Posts Tagged ‘ Spoken Word ’


Just An Observation Friday October 25th


Well the long awaited revolution so many of us have wished for gained some screen time on Newsnight this week and arrived not courtesy of the latest highly educated whiz kid politician but from the unlikely source of comedian/actor, Russell Brand. in a thoroughly engaging and convincing interview with regular curmudgeon Jeremy Paxman, or ‘Jeremy darling’ as he will henceforth be known thanks to Brand’s affectionate terming of this supposed political heavyweight, the entertainer put forward a thoroughly convincing and impassioned argument.
Admittedly never a great admirer of Brand’s in the past finding his stand up irritatingly puerile and the least said about his acting abilities-never mind his choice of roles and former wife, the even more irritating Katy Perry- the better. However he has gone someway to reconstructing himself as a social and cultural commentator and in this area I feel he is pretty much unsurpassed in addressing issues politicians, journalists and most other celebrities-Morrissey a notable exception occupies a lot of the same territory but more about him later- simply do not. Dismissed by Paxman as a ‘trivial man’ Brand’s calls for revolution may on the surface come across as exactly that but dig deeper into what he is actually saying and the truth provides a concrete basis for his vocal exhortations and facial grimaces. A cheesy smile occupied his face for most of the interview and Paxman would have done well to remember the old adage ‘Beware the smiling assassin’ as at the interview’s conclusion there was no doubt as to who had trounced who.
‘Profit is a filthy word’ and ‘not voting out of absolute indifference’ were just two notable quotes in an argument which at times was peppered with florally enhanced adjectives but still managed to put across its basic terms. There is no representation in politics for a huge part of our society and I am part of that section which has no representation. The best vote open to me is for the lesser of two evils
which may go someway in preventing the greater evil triumphing.
This option however is riddled with a fatal flaw as anyone who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last General Election discovered. I remember speaking to a young first time voter shortly after the election when the Lib Dem’s had joined forces with the Tories in the disastrous collision still in power and he was already disillusioned as voting Liberal-which he considered the most humanitarian and fair option open to him- he had found himself complicit in electing the Tories into power when his objectives had been quite the opposite. This is the disillusioned and disenfranchised populous Brand was referring to who, from what I can see, are all around me and I number myself amongst them.
As for revolution well, why not? If the EDL can make political inroads in opposition to the fairer aspects of our political system why can’t we take charge and oppose the less fair ones. Sometimes it really is that simple it is just important to not let complacency get in the way. That is the real enemy!
As mentioned earlier Morrissey is just as much an activist and has spent his career being a proverbial fly in the ointment. It is unimportant whether you like his music or not although this week The Smiths album The Queen is Dead was voted the best album of all time in the NME in a chart which, for a change, seemed to possess some integrity and validity-two of my personal top three Patti Smith’s Horses and The Velvet Underground and Nico were there with only The New York Dolls missing from the top ten- but as an artist he has always spoken out on subjects others were too scared to address or considered taboo.
His Autobiography however is redefining that overworked genre and is brilliantly written in an area where the likes of nineteen year old Harry Styles- grew up in privileged background, entered talent show, made millions-proliferate and , that filthy word again, profit. It is also obvious that he has written this book himself and the use of language is impressive, evocative and wholly descriptive. Having grown up in the greyish blacks and whites of Manchester in the sixties and seventies this harsh reality never really left him even when, as the last of the international playboys, he is breakfasting with David Bowie. Intermittent snippets of conversation between these two figureheads and reluctant representatives of different generations allow us to discern that the world of the celebrity is mundane and all most of them have in common is their status and prestige. One senses he feels more comfortable with and in awe of the low rent ‘Carry On’ stars of his childhood than the Bowies, Julie Christies and other A-Listers he encounters.
As for his much publicised admission of a sex life, well that is done in true Morrissey fashion by alluding as opposed to out and out confession. If one gains any sense of a true love in Morrisey’s life then it can be directed towards the New York Dolls rather than any individual. Jake Walters would appear to come closest to capturing his heart but even he emerges as a temporary fixture whilst the Dolls are a constant source of joy and love throughout.
Definitely an autobiography which lives up to its apocryphal title and provides what most of us want from such a tome in that it names and shames constantly and he doesn’t stop at grinding his axe but continues to swing it with reckless abandon much to the reader’s delight and amusement. It is about time someone used their position to tell it how it is and just as refreshing is his deeply descriptive telling of pivotal life moments which also are not your typical fare.
Tonight sees 2013’s last instalment of Neu Reekie with an impressive line up including Withered Hand, Kei Miller, Rachel Mc Crum amongst others. The main act for me tonight bthough has to be Teen Canteen who are also promoting their excellent debut single ‘Honey’ coincidentally released on the Neu Reekie record label-these people are already following Brand’s doctrine of getting off their arses and making something happen. This is just one of several live gigs lined up around the country over the next coming weeks including one at RAMMED in the Voodoo Rooms on November 16th. Definitely one of the best Scottish acts on the circuit at the moment catch them while you can at these more intimate venues as it is only a matter of time before this changes as their star is very much in the ascendant.
Here to get your weekend off to a flying start is the video directed by Jonathan Feemantle of that aforementioned single ‘Honey’ released this week.


