Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ian Broudie - Going Solo

It was during the height of mid-1990s Britpop fever when Liverpool-born singer/songwriter and brains behind pop perfectionists The Lightning Seeds Ian Broudie suddenly found himself at No1 in the singles charts with a football anthem performed with a pair of comedians.

Almost a decade and a half on from the original release of Three Lions, the song, recorded with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel as the England football team’s official song for the Euro 96 competition, remains Broudie’s best-known work. As he sets out on a series of rescheduled low-key solo dates following the cancellation of an Edinburgh Festival Fringe show in August, however, you get the impression that the short-lived triumphalism and euphoria of Britpop are the last things on his mind.

“It’s an odd thing,” he reflects, “because in terms of my career, Three Lions had a negative effect. I’d already done three albums as The Lightning Seeds, and had started playing live with a band in the run up to the third one, Jollification.

“We were working on the next one, Dizzy Heights, when Three Lions took off, but we only did one album (1999’s Tilt) after that. I’d gone from being a one-man band in the studio to touring with loads of people. There’d been a lot of personal turmoil and the heart had slightly gone out of it.”

Broudie didn’t release a record for five years, when Tales Told was put out under his own name. It took another half decade for this year’s Four Winds album to revive The Lightning Seeds trademark.
Not that the optimism of old is much in evidence throughout a downbeat collection that took in more recent examples of the sort of personal turmoil Broudie hints at, including his divorce and the death of his brother.

Not that Broudie has been idle in any way. Rather, he’s been avoiding the increasingly fickle pop spotlight’s glare by getting back to his roots as a studio wizard to a new generation of Liverpool bands, including The Coral and The Zutons.

This must have seen a serious case of déjà vu for Broudie, who fell into a colourful Liverpool punk scene based around Matthew Street’s legendary Eric’s club. Broudie had discovered music through his two elder brothers’ record collections, and ended up playing guitar in the house band for theatrical madman Ken Campbell’s production of conspiracy theory opus The Illuminatus for his Science-Fiction Theatre of Liverpool. Also on board were future Zoo Records and KLF maverick Bill Drummond and vocalist Jayne Casey. This liaison forged Big In Japan, which at various points featured a young Holly Johnson and Siouxsie and The Banshees future drummer Budgie.

Life on the road never appealed and after Big In Japan splintered, Broudie combined production work with the likes of Echo and The Bunnymen, The Pale Fountains and The Fall, with his own bands The Original Mirrors and studio project Care.

“Things come around when it’s the right moment,” Broudie says, “and the reason I didn’t want to go out and play was because in the Original Mirrors it felt like we were always stuck in the back of a van.

“Being in Liverpool, a lot of bands asked me to arrange and produce them. Then Echo and the Bunnymen came along and I was in awe because they were such a great band. So I was always hesitant about things.”

Broudie needn’t have been, because his first single as The Lightning Seeds, 1989’s Pure, was a hit, its nursery rhyme bubblegum defining the era’s optimism and blissed-out faux-innocence. Later Lightning Seeds singles, it should be noted, were called Joy, Marvellous and Perfect.
Whether The Lightning Seeds become football stadium-sized again, however, isn’t something Broudie sounds concerned with.

“It’s new ground,” he admits. “The world has changed so much and record companies probably aren’t going to be around much longer. I think The X Factor, and boy bands before that, really changed how people perceive music now. There are schools now. There’s more of a career path and bands are much more part of the establishment. I’ve never been comfortable with that. When I started out in groups, it was because you didn’t want to be part of the establishment, and you felt like a bit of an outlaw. We just did it because we wanted to, and I really notice the difference now. But there’s a kind of middle-ground now that you can exist in without being in the spotlight all the time. Which is great, because these days all I want to do is just write my songs, record them and play them.”

The Herald, December 3rd 2009

ends

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Pete Irvine - Scot:Lands 2017

When Pete Irvine talks about Scot:Lands, the multiple-venue New Year's Day extravaganza that will see some 8,000 morning after revellers move around Edinburgh's Old Town, it as if he is navigating his way around an imaginary landscape of his own design. One minute he's singing the praises of the St Magnus Festival on Orkney, the next he's flitting from the Wigtown Book Festival to the Highlands, taking in all manner of mini festivals and home grown folk art en route.

The audiences who have signed up online for the already fully subscribed free event will be able to do something similar after downloading their boarding pass that allows them access to nine as yet un-named indoor venues that hosts this celebration of localism in what amounts to a global village. Beyond geographical borders, they will also be able to explore neglected poets of the past brought to life by a new generation of young radicals, as well as checking out an even newer diaspora of Scots borne of an internationalist outlook.

“The concept, and the thinking behind the programme addresses various different aspects of Scotland and its culture,” Irvine explains. “It's called Lands because it's about different parts of Scotland coming to the capital, hopefully creating an atmosphere of what they express culturally, what is possible and what inspires artists from that particular area. So there's a geographical element to the programme, and over the four years we've been doing Scot:Lands, I always say that we've got people from all the airts, which is the Scottish word for parts, as well as from all the arts.

“Similarly, it's much more practicable to have people from Edinburgh and people who live here involved, because it's new year time, so you can't travel much on the first of January, even from Glasgow, so you've got to be pragmatic about it. But of course, we don't want it to be another Edinburgh festival. Scot:Lands is supposed to be pan-Scotland, and is supposed to be eclectic, and again brings all the arts from all the airts.

“Where each Land happens very much helps create a context of what it is you're going to and what will happen when you get there. We don't say where the venues are, and you don't know until you're given a card, but when you get there it becomes very experiential, and it's no coincidence that each Land takes place in the venue that it does. In Orcadia:Land, for instance, we try and bring parts of the St Magnus Festival from Orkney to Edinburgh on the 900th anniversary of St Magnus Cathedral.”

While Orcadia:Land will feature choral, classical and traditional music overseen by composer Alasdair Nicolson, the eight other Lands on the route will similarly attempt to capture the essence of where they come from.

Wig:Land trades on Wigtown Book Festival's unique status outwith the central belt as it brings together writers such as Harry Giles and Hugh McMillan with Wigtown's own Book Shop Band.

Nether:Land finds Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) joining forces with spoken word cabaret Flint and Pitch for a rolling programme of story-telling and song from the likes of poet Jenny Lindsay, music from the Mairi Campbell Ceilidh Band and performances of what are described as cinepoems.

In This:Land, archive film curator Shona Thomson pulls together a selection of unearthed documentary footage of land and sea set to live soundtracks from the likes of beat-boxer Jason Singh and contemporary folklorist Drew Wright aka Wounded Knee. John Grierson's film, Drifters, will also feature.

Mountain Thyme:Land finds the Paisley-based Spree Festival bringing together the likes of Eddi Reader and Love and Money singer James Grant to celebrate the life and work of Robert Tannahill, the Paisley-born poet who wrote Wild Mountain Thyme and Waltzing Matilda. With latter day Paisley wunderkind Paolo Nutini having headlined Edinburgh's Hogmanay the night before, the town's bid for UK City of Culture 2021 will be given a boost by such iconic artists being given such a high profile.

In Sorley:Land, Edinburgh's premiere promoters of spoken-word musical mash-ups, Neu! Reekie!, celebrate the work of Raasay-born poet Sorley MacLean on the twentieth anniversary of his death. This mixes up music by Neu! Reekie! regulars, Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, Teen Canteen's Carla Easton and Eyes of Others, aka John MacLean Bryden – a relative of Sorley's – with films by Timothy Neat and eight contemporary rappers performing work by the eight writers depicted in Sandy Moffat's painting, Poet's Pub.

High:Land sees traditional arts organisation Feis Rois celebrate its thirtieth birthday with a programme led by fiddler and composer Duncan Chisholm. As the name suggests, Let's Dance:Land sees in the year with a dance-off that takes in hip hop, Northern Soul, disco, ballroom and even Tai Chi as DJs play everything from David Bowie and Prince to Marlene Dietrich.

