014 at Duff House in Banff, and formed part of Generation, the nationwide year-long showcase of Scottish contemporary art over the previous twenty-five years. She is survived by her mother Maggie, sisters, Anna, Sarah, Lucy and Emma, and her partner, Tom Worthington.
 
Scottish Art News, May 2015

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Karen Dunbar - Happy Days

Karen Dunbar didn't know much about Samuel Beckett's work before the Tron Theatre's artistic director Andy Arnold asked her to play Winnie in Happy Days, which opens next week as part of the theatre's Mayfesto season. Now, however, she's something of an expert on a play which at first glance looks like one of the oddest ever written.

“It's pretty left field,” says Dunbar, sitting in an upstairs meeting room at the Tron, all wrapped up in a warm coat and woolly hat as she sucks on an E-cigarette attached to a small cannister with the word 'zen' on the side. “I can't say I came to it as a big Beckett fan. Nah. I just said, Samuel Beckett He's a writer. Is he Irish? No, he's American. No, wait. So that would've been my answer on Who Wants to be A Millionaire? Now, of course, I could tell you what colour flannel he prefers wearing. I do enjoy studying, studying for a cause. I actually like reading random pish about nothing, anyway, so it's been really enjoyable, not only looking at Happy Days, but looking into his other work and to the man himself, and finding out about his influences and who he's influenced, I feel very much educated in it now.”

Written between 1960 and 1962 Happy Days finds Winnie buried up to her waist in sand as she chirrups her way through her daily routine while her husband Willie hides behind his paper, barely acknowledging her beyond the odd distracted exchange. By the second act, Winnie is buried up to her neck, but on she goes, however fragile her eternal optimism remains.

When Dunbar first read Happy Days, she did so with “one raised eyebrow through the bulk of it, but even from the first read I knew it was brilliant. I'm thinking I'm no' quite sure why yet, there are bits I don't understand, the intonation I cannae imagine, there are references I have no idea about, but even though at that point it was way over my head I could tell it was high quality stuff. Now, having really explored it, I go away and can get too deep sometimes over each syllable.”

Dunbar has been learning Beckett's script since January, working on two pages a day and writing her lines out by hand. This is something she always does when rehearsing a play.

“It puts it into a different space for me,” she says, “seeing it in my own hand-writing and having to concentrate on writing it out and punctuating it. It makes it a wee bit more tangible for me.”

Dunbar now has a very tangible seventy-six pages of Happy Days penned in her own hand, and by the time she began rehearsals had ninety-five per cent of it memorised.

“Usually I would just learn lines on the go, but I knew with something this size I wanted to be really prepared. See to come in knowing the lines to the degree that I do? What a joy.”

The last time Dunbar put herself on the line in such a way was in 2008, when she was about to revive her solo tour de force in A Drunk Woman Looks at the Thistle, novelist Denise Mina's female-fronted twenty-first century reboot of poet Hugh MacDiarmid's sozzled meditation on the Scottish psyche. Since then, Dunbar's theatrical career has combined stand-up, pantomime and TV comedy shows alongside more straight-up theatre with low-key regularity.

With the National Theatre of Scotland, Dunbar played the abused Rose in a revival of Quebecois writer Michel Tremblay's all-female tragi-comedy, The Guid Sisters, translated into Scots. More recently, she played Bardolph and Sir Richard Vernon in Phyllida Lloyd's all-female production of Shakespeare's Henry IV at the Donmar in London.

For Arnold, who as well as directing Happy Days will also be applying his own performing talents to the play's infinitely less vocal role of Willie, casting Dunbar was a no-brainer.

“I think Karen's an amazing performer,” Arnold says, “and she's perfect for Winnie. You have to remember that Beckett was a big fan of Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin, and that really comes through in his work. But there's a depth to that sort of comedy which Karen has as well.”

Dunbar was doing Henry IV when Arnold approached her.

“I remember telling Phyllida Lloyd,” she says, “and she's a lovely lady, and she's very honest. She told me she thought I'd be great at it, which was lovely to hear.”

Now she's immersed in all seventy-six hand-written pages of the play, Dunbar likes to describe Winnie as “a cock-eyed optimist, just because of South Pacific, but she is an eternal optimist. Not even in a denial kind of way, but I think she is genuinely cheered by what she tells herself, and she's cheered for the fleeting moment that she says it. That's enough to give her a wee boost.”

With comic turns from Max Wall to ex Comic Strip double act Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson having appeared in Beckett's work, this lightness in the play is ideal material for Dunbar to have fun with.

“Definitely,” she says, “and hopefully that's gonnae be an asset for me, being able to bring the humour into it. There's such darkness in it. There's such sadness, so I feel like I've got a bit of responsibility as well, to make sure it's the right level of humour, that it doesn't become a caricature, but that it's believable, because I want it to be the same when it comes to the dark stuff. I think it's hard sometimes for somebody that's known for comedy when they do a serious role. You say a line like 'all my family are dead' and the audience are waiting for a laugh.

