Monday, 4 September 2017

From Alexei to Jeremy, and much in between - Edinburgh Reviews 3 & 4

Both of my final compilation roundups of Edinburgh festival shows have now been published in the Morning Star. The third one - Sayle, Spoiler Alerts and Symphonies - can be found here.  And the final one - Clementine to Corbyn - is here.

This final review has been truncated more than usual to get in what was originally a separate story on Jeremy Corbyn's two appearances at the fringe. Obviously, a paper like the Star often has to do this to get stories in at all. What is remarkable is how much they have managed to retain from the original - hats off to the subs!

On the website edition, the ratings for the shows in the final review have disappeared. For the record, they were as follows.
Benjamin Clementine 3/5; Bad Roads 3/5; Contesting the Spirit of Unity 4/5; Assessment 3/5; Anoushka Shankar 4/5; In Conversation With – Barry Crimmins 4/5; Bonnie Fechters 4/5.

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Monday, 28 August 2017

Radical Angles with a Cutting Edge - Edinburgh reviews 2


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...And the second of the group reviews of both International and Fringe shows was published in the Morning Star on Saturday. It is available here. It covers reviews that I posted in my previous blog post, (Cathy, Out of the Bad, and The Remains of Tom Lehrer), plus reviews of Yo Carmen and Drainage Alley

There will, I think, be a further two compilation reviews in the Star in the forthcoming weeks but a couple of shows that have slipped through the net are printed below. 

John McDonnell MP
The increase of spoken word events in the various festivals, means we need to find a reviewing standard to rate them. John McDonnell MP (*****)may have provided us with a standard in this interview (by comedian and presenter, Susan Morrison).


The Shadow Chancellor, and de facto deputy in the Corbyn leadership can sometimes appear severe and harsh in political interviews. In fact he proved to be an entertaining and engaging subject. He ranged over his life, both political and non-political – not the least of his revelations was that he didn’t want to be a politician – he wanted to be manager of the Co-op! 

Moving from Liverpool to London when very young, and taking a number of jobs after school, he eventually became active via the TU movement. Handling questions well, he seemed to charm even unconvinced members of the audience – while showing an impressive grasp  of economics! A performance that did neither him, nor his interviewer any harm.

In contrast, Michelle Shocked's show - Truth vs Reality (**) will not have helped her career. She is a
Michelle Shocked. pic Chad Batka
great singer, and songwriter, but in this show her undoubtedly pure voice plays second fiddle to an onstage exorcism of her treatment by big business. Nobody has any illusion about the  music industry, but sometimes you can be too close to your own story for others to follow, even (or maybe especially) if it is read from a script!




Friday, 18 August 2017

Asylum. Immigration and Women - Edinburgh reviews 1

Yesterday, the Morning Star published my reviews of four shows I've seen at this year's festivals. It is available here and covers Henry Naylor's new play - Borders (*****), and a new play by a Lebanese writer - Ghalia's Miles (***). Both these plays deal with the asylum crisis in the Middle East. The reviews also cover PJ Harvey's concert - the Hope Six Demolition Project (*****) and Sajeela Kershi's guest show Immigrant Diaries (****).

Of these reviews, only one (Borders) continues on a run (till the 28 Aug). There will be another couple of compilation reviews in the Star to come, but I thought it might be of use if I put other continuing shows here so you can decide if you'd like to see them (or not)!

Cathy Owen as Cathy. pic Pamela Raith photography
One I would clearly recommend is Cathy (*****) Pleasance Dome until the 26. Updating a classic performance often loses something but Cathy, a reimagining of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home, does no such thing. Written by Ali Taylor and staged by Cardboard Citizens who work with homeless and other marginalised people, this updating places the full horror of homelessness in front of us.  Cathy and her daughter – now 15 and taking GCSEs – experience the trauma - zero-hours work, low wages, eviction, uprooting, family breakup. The performances by all the cast are spot on, believable and affecting in equal measure. The audience were angry – the best result that could be achieved. See it if you can.

On the other hand, there is - The Girl who loved Stalin (*) The Space @ Jury's Inn until the 26. Sometimes it seems that some fringe shows are there only to get the cast a free pass to the festival social life. This would be one of them. The play seems to have no point, the performers have neither ability nor timing, but worst of all – they seem aware of this and don’t care. Occasional asides are the only signs of life in this unfunny and amateurish production. 50 minutes of my life I won’t get back.

