Monday, 20 February 2017

Culture and the labour movement - a key role for Trades Councils

Last Tuesday,  Jamie Caldwell – Unite Community Co-ordinator for Scotland – penned a piece in the ‘Voices from Scotland’ section of the Morning Star arguing the importance of arts, music and culture in bringing people to politics and inspiring them to join the movement for change.
It is a timely reminder of the importance of the labour movement’s involvement in the arts and cultural scene – an involvement that goes back at least as far as the Rose Schneiderman quote from 1911/2 - "The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too." It was a prominent part of socialist and labour movement work in thirties and forties Glasgow with the Unity Theatre, Left Book Club groups and the Trades Council’s Film Society. Similar organisations existed in other cities.
In more contemporary times the TU movement was key to the formation of  Glasgow’s MayFest, - as were left theatre groups such as Dave MacLennan’s Wildcat -  and it is good to see increasing arts and musical input more recently around the International Workers’ Day celebrations. Glasgow’s own Friends of MayDay programme is one of these developments.
The role of Trades Councils can be crucial in the success of this co-ordination, and it is good to see a recent increase in such activities by Trades Union Councils (the new name for Trades Councils) in and around Glasgow.
Jane McAlevey
Glasgow Trades Council itself starts the list this week with their hosting of the book launch by American union organizer and author, Jane McAlevey. Entitled No Shortcuts, Organising for Power, it’s on tonight at the Lighthouse and while it has been sold out, there might be some returns available via the FB page.
Jamie’s article mentions the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, and the work of Unite and the People’s Assembly in promoting it. One of these screenings is being hosted in Clydebank Town Hall, by Clydebank Trades Council with support from the Morning Star and a multitude of TUs, on Thursday this week at 7.00pm. Tickets here.
Clydebank TC are also prominent in a mini tour of the play Dare Devil Rides to Jarama. A play about motorcycling and the Spanish Civil War, it is produced by Townsend Productions – who gave you The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist and the Shrewsbury pickets play United We Stand. It is also playing Clydebank Town Hall (on 6 March), tickets here. If you can’t make this showing, there is also one organised by South Lanarkshire TC in the Blantyre Miners Welfare two days previously (4 Mar). Tickets from UNISON South Lanarkshire 01698 454690 or from the Blantyre Miners Welfare itself.
30 years ago elsewhere in South Lanarkshire (in Uddingston actually) workers at the Caterpillar factory occupied their workplace to prevent it being closed. The occupation lasted 103 days. Our friends at FairPley – other valuable contributors to the increase in cultural activity on the left – have commissioned two, one-act plays from Anne Hogg on the aftermath of the occupation. Out of the Bad and Butterfly are premiering at Motherwell Civic Theatre on February 25. Tickets from Culture NL here..
Not a bad contribution to Jamie’s important call for the use of cultural events in socialist and labour movement organizing. I have no doubt that there are other Trades Union Council’s across Scotland who are organising similar events. If so, it would be good to support them and to promote them using social contacts, both digital and otherwise. And if they are not – what about getting them to do so?
As a wee add-on, while I was in London on a break, the Morning Star published my final round-up
Shirley Collins, pic Eva Vermandel
review of Celtic Connections. Concentrating on the CC theme of Women of Song it can be found here.  And while we’re on the topic of the Star and Arts/Music coverage, there’s a nice interview by Mike Quille with a former star of  Celtic Connections, Chris Wood, in the weekend’s edition. He is a great example of how contemporary folk music is being created right across these islands.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Celtic Connections 3 - crossing borders

The first of my two articles reviewing this year's Celtic Connections was in the Morning Star yesterday here. It dealt with two themes, the continuing connections between British and Irish music and the roots music from the US - particularly timely given recent US events, and the remarkable standard of so-called 'support' bands in the festival.

Rab - pic Brian Aris
As it is likely that I won't be able to get a review of Rab Noakes' 70/50 concert at the Old Fruitmarket last night into my next, I thought I'd post it here. Noakes, who has recently come through a draining series of treatments for tonsillar cancer, was celebrating his forthcoming 70th birthday (no they didn't wheel a Gene-Pitney-style cake onto the stage, although there was one backstage apparently!), and the 50th Anniversary of his first paid gig - at the Glasgow Folk Centre appropriately enough.

He slipped onto the stage after the band, almost unnoticed until he revealed his suit! But he soon took command. The intro promised a selection of 'landmark' songs - so-called because he hasn't had any hits, he pointed out! - and new material. The former included Lindisfarne's 1969 hit, Together Forever and the song he wrote inspired by the great Scottish folk singer Alex Campbell, Gently Does It with its touching line -"you'd been on this road so long. Now they're building a highway to take you home." - a sentiment that could be applied to Rab himself. 

The concert was packed out, a testament to the affection that his fans have for him, an affection that was almost tangible. The concert was as meticulously crafted as we've come to expect from Noakes - albeit with a slight trip over the song order! Contemporary songs in his inimitable country folk style were prominent - four of the six tracks on the new EP. (Reviewed here) and (at least) three from I'm Walking Here.

But the best of the contemporary songs were two that he wrote while getting back into his Scottish music roots. The Handwash Feein' Mairket is a song about the exploitation of asylum seekers forced into illegal work by our brutal restrictions, and what he called Tramps and Migrants - a mash-up of Bob Dylan's  Pity the Poor Immigrant and the Scottish traditional Tramps and Hawkers, beautifully assisted by Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes.

His backing band - Una MacGlone, Innes Watson, Stuart Brown, Christine Hanson, Lisbee Stainton and Jill Jackson - more than did him justice, and his voice - if a bit lower in register - has clearly not been damaged by the treatment. A beautiful 'cello treatment of the love song I always will stood out amongst the closing tunes. Rab is perhaps even better now than he was when he first hit the musical big time. He starts a short tour of UK towns in March. If you're around - get along!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Celtic Connections 2 - and Beyond

A selection of shorts re a number of shows that are not going to get onto my reviews in the Star (the first one of which is due in tomorrow's paper (Thursday 2).

One thing that is already in (Tuesday's) Star  is my review of Rab Noakes new EP, The Treatment Tapes - the final of these three album reviews. Rab has a show at Celtic Connections too, on Thursday in the Old Fruitmarket. There are tickets still available here (along with a nice wee clip of Rab in 1974!). He is celebrating 50 years performing and his 70th year - so expect a selection of gems from his career!

Another Celtic Connections success, has been the twice-sold-out show The Lions of Lisbon. On Sunday at the Tron our friends at FairPley staged a 50th/25th Anniversary rehearsed reading of this Willy Maley/Ian Auld play, with added music! By all accounts (and you can read some of them on Stephen's FB page here.) the play was a huge success.

pic by Eddie Middleton
But don't be downhearted if you couldn't get a ticket (as I couldn't), the play will be performed again, most notably in three shows at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival (at the Barrows Art and Design on the 16-18 March). Tickets are available now from the GICF website.

STFU - pic - Douglas Robertson
Finally, and a little wider afield, I went to see a great band that I would recommend (and will be in my first MS CC review - see above). On Monday the Hug and Pint played host to Edinburgh band Southern Tenant Folk Union. Not a band I'd heard before, but well worth a listen too. Sharp political writing, plus sparky folk melodies. Not going to rehash the review, but they too will be on tour next week (8/2) - startting at the fabled Hebden Bridge Trades Clud, it is mostly 'dahn Sarf' but returns to Scotland later. The dates are here.