Friday, 30 November 2012

MacPherson’s Rant

Madras College, St Andrews
3 stars
The demise of the Byre Theatre as a thriving professional producing 
house following funding cuts after a major refurbishment was a major 
loss to St Andrews. With any luck, this new production of a script 
originally penned by John Ward may help encourage the re-establishment 
of a permanent artistic team at what is now primarily a receiving 
Ward’s play was a heroic reimagining of the life and death of 
seventeenth century Scots wanderer, James MacPherson, who created his 
own mythology via the song he penned while awaiting execution. Kally 
Lloyd-Jones’ production of Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s adaptation was 
enabled by the Scottish Government-backed Year of Creative Scotland 
2012’s bestowment of the Scotland’s Creative Place Award to St Andrews. 
Performed by a mixed cast of professionals and community participants, 
the production is staged in a heated tent in the grounds of Madras 
College, and is a romantically inclined romp that suggests a kind of 
proto class war at play.

MacPherson here is the illegitimate son of Laird Duff’s former maid. 
When MacPherson falls for Bess, whose father has promised her to Duff, 
a backdrop of personal jealousy and Jacobite rebellion makes for an 
epic akin to a western. As played out on Janis Hart’s big wooden set 
with trees spilling into the auditorium, it’s a patchy show, but one 
which nevertheless highlights institutionalised misogyny and abuses of 
power and privilege.

As MacPherson, Martin Forry grows in confidence throughout, while Morna 
McDonald makes for a feisty foil as Bess. By far the best thing here is 
the live harp and fiddle score played by young musicians from Madras. 
Under the guidance of Rachel Newton, it’s subtle under-scoring is a 
thing of quiet beauty.

The Herald, November 29th 2012


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Woman in Black

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
4 stars
When Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe came of big-screen age earlier 
this year in the cinematic adaptation of Susan Hill’s spookiest of 
novels, one feared that its gothic gloss might suck the life out of the 
late Stephen Mallatratt’s stage version. After more than two decades in 
the west end and ten national tours, judging by this latest encounter, 
Robin Herford’s still spine-tingling production isn’t ready to lie down 
just yet.

Mallatratt’s play finds lawyer Arthur Kipps hiring an actor to 
role-play events from years before in an attempt to exorcise ghosts 
that have haunted him since. These involve a young Kipps being packed 
off to a desolate country house to oversee a dead woman’s affairs, only 
to have the eponymous Woman transform his life. As a dense yarn of 
illigitimacy, accidental death and revenge from the grave is unveiled, 
the shocks pile on aplenty for Kipps, whether played by Julian Forsyth 
or by Antony Eden’s Actor.

This may sound terribly meta, but it is also a master-class in 
suspending disbelief. As has already been noted on these pages, fans of 
immersive theatre who think they’ve discovered the Holy Grail in 
art-house fringe spaces elsewhere could learn much from The Woman in 
Black. The box of tricks used in both are essentially the same, and go 
back a lot further.

Yet there’s more going on here than meets the eye. As Audrone Koc’s Woman 
enacts her revenge on the world, it’s as if she’s calling to account 
the moral hypocrisy of a society that robbed her of her child. As long 
as audiences enjoy being terrified, chances are she’ll be cursing them 
for several years to come.

The Herald, November 28th 2012


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Nation's Best Am Dram - Reality TV Onstage

Amateur dramatics may still conjure up images of chintzy middle England matriarchs over-playing Alan Ayckbourn in draughty village halls, but it remains one of Britain's most popular past-times. Some two thousand groups estimated to be producing work, while in Scotland, the Scottish Community Drama Association is a major hub of am dram activity.

Some of the best am dram groups are currently on show in Nation's Best Am Dram, a six part TV series on Sky Arts HD, which pits teams against each other in a competition judged and mentored by high-profile theatre professionals. With three very different Scottish groups making it down to the last eight, and with performance in a London West End the prize for the winner, am dram is a very serious business for everyone involved.

By way of actor and director Kathy Burke's throaty narration, the first two episodes of Nation's Best Am Dram have introduced viewers to Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group (EGTG), the Glasgow-based Strathclyde Theatre Group (STG) and, from Castle Douglas in Galloway, Crossmichael Theatre Group. STG and Crossmichael were selected along with another five from video submissions judged by actor Miriam Margolyes and critic Quentin Letts, with producer Bill Kenwright chairing the panel. In a spirit of democracy, EGTC were selected by the public.

“We've always seen that as a positive,” says David Grimes, a lawyer and EGTG's director. “At the end of the day it's the public buying the tickets, so obviously they saw something that the judges missed first time round.”

For the quarter finals, half of the competitors were tasked to present a scene from Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, while the other half had to do likewise with a scene from Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. After three weeks rehearsals, each company was assigned a professional mentor, who appraised their progress while offering advice.

While EGTG were looked after by former Heartbeat star and National Theatre regular, Niamh Cusack, STG were watched over by Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart, Dame Harriet Walter. Crossmichael, meanwhile, found Peep Show star Paterson Joseph, another RSC regular, making the trek to Galloway to work with Crossmichael.

“He worked us really hard,” says Crossmichael director and full time carer, Anne McIntyre. “I do farce and comedy. That's my thing, and I tend to move people around all the time, but Paterson taught me the importance of being still.”

STG too are full of praise for their mentor.

“It was wonderful to have such an experienced actor as Dame Harriet Walters to help us,” says STG director Bruce Downie. “She took a lot of time to work with people individually, and that made an invaluable difference.”

Grimes describes Cusack as “absolutely the best mentor. She changed what we did completely, and it was so enlightening to see her process. There's a running joke now when we're rehearsing something, and someone will say 'How would Niamh do it?”

For Cusack herself, Nation's Best Am Dram was something of an eye-opener.

“It's making people interested in theatre,” she says. “Am dram is a social thing as much as anything. It allows people to use their imaginations and broadens people's lives, and I think it's important that people all over the country, especially in areas which perhaps don't have access to professional theatre, are getting up and doing it for themselves.”

Walters concurs.

“Am dram forms communities,” she says, “and it allows people to have some kind of creative release beyond the rest of their lives. A programme like this might make people watching it think 'that could be me up there'.”

In the third episode of Nation's Am Dram, shown tomorrow, viewers will be able to see Cusack put STG and EGTG through their paces with The Cherry Orchard. Walters will be seen doing likewise with STG, who are forced to make a last-minute cast change. Best of all in this week's programme is Richard Wilson's response to one group's reimagining of The Cherry Orchard in a sanatorium peopled by delusional patients.

How, though, have the groups fared since the series was filmed more than a year ago?

