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.”

book festival

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

Void – theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe

A MHz and V/DA collaboration in association with Feral at Summerhall, Edinburgh 18 – 19 Aug and 21 – 26 Aug 2018. 5 stars.

The short, intense theatre show which is Void at Summerhall, based on J G Ballard’s Concrete Island, is a painful dance solo indistinguishable from a sound and lightscape in a theatre space that is a place inside our minds as well as just outside our awareness. It makes us reflect on just what exactly we have made of our world.

Another of the quality shows in the Made in Scotland series, the set is part grotty under-the-motorway corner, part Guantanamo Bay bleak, part metaphor for a closed place we cannot escape from in which we are tortured, mostly unnoticing, perhaps of our own making. Mele Broomes, performer and choreographer, is tossed \ catapulted into it like a body thrown from a car in the midst of a crash, or a prisoner pushed into a cell. We are that body, we can’t see the cameras, we are watching and being watched in our agony.

With three of the walls absent, this self-enforced prison, designed by MHz, is somewhere we simultaneously seek to escape from and voluntarily remain in. Despite there being only a back wall to the stage, it is as if we are seeing through into a four walled enclosure.

The soundtrack is either electronically produced or real noise sampled and manipulated. It mimics and creates the extreme din which we put up with on a day-to-day basis, which we have all conspired to create and with which we surround ourselves; that external tinnitus to our internal commotion and unease.

The set and lighting fulfil the same function of producing the theatrical environment. One of those fences whose wires create diamond shapes, is bordered by more metal to keep it taut and in place, with a grimy curtain behind and projections flittering across it. Otherwise there is a pale dance floor. That’s all. Except it isn’t because we readily furnish it with the detritus and mess we have come to expect at the end of the block, the space between buildings or littering wasteland.

Reminiscent of the end of the film reel when you can see the bits caught in the lightstream of the projector, or where the heat of the screen has attracted dust which messes up the white; the art work provides the next layer. It is a series of projections: fast-moving fluorescence of radiation made visual, X-ray intensity, complexity of colour and movement almost entirely unrepresentational. And yet it is suggestive of the natural surroundings which seem to be absent, for which there is no room – of moonlight between branches, sun spots at midday.

Really it is entirely urban and manmade – the lights of cars passing, of screens flickering, searchlights, floodlights, and interrogative illumination creating a setting where the human is captured and can never retire or halt.

The figure in the midst of all this is definitely a ‘she’. We know that after a while because of the lipstick, pencil skirt and stilettos, and sadly also because of the way she is pushed around. Ditto that she is black. Actually there is no-one else present in her immediate space to do the pushing, but she is ‘manhandled’ just the same. And we are just outside it, we watch it happen and don’t intercede. We would be the passers-by who balk at the smell, or nod disapproval, wonder what the world has come to and get away from as soon as we can.

Boy does she move! She seems at first to be dead but reaches into life, struggling, stretching, ankles disjointed, fingers clawing. Plastic, gymnastic, she cartwheels and backflips effortlessly, silently. She climbs the fence, raggedly, to escape, using her high heels to hook onto, and falls repeatedly. That elastic back of hers, arches. Broomes is elegant, stiff; undulating, and jagged. The face is shut off, is tense, is staring, is scared by turns.

Vid

Hers is intelligent choreography informed of its own history (Martha Graham’s renowned Lamentation for example) and devoid of pretentiousness or self-sonsciousness. Several times she is a lumpy, amorphous, androgynous heap of human, an inhuman. Three-dimensional in parka or bin liner with no identifiable body parts, she is unable to accept rest despite the exhaustion and desperation, almost always moving, moving.

Here we are, we have chosen to enter this theatre where we are forced to endure the racket we have produced ‘in the outside world’, the noise that is the result of the engines we have created to rush us from place to place, to do jobs for us so we can get more achieved. And more.

Here we are inside our imaginations, immersed, unable to avoid the imaginary place which is Void, full of din and empty of quiet.  We wonder why we cannot settle our minds, sitting still in meditation, slipping away into nature for a moment. Here is our answer.

