Edinburgh International Book Festival
Wednesday 14th August 2019
2019 sees the 200th anniversary of Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan, his last major body of poetry. In 1814 Goethe, arguably Germany’s greatest ever polymath & poet, had found a spiritual twin with the Persian Hafiz, extracts from whose ‘Divan’ are still recited in Iran today. The Thiruvalluvar of the Caspian Sea. On first receiving a complete translation of the those remarkable & poetically pure lyrics of Hafiz – he hadn’t bitten previosuly on the snippets appearing piecemeal in journals here & there – Goethe declared;
I was obliged to come to terms with them in a productive manner or I should never have been able to hold my own in the face of such a powerful phenomenon… everything that had been stored away & nurtured in my mind & that bore a similarity either in sense or substance made itds mark, & all the more forcefully, so that I felt an absolute necessity to flee from the real world
Goethe’s complex transliteration of the living spirit of Hafiz manifested itself as one of the first European attempts to connect with the poetry of the Orient, to create a poetic dialogue between East and West. The Bhagadavad Gita was unknown in Europe at this time, for example. In recent years, the crucial publishing house, Gingko, have embarked on quite an an epic project, publishing a new translation into Emnglish by Professor Eric Ormsby, while commissioning a fascinating project called The New Divan.
The latter text brings together 24 poets from West and East in a dialogue exploring otherness, including Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie, Robin Robertson, Jamie McKendrick, Antonella Anedda, Chloe Aridjis, Sean O’Brien, Narguess Farzad, Jo Shapcott and Gilles Ortlieb. This ambitious anthology brings together new poems by twenty-four leading poets – 12 from the ‘East’ and 12 from the ‘West’ – in a truly international poetic dialogue inspired by the culture of the Other. The poets come from across the East (from Morocco to Turkey, Syria to Afghanistan) and from across the West (from Germany to Mexico, Estonia to Brazil). The new poems respond to the titles of the twelve books of Goethe’s original Divan, including ‘The Poet’, ‘Love’, ‘Ill-humour’, ‘The Cup-Bearer’, ‘The Tyrant’ and ‘Paradise’, and draw on the distinctive poetic forms of the cultures of the poets taking part. Twenty-two English-language poets have created English versions of the poems not originally written in English, either by direct translation or by working with a literal translation.
Since the early twentieth century, Iran witnessesd a bewildering variety of literary borowings from Western traditions. A hundred years later we are come full circle, it seems. The tidal surge sent out by Goethe has returned to its initial impulse. In this bicentennial year I would hear much about the two Divans, spending a delightful hour with Persian academic Narguess Farzad, Scottish poet Robin Robertson and Goethe expert Jan Wagner, chaired by Haus Publishing’s Barbara Schwepcke. Ghazals were read out in German & Persian (simply divine to hear) & the unrhyming Robertson (less divine to hear), while the strenuous efforts behind the creation of the extraordinary project that is the New Divan were fully divulged. The end result left me with two thoughts – the first being that poetry possesses a universal joy, the second that it seems an awful lot of effort to create something like this. Perhaps the powers & attentions of such a Samgam of international poets would be better suited to creating & perfecting the Universal language of humanity instead. Of course, every one of Babel’s tongues will be cherished & possibly curated forever, but projects such as the New Divan are very much like the UN where an excess of time & money are spent upon translations & their translators.
Damian Beeson Bullen
Edinburgh International Book Festival
10th August 2019
DeRay Mckesson, the celebrated American Black Lives Matter activist, and ‘officially listed’ chair, quoted from authors Derek Owusu and Johny Pitts before handing his role over to British TV and radio presenter Gemma Cairney. She instigated and sustained a palpably uplifting and celebratory current throughout the talk about defeating white supremacy, yet it wasn’t fully clear until the end why this was so important. Introducing herself not by her full name, but with more general joyful declarations of “I love being mixed-race!” and “I love being British!” statements that audience members will receive differently depending on their experience and political outlook. Those of us ‘complexly British’ often need to stamp our identification forcefully before others intrude in the process. We are part of the nation whether other fellow British like it or not, and a display of patriotism represents a complicated defiance in the face of those who might tell us to go ‘home’ in the openly racist atmosphere to which Britain has now returned. The ensuing conversation between two Black British male authors, Derek Owusu and Johny Pitts teased out the complications and commonalities within the multiplicities of Black European lives, to redress the flattening of lives to two-dimensional caricatures by writers with limited understanding and to acknowledge the effects of enduring legacies of colonialism across the continent.