Kate Donnelly and Keira Lucchesi

At times poignant, angry, joyous and an unusual way to approach the Caterpillar Occupation of 30 years ago, Out of the Bad (****) New Town Theatre until the 25, is a short two-hander between a mother (who was part of the occupation) and her daughter. Kate Donnelly and Keira Lucchesi deliver the characters with humour and life. Produced by FairPley, and directed by Sarah McCardie it is a short play (50 mins) and leaves us wanting more – which in fact there is in Butterfly (not playing here). A great taster about the impact of major industrial events on the workers. 

Finally, The Remains of Tom Lehrer (****) Gilded Balloon Teviot until 28.  Adam Kay, writer, comedian and performer takes a trip around the history and songs of Tom Lehrer. A child prodigy and maths lecturer, Lehrer started writing blackly comic (and often political) songs to entertain colleagues. While they were never played on the radio, they spread by word of mouth after he issued a self-produced album in 1953. How he got away with songs like We will all go together when we go about nuclear annihilation, or I wanna go back to Dixie  - “where the laws are mediaeval” during the period of McCarthy is unknown, but Kay does them justice. Interwoven with stories about Lehrer’s life (he is still alive) and careers the show is a worthy – if short – tribute.
 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Edinburgh's International Festival - for the elite, or for the masses?


A little-known fact of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), is that it has always included on its board a representative from the city’s trade unionists. Appointed by Edinburgh’s TUC, the impact of this link has had varying levels of influence over the 70 years of the Festival’s existence.
The tensions between ‘working-class’ or ‘peoples’ culture and the ‘highbrow’ culture that the International Festival has sometimes seemed to celebrate, occurred early on and is referred to in this article on the EIF’s history from Adam Behr in The Conversation.
Rudolf Bing, the Festival’s first director, thought contemporary Scottish work unlikely to meet his standards and turned down the successful Glasgow Unity Theatre. They came anyway and performed, along with a number of other companies, on what was to become the Fringe.
The history of Glasgow’s Unity Theatre is worthy of an article (or more) to itself. Formed from a number of working class theatre groups in the city (including the Clarion Players, the Glasgow Workers Theatre group and the Jewish Institute Players) and chaired by ex-shipyard worker and novelist, James Barke, it commissioned and staged a number of important plays, including Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men should weep.
The tensions between ‘elite culture’ and ‘people’s culture’ continues to this day, and it is to immense credit that the EIF that, at the time it is celebrating its 70th year of existence, it is also bringing this debate up front. As part of its ‘Spirit of 47’ season, it is staging Contesting the Spirit of Unity – Whose Festival, Whose Culture? A combination of readings and discussion will be chaired by Director of the Festival, Fergus Linehan and will feature Larry Flanagan – General Secretary of the EIS and Joyce McMillan – theatre critic and NUJ branch chair.
The debate will no doubt continue, but what is significant to me, is the long tradition and continuing vibrancy of people’s culture in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow. It is a tradition that deserves much more attention than it gets, and its continuing work (through groups like Trades Union Councils, FairPley and many others) still receives less than its fair share of artistic subsidy.
Contesting the Spirit of Unity is at The Studio, 22 Potterrow, Edinburgh at 11.00am on 16 August, Details and Tickets Here.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Rich pickings for the Culture Vulture - Edinburgh Festivals Preview

It seems like some time since I posted anything vaguely cultural here, but that is about to change!

Last Saturday our friends in the Morning Star printed my preview of the Fringe at this year's Edinburgh Festivals. This (and the International Festival) started this weekend and I thought it was worth posting a link to it here. Mine is the second of the two reviews posted there.

The International Festival meanwhile is celebrating its 70 Anniversary. The trade union link has been ably dealt with by Ann Henderson in an earlier Star, but it is a pity that much of the ‘Spirit of ‘47’ events are only available online and not in the printed programme.  

PJ Harvey. pic Maria Mochnaz
In addition to the rich classical and dramatic programme dealt with so ably by my colleague Gordon Parsons in the first half of the Star preview, the contemporary music programme features, PJ Harvey, and Anoushka Shankar. Other contemporary music highlights promise to be the eclectic Benjamin Clementine, and Jarvis Cocker/Chilly Gonzalez in Room 29 of the Los Angeles Chateau Marmont. 