Since Nation's Am Dram ended, STG have been forced to vacate their home at the Strathclyde University owned Ramshorn Theatre, but the company is still going strong, and have just completed a run of Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman directed by Downie at Cottiers Theatre.

“It's been a difficult eighteen months,” says Downie. “We lost what had been our home for the last twenty years, and a lot of members drifted away, but the competition came along at exactly the right time. It regenerated focus for the group, and I think gave people a new sense of purpose.”

EGTG remain similarly galvanised, and this year alone have put on productions of Doctor Faustus and Jez Butterworth's play, Jerusalem, while only last week they staged Shakespeare's Richard III.

“We do four shows a year, anyway,” says Grimes, “so even while filming, we were rehearsing for our next production at the same time.”

For Crossmichael, whose members are more geographically spread out than STG and the Edinburgh Grads, the experience has been very different.

“We usually only do festivals between January and March,” says McIntyre, “so we haven't really met much recently. By the end of this, having spent so much time together, I think we'd been in each other's company too long, but we've met to choose a script for the SCDA, and now it's back to business as usual. We were talking about putting something on at the [Edinburgh Festival] Fringe this year. If there's any year we're going to do it, this has to be the one.”

Nation's Best Am Dram, Sky Arts HD, Wednesdays at 9pm

The Herald, November 27th 2012


Monday, 26 November 2012


Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
The week-long residency at Tramway by maverick producers, Fuel, 
continued in the tone set by David Rosenberg’s opening sonic adventure, 
Ring, of invading our space and subverting our senses. The rest of the 
programme was by turns arresting, provocative and, at its best, deeply 
political, both on a personal and a global level.

Nowhere was this mashed up more than in Make Better Please, Unexpected 
Guests’ latest meditation on how we live now. This began with focus 
group style round-table discussions on news events of the day, and 
ended with a collective purging of the mess of twenty-first century 
secularised culture discussed earlier.

Following a succession of quick-fire role-plays, things grew 
increasingly frantic, as one of our hosts took on the sins of David 
Cameron, Jimmy Savile, George Osborne and all the rest. Pulsed along by 
a punk-style din, this was Unexpected Guests getting back to their and 
our roots, where the primitive power of the tribe put their faith in 
shamanic ritual to heal them. Such a collective release may not change 
anything, but in a work that is the contrasting light to Ring’s shade, 
it made for an exhilarating form of audience participation.

.One of our guides in Make Better Please was Lewis Gibson, who was also 
one of the artists in The Simple Things of Life, in which five artists 
created work in garden sheds. The full version scooped a Bank of 
Scotland Herald Angel Award in 2011. Two of the constructions – 
Gibson’s Lost in Words and Frauke Requardt’s appositely wordless 
Makiko’s Shed – moved into Tramway to allow audiences of eight to share 
their creators’ very private pleasures.

Gibson invited us in to a vintage world of 3D postcards viewed through 
old-school Viewfinders and a book group which allowed you to make your 
own narrative. Requardt filled his red-painted shed full of mirrors so 
performer Makiko Aoyama could see every flex, twirl and grimace as she 
jumped for joy and danced like her life depended on it.

On the surface, Inua Ellams’ solo play, Black T-Shirt Collection, was 
the most classically conventional of this Fuelfest grab-bag. Yet this 
startling and vividly told tale of two Nigerian foster brothers’ rise 
and fall via the customised t-shirt business that drives them was a 
culmination of all the Fuel roster’s concerns.

By having one brother Muslim, the other a Christian, there were already 
biblical implications to Ellams’ tale. Once Nigerian homophobia drives 
the brothers out from their market stall, first to Egypt, then London 
and the cheap Chinese sweat-shops beyond, a rich tapestry of corruption 
and exploitation is laid bare in a moral fable that may be ancient in 
content, but is made troublingly contemporary by Ellams’ reimagining.

With roots in the spoken-word scene, Ellams is a captivating presence, 
who lends both a  hipness and a seriousness of intent that’s 
accentuated by Emma Laxton’s sound design and Ellams’ own chalk-like 
graphics projected behind him. All this made for a truly startling 
performance that formed part of an even more inspirational week.

The Herald, November 26th 2012


Thursday, 22 November 2012


Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
The audience may have been left in the dark in this first of four 
performance-based pieces that make up the bulk of Fuelfest, Bank of 
Scotland Herald Angel winning producing team Fuel’s week-long residency 
at Tramway. Yet director David Rosenberg’s immersive experience is 
delivered with such scarifying intensity that his production is as 
enlightening on the possibilities of sound as it is on group dynamics 
and mass manipulation.

Once we’re ushered into a room with two banks of chairs facing each 
other with a harshly-lit gulf between, we’re lulled into a false sense 
of security by a man who calls himself Michael, but admits it’s not his 
real name. We’ve already been given head-phones and our names noted 
down, and now Michael talks us through proceedings as if we’re regular 
attendees of some un-named group therapy session.

As we’re plunged into blackness, any hinted-at meditations plumb darker 
imaginings, so the voices in our head bicker, confess or else whisper 
in our ears like intimate strangers. There are sounds of what might be 
crockery smashing, of crying and of possible violence. Is it a cult 
we’re part of, and if so, why is everyone singing to the Spartacus-like 
Francis (or is it Frances?) that might just be you?

Rosenberg’s adventure in binaural recording – a form of personal 
sensurround that wraps the sound around the listener – allows Glen 
Neath’s script to be as hokey as a Hammer era portmanteau horror flick. 
Married to Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design, it creates something 
akin to an experimental radio play in which the listener becomes 
participant in a spine-chilling forty-five minutes in which our own 
imaginations got both the better and the worst of us.

The Herald, November 22nd 2012


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Doogie Paul Obituary

Doogie Paul - Musician

Born October 16th 1972; died November 3rd 2012

Doogie Paul, who has died of cancer aged forty, was a singularly mercurial figure, both as bass player with James Yorkston and the Athletes over five albums across ten years, and during his early days as an award-winning if somewhat bruised and battered skateboarder. Paul captivated too on the all too rare occasions he performed his own songs live. Paul's untimely passing has robbed Edinburgh and Scotland's music scene of a rare talent, who, whether in the studio, onstage or in a bar with the many friends and strangers his energy sparked off, remained an instinctive, open-minded and unique presence.

Douglas Paul was born in Glasgow to Anne and Douglas, who led a musical family. Paul's father had been a professional bass player, and his elder brothers, Alan and Iain, played guitar and drums respectively. Paul grew up with his family in Newton Mearns, where he attended Mearns Primary and Eastwood High schools. Although bright, Paul left school as soon as possible to indulge a passion for skate-boarding which ensured the six-footer several championship wins, as well as no end of hospital visits. That career ended after Paul leapt off his board to avoid a collision with a much younger boy while practising for a competition. The incident briefly left Paul wheelchair-bound.

