Saturday 29 September 2018

Michael Marra: Arrest This Moment talk Edinburgh book festival 2018

Liz Lochhead – “he turned everything upside down.”
We became better people for knowing him. 

This was a delightful talk at Edinburgh International book festival 2018, on one of Scotland’s greatest singer songwriters Michael Marra, who sadly died in 2012. Author James Robertson was joined by Calum Colvin, Sheena Wellington and Gordon Maclean.

They spoke of the influence Marra’s music has had on the city of Dundee, and that partly because of Marra’s powerful songs there is more self confidence in the city of Dundee. Sheena said that Dundee marked on your character and community. She knew Michael growing up in Dundee. Michael used the city's culture, language and people and he helped to give Dundonians a sense of pride and raised their confidence.

He was a proud but humble man – not parochial or cosmopolitan, with a wide heart of the whole world. He was extremely intelligent and creative and the system couldn’t cope with him. 
His experience in London was not good and he was rejected by the industry. They wanted to change him, which would remove him from exactly what made him an artist. His lyrics are so clever and beautifully written. 
Why will his songs last? They are totally original and unique. They are not about his own feelings – instead they speak for everyone, are often a story about a character and are quite theatrical. Marra is a touch of genius and a seminal voice in Scotland. 

When Marra performed he lifted the audience and they would be in the palm of his hand. 
In 2007 Marra was given a honorary degree at the University of Dundee and it was a day of great pride and emotion for him. 
A Canadian in the audience asked why we didn’t a of Marra in the media. 
“If you don’t know how strong your voice is, you’ll not vote yes.’ he said.
Perhaps its because Scotland doesn’t have control of its own media and until recently had no press (the National started in 2015).

To close for a treat,Sheila sang Marra’s classic Hermless.
BOOK – Arrest his Moment by James Robertson 

BOOK – Arrest This Moment by James Robertson 

Tom Devine:The English in Scotland talk Edinburgh book festival 2018

Scotland's leading historian looked at the nation's main migrant group, who have outnumbered all other immigrants combined over the last fifty years — the English. 
Devine has co-authored a book on Immigrant communities –  New Scots: Scotland's Immigrant Communities Since 1945. He spoke of one of the most salient issues of our time - English people in Scotland.  
For centuries the Scots have travelled extensively and in France they spoke of “Rats and Scotchmen, you find them everywhere.” There has been Scots mobility into England, America, Caribbean, India, Australasia. There has been a great loss of skills and young for a very long time. A net emigration.  
He commented that the English have contributed a great deal to our universities and that many English people have moved here to avoid the marketization in England. 
At the 2014 Referendum, the English voted 70% no, which compared to the International group, who voted 42% yes. This did not significantly effect the vote he feels, as the English are less then 10% of the population. He says that any abrasiveness between the English and Scottish has more to do with class than ethnicity - or being in bed with an elephant! 
Devine spoke of history education in schools and he recommended to teach Scotland, Britain and world. He was asked about the teaching of history in Scotland. He replied that the history of Scotland has been spotty, pop-up and dysfunctional and not good enough to teach. There has been a revolution in the last ten decades however. 
 Scotland is the earliest state in Europe and went into a partnership with a bigger state. But since 1707 there has been the evolution of a dual identity, both British and Scots since the18thcentury. However there has been integration, but not assimilation. 
Historians use representative evidence, to get to the norm. 
Devine’s new Book in 2018 is on the Clearances - The Scottish Clearnces: A History of the Dispossessed 1600 - 1900: which discusses the clearances of the Cottars in the Scottish lowlands.  (October 2018)

Friday 28 September 2018

Paris Riots of '68: talk Edinburgh book festival 2018

James McNaughtie interviewed highly respected Scottish author Neal Ascherson, at Edinburgh international book festival 2018,Iwho was BBC European correspondent in the 60s. The Cold War was halfway through; Vietnam war was raging; there was American imperialism to protect us from Russia.; there was Prague spring; Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated in America.

It was a time to the old ideas…. 
The student unrest in Paris began when male students were not allowed to visit female dorms! Old France was not changing and France has retained the idea of revolution as a possibility, an unconscious idea. In 1789 to take to the streets and make everything different.  The establishment in Uk were terrified it would come to Britain. Late 18thcentury, instead we suffered the suppression after Culloden and later there was imperial suppression on a global scale (slavery, exploitation)

Revolution – Marche On!
Students were jailed and large marches took place. They hoped to reframe communism with a human face. The university closed down, and the idea of self-management and independence took hold. 

