The Rio Cafe
Twice a year, the ever-cuddly Robin Cairns replaces his normal open mike night at Glasgow with the brutal sport that is the poetry slam. Robin quipped to the Mumble, ‘its open to all & they’re all here!” & indeed, the Rio Cafe was positively bursting at the seams for the event, an excellent testament to Glasgow’s growing, unpretentious & inspirational spoken word scene.
On this occasion, nineteen poets competed ‘Glasgow-rules’ throughout two rounds of bite-sized, two minute Chicken mc’nugget monologues. The judges for the evening were Nelly Bean, Derek Parks, Carly Brown, the Mumble’s own Stephen Watt & Carly Brown, the winner of the 2013 Scottish poetry slam championships. She too would have competed in a similar slam on the way to her title, & of course tonights winner would not only find themeselves £50 better off, but would also be given an entry into next February’s Scottish poetry slam championships.
The nights winner, incidentally, was the keen-minded & verbally rumbistious Kevin Mclean, one of the famous ‘Loud Poets’ of Edinburgh. For me, I didnt really mind who won, for I loved the wide array of philosopher-poets that srutted their stuff on the Rio’s sacred stage. As I’d entered the bustling ‘arena’ I found myself sat with the young, & who turned out to be quite talented, Liam Mccormick, who very kindly sent me the first of his poems of the night, which reads as follows;
The Minor Tragedy of Reefer Madness
Drugs are fucking great.
Like…. really fucking great
You get an itch, you send a text, you get a call, walk to Tesco, behind the bins, go home, with a bag.
Then you get your baccy, your skins, your roach, lay a bedrock of shredded brown leaves, put the
weed through the grinder, tap it out on the paper, sprinkle some tobacco, run your fingers up the
side, lick the gum, run your fingers up the side aaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnd-
Where’s my lighter?
Check your pockets, look in the drawer, under the couch, kitchen table, bathroom cupboard,
flatmates desk (He still smokes right?), old jacket pockets, under the couch, lift the cushions, check
your back pockets- FUCK SAKE- check the fridge, washing machine, loft- I JUST WANT TO SMOKE A
FUCKIN’ JAY- kitchen again, top of the microwave, behind the microwave, inside the microwave,
behind the bread bin, behind the toaster…
Slam down the slide, filament fires up, press the soon to be cherry against the makeshift chemical
launch pad, inhale, inhale, inhale.
I would never presume to say, I have a problem with hash- I just like a smoke out
AND THE ONLY PROBLEM AH’VE HAD IS RUNNING OUT
But yet, when the sun rises and I fancy a slice of toast- I know-
I’ll have to settle for microwaved bread at most.
The rest of the poems on offer were full of intelligent word-play, hip-hop bibidibop, failed romances & socio-political diatribe, a wonderful selection that really should have done Mr Cairns, & Glasgow proud. Everyone was happy, the slammers & their entourages joining in the fun & applause rather than looking at each with those dagger-pupil’d eyes that often accompany poetry slams, & for the neutral we had a grand old time.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
Queen Margaret Union
A solid five years had passed since I last graced the QMU. On that occasion, Kula Shaker provided the entertainment, and the last morsel of my twenties bopped along to the sounds of my teens. This time however, an entirely different spectacle was exhibited at the University Gardens venue inside Jim’s Bar; the eighth and final show for 2014, of Aloud – the cavalcade of spoken word talents, was tonight’s hot ticket in town. The brain-child of Ireland’s Syd Briscoe and New York’s Heather Margaret St Clair initiated due to a significant dearth of spoken word opportunities around the Glasgow University campus. Rather than tie the event in to a student stranglehold, Aloud was engineered to welcome poets and performers from all realms to step up to the microphone – and test themselves in front of a friendly, uncontaminated and responsive audience. The decision to make this a free event of course endeared itself to students and literary veterans alike.
Of course, where the already-established Verse Hearse, held within the confines of the Gilchrist Postgraduate Club, offers itself to the ears of postgraduate students and staff, the ideology behind Aloud is perhaps one of a more raw and wide-eyed look into performance poetry – the Simba to the Verse Hearse’s Mufasa. Its refreshing fáilte is carefully tuned in to the Glasgow spoken word scene mentality where both rookies and seasoned slammers extend appreciation and consideration when fellow performers are afforded stage time. This is not to say that this event was libraryesque (Yes, I just invented a new word); it was a student union after all. Minor disturbances included one female bursting through the doors with her skirt tucked into her underwear, and another attracted intoxicated students holding one another up before the clock had even ticked 10pm. This was delicately handled by the organisers, and did not spoil the otherwise-engaged crowd.
