Thursday, 28 January 2016

Joseph McKenzie: Women of Dundee & Photographs from the Margaret Morris collection

Stills, Edinburgh, 6th February-9th April

At first glance, two old women gossiping on a half-demolished street may not have much to do with the group of nymph-like waifs in swimsuits draping themselves across the branches of a tree in synchronised unison. Seen alongside each other as in this two-part exhibition at Stills, however, the documentary photographs of Joseph McKenzie and images by Fred Daniels taken from the collection of choreographer Margaret Morris fuse social history and artistic archive in fascinating counterpoint.

Where Joseph McKenzie was regarded as the father of Scottish photography up until his death in 2015, the shapes thrown in Morris' 1920s world were the epitome of abstraction applied to everyday life. Both, in their own ways, were radical pioneers.

“The Margaret Morris collection is a really early example of an artist recognising the importance of documentation,” Stills director Ben Harman says,“while Joseph McKenzie's photographs are early examples of a form that shows how important documentary photography has become.”

McKenzie's images of Dundee women are drawn from a much larger collection, Dundee - City in Transition, exhibited in 1966 and now held by the city's McManus Gallery and Museum. Daniels' images of Morris and co are taken from the Fergusson Gallery's collection at Perth Gallery and Museum.

As vital as the work of both McKenzie and Morris remains, this second of Stills' ongoing series of twinned historical shows aims to bring it into the open in a way that both saves them from neglect and illustrates their influence on those working in similar fields today.

“I wonder whether part of Margaret Morris's legacy is the whole cultural spirit of Glasgow,” posits Harman. “She was such a part of that. As far as Joseph McKenzie goes, documentary photography is such a major strand of contemporary practice now, but McKenzie really set the bar.”

The List, January 2016

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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Chris Gascoyne - Endgame

Coronation Street may look like the end of the world to some, but for Chris Gascoyne, his time on the iconic TV soap has in part been a platform which has allowed him to explore other avenues. While on the one hand Gascoyne has notched up some seventeen years “more on than off,” playing Peter Barlow, son of the ever-present Ken, in the red-brick Wetherfield limbo, he has also developed a parallel theatre career. This has taken him to the National Theatre, the Royal Court and now to Glasgow in the Citizens' Theatre's new production of Samuel Beckett's dystopian masterpiece, Endgame.

Performing alongside his long-term Corrie colleague David Neilson in co-production with the newly-established Manchester venue, HOME, Gascoyne plays Clov, the doting servant to Neilson's blind and ruthless master, Hamm. With Hamm unable to walk and Clov incapable of sitting, the pair's sparring is punctuated by the dustbin-dwelling appearance of Hamm's parents, Nag and Nell, in a blackly funny portrait of co-dependence which effectively puts two double acts onstage.

The routines that unfold between damaged co-dependents clinging to each other for comfort continue the tragicomic form of existential vaudeville which Beckett defined in Waiting For Godot, and which is such a gift to actors.

“The thing with Beckett and me,” says Gascoyne, “is that I feel somehow that I can understand it. Not in an intellectual way. That's a different thing. You can look up all the Shakespearean references in Beckett if you like, but that's on a different level. But with me, I feel it in my gut, and I couldn't tell you why.”

The roots of this new production come from Gascoyne and Neilson themselves. The pair had bonded on-set at Coronation Street after discovering they'd both studied several years apart at Central School of Speech and Drama in London. They got to talking about Beckett when Neilson, who has played cafe owner Roy Cropper in Coronation Street since 1995, played Lucky in a production of Waiting For Godot in Manchester.

“I'd always been fascinated with Beckett when I was a student,” says Gascoyne, “and I said to David a few years ago that it would be good for me to put my mind in other areas and regenerate, and that it would be good for me in terms of Corrie as well. I went back to Beckett's books, and I said to David that maybe Endgame would be a good one to look at. We'd meet up, have a cup of tea, read the play and have a laugh, and I got to know David really well.”

This went on for a few months, but only when the Citz's artistic director, Dominic Hill, came on board did the current production become a reality.

“The approach to it which Dominic has been interested in is keeping the play away from pathos, and keeping it active,” Gascoyne says “These two people only really exist together. You're not sure what their relationship is or where they are, but they can't live with each other, they can't live without each other, and this life that they're both in, it can't end until it ends, but it can't end.”

While such depths are inherent in Endgame, as an actor, Gascoyne prefers to operate at a more instinctive level of interpretation.

“Beckett himself said to actors to keep things simple,” Gascoyne points out. “Of course, you read it and you think about it, but when you come to it as an actor, you have to forget about the philosophy and play it active.

“Beckett loved Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and while this isn't quite that, I can understand why actors are drawn to the play. You look at the script, and there are no answers, and when me and David do it, I know that every single night will be different because of that.”

Gascoyne first discovered drama while a pupil at a comprehensive school in Huthwaite, a Nottinghamshire mining town without any theatre to call its own. Up to then he'd only been interested in football, and while he watched actors on TV, he couldn't equate that with someone like him being able to do something similar.

“It was very freeing,” Gascoyne says of his introduction to drama. “I'd found something I loved, but I never thought for one minute that it was something I could do as a job.”

Gascoyne did a foundation course at a local technical college, but left after a year.

“It was mind-numbing,” he says. “It was the theory of theatre, which I know now is important, but that wasn't what I wanted to do.”

He joined a local drama group, “Then somebody said, why don't you go to drama school? I was like, what's drama school? When I went, getting on that train was a big journey. I didn't know what I was doing at all. I just knew that I wanted to learn about acting.”

Part of that learning experience cane through setting up an ad hoc company with pals from RADA to do Willis Hall's First World War drama, The Long, and the Short and the Tall. This led to an audition for Richard Eyre's company at the National Theatre, which saw Gascoyne cast in David Hare's trilogy of state of the nation plays, Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges and The Absence of War.

It was appearing as part of an all-male ensemble in James McDonald's 1996 Royal Court revival of David Storey's play, The Changing Room, however, that sticks with Gascoyne.

“It's an incredible piece of writing,” he says of the play, set inside the very male world of a Rugby League changing room. “We were all young lads, and had a ball.”

Gascoyne went on to appear in Simon Stephens' early play, Bluebird, also at the Royal Court, the same theatre where Endgame was first seen in 1957.

“I was so very lucky to get that,” Gascoyne says of Bluebird. “Simon Stephens was still a teacher then, and in rehearsals he sat there fascinated, and then thanked the actors for what we'd done with his script.”

Both productions transferred to the West End.

Coincidentally, it was Stephens' play, The Funfair, that opened HOME in Manchester last year. Furthering such synchronicity, Gascoyne's most recent stage appearance was in Jim Cartwright's play, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at West Yorkshire Playhouse in a production by James Brining, who previously co-ran Dundee Rep with Dominic Hill.

“At the moment I'm like a little boy looking up at his teacher to see if he's done alright,” Gascoyne says of working with Hill, “and when he says yes, I feel like I've got a medal or an award.”

How this translates into Endgame remains to be seen, but Gascoyne for one hopes audiences will have the same response to the play as he did.

“Hopefully people will laugh at it and feel it in their stomachs,” he says. “We mustn't complicate it into an intellectual exercise, because it so ain't.”

Endgame, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, February 4-20.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, January 26th 2016

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Monday, 25 January 2016

'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

When second year acting students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland performed Romeo and Juliet a couple of weeks ago, it may have been their first introduction to classical tragedy. Seen next to John Ford's seventeenth century gore-fest, however, Shakespeare's play must look pretty prim to the other half of the year's ensemble who perform Ford's masterpiece this week.

The same iron bed is there in Gareth Nicholls' production to help illustrate consummation of the play's doomed young lovers' affair. It starts similarly enough too, with over-exciteable boys sparring and confessing all while the object of their affections preens herself impassively in front of a full-length mirror. The fact that Ford's lead starlets, Giovanni and Annabel, are brother and sister, makes this an infinitely more grown-up affair.

All of Nicholls' eight-strong ensemble grab hold of Ford's taboo-busting tendencies with relish in a production which puts the audience either side of the action. There is some great physical interplay between Sinead Sharkey's governess Putana and Tom England's thrusting Soranzo, with Sharkey climbing astride England while regaling Grace Boyle's Annabel with Sex and the City style intimations as she goes.

Soranzo himself can only absorb romantic poetry while his betrothed romps with Bernardo Castilla Jorge's Giovanni in one of a series of neat counterpoints. There are great visuals too, with Sorenzo's ex, Hippolita, disguising herself at his and Annabel's wedding as an erotic dancer in a terrorist mask. When actors aren't in the thick of things, they sit at one end of the room, observing but never judging as the lovers' fate is sealed with the bloodiest of kisses.

The Herald, January 23rd 2016

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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Heathcote Williams – Stop Wars / If You Left For Mars

The arrival of new work by Heathcote Williams is always a cause for a very revolutionary kind of celebration. In certain circles, after all, Williams has long been regarded as the conscience of a very fractured nation. A key figure in London's 1960s counter-culture, as a writer, his first book, The Speakers, was an impressionist portrait of the characters who brought Speaker's Corner to colourful life in Hyde Park. An adaptation of the book was later staged by Joint Stock Theatre Company.

As an activist, Williams was a prime mover in the 1970s squatting and graffiti scenes that graced the streets of London's then run-down Notting Hill district, and he co-founded the alternative nation of Freestonia.

As a playwright, Williams penned AC/DC, a critique of the anti-psychiatry techniques pioneered by R.D. Laing, and wrote The Local Stigmatic, which was championed by Al Pacino. In Hancock's Half Hour, Williams explored the debilitating curse of fame through the final moments of the celebrated comedian's life. He went on to play Prospero in Derek Jarman's film of The Tempest, and wrote lyrics for Marianne Faithful.

