Thursday, 29 June 2017

F For Fake – The Secret Goldfish, Spectorbullets, The Sexual Objects

Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh
Saturday June 24th

Orson Welles looms large over this art-pop triple bill brought east by the Creeping Bent Organisation, vintage purveyors of fine sounds and visions. The maverick auteur's 1973 documentary study of forgery and authenticity that gives the night its title beams out behind the acts on show. The soundtrack that results bursts forth from a set of conceptualists so rarely sighted as to out-do the late Howard Hughes, who also pops up in Welles' opus.

In real life, a trio of groovy bucket chairs are set up for what might well be a mock-up of a Dick Cavettt chat show, but is in fact an opening acoustic set by The Sexual Objects, here a guitar-wielding trio of Davy Henderson, Simon Smeeton and Douglas MacIntyre. Opening with an instrumental sketch inspired by a dream Henderson had about legendary producer Jack Nitzsche, the super cool, super louche set that follows sees the SOBs lay bare their roots with a cover of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers' It's Not Enough and play a couple of their own classics by way of Feels With Me and Here Come the Rubber Cops.

The transatlantic alliance that is Spectorbullets first convened on these shores some seven years ago. Based around the songs of wandering poet minstral Gustav Heden, and with guitarist Gavin Fraser and drummer Russell Burn on board, Heden channels the spirit of Jim Carroll for some hyper-literate CBGBs friendly rawk before morphing into a sub Sugarhill rap.

Outdoing the long absence of Spectorbullets is The Secret Goldfish, the Katy Lironi led bubblegum pop riot, who have just released their first album in eighteen years. They last played Edinburgh at the now demolished Cas Rock venue a stone's throw away from the Wee Red as part of the mid 1990s Planet Pop festival. If there are umbilical links between all three bands on tonight, this re-made and re-modelled incarnation of The Secret Goldfish is a family affair, with MacIntyre on guitar, while his and Lironi's daughter Amelia joins in on vocals. With Leopards guitarist Mick Slaven adding lead guitar, this mini supergroup sounds even brighter than they did two decades ago.

Opening with O. Pioneers, co-written with Sexual Objects Henderson and Smeeton, the six-piece line-up rattle through a nine song set drawn largely from the new Petal Split album, stopping off for the euphoric Four Excited People from the 1999 Mink Riots LP. The night ends with sublime covers of James Kirk's Get on Board and a final Holiday Hymn, the Vic Godard song recorded by Orange Juice before Godard's own version could get a look in. Almost forty years on, in The Secret Goldfish's hands it sounds better than the real thing.

Product, June 2017


Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste Ruhr in Germany brings together five artists from three countries to fuse a multitude of disciplines and shared interests. Australians Robyn Backen, Nigel Helyer aka Dr Sonique and Jennifer Turpin all work by various degrees in different forms of sonic architecture and environmental sculpture. From the Netherlands, Andre Dekker creates sculptural public provocations. More locally, Graham Eatough is best known as a theatre director and co-founder of Suspect Culture theatre company.

With input from Refugee Festival Scotland, there are echoes of lost civilisation(s) in this twenty-five minute performed installation. Those echoes show how a world, a country, a city, a street and even a person can be divided, not by natural seismic forces, but by artificial constructions. These walls aren't just physical, but stem from ideologies rooted in belief systems which have been co-opted and perverted. Through ceremonial, contemplation and reflection, Nomanslanding is a vital counterpoint to that, be it locally, globally or beyond.

The List, June 2017


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Lying Kind

Anthony Neilson is considering his future. The Edinburgh born playwright, director and one-time enfant terrible of mainstream theatre, whose early works were lumped in with the 1990s in-yer-face wave of plays turned fifty recently, and on a sunny day in London is taking stock.

“I'm trying to recharge,” says Neilson, whose most recent play seen in Scotland was a new version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which he created for the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. “I've been working solidly for the last few years, and I think it's good to take a step back for a bit.”

After almost thirty years working up a body of work which has moved from the dark noir of his professional debut, Welfare My Lovely, in 1990, and the provocations of other early plays such as Penetrator, through to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland itself, you can see his point.

As Neilson takes time out, perhaps the Tron Theatre in Glasgow's forthcoming revival of his 2002 farce, The Lying Kind, which opens next week, will serve as a reminder to audiences of his broad palette as a writer. Dating from 2002, The Lying Kind is set on Christmas Eve, when two coppers on the beat must break some terrible news to an old couple in their neighbourhood. As they argue the rights and wrongs of their task, they are thwarted by a group of anti paedophile vigilantes and other unintended distractions.

“It's had a strange history,” Neilson says of the play, “because I originally did it at the Royal Court in London, where it was clouded by the context of that, and because it was a farce, the first thing that the old guard of critics was Joe Orton. He was never in mind. It was originally a Christmas show, and was the first Christmas show that the Royal Court had done for years, and the original inspiration had been Laurel and Hardy.”

With the play perhaps confounding expectations of what a Neilson work might be, The Lying Kind didn't do that well in its initial London run. Since then, however, it has received numerous productions, including runs in Sweden, France and Greece, where it ran for two years.

“It's my most financially successful play because of that,” says Neilson. “Other countries don't have the same context as London theatre has, and a lot of companies abroad have put their most famous comedy duos in it. I would turn up not knowing who these people were, but there would be queues to get in. It would be like us putting Fry and Laurie in it.”

The Lying Kind dates from 2002, the same year Neilson's play Stitching caused controversy with its frank dissection of the most intimate aspects of a couple's relationship. As with much of his work, the latter play was developed in the rehearsal room rather than at Neilson's desk. In a largely literary-based British theatre environment, such a wilfully individual methodology has often seen companies flying by the seat of their pants. It has also made for thrilling theatrical experiences such as the award winning The Wonderful World of Dissocia. The Lying Kind, on the other hand, seems to break Neilson's own rules.

“I wanted to do something with farce to try and test that muscle,” says Neilson of the roots of the play. “I can't remember what else I was doing at the time, but there seemed to be a lack of stuff that was around to make people laugh. I thought that because it was set at Christmas that would help ramp up the awfulness of what happens in it. There's a little bit of a point in there, that trying to be kind can often make things worse, but that's it.

“The odd thing is that it wasn't really created in rehearsals in the way that I normally do things. It went through that whole drafting process, which is fine for stuff like that. With farce, you really need to work it.”

The Tron's new production was instigated by the theatre's artistic director, Andy Arnold.

“I've known Andy for a very long time,” says Neilson. “When I was a student at Telford College in Edinburgh, I worked with him on a thing at Theatre Workshop, so there's a nice circularity to him doing this. He knows the mechanics of farce, and, like a lot of my work, the play hasn't been done in Scotland. I don't know why that is, but I think there's a certain sensibility to the play which is quite Scottish, and maybe that's what Andy's picked up on, so I think Scottish audiences will get something out of it that maybe London audiences didn't.”

Fifteen years after the play's premiere, in keeping with his current step back from making new work, Neilson is keeping his distance. Not for him a series of re-writes and updates unless absolutely necessary.

“Andy's changed a couple of references,” he says, “and there was a little cut I made to it, but that's it. There was a gag I really liked, but it was a Rolf Harris gag that came pre all that Saville stuff, and I struggled to find a replacement for it. Andy wanted me to come into rehearsals, but I said I didn't necessarily want to do that. If you have to look too closely at things you've done, you notice the mistakes, but by changing things you also lose some of the energy, so I'm either all in or all out. But it's one of those shows where the people doing it can put in a lot of their own stuff. That's what the comedians in the production in Sweden did when I saw it there. People can be fairly loose with it, because there's a strong enough structure in place for people to mess about with it.”

Being able to watch one of his old plays in this way seems to sit well with Neilson's current impasse.

“Having hit fifty earlier this year, it really is one of those times where you take stock about where you want to go now,” he says. “I feel I probably need to regenerate myself a bit, and think about which angle to come at things from next. I did a play at the Royal Court last year, and I feel, with that, I took my process to the most extreme I could. I've been ploughing that furrow for a while now, so where next?”

One answer might come from the current state of the world on Neilson's door-step.

“It's been such an interesting time politically,” he says, “and I'm feeling a draw to addressing some of that. I've always been wary of that sort of thing, and I don't really like issue based plays, but there's definitely something in the air. Not Brexit, because that's just dull, but all the Trump stuff might be interesting to do something with, so let's see.”

As for The Lying Kind, “It's just meant to be fun. I think people could probably do with a laugh right now. It's nothing loftier than that.”

The Lying Kind, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, July 6-22.

The Herald, June 27th 2017


Monday, 26 June 2017

Timon of Athens

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

There's a wild party going on at the opening of Jennifer Dick's 1920s style adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most wayward tragedies, which forms the opening production of this year's Bard in the Botanics season. With the great hedonist that gives the play its title here transformed into the grandest of dames, Nicole Cooper's Timon shimmies into the Kibble Palace sipping champagne before winding up the gramophone and wriggling her way into a slinky little number. As assorted pleasure-seeking gold-diggers fawn over her affections, Timon buys her way into the in-crowd of poets and painters, with only EmmaClaire Brightlyn's glum philosopher Apemantus steering clear of all the fun. When the bills have to be made, however, poor Timon is left in the gutter, with barely a star in sight.

With allusions to the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that followed in its wake, Dick's production cuts to the core of a society divided by wealth. Cooper burls her way through this six actor version with increasing abandon. Her interplay with Brightlyn as Apemantus is key here. While opposites attracted when Timon was a good time girl, her acquired misanthropy make the pair uncomfortable equals. There is a strong turn too from Kirk Bage as disgraced military man Alcibiades.

As she crawls through the world she's found herself washed up in, Timon uses a new pot of gold she stumbles on to get her own back on the parasites who bled her dry. When Cooper serves up platters of torn up bills to her former courtiers, it's one of the production's most damning illustrations of what it really means to be rich or poor.

The Herald, June 27th 2017



Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars

Imagine Little Britain PLC as a giant porn film set, fetishising old world charm to make a quick buck. This is kind of what Alan Bennett does with his 2012 play, which he sets inside a crumbling stately home in Yorkshire. Here, fading belle Dorothy and her doting companion Iris live gamely in the past. While arch-deacon June is out tending her flock, Dorothy is attempting to flog off her heritage to the highest bidder.