Scot:Lands fuses the traditional and often unsung local culture with contemporary grassroots arts scenes that recognise where they've come in a way that both celebrates their heritage while looking forward to reinvent it anew. In this respect, Scot:Lands is a quietly subversive infiltration of a popular civic spectacle, in which artists who might not be programmed in mainstream festivals are exposed to a larger audience than they may get at regular shows. This is a template that was set in place in the years prior to Scot:Lands, when international street theatre companies would take over city centre streets in a similarly anarchic display. Scot:Lands' ,move to indoor venues, however, allows for a captive audience to watch things in more intimate surroundings.

This form of artistic entryism can be seen most noticeably in New Scots: Land, which brings together a plethora of artists with roots in Africa, India, Latin America and Eastern Europe. These include former member of the Bundhu Boys, Rise Kagona, guitarist Carlos Arrendondo and a theatrical collaboration between writer and performer Annie George and Alloysious Massaquoi of Young Fathers.

“New Scots: Land isn't just about Scotland, “Irvine explains, “but is about all the other places as well, and that feels very current. Every night we watch our televisions in despair, but all of the artists here have brought their own cultures to Scotland and have made it an integral part of it. As with all of Scot:Lands, all of the different elements combine to create a completely unique experience.

“We're transforming spaces which aren't usually used as venues, and we're working with a lot of artists who we haven't worked with before in a way that they might not have done before. Scot:Lands is a pop-up in every way, and the performances are never going to happen again. People can go to from venue to venue, stay as long or as little as they want at each one, and experience it in the way that they want. Total freedom.”

Scot:Lands takes place as part of Edinburgh's Hogmanay on January 1 2017 from 1-5pm.
www.edinburghshogmanay.com


The Herald, December 27th 2016


ends

Monday, 26 December 2016

Andy Gill - Gang of Four

CULTURAL revolutions take time. Just ask the recently-reformed Gang Of Four. In the first flush of punk, they took their name from a quartet of deposed Chinese Communist Party leaders, and now, almost 30 years on, find the spiky urgency of their punk-funk pioneering co-opted into the mainstream by everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Bloc Party.

Gang of Four's appearance this weekend at the newly-constituted Indian Summer festival, in Glasgow's Victoria Park, should go some way towards reclaiming the limelight from such musical whippersnappers, as well as making up for the cancellation of a proposed Glasgow show in 2005 when vocalist Jon King injured himself.


As punk-rock moments go, it's a far cry from 30 years ago, when, as art students and serious young men at Leeds University, Gill and King, with bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham, became Gang of Four, part of a fledgling music scene centred around The Fenton pub.

"There was us, The Mekons and The Delta 5, " recalls Gill of those early days of bunking off lectures and late-night plotting. "That was our immediate group of friends, and we'd all started out at the same time. But there were lots of things going on in other parts of the pub. In one corner, there would be Green Gartside, who was just starting Scritti Politti. In another corner, there'd be Marc Almond and Dave Ball from Soft Cell. There was a mini vogue at that time for men to knit, so Marc would be sitting there with his needles and a ball of wool."

Almond aside, most of the Fenton crowd would go on to be cited in Simon Reynolds's book, Rip It Up and Start Again, as prime movers of what's now known as post-punk. The spiritual home of such activity was the Edinburgh-based Fast Product records, which, as well as the first Gang of Four singles, released early works by The Human League, The Scars and The Mekons.


"There'd been e-mails going back and forth between us for a couple of years, " King says, "about how so and so wanted us to play with them on a 20-date tour or whatever, and you can always find good enough reasons to say no".

He continues: "But, maybe it was the fact that all these bands appeared that clearly owed a big debt to Gang of Four - Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and, what's the other one, Kaiser Chiefs. Everyone was used to the fact that our generation or the generation just after us had borrowed elements from Gang of Four, but this new crop seemed much more blatant. It's weird hearing it all over the place, but I like a lot of it. The thing that's different about it is you're never sure what they're going on about. With Gang of Four, I think it was always pretty easy to tell."

Gill and King had been "sitting about, playing chess, drinking gin and writing songs, " since 1975, so, "by the time punk came along, we'd already written most of our first album, Entertainment. We were writing about the interesting things that happen to you when you're trying to live your life, and the invisible forces that affect you. We were trying to look at what you can expect from culture, art, relationships, and which vested interests served us."


Of their association with Fast, Gill recalls: "Bob Last had his finger very much on the pulse. I remember that he asked The Mekons, who were our mates and who we hung out with in Leeds, if they wanted to do a record, and we thought, that was ridiculous. We went to Bob and said, listen, you've got the wrong band."

Entertainment's major-label release saw Gang of Four skim the charts with the still subversivesounding At Home He Feels Like A Tourist.

Fleshing out their trademark austerity, the band would go on to crack the American market before splitting in 1984.

King and Gill reformed the band with a pick-up rhythm section in 1990, only to split again in 1995. Since then, Gill has concentrated on producing the likes of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as well as the debutalbum by Gang of Four-influenced Futureheads.


Last year's Return the Gift album saw Gang Of Four re-recording the best of their early work.

According to King, "It felt a bit like being an archaeologist. We were looking at some songs that are getting on for 30 years old now, but it was interesting to go back. Some people felt that we shouldn't have done it, but I had always had issues with the way parts of those records sounded, so I wanted to fix them so I could lay ghosts to rest."

Now, however, a new album is imminent. "Until 18 months ago, me and Jon hadn't seen Hugo and Dave for years, " King points out. "The last album, Shrinkwrapped, was in 1995, so the first thing we did was to see what it was like playing together again.

"That was good, so we decided to do Return the Gift, but sounding like we do now. That was good as well, so this is the next stage."

Maybe this time, they should leave the microwave in the kitchen.

The Herald, September 1st 2006

Joanne Catherall - The Human League

WHEN Joanne Catherall played her debut gig with The Human League in a Doncaster nightclub in 1980, the idea of playing to 16,000 people in the unfeasibly glamourous amphitheatre that is the Hollywood Bowl was, like so many things in the depressed north of England at the time, an impossible dream. Up until the Doncaster show, dark-haired schoolgirl Catherall and her blonde best friend Susanne Sulley had escaped the grey, post-industrial depression of their Sheffield home on the dancefloor of their local palace of neon naughtiness, the Crazy Daisy. Within a year, they'd be Top Of The Pops regulars, performing hits from the mega-selling album Dare - including the ultimate kitchen-sink Christmas number-one duet, Don't You Want Me?


"There'll be seven of us onstage, and we're just getting the clothes together now, " she says. "We've got this set designer to do this great big white set, so people have something to look at. It's all going to be very Human Leaguey glamour, Human League styley."

In her gravy-thick Yorkshire accent, such self-defining jargon makes Catherall sound like the teenage party girl of old, regaling Smash Hits with the band's latest plans. In fact, the band has been without a record deal since their last album, Secrets, merely scraped the charts in 2001 - despite best-of and remix compilations, and the patronage of voguish producers such as Richard X, who have sampled the League in new releases. The brief recent wave of electroclash acts may use digital technology, but they modelled themselves on the analogue image of their eighties forebears.

It might be showbiz bluff, but Catherall sounds cheerfully nonplussed about current reinterest in The Human League. "We need to make the money to keep the group going, " she says pragmatically. "We've got a studio in Sheffield, and that just eats the money up. We're hoping to get an album out next year."
 
It's all a far cry from The Human League's origins as a four-man sci-fi synth combo who'd illustrate live sets with slides of cult TV shows such as Captain Scarlet and The Prisoner. The band were picked up by Edinburgh's Fast Product record label, run by the band's future manager Bob Last, who would go on to influence their direction.

After two singles on Fast and gigs with The Rezillos and Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Human League signed to the major label Virgin - and, over the course of two albums, frustratingly under-achieved. After founder members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh broke away to form their own glossy-sheened major label act, Heaven 17, a chance meeting in not a cocktail bar but the Crazy Daisy saw The Human League reinvented.

With a tour pending, Oakey and remaining Leaguer Philip Adrian Wright were in the Crazy Daisy drowning their sorrows. Needing to act fast, they were struck by Catherall and Sulley's distinctively quirky dance moves, and made them an offer they couldn't refuse. Pending a hasty meeting with the girls' respective parents to reassure them that no rock-star funny business was in the offing, Doncaster beckoned.

"Most of the people we knew were there, " Catherall recalls. "Afterwards I remember my mother saying, 'Did you really need to put all that make-up on?'"