As a poet, in the 1980s his lavishly produced trilogy of ecologically inspired investigative epics, Whale Nation, Sacred Elephant and Autogedden, were turned into films by the BBC, with Autogedden inspiring Julian Cope's album of the same name.

These days Williams may stay out of public view, but the work goes on. In 2011, Zanzibar Cats, a compendium of poetic provocations, was performed by long-term collaborator Roy Hutchins, while loose-knit collective The Poetry Army stage guerilla presentations of his work.

Somewhere along the way, a series of video collages have been created to illustrate Williams' work. His newly published volume of investigative poetry, Royal Babylon:The Case Against The Monarchy, has already had its 500 verse polemic adapted for a video voiced by actor Alan Cox, with images collated by director Margaret Cox for the couple's Handsome Dog Productions company.

Two new short video pieces, Stop Wars and If You Left For Mars, appeared at the start of the year, while Williams and Handsome Dog are collaborating on a new, longer work, Soldier Soldier. With Williams' words married to Cox's sonorous tones and a series of science-fiction inspired images designed to explore wars past, present and future, the end result of these bite-size pieces is an essential piece of polemic.

Stop Wars - https://youtu.be/aBw-o-WxxxA

If You Left For Mars - https://youtu.be/JWCPt5fWopg

Royal Babylon: The Case Against The Monarchy is published by Skyscraper, and is available at www.royalbabylon.com. Royal Babylon: The Criminal Case Against The British Monarchy can be viewed at -https://vimeo.com/48197993 . More of Heathcote Williams' work with Handsome Dog Productions can be found at www.handsomedogproductions.com
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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sue Tompkins & Elara Caluna – Double Disc Pack

It's only too fitting that the debut release from the newly constituted VoidoidARCHIVErecords comes in a silver plastic bag. There are few artists other than the label's founder, artist Jim Lambie, after all, who have taken the Warhollian pop-art dream and used it for his own ends quite so convincingly.

The label was born of activities in Lambie's Glasgow-based Poetry Club over the last three years, which has seen several generations of underground movers and shakers perform there ever since he opened it to host a show by Richard Hell in 2012. The likes of Factory superstar Gerard Malanga, poetry evangelist John Giorno and Patti Smith have all performed inside The Poetry Club's bijou confines, as have Felt frontman Lawrence, Primal Scream, Young Fathers and Teen Canteen.

This double 7'' limited edition of 100 was released last month to coincide with the Club's multi-media night, Paraphernalia. Elara Caluna are the Glasgow-based duo of Benedict Salter and Kitty Hall, whose one-sided contribution, Silver Dust, is a spectral nursery rhyme that creeps up on the listener with breathy harmonies accompanied by woozy guitar pickings that seems to wander off into the forest as it fades.

Sue Tompkins first came to prominence as the restless vocalist with Life Without Buildings, the Glasgow quartet whose pick and mixing of post-punk artefacts during their short life between 1999 and 2001 pre-dated the co-opting of first generation post-punk that would follow a few years later. Married to Tompkins' voice, LWB were a unique hybrid of influence and impulse.

These days Tompkins applies her free-form scat vocal to spoken word performances that often accompany her exhibitions. Two short examples of this are captured here on a record whose yellow label greets the curious with only a tiny printed 'hi' as an enticing hint of what follows. The record itself is a breathless tumble of words that zing in Tompkins' wide-eyed estuarised tones between nonsense phrases and acquired cultural totems, from Superdrug to unaccompanied and unintentionally timely snatches from David Bowie's John, I'm Only Dancing. The flipside, Turnover, begins with a meditation on avocados in space before inviting the listener to do the whole thing again. Which, if you can still get a copy, you probably should.
www.voidoidarchive.com

Product, January 2016

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The Weir

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

You could have heard a pin drop when Valerie told her story midway through Amanda Gaughan's revival of Conor McPherson's brooding 1997 masterpiece. As played by Lucianne McEvoy, Valerie is the most unassuming of strangers, embraced into the fold of a west of Ireland boozer where Jack, Jim, Finbar and barman Brendan hold court. In self-imposed exile from Dublin, over the course of one dark night Valerie rubs up against the men's shared experience and peacockish attempts to impress her.

The latter comes in the form of a series of whisky-fuelled supernatural yarns that conjure up an assortment of apparitions that Valerie too falls prey to in the most devastating of ways.

Such a simple set-up is brought to life with exquisitely low-key power on Francis O'Connor's desolate set. At the play's start, rain batters down beside the telegraph poles beyond the pub's four walls as the sound of a solitary fiddle that forms Michael John McCarthy's score cuts sporadically through the air. These elements enhance a set of mighty performances, with the men, played by Gary Lydon, Brian Gleeson, Darragh Kelly and Frank McCusker, by turns cock-sure and hang-dog in their demeanour.

While each increasingly serious moment is upended by a series of deadly one-liners, it is McEvoy's understated stillness that resonates the most. She delivers McPherson's words with a matter-of-factness that chills as much as it invites empathy. In its intangible see-sawing between hope, despair, magic and loss, Valerie's tale in McEvoy's hands sounds like something Daphne du Maurier might have dreamt up during her darkest hours, and is all the more plausible for it in this most haunting of after-hours affairs.

The Herald, January 21st 2016

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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Bitches Brew - Jazz and the Female of the Species

When iconic trumpeter Miles Davis released his Bitches Brew album in 1970, the record's use of electronic instruments and studio editing broke the mould for for many jazz aficionados even as it
confounded others more used to the artform being primarily a live affair captured in the moment.
Either way, it's notable that out of the dozen players that made up Davis' supergroup gathered for
the recording, not one of them was a woman. Almost half a century on, a new night for female jazz and improv musicians has co-opted the title of Davis' of-its-time opus to correct such a gender imbalance.

Co-founded in the summer of 2015 by saxophonist Sue McKenzie and double bass player Emma Smith, Bitches Brew is a bi-monthly night that takes place at the small but perfectly formed Jazz Bar on Chambers Street, across the street from the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The idea was to provide a platform for female players who, despite working in a more left-field free and improv scene, can sometimes be sidelined rather than recognised as composers and players in their own right.

Despite McKenzie a veteran of Salsa Celtica and Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra, while Smith has collaborated with Gorillaz and Eliza Carthy prior to the pair joining forces as Syntonic, some promoters have presumed them and other women players to be vocalists in otherwise all male bands. There have been elements of tokenism too, with festivals fulfilling their quotas by only booking one female band.

With Syntonic, who debuted at Ronnie Scott's club in London last year, acting as house band, each night features four acts playing short sets that cover most musical bases, from electronica and groove-based excursions to looped vocals, free improv and beyond. The third Bitches Brew takes place this coming Wednesday night, and sees sets from Japanese pianist and composer, Shiori Usui, Syntonic themselves, and the McKenzie/Bamford/Linson Trio. Alt.folk singer and some time King Creosote backing vocalist ,Amy MacDougall, aka Beam, was also scheduled to appear, though illness has forced her to withdraw. Stepping into the breach will be Dj, producer and founder of Schiehallion Records, Rebecca Vasmant.

While McKenzie's turn with the McKenzie/Bamford/Linson Trio sees her making her second appearance of the night, it also introduces a cross-gender intervention into proceedings by way of the fact that both bassist Adam Linson and drummer Rick Bamford are men.

Having already been featured on BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3 programme last summer, there are plans afoot for a Glasgow Bitches Brew night, with the long term aim to go UK-wide, with potential nights in Manchester, Newcastle and London already under discussion.

With a new Edinburgh club night, Miss World, featuring an all-woman DJ line-up playing funk, disco, post-punk and electronica at the nearby Mash House venue later the same night as Bitches Brew, such a show of strength speaks volumes about how female musical talent is miles ahead.

Bitches Brew #3 takes place at The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Wed January 17th, 9pm-11.30pm. £7/£5.
www.thejazzbar.co.uk

Product, January 2016

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Jenna Watt - How You Gonna Live Your Dash

When Jenna Watt went to see Werner Herzog's film, Into The Abyss, things changed. Herzog's documentary focuses on two inmates on Death Row, and at one point, a state executioner who's just had to oversee the killing of a woman for the first time begins to to think about his life. Someone observes that on your tombstone between the words Born and Died and the year of each there is a dash which sums up everything inbetween. How you gonna live your dash, he says, is up to you.

“When I heard that phrase something just clicked,” says Watt. “I'd never heard it expressed that way about how you're going to live, and whether you're going to move forward or stay where you are. All of that seemed really poignant.”

Around the same time, Watt found herself drawn to the photographs of Italian artist Filippo Minelli, whose Silence/Shapes series of images used different coloured smoke bombs to illustrate everyday explosions disrupting their immediate surroundings.

“I thought it would be good to use this aesthetic of these images of smoke to look at life,” Watt says.

The direct result of fusing such seemingly disparate elements is How You Gonna Live Your Dash, Watt's new show, which opens at Platform in Easterhouse next week prior to a short tour. How You Gonna Live Your Dash looks set to be a dramatic meditation on the sort of everyday epiphanies when people 'choose to detonate their own lives, the smokey fallout, and how they piece together a new future,' as the show's publicity blurb puts it. Some of its material is culled from real life testimonies of people who turned their own lives upside down.

“I knew people who had transformed their lives,” says Watt, “and had conversations with them about how they changed, what was wrong, and how they were feeling before they made the change. People had been bottling things up on a serious level until it had to come out, and I wanted to know what that might look like and sound like.”