A strong focus on spoken word, sprinkled with flashes of clever performance poetry, and topics ranging broadly from anti-whaling to mental illness absorbed the audience’s attention. David Forrest’s benevolent poem ‘Cross’ leant itself to a compassionate look at the symbolism of a crucifix (“Bits of skin like cracked paint”), while Lynn Pilkington’s marvellous piece ‘City Girl’s Mission’ cavorted wonderfully between the persona of being strong and self-sufficient with ineffable, romantic notions (“Waiting for the rose tinted glasses to kick in”). In poets such as Callum Bannerman and Ross MacFarlane, and indeed the afore-mentioned hosts Briscoe and St Clair, it became clear that Glasgow’s continuing ascent in spoken word has plenty more worthy champions willing to advocate the good news that the city’s literary scene is flourishing.
The first Aloud zine is earmarked for January 2015, new members are surfacing at each live event, and a promising YouTube channel is devoted to filming participating poets who may otherwise never have had the opportunity to see their poems on the internet. Few could argue that Aloud is a fantastic addition to the current spoken word scene in Glasgow, permitting new audiences and knocking down barriers which once existed (No, you don’t require a friend in the university to sign you in). As for negative points about the evening……..the diet coke was rank. Last time, I left the QMU to Shaker’s Crispin Mills’ wailing Hush to an adoring crowd. This time, everything was very much Aloud.
Reviewer : Stephen Watt
Scottish Storytelling Centre
Comedian and actress Jo Caulfield hosts six short acts of varying styles, & makes up an evening that feels more like one of those lucky days at the Edinburgh festival when you randomly chose a class act of a show. For £6 the evening was an eclectic mix, with each act flowing well about Jo’s interludes of easy-humour and performer introductions. The whole effect was a mixture of a stand up comedy club, a poetry slam and an episode of QI. Jo Caulfield could host anything and I’d happily go – her style is so friendly & honest, we all feellike we’ve been personally invited to her home. Tonight, this was the Netherbow Theatre under The Scottish Story Telling Centre; a lovely, cozy, simple little Theatre in the heart of the Royal Mile.
First up was Sam Small, a member of the Black Lantern collective. A talented poet, he performed 3 of his pieces around the themes of ‘boxes, love and time travel’. All performed at a fast pace, – hyper, funny, angry, and intelligently executed. He had the audience intrigued and impressed from the first sentence and I was left wanting more. A talented guy.
Author Eleanor Updale spoke next, a friendly and warm presence, Eleanor told some wickedly funny & partly true, partly fiction (never 100% sure where the boundaries lay but who needs to know?) tales of what she and her media comrades are planning to do next after they have been robbed of the retirement pensions there were expecting. A story of pitching an idea to the BBC about an X-factor style show minus the music – just focusing on the sob stories called ‘Dead Nans’, followed into a weird and wonderful pretty believable plan to run a restaurant/brothel for pensioners with ‘live stream for TV’ in Edinburgh was surreal and lovely and sounded completely homely and respectable.
Phil O’Shea then shuffled onto stage and sucked the audience into his weird and wonderful surreal world. A intentionally nervous awkward style all of his own perhaps made the audience a little unsure for a few seconds before we realised that actually that’s how we were meant to feel and settled in for the ride. A squeaky northern accented turtle hand puppet accompanied some of the act and that’s all I can really write without rambling crazy nonsense as he does it so much wonderfully better!
The second half was kicked off with journalist and broadcaster from Radio 4’s Today Show James Naughtie. An engaging speaker, he told some great stories of ridiculous things that have happened when interviewing politicians, with some great tidbits and insights about his life as a journalist. A funny and interesting talk.
Next up we had Bram E Gieben Alias Texture, a poet also from the Black Lantern collective. Two poems were performed with thunderous hypnotic fury. The intelligent angry rhythmical ‘Burn’ was a wrenching strongly executed rant at the state of the economy, whilst ‘Keep going’ was as he said with a smile, ‘about divorce, suicide and cancer but -much more positive’. And it was – a powerful committed performance from this hugely talented poet. Highly impressive.