Derek Owusu, contributor and editor of ‘Safe: On Black British men reclaiming space’, is part of the multi-award winning literature podcast Mostly Lit. He has written essays and poetry for a variety of magazines, and aside from Safe, has recently been working on a book of poetry based on London life. While compiling the podcast content, he observed the dearth of Black British male writers. His close friend Yomi Adegoke, one of the authors of seminal Slay in Your Lane, encouraged and assisted Owusu to bring this anthology to fruition. Pitt’s travelogue Afropean: Notes from Black Europe was born out of an interactive website where commentators’ tips on travel as a Black traveller exchanged knowledge of Black communities across the breadth of Europe. However, a range of influences encouraged Pitts to write the book; from a stranger mistaking him for a traveller on a train to Frankfurt, his connection to Black culture through his Brooklyn-born father and his longing to remain part of Europe rather than be marooned on an island where recession and Brexit are driving his white working-class friends to increasingly casual racism. Interesting, that three people of Black heritage in their 30s, no doubt like many others, have been lulled into a sense of Britain being a ‘post-racial’, happily multicultural society and shocked at the epidemic of virulent racism.
So maybe it was just as well that Cairney insisted on encouraging all of us to focus on the joyous benefits of reading literature by Black British men, to no doubt steer us away from the unspoken shadows of moral duty, aid and charity that hover around efforts towards that much abused and almost meaningless term, diversity. Yet, these are the short cut buzzwords that serve their use at times, and she threw out the challenge to the audience to think of ways to diversify the UK’s reading audience. Caribbean and African families have a strong tradition of encouraging literacy and generally insist on effort and discipline from their children. However, although research shows Black children are the most prepared for school at 5, British schools particularly fail Black boys in a number of ways. Often an early interest in reading begins to wane in a British environment, partly due to the low expectations teachers have of Black boys, but also due to the lack of culturally relevant reading material. Owusu explained that the Black boys he works with will eagerly read self-help books about motivational mindsets and wealth creation that they consider to be useful to their lives, but, as Pitts pointed out, these books come with their own pitfalls of striving for individual success over that of the community and ignoring the realities of structural discrimination.
It took a while to portray a sense of what the books themselves were about, and the conversation took a snaking route to their contents. The puritanical, serious side of me was beginning to feel irritated with what I perceived as a focus on trivialities. “Disco is my religion”, stated the chair. And then I remembered. And listened. Balance is important. Hope is important. Pleasure is important. Maintaining refuges of joy have always been vital to Black people’s survival. Music and dance have always been important, not only as a release, or to the strengthening of community bonds, but also as a link to collective African systems of spirituality that have always been rooted in transcendent rituals of music and dance. As Owusu pointed out, the discrimination at white owned clubs and the criminalisation of Black ones, creeping gentrification and the gobbling up of public space all combine to increase the urgency of creating new ‘safe’ spaces within which to exist. Conversation turned to accessing the publishing industry with its notorious gatekeepers, praising musician Stormzy’s decision to accept unsolicited submissions for his imprint #Merky Books in order to remove the significant barrier of finding an agent. There are serious issues with pigeonholing in the marketing of books by BAME authors which prevents a wider audience from seeing certain stories as ‘universal stories’. Pitts reminded us that keyholes to literature are often in the everyday, as he recalled how the lyrics of Blackstar’s song Thieves in the Night lead him to the work of Toni Morrison.