We are faced with the conundrum – did we manifest this state of things as a mirror to ourselves, the clamour in our heads, or is that internal uproar a result of what we have created around us?

This is the stuff of sci-fi you might say, except like all good work of this genre, it encapsulates our now. Never ever quiet, never ever dark for more than a millisecond, the constancy of our modern world’s busyness, the 24/7 of our machines at work are here. At one and the same time the rushing, pounding, white-noise inside our collective head; and the external racket, a result of the man-made motors with which we fill our world, assaults us in the theatre.

Thank goodness it is short. Not because we wouldn’t relish spending more time watching the dance or mesmerised by the projections, but it would simply be too much. It is just loud enough to jolt us into recognition of reality.

This is a piece which in its immediate simplicity allows us to absorb the multi-dimensional and metaphorical layers on which it comments.

 

Roberta Jean – Edinburgh Fringe dance

At City Chambers, Edinburgh Royal Mile, 16 – 17 Aug 2018.

The setting of Edinburgh’s City Chambers is an unusual one for a contemporary dance show. Brocade by Roberta Jean is part of the Made in Scotland showcase and the Dance Base programme, and she and her three dancers challenge us with their “loom of movement glosses that, when woven, makes a numinous tissue”-  in the words of the programme.

The broad rectangular performance area has audience on the two long sides. At one end is the window overlooking St Giles Cathedral and the lights of the clock tower comes on in the gloaming as the house lights dim.

St Giles

Standing with their backs to us, clad in black shorts, baggy T shirts and matching knee-length socks (as in L-E-V Dance Company’s Love Cycle), one woman starts a jump-skip, a regular rhythmic and simple step. One by one the others join in and they allow their labouring breath to be audible and their facial expressions to be naturalistic as they slowly turn while doing it.

In unison, they continue. Vertically they pound the floor like human pneumatic drills, creating their own soundtrack with foot-percussion, arms and torsos relaxed and still as in Irish dance, so they carry on for the majority of the piece. This pedestrian movement, and the few motifs in which the feet or hands have minds of their own leading the rest of the body a merry dance, is reminiscent of Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown at the Judson Church and New York lofts of the 1960s. (Rainer said that her work “sometimes takes the form of a disorientated body in which one part doesn’t know what the other part is doing.”)

Sometimes they zig zag, sometimes they smile. One peels off and dances behind the audience. They could be stitching an enormous embroidery, stopping every now and then to make a knot, bouncing on in their patterns, never stopping despite the sweat caused by the neverending pace.

Roberta Jean

The repetition allows us to relax as we watch and notice the subtle alterations – facing north-north-east not north-east for example. There are distinctions between them: one drops slightly more heavily than the next; a second holds her hand at nose- rather than mouth-level. Is it in this idiosyncracy that the message lies? Is it that however hard we try to keep on doing what is expected, to ‘repeat after me’, to ‘toe the line’, we are all human and have our own personalities?

 

Folding Echoes – Edinburgh Fringe dance

At Dance Base, Grassmarket, Edinburgh. 16 – 19 and 21 – 26 Aug 2018.

Grassmarket
The Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland

Folding Echoes might be a response to some people’s questions about contemporary dance – what does it all mean? In the first few minutes, Joseph Lee bangs his head on a chair. Then he sticks it in the door! These simple moves tell of serious frustration, perhaps with the audience for asking this question, or perhaps with the more impenetrable aspects of the genre itself.

Born in Hong Kong and a trained accountant, Lee undertook a masters at the renowned London Contemporary Dance School (The Place) in London and has toured and won awards around the world. Lee manages that rare thing: to be serious and to poke fun at his subject in one show.

Many of the amusements are in the script. He starts by addressing the audience as if giving an after-performance talk about what he’d just done, but he also deconstructs movement phrases which mean ‘love’ and ‘hate’. Using ultra clear gesture he goes on to develop these moves, adeptly demonstrating how some choreographers initiate dance.

