Monday, 20 February 2017

Culture and the labour movement - a key role for Trades Councils

Last Tuesday,  Jamie Caldwell – Unite Community Co-ordinator for Scotland – penned a piece in the ‘Voices from Scotland’ section of the Morning Star arguing the importance of arts, music and culture in bringing people to politics and inspiring them to join the movement for change.
It is a timely reminder of the importance of the labour movement’s involvement in the arts and cultural scene – an involvement that goes back at least as far as the Rose Schneiderman quote from 1911/2 - "The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too." It was a prominent part of socialist and labour movement work in thirties and forties Glasgow with the Unity Theatre, Left Book Club groups and the Trades Council’s Film Society. Similar organisations existed in other cities.
In more contemporary times the TU movement was key to the formation of  Glasgow’s MayFest, - as were left theatre groups such as Dave MacLennan’s Wildcat -  and it is good to see increasing arts and musical input more recently around the International Workers’ Day celebrations. Glasgow’s own Friends of MayDay programme is one of these developments.
The role of Trades Councils can be crucial in the success of this co-ordination, and it is good to see a recent increase in such activities by Trades Union Councils (the new name for Trades Councils) in and around Glasgow.
Jane McAlevey
Glasgow Trades Council itself starts the list this week with their hosting of the book launch by American union organizer and author, Jane McAlevey. Entitled No Shortcuts, Organising for Power, it’s on tonight at the Lighthouse and while it has been sold out, there might be some returns available via the FB page.
Jamie’s article mentions the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, and the work of Unite and the People’s Assembly in promoting it. One of these screenings is being hosted in Clydebank Town Hall, by Clydebank Trades Council with support from the Morning Star and a multitude of TUs, on Thursday this week at 7.00pm. Tickets here.
Clydebank TC are also prominent in a mini tour of the play Dare Devil Rides to Jarama. A play about motorcycling and the Spanish Civil War, it is produced by Townsend Productions – who gave you The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist and the Shrewsbury pickets play United We Stand. It is also playing Clydebank Town Hall (on 6 March), tickets here. If you can’t make this showing, there is also one organised by South Lanarkshire TC in the Blantyre Miners Welfare two days previously (4 Mar). Tickets from UNISON South Lanarkshire 01698 454690 or from the Blantyre Miners Welfare itself.
30 years ago elsewhere in South Lanarkshire (in Uddingston actually) workers at the Caterpillar factory occupied their workplace to prevent it being closed. The occupation lasted 103 days. Our friends at FairPley – other valuable contributors to the increase in cultural activity on the left – have commissioned two, one-act plays from Anne Hogg on the aftermath of the occupation. Out of the Bad and Butterfly are premiering at Motherwell Civic Theatre on February 25. Tickets from Culture NL here..
Not a bad contribution to Jamie’s important call for the use of cultural events in socialist and labour movement organizing. I have no doubt that there are other Trades Union Council’s across Scotland who are organising similar events. If so, it would be good to support them and to promote them using social contacts, both digital and otherwise. And if they are not – what about getting them to do so?
As a wee add-on, while I was in London on a break, the Morning Star published my final round-up
Shirley Collins, pic Eva Vermandel
review of Celtic Connections. Concentrating on the CC theme of Women of Song it can be found here.  And while we’re on the topic of the Star and Arts/Music coverage, there’s a nice interview by Mike Quille with a former star of  Celtic Connections, Chris Wood, in the weekend’s edition. He is a great example of how contemporary folk music is being created right across these islands.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Celtic Connections 3 - crossing borders

The first of my two articles reviewing this year's Celtic Connections was in the Morning Star yesterday here. It dealt with two themes, the continuing connections between British and Irish music and the roots music from the US - particularly timely given recent US events, and the remarkable standard of so-called 'support' bands in the festival.