SUCH inherited down-toearthness would go on to inform the best of The Human League's material. Because, for all their retro-future stylings, there's always been a whiff of working-man's-club cabaret about them. It is a trait common to many bands from Sheffield, right up to the Arctic Monkeys and the lipglossed romance of The Long Blondes. Pulp's back-street frustrations and the gold-lame-clad gloss of ABC both explored the contrary nature of doing what they did while being where they were from.

From Catherall's own experience, the fact that The Human League were called "the puffy synthesiser group" by friends sums it up. "What we were doing was so different. It was fairly grim in Sheffield then, so when you turned on your TV and T-Rex came on, that's where the kick to do something came from." However, she adds, knowingly: "In those days there wasn't some sort of work ethic involved. It was more like a big party."

The last man drafted in to the new-look League was former Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis, who would go on to co-write much of Dare. An album full of glittering pop melodramas, it remains one of its era's defining moments, despite becoming something of an albatross around the band's neck as they attempted to follow it up. By the time 1984's Hysteria appeared, their moment had passed, and, while subsequent albums have contained flashes of wonder, Dare is the yardstick by which The Human League are measured.

The album is currently celebrating its silver jubilee and Catherall blithely states: "We never really liked it much. I don't think I've listened to it for a while. Actually, we prefer things the way they are now, with no record company telling us what we can and can't do. We're not young like the Arctic Monkeys. We don't have to be desperate to be on every radio show.

Especially now they've played the Hollywood Bowl. (Headlining, Catherall stresses, on a bill with the Psychedelic Furs and former ABC frontman and fellow Sheffieldite Martin Fry. ) She talks about the sensation she felt looking out on those 16,000 people as she performed. "Watching them dance, " she says, perhaps thinking of her teenage self, first up on the floor with Sulley at the Crazy Daisy. "It was special."


The Herald, December 6th 2006

ends

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Neu! Reekie! - Where Are We Now? - Hull City of Culture 2017

Onstage in a dimly lit club that sits at the end of a row of terraced houses, poet Kevin Williamson is performing a poem about Edinburgh, the city where he lives. A homage in part to Salford bard John Cooper Clarke, the co-founder of spoken-word art cabaret mash-up Neu! Reekie!'s opus is a humorous and potty-mouthed paean to all that is good, bad and ugly about the place he calls home.

Over the course of an hour or so, there are performances and presentations by members of Scottish Album of the Year winners Young Fathers, artist and provocateur Bill Drummond, poet and Neu! Reekie! regular Hollie McNish, film-maker Mark Cousins and members of Edinburgh hip hop troupe Stanley Odd. Also in attendance are radio DJ Vic Galloway and Davie Miller of pioneering electronic band FiniTribe.

With Williamson and fellow Neu! Reekie! co-pilot Michael Pedersen hosting the show, the night climaxes with a dynamic performance by Law Holt, followed by sets from a crew of fledgling rappers, which sees Miller manning the controls.

It's St Andrew's Day, and with so many of Scotland's finest artistic minds gathered in the one room, one could be forgiven for thinking such a scene is taking place in one of the many capital venues Neu! Reekie! has hosted their increasingly ambitious series of events over the last six years. As it is, the aforementioned club hosting a bill of what is effectively the Neu! Reekie! all-stars is the gloriously eccentric New Adelphi club in Hull, or Kingston upon Hull, to give the Yorkshire fishing town its full name.

The occasion is the launch of Where Are We Now?, a three day festival that Neu! Reekie! will host as part of Hull's Year as UK City of Culture in 2017, and which, with a line-up drawn from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, aims to explore the state of the nations through its counter cultural underground. Other artists on board include Charlotte Church, who Neu! Reekie! recently brought to the National Museum of Scotland with her Late Night Pop Dungeon extravaganza, poets Linton Kwesi Johnson and Akala, playwright and poet Sabrina Mahfouz, DJ and producer Andy Weatherall and Edinburgh-sired pop polymath Nick Currie, aka Momus.

Artist Jamie Reid, best known for giving the Sex Pistols their visual identity by way of situationist-inspired ransom note style lettering, has designed the festival's poster using similar lettering. The poster's colour scheme is straight from the cover of The Boy Looked at Johnny, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons' amphetamine-fuelled dispatches from punk's front-line.

The title of Where Are We Now? is taken from David Bowie's song of the same name that was the lead single from his 2013 album, The Next Day. In March, Hull 2017 will feature a full performance of Bowie's 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, played by Holy Holy, a supergroup led by original Spider Woody Woodmansey and Bowie producer Tony Visconti. While this joins the conceptual dots, as a pointer to what is going on in the world at large, the phrase is so much more besides.

“We were very keen for Where Are We Now? to be a gathering of trouble-makers and agitators from all four nations,” Pedersen says, “and through them explore and interrogate where the counter culture is now as well as where it might be going. We decided very early on that under no circumstances would there be any politicians in the mix, but that the bill should be made up of performers and provocateurs who are either asking questions about where we are now, or who are catalysts for change through their work.”

An hour earlier, all those in attendance posed for group photos in the New Adelphi's car park. Lined up like a cross-generational who's who of underground culture, the set up superficially resembled the similarly star-studded cover image of Band on the Run, the 1973 album by Paul McCartney and Wings.

Inside, the walls of the back room of the Adelphi are lined with posters and other memorabilia from its thirty year existence as a defiantly independent musical hang-out. Amongst them is a metal sign that Bill Drummond put up last time he was here twelve years ago, when, in his guise of the Intercontinental Twinning Association, he twinned Hull with people's darkest thoughts. He will be returning to the notion next year when he sets up shop as a shoeshine boy, asking people to share their darkest thoughts as he polishes their shoes. It is grand gestures like this that Where Are We Now? is all about.

“It's about the spirit of rebellion that exists within the counter-culture,” says Sam Hunt, Executive Producer of Programme and Delivery for Hull 2017. “At its core it's about being provocative, and taking a very real look at where the counter culture is at in the UK, and what it might be like in 2017.”

Hunt discovered Neu! Reekie! while working on Scotland's Year of Homecoming. This isn't the only Scottish connections with Hull. For two years, the city's Freedom Festival – named in honour of Hull-born MP and slave trade abolitionist William Wilberforce - was overseen by Unique Events, the company behind Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

In a city where almost 68 per cent of the population voted in favour of Brexit in this year's referendum – almost 20 per cent above the national average – Where Are We Now? sounds like a wilfully defiant gesture.

“I think you've got to tackle these things head on,” Hunt says, “and not shy away from it. It's not about artists agreeing with each other. It's about being provocative.”

This spirit seems to run throughout other events in Hull 2017. As well as the Ziggy Stardust concert, there will be a retrospective of COUM Transmissions, the notorious performance art collective founded in Hull in the late 1960s before founder members Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti formed the band, Throbbing Gristle.

Also in the Hull 2017 programme is Mind on the Run, in which the likes of Goldfrapp's Will Gregory and Bob Stanley of St Etienne will focus on the life and work of Hull-based electronic composer Basil Kirchin. On compositions such as Abstractions of the Industrial North, Kirchin worked with musicians including free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker and future Spider From Mars Mick Ronson, Prior to this, Kirchin had toured dance halls playing drums with his father Ivor Kirchin's Big Band on a circuit that included a year long residency at Edinburgh's Fountainbridge Palais.

As Neu! Reekie have proved, it is in the back rooms of pubs and church halls as well as the likes of the New Adelphi and the Fountainbridge Palais where the seeds of the counter culture are sired. Where Are We Now?, however, is more about looking forward to an increasingly uncertain future.

“Everybody thinks 2016 was a terrible year that we're going to be glad to see the back of,” says Pedersen, “but it's next year that the real reverberations of what's happened with Brexit, Donald Trump and everything else that's happened this year starts to become real. Where Are We Now? is about preparing ourselves for that. It's about fortifying ourselves against it, and it's about keeping on asking questions that matter.”

