Herland, womens salon

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 21st Aug 2018.

See also the Take-Over Tent and other Revolting Women events today until 26th Aug 2018.

Katie Ailes
Katie Ailes, spoken word artist

Herland is in the tradition of the famous Women’s Salons of the Age of Enlightenmentin which women played a central role. Salons provided a place for women and men to congregate for intellectual discourse.” (see Gertrude Stein et al who “used culture to affect change”) This, the first outside Glasgow, was hosted by the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival which has a special Revolting Women theme this 2018 curated by Adele Patrick.

Set in the sparkling Speigeltent, a roundhouse of mirrors, plush burgundy velvet and, on this evening, red lights, Herland is an eclectic mix of poetry and music, wound around a celebration of women of the suffrage movement in this anniversay year of The Representation of the People’s Act 1918 when the first group of women were given the vote in the UK. In attendance are women and some welcome men, between the ages of 16 and 76 (a guesstimate), and the sparky Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh who compere. They are both novelists dressed in red which they note are the colours of revolution, socialism, menstrual periods, and passion.

quiz and programme

On the tables are home-made crowns each bearing the name of a Scottish suffragette who Adele Patrick in her Wee Review interview, said she hopes will become household names. In the air is some of the The Revolting Women Playlist – Compared To What Roberta Flack, Na Gode by Yemi Alade) which was compiled by Patrick from 100 female Book Fest authors and will be released via Twitter and Spotify. There is a quiz, designed to get us to talk to our fellow table sharers (success!), linking the writer’s names and the tracks they had chosen – with prizes!

The acts are quality: Heir of the Cursed is haunting, complex, making an absolutely beautiful sound with her voice and electric guitar, radical and reassuring through anthem and lullaby;  Diljeet Bhachu and Hannah Lee‘s own compositions, on lilting flutes, are melodic, skilled and cognisant of their Chinese and Indian heritage; Nadine Aisha Jassat delivers her poems in a refreshingly un-poetic way, is eloquent and The Old Codgers recognises her Zimbabwean / Yorkshire inheritance in equally amusing and telling ways; Katie Ailes is a spoken word artist and her first poem is full of fairy godmother wishes for her daughter.

There is good spread of racial backgrounds and local women on the stage; rejoicing in the personal as well as the collective, naming children and parents alongside the much bigger political and sociological picture. It is a relaxing, entertaining, and thought-provoking affair.

Did you know there was a Scottish-Asian Creative Group?

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Autóctonos II, dance

At Zoo, Southside. Edinburgh Fringe, 22 and 24-27 Aug 218 1800 hrs

A grouping of shifting, swivelling dancers. Sharp quarter turns, heels slightly lifted, neck torso arms and face rigid and unchanging. Automaton meets shop dummies in Autóctonos II, and save the odd cryptic word from one of them every now and then (it is assumed the dancers can influence the order and formation by randomly giving a verbal sign) and the faintly varied, prepared piano, so it continues. For 10 minutes, 20 and counting, Ayelin Parolin’s choreography and Lea Petra’s composition and playing goes on.

For sure, this repetitive, unchanging movement is extensive within the contemporary dance community at all levels of experience just now, if the Edinburgh Fringe and International Festival are anything to go by, and if it represents their reality then it doesn’t say much for the lives they are leading or seeing around them.

Bleak, uninteresting, monotonous. If it is meant to be this way – it succeeds. It may be representative of reality, but is it the stuff of effective performance? It is as if they would have done this without the audience. There are, as the programme puts it, “hairline fractures” of change: eventually a range of arm movements (physical ticks, a cut, a thrust, a punch) which are then used for the whole of the second half; slight changes of direction; occasional separation of one from the crowd; a hint of variety of plane; a sort of searching or looking. There is a complete absence of beauty.

autoctonos ii

If this is the truth, no wonder no-one marches or opposes any abusive government or partner! An enquiry into this topic is laudable, but it is truly mind-numbing and pedestrian to view. For some reason even the score, played so attentively, is the same; probably because it is monotone and uses an intensely small range of notes.

The lives of workers and those with no resources, of the down-trodden or of political prisoners when shown on the TV or written about, suggest that human beings find a smile or a notion of love even amongst the terror or fear. There is nothing of that here.

The performances are focused, the actions precise, but there is zero for an audience to hook onto, and although this may be representative of their view, it only serves to alienate and estrange the watcher, avoiding any sort of outcome. Is it enough to show a state of mind but evade explanation or comment?

