Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ending where we started

Scotland's cultural highlights started early with The Happy Lands - an uncompromising film portraying life in a Fife pit village during the General Strike. Developed by Edinburgh-based theatre workshop using local people both to source stories and portray characters, it premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival and toured throughout the UK looking for a general release. Unsuccessful, despite enthusiastic reviews, it is now available on DVD. Go to 

January's Celtic Connections festival had a strong left-leaning programme. The ubiquitous FairPley productions served up not only another sellout Songs of Struggle, but packed the huge Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow with a crowd anxious to see Tony Benn promoting his forthcoming film biography, Will and Testament. Other concerts included Songs of the Spanish Civil War, and a tribute concert to Scottish folk singer songwriter, Alistair Hulett, headlined by doyen of the folk scene, Roy Bailey.

Mark Thomas headlined the first sellout Great MayDay Cabaret, the centrepiece of Glasgow's MayDay festival celebrations. A bill including the Co-operative Funeralcare Brass Band, and Marxist magician, Ian Saville kept the Oran Mor audience rocking with songs and laughter. The finale where Mark grabbed a tambourine to join folk's political leader, Arthur Johnstone, and master of the moothie* Fraser Speirs in a rendition of Bandiera Rossa had everyone standing.

Other gems sparkled in an impressive MayDay programme, including a reprise of The Morning Star's own Our Class, Our Culture event that brought composer, Bill Sweeney to talk about Music and the Working Class Movement. 

FairPley also programmed a major part of Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms' Edinburgh Fringe, successfully mixing music, theatre and spoken word events. The Fringe showed an increase in left shows this year, although the low number of shows dealing with the upcoming independence referendum excited some comment. Notwithstanding, a conference on the future of political theatre concluded that it was in fact, in rude health
Assembly Rooms highlights included a return for Tony Benn and for a Songs of Struggle concert, and a couple of interesting short plays in God Bless Liz Lochhead, and Hindsight, the latter the first play from new writer, Keir McAllister. Elsewhere,  an intelligent look at the pressures of politics and the failures of the last Labour administration made The Confessions of Gordon Brown stand out, and the already high level of standup was boosted by the return to the stage of Alexi Sayle and another in the series of Mark Thomas's 100 Minor Acts of Dissent.

Other key events this year have included a cracking satire from a group of writers as part of the always worth watching A Play, a Pie and a Pint series. The Deficit Show took us swiftly back to the days of Wildcat in a sharp, entertaining attack on austerity economics. 

A superb performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto from Canadian violinist, James Ehnes backed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, drew plaudits from audience and reviewers alike.

Finally the year ended with a TV outing for The Happy Lands, when BBC Scotland gave the film a showing (last Sunday 15 Dec) to counter the lack of a cinema release.

*Mouth organ, for those uninitiated! 

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