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Showing posts from July, 2011

Agitate! Educate! Organise! - The Day Noam Chomsky Came To Town


When a seventy year old Hamish Henderson sang Freedom Come All Ye at the end of an event billed as something called Self-Determination and Power that took place at the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow in January 1990, it was the ultimate folk-song cabaret. Here, after all, was the man whose co-founding of the School of Scottish Studies in 1951 had kick-started the Scottish folk revival, and here he was singing the song he'd penned that many believe to be Scotland's real national anthem (with a small n, for Henderson was nothing if not internationalist in outlook). Henderson sang it in his own slightly cracked tones not as part of some officially sanctioned flagship event for Glasgow's status as European City of Culture that year, but for a low-level grassroots initiative that brought together art and activism in an event that would prove to be of huge trickle-down significance.

The Self-Determination and Power event was organised by a loose alliance of the Free Universit…

The Wheel - Zinnie Harris Turns The World Upside Down

What would you do if you met Hitler as a toddler, forewarned Dr
Who-like of the mass genocide the future Nazi leader would inflict on
the twentieth century? Would you do the world a favour and kill him
quickly and without fuss? Or would you embrace the seemingly innocent
mite to one's bosom, vowing to protect him from whichever ills would
otherwise corrupt his infant sensibilities with such disastrous

Such a dilemma is the hypothetical sort of stuff usually played out by
liberal intellectuals on The Moral Maze. It's also the starting point
for The Wheel, a major new play by Zinnie Harris for the National
Theatre of Scotland, which plays as part of the Traverse Theatre's
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme in a production by NTS artistic
director Vicky Featherstone. As with many things about the play,
though, looks can be deceptive.

The play may open in a nineteenth century Spanish village on the eve of
both a wedding and a war, and initially capt…

Made In Scotland 2011 - The Rise of Remarkable Arts

When the Made In Scotland showcase was founded three years ago to
support home-grown theatre and dance companies who wished to perform on
the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before a host of international promoters,
no-one really knew what to expect. Since then, not only has the strike
rate been high in terms of work picked up, but it is work which only a
few years ago for it to be produced within a Scottish context would
have been nigh-on unthinkable. Shows like Cora Bissett's site-specific
sex-trafficking drama, Roadkill, and David Leddy's labyrinthine
back-stage tour, Sub-Rosa, speak volumes about how much theatre-making
in Scotland has raised the level of its game in terms of scope and

Funded by the Scottish Government's Expo fund, Made in Scotland has
developed it's remit this year as well to include a new Scottish
Performing Arts Symposium and Promoter Plus, a means of pairing
international promoters with at the very least a guaranteed five

The Pitmen Painters

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
4 stars
Art, life and revolution, as anyone who heard Sex Pistols cover artist
Jamie Reid speak in the National Galleries of Scotland last Thursday
night will understand, categorically aren't the preserve of a bourgeois
establishment who buy such notions into submission. Lee Hall recognises
this too in his loving impressionistic portrait of The Ashington Group,
the alliance of Tyneside miners who came together in 1934 at a Workers
Educational Association art appreciation night-class under future head
of Edinburgh College of Art Robert Lyon, only to end up an artistic
cause celebre in their own right.

First seen at Live Theatre Newcastle in 2007 before transferring to
London and Broadway, Max Roberts' co-production with the National
Theatre is a gloriously feel-good take on social history, which
nevertheless talks about aspiration and the transformative power of art
in an intelligently expansive manner. With the men's work projected
onto …

Marc Almond - Ten Plagues

Wilton's Music Hall is the perfect place to meet Marc Almond. Tucked
down a lane in London's east end, one would never guess that such a
dramatic landmark exists so discreetly off the beaten track. As the
former vocalist with 1980s electro-pop duo Soft Cell Almond steps into
the high-ceilinged expanse of the UK's oldest working music hall, the
same could be said about this most singular of torch balladeers.

Almond may be about to make his first foray into musical theatre in Ten
Plagues at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, yet his shades, black jeans
and v-neck with the wings of a blue-bird tattoo peeking over the top
seeks to repel rather than invite attention. Once inside the building,
however, the shades are removed, and, as Almond settles into a chair
with a cup of herbal tea, what emerges is an erudite and open figure,
who's as willing to talk about his troubled childhood and the 2004
motorbike accident that put him in a coma as he is about his creative…

Gravity's Rainbow

Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh until July 23rd 2011
4 stars
The acid house smiley face on the sunny yellow ball of Peter
Liversidge's shelf-load of single-hued detritus speaks volumes about
this colour-focussed group show of eight artists that takes its title
from Thomas Pynchon's baroque noir. It begins with a joke by Yves
Klein, who in 1954 published a booklet of coloured paper rectangles
that purported to be the creations of some hip young kid on the block,
but which were actually found off-cuts. The fact that Liversidge too
has painstakingly remade his own rubbish out of clay and placed it next
to the original adds to the gag.

Kay Rosen's wall paintings ape Pynchon and Klein by using colours on
the basis of their aspirationally inclined names, ending up with mint
choc chip style blocks as demonstrated by 'Mud Hut between Willow Tree
and Apple Tree beside Rocky Road separated by Hedgerow from Copper
Canyon'. This is painting and decorating as art, as ar…

Durer's Fame

National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh until October 11th
4 stars
German handball star Pascal Hens gazes out from a black and white
poster, his torso naked, gaze serious, his pose one of
self-deification. This is enhanced further by a tattoo on his stomach
of two disembodied hands clasped together as if in prayer. It's an
image made familiar by its own iconic status which, in the context of
the poster, borders on a state of heroic kitsch. Further down the
corridor in a glass case sits a green-moulded plastic hare taken from
an installation that filled a Nuremburg square with seven thousand of
the little critters. Again, it's familiar twenty-first century apparel
points to both parody and homage.