Atomic 3001

At Dance Base, Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Tickets and information. 22 – 26 Aug 2018 16.45hrs

Atomic 3001 is a product of the triumvirate which is Leslie Mannés (choreography, performance), Sitoid (original live music) and Vincent Lemaître (light design), all based in Brussels. It was created in 2016 and has been touring Europe since then. Having worked with Ayelin Parolin, who is herself performing here at the Fringe, and no doubt having watched the more renowned L-E-V and Wayne McGregor, it is not surprising that she is in the same minmalist, deconstructed dance camp.

Mannes explains exactly what her work is about in the programme. It is a “futuristic ritual in which she is subjected to a perpetual, unyielding pulse…(a) primitive drive for survival.”  It is interesting that she places herself in the third person because during the first 10 minutes of so of the piece the lighting means that she has no face, and, later on, her hair is often hiding it. In terms of being separated from herself, that is part of the aim, to be brought to “exhaustion, trance and incandescence.” The alienation this implies is also cited in the blurb.

She is, we are told, manipulated by the music, which is insistent, electronic and loud. Also that she is burned by the red lights. The scarlet jumper and jeans, the extreme headbanging didn’t help keep her cool either. She will have attained incandescence after a short while, if by that she means the heat emanating from her! Not only is her face hidden, but for a long time she has no abdomen – no centre, and no feet – no contact with the ground.

Atomic 3001

Ritual dance and raves are, commonly, group experiences; the close juxtaposition of other bodies and shared fervour, both in tribal dance and techno, are what causes the frenzy. This, however, is in front of an audience who sit, stony faced and unmoving, while watching the dancer reach for and recreate some sort of out-of-body state on her own. It is like sitting in front of someone being tortured, worse, torturing herself. The self-harm of hitting, thrusting and shaking her head like that, the wear and tear on those joints from so many repetitions, is shocking.

Having said that, she appears strong, a veritable scarlet Amazon. Like a whirling dervish without the spiritual context, like a shaman without the divination or healing; and more like the contemporary sweat lodge visitor who is there for a personal de-tox, it is otherwise unclear why Mannés is putting herself through this except that she obviously likes doing it – she beams at the end. Applause was necessary to recognise her commitment.

 

 

Diane Atkinson and Jane Robinson – book festival

Diane Atkinson and Jane Robinson were at the Edinburgh International Book Festival chaired by Donna Moore with an introduction by Adele Patrick. Part of the Revolting Women theme. 19 Aug 2018.

Adele Patrick, curator of the Revolting Women theme, opens proceedings at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She took the time to name and challenge: “In this wonderfully auspicious year, the centenary of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918, in which awareness of issues of privilege, power and inequalities are almost omnipresent across the media, with campaigns such as #nomore, here we can reflect on the feminist continuum and audit its progress.”

She passes on to Donna Moore, also from the Glasgow Women’s Library and making her debut as chair, who introduces Jane Robinson. With her ready smile and silver shoes, she sits next to Diane Atkinson, resplendent in suffrage colours; both experts in the history of the suffrage movement with a focus on telling the stories of the individual women involved.

Diane Atkinson 1 (2)

“You could hurl this at a Westminster window and it’ll do some damage!” said Moore, holding Atkinson’s weighty volume, Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes. Standing to speak and with no need of notes, the author came to life, showing us photos and hilarious postcards from the times. She regaled us with true-life accounts of the militants and merchandisers of the suffragette movement.

Starting, fittingly, with the Pankhursts (“so charismatic – feminine, fashionable and able to light up a room very quickly”), she chose to tell us about women from all walks of life, all over the UK who joined them, in upholding the slogan, ‘Deeds not Words’, which was adopted after hearing about the working conditions and poverty of so many of their sisters.

These were the women who hit the news with their challenging behaviour: Jessie Spinks, only 17 years old, who changed her name to Vera Wentworth to spare the family embarrassment, “ She stalked politicians, followed them to church and harangued them; jumped out of the bushes when they were playing golf to ask when they would give women the vote; scaled the walls, a bit like a silent film, to suddenly appear at Asquith’s private dinner.”

Robinson, whose Parrot Pie for Breakfast, An Anthology of Women Pioneers is being made into a TV series, has recently produced Hearts and Minds, The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote The book tells of the suffragists, “peeresses and millhands, stepping out” in 1913, “the last long summer before the war” to march to London. This did more than any other single activity to persuade Prime Minister Asquith that “yes, I suppose women are people after all.”

Jane Robinson

As advice to young, disheartened women (a question from the audience), Robinson advised, “…being with other like-minded women, putting one foot in front of the other” and Atkinson added, “Think of actions that will change things.”

Moore ended by asking each writer which banner they would have held: Robinson said Suffragist and Atkinson, Suffragette.

Also by Jane Robinson, Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers review to follow!

Matt Hopwood – book festival

Matt Hopwood was talking to Ryan Van Winkle at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 18 Aug 2018.