How You Gonna Live Your Dash was originally supported by The Arches, before the iconic Glasgow multiple arts space was closed in contentious fashion. With Watt going on to explore the piece further as part of the Traverse Theatre's Hothouse project, the piece is now co-produced with Platform in association with Showroom, a new independent production company that aims to focus on providing a support network for developing artists.

“This definitely feels like a much bigger piece than anything else I've done,” says Watt, who will perform her new show with actress Ashley Smith. “It's challenging me as a theatre-maker, both in terms of telling the stories through the images we're creating and through writing. Using pyrotechnics as well, it's very carefully put together.”

Such attention to detail may come from the way in which Watt divides her time between her own projects and working with other companies. Watt's early solo works were seen at Arches Live! and the National Review of Live Art, while she has worked as assistant director with companies including Lung Ha's, the Traverse Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland. It was the success of her 2012 show, Flaneurs, however, that gave her the confidence to tackle something as big as How You Gonna Live Your Dash.

“That spurred me on to keep on working.” she says. “It felt very much like a rites of passage, and I definitely felt more settled afterwards in what I do. It felt like I'd set my stall out a bit, and I don't think moving forward with this show and everything else could have happened without all that.”

Watt grew up in Inverness, where she studied acting before moving to Edinburgh. By that time she already recognised that acting in its conventional sense wasn't the right fit for her, and she was one of the first group of students on Queen Margaret University's drama and theatre arts course to specialise in contemporary performance. It was while on the course she was exposed to a panoply of influence, and she cites left-field icons including Diamanda Galas, Ron Athey and Marina Abramovic as having a profound influence.

“It felt like they each had a way of expressing themselves in their work in a way that I wanted to make work,” she says.

At the same time as she was absorbing this new world, Watt was working front of house at the Traverse, where she was seeing an endless parade of new plays.

“I always had an interest in more narrative-based work as well,” she says, “and seeing all that work at the Traverse really helped me understand how theatre works, and the scope and the scale of what it can achieve. In terms of my education it was as important as anything I did at university.”

Beyond How You Gonna Live Your Dash, Watt is already developing her next show, Faslane. She is also attached to Magnetic North theatre company as part of the Federation of Scottish Theatre's assistant directors bursary scheme. Out of this, she looks set to be working on a new project with Rob Drummond, another writer-performer who has moved his work into different arenas.

Jumping between what some presume to be two camps doesn't always make Watt easy to define.

“There have definitely been some opportunities that I haven't got because people think they don't know how to work with me unless I take on a more traditional role of a playwright,” she says, “except they do. Being defined in that way seems really strange to me, because I want my practice to be as rich and diverse as possible, and having to define myself seems really restricting. I have tremendous respect for what playwrights do, but that's not really what I do. It's a problem I come up against a lot, and I think that's why I'm reluctant to fall in line with it.”

Such quiet steeliness suggests that, beyond her research, Watt too has taken some kind of personal leap.

With this in mind, how might she be living her own dash?

“I have to think about that question a lot,” she says after much mulling over. “The temptation is to think about things in terms of what happens at New Year, when you say you're going to go to the gym or read a book once a month, but for me, that's not what the question is about. That's all a commodified version of happiness.

“For me, the question is much more about looking at the negative things in your life, and answering whether you should cut those things out of your life or you should use them somehow to make things better. That's what interests me, and that's sometimes a difficult thing to look at. But how do I live my dash? Maybe not like a nihilist.”

How You Gonna Live Your Dash, Platform, Glasgow, January 28-29; Eden Court, Inverness, February 2; Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, February 3; CAST, Doncaster, February 6; MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, February 10; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, February 11-13.
www.jennawatt.co.uk

The Herald, January 19th 2016

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Saturday, 16 January 2016

Giant Tank Offline #4 / Ali Robertson & His Conversations

“If you can put a little bit of yourself into the work....” So says Collette Robertson on the first track of Ali Robertson & His Conversations, the latest sonic missive from one of the brains behind the Giant Tank cottage industry, which has rattled the mainstream's bag for more than a decade now with an ever expanding series of gonzoid dispatches.

Both this newish record and the fourth edition of the GT in-house zine continue an assault on culture which dates back to the pummelling sludge-core of Giant Tank the band in the late 1990s. Since they split, the Robertson-run Giant Tank label has been based primarily around the activities of Robertson and cartoonist Malcy Duff. As Usurper, this double act of absurdist provocateurs have become key players in an outsider weirdo network that is both related to and is the antithesis of a now widespread Noise scene.

Utilising a toybox of 'disabled' instruments – marbles, loose change, old springs and other detritus – alongside their own voices, Usurper's live shows have transformed the workaday notion of 'gigs' into a series of increasingly elaborate narrative-based routines that are both hilarious and profound. Duff's series of comics on his own Missing Twin imprint are works of panoramic genius, while an ongoing array of below-radar cassettes, CDrs and zines have skittered off the Giant Tank production line with interventionist glee.

In terms of influence, Usurper's mix of dialogue, relayed found sound volleys and goof-ball humour looks to the japes of The Goons and cartoonist Leo Baxendale as much as veteran forebears such as junk-shop auteurs The Bohman Brothers, free-form vocalist Phil Minton and sound poet Bob Cobbing. The effect is akin to what might happen if the existential vaudeville of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot had been transplanted to Steptoe and Son's scrapyard.

The complimentary releases of Giant Tank Offline #4 and Ali Robertson & His Conversations continue in a similar vein, with the clip-clops and traffic noises that follow Collette Robertson's opening gambit on Ali Robertson & His Conversations soundtracking the urban shuffle of a man perennially on the sick. In a fragmented tale of everyday drudgery, the mantra-like repetitions and abstractions of domestic bliss that filter in and out sound like what might have happened if Dylan Thomas had written for art-based online radio station, Resonance FM.

Ali Robertson & His Conversations also showcases two works constructed with activist and film-maker, Sacha Kahir. The babble of over-lapping motor-mouthed voices that follow takes in revolutionary Marxism, old age super-heroes and Spiderman artist Steve Ditko. In its discursive insistence it's the sort of late-night spraff that acts as a necessary release from the daily grind.

Collette Robertson reappears on the contents page of Giant Tank Offline #4, the latest compendium of words and images from Robertson, Duff and a slew of fellow travellers that acts as a kind of ongoing Giant Tank manifesto and wilfully luddite state of the nation splurge. While the cover features an image of a man's arm eternally in chains, inside, Robertson's introduction is a nihilistically self-aware pen portrait of how Giant Tank's revolution probably won't start at closing time.

Beyond such maudlin reflections, the following twenty-four appositely bright pages contain a pick and mix pot potpourri of cartoons, short stories, concrete poetry and art. Susan Fitzpatrick of noise duo Acrid Lactations does a comic strip called Passing The Day, which transcends the humdrum into something more comically fantastical. There is a William Blake inspired science-fiction fantasia by Daniel Spicer, and a chapter from a novel credited to JD Salinger's fictional savant, Seymour Glass, that features the members of American noise duo, Macronympha, and disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding on a road trip.

Robertson's contributions include a Kafkaesque dialogue on the Sisyphean nature of working life, while the snakes and ladders of evolution are catalogued in an illustration by Rob Hayler. There are words of wisdom from Angela Sawyer, an abstract text by Joe Murray and a typically off-kilter cartoon by Duff.

In its frustrated railings against The Man, its use of science-fiction and sex as getaway vehicles and its depictions of a language frustrated beyond words, Giant Tank Offline #4 is as old-school underground as it gets. Read it while listening to Ali Robertson & His Conversations. Whistling while you work will no longer be an option.
Ali Robertson & His Conversations and Giant Tank offline #4 are available at duffandrobertson.bandcamp.com. Giant Tank's work can also be found at duffandrobertson.tumblr.com

Ali Robertson appears with Malcy Duff as Usurper with Acrid Lactations and Dead Labour Process at at an afternoon show at The Safari Lounge, Edinburgh,on Saturday January 16th, 1-5pm. Usurper also appear with Dora Doll, Anla Courtis and Butter at the Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh, Saturday January 30th, 7-10pm.

Product, January 2016

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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Romeo and Juliet

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

The big brass bed that sits at the centre of the stage has already seen plenty of action by the looks of things at the start of Emily Reutlinger's production of Shakespeare's doomed love story, performed here by a cast of eight second year BA Acting students. There's a torch on top of the covers, and Romeo and Juliet themselves are standing there with their fractured families, telling the audience what happened with a venom only the victims of a pointless feud can muster.

Beginning the play at its end like this so everything that follows is in flashback is an initially disarming proposition for the audience watching from three sides of a strip-lit stage area, but it's one that's never laboured in a production that focuses on the uber-real looking interplay between the main players. Michael Abubakar in particular is a revelation as an urchin-like Romeo, who blags his way into the Capulets' big do with his mates as a masked lo-fi musical troupe before falling for Emma Hindle's tomboyish and stubbornly refusenik Juliet.

Here the heads of the families are women and the gangs are androgynously pan-sexual, even as they spar themselves into oblivion. Andy Kettu's Friar is a guru-like mentor to Romeo, while Ainsley Jordan has some fine comic moments with the Nurse's faux airs and graces. Swirling video projections spill blood on the carpet, while the whole thing is pulsed along by a glitchy electronic soundtrack. Reutlinger's production ends where it began, and it is the dead souls themselves who utter the play's final words, accusatory spirits caught in the crossfire, damning those responsible.

The Herald, January 14th 2016

ends

David Bowie – Some Live Like Lazarus

1

Last Friday night, I was supposed to go to a Bowie Birthday Tribute Night. This was being held at Edinburgh's Citrus Club to celebrate both the release of Bowie's new Blackstar album and the great man's sixty-ninth birthday. As is usual with such tributes, the night would feature a compendium of Edinburgh punk/post-punk alumni doing covers of the thin white duke's finest works in their own Edinburgh punk/post-punk alumni kind of way.