Where Are We Now? runs as part of Hull 2017, June 2-4 2017.
www.hull2017.co.uk

The Herald, December 20th 2016

ends

Friday, 16 December 2016

Paul Simonon - Caught By the River

It's all the tube strike's fault. The double-deckers are crammed, and a black cab is impossible. In the autumn sunshine, bodies ebb and flow outwards from King's Cross's dilapidated, ever so slightly edgy exterior. Dickensian waifs flake out on red brick and sawdust street corners. An emaciated girl slaps felt-tipped ''business'' cards on telephone box walls. London may be a blur of constant motion, progress personified, but these images, along with a good old-fashioned British strike, only serve to heighten the fact that, however swanky its minimalist facade, London life is still as charmingly grotty as ever.


Somewhere between Swinging London and Cool Britannia, there was the 1970s. Forever grey, leftover rubble from the Blitz seemed to exist in images of high-rise flats, power cuts, three-day weeks, squat rock, bad weed, and race riots. ''The world,'' as Simonon jokes in an accent we now call estuary, ''was flare shaped''.

There might be more of a splash of colour in Simonon's guise as a painter of some distinction, but not much. Forget the tiny smudge of dried-in tangerine on his shirt pocket, which may or may not allude to sunnier climes. From Hammersmith To Greenwich the 47-year-old's latest one-man exhibition, charts the course of the Thames with a palette that's more dreich than dazzling. Not exactly Waterloo sunsets, their surprising serenity nevertheless stays very close to home.

''It's always on Londoners' doorsteps,'' Simonon says of the river, ''but they don't always realise it's there. It's my turf, my manor. Without wanting to get too clever about it, the river's a good metaphor as well for coming and going, possibilities of going to other lands.''

He recalls over a globalised cappuccino: ''I was always changing schools, always the new boy in class, which gave me a sort of independence. Probably out of that I've never really felt the need to keep close ties with people, you know. You don't give yourself time to get sentimental. You just move on to the next thing and get on with it.''

Which is probably as good a reason as any why there won't be a Clash reunion tour. Even so, From Hammersmith to Greenwich does suggest that Simonon finds some kind of security in his immediate roots. Especially as his return home, following a period of wanderlust in his post-Clash years, to a stone's throw from his old stomping ground, was precipitated by something so endearingly old-fashioned as the love of a good woman. That he followed his dad's example by picking up a brush, beginning with representational studies of dirty dishes, again suggests an emotional security blanket as domestic as it is creative.
The works in From Hammersmith To Greenwich are culled from the last five years, during which Simonon worked on location, braving the weather's moods with 5ft by 7ft canvasses. Working on his instincts, he'd react to a glimpse of sunlight through dark grey clouds or vapour trails left by aeroplanes in flight.


This philosophy took Simonon to art school, a very traditional English rock'n'roll pursuit, where he fell out with the the school's then vogue for the American avant-garde and dropped out. He then fell in with Mick Jones, who'd ''only signed up in the first place so's he could start a band, whereas I'd gone there specifically to be a painter."

The correlation between rock and visual art, one produced by a gang mentality, the other in private, has always possessed an umbilical pull. Something, perhaps, to do with understanding the power of image: like the cover of London Calling, The Clash's third album released in 1979. Here was Simonon, caught in glorious monochrome smashing his guitar onstage by snapper Penny Smith, accidentally defining a moment in motion, squaring the circle as one artwork effectively gift-wrapped another.

The Clash's west London urban guerrilla chic hadn't so much run its course by then, but been superseded by the trappings of rock star wealth. Platitudes about ''career opportunities''didn't quite ring true anymore when you're almost a millionaire. As for being so bored with the USA, nothing could be further from the truth. Even so, The Clash only fully imploded in the mid-eighties, and by the time Simonon returned, London was a yuppified Thatcherite hell. But then, where else could you sit beside the Thames all day, and paint your little prodigal's heart out.

''It was like coming home with a pair of fresh eyes,'' according to Simonon. Simonon is working on an ''egg and bacon'' series of paintings, elevating yet another English institution, that of the greasy fry-up from a long-distance roadside caff, to iconic status. He's been offered a show in Japan, and might take a batch of egg and bacon works with him.

''That'll get their tastebuds going,'' he says, puckishly. Still a far cry, however, from the 1990s Britpack of conceptualists one might have expected Simonon, with his impeccable punk credentials, to align himself with. Especially as they shook the art establishment in much the same way as punk had been a bomb hurled at the rotten heart of the music industry.

Yet, despite a sole collaboration on canvas with self-styled enfant terrible Damian Hirst - ''We'd had an awful lot to drink. You could get away with anything after that. Glad I wasn't paying for it, mind'' - Simonon feels more at home ploughing his own trad furrow.

''It's irrelevant what the fashions are,'' he maintains. ''I'm an oil and canvas merchant, and that's that. I've got my own things to do that are mine. It'll be interesting to see where I am in 30 years, and whether I've moved on or not, or whether I've got bored, stopped painting, and got another job. I'd hate that,'' Simonon says, sounding mildly, but only mildly, punk, ''being bored.''


From Hammersmith to Greenwich, Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox, 38 Bury Street, London, until October 18.

The Herald, October 3rd 2002.


ends

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Last Christmas

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The painful litany of shop-soiled Christmas songs that usher in Matthew Bulgo's not entirely festive monologue speak volumes about what follows. Into the void steps Tom, a man on the verge of thirty wearing a hang-dog expression and a permanently misanthropic air. Over the next sixty minutes, Tom rewinds from hungover awkwardness with his newly pregnant girlfriend Nat, to the sheer awfulness of the office party the night before. But, as he leaves Nat alone to travel home for Christmas, Tom goes further, to the loser mates he left behind, to his widowed mum, and most of all to his dead dad who he's slowly but surely starting to resemble.

As played by Sion Pritchard in Kate Wasserberg's seasonal revival for the Cardiff-based Dirty Protest company, Tom is an initially dislikeable young pretender, a commitment-phobic man-child scared to face up to his responsibilities, yet who also feels hard done by. Out of such a gently tragi-comic scenario comes a tender portrayal of one man's coming to terms with his lot in a vividly written piece of confessional fiction.

As the mask slips the closer Tom gets to home, a slow-burning awakening takes hold that is both a form of purging as much as growing up, and when he ends up dancing with his mum around his tiny Swansea living room, all of his burdens seem to fade away. This is one of many everyday delights in a piece that wrestles with the conflicting emotions of loss, growing up and true love as Tom eventually wakes up to his all too real present as much as the past. It is the future shaped by both, however, that matters most.

The Herald, December 15th 2016

ends

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Guinness – The Drink (World Records)

Here's a wheeze and a half: Guinness are/were a wonky pop duo with tentacles in various Edinburgh College of Art-sired bands, including Commie Cars and Edinburgh Leisure. Armed with John Shuttleworth-style toybox keyboards and wilfully rudimentary bass and de(con) structive guitar, throughout 2016 they produced deadpan absurdist vignettes, some of which were possessed with a tragicomic intent worthy of Tony Hancock.

After seven months they decided to split up, figuring that was quite long enough for them to have done their bit, thank you very much. Their last gift to the world is this twelve-track album, released solely on YouTube, although there's a download link if you want one, and it really is pure genius.

The opening instrumental title track somewhat appositely bumps and grinds its way across the dancefloor like very early Cabaret Voltaire, its primitive drum machine, motorik funk bass and wailing banshee guitar giving few clues to what follows. I'm A Zookeeper (Not A Goalkeeper) takes a reggaefied suburban stroll to the careers fair before settling down with a cuppa and some daytime telly in Trish, a sardonic soundtrack for the self-help age as our world collapses around us.

Kinderpunsch opens with a painfully cheery sample from a 1970s TV ad before shuffling grumpily into a withering litany of Christmas-time torpor punctuated with a drunken saxophone that farts its way through the grimmest of seasons. Bowling Green is a thumbnail sketch of pan-generational leisure pursuits, Readymade a sarky dig at art school dilettantism.

For all the bleak humour on show, the insistent delivery of the male/female vocals and little explosions of guitar suggest a more subversive intent. Practical Song reinvents Supertramp's earnest piece of 1970s self-absorbtion as a morbid Mogodon dirge that segues into Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise without batting an eyelid. The manic screech of a viola buried beneath shows just how scary the grown-up world has become. Signs of Life in the Computer confirms it with a plummy-voiced SatNav guide to an existential crisis played out on social media by a chorus of internet trolls.