On the one hand is the National Trust, a seemingly safe pair of hands overseeing the theme parking of the nation. On the other is the brasher face of The Concerned, a dubious think-tank who sound like Brexiteers in waiting. When an unexpected third way appears in the form of Dorothy's old flame and skin flick auteur Theodore, the women are awakened to a life of erotic promise by proxy.

There's something quaintly Chekhovian about the first half of Bennett's play, brought jauntily to life by director Patrick Sandford. There are shades of Ab Fab too in Valerie Cutko's portrayal of Dorothy's flamboyant ex-deb clinging to a time when life swung in the play's uneven mix of ennui and sit-com.

As the film crew lift Irene Allan's chair-bound and increasingly excited Iris out of shot to the other side of the room, it's no different than the National Trust's plan to transplant the house to somewhere leafier in Dorset. In this respect, the play's manifesto on how preservation can lead to gentrification is as polemical as Bennet gets. When Dorothy takes the remote control to the newly refurbished house, it's as if she's switching off the lights of an entire culture.

The Herald, June 27th 2017


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Death of A Salesman

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

'LAND OF THE FREE' goes the neon-lit legend emblazoned high across the back of the stage in Abigail Graham's production of Arthur Miller's damning critique of mid twentieth century capitalism. Like a contemporary pop art installation, the lights fizz in and out of life over the course of the play, mirroring how the spark has similarly faded in Willy Loman, the worn out patriarch in crisis who gives Miller's play its title.

What stands out first in Graham's Royal and Derngate Northampton production is how modern everything looks. This isn't just to do with the steel grey walls of Georgia Lowe's minimalist set, which features just a bed and plastic table and chairs. It is about how people dress. Tricia Kelly's Linda Loman wears jeans, with Willy's errant sons sporting tracksuit bottoms and trainers. George Taylor's under-achieving Biff lounges about in a checked shirt like a Generation X style slacker. Willy's profit obsessed boss Howard, played by Thom Tuck, hustles his way through the day in a 1980s wise-guy suit.

As Nicholas Woodeson's increasingly bemused Willy shuffles through all this, it is as if a collision of brighter, brasher worlds that he can't keep up with are rushing in on him. His cheap suit is probably older than the monster-size fridge that looms large in the corner, the ultimate past-its-sell-by-date symbol of broken down aspiration and built-in obsolescence.

Stepping into the breach as Willy following the untimely passing of Tim Pigott-Smith, Woodeson gives a mighty performance of a man out of time. It is a devastating portrait too of a world where apparent freedoms look cheaper by the day.

The Herald, June 22nd 2017


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Makoto Kawabata, Atsushi Tsuyama and Tatsuya Yoshida - Japanese New Music Festival

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Sunday June 18th

When three key members of Japan's musical underground fall to the floor in unison a few minutes into a pummelling slab of power trio mayhem, it's easy to fear the worst. This supergroup of Acid Mothers Temple guitarist and co-founder Makoto Kawabata, the group's recently departed bass player Atsushi Tsuyama and Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida are playing it for laughs, however. They keep on playing even when they're down but clearly not out in a genre-hopping set broken up into eight 'projects' announced with a co-ordinated flourish.

In what is essentially a carefully structured revue that forms the latest collaboration between Edinburgh's Braw Gigs and Summerhall's in house Nothing Ever Happens Here initiative, this sees the trio play solo, in duos and in full-on wig-out mode. Despite the latter, the set belies any notions of freeform freakouts in a meticulously organised virtuoso display. Humour is key to this, and the group set out their store from the start as a multi-voiced hydra announcing their presence.

"Welcome to Japanese New Music Festival," they say in unison. "We're going to play eight projects by three people."

They make similar announcements between each section, with the opening salvo followed by a short solo set by Kawabata. This comes after the pre-show music, which has been left running throughout the trio's initial assault which drowned it out, is belatedly turned off. This too adds a levity to proceedings, before Kawabata takes a bow to his guitar, building little orchestral flourishes that make for a twisted symphony. This is aided further by Tsuyama, who mock-conducts from the side of the stage.

After a fleeting foray into pure noise, Kawabata ekes out a guitar melody which initially resembles Keith Levene's circular patterns on Poptones, one of first generation Public Image Limited's defining moments. Here things remain vocal free, with Tsuyama's busy bass runs and Yoshida's drums lending a dubby feel. As the volume seems to crank up several notches, the rhythm section lopes this way and that, while Kawabata's guitar seems to channel Like A Hurricane era Neil Young by way of Blue Oyster Cult.

Project Three takes a turn for the absurd, as a duo of Tsuyama and Yoshida take microphones to the zips on their trousers. As they pull the zips up and down, creating a little metallic call and response, they too jump up and down. Variations on this theme see the pair use scissors to create a piece of Steve Reich style percussive combat. The following miniature sees Tsuyama and Yoshida make egg slicers twang like the soundtrack to a discordant tea ceremony. Half filled water bottles are used as flutes. Yoshida mics up a camera so his snapshots can be heard as well as eventually seen.

Next up is a solo set by Tsuyama, who plays a solo guitar set which, accompanied by his own vocal, sound like mediaeval psych folk airs. Yoshida takes the helm for the fifth project, in which he constructs an aural battering ram of treated drums that morphs into an avant bump and grind routine.

Tsuyama describes the sixth project as "the most stupid duo in the world," as he and Kawabata embark on covers of what Tsuyama describes as "new music and famous song" is a cover of Deep Purple's Frank Zappa referencing Smoke on the Water. The trick here is that it's done in the discordant style of Captain Beefheart. Something similar is achieved with Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, before Japanese flutes prevail on something more traditional sounding.

The seventh project sees Kawabata and Tsuyama swap instruments, with Tsuyama taking the lead on the sort of psychedelic boogie that for more ordinary bands would be the climax of the show. Here, however, Kawabata, Tsuyama and Toshida follow up with the eighth and final project by getting up on their feet to seemingly pass words around in what becomes a game of vocal tig. Choral harmonies and silent movie madrigals gradually evolve into a piece of Kurt Schwitters style slapstick.

The band put stools and Yoshida's floor tom on their heads as they might with an elaborate hat, then perform a ridiculous march that weaves its way through the audience and back again, where they mime playing cards with the piled up CDs on their merch table. They encore, as they must, with a full on heavy garage thrash that marks out a ringing end to a festival that covered all bases.
Product, June 2017


Gordon Barr and Janette Foggo - These Headstrong Women - Bard in the Botanics

Shakespeare's women don't always get a good deal. If they're not going mad or swooning over teenage suitors, they're dying in tragic circumstances after being psychologically abused by the same men. This is something this year's Bard in the Botanics series of open-air productions of Shakespeare attempts to redress with a season boldly titled These Headstrong Women.

Over the course of four plays, directors Gordon Barr and Jennifer Dick not only attempt to counter the perception of Shakespeare's female creations as being mere ciphers in thrall of his male heroes in The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure. By initiating cross-gender casting for Timon of Athens and what is now styled as Queen Lear, they give strength to the characters alongside a new spin on some of the more complex aspects of Shakespeare's canon.

At the centre of all of this are a quartet of actresses who effectively lead each production. The title role of Timon of Athens will be played by Nicole Cooper, who did similar last year in Coriolanus, for which she recently won the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland Best Female Performer award. Emma-Claire Brightlyn will play opposite Cooper as Apemantus. With Cooper also playing Isabella in Measure for Measure, a radical reworking of The Taming of the Shrew features Stephanie McGregor as Kate. Taking on the mighty title role in Queen Lear will be veteran actress Janette Foggo.

“Women are at the heart of all four of the plays we're doing,” says Barr. “The season was born out of the choices of the plays we were interested in doing and the actors we wanted to work with. Once we realised how central to each play the female characters were, we just thought, let's go with it. We were also aware that we've never had gender parity with the company, and we feel we've got work to do in that respect. There's a really important discussion going on regarding classical theatre right now about gender, and about how there should be more opportunities for women, and in choosing to do these plays the way we're doing them, we want to reflect that discussion in terms of what's going on I the world right now.”

Barr's new adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew is here styled as a more questioning Taming of the Shrew? This new version combines the original with material taken from The Tamer Tamed, a riposte to Shakespeare's unreconstructed world-view by his seventeenth century protege, John Fletcher.

“Given the name of the season it's something of a controversial choice,” Barr says of Shakespeare's original. “However you look at the play now, what happens in it is distasteful in many ways. By putting in material from The Tamer Tamed, we can see that Fletcher is saying that what Petruchio did to Kate is wrong. We've set it in the 1950s, when society was still steeped in old-fashioned attitudes towards women, but where things were beginning to change, and by doing it the way we're doing it, Kate gets her chance to fight back.”

The production of Timon of Athens that opens the same night has no need for such a reinvention.

“It's so rarely done,” says Barr, “but is such a prescient play for now. It explores capitalism and greed, and the selfishness that breeds, and it's really about how you have to get beyond that and start looking after your fellow human beings. As is the case with Shakespeare, there are scenes in it that could be about what's happening now, and Jennifer's setting it in the 1920s, so it has references in it to the Wall Street crash.”

While Cooper plays Timon, “this is one where cross-gender casting doesn't make a massive difference. It's still a strong and powerful role, whether it's played by a man or a woman.”

Queen Lear, on the other hand, was what Barr describes as a no-brainer in terms of what approach to take.

“Jen has been working towards this production for three years,” says Barr, “and after all the publicity surrounding Glenda Jackson playing Lear in London, we nearly put it on hold, but I think our approach is different to that. Jen wants Janette to play it as a woman, a queen and a mother, and for audiences to be able to see the consequences of that.”

Foggo comes to Lear after forty years experience as an actress, including playing opposite Cooper in last year's Bard in the Botanics season as the mother of Coriolanus.

“There's not a lot in Shakespeare about mothers and daughters,” Foggo says, “which is one of the things that interested me in playing Lear. It's not a part I'd necessarily want to do, but having just spent three months with the text at my side, all the questions the play asks about power and everything else besides, it gives you every answer you require, as any great play will do.

“One of the issues for women in classical drama is that they are completely isolated in a world of men. That's the same whether it's Lady Macbeth or Ophelia or Desdemona. They are all women living in a world of men, and that has an effect on how we talk and think about women.