Paul first picked up a bass in his late teens, and played with bands in Glasgow before hooking up with Yorkston and the Athletes in Edinburgh. Paul toured with the band extensively, providing vital backing vocals as well as bass to Yorkston's doleful croon. Beyond his crucial role with Yorkston, between 2006 and 2008 Paul sang and performed his own material at shows usually involving associates of the Fife-based Fence Collective, which Yorkston and the Athletes remain linked to.

Accompanying himself on banjo, Paul's songs were spartan, intense and jarringly lovely. Some were recorded in demo form, though none were released. A version of folk legend Lal Waterson's song, Altisidora, was recorded with fellow Athlete Reuben Taylor, and Paul played bass on an album by Waterson's daughter and son, Marry Waterson and Oliver Knight. Paul was also involved in a tribute night to Waterson at the BBC Electric Proms in 2007.

Paul was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder in January 2010, but, after extensive sessions of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, was given the all-clear after a one-year check-up, only for him to relapse earlier this year.

As Yorkston relates on a Facebook tribute page to Paul set up by his multitude of friends, the last time Paul played as part of James Yorkston and the Athletes was at shows in London and Edinburgh. While too weak to play and sing at the same time, the pair duetted for a moving rendering of Yorkston's song, Temptation, from the 2008 album, When The Haar Rolls In.

With things worsening over the last few weeks, Paul checked into the Marie Curie hospice at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, only to move back home shortly afterwards. After much persuasion by the friends who visited and looked after him, Paul returned to the Marie Curie hospice, where he passed away soon after.

As all those who spent time with him in the last few days of his life confirm, Paul was a one-off. A free-spirit with an inspirational warmth and positivity, Doogie Paul loved life, and the people who filled his, to the last.

Paul is survived by his parents and brothers.

Neil Cooper, with thanks to Alan Paul and Marta Tycinska

The Herald, November 20th 2012


Doctor in the House - Dominic Hill on the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2013 Season

It was former Citizens Theatre boss Giles Havergal who told the Gorbals emporium's current artistic director Dominic Hill that Dr Faustus had never been produced at the theatre during his tenure. Given the body of classical plays produced with such flamboyant verve during Havergal's thirty year reign over the theatre along with fellow directors Robert David Macdonald and Philip Prowse, that Christopher Marlowe's play had never been tackled in the Gorbals came as a surprise to Hill.

Today's exclusive announcement in the Herald of the Citz's forthcoming Spring 2013 season finds Hill addressing this oversight by putting Dr Faustus at the centre of a programme that aims to make the classical contemporary. As tickets go on sale today for all shows, we can also announce that Hill's production of Dr Faustus will reunite him with the creative team behind his production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt while in charge of Dundee Rep.

As well as writer Colin Teevan coming on board to rewrite the play's weakest and most contested acts, Dr Faustus will be a co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse, who recently appointed Hill's former co-director at Dundee Rep, James Brining, as artistic director.

“I've always loved the play,” Hill says of Dr Faustus, “and I'm fascinated, as I think a lot of people are, by the idea of what is good and evil in the modern world, by the fact that we supposedly live in a secular society, but how, in the world of entertainment, the supernatural, the divine and ghosts still predominate. The way that Faustus thinks that fame, wealth and sex are missing from his life, that couldn't be more current.”

As well as Dr Faustus, Hill's new programme will join the dots between all the theatres he has run in other ways. Director and designer Stewart Laing will return to the theatre where he defined his career with a production of Jean Genet's The Maids, a play which continues Laing's ongoing inquiry into the European avant-garde in keeping with his early work at the Citz. Genet's play hasn't been seen in the Gorbals since Lindsay Kemp's production at the Citz's studio offshoot, The Close, in 1971. Kemp's take on the play featured a young Tim Curry in as cast originally meant to take the show to London before the plug was pulled on it by Genet's agent. Genet was also favourite of the directorial triumvirate, with The Blacks, The Balcony and The Screens produced during the 1980s.

“It's a tricky play to get right,” Hill admits, “but, rather than hark back to something that the Citz is renowned for, I think Stewart has the right aesthetic sensibility to make it sexy and shocking enough for today.”

Laing will also bring his hit participatory event, The Salon Project, to the Citizens following Laing's Untitled Productions' successful run at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre. It was while Hill was in charge of that theatre prior to moving west that he first enabled Laing to create The Salon Project, which dressed the entire audience in period costumes, many of which were sourced from the Citz.

“I feel very attached to it, “ Hill says, “and it seems right for here before Stewart takes it to London.”

Inbetween The Maids and The Salon Project, the Citizens will collaborate with Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre – one of the few main stages Hill hasn't been in charge of – for Donna Franceschild's new stage version of her 1990s TV drama, Takin' Over The Asylum. Franceschild's hit show was an early chance to see both David Tennant and Ken Stott on a small screen, and Royal Lyceum director Mark Thomson's new look at the script is a perfect example of Hill's second priority for the Citz.

“I've always said that what we're about is classic plays and Glasgow plays,” he says. “They don't fit together, but the tension between the two is really exciting.”

Following the Citz's co-production with Headlong on Mike Bartlett's new version of Medea starring Rachael Stirling, the two companies continue what has proved to be a fruitful partnership with a new look at Chekhov's The Seagull.

“Again,” says Hill, “it's a classic play, and, although it's not a re-write like Medea, it won't feel like dusty Chekhov. It will feel relevant and contemporary, and it feels right that it's in our programme

The season will end with a double bill of Far Away and Seagulls, two short plays by Caryl Churchill, whose best known play, Top Girls, was seen in a production at the Citizens in 2004. The double bill, directed by Hill, occupies the same slot as his productions of Endgame and Footfalls, two solo pieces by Samuel Beckett rarely seen on a big stage.

“These are contemporary classics,” Hill says of Churchill's plays. “Far Away starts off quite ordinary, then goes somewhere quite surreal. Caryl Churchill is a genius of a writer, and she should be done more here.”

As he talks, Hill is taking time out from rehearsals for Sleeping Beauty, his first Christmas show since taking over the theatre. “Sleeping Beauty slightly reminds me of The Three Musketeers,” Hill says of Chris Hannan's play, which Hill directed at the Traverse. “It's neither a pantomime or a Christmas show, and it also slightly reminds me of Ubu [which Hill directed at Dundee Rep], in that it's slightly anarchic.”