Another sold out event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Matt Hopwood has walked long distance collecting love stories as he goes. A former teacher and a musician, he has the appearance of a road-hippie (or ‘Jesus’ as some wee ruffians shouted at him somewhere in Scotland) with long hair in a top knot and a tawny beard. He described himself as “going on this amazing pilgrimage all groovy and pure” when he first started seven years ago. Author of A Human Love Story – Journeys to the Heart, his dad was a Methodist minister and he has discovered that his way is all about love.

When walking he prevails on strangers to accommodate and feed him, and in return he does an equally precious thing, he listens to their accounts of love. This book is testament to his prodigious listening skills and admirable in his aim of building shared experience and compassion by publishing them in book and virtual form. “I hope the reader might think, ‘Ah, there’s someone else that thinks like me.’ That’s when we know we’re not alone.”

On being asked why he walks instead of driving for example, he answers, “What I’ve found is that you enter communities very gently when you walk. Walking allows you to walk into that presence”, quoting Martin Palmer another ‘son of a preacher man’, “’into that sense of sacred drift’.”

matt hopwood 2

The chair of this event is Ryan Van Winkle who then asks what happens after he has amassed the narratives, “You’re the shepherd of these texts. What is that responsibility like?” “I listen to the recordings and the first thing I do is take myself out, then the people emerge. It’s not really anything to do with me.” Not all the stories are in the public eye: “55% are for them (the storytellers) only. My recordings are a gift, offering that reflection for them to hear their own voice.” An audience member asks about giving advice. “I want to help them” Hopwood admits, “but early on I learned that I don’t know anything. I’m just here to learn.”

Hopwood is eloquent with words, energy and gesture; he’s quietly amusing, self-deprecating, and he tells a good story himself. On Van Winkle’s urging he tells us his story, and romantic it certainly is. He sits upright at the front of his seat, touches his heart, squeezes his nose (diagnostic area for the heart in Chinese Medicine!); he opens his palms and moves them from the centre of his chest towards us – the body speaking clearly of his desire for openness and connection through sharing. “This amazing person just kept allowing me to be” he said of his wife in the early stage of their relationship, and when the time came he was ready to offer that to others.

Van Winkle, his knee popping out of his jeans, allows himself to be admirably vulnerable and says: “When I am alone, isolated and reflect, my nerves appear above my skin. Is that why you set out on your own?” Hopwood explains: “I try to be in my body and the now”.  At times he struggles a little, searching for the right vocabulary because this is akin to therapeutic talk and he knows some aren’t familiar and most find it pretty tricky to talk about such matters. “If I’m not”, he continues, “I don’t meet anyone. Nothing happens. But when I still myself, then everything happens, people just sit down beside me.”

“All of my work is really about the guest and the stranger” reveals Hopwood (maybe he refers here to Camus’ short stories with those titles; the bible (see Romans); and Saint-Expuéry (Hopwood read a passage from ‘Letter to a Hostage’)) . He doesn’t elaborate much, but he does speak about the power of the smile, telling a prisoner’s tale for whom the daily smile of his cell mate constitutes love. “That is a sort of a welcome to the stranger”, he says. “The smile says ‘I see you, I recognise your humanity’” and it removes the need to “leave any part of me behind” when you cross a threshold. Usually, he explains, when we go somewhere, cross someone’s threshold, we choose to take part of us and leave the rest behind, it’s what we believe society requires for acceptance. Hopwood, on the other hand, seeks to “open out” to whoever someone is, to welcome the whole of them: “When it’s allowing, it’s love” (the antipathy of rejection and criticism). “It’s all about connection. I can allow myself to be – that’s love manifest.”

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Karine Polwart – Light on the Shore

Karine Polwart performed at the Leith Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival on 17th Aug 2018.

A concert by turns melancholy and joyous, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook  is a smorgasbord of Scottish pop anthems to shed a tear or sing along to. Leith Theatre does her proud with its elegant semi-circular balcony and spacious standing area. It has received a once-over for the Light on the Shore series at the Edinburgh International Festival, looking very different from its outing for Hidden Door in May.

Karine Polwart, Scottish Songbook, Leith Theatre EIF
Karine Polwart and her band at leith Theatre – Light in the Shore EIF Aug 2018

The beams of bright peacock lights illuminate the wee lassie from Banknock in Stirlingshire with her whispy pixie hair and direct gaze as she stands amongst her band (including brother, Steven) and beside Inge Thomson.

With a slowly swaying, tentative start, Polwart sings, “You know how it feels to reach too far, too hard, too soon, you saw the whole of the moon”, originally a Waterboys tune. The suffused blue wash hints at starlight and the crowd show huge appreciation from the off.