The attraction for me was was the head-lining act, Finger Halo. This was the new band fronted by Jo Callis, who'd been guitarist in The Rezillos and then Boots For Dancing before joining The Human League, co-writing Don't You Want Me and going to Christmas number one in 1981. This sounded great, because whenever you see film footage of Jo Callis, even when he was in The Rezillos he looked like he should've been one of Ziggy Stardust's Spiders From Mars, and he looks even more like that now.

I'd suggested going to this to a few people a couple of weeks earlier, “in lieu of there being bugger all else on in the first weekend in January,” but on the night itself I somehow managed to put myself off going. The weather was rubbish, and I was still in post new year semi hibernation mode, and when someone messaged me and said they thought they might have seen Jo's band, or certainly a band with Jo in, already, that put me off even more. Once someone else cried off, that was that. And what did David Bowie mean to me, anyway?

In the end, I ended up going to another gig closer to home, which was fine, and then I caught up with a bunch of folk for the first time since new year anyway, and that was nice, but I kind of regret not seeing Finger Halo. Judging by the review of it I read, I hope they play again soon. Apparently Finger Halo played all the best bits off The Man Who Sold The World and Ziggy Stardust, and Fay Fife from The Rezillos got up and sang Friday On My Mind, which Bowie covered on Pin Ups, and I bet it was ace.

But what does David Bowie mean to me? Not much, or so I think. He's just always been there, really. I'm not one of those pre-punk kids whose lives were turned upside down when a glammed-up Bowie put his arm round Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops when they were doing Starman. Nor was I one of those kids who started growing their hair into Germanic flicky side-partings and going to Bowie nights at otherwise horrible Liverpool nightclubs, accidentally inventing Scally culture as we know it inbetween pretending to be bisexual.

I preferred to keep my oddness undercover, hiding in plain sight with my Magazine and Joy Division records, but not really having frame of reference enough to know where they came from, even though it seems obvious now. There was that story as well about when Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant met for the first time in Eric's before they formed Echo and The Bunnymen, and Will Sergeant asked Ian McCulloch what he was doing, and McCulloch said he was waiting for the gift of vision, which was obviously a line from the song, Sound and Vision, but was actually because he was really short-sighted and didn't have his glasses on.

And, okay, I'm going on about Joy Division again, but before Joy Division were Joy Division, they called themselves Warsaw, after the track, Warszawa on Bowie's album, Low, and when we were all serious young men and women, didn't we all want to go to Warsaw and Berlin? I even wanted to make a model of the Berlin Wall, and when I eventually got to go to Warsaw, before the Wall came down, it was as cold and grim as I expected, and all sorts of black market stuff was going on in the hotel bar.

Then later again, when I eventually got to go to Berlin, after the Wall came down, I remember walking along Alexanderplatz, and there was a glass case standing at head height on the sidewalk. In the glass case, which was an advert for the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, was a model of the Berlin Wall, with model cars and fences and towers like something out of the window of Harburn Hobbies on Leith Walk. And I walk all the way to the Museum, which was an independently run place on the cusp of where the border used to be, and which must've been right by where Bowie sang Heroes at the Reichstag concert in 1987 when the Berlin Wall was still in place.

And I remember when Michael Clark brought his new contemporary dance show to Edinburgh International Festival in 2009. Clark and his company were performing at Edinburgh Playhouse, which is the same venue I'd seen a curmudgeonly Lou Reed attack his back-catalogue, then later play the whole of his Berlin album. At the end of the latter, where you might expect Lou Reed to revel in the album's misery, he seemed peculiarly chirpy.

One of the highlights of Michael Clark's show at Edinburgh Playhouse in 2009 is when the company dance to the video of David Bowie singing Heroes. The video is just of Bowie, standing there singing in a simple back-lit set-up, with nothing too fancy. This was quite a contrast to Clark's dancers, who were in an array of oddball costumes that seemed to revel in their grotesquerie.

But when the figure of Bowie started singing Heroes onscreen against a stark back-lit set-up, no-one really watched the dancers anymore. Every single person in the room was transfixed by Bowie and the poignancy of his voice as it rose and fell over the crisp industrial pulse that allowed the guitars on the record to reach out with such emotional force it's as if they're wriggling their way through a barbed wire fence, trying to find a pathway out.

And if it's as powerful and as magnetic watching a video most people in the room will have seen a million times before, imagine what it must have been like hearing Bowie play it live beside the still intact Berlin Wall in 1987.

I spent hours in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, and got upset when I realised I was standing right by the places where people tried to smuggle themselves across the border but who never made it. And it upsets me now because I know the Checkpoint Charlie Museum eventually had to close because whoever ran it couldn't afford to keep it open, and because that's just how western economies work.

2

Probably the first time I heard David Bowie was when Space Oddity came out. I'm not sure whether that was when it was first released in 1969, when Apollo 11 was going to the moon, or else a few years later, by which time he'd done The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and everything. Either way, when I was four, or nine, or whatever it was, it was difficult to work out which order everything had come out in.

The first time Space Oddity was released, and I don't know whether the trippy video was done then or later, but when Apollo 11 went to the Moon, everyone who was five, or nine, or probably older, watched the rocket go up in space, and I vaguely remember watching it with my Dad. And because of watching Apollo 11 going up into space, everyone who was five or nine or whatever wanted to be a space man, or an astronaut, and would run round in a space suit, just like the ones in the picture that are currently being used to advertise the new spate of gigs by Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band. Maybe it was a Liverpool thing.

But I certainly liked the space aspect of David Bowie, because I really liked watching science-fiction and monster films on the telly. And the way Bowie dressed, which was a bit like a girl with orange hair by that stage,wouldn't have looked out of place in Dr Who or something, and Life on Mars and Starman sounded like science-fiction as well.

And I remember my sister telling me about that time that she'd read in the pop magazines that she bought, that they said there were three aliens in pop, and that they were David Bowie, Eno and Lou Reed. Aliens? That sounded amazing. And slightly scary.

I got that David Bowie was an alien alright, because I'd seen him floating in a space ship on the telly with his orange hair dressed like a girl. Eno too, because I'd seen him on Top of the Pops with this other band called Roxy Music, and they all looked and sounded like they were from outer-space. Eno looked especially weird, and on Pyjamarama, he played this funny looking computer type thing that made these funny squiggly noise that wasn't music exactly, but seemed to fit in with the song anyway.

So yes, I could see Eno might be an alien, especially as I didn't know at the time that his first name was Brian. But Lou Reed? He just sang that Walk on the Wild Side song that was really slow and mumbly, and didn't really sound that alien at all. Or so I thought, anyway.

But that was okay, because there were other things going on as well. I remember loving The Jean Genie when I was eight or something. Rebel Rebel too. I didn't know what a Jean Genie was, but in my head the song was a bit like Block Buster!, by The Sweet, which came out a couple of months later, and which sounded harder somehow. The Jean Genie, whoever he was, sounded like a tough guy, which, when I sort of put two and two together about ten years later and bought The Miracle of the Rose, I found out was kind of true, but not quite in the same way I thought.

Rebel Rebel sounded even harder. Slightly dirty as well, with all that talk of torn dresses and hot tramps, but I quite liked the idea of being a Rebel Rebel. It sounded like it could be something out of science-fiction again. And when I found out much later that Diamond Dogs, which was the album that Rebel Rebel was on, was based on George Orwell's 1984, it all seemed to make sense. Apart from the torn dresses and hot tramps, that is. There weren't many of them in my copy of 1984.

Then along came The Man Who Sold The World, who sounded like a tough guy as well. He sounded like a gangster, though if I'm honest, I remember Lulu singing The Man Who Sold The World more than I remember David Bowie singing it, and I remember how odd it seemed, seeing Lulu standing there in her pin-stripe suit trying to look mean singing a song that sounded like something David Bowie would do.


3

On Sunday night, I fall prey to the usual online sound and vision distractions that means the things I'm supposed to be writing always end up taking longer to do than they should do. I watch YouTube links to sixties Bowie singing Let Me Sleep Beside You and When I Live My Dream, two songs I'd loved from that era ever since I'd picked up the Images compilation of all that stuff on secondhand cassette at Record Shak beside the Queen's Hall, where in the eighties when I was on the dole I'd always go to straight after cashing my Giro.

When I Live My Dream is lovelorn and wistful, and could be something out of a musical, and I remember when I first heard it, taking it totally seriously and at face value in all its soppiness. Later, I remember feeling ever so slightly put out when a mate, who knew about musicals and Bowie better than I did, used to pose about singing it like it was a pastiche.

On Let Me Sleep Beside You, Bowie sounds less wide-eyed and innocent. His voice is lower, more conspiratorial, like he's been around a bit, possibly hanging round with the London boys and getting up to no good. Even so, there's still a purity to it. I recently heard Bowie's new version of Let Me Sleep Beside You, which he re-recorded in 2001 for the unreleased Toy album, which only surfaced on the internet in 2011. This new version of the song wasn't officially released until the 2014 Nothing Has Changed album. Compared to the original, this new version sounds meatier and clatterier, and it really sounds like Bowie knows a thing or two now, for sure.

And I must still be feeling bad about not going to the Bowie Birthday Tribute Night, because then I watch the video of Absolute Beginners, which was the theme song from Julien Temple's big glossy musical 1980s film of Colin MacInnes' novel. The novel was set in multi-racial 1950s West London, and was knee-deep in jazz in the way that the American Beats were, and features the Notting Hill riots of 1958 as part of its central love story.