Beyond these other nods to the past, Hill's season clearly has its eye on the future.

“I've only done one year here,” he says, “but this season feels much more like what I want this place to be in terms of reinterpretations of classic plays. Both Dr Faustus and The Maids. have an epic universality about them. They're both about big things, and that's what I think the Citizens should be about, creating theatre for a modern audience that's about the things that matter in life. I've said it a million times, but I believe in the idea of theatre as an event and an experience, and I think a lot of the shows in the season will have that sense of an event. In that way, I hope we're looking forwards rather than backwards,”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2013 season go on sale today.

Citizens Theatre Spring 2013 Season At A Glance

Thu 17 January – Sat 2 February

Hamilton Town House
Thur 7 February – Sat 9 February,

Thu 14 February - Sat 9 March
This production will also play at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 13 Mar – 6 Apr

Fri 15 March – Sat 23 March
This production will also play at the Barbican London, 4 Apr –14 April

Mon 25 March – Sat 30 March, 8.30pm

Thu 4 April – Sat 27 April

Wed 1 – Sat 11 May

Thu 23 May – Sat 8 June

The Herald, November 20th 2012


Friday, 16 November 2012

The Red Hourglass

The Arches, Glasgow
3 stars
To get over the things you fear, you first have to confront them. 
Whether novelist Alan Bissett is scared of spiders or not isn’t on 
record, but he certainly gets stuck in to the little blighters in this 
arachnid-friendly solo effort first performed by himself during the 
Edinburgh Festival Fringe. From the hoodie-sporting common or garden 
variety who comes on like some wannabe chancer straight out of an 
Irvine Welsh story, to the black-booted southern belle Black Widow with 
predatory intentions, Bissett’s sextet of comic thumbnail sketches are 
life studies akin to biology lab dissections with extra added amateur 
psychology thrown in.

Bissett’s subjects are being held captive under glass in a St Andrews 
research centre, where the female of the species rules the roost. The 
pecking order elsewhere is made clear by the presence of a swarthy 
Latino tarantula and the neurotic New Yorker who embodies the recluse 

As well observed as all this is in Sacha Kyle’s production, it remains 
entertainingly slight, never really getting beyond basic character 
study when full-on interaction is required. Even so, Bissett is 
unabashed in his commitment, all but winking at the audience in what is 
essentially a series of routines which are at times as camp as a 1970s 
drag act doing Animal Magic for grown-ups.

Only at the end does the revolutionary intent of Bissett’s tangled web 
become clear. The clip-board wielding wasp is deceptively ridiculous, 
and when the Black Widow works her wiles the laughter stops completely. 
When Bissett dons the white coat of the play’s sole human presence, the 
sting in the show's tail is deadly.

The Herald, November 16th 2012


Thursday, 15 November 2012


Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
There’s something deeply troubling at the heart of this double bill of 
solo plays by Simon Stephens, which say much about the love/hate 
relationship with the city it takes its collective name from, be it at 
home or away. The first, T5, finds a woman in a hotel bedroom on the 
run from the crime scene she’s just witnessed, but unable to flee 
completely from the responsibilities she’s left behind. The second, 
Seawall, follows a shaggy dog story told by a man who seems to have 
everything, right through to the holiday accident that changed 

Both plays have appeared separately in different productions during the 
Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Seen together in George Perrin’s touring 
production for Paines Plough in association with Live Theatre, 
Newcastle and Salisbury Playhouse, these beautifully written studies of 
urban neuroses and everyday tragedies form a complimentary whole made 
even more powerful by how each story is told.

The Woman in T5’s interior monologue is heard by the audience through 
headphones as she plays out her anxiety on a careful reconstruction of 
a bland hotel room. For Seawall, the stage is stripped bare and the 
audience exposed to the harsh glare of unadorned light, with nothing 

With both shows clocking in at just under an hour for the two, the 
plays may be brief, but Stephens and Perrin pack more sense of unease 
into them than many full-length works can muster. While Abby Ford as 
the Woman in T5 makes for a restless figure seemingly in disguise, Cary 
Crankson as Alex in Seawall is so laid-back that the play’s conclusion 
is even more shocking in a masterpiece of understatement.

The Herald, November 15th 2012


Andy Hope 1930 - When Dinosaurs Become Modernists

Inverleith House, Edinburgh
November 1 to January 13 2013
4 stars
Scary monsters and super-creeps abound in the Berlin-based artist 
formerly known as Andreas Hofer's first UK museum exhibition, which 
features five new works among an epic forty-one on show. Seen side by 
side, there are moments when they resemble an outsize pulp fiction 
collage of pop culture ephemera swirling around Hofer's brain, 
over-lapping each other as they burst through the frame. Even the fact 
that Andy Hope 1930 has a secret identity speaks volumes about where 
he's coming from.

Because, drawing a line between Roy Lichtenstein and Daniel Johnston, 
Andy Hope 1930 takes the  trash aesthetic of golden age comic book 
iconography and invests it with a subverted mythology born of the more 
questioning, me-generation years. So, against a Zabriskie Point style 
landscape in 'Impressions d'Amerique', Batman and Robin are dressed as 
The Lone Ranger and Tonto, making the umbilical link between 
existentialist outlaw (super)heroes of old and new America as he goes.

  The nod to French proto-surrealist Raymond Roussel, who so influenced 
a generation of New York poets, is as knowing as the wonkified 
charity-shop Kurt Schwitters homage, the portrait of John Baldessari as 
Marvel Comics super-villain Galactus, which comes complete with extra 
added Jesus, and the strip cartoon take of Linda Lee as Supergirl. 
Because, amongst the desolate landscapes that recall the early work of 
Wim Wenders, another German fascinated with the Wild West reinvented as 
post-war counter-culture, Andy Hope 1930 needs heroes to call his own.

Of course, there are dinosaurs, be they larger than life and hidden 
behind wall-papered candy-stripes, or pocket-sized and contained, as 
they are in 'The Education Dinosaur Movie Hall'. This earth's core 
installation is a cardboard box peep-show into a Ray Harryhausen-style 
parallel universe where dinosaurs watch science-fiction B-movies at the 
local drive-in. As evolution goes, it's a spaced oddity, for sure. 
The List, November 2012



Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh
Wednesday October 24th 2012
3 stars
It will all work out fine,” murmurs Merja Kokkonen, aka Finnish 
electronic chanteuse and Fonal Recordings artiste Islaja, as she stands 
before her keyboard and assorted accoutrements. Kokkonen is sounding 
decidedly snuffly for her return trip to Edinburgh following her last 
visit in 2010. Islaja's appearance is a slightly downbeat climax to a 
quadruple bill of very different electronic imaginings.

