Published in ArtworkMagazine
Sept 2013 issue: http://www.artwork.co.uk/
By Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre
DEEP in the heart of the rural Scottish Borders lies the Ettrick Valley, an area with little internet or mobile connection. Over the summer the old primary school at the top of the valley has been playing host to the James Hogg Exhibition in its hall.
This seemed completely empty until the poet Robert Wilson suddenly appeared from the small office next to the front door with the words “I’m just finishing a poem.”
Looking casual in a T-shirt, he began to show me around. Although no visitors were present, Wilson said there had been a trickle every day. He pointed out that six people a day here is equivalent to a footfall of something like 600 in Edinburgh.
Hogg had lived a few metres from the school between 1770 and 1835, and was a major literary figure and farmer. Wilson feels he ought to be commemorated as part of Scots culture and history and is building on this aspect of the area.
As we chatted about Hogg – his unconventional love life, his debt problems and his extraordinary mask – visitors started appearing. As they cornered Wilson, I slipped away to examine the exhibits.
These included the sinister-looking mask moulded from his face, a spectacle case, a replica of his desk and dog, a first edition novel, and a beautiful sculpture based on a Hogg poem. The exhibition impressed Marlene Wyley from London, who commented that it was “very well curated.”
As the exhibition closed for the day, Wilson and I sat on the steps outside while the last of the visitors drifted away. It transpired that Wilson knows little about sheep but a lot about Hogg.
He had been totally immersed in Hogg’s writings during the first two weeks of the six week residency, which was due to last until the end of September. Funding, he told me, came from The Big Lottery Fund, the Leader programme and the Buccleuch Estate. Wilson is receiving a small salary.
Hogg was, said Wilson, the classic “lad o’ pairts” .”He was a kind of self-educated guy who had to struggle through poverty and he had an innate talent to do that.” For that, and for having written inScots, Wilson felt some identification with him.
Wilson discussed the importance of Hogg’s legacy and his own role fitting into this, he said: “Thehuman condition doesn’t change much. The same challenges face people as they did 200 years ago. “It’s a struggle for the local people to survive economically and it’s one of the challenges of isolation here. The valley depopulated because of people moving away for jobs, and that’s the same today as in Hogg’s time.”
This depopulation occurred he said, when local sheep farms were taken over by trees, by contractors and big companies, and the commercially run forestry ventures sucked the life out of the community: “They didn’t bring anything in, they were just interested in taking out.”
Influenced by his experiences, Wilson’s poems so far have been based on wildlife, topography and place names. He also aims to incorporate locals’ stories and their aspirations for the valley in ameaningful way.
Wardlaw Jackson, 58, a farmer in the Cross Keys pub farther down the valley, also talked about the forestry, and said that incomers to the area tended to be retirees. He said that the farmers, himselfincluded, had capitalised on the situation by selling land to the contractors at something like double its market value.
The contractors, he said, hadpromised jobs to the locals, but these had failed to materialise. Wilson admits to knowing nothing about sheep farming: “I’m not a shepherd, but I can appreciate the tough life that they have.” In fact, many farmers left the area as result of the difficult life.
The aim to revitalise Ettrick could result in drastic changes to its character and landscape. The danger is that this might cause loss of the uniqueness which so influences Wilson’s poetry and the very solitude which helps concentrate his mind in the writing of it.
Up and coming young Edinburgh band, Jen and the Gents, formed in 2010, and have constantly been gigging around the city since, their big break may finally be on the horizon with a performance at the opening of the Fringe at the BBC Potterrow venue. The concert is due to be televised at the end of the month.
The band comprises of Jennifer Ewan who sings and plays guitar, her partner Stuart Crout, otherwise known as Pockets, who plays the drums and sings harmony, Martin Beer, who plays bass guitar and double bass, and Lewis Diamond who also plays guitar.
The concert at the Spiegeltent earlier on the 19th of August, found Jen with her strong voice in excellent form, which she said was the result of a lot of practice. Beer was playing double bass, as the venue had wanted an acoustic set. Jen, a petite brunette with long wavy hair was centre stage, with the toes of her shiny red heels peeping out from under her trousers. Pockets’ long blonde hair stood out as he sat behind the drums, occasionally looking towards the audience. Diamond in his top hat preferred to stand back and focus on his guitar. The venue was packed out, with all sorts of people enjoying a drink while watching the band.
The upbeat and melodically mesmerising songs, sung with a convincing aplomb and described as indie pop, are insightful on varied topics such as life events, relationships, and places, for instance Portobello and its beach, and Suzie’s diner. Otherwise they may be reflections on the way conventional life is lived, such as in relation to owning a new car or Sky TV. from the point of view of an unconventional lifestyle. Jen has a varied taste in music, but folk influences can also be detected. This led to a recent interview with Celtic Music Radio.
The Edinburgh reporter caught up with them after the gig, as they divided their spoils from album sales, before heading off to lunch in a Sushi bar. Happy with the way the gig had gone, they talked about their distinctly un-rock and roll lifestyle, with the preferred drink of choice being tea. They also discussed their aims and ambitions for the future.
This looks promising, as Jen, who also manages the band, said she received an email from the BBC with an invitation to play at their Fringe venue. The BBC had been scouting for local talent and discovered their website.
Although the band harbours modest aims for success, Jen said: – “I don’t want to be famous”. Their ideal gig would be busking at Glastonbury, and they are aspiring to tour some of “nice” Scottish festivals. They have previously performed at Kelburn, and loved its pretty grounds, which were she said: – “a change from other festivals”.
They have played various venues in Edinburgh, with The Bowery being their favourite, and also the Forest Cafe. Their favourite Festival venue is the Meercat Stage on the Royal Mile, due to the crowds and atmosphere. They most enjoy performing on the street, in the open air.
Her lyrics she said are based on life experiences and an outlet to express her emotions, such as happiness or otherwise. She said: -“It’s like looking back in a diary”. Within each song, though written in the past, she often finds new meaning as she sings, these are she said: “relevant to my life in new ways”. It seems like a cathartic process. Jen is currently working on a couple of new songs, for which the melodies have been written. She said: -”I need to write the lyrics, which I am looking forward to”.
Due to Jen’s role as manager it is difficult to find the time to write, because she said: -“I’ve been busy booking the gigs…I need new songs”. She has been she said: – “doing a lot of media promotion and making contacts with industry people about gigs…It would be lovely to have a manager who did it all for us”. For the band making enough money from it to be able to afford to tour and make a living from would be ideal.
During the writing process, Jen usually writes the music first, which can often just come to her. She then works on the lyrics, after which she takes it to the band, who through jamming sessions find their own parts and vocal harmonies. This part of the process is the most enjoyable for all, and when the song comes together.
Jen and the Gents formed in 2010 out of a band called The Tuberians, a Cajun outfit, which she joined in 2008, and played in together with Pockets. They met and played at the now defunct Suzie’s Diner. This had been a venue for local bands, and where they were also fed and watered for free. Originally from Ayrshire, Jen began her performance career in youth theatre, before finding her voice.