What follows is a duet with a chair and, later, a pair of shiny red stilettos: “Of course dance can address some contemporary problem or issue. One of them is gender” he says. We laugh again. This cannot be other than a reference to the macabre Hans Christian Anderson tale and film of the same name in which a vain girl is punished by shoes which never stop dancing even when her feet in them are amputated. He seems

Occassionally there is a hint of the ‘101 things to do with a prop’ exercise; and as with many choreographers  presenting at the Festival this year, he uses extreme repetition, angst, manic shuddering, and painful falls (ow! I felt that) as knees strike dance floor. However, he performs much of this with irony, and, cleverly, we don’t always know which side of that line he has stepped over.

When he suddenly rushes offstage through the emergency exit, leaving only a slant of bright behind him (he plays with light very effectively throughout the show), our attention is drawn to the paraphernalia of the theatre that we usually pretend isn’t there. And so we are left with interesting questions about the nature of performance, the art of making dance, the relationship between the audience and who we watch. We are in admiration, and we are smiling because he simultaneously achieves this and sends himself up: “bullshit, bullshit” he says.

Letters for Peace – Edinburgh Fringe music

at Out of the Blue, Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh 16 – 17 Aug 2018. 5 star

Graeme Stephen presents Letters for Peace with the McFall’s Chamber String Trio as part of the Made in Scotland programme at Out of the Blue in Leith’s Dalmeny Street. It is a full theatre experience involving voice, song, photos and words with music dominating. In Stephen’s words, “I was at a gig in Wales and read a book about conscientious objectors during World War I. I was really touched and decided to write music for it.” The instrumentals are singing the words of the book.

This complicated, multi-layered piece shows all angles of the situation, and each part has a quality and tone which is relative to it. It is emotionally moving – struggling and insistent harmonies play while facts are displayed: 20,000 troops killed on the first day, 623,907 either wounded or dead at its conclusion. It begins and ends with a passage first spoken, then yearningly sung by Transylvanian Lizabett Russo in a pure trebling voice, “Last night I had the strangest dream and saw a mighty room full of men, and the paper they were signing said they would never fight again, and when a million were signed… put an end to war.”

Stephen, hunched over his amplified acoustic guitar, starts softly, accompanied by long slow notes drawn from the strings of Robert McFall (violin), Brian Schiele (viola) and Su-a Lee (cello). The violin takes over the high, thin melody and then the cello comes through, deep and bass. Swelling surges of sound billow and build as they play in unison, more powerful. The different instruments are a perfect foil for each other

This introduction heralds the first bleached yet naturalistic photos of the trenches – a man sits writing, absorbed, during a bleak lull. Alongside this: “I wish to offer a brief statement of my faith…I will not poison or kill…. surer proof of those I love, than slaughter those others love” is a delicate solo with echoes of Spanish guitar.

There are hints of musical influences from that era, juxtapositions of syncopation, jazz echoes, classical overtones, Indian cadences, and, at times, more of a folk / pop sound – all is subtle, a really interesting interweaving of styles evoking wars of different eras.

Stories are told by each instrument, all being played alongside each other. Sorrow and grief are evoked with the strong surety of the message clearly coming through the composition. The music pleads because not everyone by any means agrees, it must be forceful at times.

Graeme Stephen

In the tougher visuals three men huddle in a trench; a single man gazes out of a cell window; sombre faces gaze, dazed in their uniforms to the script: “War will not cease until men refuse to fight.” The cello plays pizzicato: simple but angry and atonal. The four players are beautifully timed together and perfectly match the spoken court speech,” If you find me guilty, you will inflict punishment on a man who has not committed any crime.”

Here are sonorous tones, clashing and challenging the ear; next, lonely and mournful, reflecting those who didn’t fight and therefore stand separate from the general population. Often the music quietens when the words are spoken, but passages repeat and then we can focus on a merging of the sound and meaning, each taking its own important place by turn.

This arrangement does two things. It encapsulates the complex emotions, and it creates the discord and disharmony of the men’s struggle. We are in no doubt about the seriousness of the subject – “The most fruitful outcome (for mankind) (Bertrand Russell) does not depend on force” – the strident strumming and chords, with the cello providing a rhythmic baseline, mirrors this – but the musicians appear to relish playing together and there is also hope and a joyfulness at the prospect of ending all wars.