Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Celtic Opening night: GRIT orchestra perform the Declaration!


Celtic Connections 2020 Opening concert will celebrate! - one of the greatest declarations of independence of an ancient nation - the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. This April 2020 will be 700 years since its signing.

Donald Shaw - “a declaration of intent to grasp the thistle and give a sense of confidence to orchestral works from Scottish folk composers. It’s about freedom, exploration and intent.” 
The GRIT orchestra under the baton of conductor Greg Lawson, will première compositions by Fraser Fifield, Paul Towndrow, Chris Stout, Patsy Reid, Catriona McKay and Rudi de Groot. Five years on from its landmark debut concert at Celtic Connections, the GRIT Orchestra, is an 80-piece ensemble of folk, jazz and classical musicians founded to celebrate the late Martyn Bennett’s music, breaks yet more new ground with its first performance of newly-composed works. Supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund, six members of the orchestra have been commissioned to create new symphonic compositions. 

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Year of Flux and Turmoil



Change doesn’t mean we forget the past – we forget the past at our peril. 

The days are cold and frost lays heavy on the ground, but we must reflect this is a crossroads time – and we must now make important choices for our futures. Can we make a better future in the UK as a group of indy nations – like other modern states do? Can this be more successful? But what exactly does success mean? Does it mean more money in our back pockets, or saving the planet? Does it mean a well-being culture alongside successful businesses? 

Saving our planet from climate erosion is now a urgent priority. 
One dominant theme is the mistrust of politicians, but it is also mistrust of the media and press, who are supposed to inform us?

2019 ends with another major UK election but will it settle anything?
We are at the end of a decade and look forward to 2020. Our years of turmoil end with a major election in which choices were stark. Boris is a selfish, scheming chancer, and I have no trust in him or his side-kick Cummings. England continues to tie itself into knots. The trouble is Labour are providing no opposition. Will Ireland consider reunification – if so will Scotland vote for Indy?




**Heroes
In America there are several strong women role models I admire, women who give back – Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Angelie Jolie, Hilary Clinton and more. In Scotland and the UK I struggle to think of good, present day female role models though – Nicola Sturgeon, Anita Roddick, Virginia Woolfe, 

*HEROES of 2010s - Greta Thunberg, Obama, Andy Murray, 

I’ve believed change can only occur in small places, at the grassroots level and while we must see the big picture.

**The Past Decade
I look at photos of the 2010s
The early years were hopeful – we had Obama, a UK coalition, hope of Scottish indy, 
The decade held many tragedies – Grenfell, Windrush Trump, Brexit, Boris, climate crisis. 

Now we have chaos, and rich oligarchs gaining more power, and wealth.
Sometimes the world goes off its axis, and I hope it will right itself again!
Its hard to understand the Brexit vote – but Fintan O’Toole is the best read(Irish Times)

**Looking ahead 2020
Celtic Connections January 2020
Climate conference Glasgow, November 2020
700 years since 1320 Declaration or Arbroath, April 2020

HAPPY HEW YEAR FOR 2020, I took a late walk on the moors in the gloamin tonight and the sky was a perfect glow. Hope its a good sign for the year ahead!


***Time is now running out ** 
We are facing several major crises. Its crucial we see the urgency of our decisions.

*Respect for our Past
I worry some have little regard for culture, history or past stories. This isn’t about dusty books on shelves – but is essential to understand our choices today 
Scotland’s only hope is indy in Europe. 

And we do have horrific images to witness – dying species, melting ice sheets, dangerous fires, severe floods, 


Letter to EU 
I hope those in Europe understand why Scots seek indy now. Brexit is not about the EU. Its about English nationalism, and about a UK creaking and not fit for purpose. The UK today is a disunited kingdom – all 4 nations are not working well together. Both Ireland and Scotland are on different trajectories: and many in Ireland are seriously considering and debating reunification for the first time. 
Only 10 years ago the SNP had only a few MPs, now it has 80%. The SNP is socially democratic and progressive and not about racism in any shape or form: and totally opposite to other nationalist parties in Europe. Scottish nationalism is inclusive and outward-looking: it is empathically not narrow, elitist or exclusive. For centuries Scots heritage and ideals have been ones of travel on our seas to distant lands  Its English nationalism that is right wing. Perhaps it is in essence the Scottish democratic party? JK Rowling claims her villain Voldemort would be a ‘nationalist’ – its clear she totally misunderstands our Yes Movement. Its about the right of an ancient nation to self determination: and to have equal rights to those in the south! No more, no less.


Letter to the EU


I hope those in Europe understand why Scots seek indy now. Brexit is not about the EU: its about English nationalism and about a UK creaking that’s not fit for purpose. The UK today is a disunited kingdom – all 4 nations are not working well together. Both Ireland and Scotland are on different trajectories: and many in Ireland are seriously considering and debating reunification for the first time.  I strongly believe an indy Scotland will be outward-looking nation and a voice for peace making and ounity in Europe.    