The Comedian begins with what sounds like someone falling down the stairs before a grim tale of a self-loathing stand-up's rise to the dizzy heights of the London Palladium begins with the line “Do You Ever Feel Like You're Laughing At The Wrong Jokes?” The monologue's sparse backdrop hisses with discordant menace before the punch line comes with the deadly “I Find it all Hilarious But I Never Laugh At All.”

If the band's name hints at drink-fuelled obsessions, it continues with Schweppes Bitter Lemon, an electro-pop Cossack bop of a song which manages to reference Lenin, Putin and an unspecified Czar. In its desire to quench its thirst, a sample of what sounds like a TV shopping channel is followed by a list of all the things on the label that gives the pop its fizz. Scottish Water is an oddly touching off-kilter plea for self-determination through the medium of fresh drinking water north of the border. Finally, Doberman is the shaggiest of dog stories concerning what happens when the song's protagonist walks into a bar. Like the rest of The Drink, what happens next is no joke.

 
Product, December 2016
ends

The Commitments

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

Tanked-up show-offs should take care if they do a turn at their works Christmas do this year. If Roddy Doyle's stage play of his 1987 novel made into a hit film by Alan Parker four years later is anything to go by, any would-be pop svengali in the room might sign them up to become lead singer of the hardest working band in Dublin. That's how young hustler Jimmy gets vain-glorious Deco to join his fledgling combo, anyway. Doyle's play, mind you, harks back to a time before karaoke took over the pubs and begat X Factor style TV talent shows on which anyone can be famous for five minutes.

Caroline Jay Ranger's touring production of Doyle's West End smash hit takes full advantage of the play's period 1980s setting, as Andrew Linnie's Jimmy navigates his way through a world full of back-street chancers high on glossy pop tunes to manufacture the ultimate party show-band. What Jimmy understands most of all is the sheer dramatic power of soul, and how the form's contrary mix of heartbreak and euphoria can both reflect and transcend lives.

Doyle puts everyday flesh on such a notion, so the fistful of classics played live by the cast become more than mere window-dressing. Instead, the songs become a vital backdrop to a familiar tragi-comic fable of of ego, ambition and sexual indiscretion without ever sounding naff. The cast of thirteen are on terrific form in a show that taps into a demotic that's as colourful as its soundtrack. It ends as it must, however, with a full-on soul revue finale that lays bare the people's music in all its democratic joy.

The Herald, December 14th 2016

ends

Matthew Bulgo - Last Christmas

Matthew Bulgo is preparing for Christmas. The writer, actor and director has just finished performing in a successful run of Kenny Morgan, Mike Poulton's play about Terence Rattigan seen at the Arcola Theatre in London, and is back home in Cardiff, “gearing down for Christmas,” as he puts it. The next couple of weeks will see Bulgo dragged away from his downtime and taking a train to Edinburgh to see the first night of a revival of his own play, Last Christmas, which opens at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh next week.

As the title suggests, Bulgo's one-man play, presented by Welsh new writing theatre company, Dirty Protest, and performed by Sion Pritchard, is set around the festive season, and follows the fortunes of one man taking stock of his life during an already emotionally charged time of year.

“It's about a man who has lost his father and become a father in the space of a year,” says Bulgo. “He's travelling home for Christmas, and he's a little angry and a little bitter about something, and he realises he's not been back home for Christmas for quite a long time. He's scared to commit and to connect with that part of his life, but he's forced to face up to his demons.”

While the play's tale of one man's redemption as he works through certain things in his life in order to find a greater meaning sounds like a typical seasonal tale, Bulgo insists that Last Christmas isn't a festive show. This is borne out by it's appearance at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it won plaudits enough to see it transfer to Soho Theatre.

“Christmas felt like the right time to set it,” Bulgo explains. “It's a time when normal life is put on hold, and it's a time when you think about the past and the future, and I felt it was the right time to put the character of Tom in the play in certain proximity to those things in a way that he has to accept the future, whatever that may be.”

The roots of Last Christmas stem from My Father's Hands, a ten minute play which Bulgo wrote as part of new writing company Paines Plough's Come to Where I'm From project, which was based around the idea of home.

“I ended up writing this piece based around my love/hate relationship with my home town, which is Swansea,” says Bulgo. “it was quite poetic in its form, and it was quite auto-biographical as well in terms of how the character in the play had to come to terms with certain times and certain people.”

Playwright and Dirty Protest collaborator Tim Price saw My Father's Hands, “and basically bullied me into writing a full length version, which became a lot less auto-biographical. I think the ten minute version lacked dramatic drive and structure, but in the full length version, I've tried to open things out so that while Tom can't see the solution to his problems, the audience very much can.”

Last Christmas saw Bulgo named Best Playwright at the 2015 Wales Theatre Awards, while the show, directed by Kate Wasserberg, was nominated for Best Production at the Theatre Critics of Wales Awards the same year.

Bulgo was last at the Traverse as an actor, when he appeared in Price's rock and roll allegory for a broken Britain, I'm With the Band. Bulgo's work with Price includes appearing in The Insatiable, Inflatable Candylion, a play for children scripted by Price and inspired by Candylion, a solo album by Gruff Rhys of iconic Welsh band Super Furry Animals,. Bulgo describes the show, which was produced by the NTW for its 2015 Christmas show as “like being at a gig full of children.”

That show was directed and co-created by Wils Wilson, known to Scottish audiences for her National Theatre of Scotland collaboration with writer David Greig on The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Wilson also directed Bulgo in another Price/Rhys/NTW collaboration, Praxis Makes Perfect, which focused on the life of Italian communist millionaire, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

“I was thinking about the play this week after Fidel Castro died,” says Bulgo, “because there's a scene in it where Feltrinelli and Castro play basketball.”

It was Price who first got Bulgo involved in Dirty Protest, and both they and the company are at the vanguard of a new wave of Welsh theatre. This can be seen too in the recent visit to the Traverse by the Cardiff-based Sherman Theatre with Gary Owen's play, Iphigenia in Splott, which was overseen by the Sherman's artistic director Rachel O'Riordan, was previously in charge of Perth Theatre. The arrival of the National Theatre of Wales in 2009 too has galvanised the country's theatre-makers in much the same way the National Theatre of Scotland did when it arrived on the scene. It was Dirty Protest, set up in 2007 by a loose-knot collective of writers, actors and directors, who arguably laid the groundwork for the current spate of activity, as Bulgo explains.

“Dirty Protest was set up to fill a gap,” he says, “because no theatre company in Wales has a dedicated literary department. The country has an extraordinary number of writers and theatre-makers, but there aren't many outlets for them. When Rachel arrived at the Sherman that was really important, because it felt like no-one had been really pushing new writing. The National Theatre of Wales was really important as well, and Dirty Protest has collaborated with both the Sherman and the NTW, and there are lots of independent theatre companies that have started up on the back of them, but as long as there is a lack of focus on new work beyond all that then we'll still pump our limbs and try to fill the gap.”

Bulgo may be taking it easy just now since he finished on Kenny Morgan, but that doesn't look set to last long. He's currently working on a new play for Theatre Clwyd, the North Wales based centre where Wasserberg is new plays director and Bulgo was writer in residence. He is also writing Yolo, a play for young people scheduled to form part of the National Theatre's annual NT Connections season in 2017. Then there is Operation Julie, an NTW seed commission which looks set to be produced in 2018, while next year will see a plethora of activity in celebration of Dirty Protest's tenth anniversary. Before all that, however, Bulgo has the season that inspired Last Christmas to think about.

“I'll be going home for Christmas,” he says. “I've spent every single Christmas in Swansea with my mum and my brother. And that will give me the chance to reflect on the year gone by and to look forward to next year, whatever it may bring.”

Last Christmas, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, December 13-23.
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, December 13th 2016

ends

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Hansel and Gretel

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

“You have to be lost if you want to find yourself,” Stuart Paterson's abandoned brother and sister are told midway through his festive stage version of the Brothers Grimm's classic tale. These are wise words indeed, especially as Hansel and Gretel have found themselves stranded in the woods with no way back home. Just how seriously they can take such seemingly sage advice when given by a circus clown called Uncle Shoes whose baggy pants are constantly falling down around his ankles, however, is debatable.