Owusu has gathered a range of talented writers for his anthology, including the well-known Courttia Newland and Musa Okwonga. Safe will take you on a journey of themes and locations around the U.K., as Owusu was keen to avoid being London-centric. Afropean lends an ear to Black communities right across Europe, as his book blurb states, ‘through council estates, political spaces, train stations, tour groups and underground arts scenes’. I loved the insistence by Pitts that to progress, the overworn individualism of ‘doing you’ or ‘doing me’ needs to reconfigured as ‘doing us’. Owusu and Cairney also paid testament to the boost that comes from generous, inclusive creative networks, similar to those in the Harlem Renaissance. Black authors can utilise friendly criticism from others who share similar cultural references and outlooks. The talk ended unconventionally, which took a few people unawares. Instead of time for the usual Q and A, both authors had a chance to read from their books. Derek chose his own touching tale of moving at a tender age between his foster and biological families, where even his toys berated his stern mother. Johny’s excerpt gave us a glimpse of Jimmy, a Black American man searching for an elusive dream of freedom on a walking tour in Paris. We laughed as Johny recounted Jimmy’s whispered recollections, well out of earshot of his wife, about his life-changing romance with ‘Bey’ey’ as a teenager stationed in Scotland. In his recollection, after a night of passion that followed drinks in the pub, he walks down the stairs of Betty’s family home near Holy Loch. Ready to face an angry white family and ‘to run and get my ass out of there’, he was shocked at being greeted with warm smiles and an invitation to join in the family breakfast. Gemma Cairney is right. Let us embrace one other and feel the joy in togetherness.
Edinburgh International Book Festival
11th August 2019
DeRay Mckesson is admired by people the world over for drawing attention to the alarming spate of killings of Black people by police in the U.S. Killings that have often been catalysed by minor misdemeanours or unwarranted suspicions, like those of Tamir Rice, a baby-faced 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun in a park. Mckesson came to international attention when he joined the 400 day-long protests by activists in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown at the hands of the police in 2014. He gave up his career in education to dedicate his time to speaking out about racially-disproportionate police brutality and incarceration rates in the U.S. Since the release of his book in 2018, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, he’s had a little respite from the three long years of speaking about the protests and defending the need for them. He admitted that writing the book was still a tough, exhausting process, especially when his editor covered his first draft in red ink. One essay that was left out of the book was about the rituals that developed around the relentless death of citizens at the hands of the police, particularly the heightened emotions experienced at the finality of closing an open casket. Suicides among Black youth in America are rampant, and the tragic reality of closing a child-size casket on a 7th grader who had hanged himself cut Mckesson to pieces. Change since the Ferguson protests is seen in the conversations that can now be had around the disproportionate number of deaths of Black people at the hands of American police, but the ugly truth is that the rate of police killings has actually increased since the protests. Yet, Mckesson suggests that the Black Lives Matter movement will likely follow the trend of the more general Civil Rights protests of the 1960s that saw a ten-year delay before changes were written into policy and law. DeRay is holding a dream; and that is to get to a point where we naturally feel safe in the presence of the police. Is that not their job? To keep us safe?
Language is important, because conceptual change allows us to imagine a different future. Yet a piece of the puzzle is taking the energy of the streets into the corridors of power, which is why Mckesson made a last-minute run for local office in Baltimore in 2016. He explains in detail how he was elaborately and thoroughly hacked, outed on Wiki leaks, and arrested in Baton Rouge. Twitter banned the man who was attempting to raise money online to organise his assassination. No wonder he’s tired. He warns us to remember that conversations can be read on Twitter without needing an account. Since that time, his influence has grown to the extent where he has been named the ‘celebrity activist’, that, he said with a laugh, he would rather replace with ‘an activist with a platform’. He makes another distinction to a majority white audience; the ideal of being a white ‘accomplice’ to Black struggle rather than the disputed ‘ally’, because being an accomplice demands proximity, action and sacrifice to do as much as they are capable of doing. The big question to white people is, “What are you willing to risk so that people can experience freedom from racism?”