The band has a performers’ pass for the festival, paying a license fee of £30. This enables them to attend talks and workshops. So far Pockets, also a music producer, has briefly attended only one event, a talk on circus acts. He said he had the idea of playing the Ukulele and juggling at the same time. Let’s hope the hard work pays off, and they acheive their ambitions
For more information on upcoming gigs, visit their website at
or their Facebook page
Bitterly disappointed serial twitterer shares his angst and rails at the celebrities who won’t return his unsuitably provocative messages, exposing the meaninglessness of celebrity culture and the followers who are obsessed with them. It all comes to a head as the wannabe celebrity realises the extent of his obsession, which amounts to 14,000 tweets, including 3,000 desperate messages to one presenter, asking if he has a friendly face.
Kearns does indeed have a friendly face, as he bounces on stage despite having a cold. Although there are only 15 people in the audience they generate a lot of laughs, one which was so hard that it lead to a strange snorting noise. The performance was very well-researched, with ridiculous posts by himself and the celebrities.
Evans began to uncover the meaninglessness of celebrities who write about odd socks, as a tweet on this topic by Stephen Fry popped up on the screen behind him. Even mundane cups of coffee (Gok Wan) are given a new lease of life through retweets, as the culture is perpetuated by the followers whose self – esteem issues lead them to feel as though these people could add glamour to their lives.
Kearns commented that Twitter is “bulls*** and also expressed the view that anyone who feels the need for this kind of validation from a famous person needs to do some soul searching to realise their own self-esteem issues.
In this hilarious performance, celebrity tweets are shown to be what they really are, and how they acquire a certain symbolism of god- like proportions. The effect of this hero-worship was evidenced in a picture of Evans’ flat, which had deteriorated into slum – like grottiness through neglect.
Some of his tongue in cheek tweets were on display to the audience and were controversial enough to get some replies, and his following increased, if only by the count of one. Thus taking the total up to 51.
What Kearns fails to mention is that much of what these famous poeple put on-line might be PR, doctored for public consumption in order to portray a certain image, or brand.
Kearns said that after posting his own versions of their “fine racialist art” to the Ku Klux Klan, they messaged him back telling him to “Stop it”. He took a step back and, after examining his 14,000 messages to celebrities, admits it’s not how real life should be lived.
Despite all this, has he really taken the advice of the Ku Klux Klan and has he learned his lesson? He feels the need to validate himself as a celebrity and also the audience with his blue tick of validation. However, do people really need this, and be known as one of the rubbish celebrities he has just exposed? We are left feeling sorry for him.
A balding middle – aged man in a tweed jacket and brown trousers appeared on stage and proceeded to unleash himself. He started with his appearance, the clothes he described as being the height of good Edinburgh tailoring, which every “native” should wear. He felt that his innocuous glasses scared people. In fact, what was more interesting was the bright red cord attached to these and which indicated his propensity to misplace them.
He got a lot of laughs, guaranteed, but used cheap gags to generate them, although uncomfortably so, to a full house of 150. These insular jokes on mundane objects like his dad’s old secateurs or indeed his mongrel dog, were in pretty bad taste.
He took a dig at the current trend of the middle classes growing vegetables in their own allotments with a punchline so gross we cannot really repeat it here.
He continued on this theme with the trend of people taking piles of their muddy vegetables to dinner parties instead of a bottle of wine, (which he said he would prefer). Notwithstanding the comedy, we believe that organic vegetables are a more thoughtful gift than a bottle of off the shelf plonk.
UPDATE-Other gags were self-obsessed- rascist rants which he complained to the editor about when we mentioned this in the review, resulting in the editor Phylis Stevens attacking us and taking down the review, and then refusing to publish the next two or three we had lined up with the ER, unfair treatemnt when another staff member at the Edinburgh Reporter got a compliant on the same day -she jumped on the male white staff member’s defence, (as is usual, showing to her colleagues her discimination tactics to get herself accepted with them) then after many sories for the E R at work all summer and without pay and good reviews of our work, she neglected to invite us to the E R end of festival event- a reward for all our hard work, denied to us but not to her white male ‘staff’ even those with fewer credits and even complaints from the public audience- it is also unfair that mat white rascists are more interested and seem to get off on in the effects of their own rascist tactics on non-whites – rather than any serious art – Phlis stevens seems to be one of those types-such people are not usually very happy nor successful therefore attack others-perceiving them as superior and threats to their own low self-worth and esteem and pursuing usually for money rather than anything worthwhile in the arts – therefore ms Stevens says she has no funds and refuses to pay us, then writing downright lies from police and NHS about myself and husband, she told me she was friends with te police-bewarned of Ms Stevens- she had been a lawyer previosly to setting up the ER site-not a very good one
and others related to his own and his family’s personal life and finances. For instance the trip to Disneyland; a trip which even failed to impress his four year-old son.
The piece de resistance of the show was a long tirade about a mad pet dog he’d been forced to buy, which seems to have tied him down, or leashed him. Under pressure from his family, especially his precocious five year-old daughter Matilda, who apparently did a mass of internet research, read reports and books and even wrote short stories on the subject.
Evans eventually did his own research, and managed to bring home a totally unsuitable dog, after his wife gave him an ultimatum. She said:-“You had better come back with a puppy or not at all.” Evans said he considered these options, and made a decision.
The dog was not placid as he’d thought, but discovered that the characteristics of the breed; the wire haired Hungarian Wiesler – meant it couldn’t be left alone for any length of time, not even a minute, as it got anxious. It also wanted to be part of everything.
This ridiculous state of affairs made for a funny second-half of the performance, enhanced by a cute picture of the said dog, Talisker, named after a whisky.
Title: Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour
Company: Compagnie Les Labyrinths (France)
Category: Theatre (14+) Institut français d’Ecosse
Dates: Aug. 3-11, 13-18, 20-26
Duration: 1 Hour
An intellectual and entertaining journey through the life and works of Adam Smith, explaining how his ideas on economics are incorporated into modern society, but in a distorted manner. The show is presented in multimedia form with two actors who interact with the big screen. The background film includes vox pops, which show how the founding father of economics and liberalism is unknown or misunderstood.
Senior economics lecturer and actor Vanessa Oltra plays Marie, a petite brunette,whose position as a senior economics lecturer and with PhD in the subject lends authenticity to the message of the play. Actor Frederic Kneip plays Fred with a rough charm as the couple journey through Scotland. The hushed audience of varying ages sit in the darkness silently, looking very serious. They number around 50, with the theatre two-thirds full.
The show begins with cinema sized film spread across the whole stage beginning with a sombre cab ride to Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Smith is buried here, and the actors are seen carrying a bouquet of white roses.
The actors appear centre stage dressed in camouflage from head to toe, as if ready to take on a battle. They are set against the film backdrop of a jungle.
Their aim is to educate the audience about what Adam Smith’s work actually meant, with citations and references to it. They contrast this to the way it is interpreted by the capitalist system and government to justify their actions in terms of economics.
Beginning the performance, Marie talking as if to Smith, and says: – “Do you know you are the founding father of economics, your invisible hand has crossed many continents…I want you to wake up now and tell us what you think of this. I warn you, economics is not to do with morals and philosophy any more…or human beings”.
