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Archives for July 2008

Worth the Wait

Pauline McLean | 14:19 UK time, Monday, 28 July 2008

So we're all agreed - ticket touting is bad. But so's not being able to trade your hard won tickets in extreme circumstances. And, having waxed lyrical about the possible pitfalls, there was something inevitable about the call from our babysitter to say she couldn't make it.

We were lucky - thanks to a devoted grandpa who stepped into the breach - but otherwise, we'd have been stuck with two hugely expensive tickets which we'd have been unable to refund, or even pass to a friend - because they had our names stamped on them!

Our domestic minutiae was nothing compared to the great weight of expectation last night.

 It's been 21 years since Tom Waits last played the Edinburgh Playhouse - and many of that original audience were back, a little older, a little greyer but still keen for a really memorable night.

And then there were those of us who've never seen him live, and wanted to see in person, the owner of that gravelly old voice.

And the price of the tickets - a whopping £95 each - and the intense security which meant we all had to show our passports to get in (although in fairness to the Playhouse, there were no delays, at least on the way in.)

So no pressure. And Tom Waits certainly didn't show it - arriving onstage 40 minutes late to a crowd yelling "come on Tom, we've our work to go to."

Theatrical as ever, he strikes a pose on a wooden carousel - stamping his feet to stir up clouds off dry ice, and at the same time stirring up a storm of music.

Part Brechtian mad man, part ringmaster, part circus clown, he directs the music with gusto, jumping around dramatically in style and genre. From blues, to polkas to old-fashioned ballads.

The downside for those of us in the nose-bleed seats (you can't surely call them cheap seats at £75 a pop) is that his vocals are lost in the sound mix and the cavernous depths of the Playhouse.

You can barely make out the lyrics - although I know some people would say you can never make out Waits' famously strangulated delivery. But it's a bit disappointing.

Then there's the fact that he has such an eclectic back catalogue there's bound to be the odd song you can't stand as well as the ones you adore.

Personally, I was delighted to hear The House Where Nobody Lives, Raindogs and Falling Down - but there were so many more, I'd have loved to have heard, not least almost every track from The Heart of Saturday Night.

But this is Tom's choice - and it's quite some show, from the roaring cabaret opening, through the softer ballads to the big blues numbers of the end.

It's nothing if not spectacular and there are plenty of glimpses of him too. Despite his claim that he rarely tours because he's naturally cantankerous, he seems to be revelling in it all, telling bad jokes at the piano, directing the audience to sing along, clap and cheer. And they do.

For most of us, it's been well worth the wait.

Waiting for Tom

Pauline McLean | 20:57 UK time, Friday, 25 July 2008

He was once described as having a voice "soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months and then taken outside and run over with a car".

And I think the critic Daniel Durchholz was trying to pay Tom Waits a compliment!

But whatever you think of him, there was no question that his two nights at the Edinburgh Playhouse this weekend were going to be the hottest tickets of the summer.

Not only is it his first Edinburgh performance since 1987, but it's his only UK dates on his European tour.

Promoters decided to pre-empt eBay bidding wars with a strike of their own.

Tickets were limited to two per application and applicants had to name their guests too. Tickets were only delivered in the last week and the six thousand fans who have tickets will have to show photo ID at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Sunday and Monday to get in.

The promoters - Regular Music - say the impetus has come from Waits himself, who often agrees to auction for charity front row seats for his rare appearances (so clearly knows their value).

They say they're anxious to tackle the touts who're now regularly offering tickets at five or ten times their face value (two tickets for Neil Young's Playhouse gig in March were on offer for £500).

But do fans have anything to gain from the scheme? It's not as if it'll bring the prices down - an eyewatering £75 and £95 a pop.

And who's to say those sellers on eBay aren't just offloading their tickets because it clashes with a party/funeral/bar mitzbah? Or they've gone off Kylie since buying the tickets. Or indeed just cashing in on the popularity of their favourite act - if someone is prepared to pay several hundred pounds for a ticket, who are we to stop them?

The promoters want to make it illegal - just as it is for sporting events, but so far the government has failed to respond to their lobbying.

And meanwhile, people are already finding ways round the restrictions. A number of Irish fans offered their second tickets on eBay to the highest bidders and then simply named them as "friends" to the ticket agents.