Neu Reekie 39 Sublimely Sliced


 Arriving slightly late-not my fault- we thought it best not to enter the show, disturbing others in our quest for a seat, whilst it was still in its early animation stages therefore repairing to the bar for a relaxing drink to wait for the first break in proceedings before making our entry. Unfortunately by making this miscalculation and due to a change in the format of the evening we also missed the set by Pumajaw who I had been hoping to catch.

 Meandering up the stairs the drifting sounds of the Nancy Sinatra classic ‘Bang Bang’ delivered in the hauntingly husky tones of Pinkie McClure delivered over an ambient wash by John Wills it became clear that this was the end of their set and unfortunately we were just in time to hear their last number. I wish I had caught more of their set however as what I did catch was highly impressive. Fortunately most of what came up next-we arrived in time for the first break-was also highly worthwhile.

 Janette Ayachi opened the next segment reading from her acclaimed collection ‘A Choir of Ghosts’ in her inimitable and individual style. This was followed by the Kaspar Jancis  animation piece ‘Crocodile’ from 2009 which told the tale of a down at heel opera start who is forced by circumstance to work in a crocodile outfit before  a more surrealist turn of events take control and a more moving tale takes shape.

 Following this was Billy Letford who rendered what appeared to be a freeform piece about the late night bus journey of your worst nightmares. In truth the work was far too structured to be spontaneous but he delivered it without prompting or notes and made it seem totally effortless whilst his confidence in what he was doing was blatantly apparent  providing a highlight of the evening.

 The first musical segment of the evening- at least the first full set I caught- was by the Wellgreen who with their stunningly beautiful harmonies and immaculate pop sensibilities came across as  Simon and Garfunkel meets the Monkees and in the best way imaginable. The two piece had a sound that was distinctly pure but also strayed away from being overly mawkish. From then it was straight into the closing musical act Linden which I felt was more of the same-including band members- slightly bulked out with more musical muscle but somehow without the potency of what had gone immediately before. Perhaps it was too similar to come on immediately and suffered in comparison  but it didn’t really register with me as much as I felt it should have.

  This was however the penultimate Neu Reekie of 2013 at Summerhall and with Withered Hand and Teen Canteen lined up for the next one I felt this was more of a low key and relaxed affair than some of their more recent outings. It still had its highlights- Billy Letford Janette Ayachi and the Wellgreen maintained the high Neu Reekie standards expected- and the change of format indicates that shaking things up is still high on the agenda and this already has me looking forward to October’s edition.


Superbard: The Flood


This charmingly constructed show of apocalyptic scenarios narrated by Superbard- aka George Lewcowicz- in various guises including nerdy Graham, Graham’s housemate’s boss plus a soft core indie electro musician called Adam all involve their personal tales of impending doom via computer games in the upcoming flood of the title. Drawing in random factors such as computer games, misjudged presents social ineptitude and a Brixton afloat on a rising sea , it is a barnstorming effort which never lets up during its hour long duration.

 Lewcowicz has obviously put a lot of thought into this show and seems to direct the technological back up which highlights his words. He is amazingly easy to listen to and his Radio 2 voice is well suited to this kind of spoken word event. It is strange then that he chooses to read constantly from a scripted pad rather than memorise some of the lengthier sections as some of their potency is lost as he seems to be trying to multi-task on many occasions.  The show would be better served if he engaged with the audience more rather than trying to manoeuvre himself into several different roles all at once.

 On the occasions he does lend the audience more of his one on one attention the results are extremely favourable. There is a rousing version of ‘The Animals Went in Two by Two’, a healthy amount of self deprecation  and my personal favourite-not- a singalong chorus for us all to join in with. Somehow Lewcowicz manages to make the latter less excruciating than usual  so top marks to him for that alone.