In Berlin, there was the revival of late Marxism, to rediscover yourself, and create revolution. 
The Prague Spring - Eastern block, not Marxism. Polish revolutions, demonstrations and democracy at the level of the workplace. The communication of ideas was so important.
Riot police were used to smash communism/ republicanism to protect the state and there was intense tension
De Gaullewas an authoritarian general and highly presidential, his aim was to defend old France. Are you red or white? There was a frozen France.

The Sorbonne was a centre of revolution and barricade. 
The noise and sight of revolution was scary, with huge crowds gathering. Revolution ‘morphed’ and everything changes, institutions collapse, anything is possible. It is all intoxicating, all brothers in arms. Tear gas was used and violence and the French public were unaware. In Munich a student was killed by a brick. Neal believed, considering the level of violence more students were killed. 

It doesn’t last long though and leads to a new situation. Things began to subside and some scenes of dissolution and the beginning of a general strike. Germany was deeply against communism. 


The Legacy of the Paris Riots:  In France, the communists were divided. De Gaulle was protected by the French army in Germany. But the riots eventually defeated De Gaulle, who resigned a few months later.

There were changes in the Soviet system to stop this ever happening again. There were a  change in the social institutions with younger people in positions of power. It scared the established orders, that they could be overthrown; both America and Russia were both shaken. There was 67,000 killed in Vietnam. There were aspirations In Northern Ireland for democracy, and peoples marches. The media was extreme .

It all forced reforms in Germany, not suffocated by bureaucracy and institutions. It was a revelation and changed how people related to each other. Many of the rioters fled – and asked, where is the next barricade? Others concentrated on change in more humane and different ways, such as educating children. 

There was no time to chat over the unstable, leaderless and corrupt situation today. A very illuminating and highly interesting chat. 
This talk was part of EIBF Freedom and Equality series of events.  Vote for The Death of the Fronsac by Neal Ascherson in the First Book award. 

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Having a Voice

I live in a middle class area near Glasgow and have family and friends in Edinburgh. In my experience it is easier for unionists to have a voice and speak their minds. Unionists feel they can say what they like, openly and freely, without fear of any repercussions. 

By contrast, I have supported an independent Scotland all my life, but I often feel I have to keep quiet or am looked on as an oddity. The middle classes are supposed to support the hierarchy establishment, in order of protect their own wealth. It matters not it seems, that Scotland has one of the most unequal land ownership, embarrassing levels of poverty and that tenant farmers have no rights. The tiny rich elite must be protected at all costs and this elite are determinedly against change of any kind. Who owns Scotland and why are they being subsidized?  I don’t want Scotland to be part of a centralized trickle-down economics from a London super state and under American vested interests. The Tories also want to enforce market-driven health care here. Many Indy supporters are threatened. How is this democratic?

One told me recently with regard to Scottish indy, that she didn’t want to get smaller. I have heard this concern before and it strikes me as a completely different way of viewing Scotland’s indy. I want Scotland to get bigger on the world stage and to be able to protect our national interests and resources - why not? Presently Scotland is side-lined, ignored and diminished as part of disunited UK and our resources are being squandered. We are led by arrogant, ignorant and lazy politicians at Westminster. 

I don’t want an indy Scotland building walls with its neighbours or with Europe. Indy is not about borders for me. We must speak with both national and international voices. Change can only happen in small places. Scottish indy is both inclusive and outward looking. At a talk at Edinburgh book festival, Gina Miller spoke of moving pivisions – and I agree – but moving past wealth divisions will not be so easy. The system needs changed through independence.

How are we best governed? What is best practice? Why is making decisions locally ‘being smaller’? In todays internet world we can live on remote islands and still remain connected to the outside world. Europe has moved on and rejected feudalism. America has not moved on, even while it has a Bill of Rights and a written constitution (unlike UK) – it continues to have protected elites and vested interests. I lived for ten years in America and it does have a federal system of government where each state controls its VAT and state taxes. But it also has great divides and inequalities. 

False tribalism and division must end for the sake of our country. But there are differences here. I believe difference and informed different views are essential to reach a realistic consensus. But artificial tribes, around old, ignorant hatreds have no place in a progressive democracy. It is a fallacy that ’Brexit’ is about any kind of independence – its really about leaving the world’s most successful trading block. 

This is not only about land – its about power and privilege – and this inequality affects all areas of Scottish life, the urban lowlands also. It’s a culture of divisiveness, rather than a culture of co-operation and equal life chances. We can’t all be the same, but we can have equal opportunities. 