Fred also discusses this same idea, attired as Smith. He talks about Smith’s attitude towards pleasure, passion and sympathy for others. He says melancholy comes from deprivation of a loved one, through death, which is a terrible situation and injustice for mankind. As a result “we sympathise for the feelings of others” and feel love. “We feel much for others and little for ourselves…mutual love and respect”.
Smith’s legacy is illustrated in the interview with the president of the Adam Smith Institute, which is a UK policy institute supporting the free market economy. The president is shown on film, the screen in two parts on each side of Marie at centre stage. He is facing away from her and sits passively. She speaks to him about the difficulties in establishing any link with Smith, and suggests his ideas were not just as simple as we may think.
The screen goes blank briefly and white noise appears as the signal is lost. She then asks the director if she can submit a citation from Smith, book 5, for the website, but the president shakes his head, even when she offers a substantial donation.
At the end, symbolising the real Adam Smith and his work, the play comes full circle as Marie and Fred, are seen at the cemetery, in order to pay homage and lay the white roses at his grand tombstone. They aim to obtain entrance through its iron gates, access to which proves to be restricted
The play is tightly directed by Gerard David, in a successful attempt to fit in important aspects of Smith and his legacy into one hour. It therefore moves at a fast pace. What could be perceived as dry and serious material is transformed into an entertaining, appealing and comedic hour incorporating the film footage.
Smith and his philosophies are therefore successfully and vividly brought to life.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – The Hard Man – a preview
July 6, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre
Genres contemporary, event
Group In Your Face Theatre
Venue The Wee Red Bar
Duration 2 hours
This dramatically dark play about the 1960s criminal Glaswegian underworld takes us on an emotional rollercoaster right into the heart of the Gorbals. Here, we witness intimately the convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle’s life and the gangsters who will do whatever it takes, including murder.
A preview of the upcoming Fringe show was put on last week by In Your face Theatre and directed by Craig Boyle, who took the place of the original director Christopher Rybank, at the last minute, with Rybank taking the lead role of Johnny Byrne. The venue The Wee Red Bar perfectly suits its rough charm.
Based on the life story of notorious criminal Jimmy Boyle, it was co-written by Boyle alongside playwright Tom McGrath and performed at the Traverse in 1977, while he was serving time in Barlinnie Prison following a conviction for murder. The prison’s rehabilitation program helped him find his creativity and turn his life around. Boyle has become a successful novelist and artist since his release. The play raises wider issues concerning atonement, reform of prisoners, their rehabilitation and redemption, and of justice. These are considered to be important themes because rehabilitation programs remain controversial.
The intimate atmosphere comes from the set at The Wee Red Bar, whose artfully dingy decor with red painted walls with theatre flyers pasted all over them, and the industrial, exposed ceiling, enables you to relate to a grotty and seedy Glasgow.
The lack of a raised stage and low lighting emphasises informality and intimacy, with the closeness of the audience to the young performers whose energy and heat envelope you, and which it seems, you can reach out to touch. Their passionate performances in the centre of the floor, with the audience of about 60 gathered around its edges, and the use of the audience’s entrances and exits to the room create a believable two hours, where you feel yourself a part of the performance. Here you are present with them in the Gorbals, feeling what they feel and getting inside their minds. This intimacy lends to a sympathy for their actions, as their circumstances and motivations unfold.
The strong Glasgow accents and costumes of the young cast, clearly pointed to the rough lower-class of the characters, and the clothes placed them in the recent past. Johny’s girlfriend Carole (Jessica Innes) in a white top, a high blonde ponytail and pastel pink lipstick was contrasted by the dowdy whitish Mac worn by Didi, the local gossip.
The play begins with Johnny living with his mother (Heather Hardcastle) in Glasgow’s rough Gorbals. We see him from the age of 14 as, over the next few years he gets involved in criminal activities escalating in their seriousness. We learn that this started at the age of 5 when he stole chocolate and broke into bubblegum machines.
Johnny and his gang get involved with Big Danny (Gavin McQueen) and his gang into selling masses of stolen goods, and also get involved in violence, when Didi (Christie Brown) enters with news of a murdered Spanish man. Johnny barks at her:- ‘You saw nothing, we’re in this together.’ When he asks his mother for money for the cinema, she tells him she doesn’t want the police at the door in the morning. She ends with typical motherly affection:- ‘He’s a good boy, it’s the company he keeps.’
The extent of the violence is shown throughout the play, as all sorts of props which were used in these violent acts, batons, a screwdriver, beer bottles, a huge machete are brought forth.
The second act consists of Johnny in prison, locked in a wooden cage, as he tries to get at his captors. He is suffering, and is being beaten and bullied by the police, with Paisley (Sam Lennox) as the ringleader. Johnny ends up with his face covered in red blood and is restrained by a straightjacket for days; a ghastly sight. Paisley spits into his food. This scene of injustice makes Johnny even more determined that he will not break, despite what they try to do to him.
Compared to the second act, the first was overwhelming, with its strong characters, flashing lights and extreme behaviour, but not claustrophobically so. It was essential to concentrate fully so as not to lose the thread, as the scenes changed fast and in the low lights the male characters were initially difficult to define, perhaps due to the lack of variety in their costumes. The second scene was the opposite of the first; this was pared down with fewer characters involved. This resulted in Johnny’s brutal treatment by the police being accentuated in the audience’s mind.
In this brutality, we see the system, and its injustices, embodied by the authority of policeman Paisley, and we realise that more than cheap thrills, we’ve come to grips with the characters in a more sensitive and human way, and we have come to understand Johnny’s fragility and powerlessness.
This points to the underlying causes of the extreme behaviour, and adds dimension to his character. There is also some indication of his struggle to survive outside the law, which was just not on his side. This led to him becoming the Hard man, to the dead-end of murder, and of prison.
Writer Jimmy Boyle was given another chance with the help of the renowned Barlinnie rehabilitation programme and his dead end cast aside as he began to live in a new way.
This all provides a very positive message for today’s society which often demonises prisoners as causes and scapegoats for its ills.
Italian cooking skills were taken to a new level at the course ‘Italian Classics’’ at Colstoun House in Haddington, south of Haddington, on Saturday 6 April.
The course was led by Fiona Misselbrook, an experienced chef and cheerful blonde in her 50s. Fiona, having completed a year at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cook school, now has a business in Edinburgh providing corporate as well as private functions.
She imparted her knowledge and obvious enjoyment of cookery with an infectious enthusiasm, peppering her demonstrations and tutorials with top tips on practical techniques, useful gadgets, places to source the best ingredients, and food-related vignettes from her personal life.
The day began at 10 am in the comfortable and rustic rustic sitting room of a cottage on the Colstoun estate. Here we were offered coffee and homemade flapjacks, and us four students got to know each other and Fiona.
We then donned our aprons and name tags then went into the adjacent kitchen where the morning’s demonstration had been set up.
This comprised of penne with slow-cooked sausage; risotto with mushroom; and polenta, almond and lemon cake. There was lively discussion and we were able to ask questions as Fiona talked us through the preparation and cooking of each recipe in detail. Some of the techniques she demonstrated included the professional way to chop an onion and crush garlic.