Rab - pic Brian Aris
As it is likely that I won't be able to get a review of Rab Noakes' 70/50 concert at the Old Fruitmarket last night into my next, I thought I'd post it here. Noakes, who has recently come through a draining series of treatments for tonsillar cancer, was celebrating his forthcoming 70th birthday (no they didn't wheel a Gene-Pitney-style cake onto the stage, although there was one backstage apparently!), and the 50th Anniversary of his first paid gig - at the Glasgow Folk Centre appropriately enough.

He slipped onto the stage after the band, almost unnoticed until he revealed his suit! But he soon took command. The intro promised a selection of 'landmark' songs - so-called because he hasn't had any hits, he pointed out! - and new material. The former included Lindisfarne's 1969 hit, Together Forever and the song he wrote inspired by the great Scottish folk singer Alex Campbell, Gently Does It with its touching line -"you'd been on this road so long. Now they're building a highway to take you home." - a sentiment that could be applied to Rab himself. 

The concert was packed out, a testament to the affection that his fans have for him, an affection that was almost tangible. The concert was as meticulously crafted as we've come to expect from Noakes - albeit with a slight trip over the song order! Contemporary songs in his inimitable country folk style were prominent - four of the six tracks on the new EP. (Reviewed here) and (at least) three from I'm Walking Here.

But the best of the contemporary songs were two that he wrote while getting back into his Scottish music roots. The Handwash Feein' Mairket is a song about the exploitation of asylum seekers forced into illegal work by our brutal restrictions, and what he called Tramps and Migrants - a mash-up of Bob Dylan's  Pity the Poor Immigrant and the Scottish traditional Tramps and Hawkers, beautifully assisted by Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes.

His backing band - Una MacGlone, Innes Watson, Stuart Brown, Christine Hanson, Lisbee Stainton and Jill Jackson - more than did him justice, and his voice - if a bit lower in register - has clearly not been damaged by the treatment. A beautiful 'cello treatment of the love song I always will stood out amongst the closing tunes. Rab is perhaps even better now than he was when he first hit the musical big time. He starts a short tour of UK towns in March. If you're around - get along!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Celtic Connections 2 - and Beyond

A selection of shorts re a number of shows that are not going to get onto my reviews in the Star (the first one of which is due in tomorrow's paper (Thursday 2).

One thing that is already in (Tuesday's) Star  is my review of Rab Noakes new EP, The Treatment Tapes - the final of these three album reviews. Rab has a show at Celtic Connections too, on Thursday in the Old Fruitmarket. There are tickets still available here (along with a nice wee clip of Rab in 1974!). He is celebrating 50 years performing and his 70th year - so expect a selection of gems from his career!

Another Celtic Connections success, has been the twice-sold-out show The Lions of Lisbon. On Sunday at the Tron our friends at FairPley staged a 50th/25th Anniversary rehearsed reading of this Willy Maley/Ian Auld play, with added music! By all accounts (and you can read some of them on Stephen's FB page here.) the play was a huge success.

pic by Eddie Middleton
But don't be downhearted if you couldn't get a ticket (as I couldn't), the play will be performed again, most notably in three shows at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival (at the Barrows Art and Design on the 16-18 March). Tickets are available now from the GICF website.

STFU - pic - Douglas Robertson
Finally, and a little wider afield, I went to see a great band that I would recommend (and will be in my first MS CC review - see above). On Monday the Hug and Pint played host to Edinburgh band Southern Tenant Folk Union. Not a band I'd heard before, but well worth a listen too. Sharp political writing, plus sparky folk melodies. Not going to rehash the review, but they too will be on tour next week (8/2) - startting at the fabled Hebden Bridge Trades Clud, it is mostly 'dahn Sarf' but returns to Scotland later. The dates are here.