First up is Anak-Anak, the solo guise of Conquering Animal Sound 
vocalist and knob twiddler
Anneke Kampman, whose looped warbles sound like a strangely penetrating 
and appositely spartan chorale. 'Raven 'Shuns is a Noise-scene 
supergroop of Rhian Thompson, aka CK Dexter Haven, Stuart Arnot and 
Susan Fitzpatrick, who record as Acrid Lactations for their own Total 
Vermin label. Combined, it's a quiet riot of toy-town scrapings that 
might just have discovered the true sound of string.

Tomutonttu is Kokkonen's touring partner and fellow Finn, Jan Anderzen, 
who stands over a table-top full of FX pedals with which he conjures up 
an urgent science-fiction stew. Islaja herself opens with an analogue 
instrumental with nods to John Carpenter's early, synth-based film 
soundtracks before giving way to an understated set of breathily 
classicist ditties on which the snuffles eventually give way to low-key 
pleasures. Like the woman said, it worked out fine. 

The List, November 2012


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Summerhall Art & Music Exhibitions

Summerhall, Edinburgh, until November 24th 2012
4 stars
The path-way from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan is a tellingly symbolic one in the two most straightforward of seven big shows exploring the relationships between sound and vision in very different ways. The images of these two icons of popular music may be a short stroll from a dark room to the basement, but, captured at their creative peak, these two pop cultural giants mark out the co-dependent leap from blue-collar street-songs to the avant-garde. In 'A Hero of the True West, Jim Marshall's images captures the Man in Black in transit via thirty black and white shots of Cash in concert and with his family in the late 1960s. When Cash peers through the grille of a van en route to Folsom Prison, so stony-faced is he that it's as if he's in as cell of his own making.

If Cash appears on the run from his own demons, the image of him with Dylan is a kind of baton-passing. Because, as captured by celebrity snapper Barry Feinstein in 'Don't Follow Leaders – Bob Dylan in the 'Judas' Years, Dylan revelled in his people's poet status. Looking impossibly hip against a bombed-out back-drop of crumbling houses and snot-nosed street urchins in mid 1960s Liverpool, it clearly wasn't just Dylan's guitar that was electric.

The urban decay is more in keeping with 'Punk Politics Posters – 35 years of fighting racism through music', a crucial collection of 1970s Rock Against Racism posters and ephemera that captured the messy, cut n' paste energy of the time, as well as the complimentary flow between punk and reggae during a combative era when the police were considered enemies of the people.

Kommissar Hjuler is a police-man in Germany, who, along with his partner Mama Baer and porn star Violet Storm, might also be considered such. The walls of corrupted detritus, scarifying paintings and explicit collages that make up their 'Flux + (st/p) or (m/n)' show seems to mirror their live noize performances (one of which can be seen at Summerhall on November 10th), as the trio play with pornography in the way pre-punk provocateurs COUM Transmissions did before morphing into Throbbing Gristle.

All of whom owe much to sound poet Henri Chopin's Revue OU publication, which featured recordings of key avant-garde figures alongside extravagant and elaborate artworks. Collected here in OU OU OU, Revue OU makes for a bumper collection of artworks wrapped around each other in tantalisingly tactile fashion.

Lauren Sarah Hayes' 'Skin Music' is equally tantalising, engaging physically with the listener as music pours from the furniture you're sitting on in a way that recalls Kaffe Matthews' Sonic Bed project. Harry Whalley's split-screen video installation, 'A Little Harmonic Labyrinth', meanwhile, jump-cuts a sole violinist playing two different musical notations. Reconfigured at random by computer, as with all of the shows here, the possibilities are endless.

The List, November 2012


Theatre Uncut 2012 - Living In Interesting Times

When Theatre Uncut was awarded a Bank of Scotland Herald Angel Award during this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it was vindication for a radical idea borne from adversity. Theatre Uncut''s three programmes of brand new plays were performed script-in-hand in the Traverse Theatre bar at ten in the morning. Many of the plays had been penned just a few days before by an array of international writers, and were performed by a top-notch cast pulled together from other Fringe shows with only a couple of hours rehearsal.

The plays themselves were akin to living newspapers, responding to current events with a sense of immediacy that mattered more than any rough edges there might have been. There weren't many. Nor were the plays old-fashioned polemics, but offered up instead a more lateral set of responses which retained a very human and poetic heart amongst the seriousness of their concerns.

The new works ranged from a piece by American playwright Neil LaBute that looked at the relationship between a father and his Occupy protester son, to David Greig's hot off the press reaction to the release from prison and subsequent re-arrest of the Naked Rambler. In-between these came Kieran Hurley's timely response to Olympic Games fever, as well as new works by writers from Greece, Syria, Spain and Iceland.

One of the most moving plays in the Theatre Uncut programme was Spine, Clara Brennan's look at the effect of library closures as well as the power of words. Brennan's monologue seemed to characterise the spirit of an idea which began as a conversation around a kitchen table between director Hannah Price and playwright Mark Ravenhill.

“It was October 2010, and the UK coalition government had just announced their cuts in public spending,” explains Theatre Uncut co-director Emma Callander. “As theatre-makers, Hannah and Mark wanted to respond to what was going on somehow, but weren't sure how.”

Out of this came a set of plays that were performed during the first Theatre Uncut in 2011. This programme of eight short pieces included works by Ravenhill, Dennis Kelly and a piece by David Greig called Fragile, which cast the audience as a mental health worker attempting to soothe one of her clients.

“It felt very vital,” says Callander. “Not just because of the plays, which were brilliant, but because of the way they were done. By saying that anyone could download the plays for free and do them anywhere, there were eighty-nine performances happening all over the UK, and this allowed people to talk about the effect of the spending cuts through theatre.”

Following this year's showcase at the Traverse, this second edition of Theatre Uncut has gone global, with some 187 groups already signed up to perform the plays. These include a group led by a drama teacher from Japan who saw the plays in Edinburgh, and will now be overseeing a production with her students taking place on a Japanese air base.

“Something like that could only have come out of the Edinburgh Festival,” says Callendar.

As she talks, Callander is taking a break from rehearsing Greig's Naked Rambler play for the Young Vic with leading Scottish actress, Lesley Hart. In Scotland itself, the Traverse will again take the lead, with performances of five of the plays this Wednesday night, including Kieran Hurley's London 2012. Scots/Swedish company Creative Electric will present five Theatre Uncut plays at the Bongo Club, also in Edinburgh, next Sunday night, while this Wednesday there will be afternoon performances at the Central Halls. In Glasgow, the Tron Young Theatre company, Glasgow University Drama Society and former students of the Royal Conservatoire will give their interpretations of some of the plays. There will also be performances in Perth, Aberdeenshire and North Berwick.