The slightly-less-contemporary music scene sees legendary produce Joe Boyd try and recreate
Joe Boyd. pic Andrew Goertler
the Music of the Incredible String Band – very cellular songs, using a range of guest musicians, (yes he does include Mike Heron). Boyd was one of the seminal producers of the ‘60s, working with
Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, R.E.M., John Martyn, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Billy Bragg, and Nick Drake as well as ISB.(An interesting Nick Drake link is the appearance by the Unthanks at this year's book festival. They have reinterpreted the little-known song and poetry of Molly Drake, Nick's mother. Their amazing voices promise an intriguing treatment.)

In the Classical Music side there are as ever, many gems. A spectacular two-orchestra show with the RSNO and the Mariinsky Orchestra marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution.  A flamenco version of Carmen from Spain’s Maria Pages company rubs shoulders with an opera version of Steven Berkoff's resetting of the Oedipus story, Greek. Written by Mark-Anthony Turnage the myth is updated and set in London's east end. Expect references to racism, football violence and industrial unrest! 

I am girding my loins for a busy (but hopefully not unrewarding) three weeks!


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Returning to the roots of MayDay's Cabarets

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Glasgow Friends of MayDay (GFoMD) have announced another stellar line-up for the sixth annual Great May Day cabaret celebrating International Workers’ Day (May Day). This annual event at Oran Mor takes place this year on MayDay itself - Monday May 1 – this year’s public holiday.
The Cabaret returns to its roots after a couple of years inclusion of drama into the celebrations, and appropriately this year’s headliners are the acclaimed and award-winning Edinburgh-based roots collective Southern Tenant Folk Union. They are ably supported by Leicester singer-songwriter and activist Grace Petrie, the welcome return of Marxist magician Ian Saville (wonder what he's got to say about Jeremy?), folk legend Arthur Johnstone, godfather of Scottish stand-up Bruce Morton, Ayrshire’s second-best ever poet Jim Monagahan, plus Fraser Speirs, Stephen Wright, and Gavin Paterson.  All hosted by Dave Anderson and supported by Thompsons Solicitors. it promises to be a great night. Tickets available (£14) from the Bar in Oran Mor or (+bf) via the facebook page or website
It’s great that the cabaret has attracted major talents like Southern Tenant Folk Union, and that Grace Petrie can come up and spend some time letting Scotland hear her fresh new style. It is especially good that there are a number of cabarets across Scotland this year.
This year, Mayday cabarets are also taking place in Irvine (Celtic SC – Fr1 28/4), West Lothian (Loganlea Miners Welfare – Sat 29/4), and Blantyre (Miners Welfare – Sun 30/4). Playing all four cabarets are core acts Ian Saville, Bruce Morton, Jim Monaghan, Fraser Speirs and Stephen Wright. They will be joined by Grace Petrie in Glasgow, Blantyre and Loganlea, rising star Maeve Mackinnon in Irvine and Blantyre, Arthur Johnstone in Irvine, Loganlea and Glasgow, and talented singer Calum Baird in Loganlea
This year’s Mayday marches will take place on different days around Scotland, with the
largest on Sunday April 30 in Glasgow, forming at George Square at 11.00 and marching to Kelvingrove Park Bandstand. Others will be on Sat April 29 (Aberdeen, Dundee and Fife) and Sat May 6 (Edinburgh and Irvine). Both Glasgow and Edinburgh’s marches feature Paul Laverty, screenwriter of  I, Daniel Blake as a keynote speaker. Details here - http://www.stuc.org.uk/campaigns-and-external-events/mayday-2017.
Other events around the MayDay weekend also include events at the Tron as part of its Mayfesto season, and a short tour of a one-man play about the miners’ strike. Undermined by Danny Mellor, touring with the backing of Unite Community, will play Aberdeen (The Blue Lamp – 26 April); Dundee ( Arthurstone Comm Lib - 27); Edinburgh (Out of the Blue Drill Hall- 28); and Glasgow (STUC-29).
Rab Noakes
Women Hold up Half the Sky
Our old friend (and MU activist) Rab Noakes has a welcome concert in Cottiers Theatre on May 7. In his 70th year and 50 years since his first paid gig, the 'songwriter-performer on top of his game' will be joined by Kathleen MacInnes and Innes Watson.And there is the prospect of a fascinating exhibition in the Glasgow Women's Library (Landressy Street). Sisterhood is Powerful - posters from the GWL museum collection is on from 11 May - 17 June.

These and many other events will be featured in the programme which is available via the GFoMD website.

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.