Absolute Beginners is really overblown in the way that a lot of things were in the 1980s, and it doesn't really do the book justice, even if the film isn't nearly as bad as reviews said it was when it first came out. In the film, Bowie plays a larger than life ad man, which he apparently made a condition of doing the theme song. But that's okay, because Bowie's theme song to Absolute Beginners, which was released with a seven minute long black and white video that's as 1980s as the film, is a glorious construction. It's as louche and and as loaded with ennui and romance as anything Bowie's done.

But I probably only realised this when I heard St Etienne do Absolute Beginners when I saw them on the So Tough tour in Glasgow in 1992, when Pulp were supporting them. And hearing the song played by an electronic pop group with a female singer like Sarah Cracknell made me go back to Bowie's original.

To be honest, I'd steered clear of Bowie for a few years, ever since he stopped being weird and made Let's Dance in1983 with Nile Rodgers. It wasn't that it was a bad record. Far from it. It was a joy, which was delivered with a spring in its step and the zeal of a convert who's just discovered the value of sunshine and getting their five a day.

The album's title track and lead single was as ubiquitous that spring and summer as Blue Monday by New Order and Church of the Poison Mind by Culture Club, and, off the leash in London for the first time, I found myself dancing to all three records in a club in Covent Garden. On. My. Own.

While these days such uncharacteristically boisterous behaviour is close to impossible, the thing about Let's Dance that bothered me was that my Mum liked it. Well, actually, I'm not sure it was the record she liked, but Bowie's new image. Gone was the make up, the long hair and the strung-out ascetic look, replaced by sun-bleached quiffs, big smiles and primary-coloured suits that gave him the air of a particularly racy bank manager on a night out.

So taken was my Mum with Bowie's new image that she actually put a poster of him on her wall. I've no idea where she bought it from, but when she put it up on the wall next to her wardrobe in her bedroom, it troubled me slightly. I was still a teenager, and, despite my night in Covent Garden, unless they were Claire Grogan, I preferred my pop stars to be as sulky as I was.

Here was the man who'd hung out with Andy Warhol and William Burroughs, for goodness sake, and who the year before had put Bertolt Brecht into the pop charts on the back of playing the title role in Alan Clarke's split-screen heavy TV production of Brecht's play, Baal. And rather than looking like he was introducing the masses to the alienation effect with those split screens, here he was all dressed up like he was having fun, and my bloody mother fancied him. The 1980s were full of contradictions like this, and for a young man starting to make his way in the world this was confusing, especially once I realised it was only going to get worse.

But I can't be bothered watching Baal, though I do watch Jazzin' For Blue Jean, the twenty-minute rom-com scripted by playwright Terry Johnson and directed by Temple prior to Absolute Beginners as the promo for Bowie's post Let's Dance single, Blue Jean. And I watch the video for The Buddha of Suburbia, Bowie's theme song to the TV version of Hanif Kureishi's novel of the same name. The Buddha of Suburbia was set in multi-racial 1970s South London, and was full of sex and punk and radical theatre. And I stay up far later than I should do watching all this, because I didn't go to the Bowie Birthday Tribute Night, but, yeah, that's what David Bowie means to me.


4

On Monday, when I turn on the radio, the first thing I hear is the final strains of Kooks, which is one of the most gorgeous thing Bowie ever did, and I'm trying to process what happened between me finding out what David Bowie meant to me and what was announced early this morning. BBC 6Music is all over Bowie, and plays his music pretty much back to back for the next few hours.

The only time the music stops is for the news, which leads on Bowie's death, though inexplicably and infuriatingly, of all the people in the world they could've spoken to about Bowie's death, who knew him, or worked with him, or have something significant to say about him, they have David Cameron.

David fucking Cameron, talking about the importance of Bowie to his generation, the same way he talked about The Smiths and The Jam, missing the point of them entirely, the same way he missed Squeeze having a go at him on live TV on Sunday when they changed the lyrics of their new song to point up his ongoing destruction of the welfare state, while he was sitting two feet away from them.

Mercifully, by the time the news come round again they've managed to find Tony Visconti, and it's a relief that Cameron's gone. And later, someone posts something about how Bowie turned down both a CBE and a knighthood, which makes me feel better about hearing Cameron on the news, but not as much as reading about the newsreader who mistakenly read out that it was Cameron who had died and not Bowie. If only.

And while I'm processing all this, I'm on the phone, and out of the corner of my eye on the left side of my bombsite of a desk, I clock something which startles me for a second, and I do a double take.

Over the course of the day, inbetween listening to all the songs and the tributes and doing what I'm supposed to be doing and sharing all Bowie's songs I like on social media and hating David Cameron for so many other things besides him being on BBC 6Music News, I reach out for the few totemic connections with Bowie that I have. I root out my copy of the Edinburgh International Festival magazine from last year that looked at the festival's opera programme. Not because Bowie was in it, but because I'd mentioned Bowie's play, Lazarus, in a piece I'd done on The Last Hotel, a short opera witten by Enda Walsh, who'd co-written Lazarus.

Lazarus is currently playing Off-Broadway, and is a sequel of sorts to The Man Who Fell To Earth, Nicolas Roeg's collage-like film of Walter Tevis' novel. Both the novel and the film are about an alien who comes to Earth to try and save his planet, but who falls prey to the TV and booze culture of American capitalist society instead. The Nectarine No 9 did a great song called Walter Tevis, which was the first time I'd heard Tevis' name.

Nicolas Roeg worked with other rock stars as well as Bowie. In 1970, he co-directed Performance, starring Mick Jagger, who Bowie would record a duet of Dancing in the Street with for Live Aid in 1985. Following The Man Who fell To Earth, Roeg would go on to direct Art Garfunkel in Bad Timing. The same year as Live Aid, Roeg directed Insignificance, based on Terry Johnson's play. Johnson would go on to write the screenplay for Jazzin' For Blue Jean, and would pen additional dialogue for Absolute Beginners.

The piece on The Last Hotel in the Edinburgh International Festival opera magazine was spread across two A5 pages, and had a picture of the actress in the show, Claudia Boyle. The picture was arranged in such a way that on one side of the first page, Boyle is in profile, with her face looking into the camera, and her reflection in a mirror. The mirror image takes up most of the picture, with Boyle smoothing down her fair hair on one side of her pale face as she peers into the distance across both pages, with my text underneath.

I also found the 7'' picture disc of Changes which came out for Record Store Day last year, and which my friend Rachael gave me as a thank you present. Without thinking I put the record on top of the copy of the Edinburgh International Festival opera magazine with the pages open on my piece about Enda Walsh's The Last Hotel, with the picture of the reflection of Claudia Boyle.

Then, while I'm on the phone, I clock this out of the corner of my eye, and I notice the photograph of Bowie that's on the Changes picture disc, which I think is from Hunky Dory, all bell-bottomed androgyny and long hair. And in the picture, which was apparently inspired by a book of Marlene Dietrich images, Bowie is smoothing his fair hair down from the top of his head, back from his pale face, which is looking into the camera like he's looking into a mirror. And seeing those two faces placed next to each other like that, Bowie's and Claudia Boyle's, for a split second it looks like it could be the same person, or at least a brother and sister.

And after I clock this, I think that, as a swansong, having a play and a song called Lazarus, like the one that's on Bowie's Blackstar album, which was released last Friday, is a pretty good way to go out, and isn't too bad an intimation of immortality.

Lazarus was the man, or one of them, raised from the dead by Jesus in the Bible. But it makes me think as well of Some Live Like Lazarus, a short story by science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, which isn't actually a science-fiction story at all. Some Live Like Lazarus is told through the eyes of an older woman who has been pining for a man for forty years, ever since they were both children, but the man is too beholden to his domineering and seemingly invincible mother to ever fully reciprocate.

Like Lazarus the play, Some Live Like Lazarus is a story about loss and wasted opportunities, and not taking the chances you know you should do when they come your way. Which is about as opposite to everything that Bowie has ever been about as you can get.

And now I know what Bowie means to me, I still wish I'd gone to the Bowie Birthday Tribute Night at Citrus Club, and I still wish I'd seen Jo Callis' new band, Finger Halo, because I bet they sounded just like the Spiders From Mars. But I know they'll be playing again somewhere, probably in Citrus, and I know most of all that raising the dead doesn't happen anymore. I also know that if this is everything that David Bowie means to me, chances are everything he's done, and everything he is, was and ever shall be is going to mean a whole lot more to everybody else, and I know everything's going to be okay. So let's dance.

Product, January 2015

ends

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Amanda Gaughan and Lucianne McEvoy - The Weir

When Amanda Gaughan first read Conor McPherson's play, The Weir, she was so shaken by its contents that she knew she had to direct it. The end result of what sounds like a quasi spiritual experience as much as a physical one is Gaughan's new production of the play, which opens at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh this week.

Set in a west of Ireland pub populated by a smattering of regulars, The Weir steps into a very male world of boozy bravado and unspoken bonds that are opened up by the arrival of a female stranger called Valerie. Over the course of one night, as each man tries to outdo each other with supernatural yarns designed to both impress and scare the incomer, everybody's lives are quietly rocked by what eventually unfolds. And that's it. No grand gestures or epic sweeps of dramatic tricks, dance routines or live video feeds, just five people in a pub, talking. Which makes you wander what shook Gaughan up so much when she read it.

“It's got so much humanity to it,” she says on a break from rehearsals. “It's beautiful story-telling, and you can't be tricksy with it. You just need to buy into it. It's just people in the pub telling stories, and it's as simple as that, but it kind of creeps up on you. When I first read it, I got to Valerie's story, and I was just like, what's just happened here. And with this production, that's what I'm trying to evoke, that by the time the audience get there, everything just creeps up on them and takes them by surprise. Apart from everything else, ghost stories are great.”