Fiona (pictured) highlighted the importance of fresh ingredients, saying:”I got a lovely fresh rosemary sprig from the gardener today”.
She also demonstrated time-saving gadgets, such as the lemon squeezer which catches the pips as you squeeze out juice. The value of a perfectly textured risotto was underlined, as she said: “I don’t like risotto crunchy, in Harvey Nichols I had to send it back”.
After a taste of her excellent cooking, we were ushered into the kitchen to try it all out for ourselves. This proved not to be as effortless as it had seemed, but luckily everything we needed was laid out in preparation.
Fiona was attentive to everyone, offering advice and encouragement. However, the lemon squeezer turned out not to be as simple as it had appeared to be,, as we students discovered when we all compared notes over a hearty lunch. This comprised of the morning’s efforts, along with a refreshing glass of white wine. Thankfully it turned out everyone had been paying close attention to Fiona’s demonstration, as the food turned out to be impeccable.
The afternoon comprised of Fiona demonstrating tiramisu, explaining it meant ‘hangover cure’ or hair of the dog in Italian.
The other dish was pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. We enjoyed rolling out the egg dough thinly on the pasta machine and cutting it up with an olive cutter which created wavy edges. We went home laden with a delicious meal for the evening.
At the end of the day, Fiona said: “it went very well. It’s great fun, everybody feels like chums by the end. I love teaching- passing on my inspiration of food”
Colstoun offer a variety of day courses. These include bread making and ‘smart kitchen suppers’. Menus from around the world include Thai and Indian classes, with Japanese soon to be added. The venue also offers a week long residential foundation course, with comfortable accommodation in two cottages. The day courses are all taught by Fiona, except the Thai and Indian lessons. The day courses cost £119 and the week foundation courses £695.
For more information visit: http://www.colstoncookery school.
May 9, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre for Edinburgh Reporter
Tradfest, the festival of traditional arts which finished at the weekend, put on a day of musical events based on campaigning and social justice as part of its programme which incorporated ‘Songs of Peace and Protest’, a singing workshop. They also staged a concert entitled ‘Hope’s Beautiful Daughters’ which celebrated music relating tales of struggle and peace.
Donald Smith, organiser of Tradfest, spoke to The Edinburgh Reporter about the festival’s sucess and its significance. We met him at Teviot Row House, part of Edinburgh University, in the imposing wood -panelled debating chamber.
Penny Stone, a singing tutor, ran the workshop. The two and a half hour long evening concert consisted of 6 sets of performers: Karine Polwart, Isla Ratcliffe, Katarina Juvancic with guitarist Dejan Lapanga, Brian Miller and Charlie Sloane and Star Band. The show was curated by Karine Polwart and Arthur Johnstone.
The singing workshop Songs of Peace and Protest was intimate and informal. Seven of us gathered round in a circle with Penny, who had picked the huge high-ceilinged chamber as the venue due to its excellent acoustics, and soon it was filled with beautiful music. After the introductions, Penny started off with some stretching exercises to loosen the muscles, followed by much humming. She then got the group to warm up their vocals by joining in with a song, the different parts singing responses to her part. This she said represented a call and answer. The type of song was excellent during protests because you can get an answer out of people without them even knowing the lyrics. She then proceeded to teach the well-known song ‘We Shall Overcome.’ The anthem for the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, she explained, is still used today by different protest groups. Penny taught the technique of harmonising through this piece, with different sections of the group taking the melody and the harmony. The group harmonising began with singing the harmony in one note, and then changing to another note.
Hope’s Beautiful Daughters included songs of social and political intent. An audience of around 35 attended the event in the Debating Hall at Teviot Row. Polwart explained that the intention was to make it feel like someone’s front room. Her beautiful voice with a strong Scots lilt took over the chamber with the first song ‘It’s Not What You’re Born With’.
This song expressed on the idea of making a difference to society through one’s talents. Her next song called ‘Better Things’ was written for a CND event, and discusses how the money that went to the Trident nuclear base could have been used for better things.
Most of the audience would not be described as young. Polwart explained that young people tend not to be actively political as the current generation is not as politicised as people once were.
However, the next musician on stage was 16- year old Isla Ratcliffe from Edinburgh Music School with her song ‘Death Row’. Isla, who wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words Troy Davis, has just won a national Amnesty International competition with the song. It is a moving account of death row inmate Troy Davis, who vehemently protested his innocence until the very last. The piece represents miscarriages within the justice system.
Third under the stage lights was Katarina Juvancic, a young alternative and folk artiste from Slovenia. With pixie-like looks, and a long black and white figure-hugging dress, she made an impact with her strong voice and powerful themes to her songs. These drew on various aspects of herself as well as on anthropology and collecting people’s stories.
She discussed the protest movement she is a part of in Slovenia, and how the artistic community rose to meet the challenge of the problems caused by economic crisis and injustices which resulted from it. Juvancic performed five songs, some in Slovenian and others in English. Many of these were based on strong women’s voices.
She said: – “They are not heard enough and I want to empower these women, as well as myself, and I want the world to see them as empowered, because they’re struggling with hardships. Society sees them as victims but they’re not, they are survivors and I want to pay tribute to their courage.” She feels the role of activists is to ‘transform the pain of society into something beautiful’.
The festival was organised by Donald Smith who is also a director of the Storytelling Centre. When asked about the success of the festival, he said: – “I think it’s a good time because the weather is beginning to improve, and the old idea of Mayday and Beltane fits in with the performances in the open air. It’s not just a music festival. The idea was to involve all the arts inspired by tradition. The timing and variety of arts were the crucial difference from the festival’s predecessors, the Edinburgh Folk Festival and Ceilidhculture. People really like the variety and mix of things.”
On the festival’s significance, he said:- ”This is marvellous. It is all about the artistic values of being a community and supporting each other, and we need that now more than ever, the way the world is now. In traditional culture people celebrate community, humanity, and the wisdom in that. It is also politically important and we stand up as a community for the most victimised people.”
Smith concluded:- “Traditional arts aspire so that people are more fulfilled when they work together in a community, despite class divisions. They make everybody feel a part, and traditional culture celebrates song/society, and that is shared. There is a great sense of joy in the traditional arts, a celebration of life, the world and nature, compassion and friendliness. And we’re celebrating the beginning of spring.”
The audience at this Tradfest event learned how Scotland came to be formed in the new telling of the 3,000 year old myth of the Cailleach, or old hag, who, it is believed, created Scotland. The storytellers brought the tale to life through wonderful narration, bright costumes and traditional music.
Taking place at the Storytelling Centre, the myth was narrated by Janis McKay and David Campbell. The hour-long performance was accompanied by renowned traditional Scottish musician Allan MacDonald. The performers’ aim is for the story to become part of the ‘yes’ campaign on Scottish Independence. Their inspiration came from the Finnish Creation Myth, Kalevala, which helped Finland’s independence from Russia .