Friday, 20 January 2017

An embarrassment of riches - Celtic Connections '17 Preview

This is a preview piece for this year's Celtic Connections, that was printed in the Morning Star on Thursday (19 Jan). The link to the article on line doesn't seem to be working, so here (with a little updating) is the article as written. Updating as well, prompts me to mention that fact that the Lions of Lisbon, has not only had to have an extra performance scheduled, but both are now sold out! Never mind, it will appear later in the year. Watch - as they say - this space
Rab Noakes
Having an embarrassment of riches is sometimes a mixed blessing. Imagine being a concert scheduler with Celtic Connections – the very successful music festival that started in Glasgow on Thursday. With the acts attending, clashes must be a perennial concern. This year on one night (2 Feb) you could see Orchestre Baobab, Eliza Carthy, Rab Noakes and Martin Green’s impressive collaboration, Flit, except you couldn’t of course, because they’re all on at the same time.
Still, there are plenty of other shows that are worth seeing, in particular the re-emergence of Shirley
Shirley Collins (photo Eva Vermandel)
Collins (4 Feb), who has released her first new album for 38 years. She leads a strong female presence at this year’s festival. Highlights include Mary Chapin Carpenter (30 Jan), Martha Wainwright (3 Feb), Sharon Shannon (3 Feb), rising star Siobhan Miller (26 Jan) and the ubiquitous Karine Polwart - her Wind Resistance performance spreads over four days (24-28 Jan) at the Tron. Even the Roaming Roots Review this year concentrates on Women of Song (28 Jan).
This year also has a sense of ‘back to traditional folk’, not just the reappearance of Shirley Collins after 35 years, but a concert from Tom Paxton (25 Jan) and both Fairport Convention (24 Jan) and Rab Noakes (2 Feb) celebrating 50 years performing.
Having said that, there is also plenty of new talent performing at this year’s festival. CDuncan (26 Jan) has already created a stir, and I’m looking forward to seeing the Southern Tenant Folk Union (30 Jan). It is often the ‘outside’ venues that break these new acts, and this year brings a couple of new venues to Celtic Connections in South Glasgow’s Glad Café and the West End’s Hug and Pint.
Finally, if you are ‘all folked out’ and fancy something a little different, two important British composers feature this year. Eclectic composer, singer and clarinettist, Anna Meredith is on 4 Feb, and Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin present the outcome of their collaboration to write new music inspired by Hebridean psalm singing (3 Feb).
Too much music? How about a day at the footie? FairPley are reviving The Lions of Lisbon, the play by Willy Maley and Ian Auld about Celtic’s triumph in the European Cup 50 years ago! (29 Jan - two performances). Get tickets on line at

Friday, 30 December 2016

Travelling to come together.

This is my review of the highlights of 2016 . Compiled for the Morning Star (who published it here) this is the original. The Star is excellent at shaping my sometimes unweildy prose into shorter pieces. occasionally however something goes awry. In this case the title of Martin Green's exceptional Flit has disappeared in the Star piece, so here is the full text.
 Celtic Connections kept its key ‘front of the year’ role. Lau and the Unthanks produced a powerful and at times overwhelming concert at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall that showed us where folk music can go when seized by imagination, talent and technical ability; electronic wizardry fused well with the pure sound of the human voice.
Songs of Separation musicians come together
Another concert demonstrated both cross-fertilisation and how life impacts on art. Inspired by the debates around the Scots independence referendum of 2014, it was the culmination of two years work by ten female Scottish and English musicians living together on Eigg. Organised by double bassist, Jenny Hill, it included Eliza Carthy, and Karine Polwart amongst others. Ironically, although entitled Songs of Separation, the dominant theme was a coming together of national and regional traditions, producing new material, particularly poignant when it dealt (as it often did) with the human tragedy of the migrations across the Mediterranean (Glasgow, Mitchell Theatre). 
Martin Green's Flit
Migration rang out too, in a magnificent highlight to the Edinburgh International Festival (EICC). Again this featured Martin Green (of Lau) and Becky Unthank, along with Dominic Aitchison, Adam Holmes, Aidan Moffat, Karine Polwart and Adrian Utley. Flit married all these talents with the wonders of whiterobot’s (Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson) torn paper visuals and told us stories of forced and chosen travelling – searching for a place where we feel comfortable
 Elsewhere in Edinburgh we saw a glimpse of the former strength of Scottish drama – with a rehearsed reading of David Greig’s Europe at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – a prescient glimpse back (forward?) into European crisis and its relationship with moving peoples.
The 1916 Easter Rising gave us a number of shows, including Edinburgh TUC’s dramatic and musical look at James Connolly at The Hub as part of the EIF; labour leader, rebel general, family man, and songwriter (who knew?). The centenary provoked one Scottish event after another, including a great new historical walk around Glasgow, and a new play on the little-known Margaret Skinnider – schoolteacher, feminist and sniper – whose story was the successful centrepiece of 2016’s Glasgow MayDay Cabaret in Oran Mor.
Finally, the world of Cuban film cemented the second Havana Glasgow Film Festival in November. The key themes of music, history, community and real life featured in the celebration of Cuba’s Cine Pobre festival. And the look at the key role of the Soviet Union in sustaining the Cuban revolution – Los Bolos en Cuba – took us neatly forward to next year’s important centenary.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Havana Glasgow Film Festival - final four days have many jewels. HGFF preview 2

