Showing posts with label Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literature. Show all posts

Friday, 30 September 2022

Edinburgh International book festival 2022 Review

Edinburgh Art college

Celebrates the enduring power of books. 

The bicycle racks are full at the book festival. Its now the second year at its new venue the Edinburgh Art college. With more of its usual buzz, with both in person and online events, there’s better children’s play area with a pirate ship and garden play area, and with more seating. It was a shock last year to move from Charlotte square gardens, where the Edinburgh International book festival took place from 1983 to 2019..


This year there were talks both in person and online.

In 2019 there were 900 events and now in 2022 events 600. With more streamlined events as expected less interest – as a result of the cost of accommodation and the pandemic.


Talks. At my first talk Edinburgh book festival, Irish writer Fintan O'Toole explored Ireland’s turbulent history from 1958 and whether Ireland might reunite. People wanting change while wanting things stay the same. But if we want things to stay the same things must change! The known and the unknown. 

American author Diana Gabaldon's talk was packed out and what an interesting lady! She was there to promote her 9th book in the Outlander saga - Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone. She was emotional when she spoke of working to protect the Gaelic language. 

Noam Chmsky explored the corporate press, and encouraging debate in his book Chronicles of Dissent 

Lea Yi, from Albania, spoke of her book Free, Coming of Age at the end of History.

Diana Gabaldon

Ocean Vuong

Good Grief
Omar Musa

*My EIBF talks included - Diana Gabaldon, Fintan O'Toole, Brian Cox, Oliver Bullough, Lea Yi, Good Grief, Noam Chomsky,

Bigger names – Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Maggie O’Farrell, Irvine Welsh, 

(No talks by historian Tom Devine this year unfortunately.)


PJ Harvey, Martha Wainwright, Stuart Cosgrove, 

James Runchie, The story of Bach’s masterpiece



Imagine a country, Val McDermid & Jo sharp. 

Murray Pittock, Old Scotia Grandeur springs

Yasha Mounk, The Great Experiment

Franks Dikotter, The Rise of a superpower


*EIBF encourages us to debate, question, and look for truths, via a wide range of writers from to academics, novelists, historians, journalists, politicians, artists, poets and more. 

Some might claim Edinburgh festivals are not radical enough. But the talks I’ve attended at the book festival this year covered many challenges – freedom in Albania, turbulent Ireland since 1958, challenging debates, and encouraging Scotland language and culture. 



Maggie OFaarrell, The Marriage Portrait

Murray Pittock, Scotland’s stories now, On this day. Part of the year of stories 2022.

Irvine Welsh, The long Knives

Alan Riach – Scottish literature an introduction (Iain banks, Irvine welsh, Alasdair Gray, Hugh MacDiarmid, Dunbar, Robert Garioch, WN Hubert, Burns Scott, Hogg, romanticism marginalized look in.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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. -

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 -
Aly Bain
Dougie MacLean

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.-

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. 

**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! 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

'Framing the Arts' with Alan Riach Edinburgh book festival (EIBF 2017)

Sandy Moffat, Alan Riach, John Purser
'Framing The Arts' - Three elder statesmen of the Arts in Scotland – with Professor Alan Riach, Painter Sandy Moffat, Musician and composer John Purser, gave a talk at Edinburgh international Book festival 2017.
"Arts at the heart of life in Scotland and the cultural history of literature, painting, and music."

"ARTS and the NATION" - There were limited copies of their new book and I have just received my copy via Amazon. It is a great read so far and i highly recommend to anyone who sees the importance of the arts in shaping our society to a more caring and compassionate one. The arts are first about our humanity. 

They spoke of the reconstruction by the Arts for a new vision of Scotland that are totally different in nature than the national movement of fascists, and that the Scottish arts are not focused inwards at all. Also the opening up of the arts to the young in order to move ideas forwards. They discussed places like the Abbotsford bar, which were once physical meeting places and gave connections for artists and journalists back in the 50s.
Professor Raich spoke of his two page spread in the National newspaper, that day with no adds or interference, and he said that the writing was of a very high standard.

Scots always look outward with their Arts and festivals, but we need, as these respected artists state, to also understand and know our own heritage and stories - and to look inside our own house too. Scotland does not want to leave Europe (or England) – but also there are strong movements to reconnect to Scottish stories, cross borders, and to open windows on Scotland’s arts.

John Purser, composer an writer 
Until recently, Scots had no knowledge of Scottish classical music, composers or Scottish folk music. Scottish theatre, folk music, pipe music, and classical music were neglected – which has led to a cultural destruction. Purser spoke of the Scottish Music archive.
He said all students at Glasgow’s RCS (The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) had studied in Europe, and that music is of course  international. They were instructed never to look within the house and always asked to look outward! It is scandalous that those who graduate know nothing of their own country’s heritage. Purser told a story of a young girl studying for her music higher, she was part of the travelling peoples and felt she lacked musical knowledge, but said that she made reeds for her uncle’s pipes. He told her that she probably knew more of Scottish music than those studying at the colleges!
John Purser
Painter Moffat said they were starting to take the Scottish art out of the basement at the National galleries.
Scottish Artists - Raeburn, Ramsay, David Willkie, Glasgow Boys, JD Fergusso., He said that Scottish artists won’t leave Europe. The highly respected art critic John Bellamy was mentioned. Scots are very poorly educated in our Scots history and arts.