Last up was the bizarre ‘The Creative Martyrs’. Looking like an old fashioned mime cabaret act, the two chaps performed a slightly confusing piece with a cello and visual humour singing about war. I found it a little hard to follow exactly what they were singing about, but they were pretty funny to watch and ended the evening on a light note.
All in all a really lovely way to spend a wintery Tuesday evening and something completely different to see each time. I’d fully recommend spending £6 once a month to go to this lovely evening of well chosen performances and enjoy Jo Caulfield’s welcoming generous hosting and obvious love of the city’s talent.
Reviewer : Pip Burnett
Edinburgh International Book Festival
During his time as a professional footballer, Clark Carlisle was considered to be Britain’s brainiest footballer, even knocking a reigning champion off his perch on Countdown in 2010. Writing a full length book, however, was a different kettle of fish, as Clarke readily admitted during his amenable chit-chat with fellow former footballer, Pat Nevin, at the Edinburgh Book Fest His book,. ‘You Don’t Know Me, But,‘ is an auobiographical confessional piece, in which Carlisle takes us from his multi-racial beginnings in Preston, to his recent position as chairman of the Professional Footballers Association.
Clarke Carlisle is a lovely chap, a well-spoken & family man who finds himself these fays with the plumb job of commentating at premier league football matches. His talk touched a number of interesting places, such as his addiction problems & handling of the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand racial case. The best moment for me, however, came during the Q&A session, when an audience member asked Carlisle what was his favorite moment on the pitch. I was at Wembley myself in 2009, when Burnley triumphed over Sheffield United in the Championship play-offs. But this was only his second favorite moment. The first was scoring the last-minute winner for Blackpool against Carlisle, with his mum attending one of his football matches for the very first time. That moment, he said, is when he fell in love with football, & his animated demeanor as he told the story showed very much how that love is still there.
So why didn’t I go to school? I really regret not doing so now. But what choice did I have. Every lesson of everyday I was bullied and scorned for being a soft feminine young man. I was living with the full blown experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where the fear would grip me and push me into submission, I would experience the most horrific of visions. Not knowing why or how this was happening to me. I was too scared to talk about it. when your dealing with that kind of shit Algebra and Dickens kind of takes a back seat. I couldn’t wait to see the back of that Hell Hole. So PTSD and Grange Upper left me with a learning difficulty. The effects of which continued well into my late twenties. I never thought that I would lead a normal life.
Now in my late Forties, all that pain has healed and been understood, it took the best part of twenty years in which to do so. And after all of that. I realize my shortcomings in the academic nature of English.
But my appreciation of Art remains. Do I need to go back to school at 47?
From the sacred fire of Eden.
To the sacred healing of the Solstice In The Glen.
With the Grace Of Angels to the Healing Fields Of Glastonbury.
To the new site of Audio Soup.
To Reviewing the Edinburgh Festivals of Performance Arts and Literature,
For The Mumble.
A journey of renewal to balance the experience of loss.
With the moment.
Because the wealth of such experience cannot be measured.
In pounds and pence.
Because Grace is priceless.
It cannae be bought.
Mother of the muse’s come to me.
Aum Sarasvati Aum!
My first year with a Mum in Heaven.
And my first year of being a middle aged orphan.
I found Art to be my comfort blanket.
The nurturer to my soul.
Now I’m rested.
I’ve really been tested.
I left the education system at 14.
An ignorant system that failed me.
Damo left it at 20.
But has what it takes to make the grade.
Alas no valid effort is wasted in Art.
I appreciate the opportunity.
Because this creative Season has stretched me.
And ultimately Healed me.
Aum Namah Shiva Aum!
Confronting a nation’s history involves confronting its national myths. If the country is our own, that can move us right out of our comfort zone. As we in Scotland get closer to the referendum on independence, the issue of our history seems to take on more importance, and we are reminded of George Orwell’s words, from ‘1984’, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Looking at the past, for the purposes of this debate, were historian-authors Michael Fry and Angus Konstam. Their chairman Joseph Farrell described them as ‘heavyweights,’ and although Angus Konstam suggested that if the conversation flagged the two of them might entertain us with a bout of sumo, the chairman was clearly referring to their intellects.