The circus itself isn't quite what it seems, as Uncle Shoes and his fellow performers are under the spell of caravan-dwelling witch La Stregamama, whose main priority is feeding up her new arrivals to satisfy her sweet tooth. Only when Gretel inspires her cowed captors to rise up against her does her power fade.

Dominic Hill's production takes an already dark story and ramps it up to the max in a vivid re-telling of Paterson's play. One minute the circus acts are clambering over the audience, the next they're navigating Hansel and Gretel's flight from poverty like magical sprites operating designer Rachael Canning's scarifying puppets and mobile foliage inbetween banging the drum to conjure up thunderclaps as part of Nikola Kodjabashia's rumbling live score.

Shaun Miller and Karen Fishwick make for a feisty and fearless central pair as they square up to their control freak Step Mother and the bullying La Stregamama, both played with colourful largesse by Irene Allan. John O'Mahoney's fairy king Orin is a quasi Beckettian figure, but it is people power that wins the day in this sweetest of theatrical confections.

The Herald, December 12th 2016

ends

Paisley Patterns – John Byrne, Alexander Stoddart, Kenneth Clark and Paisley 2021.

“I was brought up in Ferguslie Park,” remembers painter and playwright John Byrne of his Paisley boyhood growing up in the rough and tumble of one of the Renfrewshire town's estates, “and I remember thanking God when we moved there, because I knew then that I had all the things I needed for whatever it was that I wanted to do.”

What Byrne proceeded to do was translate his experiences as a working class kid steeped in 1950s pop culture and with ideas above his station into one of the most celebrated plays of the late twentieth century. The Slab Boys spent a day in the life of Phil McCann and Spanky Farrell, a couple of likely lads with dreams of being an artist and a pop star, but who were stuck mixing paint in the slab room of a carpet factory based on A,F. Stoddart's actual premises where Byrne himself had worked.

Over two acts of matinee idol patter mixed in with a colourful local slang, Phil and Spanky became rebels without a cause other than the possibility of a lumber with local glamourpuss Lucille Bentley and, for Phil, a place at Glasgow School of Art. Unlike Phil, Byrne was accepted by GSA, whereupon he began a career that saw him design book and record covers, create stage sets including Billy Connolly's big banana boots from The Great Northern Welly Boot Show and the pop-up book for 7:84's original production of The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, and become a painter and playwright of international renown.

It was The Slab Boys in 1978 and its two follow-up plays, Cuttin' A Rug and Still Life, that mythologised Paisley with a technicolour largesse rooted in a classicist past that is too-often swept under the carpet. Of its artistic elder states-people, Edinburgh-born but Elderslie-raised sculptor Alexander Stoddart keeps the flame for ancient traditions that continue to fire his imagination.

“This is the town I first experienced culture,” says Stoddart, who lives and works in Paisley, where his statue of church minister, philosopher and signatory of the American Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, sits in the grounds of the University of the West of Scotland. “It's the place where I first heard Schubert. I will advocate Paisley till my dying day.”

While it would be fanciful – and unfair to both men- to dub them with such a glib sobriquet such as the Paisley Boys, a shared dedication to traditional forms combined with a healthy and at times withering disdain for contemporary conceptualism marks them out as wilfully singular auteurs.

As Paisley bids to become UK City of Culture 2021, the sense of place that drove Byrne and Stoddart looks set to fall under civic and artistic scrutiny in close-up as it ramps up its past as much as its present and any future that results from the bid. Perhaps some of the key influences in the work of Byrne and Stoddart can be rooted in the classical grandiloquence of Paisley's architecture. Much of this owed a considerable debt to the family of Kenneth Clark, the iconic art historian, collector, museum director and creator of Civilisation, the thirteen part BBC TV documentary series that put art, music and literature at the centre of human history.

James Stourton's newly published biography, Kenneth Clark - Life, Art and Civilisation, may only feature two pages on Clark's relationship with Paisley, but it demonstrates how much Clark's family left their mark. The Clarks made their fortune after Kenneth Clark's great-great grandfather James invented the cotton spool, thus allowing a small family to open the factory that would help make Paisley a world leader in manufacturing cotton thread.

As competition grew between the Clarks and their industry rivals the Coats', a series of vainglorious public buildings grew in its wake. With the Clarks bank-rolling Paisley Town Hall, the Coats' commissioned Glasgow architect John Honeyman to build what was then Paisley Museum. Both buildings were rendered in a neo-classical style, with what is now Paisley Museum and Art Galleries going on to house one of the largest municipal art collections in Scotland. It's not hard to see how such a towering presence could wield such an influence on impressionable youth.

“My mother used to take me there,” says Byrne. “I remember vividly there was a tiger going through the jungle, and there was a wee elephant there.”

While such images may have influenced Clark's forays into the art world when he returned there with his father, other aspects of Paisley life were seeping into Byrne's consciousness.

“It was a very stylish place,” he says. “On a Sunday you'd get people dressed to the nines promenading down the Glasgow Road. There was a great American influence as well. Paisley had its own ice hockey team, the Paisley Pirates. There was one guy, very dapper guy, who had lodgings down our street. It's an extraordinary place, Paisley, very different from Glasgow. Glaswegians were stand-up comics. In Paisley there were oddballs. I preferred the oddballs.”

As Stoddart points out, however, Paisley is not a city, but is the biggest town in Scotland, “built by people who thought listening to Beethoven was a human right. I've given my life to this town, but if we're going to be a city of culture, we have to sit down and talk about it. The question of culture is contentious, difficult and upsetting.”

While Byrne appears nonchalant about Paisley's 2021 bid, Stoddart is questioning of its aesthetic.

“I believe in high culture,” he says. “It's not entertainment. It's a veil of tears. It's a struggle for existence. All this air-punching, life affirmation and kids groups, these are entertainments. For me, culture is to do with Homer and Virgil and the Berlin Philharmonic. It is a prayer to the dead and the metaphysical companions who are yet to be born.

“The City of Culture bid is about events and actions, but I'm an advocate of stillness. The City of Culture will last for a year, and then what? What happens in 2022, 2030 and 2035? I've stood up for culture all of my life, as I have done for Paisley, and as I will to my dying day. Whether this bid is successful or not, Paisley will always be a city of culture, as it always has been.”

Kenneth Clark – Life, Art and Civilisation by James Stourton is published by William Collins, £30.

Scottish Art News, November 2016



ends

Katy Dove

What is initially most striking about this retrospective overview of the late Katy Dove's paintings and animations that arrives at the DCA eighteen months after her passing is just how much life bursts from everything on show. From the images of children dancing alongside strips of material that hang outside the main galleries like stills from the drama workshop montage in swinging sixties Brit-flick Georgy Girl, to the kaleidoscopic shadows of her own hands and legs in what turned out to be her final film, Meaning in Action (2013), there is little stillness anywhere in Dove's work.

Pastel-coloured shapes and patterns culled from the unconscious in a series of automatic paintings are gradually given form and definition enough to create a world in constant motion en route to an idyll. This is especially evident in Melodia (2002), a four and a half minute film in which Dove takes a watercolour landscape by her grandfather and breathes swirling life into its skies, seas and other wide-open spaces.

Disembodied numbers and letters occasionally form words as they hang at angles beside, beneath or above each other. There's a musicality at play too throughout the work that is complimented by Dove's use of sound in her films, whether it's environmental ambience, the primitive guttural rhythms of Muscles of Joy, the all-woman musical collective Dove was an integral part of on Welcome (2008), or, at its purest, her own breath.

All of which compliments a rhythmic pulse that seems to leap out of each image into little abstract dances, so Dove becomes as much a choreographer as a painter and film-maker. What is initially instinctive is crafted into something with substance and depth with a symmetry that suggests an inherent performativity which, had Dove lived beyond her forty-four years, might well have developed into actual flesh and blood steps.

In her seemingly simple fusion of fractured language, colour and movement, one is reminded at times of the similarly restless animations that would appear in children's TV show, Sesame Street. Where those had an educational intent, Dove's work seems to take pleasure in the crafting of such multi-faceted material for its own sake.