“The thing about Lear is that, although there are three daughters in it, it's essentially a play about masculinity. A male actor can leave drama school and he could spend an entire career playing different parts in the play. There isn't a play that has that kind of range for women. Of course, doing it this way changes things a bit. The dynamic is different, But I'm a mature, sophisticated woman who's been around a bit, and why shouldn't I play a woman in power in this way?”

The final play in the season will be Measure for Measure, in which the focus will be on Isabella.

“Isabella's not the most popular of Shakespeare's women,” says Barr. “She can be seen as cold, but in the play she's asked to be raped to save someone's life, and that's not okay.”

In this way, the These Headstrong Women season is as much a critique of Shakespeare as a dramatic rendering of his work. Not everyone would approve. One of the most vocal detractors of onstage equality of late was playwright Ronald Harwood, author of The Dresser. Harwood made his objections to Glenda Jackson playing Lear plain.

“He said that if Shakespeare had wanted to write the character as a woman then he would've done so,” says Barr. “Well, he wouldn't, because he had fourteen year old boys playing all his women characters. We want to celebrate the plays by cross gender casting in the way we are doing, and looking at all the complex characters that can help create.

“Doing it in this way is less tokenistic now. I don't think we've ever done a season where there's not been some kind of cross-gender casting, but I think it's important to say that there are as many women on this planet as there are men. For us, it's about finding out all the different things the plays can be.”

Bard in the Botanics' These Headstrong Women season begins with The Taming of the Shrew, June 21-July 8 and Timon of Athens, June 22-July 8, both at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow.

The Herald, June 20th 2017


Mary Rose

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

The blast of war that opens Richard Baron's stately revival of J.M. Barrie's trauma-tinged ghost story is a telling signifier of what follows. Written in 1920 when the world was still reeling from the Great War, the seismic events that occurred between 1914 and 1918 cast the heaviest of shadows over the play.

Barrie himself introduces proceedings as played by Alan Steele, who breaks up the action throughout as he delivers Barrie's elaborate stage directions. This adds a surprisingly sly wit to Barrie's story of a young woman who vanishes twice on a Scottish island, only to return still youthful while all around her have grown old. There are little one-liners similarly peppered throughout the text, especially in the well-worn interplay between the disappeared Mary's parents, played with understated elegance by Ian Marr and Irene Allan. This has clearly become a form of self-protection as the family attempt to survive their loss.

Amidst the hokey hints of mysticism and Barrie's over-riding belief in the purity of childhood through a cosmic form of arrested development, something far more serious is going on. Hammer horror style tricks are heightened by Wayne Dowdeswell's moody lighting and a dissonant knife-edge score by Jon Beales. Neil Warmington's dust-sheet laden set doubles up as both haunted house and the possibly sacred isle which Sara Clark Downie's Mary skips her way through en route to her destiny. For all the unavoidable clunkiness of some of the play's period politesse, as lives are turned upside down several times over by events nobody could predict or understand, a palpable sense of poignancy points up a pain that haunts those left behind forever.
The Herald, June 20th 2017


Monday, 19 June 2017

A Season in Hull – Neu! Reekie!'s Where Are We Now? festival at Hull City of Culture 2017

Prologue - Thursday

Outside the grand facade of Hull City Hall two Thursday tea times ago, kids are playing in the sun on Queen Victoria Square. The main attraction is a syncopated water fountain, the multiple streams of which, arranged on a large circle like maids in a row, shoot some seventy-seven jets of computer operated water at various heights, speeds and directions. For the kids playing among it, the display becomes a shower of surprises.

Mel Chantrey's construction isn't part of Look Up: What is it?, the city's year-round programme of temporary public art commissions. This has already seen Blade, a seventy-five metre wind turbine blade by multi-media artist Nayan Kulkarni, installed in the square. Judging by the sense of communal participation introduced as part of Hull City Council's £25million facelift for public spaces in the city, it may as well be.

At the side of the City Hall, the window is awash with posters of forthcoming attractions. Comedian Ed Byrne is coming, as is a programme of old-school British wrestling that may look a bit American. In the top left hand corner, a size smaller than most, is the poster for Where Are We Now?, a three day and night festival/intervention curated by Neu! Reekie!

With Where Are We Now?'s aim being both to question as much as celebrate the state of the nations in terms of counter cultural arts activity, arriving in town a week before the UK General Election in a city that polled one of the highest pro-Leave votes during the Brexit referendum, the weekend's accidental timing was fortuitous.

In the box office window of the City Hall, the poster for Where Are We Now ?#1 is tucked into a corner. The weekend's biggest event is a seemingly incongruous Friday night extravaganza that puts Young Fathers on a bill with people's diva Charlotte Church and her Late Night Pop Dungeon. These are preceded by short sets from veteran dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and poet Hollie McNish.

Even seen in miniature, the poster, designed by Jamie Reid using the same cut-out ransom-note style lettering that his record sleeve designs helped define he Sex Pistols captures the anarchic spirit of both Neu! Reekie! and Where Are We Now? in their full insurrectionist, agitational glory. That's without even mentioning the melee of hip hop artists, poets, performers, talkers and trouble-makers also taking part.

Inside the City Hall's old-school Victorian civic theatre splendour, awash with wood-panelled walls and red brick arches, and with a giant church organ at the back of the stage, the get in for the Friday night show is ongoing. The green room isn't that much smaller than the hall in the Scottish Book Trust, where Neu! Reekie!ring-maestros Michael Pedersen and KevinWilliamson first set up shop.


Where Are We Now? was named after David Bowie's piece of late period melancholia that became the first single from his penultimate album, The Next Day, released in 2013. It's fitting, then, that the festival begins on Friday lunchtime in the cosy back room of a restaurant called Kardomah94 with a Bowie cabaret by Nick Currie, aka Momus. Over an hour long show, Currie throws shapes to a musical backing sourced solely from his laptop, and which in part reinvents some of Bowie's lesser-known back catalogue in his own image.

These are performed by Currie against a video back-drop of found material that evokes Bowie's influence and legacy through images of fellow counter-cultural icons and peers. Andy Warhol is in there, of course. So is Lindsay Kemp. Buster Keaton's turn in Samuel Beckett's Film is also in the mix, as is a studiedly Bowieesque John Foxx. As more familiar numbers - Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Absolute Beginners and a compulsory Where Are We Now? - which Currie recorded and released online a few hours after Bowie's original came out - are served up, Momus taps into Bowie's sense of pure performance. This isn't a tribute act, but is a homage that interprets the originals with a torch singer's sense of intimacy and candour.

Over on Humber Street, warehouse turned night-club Fruit is seeing daylight for once. Inside, What's in a Safe Space? is the question being asked by Gal-Dem, a zine and creative collective run by young women of colour. There's a precarious looking bed set up at the back of he room, and on the floor sat at a desk a young woman is scribbling away at a make-shift desk. It suggests a sleep-over, the original space for young women to share stories without fear of being laughed at.

The sheer power of work by poets including Amina Jama and Rachel Nwokoro is fearless. Young Fathers manager turned creative director Tim Brinkhurst leans in at one point, and whispers how, in all his years of being involved in left wing and progressive politics, he's never seen an event organised by young black women. Why?

“Confidence”, he whispers back.

Next door, in the recently opened Humber Street Gallery, a montage of posters by Jamie Reid lines a wall tucked mysteriously out of view from the gallery's main space

The Where Are We Now? poster is nowhere to be seen, but the picture of the Queen with a safety pin through her nose from Reid's Sex Pistols days is there.

'God save Trump' says one slogan.

'God save us all' is the riposte.


This slogan reveals Reid's roots in situationism, the non-movement movement of actionists and interventionists whose seeming irreverence as provocoteurs of fun may or may not have inspired punk, and is possibly the reason why Where Are We Now? is happening. One of them, anyway.

Reid's images - and Reid - are the umbilical link between generations of the British counter culture, from situationist hippy to punk provocateur and back again. This is best exemplified in another poster by Reid, which has the words 'City of Culture' carved out over a black and white image of an open air gig in a field. Below on the back of a t-shirted festival goers sagging jeans, in the same letters are the words 'My Arse'.

It's s just after 6pm on Friday night, and the early birds in Hull City Hall are watching What Was Done, the magnificent piece of mockumentary satire by Edinburgh film-maker and record producer, Bonnie Prince Bob. First screened at Neu! Reekie!'s pre Hull Edinburgh warm up, and with it clocking up more than a million views on YouTube, What Was Done cheekily imagines a future UK after Corbyn has won the General Election with a landslide. Screened in Edinburgh where Labour is seemingly a spent force is one thing. Seeing it in a northern English town a week before an actual election, and with the Tories getting more desperate by the minute gives it a completely different resonance.

Introducing a show that was planned pre-Brexit, pre-Trump and pre-General Election, Pedersen and Williamson flag up images of both Corbyn (cheers) and Theresa May (boos). It may be playing to the gallery, but it's still good to hear.

In the spirit of the event, Williamson had originally planned to stand or parliament in Hull as an independent candidate. He pulled out at the last minute when he discovered that it was too late to register anything other than his name on the polling card. As the outsider's outsider from a couple of hundred miles away, and with no mention of Where Are We Now? in place, for the floating voter, the exercise would have lacked context and meaning, so he withdrew.

The first performer is Hollie McNish, the pocket whirlwind who performs a set of infinitely personal poems about sex and the single mum and the everyday racism of her granny's neighbour' with an honesty and a razor-sharp wit. There's ones about being made to feel embarrassed after breast-feeding, another about McNish's little girl discovering herself in the mirror for the first time, and another about teenage girls learning to wank and getting it wrong. All the everyday mess of humanity is here, in all its insecure and hilarious joy. Everyone should have a granny like McNish's.

Linton Kwesi Johnson is as much historian as poet these days, but his litanies of decade on decade of institutionalised racism remain essential. It is Johnson's words that form the backdrop of the stage, and it is his mantra - 'Writing was a political act / and poetry was a cultural weapon' – that make up a manifesto for both Where Are We Now? and Neu! Reekie!

What follows, as Johnson moves through evocations of the notorious SUS law in Sonny's Lettah, the 1981 Brixton riots and an elegy for his father, is a mesmeric display of wisdom made even more special by Johnson's dignity and stillness.