First seen in 1997, The Weir went on a substantial West End run before transferring to Broadway, and isnow regarded as a modern classic. The play may form part of the canon of a man who on one level might be said to be a macho writer, though compared to other male playwrights of his generation lumped in with the 1990s so-called in-yer-face wave, his world is somewhat contrarily full of vulnerability and superstition. The same year as The Weir premiered, McPherson wrote St Nicholas, a solo piece in which a theatre critic recounted his own brush with the supernatural. In 2006, The Seafarer took things even further in terms of its eerie intimacy, even as it does away with any female presence onstage at all.

“A lot of my work has tended to be female-led,” says Gaughan, who has previously directed Hedda Gabler at the Lyceum and Hecuba at Dundee Rep. “That's never been deliberate, but has just been about the stories that grab me. The thing about Valerie is that she's a stranger. She's not a mother or a lover to any of these characters. She's just brand new information. She makes the night an event.

“Without Valerie, they wouldn't be telling these stories. There's a gorgeous line in the play towards the end, that goes 'It's been a strange little evening for me', and that's about wondering where these stories come from. It's a male world they're all in, but without the female, it wouldn't work. These men wouldn't be in the same place that they are. They would all just be sitting about like barflies, which is what they do every single night. She's not trying to evoke anything either. She's running away from her own problems.”

For The Weir, Gaughan cast Lucianne McEvoy in the pivotal role of Valerie, In Gaughan's words, the Glasgow-based, Dublin-born actress“owns” the part, and in her audition made the casting director cry.

McEvoy's pedigree includes working with directors including Patrick Mason and Max Stafford-Clark at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. In Scotland, she has worked with Theatre Babel and the National Theatre of Scotland, and also appeared in Rufus Norris and Tim Stark's production of Festen at Birmingham Rep. At the Citizens Theatre she was seen in Dominic Hill's revival of The Libertine, and in Grid Iron's Edinburgh International Festival production, Leaving Planet Earth.

For The Weir, the backdrop is one McEvoy recognises only too well.

“It feels like coming home for me in lots of ways,” she says. “The world is very familiar, and the people are very familiar. The nuances of how they are kind to each other are quite subtle, making sure everyone's got a pint the etiquette of a west of Ireland pub. That world is quite particular. With something like this that's an intense melting pot of a play, there are other things to do, but this feels like a very familiar landscape.”

The fact that McEvoy's father lives in the sort of small west of Ireland town that The Weir is set in may have something to do with this, but it is Valerie's presence itself that has captured McEvoy's imagination more.

“She unlocks something for everyone,” says McEvoy. “It's a bit like having a stranger at Christmas dinner. Everyone behaves slightly differently to accommodate that person, so on one level everyone's looking at each other thinking that's not like you, but on the other it's a chance for people to re-present themselves or rediscover who they are, because there's this stranger there who's asking them questions.

“We don't know much about her other than what they learn, which isn't very much, other than that she's there alone. She was once married, and seems to be at an inbetween place in her life, so she's looking for some space. Then she tells this story, and when one person opens up in company, it invites everyone else to.

That's the last thing on her mind when she first goes into the pub, but once people start telling their stories, it has a domino effect, and by the time it gets to her it's almost a compulsion to share it, and it would be strange if she didn't. It feels like the play is of that particular moment on that particular night, and I don't think these people could ever sit together and have such a shared experience in quite the same way again.”

Gaughan hope the same sensation will permeate out to the audience.

“They're witnesses,” she says. “They shouldn't be passive, and I think they'll witness something that's totally unexpected to what they might think they're going into.

“This play's about loneliness and regret, and all these characters have that within them, but they have such generosity of spirit that they wouldn't be able to talk the way they do without it, and that's what makes it such a beautiful play.”

The Weir, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, January 15-February 6


The Herald, January 12th 2016

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Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie - Lazarus, Baal and The Elephant Man

It came as no real surprise when it was announced that David Bowie would be co-writing a play set to open in New York. Here, after all, was a pop star – an artist – whose entire career had been one of theatrical reinvention, as he took on a different guise for each new record that looked increasingly tailor-made for the video age.

When it was announced that, rather than go down the crowd-pleasing jukebox musical route a la Abba's Mamma Mia! or Queen's We Will Rock You, this new work called Lazarus would see Bowie collaborating with playwright Enda Walsh and director Ivo van Hove, it sounded a tantalisingly serious proposition.

Both Walsh and Van Hove are Edinburgh stalwarts, with Walsh having carved out an international career from his Fringe debut, Disco Pigs, in 1997, to writing the libretto for opera The Last Hotel, which appeared at last year's Edinburgh International Festival. Van Hove's production of Antigone, starring Juliette Binoche, appeared in the same programme.

Such left-field choices were typical of Bowie's chameleon-like nature, which encapsulated the very essence of post-modern pop culture, and for whom the word art-rock could have been created.

Lazarus was inspired by The Man Who Fell To Earth, the novel by Walter Tevis filmed by Nicolas Roeg with Bowie playing the title role of Thomas Newton, an alien lost in an American wilderness. Rather than do a simple remake, as with Bowie's ever-shifting oeuvre, this new work was an audacious sequel focusing on Newton, played here by Dexter and Six Feet Under star, Michael C Hall.

Talking on these pages about Lazarus in the run up to the opening of The Last Hotel, Walsh described the collaboration with Bowie as “incredibly easy. He'd seen a couple of plays of mine, and we got on.”

Today, all Walsh could say was that he was “devastated.”

Bowie's relationship with theatre was inconstant but always striking. He had played The Elephant Man on Broadway, and the title role in a TV version of Bertolt Brecht's Baal. He had studied mime under Lindsay Kemp, and channelled the theatrics of Anthony Newley into the social-realist music hall narratives of his 1960s work, before taking the leap into the science-fiction dystopia of The Man Who Fell To Earth and everything that came after.

While Lazarus sounds perfect for Edinburgh under the polymathic regime of artistic director Fergus Linehan, an Edinburgh run has never been discussed. The power of Bowie was made plain, however, in 2009, when Michael Clark and company danced to Heroes at Edinburgh Playhouse. As the video of the Berlin era version of the thin white duke beamed out in all its back-lit simplicity, rather than focus on the dancers, all eyes were on the screen.

Of Lazarus, Rolling Stone described it as 'a two-hour meditation on grief and lost hope (with no intermission), but it takes so many wild, fantastical turns that it never drags.' For the generations who first discovered pop and art and the dramatic power of both when melded together, the second half of that sentence might easily be referring to the always knowing, forever restless spirit of Bowie himself. In his final album, Blackstar, released last week alongside the single, Lazarus, to coincide with his sixty-ninth birthday (and even here the upside-down symmetry seems perfect), Bowie even wrote his own epitaph. Where are we now, indeed?

The Herald, January 11th 2015

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Piers Haggard - Pennies From Heaven, The Blood on Satan's Claw and Stage Directors UK

When Piers Haggard received notice that he was to be awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List, the veteran theatre, film and television director might well have presumed it to be for his achievements on stage and screen. Haggard, after all, was the man who steered Dennis Potter's mould-breaking 1978 TV drama series, Pennies From Heaven, to international acclaim. By that time, Haggard had also directed cult folk horror flick, The Blood on Satan's Claw, and would go on to oversee the 1979 mini series of Nigel Kneale's seminal Quatermass saga.

This followed a checkered theatre career, which began for Haggard at the Royal Court under George Devine, and led to stints at Dundee Rep and the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow before Haggard joined the newly founded National Theatre under Laurence Olivier. Haggard went on to work with Liza Minnelli on an American TV special, and more recently directed Vanessa Redgrave in an onscreen adaptation of Rosamunde Pilcher's novel, The Shell Seekers.

Despite such an impressive CV, Haggard's invitation to Buckingham Palace comes for his work championing directors rights. For the last forty years, he has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign for improved pay and conditions for directors, first as president of the Association of Directors and Producers, before founding the Directors Guild of Great Britain in 1982 and the Directors and Producers Rights Society in 1987. In 2014, Haggard founded a new body, Stage Directors UK.

“Rates of pay for theatre directors are appalling,” says Haggard, “and I think we have to be pretty blunt about that. If they're lucky and do four shows a year, a director in London could earn about twenty grand. The fees they're being paid cover the rehearsal period, but what they don't cover is preparation for a show. It's just sort of expected that a director prepares, but if there's a six week rehearsal period, some directors will prepare for seven weeks before that, and that's not really paid for.”

With the aim of addressing issues of intellectual property rights, royalties and the parlous state for emerging directors, SDUK published an earnings report a year ago, and are about to announce standard contract terms for directors in both the subsidised and commercial sectors.

At time of writing, there are more SDUK members from Scotland than from any other part of Britain. This was borne out at a meeting hosted at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow last October.

“That was down to Jemima Levick,” says Haggard of Dundee Rep's current artistic director. “She pulled together the threads, and at the meeting we were able to identify a set of issues particular to Scotland. People stood up and were very frank. The whole point of this is that people have to be honest. When I got into this forty years ago I learnt that you had to take a deep breath and say to your colleagues what you earn. If you don't, then the bosses win.

“Young freelance directors in particular think they're in competition with each other, but that's nonsense. The pretence of competition has to be done away with. I believe in being blunt about these things, and I can't let it lie. I'm no angel, but this is something I can't not do.”

Haggard was born in London, the son of west end actor Stephen Haggard. His mother, Morna Gillespie, was half Scots, and, after the death of his father, she moved the family to a farm in Dollar. Haggard took to theatre in earnest while studying at the University of Edinburgh, and directed on the Fringe, “when the Fringe was tiny, only about ten companies.”