Janis McKay took centre stage looking dramatic in a flowing floor length turquoise gown, embroidered with Celtic designs. After an introduction to the evening, she explained how the story was put together through research and with guidance from Campbell. He was fittingly resplendent in traditional highland costume, complete with a bright yellow shirt and red necktie, costumes which set the atmosphere for the night’s theme. Campbell narrated the story alongside Mackay, also taking the part of the male role of the young prince.
She then introduced MacDonald, describing him as a “wonderful musician”, to which he replied “And she’s an awful woman!” to roars of laughter from the audience made up of people of all ages and cultures, and with the theatre full to capacity.
The stage was now set for a light-hearted and entertaining evening, as the audience settled down in expectation, and the lights dimmed. In fact, MacDonald, from his place at the side of the stage, did indeed transpire to be a wonderful musician, evoking a sense of Scotland’s natural beauty. Painting a picture of the mist over the mountains and scenic lochs through several traditional instruments. These included the smallpipes, Jew’s harp and malodoan, with Campbell weaving music into the storytelling with an obvious talent and skill.
MacKay began the narration of the tale by explaining how the story of the hag Cailleach unfolded. We learned how she had been living and working in Finland, when she came across the work of Elias Lonnrot, who had gathered and wrote a creation myth for the country in the 19th Century. She said:- ”While I was there I asked what is the Scottish original myth?” She then started to do research into this, and explained:- “I was guided by David Campbell, and we found this Earth Cailleach figure. What you will hear has been rescued from many tales, but the words are our own.”
She also completed the story’s setting for us, about a place called Glen Lyon in Perthshire, which is very isolated from anywhere. Here , she said: – “The Cailleach’s little house, about four feet tall, still stands”. Campbell explained that this was where the shrine to the Caillieach (meaning old woman in Gaelic) is maintained. This has been taken outside the house and left to stand in the air for the summer until the arrival of winter, or Samhain.
She said this is a “tribute to the goddess,” and the “longest continuing ritual in Europe” from ancient times. Until very recently, it was carried out by a shepherd, and is now carried out by the local historical society.
We were then transported into another world as the story progressed over the next forty- five minutes, with a genuinely infectious sincerity and passion. This enabled the suspension of disbelief and a childlike entry into the magical world of gods and goddesses, princes, hags and strange creatures and beautiful beings.
The theme, as in the billed title, was creation. The tale of how Scotland emerged from a wasteland where there was once nothing, when the Callieach, described as “the mother goddess and creation of this land” came into being. She made “the first and ancient rock of her beloved Caledonia” which was claimed to be Iona. The story documents how she created each aspect of the country, the islands when “she gathered peats and carried them on a creel on her back. She fell, and the clods scattered, creating the islands”, mountains, the lakes and streams, were also made.
Described as “the hag of winter”, she was not ready to lose her grip on the land, when one night her alter ego, Bride, the goddess of spring, came into existence, through a dreamlike vision. Bride threatened to uproot the Cailleach’s cold supremacy her with her youthful beauty.
For Bride, flowers and grass grow everywhere she walks. The Cailleach becomes inflamed, and therefore dresses her in rags, enslaves, then imprisons her, “but her beauty never fades”. Angus Og, the prince of the eternally youthful and green land of Tir Na Nog, sees what is happening in a dream and sets off towards Bride.
The Cailleach then washed her plaid, and to dry it out, threw it over the mountaintops, coating the land in ice and darkness. She sees a beautiful young face in her well, perhaps a younger version of herself. The prince soon arrives, and a battle ensues. He tells her:- “Begone, begone, your time has come”, portraying the eternal struggle between life and death.
The Cailleach had no intention of growing old gracefully, but is finally defeated and driven away to her isle in the west. She eventually comes to realise what she has become, when she speaks to the tide about “how she is no longer mighty.”
The story ends when Bride then “took the outstretched hand of Angus and walked into the living Earth”, and flowers grew behind their footsteps.
With regard to the ‘yes’ campaign, Campbell spoke to The Edinburgh Reporter explaining the nationalist aim for the story. He explained:- “The Finnish story was part of the thing which galvanised the sense of belonging, that traditional independence lives in the heart and spirit of the people.”
He continued:- “We aim to support the ‘yes’ campaign where we can through performances for example at the Edinburgh Fringe. The tale spreads a sense of the legend and story of people, and if people get that strong feeling, then that belongs to our destiny.”
“You can gather people’s support in elections or “win by poetry” as its beautiful sense speaks to the heart, spirit and imagination, but once the support is there, you rule by prose.”
For more information, visit:
Photos courtesy of Mike Wilkinson and Catriona Murray
Filed under Culture, Festivals · Tagged with Allan MacDonald, Craillech, Creation myth for Scotland, David Campbell, Edinburgh, Edinburgh local news, Edinburgh news, Glen Lyon, Janis Mackay, local news, Perthshire, Scottish Storytelling Centre, The Edinburgh Reporter, Tradfest, Yes Campaign for Scotland
Sam Khan-McIntyre published in Edinburgh Reporter on April 30 2013.
A night of folk music with a modern interpretation, as well as a talk on field recordings was brought together by Folklore Tapes. This is an ongoing project of documentation and collaboration of experimental audio and visual responses to different themes within folklore.
As part of Tradfest, the festival of traditional arts currently taking place, this event was held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Tom Western, a PhD student on field recording in Post-war Britain, began proceedings with a presentation to a full auditorium of 99, mainly young people.
Three diverse folk music acts followed the talk. First on stage were Ian Humberstone and Malcolm Benzie, with an intriguing tale set to modern and traditional instruments. Iona Magnetic were next on stage, mixing folk stories with electronic music techniques and improvisation. Finally, the evening ended with Rob St. John, originating from Lancashire, with his band incorporating a more classical set up.
As the lights dimmed, and the audience hushed in expectation, Western took the stage and began with a 30 minute presentation on the authenticity of this type of field audio. Such recordings are produced outside a studio, and can feature natural sounds, or musicians and storytellers in their own surroundings. These began as an aid to research work, and then used for documentary purposes.
Western first attempted to define the folk genre, when he said:- “It’s hard to define but the borders between folk and pop music are seen as being opposites. Folk music has dealt with technology by embracing it and its effects.”
Western focused on the process of folk recording as “models of authenticity”, and related the difference between true and false recordings, and the way field recordings are placed in this context. He also explored the supposed authenticity of recordings since the Second World War, particularly whether technology really adds legitimacy. Western explored the media’s role, and its commercial aims. He explained:- ”These are relevant issues because reproduction and recreation of the recordings contribute to the corruption of authenticity. This can also lead to distortion and fragmentation of the original sound.”
Ian Humberstone and Malcolm Benzie were next to appear, with the tale of esteemed witch, Mariann Voaden, who in the late 19th century offered magical remedies, predictions and fixing of curses. Mariann lived in a derelict house in Bratton, Devon, until it eventually fell apart and burned down. The house’s decay, and the effects of this on Mariann were themes in the music.
The traditional instrument, the harmonium, lent a core authenticity to the thirty minute piece, while adding a new interpretation due to the inclusion of the modern instruments, the violin and cymbals. These all combined to create an eerie and atmospheric sound, with a sinister and dark, slow deep haunting melody. We could imagine Mariann deep in the dark woods in that house which is creaking and groaning with a life of its own.