Revolution turns pop next, as Charlotte Church's eight piece band who make up her Late Night Pop Dungeon sparkle into life with the operatic theme from Twin Peaks before moving into a euphoric set of covers. Church and co move from Prince's Get Off to Missy Elliot's Get Ur Freak On so you can't see the join. There are snatches of Talking Heads' Burning Down the House, Destiny's Child's Survivor, and a remarkable five-piece harmony on 10cc's I'm Not in Love before coming full circle for Prince's Diamonds and Pearls. Bootylicious, Rhythm is a Dancer and a finale of En Vogue's Don't Let Go shows the sheer emotive joy of pure pop.

Young Fathers open with an invitation to join them in a non existent country where everyone is welcome and the only rule is that no one is an arsehole. It's a week after the Manchester bombing at an Ariana Grande concert, and something so quietly righteous needs to be said. The set that follows rumbles with martial drums, urgent three-way cross-talk, boy band harmonies and some of the sweetest singing this side of Marvin Gaye. Such a hybrid isn't just musical. It's a statement that takes in a socio-political hybrid that's inclusive defiant and triumphal, exactly where we need to be right now.


Hip Hop day. In the morning, a series of workshops are a lively pre-cursor to a screening of Rodney P Presents...The Hip-Hop World News, a fascinating look at the people behind the music that started its life on the street. Public Enemy's Chuck D, Def Jam's Russell Simmons and New York rapper Rakim are all in the mix in a way that undoubtedly provided inspiration for the real life Hip-Hop Jam taking place down buy the docks.

This three hour long showcase features turntablists and a freestyle Hip-Hop challenge that set the scene for Where Are We Now? #2, the main event that took place across two stages in local night-club, The Welly. Inbetween, Mark Cousins screens his film, I Am Belfast, an evocative and impressionistic portrait of Northern Ireland's capital in all its contrary beauty, and which features a soundtrack by David Holmes.

On an already warm day, things hotted up even more down at the Welly.

'Enjoy your stay at the Welly,' says a sign inside. 'We come on peace...and so should you!
No drugs
No violence
Plenty of good vibes'

Opening with a euphoric display of break-dancing from a local crew, Where Are We Now #2 mixes and matches local acts with Neu! Reekie favourites and rappers and MCs from up and down the countries. A duo called Chiedu Oraka & Deezkid rhyme about the city's Northwood estate where they're both from, and a piece called Lockdown is a fierce critique of Hull.

A siren sounds, signalling the arrival of Stanley Odd on stage 1, which sits at one end of the room adjacent to the second stage. The young people edge forward for an Edinburgh band they've probably never heard of. The six piece fusion of rap, soul and funk that follows is so infectious that within minutes they're grooving along to songs about the Scottish referendum. Vocalist Dave Hook cribs from a poster for the night to bolster an on the spot rhyme using the names of the acts on the night. By the end, the youth of Hull are singing along to anthem in waiting It's All Gone to Fuck, before another bout of break-dancing ensues. The community vibe that infects the room is a joy.

Genre hopping singer and MC Eva Lazarus taps into this in a set that flits between Jungle, Hip-Hop and dancehall reggae. Her performance is enlivened even more by a customised cape that sports the word 'Labour' on the back, with 'Corbyn' across the front.

Hollie McNish is in the house, and says how refreshing it is seeing so many young women in the audience. She used to go to a lot of shows like this, she says, and there were hardly any. It's probably because there are female artists like Lazarus on the bill, she reckons. This echoes Brinkhurst's words from the day before about Gal-dem.

McNish and Lazarus know each other virtually from an online group of female spoken word artists, but they've never met before. McNish goes up to her and the pair chat face to face for the first time. It's a lovely moment of solidarity, and sums up everything Where Are We Now? is about.

Headliner Akala had been on TV a couple of nights before talking about the election. Tonight, he's cutting loose doing “the thing he enjoys the most” as he puts it. Over an hour long set accompanied by a live drummer, this doesn't stop this accidental conscience of the nations from getting the now packed audience from raising their collective middle fingers to a singalong of 'Fuck the Tory cunts'.


In the restaurant of Kardomah94, Bill Drummond is sitting at a large text based painting emblazoned with the words 'FORTY DARKEST THOUGHTS'. He's been spending the weekend polishing forty pairs of shoes as a shoeshine boy and asking each person who's shoes he's shining to share their darkest thoughts. A decade ago he took it upon himself to twin Hull with people's darkest thoughts, and now he's back to see how it's worked out.

So far he's added the words of someone who's worried about a right wing takeover akin to Nazi Germany, and someone scared they'll murder someone because it's something they've always wanted to do.

Before that, Hollie McNish introduces poet, playwright and performer Sabrina Mahfouz to read from How You Might Know Me, her new book of poems which gives voice to women working in the sex industry. As she puts on different accents and attitudes, her four characters come to life in ways that are funny, defiant, vulnerable and fearless.

Mahfouz worked in a strip club to pay her way through university, and has written about such scenarios previously in her splay, Dry Ice, which was seen in the Edinburgh Fringe. As she reveals during a discussion with McNish, the poems were originally written for a mooted TV drama, but were dropped at the last minute when the TV company didn't know how to market it.

Heroically, a young woman in the audience called Virginia steps up to read her own poem drawn from her experiences working as a stripper in New Zealand.

In the interval, Drummond and assured Neu! Reekie! types have been shifting 25 of Drummond's paintings from the back of a hire van to the stage, poking them high inbetween two easels. On the easels sit two paintings. One is the 'YOUR FORTY DARKEST THOUGHTS' one. The other just has the words, 'YOUR DARKEST THOUGHTS'.

Drummond has effectively just designed and built a stage set which, while remaining largely untouched, adds depth and an extra dimensions to his wayward pontifications that follow as he introduces himself as Tenzing Scott Brown.

“Tenzing Scott Brown can do all the things Bill Drummond could never do,” he says, before holding aloft a couple of paintings by his childhood neighbour, Mr Agnew. This introduces an hour long mind-expanding ramble that goes some way to explain how, under the auspices of the Intercontinental Twinning Association, he twinned Belfast with 'Your Wildest Dreams' and Hull with 'Your Darkest Thoughts.' From this premise, Drummond was supposed to collect forty of the local population's thoughts while cleaning their shoes. While this had prompted several conversations the night before with the diverse, multi-cultural residents of Hull, as Drummond points out “This whole talk was supposed to be about something else.”

Drummond relates how he took his Imagine Waking Up One Day and All Music Has Disappeared project to Haiti, where he painted the slogan on a wall in Port-au-Prince, a city where music can be heard on the street all day long. Following an earthquake, however, the city was all but silenced, with Drummond's mural one of the few structures to survive. Word filters back to Drummond that people in Haiti now think he's a prophet.

Somehow this leads to Drummond talking about writing plays, and taking a vote on whether to drop either his dad's old army bible or a box of his old books which have been gathering dust in storage from the Humber Bridge. The books win the vote.

The young Haitian artist who Drummond is paying to recreate some of Drummond's already existing works isn't returning emails, and Drummond is worried. Drummond asks the audience to email him to make sure he's okay, and to say that Bill hasn't heard from him. Along with the books, Drummond produces a box of left-over mugs from 2004, when he twinned Kensington London with Kensington in Liverpool. While the mugs are flogged off in the foyer, a small army of volunteers troop in and out of Kardomah 94 once more, loading paintings back into the van, and he's off into the Hull afternoon. Tenzing Scott Brown has very definitely left the building.


The next morning, after a last night party in the New Adelphi Club, one of the best small venues on the planet, Neu! Reekie! and Where Are We Now? may be gone, but over at the fountain in Queen Victoria Square, the water is already on and the kids are up and the dancing. In Hull, this is where we are now. As far as everything that's happened since, in the General Election and everything else, goes, Where Are We Now? was a necessary show of strength that proved the counter-culture still matters.

Product, June 2017


Wednesday, 14 June 2017


Dundee Rep
Four stars

“Is this what it means to be free?” asks five year old Little Jack in Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her startling 2010 novel, brought to the stage by director Cora Bissett. The only life Jack has known previously is the claustrophobic confines of a wooden shed, where he lived with his doting Ma after she was kidnapped seven years before by a man known only as Old Nick. Here, Jack conjures up a world drawn from his fertile imagination. Inanimate objects become his playmates, and a sense of wonder and adventure prevails. When Ma and Jack finally manage to escape their captor, they find themselves in a new kind of prison.

An over-riding warmth emanates from every pore of this co-production between Theatre Royal Stratford East and Abbey Theatre, Dublin in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and Covent Garden Productions. There is a sense of empathy and care too with Donoghue's characters. This is clear from the relationship between Witney White's Ma and Little Jack, played here by Harrison Wilding, one of three child actors taking turns at the play's pivotal role. The unspoken complexities of Jack's responses to his plight are given voice by Fela Lufadeju's Big Jack.

 Played out on Lily Arnold's busy set and given depth by Andrzej Goulding's animated video projections, Donoghue and Bissett's construction is fleshed out further through songs written by Bissett and Kathryn Joseph, and performed by White and Lufadeju. The end result is a heart-rending depiction of a mother and child's survival of the unthinkable through the power of a love that finally allows Jack and Ma to come home.

The Herald, June 15th 2017


Niall Greig Fulton and Tam Dean Burn - Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath

Making connections was everything for Tom McGrath, the late poet, playwright, jazz pianist and all round seeker of artistic and spiritual enlightenment, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 68. This is something Edinburgh International Film Festival senior programmer Niall Greig Fulton recognised as a young actor in the 1990s. Then, McGrath took Fulton under his wing after seeing him play his old friend and fellow traveller of the 1960s counter-culture, novelist Alexander Trocchi, in a one-man show.

This came at a period when a new wave of Scottish writers, actors and thinkers were exploring counter-cultural thought and reinventing it in their own image through a fusion of punk-inspired lit-zines such as Rebel Inc and a free-thinking rave scene. Theatrically speaking, in Edinburgh this manifested itself in what would now be known as a pop-up venue, where Fulton first crossed paths with McGrath.

“Tom turned up at the first performance,” says Fulton, “and someone said there was someone who wanted to talk to me. That was Tom, and the first thing he said to me was 'This is an evening of great triumph.'”

McGrath went on to work closely with Fulton to develop the show, giving notes, telling old stories of the sixties involving himself, Trocchi and R.D. Laing, the radical psychiatrist who formed the third part of Scotland's counter-cultural un-holy trinity.