“That can be a bit of a challenge for me, not, hopefully, in trying to portray the seriousness, but in trying to step a wee bit away from what people know me as. It was great doing Shakespeare in London, because there's no frame of reference there for audiences with what I've done before. So I can play a funny part and a serious part with hopefully the same sincerity.

“Comedy's a huge deflector,” Dunbar says, pointing to her portrayal of Rose in The Guid Sisters, “and it's a great relief sometimes as well. I quote it often, but what is laughter but making the unbearable bearable. The majority of comedians, there's always a sadness underneath. It's why the comic character comes out of a person in the first place, as a balm for the pain.

“Oh,” she says, “without missing a beat, “that was awfully deep,”.

Happy Days, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, May 15-23

 
The Herald, May 4th 2015

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Friday, 1 May 2015

Nicolas Party: Boys and Pastel

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, May 2nd-June 21st.

Inside Inverleith
House, Nicolas Party and a small regiment of assistants are painting every
available inch of wall-space with rich blocks of colour. These will form the
scenic  backdrop  to a series of new works that will make up the Swiss-born,
Glasgow-trained, Brussels-based artist's first major solo show in a UK public
gallery. As a former graffiti artist, Party is used to transforming the
landscape, and in keeping with this, the murals will be as integral to the
experience as a stage set.

As the consciously effete and decidedly unmacho
title of the show suggests, the characters that eventually do appear are equally
theatrical and exclusively male figures. Whether seen singly or in
conspiratorial pairs, with their rouged cheeks and puffed-out, exaggerated
demeanour, if not for their unsmiling expressions that give them the air of ever
so slightly predatory Victorian dolls come to life, Party's boys might otherwise
be mistaken for seaside postcard caricatures.

“I'd never used pastels before
I saw a Picasso show in Basel,” says Parry of his own show's roots. “There was a
classic portrait of a woman which struck me, but when I started to do my own
portraits, I didn't want them to be of girls and fall into the trap of me trying
to make a fantasy girl or something. That's why I started to do boys and men,
and the make up on faces comes from rubbing in the pastel colours with your
fingers, so it's really like doing a massage on someone, so the make-up came
quite naturally.

“It's like painting a different face onto them, because they
don't have any personality. They're not real people. Like Picasso's pastels,
they come from these stylised Greek statues. They don't seem to be alive. They
look quite fascist, and are all looking at something, but with the make-up look
quite feminine, so they don't look dangerous anymore.”

In this respect, Party
acknowledges a loose-knit narrative at play, from the ground floor images of
barren rock formations and trees pushing through the earth and beanstalk like,
out of view, to the upstairs focus on man-made constructions – teapots, fruit, a
cluster of buildings – before the male figures themselves emerge as the stillest
lives of all.

Party grew up reading Tintin and other comic books, and such
influences are apparent in his male figures. In the Inverleith House basement,
meanwhile, older animated film works look to early, pre-blockbuster Walt Disney,
when technical experiments with what was still a relatively new form were set to
equally experimental soundtracks that drove the abstract narratives. While this
too points to a central narrative being framed by such a rich setting, Party
happily admits he's still feeling his way in using such an expansive canvas.

“It's a unique situation,” he says, “being in this beautiful house in the
middle of these beautiful gardens. That's why I wanted to work with the house,
not just the rooms, but the staircase, the lift, the basement, and everything
else, so you go on some kind of journey. But in a way I'm also hiding behind the
murals. I should maybe do less, but I'm not brave enough to do that yet.”

The List, May 2015

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Kevin Williamson - Neu! Reekie!, #UntitledOne and Why His First Publishing Venture in Fifteen Years Won't Be Dealing With Amazon

Mayday looks set to be an extra special occasion for Kevin Williamson this weekend. This has little to do with the political past of a man who, as a one time Scottish Socialist Party firebrand, was the first person to be ejected from the Scottish parliament building in Holyrood while making a protest against the Iraq war while sporting a George Bush mask.

It is to do with the launch of #UntitledOne, the new poetry anthology and accompanying music compilation produced in association with Birlinn's Polygon imprint by Neu! Reekie!, the monthly poetry, music and animation night presented at assorted Edinburgh venues over the last four and a half years by Williamson in partnership with poetic whirlwind Michael Pedersen. While the former features the likes of Tom Leonard, Scotland's Makar Liz Lochhead and Douglas Dunn nestling up to Jenni Fagan, Aidan Moffat and Jock Scot, the latter sees Mercury Music Prize winners Young Fathers line up with the likes of The Sexual Objects, Momus and Teen Canteen.