Only 10 years ago the SNP had only a few MPs, now it has 80%. The SNP is socially democratic and progressive and not about racism in any shape or from and in fact totally opposite to other nationalist parties in Europe. Scottish nationalism is civic, inclusive and outward-looking: it is empathically not narrow, elitist or exclusive. For centuries Scots heritage and ideals have been ones of travel on our seas to distant lands  (Its English nationalism that is right wing.) Perhaps it is in essence the Scottish democratic party? Scotland’s ties to Europe are deep and centuries old.

After decades of UK prime ministers blaming the EU for their own failings, the consequences have come back to haunt them. Who will they blame now - the Scots, the Irish, the EU for not being nice enough to them? They have employed populism, telling the people what they want to hear. 

We need to change the narrative, particularly with those who dislike and fear Brexit. The UK establishment surrounded Scotland’s independence with negative language – words such as warning, catastrophe, too poor, too small, dependent. And instead offer positive words – opportunity, self-determination, vast resources, bright future, innovative, freedom, fair, make our own decisions, success, hope. Scotland urgently requires it own TV channel, film studio and media.

Scotland can be compared to other highly successful economies in the European trading block. The EU offers economic stability and lower mortgage rates for young families. Small economies are more adaptable and progressive. How can we re-imagine our future Scotland with greener and well-being policies? A new Scotland that doesn’t make the mistakes of the UK by de-centralising and by not having only a couple of major cities, and with improved infrastructure. 

Plus why would we accept England’s deficit: they squandered our oil reserves, with billions spent on trident and other vanity projects and on London infrastructure projects. These  produce the false GERs figures. This is not against the English people, a successful indy Scotland can be more supportive of the other 4 nations, not less. Its against those neo–liberal elites, with their off-shore tax havens. 

Indy is a process. And a journey. This failing Brexit is fooling people with a Tory government, who don’t even believe in it. Some of us might be thinking that federalism is an answer for the UK crisis – but England’s too big and has little interest. Although it might be an answer to England’s Brexit crisis. 

What’s truly scary – do people believe they have a free press or believe what they are told on tv, radio, online or in the press. Obviously it requires effort and time to search for any honesty and it’s confusing as we have so many media outlets now. The truth is not found in foreign owned press that peddles gossip, propaganda or downright lies. In fact it appears many across the UK don’t trust the media or their politicians. Figures show that trust in the UK media is far lower than in other European nations. This is surely extremely concerning for a country that portrays itself as democratic. 

Boris wants to diverge with regulations. This will mean non-alignment with the EU, and that any deal will be complex and take years with transitions or no deal. Northern Ireland will remain in the EU (and UK) which means not the UK, but Great Britain is leaving the EU. The question for Boris is: how can he take Scotland on this Brexit journey it didn’t vote for? How can he explain how Westminster works for Scotland?

We need the EU protection. ‘A small country with big ideas.’My vote’s for real democracy. Are we running out of time, as some argue – with the Brexit take over by ever richer oligarchs and the threatening climate crisis? Norway with a population the same as Scotland’s and similar resources, is one of the worlds most developed successful, democratic nations. One thing is clear – people in Scotland have voted against Brexit and they want to stay in the EU, hopefully emulating other successful independent nations. 

*Sweden Dagens Myhater  ‘Openness to the outside world made modern Britain what it is today. Now the fog lowers across the English channel. The continent is isolated.’   Kate Devlin


Scotla's Cultural Renewals



The Sunday Times has been running debates on whether Scots culture has declined in recent years, with an article by Hugh Andrew: criticising the quality of Scots culture today and claiming it is only about clichés and worn-out tat.  (Andrew is Director Birlinn publishers). David Keenan asks if Scots are the only nation that consume cheap tat – well this is certainly not true! Go to any major city worldwide then and find even cheaper .

While historian Tom Devine wondered Scots are too keen on ‘celebrities of limited talent’ over great writers, scientists, artists and scholars. The article also wondered, why has there not been more celebration of the 700 years of  the Declaration of Arbroath: the world’s greatest documents of nationhood, liberty, and freedom – well that is next April 2020 and we’ll celebrate then! 




I find all this astonishing and not my experience at all. The unionist press likes to run articles demeaning the Scots and Scotland - because don’t we need our Etonian masters in London making decisions for us? Well Hello magazine and the Daily Mail are not Scottish publications! Celebrity culture has reached us from America.  

However author Denise Mina, wisely writes that talent often develops from a rich cultural soil, rather than any controlled executive

SCOTS TRADITIONS: The School of Scottish Studies archives  was set up in 1951, by Calum Maclean (brother of poet Sorley Maclean) and by folklorist and poet Hamish Henderson. They collaborated with American folklorist Alan Lomax. Folklorist Margaret Bennet also worked at the school: they worked to keep Gaelic, Scots and traditional ballads alive. A degree course was established in 1986, and is now known as Celtic and Scottish Studies. Bennet’s son, Martyn mixed traditional voices, Bothy ballads, and pipes with contemporary dance grooves. At Celtic Connections 2014, Greg Lawson's innovative Grit orchestra performed Bennet's album to great acclaim .