Both works, in fact, are two of the most recent examples that take from
sixteenth century German maestro of woodcuts and engravings, Albrecht
Durer. Hens' buff-bellied tattoo is taken from Durer's 'Study of
Praying Hands', while the electric green hare look…


Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
3 stars
Leaving aside the questions over the actual authorship of what may or
may not be the bard's most scattershot work – half Shakespeare, half a
couple of his not quite so clever contemporaries, the scholars say –
cut through the morass and its not a bad yarn. Bard in the Botanics
director Gordon Barr's ninety-five minute version for four actors
situated in the Kibble Palace goes some way to prove this in what
becomes a near Dickensian mythological romp.

The fact that the whole affair is kicked off by Pericles' ability to
decode King Antiochus's incestuous confession disguised as a riddle
speaks volumes about the play's taboo-busting intent. Barr opens
proceedings with all four actors itinerising chest-loads of booty as if
they've just discovered buried treasure only to find themselves in the
same story-book they relate each act's prologue from.

As Pericles does a runner, he finds himself courting even more trouble,

Whatever Happened To Benny Hill? - Grant Smeaton Reassesses A Lost Comic Icon

Charlie Chaplin, Michael Jackson, A Clockwork Orange author Anthony
Burgess and rap star Snoop Dog may be artists rarely mentioned in the
same breath. When it comes to comedy, however, this fantasy
dinner-party quartet have all at different times outed themselves as
fan-boys of one of Britain's great lost comic icons. Not that Benny
Hill, who died in 1992, three years after his long-running prime-time
TV sketch show was cancelled, is celebrated much in his own country.
While France hails Hill as a farceur on a par with Jacques Tati and
America airs endless re-runs of his shows, in Britain there are no
retrospectives shown or statues put up in his home town as with other
funny-men of his generation. Yet Hill emerged from a similar music hall
background as his peers, and, during his hey-day, was arguably bigger
than them all. So what happened?

This is something actor and writer Grant Smeaton puts under the
spotlight in Whatever Happened To Benny Hill?, Smeaton's lat…

The Blue Aeroplanes – Anti Gravity (Art Star/Albino Two)

4 stars
Long before REM lost their edge, Bristol's Blue Aeroplanes were their
English counterparts, ploughing an urgent furrow of spikily jangular
folk-rock with multiple guitars zinging about every which way to
backdrop lead auteur Gerard Langley's tumbles of opaque, semi
spoken-word murmurs. Thirty years and forty-two members on, several
generations of Aeroplanes combine for this fresh-as-a-daisy sprawl
through more of the same. From the opening firework bursts that precede
the forboding swirls of 'Sulphur' to the elegiac 'Cancer Song' that
closes things, this is a dense epic chiming with wisdom and experience,
art-rock's rich tapestry personified anew.

The List, July 2011


Fake Eyelashes – A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese (Creeping Bent)

4 stars
Katy Lironi's pedigree as a chanteuse dates back to C-86 swoonsters
Fizzbombs followed by a stint fronting bubblegum stompers The Secret
Goldfish. This latest vehicle for Ms L's sublime cooing is an
infinitely more laid-back affair. Think Saint Etienne-style ballads
sans London-centric reference points but with a melancholy worthy of
bedsit-era Tracy Thorn. This solitary, gal in exile feel is fleshed out
on a still lugubrious 'If You Made It Easy For Me by a mellowed out
band arrangement, while electronic skitters underscore the equally
plaintive 'If I Could Only Cry' on a late-night affair that sounds in
need of a cuddle.

The List, July 2011


Casablanca – the Gin Joint Cut

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
The timeless allure of the ultimate big-screen romance was plain to see
when Morag Fullarton's contracted stage version appeared as part of
Oran Mor's lunchtime Classic Cuts season in 2010. This speedy revival
may have upgraded things for the night-time set with nary a pie in
sight, but Fullarton's supreme grasp of populist theatre sensibilities
remain undimmed in a glorious three-actor affair which in lesser hands
might have merely ended up as one great big daft industry in-joke.

There are elements of this, of course, particularly in the newly added
B-movie homage to westerns, an extended fifteen-minute sketch that
somehow manages to shoehorn the Marx Brothers into the rootin',
tootin', sharpshootin' fun. It's the main feature, however, that fully
delights, as we're whisked off to Rick's bar, where worlds collide and
old flames linger in a cut-price no-man's land of scarlet drapes,
silver-sashed doorway…

Blondie - Chris Stein and Debbie Harry's Second Coming

Blondie mainstay Chris Stein is spending the day on the beach
with his kids. It feels as far away from the 1970s Downtown scene that
sired the band Stein founded with vivacious front-woman Debbie Harry as
it does from Balado, where a reignited Blondie will perform tracks from
their new album, Panic of Girls, at T in the Park this Sunday. Panic of
Girls is the band's first album since 2003's The Curse of Blondie, and
is released, not on a major record label, but by the band themselves as
part of a special 'Collector's Pack'. Given that tracks were first laid
down as far back as 2009 before assorted record company wrangles made a
long silence even more protracted, one could be forgiven for thinking
that the title of the last Blondie album had become a self-fulfilling
prophecy. The truth, however, for Stein, at least, is much more mundane.

“I took time out to be with my family,” says Stein. “I had two kids who
are now six and seven, so I sort of stumbled i…