The Havana Glasgow Film Festival enters its final four days with the arrival of Cuban film and video
Arturo Santana
director, Arturo Santana. Flying in from Havana yesterday - thanks to sponsorship from Unite - to talk about his much-acclaimed first feature film Bailando con Margot (Dancing witb Margot) – Thursday 17, 20 15 in the GFT A ‘neo-noir’ mystery, Bailando con Margot follows the femme fatale, Margot de Zarate and her involvement (or not) in an art heist. Santana made his name (as most Cuban directors do) directing music videos.
A review of some of the highlights so far is on the Culture Matters blog and it also refers to the welcome support for the festival from the Cuban ambassador to the UK, Teresita Vicente Sotolongo, who came to see Amor Cronico – Cucu Diamantes love letter to Cuba.
Sheila, meet Aidan!
Other highlights still to come include Where you’re meant to be  - a great film following Arab Strap’s poet Aidan Moffat crossing swords with determined doyenne of travelling singers, Sheila Stewart as he tries to rewrite traditional Scottish folk tunes (Wednesday 16, 19,30 in the CCA – it will be followed by a Q&A with director Paul Fegan.  Cuba Libre – Thursday 17. 14.45 CCA - a historical drama on the Spanish American War in Cuba follows Chris Dolan’s fascinating story of anarchist Ethel MacDonald, who broadcast from Republican Spain during the Civil War. An Anarchist's Story is in the CCA Thursday 17, 12.50pm). 
Back to Cuba we then can see Los Bolos En Cuba – Friday 18. 19.45 CCA – a warm, nostalgic and irreverent film exploring the times of the 'eternal' friendship of Cuba and the Soviet Union
On Friday morning also, there is an important masterclass by Festival co-Director, and writer, Hugo Rivalta. He will be talking about cinema’s role in the Cuban revolution. - 11.00 Friday 18 in the Glasgow School of Art (Reid Building).
The final day focuses on Cuban animation (CCA 17.30 on Saturday 19), and the success of the festival will be celebrated in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum, from 12.30pm where Gordon Cree will be playing Cuban salsa on the huge organ, and some recently discovered Cuban film archives, brought to Scotland for restoration, will be shown.
The programme is available on the Havana Glasgow Film Festival website - programme

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Guests and Supporters as Cuban Film Festival begins - HGFF preview 1