In 1994 Aly Bain and other musicians began a small Glasgow winter festival, Celtic Connections, which has now evolved into the world biggest folk, roots and world music festival and takes place in 32 venues over 18 days and with artists coming worldwide. Many artists perform Robert Burns and other traditional songs, as well as singing in Gaelic. Glasgow is ideal for the folk festival with its many diverse and much loved venues – Barrowlands, King Tuts, Oran Mor, Old Fruitmarket  concert hall and more. - https://www.celticconnections.com

Edinburgh also is the perfect historic city for its major arts festival each August – begun in 1947, it attracts visitors worldwide and is one of the world’s oldest and most significant cultural events. Edinburgh International festival - https://www.eif.co.uk
Aly Bain
Dougie MacLean

Mogwai
SCOTS ARTS. Glasgow also boasts the work of the Glasgow Boys Colourists, 1890s to 1910. 
Glasgow’s Rennie Mackintosh Art School may have been destroyed by fire, but more people than ever appreciate and enjoy Macintosh’s work at the Home for an Art Lover and at the LIghthouse. In Glasgow there is also the impressive Kelvingrove and the Burrell collection. While Edinburgh boasts the Scottish Portrait gallery and National Galleries. In the 90s the head of Scottish Arts wanted to close the portrait galleries, claiming no significant Scottish art! 

SCOTS MEDIA. We’re poorly served by media and by Creative Scotland though, with a struggle to build Scotland a film studio (amazingly considering Wales, Northern Ireland, Birmingham have studios). Even though we have some of the world’s greatest scenery. And no Scottish TV channels: when even the poorest European country, Moldova, has its own tv channel.  However the global success of Outlander has seen a film studio built. While the new BBC Scotland channel is mostly playing it safe. 

What has been a problem is Scots institutions being run by outsiders who don’t value or understand Scot’s traditions or history. I studied art, history at school in Edinburgh, in the 70s, but learned nothing of Scots culture, history or heritage. I’m now teaching myself and learning of our great enlightenment, art and song.  For decades, no centuries, there has been deliberate policies to suppress Scots culture.  


SCOTS MUSIC. Scots music has enjoyed a renaissance since the 70s –  Average White band, Simple Minds, Deacon Blue, Franz Ferdinand, Lulu, Texas, Snow Patrol, Gerry Rafferty, Annie Lennox, Del Amitri – to name a few. With some of the most innovative and creative talent. Scots artists have achieved great success in 2019 – a particular shout out to the newcomer Lewis Capaldi. Plus Calvin Harris, Mogwai, Emeli Sande, Chvrches, Tom Walker, Kathryn Joseph, Young Fathers, C Duncan, Be Charlotte, Frightened Rabbit,... Scotland definitely punches above its size.

On the folk Trad scene there is outstanding talent both young and old – Karine Polwart, Braebach, Rura, Blazin Fiddles, Dick Gaughan, Rab Noakes, Blue Rose Code, Dougie MacLean, Skerryvore, Julie Fowlis, many more

Alexander MacColl Smith
I attend Edinburgh Book festival each year, which was begun in 1983 and is the UKs oldest book festival. Scots literature is not only thriving, but producing some of the worlds best known writers – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Iain Banks, Christopher Brookmyre, Alexander MacColl Smith, Ali Smith, Alasdair Gray, more …Dundee games industry is a world leader and now also boasts the iconic Dundee V & A designed by Kengo Kuma.-  https://www.edbookfest.co.uk

What has been a problem is Scots institutions being run by outsiders who don’t value or understand Scot’s traditions or history. I studied art, history at school in Edinburgh, in the 70s, but learned nothing of Scots culture, history or heritage. I’m now teaching myself and learning of our great enlightenment, art and song.  For decades, no centuries, there has been deliberate policies to suppress Scots culture.  

II  Since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999 twenty years ago, there has been renewed confidence to believe in and understand our rich Scots traditions and heritage. Artists are now proud to sing in their Scots accent. Gaelic is more popular than ever. My local folk club is flourishing. We also have many highly respected academics such as the distinguished historian Tom Devine, along with 4 fo the world's top universities. 

Scotland is creative and bold, but we allow other places (such as London) to make money out of our creativity. Big London outfits are profiting from turning Edinburgh into a Scottish Disneyland of the North. More money must be kept in Scotland to improve roads and infrastructure. We must teach more business in Schools and how to protect and keep the money here in Scotland: and build our own infrastructures.

For our size our cultural contributions are outstanding. They are also grassroots, rather than top down by some Big Label machine – and in my opinion much healthier and creative for it. 

Postscript
**Special mention to artist and writer Alasdair Gray 1934 – 2019. We have just lost one of Scotland’s great artists and innovators. I took photos of him Edinburgh a few years back – what a great character!