Due to her recent passing, the memory of Toni Morrison and her work has been invoked several times during the first couple of days of the Book Festival, showing what a huge influence she has been on Black and other people across the world. Ms Morrison famously spoke of racism as a distraction, and Mckesson describes racism as also being a deception. White privilege is often denied because whiteness itself is insidious. He distinguishes between whiteness and white people, particularly because a white person can either accept or choose to disrupt those systems that perpetuate white supremacy. He borrows author Ibram X. Kendi’s conceptualisation of whiteness as a ‘power construct’ rather than ‘social construct’. It’s likely that if more people understood the historical construction of the abstract concept of ‘whiteness’ by scholars in European universities several centuries ago, conveniently justifying the development of racialized chattel slavery, it would be easier to dismantle the enduring idea of race. Intersectionality is key in any social justice movement, as Mckesson discussed while chairing Kendi’s event the previous day. Black Lives Matter was started by Garza, Cullors and Tometi, three Black women, two of them Queer, who prioritised intersectional justice based on the work of earlier Black Queer activists, positing BLM as a wide-ranging liberation movement. Law professor and activist Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the concept of ‘intersectionality’ close to 30 years ago, uses the platform #SayHerName to remind us that Black women are also disproportionately targeted by the police, and often sexually assaulted by police and in the prison system itself.
The idea that a ‘post-racial society’ was ushered in with the Obama presidency was rash at the time; and unsurprisingly since proven to be a fallacy. Obama came up short when it came to addressing policy change, but this is often attributed to the entrenched power structures surrounding an American president. It was interesting to hear Mckesson’s account of the civil rights leaders who spared Obama the truth in meetings, some claiming that a ‘revolution of love’ is all that was needed. Mckesson reminds us that a third of all people killed by a stranger in the US are killed by a police officer, and more are people arrested for weed-related offences than for all violent crimes combined. There is much work to be done, and it can’t fall solely on the shoulders of Black people. The topic of self or group care always comes up in Black activist circles, as the rigours of direct activism takes a toll on mental health. He suggested, only half-jokingly, that after the trauma of Ferguson, donations should have gone towards therapy sessions for all the activists. He makes sure to spend time with loved ones and children to stay balanced, for joy guards against burnout and forms part of the resistance. He encouraged us to interrogate our individual psychological issues in order to do this demanding work to the best of our ability, and that we can all start, just like many big movements started, with a conversation at our kitchen table. In the meantime, check out the work being done across the US, including the police reform initiative that Mckesson is part of, Campaign Zero. Luckily, so far, our police are rarely armed, but seeing as Scotland has its own issues with racist attacks, murders and police brutality (see the unresolved Sheku Bayoh case) sometimes it’s helpful to look across the pond for inspiration.
The Stand New Town Theatre
Aug 12-25 (16.50)
Loki McGarvey is an artist that has weathered more than his fair share of hard knocks, from alcohol addiction and crime, Loki has emerged from the ranks of Glasgow’s underclass to become the voice of the beaten generation. Initially through his power as a wordsmith, recanting truthful poetry inspired by the challenges faced by people that have been failed by the machine, making a name for himself as a vocal activist to become one of Scotland’s national treasures. Both in literary circles and as a performance rapper. Being at the forefront of Glasgow’s bustling music scene along with Mark McGhee of The Girobabies and Colonel Mustard and Dijon Five. Between them they have amassed an increasingly large following of lovely people. Why? Because they have the balls to speak the truth and have the talent to carry it. Voices of solution to a very real problem. The secret of that success is Grace, good karma and above all, making an effort to be part of the solution. Evolving his skill as a writer, his first published book, Poverty Safari, won the Orwell Literary Prize launching him to international acclaim. A true hero of our times that speaks common sense, the thoughts of decent people everywhere.
A comedy club is a strange place in which to house this amazing talent, because the content of which flows with ease and grace from the mouth of Loki, is far from funny. Rather an exploration of what is truly sad and unjust in not so Great Britain at the moment. With the gap between rich and poor widening to levels not seen since the Second World War and the disadvantaged becoming even more disadvantaged as a result.