They all spoke of the aim to build a grassroots audience for arts and not only an elite audience. (1934 SNP established.) The modern Scot world of reconstruction; the Montrose Renaissance which was then the equivalent of Paris in the 30s and was led by the revolutionary poet Hugh MacDiarmid, a co-founder of the SNP.

I agree with all of this. I was educated in Edinburgh and learned nothing of Scottish history, heritage, arts or music! I mean nothing here!  Even though I studied Art, History and English Highers and went on to teaching!  (Now I am older I am teaching myself Scottish heritage!) I did learn English heritage though, of the Tudors and Shakespeare. 
BOOK – ‘ARTS AND THE NATION’ - To engage in the recovery of neglected Scottish composers, artists and writers, locating them in an international context.
As the poet Hugh MacDiarmid wrote, artists must be both national and international. Perhaps in our fast moving Digital age there is a strong desire to reconnect to permanence, to traditions and to those lasting stories...

MEDIA ?? (PS  There was no mention of Digital, Media, TV or film – and how Scots can access their own and international arts via the new platforms. For young people they want diverse ease of access via many mediums and that’s how they access their news also. They want control, which is a good thing.
The new film, tv studio at the Pentlands is welcome new and long overdue. Scotland first tv channel will air in autumn 2018! it’s a scandal. (both Wales and Northern Ireland have studios with the massive Game of Thrones film in Northern Ireland.) Good news is that both the recent success of Outlander and T2, have brought recognition to Scotland.Other regions such as Catalonia, has Five TV channels. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Mr Bob Dylan’s Nobel Literature prize

Political choice too - in todays rather scary world of extreme, fearful and narrow governments, who are giving into the voices of fear.
 Bob wrote of our common humanity, of tolerance, of inclusion and diversity, harmony.  Play a song for me Bob, play it questioning, sometimes angry sometimes full of wonder. Play it loud and deep.. The answers may yet be blowing in the wind.

Bob wrote of Masters of War, of a hard rain a going to fall, of love conquering all, of important freedoms,
He tied himself to the nearest tree, with the deepest roots.
Play it loud now Bob for all the disenfranchised, for those who cannot be heard, for the weak, for the blind….
Forever Young photos by Douglas Gilbert
 Journey to Becoming:  the Travelling Journeyman 
 FOLK SONGS spoke to him most directly… Dylan looked for songs that make you question what you’d always accepted, that break hearts, have power of spirit.
We are in a constant state of becoming.
He always believed in the constant state of becoming, that you must always travel and never arrive, that the road does not lead to the truth - the road is the truth.
The times writer Bryan Appleyard wrote,  ‘Not only does Dylan make great art, he inspires it I others.’
‘When you got nothing you got nothing to lose,
You’re invisible now, you go no secrets to conceal.’ 
His voice was full of honesty about life - yes life is tough at times - but also his voice and words are full of hopes.  I missed Dylan the first time around.  I was too young for his first albums while I remember his songs, Blowin In The Winds, Mr Tambourine Man and Like A Rolling Stone - although these songs were often sung by others on the radio. In 2009 I watched Scorceses' informed, clever and inspired documentary on Dylan and what an 'ear' opener that was and from then everything changed for me - thank you Scorcese! 
Times they are A-Changing
You never arrive.
Words change their meaning.
Time changes everything
Can’t be wise and in love at the same time.

I read these notes he wrote for Broadside 1962. And this is it for me too - those who see wrong but walk on by.   "Too many people are telling me where the answer is, but oh, I don't believe that. I still say its in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper , its got to come down some time, But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not many people get to see and know it.. and then it flies away again, I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those who turn their heads away when they see wrong and know its wrong.............."
It is all about spin when there is no vision or passions, that's what worries me the most...about centralizing power and in so doing restricting our basic human rights and freedoms, its very very scary. We have a system in place with no checks and balances to the power of the 'Crown' or Royal perrogative that resides with our prime minister. I read the Tory's in Westminster want to restrict our Human Rights and ban Extremism.

We have to value our independent, informed and free thinkers – they are few and far in-between.

Dylan, "People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient and then repent... "
Is it the large media companies and their accountants who only want artists to play safe and who sing of the MOR and everything's OK with nothing too controversial? What would they make of a young Dylan singing Masters of War today? Would he even get a label deal?  I guess only in the folk circuits – how did Dylan get heard!

Where are any young singer songwriter with a voice of grit who might challenge assumptions. After all what is art is it doesn’t challenge?

One of the greatest Biographers of Bob Dylan was the award-winning Scottish journalist Ian Bell (who sadly died in 2015). I went to his talk on his book Time Out of Mind at Edinburgh book festival in 2015.  My BLOG on Ian Bell