 This is a great lunchtime show and it is good to see the Underbelly including a spoken word event as they are proving more and more popular with audiences than they have done for years. ‘Superbard: The Flood’ merely confirms this upswing and deservedly holds its head high above water in the esteemed sea of company it keeps.


Suoerbard:The Flood is on at 1.10pm at the Underbelly until August 26th



Liz Lochead :Apple says Aaah and Other Poems


Taking to the stage in typically unassuming but commanding manner Liz Lochead needs no introduction before launching into Edmund Morgan’s ‘The Apple Song’. It is a fitting opener and manages to get the audience onside from the get go with its insouciant charm mixed with her unique delivery and nuance.

 Following on from this is an anecdotal tale concerning her school days which conjure up memories and happy times and provide the next poem her own-and show title- ‘Apple says Aaah’. The schooldays theme continues with further tales which make her memories as vivid to the audience as they clearly are to her and his segues nicely into Adrian Mitchell’s ‘Back in the Playground Blues’. Or at least it would have if an audience member hadn’t taken ill and the room had to be evacuated whilst the situation was dealt with.

 Disaster averted –and hopefully the patient taken care of and road to recovery- Lochead continued as a trouper should and charmed us all further with a reading of Robert Burns’s universally famous ‘To a Mouse’. She then delivered a Burns styled 1979 poem in the voice of a self created character-Nettie Abernethy- ‘The Life of Mrs. Riley’ before moving onto a totally waywardly amusing catalogue poem about Aunty’s followed by one about a range of wall paints named after famous artists;Vymura.

 Introducing saxophonist Steve Kettley onstage she added a little light background music to her next few poems. One about Ira and George Gershwin called –fittingly- ‘The Gershwins’ led into another called ‘Like Another Rolling Stone’ before her closing verse the humorous but evocative ‘In Praise of Old Vinyl’ which avowedly paid tribute to vinyl albums –or LP’s as she reminded us a previous generation referred to them- which was brilliantly delivered whilst Kettley’s riffing of the likes of ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Superstition’ only consolidated.

 This is an excellent lunchtime show and Lochead is consistently engaging, funny and charismatic whilst remaining totally down to earth. There is another play on at the Assembly Rooms called ‘God Bless Liz Lochead’ and you really can’t say fairer than that!


Liz Lochead:Apple Says Aaah is at the Aseembly Rooms at 12.15 until August 26th


The Poet Speaks- Patti Smith and Philip Glass


Patti Smith returns to Scotland in 2013 not as a rock and roll star but in her original guise as a poet accompanied by Philip Glass in their joint tribute to mutual friend, mentor and inspiration Allen Ginsberg. It is a role which suits Smith well as it was as a poet that she initially made her break and the rock star thing was some kind of unplanned but happy accident.

  During the seventies she realised that instead of being a poet using the medium of rock and roll she had somehow become a rock star who was now playing at being a poet and in her eyes a poet is not something you can merely play at. Subsequently she retired as a rock star and only returned to that particular arena after the deaths of those close to her and she had reconciled the dichotomy of the two art forms within herself, now able to afford her two great loves the respect they both deserve.

 So her position centre stage last night was met with the usual whoops and hollers her mere appearance merits but instead of electrifying the atmosphere with the onslaught of electric power she waited for a reverent hush to descend before summoning up a magic of a different nature.

 Her first poem ‘Notes to the Future’ was fittingly one of her own writings and it became apparent immediately that her voice, wizened, croaky,, assured but still thick with youthful exuberance punctuating every syllable with significance and nuance can captivate as much as her primal rock and roll outpourings. Accompanied by Glass’s tinkling piano strains you could hear the scream of a butterfly in the full to capacity Playhouse. Ginsberg’s ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ with its references to ‘Language taxed by war’ followed on from this impressive opening with accompaniment not merely assisting the words but helping them to gain flight.

 Another of Smith’s own poems followed this before she introduced Tony Shanahan on guitar and stepped briefly into her more familiar role-unable to abandon her rock and roll leanings completely and why the Hell should she when she doesn’t merely play either of these roles but actually lives them?- she gave a powerful acoustic rendition of ‘Dancin’ Barefoot’ proving her voice does not need the raw power of a full band to generate an electric warrior with savage intention.


 A reading of ‘Escape at Bedtime’ continued this feel but it was a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ and its now classic line ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ which consolidated her stance and stood alone as a thing of true beauty. Mawkish, lachrymose and somewhat indulgent in the hands of its composer, Smith stripped it back and transformed it into a work of poignancy and awe inducing intensity. Childhood favourite Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Land of Nod’ paved the way neatly for a rousing version of ‘Pissing in a River’ before Smith left the stage for Glass to take centre position and perform three small pieces cohered into one solitary lengthy piece.