Today was not so much a performance but a sermon on the pitfalls of suddenly hitting the big time and having the readies that go with it. Comparative wealth. At this time of year Edinburgh doesn’t have a social conscience.The problems get swept under the carpet as wealthy tourists flock to the capital. to experience the original and best performance art festival in the world. So it was no surprise to find the theatre filled with people on the same wavelength (not a comedy crowd), listening with depth to every word that came out of Loki’s mouth. Its an uncomfortable truth that resonates with the people who are suffering it also. And in Austerity Britain that is just about everyone that isnae a Tory. Everyone in the audience could relate to Loki because Loki speaks of humanity and that is his appeal. A graceful voice of truth. A very gifted man indeed.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
Somewhere in the realms where entertainment meets expertise reigns radio’s Russel Clarke
When did you first realise you could write, & write well?
About ten years ago I was invited to write a half-hour contribution to a radio show in London on Pink Floyd and the response from the listeners was very, very positive so I was invited back the next week and every week after that. I’m all about the history of rock and roll and I always try and tell a story, rather than just give a whole loads of random facts. The BBC has a very dedicated audience and so word got round, especially the BBC and its local radio stations so I’ve pretty much been on every one talking about anything of rock and roll significance. I’m proud to say I am currently BBC Radio Berkshire’s go-to guy for anything rock and roll relayed. I may even be a household name in Reading!
Can you tell us about your literary output thus far?
I’ve written and presented over 300 pieces for the radio in the last ten years, mainly on BBC Radio London. I’ve tried to systematically tell the story of rock and roll in the UK from 1951 onwards so I’ve covered Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele, our earliest rock and roll stars all the way up to Acid House and Brit Pop, with everything inbetween: the Floyd, Zep, Stones and especially the Beatles. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles and there is so much to tell. A book can’t be far behind if I can find the time!
You are a transatlantic radio star – can you tell us more?
Through a few contacts, I came to the attention of a production company in San Francisco which specialises in putting together packaged shows for National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA, a bit like the BBC. When they’re doing something on rock and roll I get the call. If you think about it, some of America’s favourite music is British. They have deified the Beatles, the Stones and Led Zeppelin way more than we ever did, so they like a British accent and luckily they like mine. They put together a 12-15 minute package to tell the story and edit ion other people they have interviewed, so I can honestly say I appeared alongside Eric Clapton,. Pete Townshend and Anjelica Huston (though didn’t actually meet any of them).
What is it about Rock music that makes you buzz with so much enthusiasm?
I don’t know why but I find it as fascinating now as I did when I first saw T.Rex or Marvin Gaye on Top of the Pops when I was 9 years old. When I was at school, all the other kids got the Beano or Dandy every week; I got the New Musical Express and my best mate Pete got the Melody Maker so we swapped. Each week from the age of 11 to 18, I read two music papers a week and just had that kind of brain that could remember all the detail. I’m pretty useful in a Quiz Night, I have to say. But it goes hand in hand with the music. I bought my first single in 1972 and every time I got 40p I would buy another one. When I got more money I progressed the LPs. I had an overdraft of course when I left University, but it was because I bought so many records and not because I drank too much beer. Although I did drink a lot of beer at University.
Which of the Rock eras do you specialize in & why?
I confess it’s a little while since I kept an eye on the charts and I don’t buy a lot of new music – although my stepdaughter has made sure I know who Stormzy is – so I tend to specialise in just about anything before the mid-90s. I like the history or rock and roll and how it fits into its time. Rock and roll started in the mid-50s when after years of austerity and bombsites, young kids just thought we want something exciting and a bit exotic. And then Elvis Presley appeared with Heartbreak Hotel and kids were never the same again. The same thing happened in the 60s when the Beatles swept away all who came before with their songs and their energy. All of a sudden the World went from black and white to colour. The Seventies is my decade really, I was a teenager and came of age but what tumultuous times they were. If the music hadn’t been so good, I wonder how we would have got through them. The Eighties were just enormous fun.
What is it about doing your radio shows that you love the most?
I think it’s the opportunity to tell a story. I love all rock and roll and whilst I may not be a huge fan of someone’s music, I am almost certainly a fan of their story: where they came from, how they got a break, where they lived, where they made their records, all that kind of stuff. It’s also very rewarding when people write in and say how much they enjoyed the show and how much the music of whoever I’ve talked about means to them. It means I chose my subject well.