“There's a real hunger for political theatre now in a way that there wasn't a couple of years ago, when it was almost a dirty word,” says Callander. “I think having a government you're in opposition to can be a really creative thing, but Theatre Uncut can only exist as long as it's needed. There's no vanity involved in it, but as long as something needs to be questioned, we'll question it through Theatre Uncut. If not, Theatre Uncut won't exist. Imagine that, a perfect world without any public spending cuts...Listen to me, wishing our theatre away.”

Theatre Uncut 2012 will take place between November 12th-18th. A full map of performances across the world can be found at,-3.188095&spn=0.149725,0.589828

The Herald, November 13th 2012


We Hope That You're Happy (Why Would We Lie?)

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
The popcorn handed out to the audience on the way in to see Made in China's two-handed dissection of happiness is as playfully deceptive as everything that follows. The black-clad young woman standing atop a platform licking an ice lolly who greets us similarly wrong-foots any implied fun and games. Over its fifty minute duration, however, Tim Cowbury's script morphs into an increasingly manic and unreliable memoir of apparently shared experience in search of meaning.

The woman on the platform is Jess. The young man that slinks on sporting a Sideshow Bob hair-do is Chris. As the pair gaze out at the audience, they claim to be best friends. In-between downing cans of beer pulled from an ice-box beside Jess, the duo tell elaborate shaggy-dog stories and do dance routines to David Bowie's Rebel Rebel and Susan Cadogan's reggae take on Hurt So Good. They cover themselves in flour and tomato ketchup, putting themselves through dramatic endurance tests as their words and actions become more desperate and frenetic. Where Jess and Chris look for eternal salvation, they remain stuck with an endless round of cheap thrills, sugar rushes and bad memories.

Developed at Forest Fringe by Cowbury with performers Jessica Latowicki and Christopher Brett Bailey, and with support by the National Theatre Studio, this is a quirkily realised and often very funny study of how memories become myths. Among all the live art detritus, In the end, it's as if fairy-tale trouble-makers Hansel and Gretel had discovered an off licence next to the sweet shop and rewritten Samuel Beckett's Happy Days in their own messed-up image.

The Herald, November 13th 2012


Monday, 12 November 2012


The Old Ambulance Depot, Edinburgh
4 stars
It’s the cosiness that draws you into theatre designer Kai Fischer’s 
moodily lit installation and performance piece. The casual listener 
might never guess where the words being uttered in such soothing female 
tones through speakers attached to a series of wooden platforms are 
taken from. Once you realise they are drawn verbatim from the catalogue 
for the Nazi-organised Degenerate Art Exhibition that took place in 
Munich in 1937, the piece takes on a new measure of seriousness. The 
exhibition, organised by Adolf Hitler and his cronies, aimed to deride 
and discredit anything the state could not control or understand.
As the sensors that operate each speaker are triggered whenever a 
viewer draws close, the gentlest of cacophonies comes gradually and 
shockingly into focus. When performers Pauline Goldsmith and Pauline 
Lockhart draw the audience into what initially resembles a children’s 
story-telling session, the content of their sing-song conspiracy is 
even more chilling.
Goldsmith, Lockhart and the disembodied voices talk of work being made 
by ‘lunatics’ and ‘cretins’ with the casual contempt which these days 
are usually the preserve of those who treat the Turner Prize as if it’s 
a joke. The fact that the women here are denigrating works by Picasso, 
Paul Klee and others who recognised an abstract world beyond the Nazis 
Aryan vision says much about the 1937 exhibition’s anti-intellectual 
With sound design by Matt Padden, Fischer has made a major statement on 
the dangers of how an oppressive state reduces things to a lowest 
common denominator at their peril. This hauntingly mesmeric treatment 
of the subject is both a meditation and a warning that all should take 
heed of.

The Herald, November 12th 2012


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Muscles of Joy – No-One's Little Girls Shouting Out Loud

International Women’s Day March 1982

In a black-painted former city centre warehouse turned venue in Liverpool, called, oddly enough, The Warehouse, The Raincoats are singing a traditional Latin-American folk song a cappella. The song is the encore to a set honed in the wake of the all-female trio’s (plus assorted male and female drummers) previous two albums of lo-fi Ladbroke Grove squat-rock with a lyrical feminist bent, their self-named 1979 debut, which features an even more gender-bending take on The Kinks’ song Lola than the original, and its smoother, more world-beat-inclined 1981 follow-up, Odyshape.

A live cassette recorded in New York, The Kitchen Tapes, will follow a year later, and a final album, Moving, in 1984, before The Raincoats fall prey to whatever things bands fall prey to. It will take more than a decade for Nirvana's Kurt Cobain to bring The Raincoats into the spotlight once more. Tonight, however, with Gina Birch, Ana Da Silva and Vicky Aspinall lined up side by side at the front of the stage, it’s all harmony.

The Raincoats are followed by a poetry set from Bradford performance poet Joolz (Denby), with the more stridently abrasive mixed-sex sounds of The Au Pairs. As a show of strength of various shades of what a couple of decades later will be dubbed post-punk, the collective grasping of a radicalised DIY aesthetic is an inspiration. Especially at a time when another woman, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would shortly be launching her face-saving defence of the Falkland Islands from Argentina that would effectively usher her Conservative government into a landslide second term a year later.

At Liverpool Warehouse, however, amidst a hand-me-down stew of fudge-fingered benefit-gig scratch-funk-reggae sisterhood, it’s the simple faltering purity of The Raincoats three voices joined as one collective body in a language not of their own that is most affecting. It’s honest, heartfelt, and is done simply for the joy of it.    

Thirty years on

On a Sunday night in late November 2011, in the basement of a former church in Glasgow’s west end, Muscles of Joy are launching their eponymous debut longish-playing record. The merchandise stall is selling vinyls and tote bags. Nothing unusual there, until you get closer. Off to one side, in the venue itself, there’s a screen showing looped animations throughout the evening. Support band Palms feature Sinead, former manic front-woman of Divorce, who has calmed down a bit since the split (but who got the kids?), and are awash with messy garage-band attitude and cool.

Muscles of Joy themselves are a seven-strong all-woman body of song producing a concentrated chorale that’s untutored and instinctive, even as it’s performed with near military discipline, like a series of well-rehearsed chants and mantras for a ritual that’s both primitive and out of time, yet, like the vintage frocks the band wear, disarmingly, beguilingly, bang up to date.