Iona Magnetic, a band comprising David Orphan from Iona along with Alexander Borland had only decided to play the festival two weeks ago, and despite only one rehearsal of their 30-minute set under their belt, despite which their sound was still very professional.
Their first tale was called “The Fishermen and the Fairy Mound”. This folk tale is of two fishermen coming home in bad weather when they encounter the fairy queen going past Sithean Beg (the little fairy mound). She beguiles one of them and takes him away. His friend pleads every night with the fairies for his release, until finally a year later the queen consents to the fisherman’s return in exchange for his catch as ransom.
The band incorporated old and new instruments, cassettes, abstract films and field recordings in the local tongue to create a whole multimedia experience. The backdrop film was an abstract in black and white. The 8mm film had been left in water to coat it in algae, which created an interesting effect and was played in vintage mode.
The cracking and hiss in the film’s audio indicated traditional materials and old recordings. The field recordings from Iona of wind and waves crashing, signified the fisherman’s doom, but the birdsong allowed us some hope. These also added authenticity to the piece and created an effect of the tale’s otherworldliness.
The ukulele as well as manipulated cassette players, mixed traditional and modern, bringing the piece into the present and indicating the evolution of folklore.
The darkness of harmony and broken melody were hypnotising in the dark auditorium, leading us to believe in the fairy queen and her beguiling. The slow tempo included sudden crashes and bangs, but the ukulele melody provided lightness towards the end as the danger decreased as the fisherman was rescued from the other world and returned home to the sound of the xylophone.
The second tale was about Netta Fornario. Netta went to Iona in 1929 with the intention of living there, and also further her occult studies as member of the group Alpha and Omega. This was part of the Order of the Golden Dawn, who were involved in astral projections and who performed magical rituals in the woods. Netta was found dead in these woods in dubious circumstances, perhaps as part of a ritual. She was discovered on top of a large cross carved in to the ground, along with a dagger and a blackened cross, which Western explained as “all very strange and arcane”.
The background film of decay contributed to the dark and sinister atmosphere. It was made on Super 8 film coated in dead insects and incorporated field recordings of a voice telling the story in tongues, as if from the past.
The incessant instrumental beat signified Netta’s heartbeat, and the twanging ukulele signified her move to the Scotland that she loved. The field recordings of wind and waves crashing show her doom, as the music became eerie and dangerous. It was as if Netta was running, scared. The music speeding up, with bangs, and the screen turning red, signified her death on the cross. It ended with a sinister recorded voice talking of how she was found.
When asked about his inspiration for the piece, Orphan said: – “I guess because The Fisherman and the Fairy Mound is a local story that I can relate to, as that was where I walked past a lot and the menfolk raced horses around it on a midsummer eve. It was a leftover from a pagan tradition. The piece is not done in a uniform way. The soundtrack is done in our way, keeping the same thing alive, but differently.”
Rob St. John with his band were the final headlining act, his set included the release of his new 7″ single Charcoal Black, with the b- sides The Bonny Grey/ Shallow Brown. Charcoal Black is a traditional Lancastrian melody from 1905, about the Industrial Revolution and crumbling mill towns contrasted with green fields. This is a ballad sung with energy and conviction, with the vocalist adding to the drama with his impressive stage presence and energy which made the music come to life.
“Shallow Brown” is a sad, haunting piece about the death of a loved one, Juliana; is a West Indian sea shanty from 1908; and an affiliation to slave ships on the port of Sunderland Point in Lancashire in the 1700s. The band has a modern set-up, with an electric guitar, the moog and drums accompanying traditional folk songs. St. John said: – “I feel we’re on an exciting learning curve, with brand new songs recorded last year. These are traditional songs but reinterpreted. This is a wonderful space, brilliant sound and lovely people, I can’t ask for much more.” Judging by the applause at the end, they did themselves and the venue justice.
The event was part of Tradfest, a festival of traditional Scottish arts. This runs in Edinburgh between 24 April to 6 May at various venues. It is part of the celebrations for Mayday or Beltane, the traditional start of summer. The festival encompasses music, song, storytelling, dance, crafts, folk drama and celebrations of the environment. The festival is based on previous festivals such as the Edinburgh People’s Festival and the International Folk Festival. Events included are to suit all tastes, including families and children.
March 27, 2013 by Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre for the Edinburgh Reporter·
Iraqi writer Hassan Blassim read from his second book The Iraqi Christ, which was followed by a lively discussion, at Summerhall last night. Blassim is known as ‘The Iraqi Kafka’ in his adopted country Finland, and has been called the ‘Best writer of Iraqi fiction’ by the Guardian.
The venue at the former Royal (Dick) Veterinary College was full to capacity, and Middle Eastern food was provided at the free event. Blassim himself spent some time outside for fresh air, and chatted about his taste for bright colours and painting his shoes bright green in a moment of boredom. At the end of the evening he signed copies of his book, which is also available on the Internet.
Blassim read from the title story of his short story collection of fiction, reading in Arabic, with an English translation on screen for the audience. He then answered questions in an English which was advanced, considering he has only been learning it for the past two years. A translator was present but rarely used.
The controversial story about a suicide bomber in Iraq known as Christ, ties together his aim of storytelling as expressing the human angle with his experiences of violence. He said: – “I am interested in what happened to people, and how the war affects people.”
The story was a dark and troubling expression of humanity through the interplay between a bomber, the tenderness of a son towards his mother and the universal identification which makes the unimaginable real.
His writing he said is inspired by the war, as well as literature, film and music. He has been influenced by Tarantino and the violence which he witnessed in his homeland. South American literature and its “similar problems with dictators” is also important to him.
He explained:- ”The writing is important because the war affected people in a way which is not portrayed by the media. The Iraqi people want to know. We don’t know anything, only from Western media, no music or literature. I believe culture is a way for people to understand what happened, and to understand Iraq’s problems. Violence is one of them, but also religion mixed in with money and oil and corruption.”
Blassim said that people were not happy with Saddam’s regime, nor the invasion, and that the people themselves were powerless ”to change things because of power from outside”. At the moment, he said: – “All the TV are controlled by the militia and the political parties make people think they are free, but many people die every day. They say it’s al Qaeda, they use it to blame all the problems on.”
It has been a long journey for Blassim, to be able to express himself creatively since he walked from Iraq into Eastern Europe. Blassim had to flee Iraq due to controversial views in his work, and is currently living in Finland. He said he has been advised by friends not to return to Iraq. He said:- “I left Iraq for safety reasons. Returning to my homeland would be a real threat as my friend Hadiel Mahdi, a radio presenter, whose views were seen as controversial was shot at his house by Iraqi security forces. Hadiel had wanted discussion for our country, he talked about government corruption, he asked normal questions about Iraqi people, like where does the oil money go? To the militia and mafia.”
Blassim has won numerous awards in Iraq for his films, and his current book has so far been translated into five languages. However he is modest about his achievements, and doesn’t feel the praise. He said: – “When you write you feel scared, it’s like the first time and you learn everything again. As a result of the positive reviews, I am able to access funding in Finland to continue my work. I want to continue making films for now.”