You’re stranded on a desert island for an indeterminate amount of time with only three albums & a solar-powered CD player – what would they be?
My All-Time Favourite Album of All-Time is The River by Bruce Springsteen, which I bought for £5.99 on the day it came out in 1980 and played to death for months after. I’ve never really tired of it to be honest, it’s rather timeless. ABC’s The Lexicon of Love is really about 1982 but I was a young guy, quite fancied myself in a gold lamé suit – we all did in 1982 – had the correct hair and let’s face it every track is a belter. Finally I’d have to have a Beatles album. They are our Civilisation’s favourite pop group, so I’d take a Greatest Hits collection or if that’s not allowed I’d take Revolver, their finest LP.
You’re debuting at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; what are you bringing to the table?
If I’m bringing anything it’s the enthusiasm I have for telling a story. We all know who Elvis Presley is and certainly what he became, but I tell his story from when he was a kid, how he accidentally invented rock and roll as we know it and became the biggest star in the world. I hope everyone else will be as amazed as I was when I managed to link Elvis to another internationally famous singer by just an awesome bit of trivia. I can’t tell you what it is, you’ll have to come to the show for that, but I’ll give you a clue: it’s something to do with his trousers. That’s just the start of the Chain of Trivia. We’ve got stories of Nobel prizes, lawsuits, radio bans and asteroids, all the way to Freddie Mercury and Queen ten steps later. At the very least, you’ll leave the show knowing a hundred things more than you did when you went in!
What is the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting the show together?
I cant honestly think of any obstacles. We’ve been coming to the Fringe for years as punters and I had already developed this show which I’d done in London on several occasions and just thought it might work in Edinburgh. Once you’ve reached that point, you’ve got to find yourself a promoter/venue and you’re off. Luckily the guys at SpaceUK liked my pitch and we did a deal on the Surgeons Hall on Nicholson Street. I’ve seen all sorts of shows there over the years so I know the place well and can recommend their pizzas. I’m really looking forward to spending three weeks in this city. It’s just fabulous when the Fringe is on.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street…
You look intelligent, you look curious, you like rock and roll. Put all that together and find out things you never knew about some of the most significant rock and roll stars of the last 60 years, starting with Elvis. There’s more trivia than you can shake a stick at!
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
2-10 (15.05) / 12-24 (13.05)
On the temporal bridge between comedy & spoken-word stands Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin
Hello Bróccán, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello The Mumble. Geographically speaking, I am from the North-East’s premier seaside getaway spot, Hartlepool and I am currently living in the North-East’s premier seaside getaway spot, Hartlepool.
When did you realise you were a performer?
Probably when I was about 8 years old and experienced my first theatrical injustice after being robbed of the part of Buttons. I swore to come out on top and went on to appear in not one, not ten, but SIX different pantomime later in life.
Can you tell us about the Durham Revue & your role with them?
Yeah, the Revue is Durham University’s main sketch comedy troupe. I was a writer and performer with them which was a whole load of fun. We got to perform all over the country in theatres that were far too large and nice and we had a full run at Underbelly for Edinburgh Fringe. Laugh Actually, the show we took up, won the Derek Award for Best Sketch Comedy show as well which was a treat and a half.
What is your ideal Sunday afternoon?
You’re bringing a show to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
Yeah it’s my debut solo show and it’s called “Don’t Bother”. It’s a unique mix of spoken word and stand-up comedy. It’s mainly surrealist comedy poetry and observations but also includes a bizarre narrative that comments on the direction that fringe shows seem to be heading in and what the pitfalls of that might be.
So its comedy & spoken word, where do you place the demarcation line?
It’s kind of hard to say because the way I write is that the spoken word pieces are an extension of the joke. I pretty much write a stand up segment in which the poetry serves as a punchline. It’s similar to how someone like Tim Minchin uses music, but in place of songs there’s poems.
Where, when & why did you conceive Don’t Bother?