In 1960, he “blagged a job at the Royal Court,” as an assistant director, before moving to Dundee Rep. At the Citz, he directed A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Good Woman of Setzuan, then in 1963 joined the National, working with Olivier, Samuel Beckett and Franco Zeffirelli.

After two years, Haggard moved into TV, and, with one eye on film, became de facto translator for Michelangelo Antonioni on the swinging London set Blow Up. Haggard directed various TV drama strands, and in 1971, came on board for The Blood on Satan's Claw.

“That was one of the projects that was very dear to me,” he says, “because it came out right. I knew nothing about horror, but I understood the poetry of a rural community. It used to take me half an hour to walk to the road, and if you do that every day in the dark, you start to understand how mysterious that world can be.”

Haggard moved the time frame of the original script back to the era of puritan witch-hunts, while the film's original title of The Devil's Touch was ditched by American distributors.

“That didn't do it any favours,” according to Haggard, “and the film did nothing. Only now do people realise that it's a poetic folk horror film that's about rural ignorance.”

After moving back into TV, Haggard's work on a version of The Chester Mystery Plays using pioneering blue screen techniques was spotted by Dennis Potter, and he was hired to direct Pennies From Heaven. The series, which starred Bob Hoskins as a 1930s sheet music salesman, was notable for the narrative being punctuated with recordings from the era lip-synched by the actors. For some viewers, this break from naturalism caused both confusion and controversy.

“People didn't understand it,” says Haggard, “but it was a dizzy delight finding out what it all meant. It was very much a one-off, and was full of complete opposites. Here was this bleak tale of a man and his girlfriend on the run, but which had all these saccharine songs in it. It was quite fruity too. It wasn't Downton Abbey. It showed that TV drama could be alive, and less about realism and more about surrealism.”

Haggard's work with SDUK, on the other hand, is as real as it gets, and he sees parallels with his rural upbringing .

“A local farmer ploughed our field for us,” he remembers, “and I walked behind that plough, and saw those horses pulling together and working together for the greater good of the land. That's really what building an organisation is like. You get the maximum effect from working together for the best results you can.

“Funding is tight, but it's still a good time for theatre. SDUK will back that, but it's important that we look at how directors are hired and how they're paid. One of the most precious things in that respect is about access. When I started out as a student, you could still get a grant that covered the holidays. You can't do that now, and it's no surprise that so many good people come out of Eton. Eton has three theatres and has professional directors coming in, but if you're really clever and come from Dundee or somewhere and have to work unpaid in London, not many families have got fifteen grand for their kids to work for free, and that needs to change.

“What SDUK is saying is that you shouldn't have to be rich already to get into theatre. Diversity is an absolute battle cry for SDUK, whether it's for economic diversity or ethnic diversity, or the fact that all theatres should have a creche so that mothers of young children can work in theatre and not have to pay for child care. We want to see true access for true talent.”

www.stagedirectorsuk.com
www.directors.uk.com

The Herald, January 11th 2016

ends

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Chips and the Fury - Ellie Harrison and The Glasgow Effect

I'd vaguely noticed the picture of a poke of chips floating about an event post on my Facebook feed for a while before it really caught my eye. For a couple of days, ever since it was posted at one minute to midnight on Hogmanay 2015, I'd half-registered the words The Glasgow Effect accompanying the picture. At the time, the words didn't really mean anything, certainly not in the way they do now, so wasn't really something to concern myself with.

When I eventually clicked onto the post, I was first bemused, then confused by what I read. There are a ton of event invitations that pop up on social media over the course of the day, but this one seemed to be written in some opaque bureaucrat-speak, and didn't seem to refer to an event at all. Which is fine if that's what you're into, and the name Ellie Harrison rang a bell, right enough, but I was too distracted by other things to pay it much attention.

Only when a friend private messaged me with the words 'so have you seen this?' above a link to the same event page with the same poke of chips picture did I look at it closely. Okay, I get it now, I thought. It's an art thing. A concept. I'm down with that, even if it does sound a bit daft. I get invited to that sort of caper all the time.

Someone lives in Glasgow for a year as a durational project and does something or other that I'm not exactly clear about. And Creative Scotland gave the artist 15k for it? That's certainly their style of language alright, even though they say they've ditched it for something simpler. No wonder I can't quite get to grips with it. To be fair, though, it seems to have been written by this Ellie Harrison person, and sometimes artists writing about their ideas can be just as impenetrable as arts quango lingo. But if Harrison didn't write it, she must have the worst PR person in the world if that's what they came up with.

And then I remember that Ellie Harrison was one of the artists who took part in a group show at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh in the run-up to the referendum. Her thing was to have a couple of cannons in one of the rooms, which, in the event of a Yes vote, and only in the event of a Yes vote, would fire confetti into the air at what would have undoubtedly been a great big celebration party.

What was it called again? Something about how after the revolution, someone still has to clean up. Of course, the Yes vote never happened, so the cannons weren't fired. Even so, the title reminded me of that John Cooper-Clarke poem, Apart From The Revolution, It's Another Working Day.

Then I started thinking about the people who ran the Music is the Music Thing festival in Glasgow, which was a DIY type festival run across several small venues. Over one weekend, the festival put on the best left-field bands in Glasgow. A couple of these even had Turner Prize winners and nominees in them, and David Shrigley did the poster and everything. There had been two previous Music is the Music Thing festivals, which had been run on little or no money, which meant no-one got paid much at all, least of all the people putting it on, I expect.

For the third Music is the Music Thing, the people running it wanted to do it properly so they could try and pay people, and applied to Creative Scotland for 15k. They were knocked back for this, with the only explanation coming in the form of a standard letter saying something vague about how, in a competitive climate there were many quality projects and how this time out Music is the Music Thing had been unsuccessful in their application, that sort of thing. I'd seen several letters like this, which other people who made unsuccessful applications to Creative Scotland received, and which had identical wording to the one Music is the Music Thing had been sent.

Because Music is the Music Thing was turned down for 15k by Creative Scotland, it meant that it didn't happen again. Fielding, who was one of the people behind it, moved from Glasgow to London to become one of the producers at Cafe Oto, which is a huge loss to Glasgow and Scotland, but Cafe Oto is the best left-field music venue in the UK, and Fielding puts brilliant stuff on there. It's just a shame it's not in Glasgow is all.

And I tell some of this to my friend who sent me the link to Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect page. I tell her that I remember when I was on the dole years ago, that I was so skint that I'm sure there was at least one year when I didn't leave Edinburgh, and I remember the sheer elation of getting on a bus or a train for the first time after that in a way that I take for granted these days.

Later, I also remember when I was on the dole, that, at some point – and there was quite a few years of this, so I can't quite remember when - I used to cash my Giros at the big post office on the corner of the Bridges and Princes Street, which was in the building which is now called Waverleygate, and is where Creative Scotland has its offices. That's how everyone got their equivalent of an arts council grant in those days, signing on once a fortnight for as long as they could in a way that's pretty much impossible to do now.

And I tell my friend who sent me the link that, while I may look into Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect further, in the spirit of what the piece may or may not be about, I'll probably just ignore it and stay home. And it's all a bit of a laugh, because that's what you do when you're sent stuff like this. It's fun.

Then I notice on social media that other people are starting to pick up on Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect as well. Maybe they already were and I was just letting that picture of the poke of chips pass me by. Again, it's all being treated as a bit of light-hearted fun, something to raise an eyebrow at and smirk knowingly about, like you see newsreaders do whenever they have to talk about conceptual art or something else they haven't a clue about.

It's like what happened when Assemble won the Turner Prize at Tramway in Glasgow. Assemble was a design company, for goodness sake. They worked in the community. What they did wasn't proper art. It was a joke, just like Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect. Wasn't it?

In terms of The Glasgow Effect, some serious commentators seem to think so, as do some artists, who, somewhat surprisingly, seem to be cheer-leading the smatterings of less amused, more kneejerk stuff that's being posted in response to it. But it's still a laugh.

All of which starts me thinking about those endless pub conversations I've recently been having with mates who keep telling me that arts funding is a luxury, and that there are people starving, and how art is for an elite.

I think about how I keep telling them in response that art isn't a luxury, and how most artists earn ten grand or less a year, and that if they don't like the arts being subsidised, then fine, throw away your telly and stop watching films and TV dramas. Because every actor in those films and TV dramas, and every designer and technician and prop maker who worked on them, chances are that at some point they worked in a publicly subsidised theatre, or received some kind of publicly funded bursary to train and learn their craft and find out what they're about.

And if they think the arts in general are a luxury, or for an elite, then also fine, they should throw out their clothes and their furniture and pretty much everything they own. Because, even if they're mass produced, pretty much every single thing will have originated, and been designed and thought out by and in some cases made by artists. But because we wear a shirt a certain way while sitting on a particular type of stool while leaning on a particular-shaped bar, we take all that for granted.

I tried to explain to them how much art brings back to the economy, and how even the Tories get that. It's an argument I hate having to make, because art shouldn't have to be judged in economic terms, but it's the only argument that people with money or who don't really care much about art understand. And it's one that everyone's had to make for at least the last thirty years or so, just to get those people off their backs.

And I think about my mates who think arts funding is a luxury belonging to an elite, and I think, how the fuck am I going to justify Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect to them? Because, in truth, I don't really know what I think about Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect myself. And that's when everything starts to stop being funny. Because within an hour of me thinking all this, all that slightly snidey, smirky and ever so slightly superior piss-takey stuff online has been taken over by something far uglier.

On the comments beneath Ellie Harrison's blurb for her Glasgow Effect Facebook event page just beneath the poke of chips are an ever increasing stream of comments, and most of them are angry. Some of them are really angry.