The musical backdrop to the layered harmonies is full of hypnotic repetitions pulsing through the passed-round array of accordion, melodica and ornate-looking percussion instruments that leave plenty of space between breaths that suggest that, as The Slits made clear on In the Beginning There was Rhythm, their side of a 1980 split single with fellow travellers The Pop Group, silence is a rhythm too. Beyond this raging calm, the music occasionally erupts into busy flurries of pounding fury.

One of the songs played by the septet is a Venezuelan folk piece called Field Protest. Accompanied by home-made marching machines, it sounds both fierce and fragile. Physically, it looks like everyone on-stage is doing a shift down at the steamie, singing their way through the washing, drying and folding. Similarly performed in a language not of their own, Muscles of Joy’s acquired invocations channel some umbilical link to a shared past with another song performed three decades before. If the Latin-American folk-song The Raincoats sang was their call, Field Protest is Muscles of Joy’s response.

Between The Raincoats and Muscles of Joy

Somewhere in-between The Raincoats and Muscles of Joy came Riot Grrrl and Chicks on Speed; Madonna, Girl Power, Lady Gaga and now Pussy Riot. Before, during and after were Maggie Nicols (nee Nichols), Julie Tippetts and Voice, the male/female vocal quartet formed by Nicols and Tippetts with Phil Minton and Brian Eley in 1975, releasing an eponymous album a year later.

Of The Raincoats peers, The Slits, Kleenex/Lilliput, The Au Pairs, Delta 5, Lora Logic, Young Marble Giants, Linder of Ludus, occasional Flying Lizards vocalist and future professor of punk Vivien Goldman and others mentioned in Helen Reddington/McCookerybook’s 2007 book, The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era, are all in the Muscles of Joy mix. 

Muscles of Joy's gynaecologically-inclined name not only recalls a coyer, but somehow more empowering take on The Slits, but also looks to Throbbing Gristle as a life-giving flesh-and-blood bed-fellow. Tellingly, Muscles of Joy supported Ari Up’s reignited Slits at their last ever Glasgow show in 2010 prior to Up’s untimely death several months later. The recent reappearance on the live scene of former Slit Viv Albertine suggests that particular flame is ongoing.

All of which, somehow, consciously or otherwise, has gone some way to influence, not just Muscles of Joy, but a fecund loose-knit network of Glasgow-based female artist/musicians beyond them who put their voice at the centre of their practice.

Aileen Campbell, Cara Tolmie, Sue Tompkins and Hanna Tuulikki are all more than averse to shouting out loud one way or another. Susan Phillipsz, of course, was heard but not seen on the banks of the Clyde at GI 2010, then later at the Turner Prize before reimagining the One O' Clock Gun with her own voice at Edinburgh Art Festival 2012. Campbell is a member of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, who worked and recorded with Edinburgh-born Nicols at their annual GIO festival. Nicols will appear at GIO's tenth anniversary festival in November 2012.


Muscles of Joy formed organically out of a loose-knit series of social and creative connections that in part grew out of The Parsonage, the ever-multiplying Glasgow-based community choir populated by many connected with the city's artistic life.

At time of writing, Muscles of Joy are Anne-Marie Copestake, Esther Congreave, Katy Dove, Leigh Ferguson, Victoria Morton, Jenny O’Boyle and Ariki Porteous. Sophie Macpherson and Charlotte Prodger were previously members, with Congreave the most recent to join. All by varying degrees are accomplished visual artists (including Ferguson's international renown as a hairdresser), often with an interest in performance.

Musically, Ferguson previously played with Copestake and Morton (and Janis Fyfe Murray and some-time Simple Minds/Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Gordy Goudie) in 5 Pce Horsefamily.

Most telling of all the connections between members of Muscles of Joy, perhaps, is a film made by Anne-Marie Copestake in 1999, and shown alongside Victoria Morton’s solo show at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, in 2010.

One of several films made by Copestake of artists visiting Glasgow, in it, Morton interviews Chicks on Speed, the post Riot Grrrl international network of artists who, alongside a cottage industry of zines, badges and other bespoke DIY paraphernalia/merchandise, imagined and manufactured themselves as a band before becoming a real life touring and recording entity. A Muscles of Joy gig was arranged at Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh to coincide with Morton’s Inverleith House show.

The Album

Whether any of this matters in the make-up of Muscles of Joy is debatable. Either way, in the flesh, they are unavoidably part workshop-style collective, part art/scene super-group. More significantly, live, they are one of the most quietly provocative prospects around, a raw, well-drilled and hypnotic experience of unfettered mouth music that probably didn't give the band its name. The Muscles of Joy experience is a primal one, their implied roundelets almost mediaeval.

On record, Muscles of Joy are a different prospect. Musically, without the visual and the physical spectacle of marching machines and seven or eight different personalities united in the sort of rapt, unified and fragile concentration that human error can shatter with a bum note, for those unfamiliar with the Muscles of Joy oeuvre, it’s a harder, stiffer, more impenetrable listen.

Clocking in a couple of minutes over half an hour, it opens with a rudimentary bass intro straight out of the Au Pairs back catalogue, before accelerating with full-throttle stabbing synths, skew-whiff percussion and a series of calculatedly guttural moans into a glorious if somewhat disarming cacophony as calling card.

This is Room of Our Own, a Woolf-referencing statement of intent that might make some sensitive listeners very afraid indeed. The nine-minute Water Break-It’s-Neck sounds initially more contemplative. Part domestic nursery rhyme, part sleepified lament pulsed ever so gently into crashing life by insistently wheezy accordion as the tide seems to roll in and out of earshot, it becomes a working and waulking song, the collective incantations of which threaten to run away with themselves. Field Protest's martial stomp ups the ante even more all the way to the end of side one in what sounds like a mass rite of strength through...well, joy, actually.

Second side opener Coins Across His Hips is pure Au Pairs / Delta 5 punk-funk mutant disco, thrusting away at the body politic with the sort of abandon that nouveau 1981 NY acts like Friends, whose single, I'm His Girl is one of the sassiest records of the year thus far, and New Zealand band Opposite Sex, are working towards with more seductively mainstream fashionista appropriations and interpretations.

 Swan Shape sounds like the Christmas Carol, In The Bleak Midwinter, interfered with by a washing-machine guitar, while album closer Interchangeable Letterset opens with the prodding repetitions of a Philip Glass chorale before darting off into a myriad of directions.

“It grows into the shape of the thing that you want”, are the record's final, softly-spoken words of unaccompanied wisdom before a sudden hush takes hold.