I wrote the show last June after I was offered an hour long slot at a fringe festival in Nottingham. I was looking at all my content and thinking of a way that I could retroactively fit a narrative or superfluous overriding theme to the things I’d written in order to justify its own existence. But then I realised that that was pretty dumb and that I shouldn’t bother. Instead I decided to write a show that embraced the fact that it was all varied material, whilst also highlighting the absurdity of feeling the need to tie everything seamlessly together.
From which inspirations have you drawn for your show?
I’m a big fan of Stewart Lee, Tim Key and Bo Burnham and I think there’s elements of each of them that I really like and subconsciously include into my writing.
You won Best Spoken Word Show at this year’s Sabateur Awards, how did that make you feel?
I was genuinely very, very surprised. It’s a national award and I was up against some big names so the fact that enough people had enjoyed the show for it to get nominated was great. It was something else to actually win.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage?
Thirteen Hail Mary’s and a quick recount of the intense B-boy choreography that opens the show.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
It’s a 5-star, award winning hour of comedy that blends spoken word and stand-up in a unique way. And for the teenage audience members, I floss at the beginning!
Underbelly, Bristo Square,
July 31-Aug 26 (12:10)
Music & poetry have always been easy bedfellows, teasing each other with magic to create something wholly cosmic, wholly beautiful. Singers like Bob Dylan & Jim Morrison were choral bards whose words meant as much as the melody – to hypnotise with the tune, to penetrate the soul with the vision. Alas, in recent years, across the music scene, the lyrics of songs have been slowly descending into a sewer of indifference, with A&R folk more interested in social media stats than talent. How sparklingly wonderful is the appearance, then, of a young singer-songwriter who really cares about what she is singing.
A few weeks ago I quite randomly found myself in the Voodoo Rooms one Tuesday evening listening to a young lady & her band. The lady has a name, Louise Connell, a quite bonnie & thickly-accented lassie from Airdrie. A shy performer, Louise has an ethereal voice which soothes the listener’s receptability, fooling us into mentally relaxing as she tosses her songs of spinning shuriken into our psyche. Louise, you see, is a poet. It took me a while to realise – the aforementioned thick accent is difficult to penetrate sometimes – but as the gig went on, & the words & phrases Louise chooses became steadily more transparent, I began to screw down, transfixed, into my seat, resting chin betwyx finger & thumb. It was as if the spirit of John Keats had manifested itself into this gentle & honey-tongued goddess from the Central Belt; but with an edge, for Keats could never have sung the opening lyrics of Connell’s self-penned Maria;
The wine glass slithers down the wall
The cooker’s on but the room is cold
Maria, where’s the girl who swallows lies,
And coughs them up as smiles?
Louise has just released an album, a collection of three EPs called Squall Echo Rale. The songs vary in style & entertainment, but it is in the lyrics that I have found the most pleasure. Louise writes from the other side, presenting us with the flawless dichotomy of silken-sheeted songcraft & spine-raking wordplay. The album consists of 18 set-piece songs, the second of which, Rope, reveals the true genius of Connell’s craft. Less song, more an abstract play, it begins with an impressive cynghanedd-laden couplet which reads, ‘I’m forging quite a career in suppression / Whether passive agression or a spineless silence.’ Let us also examine the opening to the fourth song, Ilo, a love paean delivered with calm lucidity, a majestic capsule of poetic insight & phraseology.
Spending my day’s trying to claim
No one was seeing any of me
Like I was total, embryonic potential
And zero kinesis
I’d feel my hand at the switch
With my mouth forming, “I lo…”
I could have been a genius
But I crushed the brains out of my skull
I could have been a lover
But soft love would make my skin crawl
I could have been a monster
But the screams would fester in my mind
I could have been a good friend
But I always crossed the line
I always crossed the line
And I could have been a genius
If you’d tested me in my native tongue
I could’ve loved you gently, if it ever seemed much fun
I could have been a monster;
sure, I could have the person for you
But friends was just another game
that I was meant to lose
Like life’s a game I’m bound to lose
A nursery rhyme for the other side
A microcosm of my life
Coats a hundred glass slides
I creied eyelashes with my tears
My viscous fear
An eyelash tear
My viscous tear