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Helen Reddy - An Obituary

Helen Reddy – Singer, songwriter, activistBorn October 25, 1941; died September 29, 2020 Helen Reddy, who has died aged 78, was a singer whose defining hit, I Am Woman, took second wave feminism into the pop charts. Reddy’s self-penned anthem arguably opened up a generation of women to ideas of empowerment and self-determination as much as anything written by Germaine Greer or Gloria Steinem. In its simple proclamation, built from a country twang into a horn-laden call to arms, it sounded tailor-made for both marches and daytime radio.I Am Woman wasn’t an immediate success. Set to music by Ray Burton, the song originally appeared on Reddy’s debut album, I Don’t Know How to Love Him (1971), named after the title of the Jesus Christ Superstar ballad that had given Reddy her first hit single. I Am Woman also appeared on the opening credits of bandwagon-jumping ‘women’s lib’ comedy film, Stand Up and Be Counted. A new recording was released in 1972, though it took six months of radio requ…
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A Change of Climate – How Inverleith House Was Saved From Permanent Lockdown

Florilegium – Saying it With FlowersWhen Inverleith House opens its doors this weekend for Florilegium: A gathering of flowers, the exhibition marks a new beginning for the contemporary art space housed in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). The fact there is an exhibition in Inverleith House at all is something of a miracle, but more of that anon.Florilegium features new and existing work by photographer and painter Wendy McMurdo, Barbados-based artist Annalee Davis, Edinburgh film-maker Lyndsay Mann and Taiwanese American artist Lee Mingwei. They will join over 40 established botanical artists for the first of what is planned to be a biennial response to the extensive plant collection collected by RBGE, a publicly owned and Scottish Government funded research organisation.Works range from Davis’s suite of drawings, As If The Entanglements of Our Lives Did Not Matter, which references the artist’s Caribbean heritage; to Night Garden, a series of images crated by…

Simeon Coxe III - An Obituary

Simeon Coxe III – Musician, ElectronicistBorn June 4, 1938; died September 8, 2020Simeon Coxe III, who has died aged 82, was a pioneer of electronic music, who, as one half of Silver Apples, fused a spaced out 1960s sensibility with analog sound waves to fashion a form of trippy sci-fi disco. While the two albums released during Silver Apples’ original lifespan kept them on the fringes of the New York scene, they influenced several generations of sonic explorers, from Suicide through to Stereolab and Portishead. The latter programmed Silver Apples at their edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.The roots of the Silver Apples sound came about while Coxe and Taylor were member of the more conventional Overland Stage Electric Band. One night, Coxe decided to plug in an oscillator and jam along to see what would happen. The result split up the band. Coxe went on to build a multiple oscillator-based electronic rig christened the Simeon, while Taylor’s rolling drum patterns provided…

Jackie Dennis - An Obituary

Jackie Dennis – Singer, pop starBorn October 8, 1942; died September 28, 2020 Jackie Dennis, who has died after a long illness aged 77, was widely regarded as Scotland’s first pop star, who had hit singles with La Dee Dah and The Purple People Eater. While these were novelty songs that played on Dennis’ Scots accent and kilt-clad demeanour, when La Dee Dah reached number 4 in the charts ahead of a single by a certain Mr Presley, for a week at least, Dennis could rightly claim he was bigger than Elvis.Leaping about the TV screen in tartan trews on teen pop show, Six-Five Special, his youthful joie de vivre captured the public’s imagination in a way that briefly made the spiky-haired teen an international star. Nicknamed at various points The Lilt With the Kilt, The Golden Kid and The Kilted Choirboy, Dennis was the first UK artist to appear on American television when he guest starred on Perry Como’s Kraft Music Show in New York. Como introduced Dennis as Britain’s Ricky Nelson.When De…

Eddie Van Halen - An Obituary

Eddie Van Halen – guitaristBorn January 26, 1955; died October 6, 2020 Eddie Van Halen, who has died of throat cancer aged 65, was a virtuoso guitarist, whose flamboyant, restless style and grinning demeanour gave what came to be known as hair metal an image that in part defined 1980s rock and roll largesse. His fast-fingered style and innovative two-handed ‘tapping’ technique of playing the neck of his guitar was thrilling enough to watch even without Van Halen’s good-humoured showiness. An accompanying hedonistic lifestyle added a thrusting swagger to music tailor-made for hormonal adolescents who could now gawp at their rock star heroes goofing it up on MTV while emulating their excesses with similarly juvenile abandon.Arriving in a late 1970s post-punk climate, Van Halen the band exploded onto an otherwise bleak looking landscape like the sonic embodiment of a hotel room being wrecked, something Van Halen and his band mates weren’t shy of indulging in. For all his ability for show…

Eric Bentley - An Obituary

Eric Bentleycritic, playwright, performerBorn September 14, 1916; died August 5, 2020Eric Bentley, who has died aged 103 at his home in New York, was a fearless theatre critic, whose blunt appraisals in his reviews made no attempt at soft-soaping their subjects. This approach saw both Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller threaten lawsuits against him. Bentley was hugely critical of American playwrights in general, while he retained an even more barbed antipathy towards commercial Broadway shows, marking out the battle lines between art and entertainment in ways that influenced much critical thinking that followed. Bentley was also a great scholar, writing numerous books that helped evangelise what he saw as the power of serious drama to add something to people’s livesProbably the best known, The Playwright as Thinker (1946) expounded his theatrical philosophy, while . The Life of the Drama (1964) re-examined dramatic categories as if no-one had ever heard of tragedy or comedy.Argua…

The Passage – Hip Rebel Degenerates: Black, White and Red All Over

Prelude – The Power of ThreeFear. Power. Love. This life-and-death (un)holy trinity was the driving force and raisons d’être of The Passage, the still largely unsung Manchester band sired in what we now call the post-punk era, and who between 1978 and 1983 released four albums and a handful of singles. Led primarily by composer Dick Witts, The Passage bridged the divide between contemporary classical composition and electronic pop as much as between the personal and the political. In the oppositional hotbed of Margaret Thatcher’s first landslide, The Passage fused agit-prop and angst, and released a song called Troops Out as a single. The song offered unequivocal support for withdrawing British troops from Northern Ireland. They wrote Anderton’s Hall, about Greater Manchester’s born again right wing police chief, James Anderton, and, on Dark Times, rubbed Brechtian polemic up against dancefloor hedonism. On XOYO, their most commercial and potentially most infiltrational moment, they q…