Thursday, 4 December 2014

Looking Forward (and Remembering) - A tribute to Tony

Tony Benn (photo courtesy Sunday Mail)

300 plus people squashed into Glasgow's Mitchell Theatre on Sunday to celebrate a legend. As compère Susan Morrison pointed out, the word was in danger of overuse, as artists like Fraser Speirs, James Grant and Arthur Johnstone followed one another onto the stage. But in reality one legend dominated. Tony Benn himself, was the life being celebrated - to him went the accolade

Despite the last minute absence of Roy Bailey, taken ill on his way to the concert, the bill in the two concerts was crammed with talent. The first (spoken word) concert featured the acid sharpness of Tom Leonard, the pointed humour of Elvis McGonagall and the up-front politics of Attila the Stockbroker. Held together by the stories of Bruce Morton, it was a revelation to those who possibly hadn't experienced performance poetry before.

The main bill, however, was reserved for the evening concert. Curated by singer-songwriter,
Rab Noakes (photo by Alan MacMillan)
Rab Noakes and introduced by Scottish Labour leadership candidate, Neil Findlay MSP (who had the initial idea) a positive galaxy of musicians from Scotland, augmented by guests from South of the border served up a great evening. Ably compèred by Susan Morrison, the first half was introduced by Rab and Fraser's version of Sixteen Tons. Arthur Johnstone and Stephen Wright replaced Rab to give us some Woody Guthrie (Playboys and Playgirls) and Adrian Mitchell's Victor Jara. Appropriately, that introduced some more poetry from Elvis McGonagall, whose sharp analysis and humour made the politics more pointed - and converted not a few to performance poetry!  

Emily Benn
While all the show took place under the watchful eye of Tony Benn from the big screen, his granddaughter, Emily, who read from Letters to my Grandchildren, made further family input. She thanked the organisers, and called on everyone to continue the fight for democracy, equality and peace that Tony Benn had given his life to. Rab Noakes' main set - Incorporating the ever-coruscating Spin closed the first half.

The second half rang the changes with the Qyeen of NRNXPO - probably the first time many of the audience have been exposed to rap! Attila the Stockbroker put some political meat on the bones before the double act of Alastair McDonald and Sheena Wellington brought us back to some traditional material - No, Trident No (Alastair), Mrs Barbour's Army (Sheena) and of course the song closely associated with her - A Man's a Man for a' that.

James Grant
James Grant's set moved us into the current day with dark songs of loss - My Father's Coat in particular. And the finale gave us a different take on The Red Flag. By reverting to its initial tune (The White Cockade) Rab and the ensemble breathed a new, much more jaunty, life into the song.
With the now traditional Jarama Valley/Bandiera Rosa winding up the night, the whole day was one of tradition, mixed with development. Encouraging new experiences, while celebrating old successes. Surely entirely appropriate for an evening for Tony Benn?  

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