“My clearest memory is of being in the Lyceum with Tom,” says Fulton, “and him saying, okay, you're Alex, you're at a party in New York in the 60s, and there's a woman on the other side of the room you want to get to, but you have to negotiate with room full of people to get there. I'd act it out, and then Tom would say, there's quite a few things Alex wouldn't have done. There was a generosity there, a gently provocative mentoring.”

More than two decades on, Fulton is squaring the circle with Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath, a programme of play readings, screenings and talks either by, about or inspired by McGrath. The former will feature a new look at The Hard Man, McGrath's controversial prison drama co-written with former Glasgow gangster turned artist Jimmy Boyle. This will be given a new twist, with director Tam Dean Burn casting acclaimed actress Kate Dickie in the title role. Also on show will be a look at The Android Circuit, McGrath's rarely seen science-fiction play, which was seen at the then Grassmarket-based Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, where The Hard Man had premiered the year before.

In keeping with a science-fiction theme, the season will feature a screening of The Nuclear Family, McGrath's 1982 TV work for the BBC's short-lived Play For Tomorrow strand of stand-alone dramas. With its mind-expanding look at both dystopian and utopian futures, science-fiction was as much a liberating force for change adopted by the hippy underground as sex, drugs, poetry and jazz.

A programme of TV interviews with McGrath will be seen alongside a screening of Wholly Communion, Peter Whitehead's film of the 1965 gathering of the counter-cultural clans at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where a young McGrath read his poetry alongside Allen Ginsberg in an event hosted by Trocchi.

Two lectures see historian and lecturer Angela Bartie look at McGrath's 1960s and 1970s past, while Scott Hames analyses how McGrath used language in The Hard Man. McGrath's poetry comes under the spotlight in a concert by jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. As well as playing work by Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, both of whom McGrath brought to Glasgow in the 1970s while director of the Third Eye Centre, now the site of the CCA, Tam Dean Burn will read some of McGrath's hard to find poetry. Linking all this together with suitable looseness will be a screening of Shirley Clarke's film of The Connection, Jack Gelber's jazz and drugs steeped 1959 play, first produced by Julian Beck's beat-inspired Living Theatre.”

“I first saw the film in 1996, when Tom was launching his book, Birdcalls,” says Fulton, “and he was asked by the Shore Poets, who were putting on the event, to choose a film to go with it. That introduced me to the work of Shirley Clarke, and I ended up programming a season of her work at the Film Festival. So there are all these links that all come back to Tom.”

Another link in the chain comes through Burn, whose role in proceedings stems from appearing in McGrath's version of Quebecois writer Daniel Danis' play, Stones and Ashes, at the Traverse.

“It meant so much to Tom to get that play on,” says Burn. “He was all about being in the moment, and was enthusiastic for whatever was going on there and then. He was enthusiastic for other writers as well. He was very selfless.”

Burn's work has straddled several generations of the counter-culture, ever since he was a young punk fronting Edinburgh band Dirty Reds, who, with Burn departing for an acting career, later morphed into Fire Engines. How things connect up is illustrated further by the fact that Fire Engines records were released by Bob Last. Now the producer behind successful films including Terence Davies' version of Sunset Song, Last co-founded concept-based record label Fast Product. A few years earlier, he had been the set designer of the original Traverse Theatre production of The Hard Man. McGrath would have loved such connections.

“Music was such a driving force for Tom,” says Burn. “That was where he came from, and that was what we had in common. In that way he wasn't of the same ilk of a lot of people in theatre at the time.”

Fulton concurs with Burn's observation, particularly in relation to jazz.

“There were traces of jazz in everything he did. It was all about rhythm, and one thing leading to another without you ever being quite sure where you were going with it.”

Fulton tells a story which McGrath related to him about when he brought Miles Davis to Glasgow, and how he was heartbroken when Davis refused to acknowledge him, leaving all niceties to a middle-man while he just stood there smoking. This continued until just before Miles' departure, when, on the way up the stairs as Miles and his middle man were going down them, he heard a voice.

“Hey,” said Miles, who had stopped and turned to face McGrath. “It's not a bad suit for a white man.”

Electric Contact forms part of The Future is History, a post Brexit nod to the 1970s and 1980s through the filmic identities of Great Britain, Scotland and the grandly named Western World of the Future. This will feature screenings of key films made by former Beatle George Harrison's HandMade Films, including A Sense of Freedom, John Mackenzie's take on Jimmy Boyle's life story, and Bruce Robinson's ultimate look back in languor, Withnail and I. A season of science-fiction films will feature the Glasgow-shot Deathwatch.

“It's very personal to me,” says Fulton about the season. “Tom did so much, and trying to draw all those things together has been quite a job. What fascinates me about Tom is what he could see that others couldn't. Whether he ever fulfilled what he wanted to fulfil creatively I'm not sure, because everything he did fed into something else. He couldn't stop creating. I used to say playing Trocchi changed my life, but actually it was changed by Tom McGrath.”

Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath runs as part of The Future is History at Edinburgh International Festival from June 21-July 2.

The Herald, June 13th 2017


Monday, 12 June 2017


Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars

A flying saucer orbits over Edinburgh Castle before landing outside the Usher Hall. That's the story anyway according to the animated visuals for this 3D extravaganza from the original electronic boy band. Whether the alien craft is responsible for depositing the over-excited stage invader who briefly manages to jump aboard mid-set isn't on record. The four men of a certain age lined up hunched over fairy-lit consoles and sporting LED laced Lycra outfits as they pump out their hugely influential back-catalogue of retro-futuristic electro-pop remain oblivious.

There is nevertheless a sublime display of humanity on display. The quartet of Ralf Hutter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Falk Grieffenhagen lend a surprising warmth to compositions given fresh pulse by the state of art visual display. While the band stand stock still at what appears to be a set of old-school keyboards, sound and vision are in perpetual motion. This is the case whether manning the controls of the aforementioned flying saucer, driving in the middle of the road for Autobahn or racing along railway tracks for Trans Europe Express. Then there is the proto techno of Tour de France, as the night shifts up a gear to effectively become a sit-down rave.

The encore of The Robots sees the stage lined up with computer operated facsimiles of the band's former selves. These scarlet shirted mannequins bust some moves like choreographed Action Men cutting loose. As the band return for a final Music Non-Stop, 3D images of musical notes fly out with abandon. Each member does a synthesised solo before departing one by one with a little showbiz bow. In a night run on hi-tech machinery, it's a very human gesture.

The Herald, June 12th 2017


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Saint Etienne

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars

“This is dedicated to Theresa May.” These aren't the sort of words you'd expect to hear at a Saint Etienne concert, especially given that singer Sarah Cracknell is sporting a feather boa and introducing the band's well worn cover of 1970s bubblegum hit Who Do You Think You Are? Touring on the back of their just released Home Counties album, the band's core trio of Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs remain a contrarily conceptualist bunch. An expanded eight-piece line-up troops onstage following a series of floridly fonted village notices beamed behind them. These are localised to include 'We Miss Josef K' and the Hue and Cry referencing 'Winthrop My Baby' (think about it).

The opening Kiss and Make Up conjures up ghosts of indie discos past in a a set that pitches an impeccable electro-pop pastoralist back catalogue alongside brand new nuggets. This allows the Euro-fizz of I've Got Your Music and Telstar keyboards of You're in a Bad Way to nestle next to the harpsichord-led Whyteleafe. During the joyous Magpie Eyes, images of Stevenage new town flash up, while Cracknell and long term vocal foil Debsey Whykes shimmy their way through the organ break.

With Stanley and Wiggs overseeing proceedings from behind a table load of electronic kit at the back of the stage, studio constructed samples are fleshed out by live flute and violin. The latin fiesta of Dive and motorik folk of Like A Motorway give an internationalist edge to Saint Etienne's sound of the suburbs. As does a final projection following a euphoric He's on the Phone. 'For the many, not not the few' it reads, a pop manifesto for our times.

The Herald, July 12th 2017


Friday, 9 June 2017

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Dundee Rep
Four stars

Onstage, a little guy with limited ability bullies his way to the top. Surrounded by a coterie of yes-men,stylists and spin-doctors, he manufactures attitude, until he no longer has to scape-goat or hold people at gunpoint to get the popular vote. People believe him anyway, and willingly put him in power for what looks like an untouchable reign.

Joe Douglas' production of Bertolt Brecht's tragi-comic mash-up of Damon Runyon archetypes, Shakespearian villains and Nazi Germany starts off with a Tom Waits style medley of some of Brecht's greatest hits. Everybody's hanging out with the audience, looking sharp in 1930s mobster suits. Only when piano playing actor Brian James O'Sullivan sticks on a stupid false moustache and morphs into wannabe kingpin Arturo Ui do things take a lurch into a nightmare world where gangsterism and capitalism look pretty much the same thing.

Brecht wrote this play in 1941, while waiting for a visa to enter the United States, which was then still neutral regarding World War Two. It was seventeen years before the play was staged anywhere, and twenty before it received a production in English. If it was too hot to handle then, Alistair Beaton's revision of George Tabori's translation remains a breezily prescient satire.

With the audience nestled onstage either side of the action, Douglas' cast of nine ham up their cartoon-like depictions of Ui's gang. Stage managers and dressers rush on to shift furniture or oversee quick changes in full view of the audience. Exposed to the dictator's new clothes in this way, we're in the thick of what looks like a chilling prophecy of things to come .

The Herald, June 12th 2017


Sarah Cracknell, Saint Etienne and Home Counties

Sarah Cracknell is all too aware of the perils of small town life. Having grown up in Berkshire and now living in Oxfordshire, Saint Etienne's smooth-voiced chanteuse for more than a quarter of a century is used to everyone knowing each other's business. Playing last month's Common People Festival in Oxford, she was prepared for the worst.

“It will be excruciating for me,” she says a few days before the show. “There'll probably be loads of people there who I know from my kids school or the doctor's waiting room. Everyone knows everyone else.”

Some of this spirit has undoubtedly crept into Home Counties, the ninth album by Saint Etienne's core trio of Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, who will appear at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh tonight leading an expanded eight-piece line-up of the band.

There has always been a sense of place to Saint Etienne's work. This has seen them move from an imagined swinging London that bridged the1960s with its 1990s flipside, to unashamedly cheesy Eurobeat. The band's seventh album, 2005's Tales of Turnpike House, was a conceptual opus set among the residents of a London high-rise. The cover of their most recent record, 2012's Words and Music by Saint Etienne, featured a map of a city made up entirely of song-titles, so Tobacco Road turns into Devil Gate Drive, which leads to Yellow Brick Road, and so on.