 This section of the show seemed to cause unrest among several audience members-it is hard to share a stage with someone of Smith’s stature but Glass is as strong and important an artist as she- but I found it breathtaking even if  his visual dynamic and charismatic presence was not as strong as his cohort and collaborator.

 Smith returned to perform Ginsberg’s tribute to one of his favourite family members ‘To Aunt Rose’ before a totally stunning, heartfelt and engrossing reading of his ‘On the Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Vidyahara’ a tribute to his former teacher and mentor who performed the same role for him as he performed for Smith and Glass. ‘Holy’ –a footnote to the definitive beat poem ‘Howl’- introduced verbal riffing which was rock and roll in all but name and execution and rounded off a totally stunning show.

 Pausing only for the rapturous applause to die down the trio returned to the stage for a, more than usually, relaxed version of ‘People Have the Power’ which for me is not one of Smith’s greater songs but one but admittedly preferable in this incarnation than in its more usual rebel rousing style.

 So Patti Smith proved yet again that whatever it is she has, she still has it. Philip Glass more than ably matched her onstage and Tony Shanahan was a more than welcome addition but somehow it was still Patti’s show all the way!


Neu Reekie 37


Other commitments have forced me to take a forced hiatus from the last two Neu Reekie events so I was really looking forward to this one. Beautiful sunshine and new Scottish hopefuls The Merrylees announced as -relatively- last minute headliners only compounded my anticipatory feelings in a positive way. Unfortunately the former combined with meeting  members of the latter all mixed with a gin and tonic forced me to miss the first third of the show as the new seating set up –in place for the Fringe- didn’t encourage latecomers.

 Once installed in my seat my evening proper began with the poet Helen Ivory performing several short poems from her collection ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’. Some of the pieces were so short that the audience were unaware that they had finished so there was a hesitation in their applause. Unfortunately this caused some nervousness in Ivory who didn’t seem too comfortable in her role as a performer which was unfortunate as her poems seemed quite compelling and exploratory of another world. It was a slightly hesitant performance but her confidence in her work lay undiminished.

 Next up was Ross Hogg’s animation piece ‘The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ narrated by Gavin Miller-who also introduced the showcase. It was a short concise and skilfully executed piece.

 The first of the evening’s impressive line up of musical acts Gareth Sager-formerly of the Pop Group and Rip, Rig and Panic- then begun a set which sounded at times like an avant-garde exhumation of Johnny Cash and I mean that in a good way. Flying against the rules of standard musical structure but still within its boundaries he incorporated an irreverent ‘could have heard  a pin drop’ rendering of Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk about it’ and the Velvet’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ alongside equally impressive originals all played out against a backdrop of Warhol’s ‘Sleep’. A talent who understands where music can go and where it can take you, it was a highly emotive set with moments of fragile beauty set against gut wrenching torment.

Second of the musical line-up was Craig Lithgow and the Mutineers who arising from the remnants of former house band Emelle put on a fiery set full of cut and thrusting acoustic and electric guitars, frantic rhythms, memorable melodies alongside insightful and incisive lyrics. It was the perfect build up to the headliners of the evening, The Merrylees.

 From their opening number which was all Bowie flourish and, thanks to the introduction of a trumpet player, Scott Walker drama it was clear that the interest and plaudits surrounding this band are well deserved. Their playing was tighter than a gnats twat-as it was so endearingly but succinctly put to me-but particularly of note were guitarist Simon Allan’s guitar contributions which had a touch of Bert Weedon about them and seemed to be playing a counterpoint melody different to Ryan Sandison’s vocals which dripped like honey. Add to this a powerhouse rhythm section and even their very own Bez type figure who did his own brand of freaky dancing which almost ended in an impromptu strip but fell short of going ‘The Full Monty’; actually the dancer is not part of the band but merely an over enthusiastic friend . Bowing out with a soaring version of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ it was a stunning set  confirming as a band it would seem they have a very promising future ahead of them and it is about time Scotland showed its musical muscle again. Perhaps not dancing out of time in a singlet on stage though!