Blassim concluded by saying: – “The Iraq War destroyed many things, but culture never dies because you can’t kill hope. We have wonderful culture in Iraq, we never have a chance to show this beautiful face, but we people think it is great. We want to share our thoughts, our humanity.”
The event was part of the Iraqi Reel Festival which took place in Edinburgh between 16 and 25 March and across Britain. For more information visit the website.
March 15, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre in the Edinburgh Reporter
Set up to to enhance bonds of connection and harmony between Iraq and the rest of the world through culture, the Reel Iraq Festival is due to take place in Edinburgh to mark the tenth anniversary of its invasion. It will take place between the 16-24 March 2013 at various venues in the city, as well as at different parts of the country.
The festival aims to showcase the cultural heritage of Iraq, it is a means of building bridges, raising awareness and showing Britons the ancient culture which was at the forefront of civilisation. It is also a means to empower Iraqis, and for people to learn from and connect through their arts, according to organiser Lauren Pynott. A variety of events are listed, targeted at different audiences, from a serious panel discussion to a reading by the renowned writer Hassan Blassim’s who reads from his book The Iraqi Christ, and Bressm and Lord Erregal, who on the opening night play a mixture of emo, punk, and metal. There is also an oud workshop, a traditional Iraqi instrument.
Pynott said:- ”The idea is to shed some light behind the headlines, we would like to mark the anniversary, and for people to understand a bit more of the culture and go behind the invasion.”
Portraying this culture, and the loss of it due to the war is Parine Jaddo, one of the featured artists, with her documentary, Broken Record. She said the film was made as a tribute to her mother who died in 2008, and who had been a teacher as one of the first generation of women to work in Iraq. She had been a daring woman, recording songs with her brothers in the 1960s. During the film, Parine goes in search of this recording, travelling around Iraq and in Kirkurk, at her home city of Turkmen. She explained :-”The rich heritage of music and culture was ‘burnt and lost, the beautiful cities destroyed. It was very painful.” She said that some paintings and museum artefacts are being returned, but nothing is being done about music. She described this loss as a ”Broken Record”, hence the title of her film.
Of the changes which took place in the country, Jaddo said:- ”It does not make sense because I don’t recognise the Iraq I know. Although Iraq is rich in oil, there are many problems such as lack of infrastructure that was fully functioning before, things like electricity, roads that are full of pot holes, and a dysfunctional medical care system, to list a few.”
“However there is hope, there seems to be a cultural resistance taking place in the country, there are a whole bunch of young musicians and all the old instruments are still alive.” Parine sees herself as part of that resistance, by creating awareness of the cultural loss, through a personal film which also relates to the universal, for the cultural loss concerns the ”human family” of which everyone is a part. She explained:-”Funds are needed to enable increased awareness of the culture and its loss, and ultimately I keep a positive attitude and hope to make as many films as I can.”
Parine’s film emphasises a global shared understanding through the vehicle of the universal language of music, through which people can relate to culture as well as the pain of loss. Although a personal film, she hopes that it emphasises what is most important to human beings, and that is their uniqueness and the ability to express themselves as individuals and as part of a community, and it also highlights the importance of connections between communities.
The Festival is organised by Reel Festivals, which run annually. It started with Reel Afghanistan in 2008. The organisers comprise of a team of 8 volunteers, It is funded by various NGOs including the British Council and Firefly International. The first leg of this year’s festival took place in Iraq, said Pynott, with a combination of British and Iraqi poets who translated each others’ work in the context of the ‘ugliness and violence’ of the war expressed terms of a culture and a shared empathy.
For more information, visit http://www.reelfestivals.org/
Published in Scottish Field, November 2012.
By Sam Khan-McIntyre
Book by Jackie Kemp
Neil Wilson Publishing
In a comprehensive, and diverse collection of the work of this charismatic journalist, Scotland’s recent past and its development come to life in this compilation by his daughter Jackie, also a journalist. The stories covered encompass his life, and trace his influences, beginning with his grandfather’s anti-fascist speeches of
Princess Margaret’s famous put-down at the palace: ‘I say’, she said, ‘would you mind fetching me an ashtray?’ on which Kemp dined out for many years.
WWI, to his father’s recollections as aa WWII reporter. This leads to his own recollections of beginning at the Scotsman in 1959 through to his editorship at the Herald. The book is indispersed with political debates and personal stories, on Scotland’s future in which he took an active part. Especially in the halfway House and Doric Taverns at lunchtime with his colleagues. Subjects include de-industrialisation, and the economic changes of the 1980s, Thatcher and Scotland, devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliamnent. The more personal stories include thoughts on music, poetry, literature, and his childhood. These include the anecdote about Princess Margaret’s famous put-down at the palace when he had asked to speak to her: ‘I say’. she said, ‘would you mind fetching me an ashtray?’ on which Kemp dined out for many years.
The language of this wordsmith is full of panach and liveliness, which renders it an absorbing read, and the journalism is imbued with a sense of immediacy due to his closeness to his sources. Kemp was a journalism purist, and for him, integrity was extremely important. He believed in truth to power as journalism’s purpose, ‘to reveal to the powerless what the powerful would rather keep secret’. Therefore, during his editorship, was not in favour of inteference into the paper of a commercial and political nature. Although he remained a royalist, he was strongly supportive of Scottish devolution, and his daughter regards his legacy as a strong national press in which journalism’s aims of truth to power is more than ever required with regards to the upcoming independence struggle.
This book succeeds in its aim of providing a comprehensive and enjoyable account of the state of the nation and politics in recent history through Kemp’s eyes, as well as of his unique and interesting personal world. Although he died prematurely, he will for a long time through his important contribution to the Scottish press.