This pan-generational, cross-artform approach will come to life tonight at a special launch event at La Belle Angele, the same Edinburgh club where Williamson first mixed and matched poetry and music at an event called Invisible Insurrection in 1993. That was under the auspices of Rebel Inc, the brash, punk-inspired lit-zine he'd set up the year before, bringing together early work by Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner alongside more established kindred spirits like Gordon Legge.

With Laura Hird, Duncan McLean and others providing equally fresh voices, Rebel Inc shook up Scotland's literary establishment in a way that hadn't been seen since Hugh MacDiarmid called Beat novelist Alexander Trocchi 'cosmopolitan scum' at the 1962 Edinburgh World Writers Conference. It was Trocchi whose notion of an 'invisible insurrection of a million minds' inspired the name of Rebel Inc's event.

With #UntitledOne marking his return to publishing for the first time in fifteen years following a fall-out with Canongate Books, who had published some sixty titles under the Rebel Inc banner, the sort of insurrection Williamson has in mind this time out focuses on the state of the publishing industry itself.

“I missed publishing,” the Caithness born writer says over a cup of mint tea in the National Gallery of Scotland cafe in Edinburgh, “but the publishing industry I was in has gone now. I came into it pre Amazon, at a time when the net book agreement was still in place, and now you've got a different landscape, which I don't think is conducive to authors and publishers, and I would like to do it differently.”

That difference will come in the provocative form of a flat refusal to deal in any way with all-encompassing online distribution site, Amazon.

“Amazon are now in the process of creating an absolute monopoly on distribution,” Williamson observes. “They've already got sixty-six per cent of books in America, and it will go that way in Britain, then it will reach a point where they can destroy publishing and the ability of writers to make a living.

“As a publisher I'd like to take a stand against that, in a really small way that's almost comical, a tiny poetry publisher declaring war on the biggest distribution corporation in the world. I quite like that, because it's comical but it's also serious. I don't think publishers and authors have the balls to actually have a go at Amazon properly, but Amazon's getting more and more powerful, and if we don't fight them now then it'll be too late because all the independent and experimental publishers will be gone.”

Williamson has clearly not lost any of his political fire since his Rebel Inc days and nights, even as his own work as a writer has come increasingly to the fore. In 2005 he won the Robert Louis Stevenson Prize for literature, while his first poetry collection, In A Room Darkened, was published in 2007. As well as establishing Neu! Reekie!, with whom he has performed Robert Burns' Tam O'Shanter to a live indie-folk backing, Williamson also found time to co-found with Mike Small pro-independence website Bella Caledonia. With such dual concerns ongoing, #UntitledOne is making a political statement as much as an artistic one.

“I want to look at different models in Scotland,” he says, “and basically ask writers and publishers to take a stand on Amazon, because they'll be crushed if they don't. Amazon are going for global domination. They're a corporation that must be destroyed. They're monopoly capitalism of the worst kind, and we have to work out a viable alternative to them.

“In Scotland,” he continues, on a roll, “the worst thing the SNP government have ever done was give £12 million to Amazon to open a distribution centre here, to a company who are basically scroungers and who don't pay tax. Amazon have claimed more money than they've paid in tax, and it's a shameful thing what the Scottish Government did.”

For this weekend's event, Williamson is inviting audiences to bring along their Kindles to be smashed. Whether such a pro-print gesture affects Amazon or not, Neu! Reekie! and #UntitledOne will carry on regardless with three months of intense activity. In June, #Untitled Live will feature performances from Young Fathers, DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall and Edinburgh techno pioneers Fini Tribe alongside poet Holly McNish and others. This will be followed by a fifteen date tour around Scotland's small towns and villages, with Williamson, Pedersen and assorted guests travelling in a pair of Range Rovers. There will also be several dates in Japan alongside the band Tenniscoats.

With two further books planned, #UntitledOne in all its forms is both mission statement and retrospective.

“It's a snapshot of all the people we've had on at Neu! Reekie!,” Williamson says of #UntitledOne “and it's all poetry. When I did Rebel Inc books we didn't do poetry, but that's really what I want to publish now. I want to do it on a small scale, as niche, boutique publishing almost, putting out carefully curated objects that look good and feel good, and which bring together all the different aesthetics of Neu! Reekie! We also want people to buy the book directly from the publishers. Apart from getting a book of brilliant poetry, they're also helping to destroy Amazon .”

#UntitledOne is published by Polygon, and is launched at La Belle Angele, Edinburgh, tonight from 6pm. #UntitledLive, featuring Young Fathers, Andrew Weatherall and Fini Tribe plus surprise guests takes place at the Central Hall, Edinburgh, June 9.
 
www.birlinn.co.uk
www.brownpapertickets.com

The Herald, May 1st 2015

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