Next thing, one of the tabloids has published a story on it online, which means that the comments on Ellie Harrison's Glasgow Effect Facebook event page are being posted thicker, faster, and by and large more angrier than ever. The fact that the tabloid for no good reason whatsoever published the fact that Ellie Harrison is English doesn't help, even though as it turns out she studied in Glasgow, and has lived there for nearly eight years, and works as a part time lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee.

But no-one bothers about all that. They just seem to keep on with the anger. And among all the chatter and the clatter, there seems to be a million things being hurled at Ellie Harrison from all sorts of angles. There are some people who think that arts funding is a bad thing altogether, which is stupid, for all the reasons I defended arts funding to my mates. Others think it's a daft idea that's been presented really badly, at least one of which may be true.

A fair few of the posts take umbrage with the name of the project, and the fact that it's illustrated with a poke of chips. The Glasgow Effect, as I discover through reading the posts, is a phrase coined to describe the poor health and low life expectancy of people who live in socially and economically deprived areas of Glasgow compared to other parts of the UK. Illustrating it with a poke of chips, some posters suggest, just adds insult to injury.

If she'd wanted to make life easy for herself, Harrison could have called her project The Glasgow Miracle. This is a phrase dumped on the city's thriving arts scenes like so much yesterday's arse-porridge, but which is probably an even stupider phrase than The Glasgow Effect. Rather than looking at the unique set of social, political and economic circumstances that have sired and nurtured the success of artists in or from the city over several decades, the self-deifying pseudo-glory of the phrase, The Glasgow Miracle, prefers to cite unspecified quasi-mysticism instead.

While I'm thinking about all this, some of the posts on The Glasgow Effect Facebook event page have turned increasingly abusive. Someone calls Ellie Harrison a cunt. Another tells her she should fuck off back to England. One says they hope she dies of AIDS.

But beyond the abuse, and the xenophobia, and the misogyny, and the presumptions about what class Ellie Harrison comes from by people who didn't know anything about her until they just read about her on a tabloid website, some of the criticisms are valid. These criticisms are about presentation, patronisation and provocation, and about the mixed messages that Harrison and The Glasgow Effect are sending out.

Quite a few people suggest that maybe all that anger being vented at Harrison is all her own fault for putting such a bemusing, confusing blurb on The Glasgow Effect page, written as it is in Creative Scotland style bureaucratese beneath a picture of a poke of chips. And maybe it was deliberate. Maybe it was all one big, elaborate, attention-seeking wheeze?

As time goes by - and the blogposts and comments are blasting in on social media like wildfire now - a new tone emerges, and an underlying but unmistakable patina of jealousy bubbles to the surface. It's certainly not as bad as advertised elsewhere, but some of Harrison's fellow artists, who maybe have or haven't been supported with public money, suddenly seem as angry as the xenophobes and the misogynists. And some people, who normally like to present their social media personas as left-wing, anarchic or avant-garde, have suddenly started frothing like Daily Mail leader writers.

And I start thinking, as I often do, about Joy Division and Factory Records, and about how Tony Wilson was lambasted from some quarters for flirting with fascism by allowing his label's otherwise critically acclaimed band, who would go on to change music forever, name themselves after the real life brothels in Nazi death camps which had been fictionalised in a novella called House of Dolls. I think how Wilson's arty-farty, Cambridge educated motormouth would defend all this by talking about signs and signifiers, and complexities and contradictions. Or at least Steve Coogan did when he played Wilson in Michael Winterbottom's film, Twenty-Four Hour Party People.

I think as well, as I probably do even more than I do about Joy Division and Factory Records, about Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, and The K Foundation burning a million quid on Jura in 1995. That million quid wasn't public money, but was money that Drummond and Cauty made as chart-topping 'stadium house' group, The KLF, but it still pissed people off when they did it.

And I remember watching a BBC documentary that told the story of the K Foundation burning a million quid, and which at one point filmed Drummond and Cauty touring the film of them actually burning it around arts centres in the UK. That tour included the CCA in Glasgow, which, in terms of the reaction to The Glasgow Effect, seems somehow relevant.

In the BBC documentary, Drummond and Cauty were filmed doing a Q&A after the screening of the film of them burning a million quid at Tony Wilson's In The City music conference in Manchester. In the couple of minutes shown, some people in the audience, who included Wilson, seemed amused by the whole thing. In the Q&A, one member of the audience said what The K Foundation had done was a waste of money. Someone else called it an an indulgence. One person initially appeared to suggest that Drummond and Cauty could have set fire to themselves. Actually, after a brief moment of confusion, it turned out he was more concerned with health and safety issues, and everybody had a good laugh about it, because it was funny.

I showed the first half of the BBC documentary about The K Foundation to fourth year arts journalism students last year. The idea was to try and get them thinking about value, and how art, or whatever The K Foundation burning a million quid was, is judged. I remember the shock on their faces afterwards, and how vocal they were, about why anyone would want to burn a million quid when they could be doing so much else with it.

This was interesting, because, up to that point, trying to get this class of fourth year arts journalism students to talk about anything, let alone with such passion, hadn't been easy. And even though they'd never heard about The K Foundation burning a million quid, an event that had happened before many of them were born, until an hour before, some of them were really angry, and they all had about a million different things to say about it.

And I'm reminded of Forest Pitch, when in 2012 artist Craig Coulthard created a football pitch near Selkirk for a group of teams made up of people who had moved to Scotland from all over the world to play on it. Following the two games that were played on the site, 800 hundred trees were planted. This is simplifying things somewhat, as there was a great deal of thought behind Forest Pitch that took a year to bring it to fruition, but the information is all out there if anyone can be bothered looking.

In the run up to Forest Pitch, which was supposed to happen at the same time as the London Olympics, there was a lot of harrumphing from some local councillors in the area about whether Forest Pitch was art or not, and whether public money – in this case a six figure sum – should be being spent on a football match when in their eyes there were probably more worthwhile things to spend it on.

To his credit, the then CEO of Creative Scotland made a robust public defence of Forest Pitch and its artistic worth, and, after a false start because of torrential rain causing the pitch to flood, the games went ahead. By all accounts it was great fun. The trees are apparently coming on quite nicely as well.

In the wake of the furore over Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect over the last few days, Creative Scotland issued a bright but bland statement of support for the project, which was attributed to an un-named spokesperson.

All of which makes me want to defend Ellie Harrison's The Glasgow Effect, even though I still don't know what I think about it, because I don't know what it is. What I do know is that no-one else does either. But I don't really mind that, because, as some of the more rational commentators have pointed out, the project, if that's what it is, hasn't really started yet, and there's another 350-odd days for Harrison to do whatever she may or may not be doing with it.

I do know as well that, after looking into Harrison's work beyond The Glasgow Effect and the cannons in After The Revolution, Who Will Clean Up All The Mess? at the Talbot Rice, while all this has been going on, I reckon I'd probably like some of it. Some stuff I probably wouldn't get, or maybe lots of it, but I reckon it would still be interesting.

On General Election night 2010, Harrison did an all-night live performance called General Election Drinking Game, and a year later did an installation called A Brief History of Privatisation, which used a circle of electric massage chairs to re-enact the history of UK public service policy over the last century. She also used popcorn making machines to re-enact the roots of capitalism in something called The History of Financial Crises. All of which sound a lot of fun, and which seem to tap into the current artistic tropes of social-based art and performance-based work. Best of all, and I don't know how she defined it but I don't really care either, Harrison campaigned for the renationalisation of what used to be British Rail.

Little if any of of Harrison's work can be economised or monetised in the way most contemporary art can. This is maybe what gets people's backs up about it, the same way some people got shirty when Assemble won the Turner. It can't be flogged off in an overpriced art market. Not until the property developing classes figure out a way to make some money out of it, anyroad, and rest assured they will.

While I'm thinking about all this, Harrison puts up a statement on the Glasgow Effect event page in response to everything that's being hurled at her. She sounds cheerfully unrepentant, and is being a lot more straightforward than the blurb.

In her statement, Harrison, says that the 15k of Creative Scotland money will be 'donated' to Duncan of Jordanstone to fund someone to be employed to take over her post, while she takes paid 'Research Leave'. This may or may not be allowed under existing Creative Scotland guidelines, though making such a statement in the way she does is unlikely to make her too popular in either institution.

Later, Harrison puts online her full application to Creative Scotland which saw her awarded the 15k. In terms of everything that has gone before, it's a bit of an eye-opener. From start to finish, the application for The Glasgow Effect, which, as it turns out, was originally titled the far more appealing Think Global, Act Local, is an eye-popping masterclass in opaque box-ticking phrases that only the anonymous committees inside the former post office that is Waverleygate can truly decipher.

If you read the application several times, then several times again, what emerges is a simple, holistic, if at times naïve-sounding proposal of a sort that is pretty commonplace these days, and which elsewhere largely gets by unmolested. Wrapped up in such seemingly wilfully mystifying language, however, it's no surprise it's alienated so many.

And if the language of The Glasgow Effect as it stands has been the cause of that alienation, that's not Ellie Harrison's fault. It's that of the ideology-led institutions she's caught between, and which she may have just subverted, even as she's currently having to suffer the slings and arrows of what many consider to be outrageous fortune.

What happens next with The Glasgow Effect is anybody's guess, and I won't know what I really think about it until this time next year, when whatever happens has happened. But beyond the often unpleasant if weirdly addictive strain of click-bait it's thrown up, it's already exposed how easy it is in the heat of a moment you don't like to fall prey to a culture of divide and rule that leaves everybody powerless. The job now, for Harrison, and for everybody else, is to seize the power back. I hope The Glasgow Effect does something wonderful to help make that happen.

Product, January 2016

ends