In search of more ‘curious tradionary facts’ about Hogg

quill 3Published 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.

SAM KHAN-MCINTYRE

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Jen and the Gents-Fringe Review-Sam & Gavin Khan-Mcintyre,Edinburgh Reporter

SAM_0300Up 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

http://www.jenewan.co.uk/,

or their Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/jenandthegents

Bitter Twitter-Fringe Review ***Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre Edinburgh Reporter

kearns 3Bitterly 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.

Simon Evans Leashed-Fringe Review 0 Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre -Edinburgh Reporter

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.

Adam Smith-Le Grande Tour-Fringe Preview *****Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre – Edinburgh Reporter

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

Time: 3pm

Duration: 1 Hour

Tickets: £10

http://www.ifecosse.org.uk/

le grande tour 1

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.

As the play progresses, the scenes cut to the beautiful grandeur of the cloisters at Glasgow University, where Adam was Professor of Logic, and also to his statue on the Royal Mile, to the hustle and bustle of busy city streets where people are questioned on his philosophies, but know very little in comparison with his influence. In one scene, Fred plays the part of Smith himself, attired in a bright red floor-length silk gown with wide sleeves, and a white wig. He goes as far as to adopt a Scottish accent, in a comedic moment. However Marie who plays stage director asks him to tone it down, due to it causing confusion. She may be right as the Scottish accent coupled with his natural French one is a little odd.

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”.

le grande tour 2

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.

le grande tour 3

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 *****Sam & Gavin Khan-McIntyre, Edinburgh Reporter

Link: http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2013/07/edinburgh-festival-fringe-the-hard-man-a-preview/

Edinburgh Festival Fringe – The Hard Man – a preview
July 6, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre

hardman 09

Category Theatre
Genres contemporary, event
Group In Your Face Theatre
Venue The Wee Red Bar
Times 19:00
Suitability 18+
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.

hardman pic 01

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.

A Classic Italian Taste at Colstoun House

East Lothian Courier

Sam Khan-McIntyre

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.

Tradfest: Songs of Peace and Protest: Hope’s Beautiful Daughters

May 9, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre for Edinburgh Reporter

Link: http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/category/culture/festivals/

 

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.

Hopes 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.”

Tradfest: The Story of Scotland’s Creation

Cailleach's house. credit Catriona MurrayThe 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:

http://www.daviddcampbell.co.uk/about-me.htm

http://www.janismackay.com/about-me/

Photos courtesy of Mike Wilkinson and Catriona Murray