All of this has been delivered with a pop-literate knowingness and magpie-like musical sensibility. Over the years this has seen them work with a diverse array of collaborators, ranging from producer and mash-up auteur Richard X to Cliff Richard's vocal arranger Tony Rivers

Even so, it's perhaps a surprise to hear Saint Etienne returning to the sorts of places they grew up in on Home Counties. These were worlds of new town suburbs and green pastures, where the cliches of warm beer and the smack of cork on willow on the cricket pitch at the local green were born.

All three members of Saint Etienne now live outside the London that arguably made them. This meant that for the full six weeks it took to record the album they had to commute into town.

“It's having kids what did it,” says Cracknell of her move to just outside Oxford, where she now lives with her husband Martin Kelly, Saint Etienne's manager and co-producer with his brother Paul Kelly and Bob Stanley of feature-length documentary films. These have included impressionistic love letter to London, Finisteere. Again, this seems a long way away now. “Where I live is even more rural than where I grew up. They've cut all the buses, and one of my eldest's friends is a farmer's son. He's fifteen, and he says he was forced to drive a tractor to school.”

Cracknell's immediate surroundings – tractors not-withstanding - have been immortalised in Dive, one of the songs which appears on Home Counties.

“It's about driving down the M40 out of London to Oxfordshire, and suddenly you see all this green countryside that's there,”she says.

The song proved to be the starting point for the suite of songs that became the album.

“It triggered a bit of a theme,” says Cracknell. “Bob was looking at a book, probably something he bought at a charity shop, and started looking into where and when the phrase home counties comes from.”

With the album featuring titles such as Church Pew Furniture Restorer, Underneath the Apple Tree and the wonderful Train Drivers in Eyeliner, other songs conjure up a world of contradictions and secrets that bubble beneath its leafy facade. In a very Saint Etienne piece of pop fantasy, Whyteleafe imagines what would have happened if David Bowie had remained Davis Jones, stuck forever in a desk job in Bromley.

Following an opening blast from Radio 4's The Reunion, Something New tells the story of a teenage girl creeping through the front door after staying out all night. This may or may not reflect Cracknell's own mis-spent youth, but, as with Stanley and Wiggs, she got away.

“I couldn't wait to get out,” she says. “It was really boring growing up there, and there was nothing to do, but I was friends with a group of really cultured people. We used to sit around talking about records and films and DJs, and out of that boredom came a real spirit of creativity. A lot of those people have gone on to become fashion-designers, artists or film-makers.”

Cracknell's evocation of a small town gang mentality sounds like the sort of scene captured in Mario's Cafe, the opening track of Saint Etienne's 1993 So Tough album, which saw them crossover into the charts with the Tornados referencing You're in a Bad Way. It also sums up generations of bored teenagers who dreamed of escaping their sleepy towns and villages, using pop culture as a lifeline before running away to what they imagine to be an eternally glamorous London life-style. While Saint Etienne's series of mini musical plays for today perpetuated such a swinging mythology, it hasn't always been reflected in reality.

“You have to be careful about the places you mention in songs,” says Cracknell. “Someone said they moved to Archway because of our song Archway People, and it was just awful and they had to get out.”

With London in the midst of being gentrified so that the sorts of places Saint Etienne have romanticised now no longer recognisable, perhaps this too has been a factor in the band's ever broadening horizons.

“I said to Bob that when the kids have left school we're going to have to go on a road trip around all the places we've mentioned in our songs,” says Cracknell.

Given how busy all three members of Saint Etienne have been during the five years between albums, it's unlikely they'll find the time. While Cracknell released her solo album, Red Kite, in 2015, Stanley penned Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce. Wiggs, meanwhile, has embarked on an online master's degree in orchestration and composition.

“Get him!,” says Cracknell.

This is a long way from the band's early days, when Stanley and Wiggs were playing Edinburgh indie-dance club Floral Riot before releasing their first two, pre-Cracknell singles. These were a dubby take on Neil Young's Only Break Your Heart, followed by a similarly dreamy version of Kiss and Make Up by The Field Mice. Cracknell's arrival gave the band a stylish sheen, and before long they were appearing in pre Brit-pop magazine spreads with the likes of Pulp, The Auteurs and Suede.

With a revival of sorts of the era currently ongoing, Cracknell recently appeared on BBC 6Music's Round Table show hosted by archetypal 1990s radio voice, Steve Lamacq. Also on the programme was Bluetones singer Mark Morris.

“We were talking,” says Cracknell, “and he was just about to go off and do some big 1990s thing, and I think he was probably making an absolute packet, but apart from a brief moment of financial jealousy I don't think I'd want that. I hate nostalgia. It sounds like you're looking back and not forwards.”

With this in mind, after Home Counties, what might be next for Saint Etienne? Might they take the next logical step in their ongoing travelogue and become ex-pats, spending their dotage in sunny Spain?

“You never know,” says Cracknell. “We've recorded in Berlin and Sweden, so it would be nice to go somewhere a little warmer.”

Saint Etienne, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, tonight. Home Counties is available now on Heavenly Records.

The Herald, June 9th 2017


Thursday, 8 June 2017


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There isn't a word spoken in Blue Raincoat Theatre's mesmeric evocation of Irish-born early twentieth century explorer Ernest Shackleton's ill-starred but ultimately heroic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17. To fill in the back story, Shackleton's attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic on the ship Endurance was blighted when the ship became trapped in ice, was crushed and eventually sunk. This necessitated the crew to man the lifeboats and set up camp on an uninhabited island, while Shackleton led an 800 mile trip to South Georgia to enable a rescue mission.

While there may be four people onstage in Niall Henry's dense, slow-burning production, such a complex tale of derring-do in the face of elemental adversity goes beyond words. Instead, over seventy remarkable minutes, the windswept-looking quartet use little more than a handful of sheets, a model ship and a bunch of wooden poles to carve out a landscape that's bigger than anything a more naturalistic rendering might achieve.

The sheets are bundled to resemble hazardous ice or else spread out to become mountain ranges on which cardboard cut-out miniatures of the crew walk across. Occasionally, with the men marooned, the multi-tasking ensemble of John Carty, Barry Cullen, Brian F Devaney and Sandra O Malley act out slow-motion football games, or else simply look a little lost as they attempt to find their way home.

Jamie Vartan's set design is crucial to the show's meticulous construction, as is Barry McKinney's moody lighting and Joe Hunt's archive video projections as Jocelyn Clarke's dramaturgy keeps the story crisp and even. All this is pulsed by Hunt's equally evocative sound-scape in an unmissable adventure in visual story-telling.

The Herald, June 9th 2017


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tricia Kelly and Victoria Yeates - Playing Miller's Wives in Death of A Salesman and The Crucible

If you think of the body of work written by Arthur Miller, what becomes immediately clear is that these are men's plays. The heroes put on stage by this great chronicler of the the post World War Two souring of the American dream are patriarchal and unreconstructed blue-collar figures. As the plays also reveal, they are damaged goods, messed up by the things they aspire to in a system they have no control over.

Behind these men who provide such great parts that allow male actors to vent, winning all the plaudits as they go, are far quieter but even greater women. This should be made clear as two Miller productions arrive in Scotland this month. Next week, the ever enterprising Selladoor theatre company brings their co-production of The Crucible to the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. The week after, the King's Theatre, Edinburgh hosts the Royal and Derngate, Northampton's look at Death of A Salesman.

The Crucible charts the hysteria that ensues in the seventeenth century puritan town of Salem after a group of teenage girls are caught dancing in the woods. Written in the wake of the McCarthyite exposure of alleged communist activities in 1950s America, Miller's play also follows the rise and fall of John Proctor, who committed adultery with the girls' precocious ring-leader, Abigail Williams.

Death of A Salesman, written in 1949, four years before The Crucible appeared, follows the decline of Willy Loman, an ageing salesman struggling to get by, but who is too caught up in his own macho pride to tell his family.

In each play, as things spiral out of control for their protagonists in radically different ways, it is the men's wives who keep everything together. They also provide emotional support for their husbands in ways that for those watching the play it's easy to overlook. Yet without Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible and Linda Loman in Death of A Salesman, neither John or Willy could survive as long as they do.

“Elizabeth goes on a really massive journey throughout the course of the play,” says Victoria Yeates, who plays her in Douglas Rintoul's production of The Crucible for Selladoor and the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. “She's very earthy, very grounded and very stoic. As a puritan she's got this real sense of duty, both to her religion and to John, and I suppose that makes her very immalleable. Obviously the play is in part an allegory about what was going on in America at the time it was written, but behind all that there's this huge love story, and when John has an affair, Elizabeth has to learn to forgive him, and that's huge.”

Linda Loman plays an equally significant role in Death of A Salesman. This is something that Tricia Kelly, who plays her in Abigail Graham's production, recognises only too well.

“She's the strongest person in the play,” Kelly says of Linda. “Obviously Willy is the play's protagonist, and it's about his downfall, but on the other hand, Miller has written a wonderful study of someone who is categorically not a weak woman. Linda keeps the whole thing rolling. She has propped up her husband and become his rock in a way that is often misunderstood – and I think I did – but I think she is extraordinary.

“There is obviously the factor of what a man in 1949 expects a wife to be, but Linda supports Willy whether he's right or wrong, come what may, and she doesn't have a job, but she's not in any way subservient or demure. She doesn't have any kind of life beyond her family, but she also adores her husband. She loves the bones of him, but she's also left with this sense of disappointment.”

In terms of how some of Miller's female characters turned out, particularly in relation to the infidelities of his male characters, Yeates points to the playwright's autobiography, Timebends.

“If you read Miller's book, he talks a lot about his first wife Mary, who had a huge influence on the way he wrote women,” says Yeates, best known to current TV audiences as Sister Winifred in Call The Midwife. “Arthur and Mary met at university, and she had quite a profound effect on Arthur. They read things, and there was a real intellectual link between them. They were equals, and were both on the same level in the way that Elizabeth and John are. Then Arthur started up his affair with Marilyn Monroe, who inflated his ego, and you can see the same thing with Abigail and John. But because Arthur and Mary were equals, she wasn't going to flatter his ego like that, and why should she?”