 So my return to the Neu Reekie fold was every bit as good  I imagined it would be. Unfortunately I missed the opening acts but I have no doubt they were just as good as those that followed. Keep an eye out during the Fringe for events featuring founders Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson and clear a space in your diary for August 30th when the next official Neu Reekie returns


Just An Observation Friday May  31st


At last a sleepy hibernating Edinburgh seems to be rubbing its tired eyes and stirring itself from its winter slumber-it is the end of May and still the weather often makes this seem premature-as Festival season hovers into view and kicks into gear. In the past week I have attended several press launches with the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the establishment based Fringe stalwart Assembly Rooms and the relatively new Summerhall all throwing their hats into the ring with an interesting and diverse mix of acts to choose from.  Hopefully this will stifle the city’s residents from  complaining that there is nothing to do.

 Also there are rumblings about a new night time venture called Rammed which aims to put the life back into Edinburgh’s night life and shake things up with a series of events featuring live music and inhouse DJ’s, aiming to create a sonic environment and experience unlike any other at the moment. More details will follow in the next couple of weeks once everything is confirmed and I have more information to give you but the signs at the moment are all good …if not even better than that!

 The Film Festival is the first of these events to take place and with artistic director Chris Fujiwara delivering his second year at its helm the high standards met last year look like being matched if not surpassed. The opening film Breathe In stars Guy Pearce and Kyle MacLachlan and the festival closer stars Karen Gillen but in-between contemporaries and up and coming lesser knowns conspire to create an interesting mix of modern cinema which has something to offer anyone who actually bothers to investigate. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, a portrait of Harry Dean Stanton, The East –starring Alexander Skarsgard of True Blood fame- and a German offering called Oh Boy are the ones which  caught my eye on initial inspection of the brochure but I am sure on further investigation other jewels will reveal themselves to me.

 I haven’t had time to acquaint myself too much with the Summerhall programme but must admit their launch was one of the more elaborate and successful I have attended. Pushing the boat out with countless Bellinis, never ending Gin and tonics with  Hoi Sin duck snackettes and mini lemon mousses-of which I consumed several- providing some much needed food sustenance the night rolled along both effortlessly and impressively. I did manage to ascertain that even before the fringe kicks off they have an evening with man of the moment-of several moments over the last few decades- Niles Rodgers as well as the International Fashion Festival. Certainly upping the ante this year, after finding their formative feet over the last two, their programme focuses on the more artistic end of the spectrum but initial responses would indicate that some of the bigger players should maybe start looking over their shoulders.

The official Fringe programme also came out this week but admittedly I haven’t even managed to look at that, so daunting a prospect does it present. Luckily I am now becoming more discerning in my choices and several years of experience now allow me to be able to pick and choose what I think may be the more worthwhile shows and direct you all in the right direction whilst hopefully steering you away from the dross and the bullshit which, believe me, the Fringe has more than its fair share of.

 Elsewhere I have been disappointed by the return of ‘Britain’s Got Delusions and Mental Health Issues’ to our screens this week. It still puzzles me that Simon Cowell is still allowed to dominate, monopolise and commandeer the viewing schedules with such regularity. Personally I find the whole experience insulting to my intelligence and tastes and think it appeals to the lowest common denominator but  is so thrust into our faces, with little in the way of competition or opposition, that even those who cannot stand it become involved in some kind of debate on its merits or total lack of them.

Luckily I haven’t subscribed one second of my week to watching this drivel and am disappointed that whilst trash like this receives inordinate screen time and front page headlines one of the best British dramas in years ‘The Fall’ languishes in the hinterland of BBC2 largely unnoticed.

Starring an impressive Gillian Anderson as an emotionally devoid Policed officer on the hunt of a cold and detached serial killer portrayed by an equally impressive Jamie Dornan the performances are as outstanding as the drama which uncoils itself weekly. If Broadchurch was ITV’s attempt to create a drama on a par with the excellent Danish cult show ‘the Killing’ then ‘The Fall’ is those ambitions actualised. This is British drama at its most complex, unnerving and exhilarating and moving away from the tired clichés  has the added twist of not being so much of a whodunit –as we knew the killer from the opening scenes-but has much more of the psychic chill of a whydunit. This is British drama at its highest standard and if you haven’t seen it so far then I recommend catching up on Iplayer before the penultimate episode on Monday.

 That is it for this week and further news about what and what not to see at the various festivals will be winging its way through these pages very soon as will further information about Rammed. This weekend however I will be mostly avoiding the Meadows Festival which has seemingly camped itself very noisily outside my front door. More than likely it will be rained off anyway as any event in Edinburgh with the word Festival seems to elicit an immediate torrential downpour. Aside from this there is always Neu Reekie tonight and as usual this night will put a little sunshine in your heart whatever the weather.