This week sees the start of this year’s Havana Glasgow Film Festival (HGFF), on 11 Nov, and guests have already started to arrive from Cuba and other parts of the globe. On Tuesday the Cuban screenwriter and HGFF co-director, Hugo Rivalta arrived from Havana. He will be introducing two films in the 9-day festival, and also running a master class at the GFT – Cuban Cinema’s place in the Revolution – on Friday 18 Nov.
Hugo said, “It's a privilege to be back for the second HGFF. I am very content, as I’ve just finished talking to a group of writing students about my work process. These Glasgow students make me feel very appreciated. I couldn't believe the programme Eirene and Barbara have prepared, it's so interesting and huge. 
Hugo Rivalta
“I am looking forward to talking more and meeting lots of people and am especially pleased to welcome Arturo Santana, one of the most prestigious directors of video clips in Cuba to talk about his highly anticipated first feature film Bailando Con Margot. He arrives next Tuesday and I’m sure he’ll be welcomed as I was.” 
Eirene Houston, the Festival Director, is especially pleased that we will be welcoming the Cuban ambassador – Her Excellency Teresita Vicente Sotolongo to the festival on Saturday (12). “ Her visit is a symbol of the support from the Cubans for this festival and I'm very happy that she is coming with her husband and another friend, to take part and enjoy our films.” Eirene says. “She’s coming in particular to see Amor Cronico the popular 2012 road movie by actor and director Jorge Perrugoria (star of Fresa y Chocolate, and new director of the Cine Pobre film festival).”
Other visitors include Anita Curbelo from Cine Pobre and from closer to home – Director of Where you’re meant to be – Paul Fegan. He will talk about his film featuring Aidan Moffat and folk legend Sheila Stewart. Alejandro Valera (from Cuba but currently living in Glasgow) will tell us stories about the making of Amor Cronico.
First Minister adds her support
And while she won’t be visiting officially, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP has welcomed the festival’s second year, She told the festival she was ‘sure it would bring even more energy, colour and passion to Glasgow and its people.”
The Festival runs from the 11th-19th November across a number of venues in the Glasgow School of Art, the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Glasgow Film Theatre, finishing at Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
In addition to the screenings above, other noteworthy events are – a lecture on the role of parody and satire in Cuban culture – from renowned Cuban specialist Dr Stephen Wilkinson. This will be Friday 11 at the GFT starting sharp at 11.00am. The first film of the festival will be La Rumba Me Llama that same evening at 7.30 in the GSA’s Vic café bar.

On Saturday an event on Local Cultures and Local Identities takes place in the GSA’s Reid Building. Short films from TV Serrana – a community-based broadcaster from the Cuban Sierra Maestre will be complemented with short films from Scotland and followed by a panel discussion. The day will also feature a screening of Amor Cronico, (Everlasting Love). A ‘road’ movie with a difference!

On Sunday too, the day is given over to a significant feature of Cuban film – Cine Pobre. Translating as ‘Low-Budget Film’ this is film shot with no or minimal resources, and has its own festival in Cuba. Eirene Houston was a juror this year, and has brought back the cream of the crop! Also part of the day is a documentary of the life of Humberto Solas, founder of Cine Pobre and a famous filmmaker. Also showing is El Tren de la Linea Norte (the Northern Line Train) Marcelo Martin’s journey from Moron to Punta Alegre through an area of ‘forgotten Cuba’. The day finishes with a screening of the American film that won the overall Cine Pobre festival, Tangerine.

A day off on Monday, allows us to gird our loins for the rest of the festival, and Tuesday brings
Hector Medina in VIVA
Paddy Breathnac’s Viva, an Irish film made in Cuba about Havana’s underground drag scene. What, trans sex workers and drag queens in a Cuban Film Festival? Who knew?

That’s it for part one, tune back here at the beginning of next week for a summary of what’s to come at the end of the week, including the visit of Arturo Santana.

In addition to support from partner Glasgow School of Art, sponsorship from Unite, and other TUs, the Festival is supported by the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), and Glasgow City Council. The Usheru Cinema app is also providing ticket sales support.
The programme is available on the Havana Glasgow Film Festival website - programme