Given Kelly's background acting at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre during its 1970s peak and working with other companies including 7:84 and some of the radical feminist troupes of the era, she wonders how she might have looked upon Linda then.

“As a child of the sixties and the first wave of feminism, I had very different expectations then,” she says. “If I was a younger and angrier actress, as I have been, I think I'd have judged her more harshly. As a young feminist I'd be asking why she accepted everything she did instead of walking out, but as one matures you realise things are a bit more complex, and I think I understand her a lot more now.”

At the end of each play, the wives are left very much alone. While in The Crucible Elizabeth's fate is sealed, for Linda, there may be some kind of future ahead.

“Elizabeth has to let her soul be saved,” says Yeates, “and leaving her family behind the way she does, that's some decision, but she has such heart-breaking integrity. The scene at the end where she breaks down and you see her soften, that works on so many different levels, and you're having to play about five different things at one. She loved John, but she hates him as well, because she feels betrayed. On one level the play is about standing up for your beliefs, but when you're in a relationship as Elizabeth and John are, you have to take joint responsibility for things in the way she does, and that's really modern.”

For Linda, as Kelly observes, there is a chance for a life beyond what Miller has written.

“She's free,”says Kelly. “That's reflected in her last words at the end of the play, when she's talking about being free from debt, but she's also free from having to look after Willy, and she's probably left wondering what that means. There is an observable syndrome among women who become widows who go on to have another life. They've spent their whole life looking after their families as Linda has done, and then the worst happens, and they go on to have a few years of liberation, and they rediscover themselves. There are real possibilities for Linda, which is quite exciting, and though you don't see any of that in the play's closing moments, I don't think she'll be dressed in black for the rest of her life. It's more of a sense that she's free, now what?”

The Crucible, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, June 12-17; Death of A Salesman, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, June 20-24.


Monday, 5 June 2017

Florian Hecker: Synopsis

Tramway, Glasgow until July 30th
Four stars

Listen hard, and for a fleeting moment,the cascade of chimes that open Florian Hecker's twenty-five minute sound installation sounds a dead ringer for The Wedding March. Within seconds, however, the four compartmentalised areas of Tramway's main space that hosts Hecker's quartet of variations on a theme explode in a riot of sonic confetti. These sounds fall over and under each other from a network of suspended speakers walled off by a maze of acoustic panels.

The starting point for the prolific genre-busting German artist and some time collaborator of Russell Haswell and The Aphex Twin among others is Formulation (2015), a computer generated piece that plays through a trio of speakers at angles to each other. As a composer of space as much as sound, Hecker creates what are effectively three remixes to play simultaneously in the other allotted areas.

While three speakers are allotted to each composition, two spaces contain two speakers apiece, while a grand total of five dangle into the room's biggest area. While each work is made in the image of the original, they are nuanced enough to discern Formulation DBM Self (2015-2017) and Formulation Chim 111 [hcross] (2017) from Formulation as Texture [hcross] (2017).

With it being pretty much impossible to isolate each chamber of sound, the differences melt like snowflakes on the palm of your hand. Heard together in this way, the resulting cross-cutting cacophony kicks out an industrial pulse that recalls the daily (organ?) grind of a steel-works. Rather than heavy-duty clang, it's as if the factory has been stripped bare and the left-over raw material cordoned off in a zero gravity container and destined to gently rub up up against each other for infinity. There are rushes, skids, elisions and collisions followed by occasional moments of calm in a celestial-sounding conversation that orbits its way safely home.

The List, June 2017


Where Are We Now? #1 - Young Fathers / Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon / Linton Kwesi Johnson / Hollie McNish

City Hall, Hull
Five stars

'Writing was a political act' goes the legend projected on the back wall of Hull City Hall, 'and poetry was a cultural weapon'. These are the words of Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, one of four artists performing tonight, but his mantra may as well be the slogan for Neu! Reekie!, the Edinburgh sired spoken word, music and film night which has taken the capital's underground out into the world.

Neu! Reekie'!'s weekend long Where Are We Now? festival that formed part of Hull City of Culture 2017 was a gathering of the counter-cultural clans. With its name taken from David Bowie's piece of late period melancholia and a poster designed by Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid, the aim of Where Are We Now? was to celebrate oppositional art as much as provoke.

Poet Hollie McNish performed a witty and street smart set that covered sex, motherhood and the everyday bigotry of her granny's next door neighbour. Johnson, now as much historian as poet, delivered a wise litany that reflected decade on decade of institutionalised racism.

Charlotte Church has become the people's diva, and her Late Night Pop Dungeon is a thing of joy, as Church and her eight-piece band became a living jukebox of poptastic classics. Closing the night, Young Fathers invited us to join them in an imaginary country where everyone is welcome. Their set that follows is a thundering musical soup of martial drums, urgent crosstalk and some of the sweetest singing this side of Marvin Gaye. This magnificent hybrid is inclusive, anthemic and triumphal, and is exactly where we should be now.

The Herald, June 5th 2017


Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Writing on the Wall – The Last Nights of Studio 24

Last Saturday night, Studio 24 was in full swing. The cottage-like nightclub and venue on Calton Road in Edinburgh was having one of its final flings before it closes its doors forever next month. This follows the club's sale to developers by the family who have owned the club for a quarter of a century. This came about following what Studio 24 say was a series of complaints from neighbours regarding noise from the club and apparent threats to their licence from City of Edinburgh Council officials. CEC say no complaints have been received since November 2016. Studio 24 say otherwise.

On Saturday in the main room downstairs, a night called Keep it Steel was hosting a 'Heavy Metal Prom Night'. Upstairs, in the venue's smaller room, Betamax played a mix of post-punk and new wave classics. Among a cross-generational spread of dancers, award-winning contemporary dance artist and choreographer Jack Webb was there at Betamax, as he frequently is, busting some moves inbetween asking for Into The Garden, a piece of post-punk poetry by early 1980s John Peel favourites, Artery.

Passers-by walking the length of Calton Road on Saturday night are unlikely to have been aware of any of this. Sure, there will have been comings and goings from the venue, smokers chatting outside and, at the end of the night, a gaggle of tired but elated party people walking home. But for a city centre night club in a major European capital on a Saturday night, this is nothing unusual. Or you would think so, anyway, especially when the only sound on the street apart from a few passing cars and late-night voices when Waverley Station is still open is the amplified tannoy relaying the latest train times.

For the last fifteen years, however, Studio 24 has been under siege. This has come first from developers desperate to swallow it up and transform the building into flats in keeping with those that have sprung up around it as part of a slow pincer movement of gentrification. During that period as well, Studio 24 has received a steady stream of complaints about noise emanating from the club.

Some of those purchasing the new builds were informed by those selling that the flats were fully soundproofed. This apparently turned out not to be true, but by the time it came to light, the holding companies who stated otherwise had dissolved, and were no longer liable for the properties. This meant that, even though Studio 24 existed long before the flats, the owners of the club were seen to be in the wrong, and were forced to shell out thousands of pounds on sound-proofing on top of that already in place.

Over the last two years, a City of Edinburgh Council short term working group called Music is Audible has been meeting to attempt to address some of the problems that exist in Edinburgh's live music provision. Much of the discussion regarding a perceived lack of civic will to support live music in the city stemmed from the existence of a licensing clause that stated that all amplified music must be inaudible beyond the four walls of a venue. While this is a physical impossibility, it immediately put venues of all sizes in the wrong.

With MIA made up of venue managers, musicians, the Musicians Union, academics and council officers and elected representatives – in the interests of full disclosure, I have sat on MIA as an interested party since its inception – exchanges were understandably full and frank. MIA has worked closely with both the University of Edinburgh based Live Music Exchange, and the Music Venues Trust.

The latter is an independent body set up to protect grassroots venues in the UK from the sort of issues Edinburgh was facing. Through MVT, a proposal to change the so-called inaudibility clause to a more workable notion of 'audible nuisance', which put venues on an even keel with their neighbours, was eventually passed by the Edinburgh Licensing Board.

To be clear, this change was not a license to crank the volume up to eleven as some of those who opposed the change seemed to suggest. It was in effect a small acknowledgement that music should not be automatically regarded as a nuisance. More significantly, perhaps, the change was what is hopefully the first step in the long-term aim of introducing something called the Agent of Change. This is a legislation whereby developers building housing close to a club or music venue would be liable for sound-proofing their new residential properties. This cuts both ways, so any music venue moving into a pre-existing residential area – an increasingly unlikely scenario in the current climate – would similarly be liable for sound-proofing.

Agent of Change is already in place in Australia and some more enlightened European cities, and looks like being implemented in London. Such a legislation would need to be adopted by the Scottish Government at national level rather than at local authority level. If it had been in place fifteen years ago, Calton Road and its surrounding area might be a very different place.

When the former Grampian TV studio formerly known as Calton Studios was rebranded as Studio 24, Calton Road was a dark and fairly desolate thoroughfare, enlivened only be a thriving night-life which had existed there for years. At one end of the street was the Venue, home to legendary nightclub Pure. On New Street, an old bus station provided the first home twenty-one years ago for the Bongo Club, which brought together various strands of the city's grassroots arts scenes in a venue that also housed artists studios. Then, further along the road, under the bridge, Studio 24 became home to numerous techno and gay nights before providing a much needed home to metal-heads.

As the last survivor of that holy trinity of venues, Studio 24 has become a lifeblood of independent non-mainstream music in the face of encroaching gentrification which has transformed Calton Road and the surrounding area. Residential developments now line the once barren street. Beside the club itself is a block shared by student flats and the offices of Holyrood magazine. There is an architects office, while over the road, the sign for the old Craigwell Brewery is still visible atop the archway that now leads to more flats. These were presumably bought because the owners wanted to experience the vibe of city centre living, but who will soon be occupying a soulless dormitory, devoid of personality or life.

Not far from Studio 24's multi-coloured hippydelic facade, on the corner of Holyrood Road, is the Scottish Parliament. Moving the other way, round the corner on New Street, are the offices of City of Edinburgh Council. Studio 24 pre-dates both buildings by decades.

Over the road from the City of Edinburgh Council offices is the site of New Waverley, an ongoing development which was green-lit despite huge protests from local residents. With the Bongo now decamped elsewhere, at the street's far end is the Arches, a row of 'artisan retail units' situated in long neglected railway sidings. Prior to opening as assorted coffee shops, these arches had been cleaned up and transformed into a mini arts village for the first Hidden Door arts festival in 2014.