She regales us with stories about the song’s origins, confident anecdotes. “You can hear the recent Chvrches (sic) song in the lavvies at the service station between Edinburgh and Glasgow.” Drumsticks herald a change to a brisk, syncopated beat, and we’re regaled with The Mother We Share while she plays the tambourine, that and the shawl revealing her folk roots.

Karine Polwart 2

After the audience participation where we are asked to cheer for one of two questions linking music to football, we move to the rock classic So Good To be Back Home by the Tourists and a little bit of hip action as Polwart bops along. We la laa to Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday as Polwart makes figures of eight with her hand looking like she is really enjoying herself, gesturing for us to join in. Somewhere in My Heart by Aztec Camera comes after, “a slice of pop performance”. For some reason the audience don’t dance – just a toe tap here and there. She dedicates The Machines to babysitters everywhere without whom “we would be at home”.

Best known as a singer songwriter, Polwart’s highly acclaimed A Pocket of Wind Resistance is something quite different from singing these covers, however familiar they are.

Party Feels Two is performed by another member of the band and is a highlight, Polwart humbly accompanying him. There is a gentle pensive ending to the otherwise raucous From Rags to Riches. I Don’t Want to Know is beautifully balanced; and the first half ends with the spacy sounding Teardrop, more of an atmosphere than a song.

Coming back in after the interval there’s the sweet smell of hot bodies and the band start with another sad song, Chance from Big Country. Still not dancing! Thomson sings Mary’s Prayer in her high pitched voice; Two retro numbers, I Could Be Happy (for clapping along to); and Here Comes the Rain are next; as it was the day the great Aretha Franklin died (16 Aug 2018), she was honoured by the accapella Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves; fittingly followed by Women of the World – the choir swells and the drone drones with a churchy feel; Gerry Rafferty, in a pure full voice, is dedicated to their parents; to end there is a medley including KT Tunstall, Dignity by Deacon Blue and ending with Sunshine on Leith (Proclaimers). Well she had to really – It went down a storm!

 

 

 

 

Richard Holloway – book festival

Richard Holloway was at the Book Festival on 16th August 2018. He is chairing the following events there: Stuart Kelly on 18th , Hilary Spurling and Jenny Uglow on 23rd at 15.45 and Claire Tomalin on 27th at 11.45.

Richard Holloway
Richard Holloway

Compared to James Runcie, 85 year old Richard Holloway is a small man, smooth headed and bespectacled. Runcie describes him in the introduction as ‘gorgeously unorthodox; a bold troublesome priest; repeating others’ words about him as ‘Britain’s barmiest Bishop’ and ‘an old bugger’ which brings a wry smile to Holloway’s face as he begins to speak about Waiting for the Last Bus, Reflections on Life and Death published by Canongate in Edinburgh. “It kept writing itself”, Holloway explains, ”right up until the last minute”. Beyond in fact, because he then smuggled an extra page at the end, beginning, “My dog Daisy died … We walked thousands of miles together on the Pentland Hills until she was too old. The first trek I took without her…I wept …”. Some in the audience wept too, and there is an aaah before the applause following this reading.

This is a moving and a humourous Edinburgh International Book Festival event. Runcie asked Holloway if his book is a 21st century Ars moriendi (Medieval end of life practical instruction, The Art of Dying, 1414) and he replied “I think that’s an excellent way of putting it”. He makes the point several times, that what with the increasing medicalisation of dying and the tendency for people to speak in certainties (which, he says, can never be), we are no longer allowed to do it ourselves. He tells us that he wishes to remain in his own bed, to die “at home so I can be cuddled. I might even come out with some famous last words.” “You could be there for hours!”, Runcie retorts, getting another laugh.

Replete with stories and quotes galore, Holloway’s conversation is slick and deeply informed. He’s aware, compassionate and demonstrates informed understanding. The sayings trip off his tongue – this is a subject he is an expert at, and he brings us up to date with his current thinking in response to the likes of Richard Dawkins “(he’s so certain and I am so unsure, that he has the same effect on me as an evangelical fundamentalist”); the Dalai Lama (who summed up the difference between them by saying “I am a cat man, you are a dog man”. “I like the old guy” Holloway told us!); assisted dying (an “intensely complicated “ subject); and how to explain the horror of death to a young person (“Don’t lie directly to a child. A consoling fiction may be.”).

After 50/60 years as a priest, “death’s an old friend”, Holloway explains in his clipped Scottish accent. He sways gently from side to side as he reads at the lectern, entertaining us: “I’m hoping Hollywood will turn me into a Zombie. I’m told I’ll require no make-up”.  And then he offers up his advice: “Cherish those you love, and indulge in melancholy. Let’s do it well.”

Here is my own review of  ‘Waiting for the Last Bus’

book festival