Sunday, 28 December 2014

Referendum shows weren't the highlight.

The Morning Star asked me to review the cultural side of the struggle for 2014. This is what I felt were the key moments of an eventful year. Next year already looks as if it too, is shaping up to be a goody - with a retrospective of Ewan McColl's music, and a celebration of Arthur Johnstone featuring at Celtic Connections 2015.

The 2014 referendum debate inevitably had an impact on this year’s productions. However the domination of pro-Yes sympathies in Scotland’s artistic community didn’t lead to as much important work as anticipated. Successful shows used the debate as a stepping-off point to examine the nature of Scotland, like Rona Munro’s James plays for the National Theatre of Scotland (NToS) at the Edinburgh Festival. 
Front looked at the 1WW from both sides
However it is a production in that festival that addressed a different political issue that gets my vote as outstanding. Front, a Flemish production from a German company about the first world war in Flemish, German, French and English was outstanding. Using both Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire as source material, this was a shocking, emotional and political view from both sides of the line. 

For those who said that the referendum was too close to allow that perspective, NToS also produced the Yes, No, Don’t Know Show, a series of short pieces curated by David Greig and the late and much-missed Dave MacLennan, which was vibrant and humorous. 

Celtic Connections was referendum-lite. Rebel Musics saw Dick Gaughan and Dave Swarbrick  explore the connections between reggae and Scottish music, the Roaming Roots Review’s look at West Coast US music sparkled and the powerful Imelda May rocked out.

Fraser Speirs on the moothy. Rab Noakes on Guitar

Glasgow’s MayDay Cabaret delivered a sell-out concert for the second year in the city’s Oran Mor, with stand-out performances from Bruce Morton and Rab Noakes.

Pro-Yes productions dominated the Edinburgh Festival fringe. Much was poor but David Hayman (pictured) in a A Pitiless Storm rose above the herd. Bravely, Phil Differ’s MacBraveheart had a pop at all sides and crackled with language gags, while Mark Thomas’s history of betrayal, Cuckooed, delivered a thoughtful story. 
We lost both 7:84/Wildcat/Play, Pie & Pint founder Dave MacLennan and politician Tony Benn this
The late, and much-missed Dave Maclennan
year. With typical Glasgow resolve, both became the subjects of excellent celebratory concerts, with a galaxy of stars marking the passing of two major talents.

Film of the year for me must go to Pride, the story of the LGBT community and their support for the striking miners in 1984-5. Although flawed by the failure to recognise the politics of a main character — Mark Ashton became general secretary of the Young Communist League — it still highlighted the strong links built between different communities under attack. 

Also heartening was the increasing use of cultural events by campaigns. A series of workers’ films is planned by a local GMB branch and  a range of talks and films was staged by Hope Not Hate in Glasgow around the anti-racist St Andrews Day rally. And of course the Morning Star’s own Our Class, Our Culture series continued its success.

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