Self-determination for Scotland, means making our own decisions in Scotland’s best interests and also being good neighbours and in a larger trading block. Self-determination means being connected with the democracies of Europe – rather than in the pocket of American wealthy elites. Scotland has centuries of cultural and trading links with Europe. 

I believe the size of Scotland is ideal in todays world, to be adaptable and progressive for the future. We can have a media that represents Scotland; we can protect our resources, protect our heritage and invest in local infrastructure. Scottish Indy is a fight to protect our civil rights and our stories and culture. Maybe if Scotland does this, other parts of England will follow. Recently I saw a map of who owns Scotland, and I was shocked by the tiny white sections of publicly owned land. Scotland has the most unequal land ownership in the world. This land was stolen from the church after the Reformation in 1560.  

Perhaps its time to give it back. Instead of a culture of false greed, we can have a culture of co-operation? I hope this isn’t all about money and that we can all have an equal voice. We have a choice now. We must act, and act soon to change all that.

V & A Dundee, opens

In Dundee city of discovery
Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has designed a dramatic sculpted building that looks like the hull of a ship, and he says, the cliffs on Scotland’s east coast. The outside is hard but inside there is a softer feel. – and by contrast there is a huge flow of light and dramatic views over the Tay river and bridge. Kuma studied Mackintosh as part of his training and has clearly been influenced by Mackintosh clean lines, simplicity, and subtle use of light and drama. 

Dundee suffered in the 60s from post industrial decline, and in the middle ages was second only to Edinburgh as a great trading port. When the Tay bridge was build, sadly Dundee lost its water front and harbour.  So now we have this wonderful project to regenerate the Tay waterfront. It is long past time we had a museum dedicated to Scottish design on this kind of scale. It’s a great boost to see Dundee’s water front given this impressive revamp.

Dundee Thoughts.
The openness and long light of the flowing Tay river. The vibrant , honest colour (he paints with words) of the incomparable Michael Marra’s songs – from ‘Hermelss’ to ‘Freda Kohl at the Tay Bridge Bar’– as he mixed his hometown with his American influences. Marra is so much about the story of Dundee, I was sad he wasn’t alive to see this night but his daughter Alice Marra and her choir were the first to sing a song in the new V & A – Dignity.  One of the best gigs I’ve been to was the first time I heard Michael play on the grand piano at Mugdock theatre for his intimate gig – when he finished with the Bards song Ca the Yowes.
Some other incredible musicians from Dundee – Deacon Blue, Danny Wilson. 

“City of survival. Tough old town, not well treated” says actor Brian Cox . “Churchill made a speech,  after he was unelected here, when he said, ‘grass grow green hereon an industrial wasteland.”
 However….here is also an exciting young creative community  and Dundee’s important games industry

The centre piece of the new V & A design centre is the Rennie MacIntosh’s Oak room, which was fortunately put into storage and has now been lovingly restored and sings like a piece of artistic music. (there are 700 pieces and 3 different light fittings.)

The new V & A hosts over 300 objects - the oldest exhibit is a 15thcentury manuscript and the newest a computer APP. There are three main design sections: The Story of Scottish designDesign and the imagination
 The media and press were given a first look this month, when travel writer Simon Calder compared the building to the Guggenheim in Germany but he says it is better, with an enthralling story of Scottish design. 

Mike Galloway director of development. Dundee council has been instrumental in this regeneration of 8 km stretch along river to reconnect city to the Tay river. 

Dundonians now believe they can do it!

Green Issues?
Does the museum address any “greener” issues – someone suggests why not use jute (as it used to be) instead of wrapping all our food in awful plastic that will never decompose. Strawberries used to come in cardboard punnets

Thursday 13 September 2018

Gina Miller Edinburgh book festival 2018

Miller received a standing ovation! Clearly there was huge support and powerful emotions for her standing up for Parliament having a say in the shambolic Brexit process. 
This is ‘no time for silence, time to rise’ Miller claimed.  
If you fail to make your voice heard, it will be drowned out by those who shout the loudest. Miller is a very articulate, forthright and determined lady! 

There was a petition online against her book, Rise, and a threat of mass burning, even before she had written it! She warned she felt there were throw backs in history that we cannot ignore today. She hoped change is happening – against the fringes not getting their way and that determined ideological voices of reason are rising up.  