Such sheer delight can be traced right back to Fantasy Freedom (1999), a ninety-second stop-motion animation made for Dove's degree show while studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. Seen next to everything else, the film is akin to Dove taking baby steps before colouring in the bright and beautiful world that followed in everything she created afterwards.

Dundee Contemporary Arts until November 20th; Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, January 7th-February 25th 2017; Thurso Art Gallery & St Fergus Gallery, Wick, March 4th-April 15th 2017.
www.dca.org.uk

Scottish Art News, November 2016

ends

Of Other Spaces: Where does gesture become event?

Cooper Gallery, Dundee until December 16th
Four stars

The unisex toilet door tucked away in the corner of the entrance to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design may not be part of the first Chapter of the Cooper Gallery's sprawling two-part voyage through feminist art since the 1970s. It nevertheless illustrates a progression of sorts in gender identity which many of the artists on show here have paved the way for.

With a title taken from Hannah Arendt, the show brings together work and archival material from nineteen artists that spans generations in a way that makes explicit the umbilical link between art and activism across the years. On the stairs, the seminal film of post-punk artist Linder's meat-dress and dildo-sporting 1984 performance at the Hacienda with her band Ludus is beamed onto the wall. Upstairs, work by other key figures including Annabel Nicolson, Georgina Starr and Su Richardson respectively involve a performance with a sewing machine, crocheting woolly nude outfits and ventriloquism.

Among the plethora of essential viewing on show is material drawn from a 1984 conference on feminist art at the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow. There are posters too for a women only edition of Lucy McKenzie's Flourish Nights events that took place in the same city two decades letter. Three new works by Anne Bean, meanwhile, explore her relationships with five of her contemporaries who have passed away. What emerges most from all this is the sense of a collaborative nature which highlights the power of collective action in a way that goes beyond macho individualism.

Similarly, the presentation of work in constructions made of building site style scaffolding designed by duo Cullinan Richards and laid out like market stalls de-machoifies a set of tools more normally associated with hard-hatted wolf-whistling workies. Chapter Two follows in January 2017. A woman's work, it seems, is still never done.

The List, December 2016

ends

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Scrooge! The Musical

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

Ebenezer Scrooge is the quintessential Charles Dickens character, wheeled out once a year like fairy lights to brighten up the neighbourhood. Watching Philip Rham's vivid and well-rounded interpretation of the mealy-mouthed old skinflint in Richard Baron's seasonal revival of Leslie Bricusse's rollicking feel-good musical, it is clear he is also a man of our times, and a perfect representation of the state we're in now. Scrooge, after all, is an emotionally damaged loan shark who has made his fortune on the backs of the poor, and who exploits austerity as an excuse to pay his staff below minimum wage while hiking up interest on his pay-day loans.

The bustling street scene that opens the show having been ushered in by projections of falling snowflakes, however, is as inclusively cosy as the Christmas card brought to life that Adrian Rees' set so resembles. Even Scrooge's creepy presence can't dim such an image as he slopes into view, only to be forced to face up to his demons who left him broken-hearted and loveless. These are ushered in by Dougal Lee's Sideshow Bob haired Jacob Marley, with Tabitha Tingey making a tender Ghost of Christmas Past before Christopher Price's bluff Ghost of Christmas Present barges in.

Alongside Graham Mackay-Bruce's terminally chipper Bob Cratchit, these are the best drawn of Bricusse's characterisations. Not that the remainder of Baron's sixteen-strong ensemble augmented by a revolving children's cast and a ten-piece band led by Dougie Flowers are left idle in any way. Rather, they burl and whirl their way through every one of Bricusse's rabble-rousing confections with a muscular vim that captures the richness of Dickens' inner-city fable with life-affirming aplomb.

The Herald, December 9th 2016

ends

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Clarke Peters - From Five Guys Named Moe to The Wire to Directing Blondes

 Clarke Peters is sitting on a beach in Rhodes. In half an hour's time the sun will set and the actor and writer whose profile has rocketed in the last year via his portrayal of righteous cop Lester Freamon in David Simon's sleeper hit TV drama, The Wire, will have spent another day in paradise.

This time last week, Peters was in Edinburgh directing a very different kind of TV star, Denise Van Outen, in her Jackie Clune scripted solo show, Blondes, and expounding about a new wave of musical theatre on The Culture Show.

Somewhere in-between the two, Peters has managed to fit in two days filming on a new big screen version of Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black.

Peters will be jetting back to Edinburgh this weekend, however, for two very special mid-morning Question and Answer sessions, designed specifically with Wire fans in mind. That these are set to take place in The Underbelly's biggest space, The Udderbelly, is testament to just how much The Wire - the five series of which have only just been aired on terrestrial British television - has tapped into the public consciousness in a way that more generically bland home-grown fare in its current state will never manage.

While Peters is enjoying reaping the benefits of The Wire's status, there are plenty more strings to the bow of a man who takes his assorted crafts very seriously indeed.

As the writer of hit musical Five Guys Named Moe, Peters is about to celebrate the show's 20th anniversary with a revised revival.

Peters is also set to start work on a brand new show by Simon, which, following The Wire and a previous show, The Corner, will be the third collaboration between him and this most fiercely intelligent chroniclers of American life today.

It's The Wire, however, despite its cancellation after five series, that is as fresh in Peters' mind as it is for its umpteen converts still tuning into the show three late nights a week. Lester, however, wasn't the part Peters originally auditioned for.

"I put myself up to play Lieutenant Daniels," he reveals, "so when I didn't get it, but was asked to play Lester instead, I was initially disappointed, because I thought he was someone I didn't want to be. But then he turned out to be the man I wanted to be when I grew up.

"As a character, Lester started out as a man who'd been sidelined for doing the right thing. Fortunately the writers developed that, so by Series Five we saw him as something of a rebellious character. He's a bulldog, who once he finds something he'll hold onto it and won't let go.

"I was a bit dubious about some of the developments in Series Five, but David asked me to stick with it, which in the end I was glad to do. I see Lester as a man who wanted to do his best within the law."

For the few who haven't discovered its magnificence, The Wire is set on the streets of contemporary Baltimore, where, from its opening framework of the war between police and drug barons on the street, the programme pans out to take a hard-nosed look at the police, politics, trade unionism, education and poverty in an epic manner that makes the run-down city its star. Peters confirms that The Wire's seriousness and scope runs counter to perceptions of cynical producers only interested in peddling trash.

"The Wire isn't just good storytelling," he says. "It's intelligent. It appeals to people's intellect rather than the emotional sound-bites they're often fed, so you see one episode and it's like a chapter of a good book that makes you want to get on to the next chapter.

David is dealing with certain social issues in a way that treats the viewers with respect. People are a lot smarter than they're given credit for, and they don't want things that are dumbed down."

Which brings us to Blondes. Of his Edinburgh experience this year, while Van Outen's show has been scorned in some quarters, Peters is fulsome in his praise for its star.

"She was great," he says. "It took a while for Denise to find her feet, but she's got her own fanbase who expect certain things of her, when in actuality she's an unknown quantity who's an awesome talent.

"Sadly no-one seems to want to support that, but she can sing, she can dance, she can act and she can present. She could be the Shirley Maclaine of England if she wanted to be, but she's playing to an audience she's never played to before, and that's tough."

Peters grew up in New York, where he knew from the age of 12 that he wanted to be an actor. At that time in the 1960s, the British theatre scene monopolised Broadway.

"My career began in England," he says. "My first major role was in the west end with Ned Sherrin. I was thrown straight in the deep end, and sometimes if you've not been to drama school, that can make you feel insecure, but I was always trying to learn and to extend my craft, and I still do.

"I wanted to tell stories, and all these different talents are needed for that, so I would enrol for classes at the National Theatre, and learn about how to use the voice and how to use the body.


As a stage actor, Peter appeared on Broadway in The Iceman Cometh and Chicago, and on the west end as Porgy in Porgy and Bess. Peters was nominated for a Tony award for Best Book of a Musical for Five Guys Named Moe, which first appeared in 1990.

"I'd been doing a lot of work in revues," Peters remembers of the show's origins, "and when I had the idea for Five Guys Named Moe I approached Ned Sherrin, who I'd been doing all these shows about different composers with.