To Michael Fry, control of the past, as in the publication of books on Scottish history, has been left too long in academic hands, and has been a one-sided account of social and economic history replete with statistics. His bias was towards culture, society, and politics, in the search for what has kept Scotland Scotland; he has found that when a historian undertakes research he finds things which relate, albeit perhaps as echoes, to today, and that what we recognise are not the products of sudden upheaval but have deep roots. In his book ‘A New Race of Men’ – the title being a phrase taken from observations made in 1845 by the Rev. George Cruden, one of the few kirk ministers to have taken part in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland in both 1794 and 1845 – Fry presents a picture of a nineteenth-century largely at peace, with a conservative constitution (if I can use such a word) that supported that of England, union with the rest of the United Kingdom long since a ‘done deal’. Scottish capitalism was in the hands of men who had served their time as apprentices and shared social roots with the men who worked for them, giving rise to a sense of egalitarianism. In movements such as public health, it was recognised that contagion did not stop at the edge of working-class areas, and that therefore health belonged to all, not simply to the bourgeoisie.
Ideas like this didn’t fail to draw dissent from the floor. A questioner from North East England challenged the assumption that the nineteenth-century Scottish working class was any less exploited than the working class in his own area – and indeed the supposed difference that Michael Fry had suggested between the Scottish and English concepts of class did seem to sit rather awkwardly with a previous statement to the effect that the North East of England, for example, shared much of Scotland’s perceived remoteness from London and Westminster. Another questioner challenged the idea of the ‘done deal’ with its roots going back to the eighteenth century, citing the verse in ‘God Save the King’ about ‘rebellious Scots’; unfortunately her point merely perpetuated the canard that the verse is insulting to the Scots as a whole, when it is actually specifically directed at the Jacobites. Fry made this point in reply, however – that in the ‘age of revolution’, between 1789 and 1848, while the death toll in political causes in other countries was high, there was a total of twenty-three in Scotland. “I counted them’” he said.
Angus Konstam, although principally a maritime historian, has been fascinated by Robert Bruce since reading a ‘Ladybird’ book about him. In his book ‘Bannockburn’, according to the event pre-publicity, Konstam ‘debunks some myths about the legend of Robert the Bruce’. He describes the modern popularity of Bruce as ‘a national talisman… wrapped up in romantic guff’. The definition of Bruce’s wars as ‘Wars of Scottish Independence’ was a later one, as are those of a nationalist or a class war, both of which would have been lost on Bruce himself. The thirteenth- and fourteenth-century conflicts were fought to ‘solve purely medieval problems’, and in them even Bruce himself changed sides more than once. Nevertheless, by the time of Bannockburn there was an unprecedented and unfamiliar wave of specifically Scottish patriotism that must have lent something to the subsequent sense of Scottish identity.
For all that, the presentation did leave me wondering what myths were going to be debunked. It is more than forty years since Nigel Tranter’s ‘Bruce Trilogy’ was published, moving into popular fiction what historical study had long made known – Bruce’s career as a serial turncoat, and his murder of a rival. I listened to the account of Clifford’s unsuccessful charge against the Scottish infantry, and muttered to myself that surely the knowledge that horses will pull up before a solid mass of footsoldiers was known as far back as the Greek phalanx. However, we were brought back to popular myth when Konstam reminded us of the legend of Bruce and the spider – “It’s in the Ladybird book, so it must be true,” he said with a smile – for which there is no evidence beyond its existence in popular folklore.
Of the two books foregrounded, it strikes me that Michael Fry’s is probably the more controversial. However both authors were kept busy signing copies of their books after the event. I have to say I was left wanting more time for public discussion with the two authors – to drill down into some apparent contradictions in what Michael Fry said, to challenge Angus Konstam further about whether the myths about Bruce were actually as powerful as he assumed. Joe Farrell did make the point that the pair seemed to have been drawn together simply because they were historians. This was the first time I had attended an event at the Book Festival when I wondered if either of the authors on stage was thinking to himself “If I were Germaine Greer or George R R Martin I would have this stage to myself. Obviously I’m considered second division!” I am happy to give the Edinburgh International Book festival the benefit of the doubt on this issue, because it does what it must to pack so much into its schedule, and by-and-large gets it just right.