She spoke of her case being fourth on the day and that it purely focused on the letter of the Law of the UK, and not on the politics. She was shocked by the language and vitriol that followed - when she was subjected to violence and not only by individuals online. The abusive mail was even worse and the premeditated nature of posting a letter. She didn’t know that we lived in a country like this. 

“Its important to understand the other point of view – to reach out and engage. But there was no reasoning behind it all, only pure hatred. Their hope was to destroy me, to destroy the case.” But she said, “I cannot sit back and watch people hurting. I’d never stop. I’m supposed to be doing this. It is easier to be resilient and a campaigner – to be honest to who you are. I can’t be anyone else. She was also shocked at the level of smears, and casual stereotyping in the mainstream right wing media. I need to absorb that energy. They can’t find fault in my argument.”

Gina spoke of how much she learned from her father. He started out at the petrol pump, got a law degree and became attorney general, in Guyana. Her father was eloquent. Words can bring people together or words can create barriers. She quoted John Mortimer, ‘Words into the courtroom are soldiers into battle.’  We must know our place in the world. – the role of law, and civil justice. We must fight to being back democracy to our country.” 

She said, “These are dangerous times and we are not walking on stable ground, on values and principles, respect for each other. Today the ground is rocking with weak foundations. Some are exploiting divisions in a systematic and cultish way. People are defined by how they voted in a destructive way. There are politicians with a hidden agenda, which can lead to an authoritarian society with less choices. A deliberate re-alignment.” 

She says our politicians are arrogant and lazy with a zombie parliament and with no written constitution. We have two leaders, who are not states people and have no plan. 
A People’s Vote? The politicians don’t want to get their hands dirty – so give it back to the people. Miller advocates three choices for a People’s Vote – Mrs Mays deal/ a Canada style deal / no deal. Around 73% now are in favour of a vote. 

For the younger generation, she feels they don’t teach what the EU is really about in schools. 
It is cheaper to join a club, with the EU we share – medical agency, open skies, legal, environmental agency, infrastructure, research, just in time manufacturing, and much more. Miller wondered, how do we get out of this mess and all the divisiveness.
She spoke of moving past divisions – and I agree – but moving past wealth divisions will not be so easy. The system needs changed through independence.

PS  I don’t want an indy Scotland building walls with its neighbours or with Europe. Indy is not about borders for me. We must speak with both national and international voices. Change can only happen in small places: that's where the creative, innovative, individual voices happen.

I feel the world has tilted off its axis for a while – I can hope it will correct itself! I remember the Berlin wall coming down and we seem to be building too many walls today.  

Monday 10 September 2018

Val McDermid’s Song Choices!

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid
Alyson Moyet - Blue
Joni Mitchell -  For the Roses
Leonard Cohen’s - I Loved you in the morning
Mark Knopfler - 
Dore Straits – Private Investigations
Annie Lennox - Sisters are doing it for themselves
The National - Lucky You
The Jam – Down in the Tube Station
Rab Noakes – Downtown lights (Blue Nile)
Blondie –  T Birds
Andreas Johnson - Glorious
Dusty Springfield – I close eyes and count to ten
Proclaimers – Letter From America

So I was fortunate to catch the Fun Lovin Crime Writersat the EIBf Unbound this August! – and Val surprised with her strong vocals. What a fun night!! 

*On BBC Radio Six Music Val McDermid did the Paperback Song Choice September 4th. McDermid is one of the most highly respected Scottish crime writers. 

Val spoke of singing and folk clubs when she was younger, and of of trying the open guitar tuning used by Joni. She chose the song For the Roses, because it was about fame, and what fame does to people. And how we must not loose sight of where we come from. She spoke of writing to music without lyrics and of how much music means for her.  
and of the story inside the songs. 

Her final song choice was the Proclaimers song, Letter to America, when Val spoke of her pride in Scotland history – and the sadness over the large Diaspora and of all those who left to make the life they wanted. She hopes that now our country offers a better future and a place they can make the lives they want.. 

Great song choices.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Siobhan Wilson’s All the Saints

Scottish singer song writer and talented musician, Siobhan’s album All The Saints,is on the SAY shortlist – Scottish album of the Year 2018. As well as BBC Radio 6 record of the day.

I have heard Siobhan at a couple of gigs and she sings with a purity and engrossing voice. In September she is off on a tour of Canada. A very special and unique voice. 
I wish her good luck! 


One of the most stunning collections of songs to be released in a long time" - Drowned in Sound
"A sparse, tender record tying English indie-folk with European classical music to spellbinding effect. - The Skinny