For the next two years, Hidden Door took up residence in the local authority's abandoned lighting depot before the King Stables Road site is converted into a hotel. This year's Hidden Door is currently in full swing, having taken over Leith Theatre, which has lain shamefully unused for a quarter of a century. Over its first weekend, a packed audience watched Scottish Album of the Year winner Anna Meredith and her band perform a fusion of contemporary classical and techno before encoring with a rollicking version of (I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles by The Proclaimers.

On Monday night, five electronic composers performed a live soundtrack to Metropolis, Fritz Lang's classic 1927 science-fiction film. In the film, a monumental city is divided, with wealthy industrialists and town planners reigning from a network of spectacular art deco high-rises. Here they are set apart from the workers, who live 'beneath, where they belong,' as the city's creator Joh Fredersen says to his son Freder. Here the workers operate the machinery that powers the city.

Some might argue that given the amount of new housing built in Edinburgh over the last couple of years – a high proportion of which are a mix of luxury apartments and student flats – the capital is being to resemble Metropolis. If this is the case, it is without any of the artistry or ambition of the grand designs that grace Lang's film, but with all the attempts at social apartheid in place.

Also in Leith, what was once regarded as the worst pub in the city has been transformed into Leith Depot, the upstairs function room of which provides a vital small venue for local and touring acts. Leith Depot sits in a block alongside a series of other locally run businesses, who were told by the developers who recently purchased the block that they hope to demolish the existing buildings and build flats in their place.

The Bongo Club, meanwhile, now in its third home in the Cowgate, looks like it may soon be nestling next to another hotel. This is despite the adjacent land being left undeveloped for forty years with the specific purpose of extending the Central Library, the entrance of which stands above it on George IV Bridge.

To cap all this off, there is the ongoing saga of the former Royal High School, another neglected building which has been empty since 1968, and which hangs some way above Studio 24. Having been passed over as the home of the Scottish Parliament in favour of architect Enric Miralles' purpose-bulit construction, developers have proposed yet another hotel. A counter proposal from St Mary's Music School to move into the building as its new home is also on the table.

Given the close proximity of all of this activity in terms of developments, one could perhaps be forgiven for suggesting that it looks suspiciously like a form of social engineering and social cleansing that is using grassroots art and culture as a short-cut to gentrification. Again this recalls Metropolis, whereby the wealthy live in isolated splendour, while the rest of us live 'beneath'.

Such a notion isn't unusual. Contrary to what some might believe, neither is Edinburgh unique in having the life ripped out of its city centre in this way. In London, the city's equivalent of Tin Pan Alley, and once a hub for the music industry, has been changed beyond recognition following re-development. In New York, CBGB's, the city's seminal cauldron of punk, closed after its owners could no longer afford to pay the rent in a once derelict neighbourhood. In Liverpool, the site of Cream, one of the UK's first super-clubs, has been flattened to be replaced by student flats.

This isn't the first time Liverpool's night life has fallen victim to the bulldozer. In 1973, the Cavern Club, the tiny cellar where the Beatles and a million other beat groups changed the world on a then run-down Matthew Street, was filled in and a car park built in its place. Only when the city fathers saw they could make a few bob was a new Cavern club built, allegedly with the old club's original bricks. As the Beatles heritage industry ran on apace, at one point there was even a John Lennon wine bar which required patrons to wear a tie before being allowed in.

Manchester, meanwhile, has always got their first, be it with the industrial revolution and capitalism as we know it or the seeds of communist thought. The Hacienda club, which helped transform the possibilities of what a nightclub could be and transformed 1980s youth culture, is now a residential block called Hacienda Heights.

In Glasgow too, developers are hovering, with new builds and hotels rising ever higher across the city. The closure of multi-arts venue the Arches – not to be confused with Edinburgh's artisan retail units - following the withdrawal of its late license on the recommendation of Police Scotland, has left a major hole in the city's nightlife.

Despite all this, people shouldn't fall for the recent wave of click-bait led articles bemoaning the apparent death of Edinburgh's live music scene compared to Glasgow. For two cities so wonderfully diverse in shape, size and demographic, as well as radically different social, political and economic histories, such comparisons are fatuous.

The sort of clickbait led articles that say such things have a tendency as well to lump Edinburgh's assorted venue closures together as a one-size fits all exercise that provokes similar waves of understandably emotional collective outrage as happened in response to Studio 24's announcement. Over the years Edinburgh's live music venues have closed for various reasons. Fire decimated the now re-opened Liquid Rooms, while the 2002 Cowgate blaze – arguably a developer's blessing in disguise – took out La Belle Angele, which has also now re-opened. The Gilded Balloon, Gilded Saloon and Bridge Jazz Bar weren't so lucky.

The spectacular mismanagement of Edinburgh University Settlement and its subsequent liquidation saw the Roxy Art House and the Bristo Hall home to the Forest Cafe forced to close overnight.

More recently, the Picture House's conversion into a branch of Wetherspoons is well-documented, and has its roots in former owners HMV flogging off its assets due to an apparent lack of foresight in terms of investing in the digital market. Electric Circus closed due to retiral. The proposed expansion of the Fruitmarket Gallery that the club's closure will allow looks from the outside like a successful attempt to ward off the developers and hoteliers who were almost certainly circling in the same way they have over Studio 24.

Much of the misconception regarding the closure of Electric Circus came from the inaccurate way it was reported in some places. The root of this came from City of Edinburgh Council's report on the joint proposal by Electric Circus and the Fruitmarket Gallery. The wording of the report seemed to suggest that an art gallery was somehow more valid than a club and music venue as a place of artistic expression. No one at the Fruitmarket suggested this was the case. Neither did anyone at Electric Circus. Given the historical relationship between music and visual art, particularly over the last twenty years or so in Scotland, anyone attempting to set the two in opposition to each other was seriously missing the point of how art works across all forms.

This raises issues about civic ignorance regarding live music. It points as well to a need for a cultural shift, which recognises and acknowledges the co-relation between artforms as equals. This again points to what might be perceived as a social divide. Theatre, dance and visual art all receive substantial public funding, both at institutional and developmental level. In music, jazz, classical and folk are treated with similar respect, despite, and sometimes because of, their specialist appeal.

Historically, what for convenience we'll broadly call rock music, but taking in pop and club culture, has rarely if ever been invited to the public funding party. Part of this is down to rock's original sense of outsiderdom and rebellion.. While this may seem laughably naïve now given the generations of millionaires created by the music industry, it is still considered uncool in some quarters to get involved with public funding bodies. Such bodies have been traditionally associated with the establishment, and getting involved with them might still be regarded as a sell-out.

This is beginning to change, however, and the introduction of funding schemes for contemporary music are starting to appear, and indeed to appear credible to those they are aimed at. This is partly to do with a generation of bureaucrats who make the decisions having grown up steeped in music. This is certainly the case with Scotland's arts funding body, Creative Scotland, even if for an SNP government exporting a few hand-picked acts to South By South West and other places has a political agenda as much as an aesthetic one.

But public funding needs to go to venues too. Not just the civic-run concert halls, but clubs and pubs like Leith Depot and Studio 24 need to be supported, because it's in venues like these where the future starts. With the safety net of public funding, venues can take risks with the artists they book, allowing them to develop audiences over the long term without having to worry about the constant threat of potential closure.

But make no mistake, there is plenty going on musically in Edinburgh. You just have to find it is all, and it is noticeable that independent promoters and artists are starting to put on events in church halls and social clubs, the original centres of civic gatherings. Edinburgh has always been a Jekyll and Hyde city, and while its glossy facade of national art institutions and international festivals remain vital, it is down the back-streets and in the cellar bars and clubs where the future state of art is being carved out. But for that to continue, those back-street cellar bars need protecting, and Agent of Change is the first port of call for that.

It is not yet known what the new owners of Studio 24 have planned for the building. It seems inevitable, however, that they will seek planning permission for residential developments of some kind. Permission will have to be applied for through City of Edinburgh Council's planning department. Given the response to Studio 24's closure, there may be objections to such a proposal, though any energy currently being focused in various petitions aimed at bodies who have no control over any of this might be better served lobbying the Scottish Government to adopt the Agent of Change.

In the meantime, anyone walking along a dead-looking Calton Road this week with the amplified voice of the Waverley Station tannoy ringing in their ears might wish to pause a moment outside what for now at least is still Studio 24. It is here the writing is on the wall in a far more creative way than simply signalling the end of an era. This comes from some of the words that adorn the wall's multi-coloured mural in a way that is an extension of the activity beyond.

'Dogma'. 'Mingin''. 'Sativa'. 'Pillbox'.

These are the names which, for those who weren't there, seem like incongruous slabs of concrete poetry. Those who were there, however, will recognise these words as the names of some of the city's most crucial club nights, and which have become the stuff of legend.

There are other, even older names up there too. 'McGoo's'. 'Annabel's'. 'Astoria'. Immortalised like this as the ghosts of club nights past, those words provide a potted social map of Edinburgh nightlife over the last fifty years. In this way, Studio 24 and other venues like it are pieces of living history. By rights, they should have preservation orders slapped on them like the rest of the city's cultural assets. They should be given public funding and, instead of having to fight for the right to party, be allowed its voice, as loud and as proud as it likes.

No-one wants to preserve Edinburgh in aspic, and indeed there are some signs of optimism. A new concert hall has been mooted, while the new owner of St Stephen's Church in Stockbridge, who is also about to open the new Rose Theatre in an old chapel on Rose Street, wants to make it a major centre for dance. These are admirable ventures and should hopefully be inclusive enough to accommodate all artforms, including rock, pop and club culture.

But what about the City of Edinburgh Council signs on Rose Street, a stone's throw from the church that houses the new Rose Theatre, that outlaws busking? And what about young dancers like Jack Webb, who may end up performing in St Stephen's, but might also want to go and dance to Into the Garden by Artery at Betamax on a Saturday night in somewhere like Studio 24? Will he and others like him find an outlet for their talent in a place that allows it full vent? Or will they simply learn to live quietly indoors, in a capital city where they'll always be 'beneath'.

Studio 24 will close on June 24th. Details of events can be found on the club's Facebook page.

Bella Caledonia, June 3rd 2017