34 Murder in suburbia The harsh realities of Scottish wildlife – Alan Cochrane
46 Is this man Scotland’s greatest living painter? Interview with Jack Vettriano
56 A perfect match Judy Murray on growing up and raising her sons in Dunblane
70 Christmas at Kinloch Lodge Fabulous recipes to help cook up a festive storm from Claire Macdonald
92 Scottish first lady How black sheep Christina Stuart became America’s leading lady- Sam Khan-McIntyre
98 The tale of Peter Mcrabbit How Scotland inspired Beatrix Potter
146 Meet marten The loveable but deadly pine marten has made a stunning comeback
154 How to earn a buck Fallow deer stalking in Dumfries and Galloway
161 Too hot to handle – Are rising sea temperatures to blame for a drop in salmon numbers?
Here & now
32 The e-razor gangs Why something must be done to prevent electro-fishing for razor clams
36 Scotland through a lens – Photographer Ian Cameron’s winter wonderland
54 Credo – Comedian Des Clark on childhood, pantomime and who makes him starstruck
88 Welcome to the jungle – Scotland’s top ten plant hunters take centre stage
96 Model of a champion – Commonwealth gold medallist athlete turned model boat builder Lachie Stewart
104 Portrait of an artist – The racy life and times of Scottish colourist JD Fergusson
128 Two horse town – Andy Scott is the creator of Falkirk’s imposing sculpture The Kelpies
250 Lady at leisure The clan chief’s wife feels more at home on the ground than in the saddle – Fiona Armstrong
Homes & gardens
110 Glittering prize Christmas in a festive East Ayrshire home
138 How does your garden flow The gardens of Monteviot House near Jedburgh
The book, ‘Traquair House, A family Life revealed’ on the history of Traquair house has just been published. Written by Catherine Maxwell Stuart, she explores the lives of the Stuart family over five hundred years, with the house, a focal point. The House was a former hunting lodge and is a white-washed Castle set in extensive grounds. The book brings another are alive through letters and photographs between 1491 and 1875 to piece together long-forgotten lives. Catherine is a descendent of the Stuarts and current owner of the property. Talking to her last September , a petite blonde, at the estate offices in the grounds of the house, she told me that the book took 18 months to write, and that she decided to write the book with archivist Margaret Fox. This occurred when her interested was piqued due to a number of small exhibitions at the house, by Margaret, based on material from the archives. ‘It grew arms and legs’ she says, ‘and developed into a history of the Stuart family’
According to Catherine, Christina’s story is an interesting one, because was the only member of the family to emigrate: ‘It’s a lovely, romantic story’ continues Catherine. In 1770, Christina met Cyrus through her brother, while he was a law student at Edinburgh University, and married him against her father’s wishes, John Stuart, the 6th Earl of Traquair. It is presumed they eloped.
Christina went on to become the original first lady of America, and the only Scottish one, and is therefore played an important part in Scottish history. This book explores her life through photographs and correspondence, and the lives of other family members, between 1491 and 1875. Cyrus went on to become one of America’s founding fathers and final president of the confederacy. He governed between 22 January 1788 to 4 March 1789. Directly after this the constitution was signed and George Washington became the United States’ first president.
Christina had been painted as one of the first ladies by Cyrus, reveals Catherine, as she started the tradition of visiting dignitaries being invited back to the home, and offering hospitality. This was an early form of political networking.
However, Catherine feels that although Christina had a hospitable side, she may also have been quite reserved. Continuing ‘she must have had some spark in her, for she went against her father’s wishes. Despite this, she wasn’t a great society lady, for after the period as president, they effectively retired to Williamsburg’.
Beset by money worries, life wasn’t perfect for Christina after she got married, Catherine believes Cyrus could be unpleasant. Catherine goes on to say that he was constantly writing to her father asking for her money, and there is evidence of this in the book. As well as this, Christina had to stay at Traquair for two years after her marriage, while Cyrus studied law at chambers in London. This was until, in a letter sent from her father to his eldest son John suggests the removal of Christina and her child from the house, for her brother was due to marry and reside there. Other evidence for his unpleasantness occurs when in the letter from Cyrus to John, Cyrus unleashes his anger at the family, believing they are in the wrong, calling them for example ‘without fortune, beauty accomplishments…’ and that ‘it seems she is thought of such consequence as to disturb the peace of the new married couple, and he doesn’t understand why. Christina and Cyrus departed for America on the 6th of August 1773; Catherine believes her father never really forgave her for going off with him and their relationship was affected; for she didn’t make contact with him for twenty years. Catharine feels that ‘the situation with the family was really sad.
According to the book, Christina had been entitled to a fortune which she did not receive in the end says Catherine. Cyrus had tried many times to extol this money from her family. According to Catherine, Cyrus had perceived that she was from a wealthy family, but it had already lost a lot of their wealth, due to their Catholic faith and political allegiance. Catherine adds that they had not lived on much money, but is not sure why, despite Cyrus having inherited a plantation.
Despite the financial problems, the Griffins had two boys and two girls, and educated them well. They also moved from New York to Philadelphia before settling in Virginia. After his post as the final president of the confederacy, Cyrus became the Judge of the US district court of Virginia.
Family disagreements arose due to the family’s dislike for Christina, according to Cyrus’s letters. He believes this dislike extended to himself, rather than having begun due to him. This dislike seems to seep into the rest of their lives in America, and is evident from Christina’s numerous letters, which were never replied to. She believes, unlike Cyrus, that it was due to their dislike for him, which she feels had no foundation. These issues must have caused her pain, and were probably the reason she never returned to Scotland. Catherine believes she didn’t return because ‘she had burned her bridges with her family, she knew she had to stay with her husband’. The fact that she wasn’t getting any replies, and the situation with her father, leads Christina to believe that she was distraught at being cut off by her family. Also that due to the lack of response, it would have been a risk to return and that this was a ‘gruesome’ situation.
This situation is confirmed through a letter by her son John. He discusses Christina’s feelings: ‘the anxiety my mother must feel from not having heard from you for a long time’, and her possible ‘apprehensions and fears’ due to this.
According to a letter Christina wrote to her cousin Lady Winifred Maxwell, life had been a struggle for her. Writing about how expensive things were, she also discusses how she had not heard from her two sisters over the last twenty years, and only once from her brother. She also worried about being forgotten by her family, and had been glad to be remembered by her brother.
Ultimately, Catherine regards Christina as having been happy with Cyrus; despite other troubles, for she surely would have returned if things had gone wrong. Christina herself said in regards to Cyrus in a letter to her brother on 1788, that ‘he makes me the most affectionate husband and best father in the world’.
Her obituary acknowledges she had suffered, and that she had borne this with ‘fortitude and resignation’. It also states that she was ‘virtuous’ and ‘pious’ and that she had many friends due to her ‘amiable qualities’. Christina died in October 1807, and Cyrus three years later. They are buried close together in Williamsburg. Cyrus must have ended his life with very little money regards Catherine, for he didn’t want much spent on his grave. Although there is nothing belonging to them left behind, except their tombstones and their house, Catherine says that their descendants often visit Traquair. This is of the ways their memory is kept alive.
THEATRE REVIEW: Chow Mein & Hex
Monday, 9 April 2012 11:49
Sam Khan-McIntyre reviews the plays Chow Mein and Hex for buzz extra.
After runaway success at last year’s Fringe, Leith-based youth theatre company, Strange Town, were back at the Traverse Theatre this month with a three-day double bill of Hex and Chow Mein. Penned by Tim Primrose (Hex) and Sam Siggs (Chow Mein), both pieces take a domestic situation to energetic new levels, each focussing on a couple’s relationship.
The short lengths of both plays mean that the stories are fast moving, while the engaging plots suck the viewer in. The minimalist stage of Chow Mein contrasts with the clutter of Hex, with the latter’s plethora of props representing the trappings of consumerism and the search for something more spiritual. Hex’s sofa becomes a metaphor for how we perceive reality, and raises questions over the existence of a parallel universe.
Despite some larger-than-life moments that clash with the naturalism, the performances are on the most part convincing, with some well-timed comedy throughout both pieces. The asides to the audience help build a level of intimacy, while the spectator involvement adds to the energy.
These plays are worth a full revival; with both asking vital questions of society, Strange Town are proving themselves to be an impressively formidable force in Edinburgh’s theatre scene.
Image Source: Alan McCredie