Like the Muscles of Joy live spectacle, though, the Muscles of Joy record isn’t just about the music. With every one of the 500 outer and inner record sleeves hand-crafted by the band/artists at Dundee Contemporary Arts’ print workshop, the end result is several bespoke works of art in one, all wrapped around each other in some cut-out shape, world-turned-DayGlo harmony. Every copy, then, like the tote bags, is a limited edition of one. Lest any of these become scratched, tattered or torn, the whole package comes with a free CD of the album so you never even have to put the needle on it and get into the groove even once. 

Out There

Since their record launch, Muscles of Joy have embarked on their first international dates in America, first at a gallery in Boston where Victoria Morton exhibited, before the band finished up playing at the New Museum Theatre in New York’s now gentrified Bowery district.

Also from an art-school background, The Raincoats too played New York towards the end of 1982. This was in an augmented line-up at multi-form art-space, The Kitchen, one of whose trustees was Laurie Anderson.
A bare bones recording of the show would later be released on cassette as The Kitchen Tapes on the underground-championing Reach Out International Records (ROIR), and would reveal a looser-knit, altogether funkier Raincoats than on the studio recordings. The Raincoats American shows were sparsely attended, and the band was on its last legs. The band may have found their voice, but no-one was listening.
It’s been a different story so far for Muscles of Joy. Since their own Stateside sojourn, they’ve become a bona fide working band. Having already supported the Slits and Lydia Lunch, they continued in that vein via dates with Factory Floor, Veronica Falls and tUnE-yArDs. 

Muscles of Joy even made it onto the long list of the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year Award. A possibly mass-produced CD-only edition of the album was put on sale to coincide with the occasion, and MoJ supported former Gussets singer Heather's new band, called rather wonderfully in this nouveau Jubilee year, HRH. Muscles of Joy never made it to the Scottish Album of the Year short-list, but, in refreshingly eclectic company as they were, were the most out there of all the nominees by far.

Not that other activities have been curtailed in any way. In February, Muscles of Joy combined forces with composer and Luke Fowler collaborator Stevie Jones to provide a live soundtrack for the screening of Anne-Marie Copestake's film, And Under That, which won the 2011 Margaret Tait Award.

In March, Sophie Macpherson took part in The Voice is A Language, a film and performance event that formed part of the Her Noise-curated Feminisms and the Sonic three-day event which orbited the legacy of Meredith Monk. With a talk and performance by Pauline Oliveros leading the Tate Modern-based weekend, other contributors to a symposium exploring feminist discourses in sound and music included Kaffe Matthews and Maggie Nicols. As well as Macpherson, Cara Tolmie and Sue Tompkins also took part in The Voice is A Language.

As part of GI 2012, Muscles of Joy took part in Everything Flows, an EP released by Patricia Fleming Projects. The record featured nine Glasgow-based artists and bands who cross over between the city's art and music scenes. As well as Muscles of Joy, the record featured Ross Sinclair, David Sherry, Raydale Dower's Tut Vu Vu project, Life Without Buildings, featuring Sue Tompkins, Douglas Gordon with Chicks on Speed, Tony Swain and Mark Vernon's Hassle Hound project, Douglas Morland in his Fall-referencing Older Lover guise and Rob Churm's band, Gummy Stumps.

A second screening of And Under That took place in August alongside Tait's only feature film, Blue Black Permanent, as part of Glasgow Women's Library's celebration of Tait at the CCA in Glasgow. The same month, Muscles of Joy played live at Summerhall, the sprawling arts lab which has transformed the old Royal Dick Veterinary School, as part of Edinburgh Art Festival’s Art Late shindig. Since then, silence. Until now. 


Two new pieces by Muscles of Joy, Insl and Segue, form part of Some Songs Side By Side, a box set compilation documenting a series of snapshots of Glasgow’s fecund, music scene in 2012. Released on December 3rd, this three-way initiative is between leading left-field venue Stereo CafĂ© Bar, Re:Peater Records and the Watts of Goodwill label, the latter of whom released the Muscles of Joy album.

Some Songs Side By Side features eight bands spread over 2 X 12” vinyl LPs and, as with the Muscles of Joy album, a CD. Like any record, Some Songs Side By Side is an attempt to capture the fleeting nowness of a moment in time, before things change and move on.
In its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, time-capsule-like intent, the box also contains a series of new, strictly black and white artworks by the likes of David Shrigley, Tony Swain and Mark Baines, and a sixteen-page booklet featuring contributions by the artists and a text by writer, lecturer and former Belle and Sebastian manager John Williamson.

Following their own album, the two Muscles of Joy contributions sound initially like more of the same, but denser, and, on Insl, at least, funkier. If the song’s opening vocal sounds abrasive, the bass, cow-bell and violin sounds underpin the counterpointing harmonies with a jauntier stride before the tempo slows again in what, in a primitivism that resembles original New York punk-funk trio, ESG , is a re-mix away from seriously hitting the dance-floor.
Segue is a more abstract, lullaby-like construction that puts wooden flute mysticism and percussion at the heart of a textured babble that slowly fades into the ether like gossamer.

While Insl and Segue wouldn’t sound out of place on the album, it would also be too much, too exhausting a listen. Heard on Some Songs Side By Side alongside seven other acts, however, including Palms and other all-female acts Sacred Paws and The Rosy Crucifixion, the two tracks
are allowed to breathe.
It’s akin to Autosuggestion and From Safety To Where?, the two Joy Division songs recorded at sessions for their 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures, but which were only initially released on Earcom 2, a three-band compilation released by the Edinburgh-based
post-punk label, Fast Product, who also knew a thing or two about packaging art as object.

Beyond Insl and Segue, the future of Muscles of Joy is unclear. Co-ordinating seven people, each with busy artistic lives outside the band, to be in the same room at the same time can’t be easy. Perhaps having a song called Segue is as good a summing up as any.



Meanwhile, back at the album launch last November, it’s all girls, women and children together.

“Hi, Mum!”, says one of the band from the stage at Oran Mor, sounding charmingly like a self-conscious kid in a 1970s talent contest, before self-consciousness was blown away by reality TV.

“Hi, Mum as well!”, another picks up, as they might with a line or a harmony.

Another says she’s wearing her granny’s dress.

“Let’s hear it for mums..”, goes the mantra. “Let’s hear it for grans...”

If they’d been talking about The Raincoats and everyone who went before them, it couldn’t have been more special.

Muscles of Joy is available on the Watts of Goodwill label now; Some Songs Side By Side is available from December 3rd. Muscles of joy play ass part of Mono's 10th anniversary birthday bash on November 16th 2012 with Franz Ferdinand, RM Hubbert, JD Twitch, Veronica Falls (DJ set) at Mono in Glasgow

MAP, November 2012