"But he said I knew enough about these things to be able to do it on my own. So if there's anything I fell into it was the writing, and I'm still learning about that. For its 20th anniversary we may change some of it, but if that doesn't work, that's okay, and we can just do it more or less the same."

The new David Simon series will be set in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

"It's about the rediscovery of culture by musicians post Katrina," Peters says. "I play a bass player, and I think the programme will be as rich as The Wire, and a challenge for any actor. Our craft is important to society, and always has been.


Clarke Peters will be doing two Q&A sessions at The Udderbelly, August 28-29, 11am


The Herald, August 28 2009


ends

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Lee Breuer - Peter and Wendy

One of Lee Breuer’s sons was about three years old when the American theatre director started work on his version of JM Barrie’s Peter And Wendy with the New York-based Mabou Mines company. At that time, Mabou Mines were only playing the first act of the show that arrives in its full form as the last major component of the Edinburgh International Festival’s drama programme at the beginning of September. By the time Breuer introduced a second act, some five years into the play’s development, another son had arrived and was again three years old at the time Peter And Wendy was being rehearsed. Rather than becoming an attention-seeking distraction from the work at hand, the presence of Breuer’s infant children opened his eyes to what would become a crucial factor in his new take on Peter Pan.

Peter And Wendy might not be an obvious choice for a company whose last appearance in Edinburgh was with a highly charged and absurdly funny version of Ibsen’s normally bleakly serious proto-feminist classic A Doll’s House. In that show, Breuer looked at the politics of scale by having all the male parts played by actors of restricted growth, while all the female parts were played by women six feet tall. The play was dusted down even more by being played on a pop-up book set in a sub-vaudevillian style.

For Peter And Wendy, Breuer and adaptor Liza Lorwin have cast Karen Kandel not just as Wendy, but also to provide the voices for every other character in the play, brought to life by seven puppeteers.

“The puppetry is the star of the show,” says Breuer, “and we try and fuse two different types. Bunraku usually has three puppeteers operating each puppet, and then in Wayang Kulit, there is the tradition of having the lead puppeteer doing all the voices. So we adapted that, and then added lots of pop-up books for the Darlings’ house and Captain Hook’s boat. With all that it becomes a really magical story, especially with the idea that a puppet could spring to life. I think this is why puppetry is used as a Buddhist lesson. But Karen is astonishing. She’s playing characters aged from seven to 70. She even plays a dog. During the puppet scenes she speaks upstage, but when she speaks as Wendy she turns around. The different voices come from the same source, but there is magic there. It’s deconstructing life.”

Peter Pan has flown into view a lot on stage this year. While Barrie’s tale of lost innocence has become a thigh-slapping Christmas fixture inspired more by Disney’s animated film version, several theatre-makers are intent on getting back to the story’s more serious essence by way of two productions of Peter Pan pending in Scotland. Grid Iron director Ben Harrison’s epic look at the story is currently still running in London’s Kensington Gardens, home to a statue of Peter Pan in honour of Barrie.

Beyond its initial cuteness, it’s not hard to see why Peter Pan continues to fascinate directors.

“It’s a masterpiece,” Breuer states bluntly, “the book more so than the play. It came 14 years later, and is much deeper and mildly feminist as the story is told from Wendy’s point of view. I think it’s very special, and I wanted to get some subtlety in the story. The idea is a very feminine one, and we go backwards rather than forwards. This is an adult show about nostalgia, and about what happens to a middle-class woman who can’t give up her fantasies of ideal love. It’s very sad. Wendy is kind of a stiff-lipped loser who retreats into her world with a basket of dolls that come alive and perform her story. Of course, Barrie’s wife was very tragic, but as for the sex thing, we gloss. We don’t try to make it any kind of exposé of sexuality or anti-sexuality. Everybody knows JM Barrie was a little guy who couldn’t get it up, but this is a sad sentimental fantasy. My natural style is erotic and rough and tumble, but one of the secret desires I had with Peter And Wendy was wanting to do it as Yin as my normal style is Yang.”

Breuer co-founded Mabou Mines in 1970 with a group of fellow travellers from America’s counter-cultural avant-garde, including composer Philip Glass. Named after the small Nova Scotia mining town where the company rehearsed their debut show, The Red Horse Animation, the roots of the company date back to when Breuer was a student at UCLA in the 1950s. It was there he met Ruth Maleczech, with whom he hitch-hiked to San Francisco to join in with the city’s vibrant underground theatre scene, which was centred on the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. It was here the couple met JoAnne Akalaitis, who would later marry Glass. After a few years’ global wandering, the group hooked up in Paris for a production of Samuel Beckett’s Play. It wasn’t until 1969, however, that the idea of a permanent theatre company was mooted.

With Breuer the sole constant in Mabou Mines’ personnel, the company has explored theatrical staples such as Shakespeare and Brecht as well as cult science-fiction writer Philip K Dick’s novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, putting the company’s post-modern deconstructive stamp on each. As well as Glass, Mabou Mines has also worked with a stream of leftfield contemporary composers, including John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros and ex-Talking Head David Byrne.

For Peter And Wendy, the score comes from the late Scottish composer Johnny Cunningham and is played in the show by a seven-piece traditional band. Breuer is effusive about Cunningham’s contribution to the piece. “Johnny was more Peter Pan than any of us,” he enthuses. “He was this long-haired dude who was a fantastic person, and really was a child who never grew up. When Johnny was alive, he was the star of the show. He went around everywhere with a twinkle in his eye, and he made everyone else twinkle.”


Peter And Wendy is Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, September 2-5, 7.30pm (and September 5, 2.30pm), www.eif.co.uk, 0131 473 2000. The Sunday Herald and The Herald are media partners of the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Herald, August 2009

ends

Monday, 5 December 2016

Robert Ashley - Foreign Experiences

Going west isn't so much a perennial American pastime as a way of life. Ask Robert Ashley, the New York-based composer of spoken word opera, whose back catalogue over the past quarter of a century is largely made up of a mammoth trilogy of Perfect Lives, Atalanta - Acts of God and Now Eleanor's Idea, which obliquely maps out a cross-country quest in search of enlightenment.

The final part of the trilogy is itself divided into four parts, each focusing on the response of one particular character after the banks run out of money. With the fourth part, Foreign Experiences, at Tramway for one night this weekend, some 15 years after its premiere, such prescience in relation to the current global economy is purely accidental.


Ashley is in London to watch a performance of Foreign Experiences, which will form part of Talk Show, a season of speech-based artworks and events at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He will also visit Glasgow to watch his long-term collaborators, Sam Ashley and Jacqueline Humbert, perform what was originally intended to be a work for seven voices.

"It was much too difficult and expensive that way," Ashley confesses, "and when we tried to record it, one voice at a time, it didn't really have any forward motion. Sam suggested editing it into a two-voice version. He didn't change any of the piece. He just gave it some energy. It's very fast.

"That's the main element, and to have seven singers responding to each other's body language would have led to a major expense. But Sam has produced the piece in the way that a producer works in popular music, where they're very important, but seldom get any notice. It's like when Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno work with U2. They're integral to the creative process, but you never hear their names mentioned."

As well as the Foreign Experiences duo, Ashley's informal ensemble is made up of Thomas Buckner, last seen in these parts performing in Edinburgh alongside Phill Niblock, and Joan La Barbara, who appeared at this year's minimalist-heavy Instal festival of contemporary music at The Arches.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ashley's pioneering work with electronics made him a contemporary of Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucier, Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Pauline Oliveros. Many of his works feature sounds and noises-off buried deep within the synthesised orchestras that generate the compositions. He was one of four contemporary composers documented on film by Peter Greenaway, and today remains equally restless in his own musical pursuits.

"I'm trying to finish up one of the big scenes for Atalanta," he enthuses. "It was never recorded, because we were working and generating material so fast that I never felt it was properly developed.

"Then there's a new opera, something of a dream project, called Quicksand. It's about five hours long and extremely difficult to do. There are a lot of very fast words because of a very strict nature to the tempo. Technically, it's impossible for one person to do all the words. As you get older, you get greedy, you get more ambitious, and you want to make something bigger all the time. I suppose it's about aiming for the impossible."

Foreign Experiences, Tramway, Glasgow, May 8, www.tramway.org.

The Herald, May 7th 2009