Presumably they'll have to sit next to them at the gig anyway so perhaps they will become friends (or sit quietly seething about having subidised their neighbour's ticket for the cult of Tom Waits).

Whatever happens, it's going to be interesting, and probably a bit frustrating. Extra staff and extra entrances are promised but there are still going to be lots of passports to check (and no doubt lots of forgotten ID to verify).

And then there's the small matter of the misprinted tickets which have only one name on. According to Ticketmaster, there are only a handful - mine among them - which have to be changed at the Box Office. Hopefully I'll be in my seat before "Closing Time."

Dance me to the end of the night

Pauline McLean | 20:55 UK time, Thursday, 17 July 2008


From T in The Park, where I definitely fell into the "older fan" bracket, to the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle where I was one of the youngest.


A good few decades younger than the star of the show - the one and only Leonard Cohen.


Like most fans, I snapped up tickets without considering the venue - simple seeing him perform live is a rarity these days. He hasn't toured for 15 years so there was enormous pressure on this concert to be something really special.


And for all that it lacked intimacy - shared with 10,000 others, some of whom were still climbing the tattoo stand terraces to their seats as the concert began - it was actually a note perfect gig.


Close your eyes and you could have been in some dingy Berlin club (the suits and fedoras, mandolin and clarinet simply add to the image); open them and you have the glorious sight of the castle, with the sun setting in the distance over the Firth of Forth.


Seventy three he may be, and openly on tour because his pension fund has been dipped and he needs to replenish it, but it was one heck of a show and his voice as strong and as distinctive as on any of his array of albums.


The guy next to me was a teenager - but clearly knew the entire back catalogue of Cohen classics.


Every time the band struck up the chords of the first song, he'd turn to us with a great beaming grin of recognition. And in a two and a half hour concert - none of us were disappointed.


He begins with Dance Me To The End of Love - a wonderful 30s style rendition - which has latecomers sashaying into their seats.


You've got to admire an elegant septugenarian who says he'll be onstage at eight sharp - and keeps his date!


Then Everybody Knows, Bird on the Wire and That's No Way to Say Goodbye - the songs come thick and fast.


It works best in big band style, less so with some of the overwrought jazz arrangements but it's never dull.


He flirts with the audience in I'm Your Man - his ladies' man reputation clinging hard, despite his age, and leaves barely a dry eye in the house with his emotionally rending anthem Hallelujah.


People have always been divided about the voice - perhaps even lower with age? - but there's no disputing Cohen's abilities as a songwriter.


And often, it's other singers' renditions of his songs which have brought him to a new audience - Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah, Arran Neville's version of Ain't No Cure For Love, not to mention a whole album full of tributes from U2 to the Chieftains on Tower of Song.


Tower of Song opened the second act - after a polite pit stop for all - a humorous self deprecating lyric about the pecking order of songwriters.


There's lots of humour in the show - one in the eye for anyone who thinks Gloomy Len only does mean and moody.


He even skips off at the end - Morecambe and Wise style - only to re-emerge for three encores.


First We Take Manhattan, Sisters of Mercy and finally, and rather aptly Closing Time.


As the mist of rain starts to descend on the audience, Cohen squints into the darkness. "Is it raining? You need to all go home now. Thank you for coming but I don't want anyone catching a cold."


And warm and fuzzy inside, we all do as we're told and head for home.

Music festival mix

Pauline McLean | 12:30 UK time, Monday, 14 July 2008

So sad to hear about the stabbing at T in the Park at the weekend (and the death of another fan, apparently with no suspicious circumstances).

It's easy to take the kneejerk reaction that Scotland's biggest music festival is awash with drink, drugs and violence but that's really not the case. If anything, T in the Park has improved over the last few years.

Ten years ago, when I first started going, the atmosphere could be a little intimidating. Great gangs of teenagers, sozzled on cheap lager and chanting along to each and every act on the main stage. If your intention was anything different, you were largely out of place.

Some years later, and even though I've morphed into a middle-aged mum, I do feel that there's a place for me at T in the Park. A lot has changed. The demographic for starters - it's a much more mixed crowd, in terms of age and sex and geography.

This year, I met fans who'd travelled up from the Midlands, from Wales and the West Country where once they'd have come from as far as Falkirk.

There are plenty of conspiracists who say T's organisers are using postcode selection to create that mix - I have a colleague who claims friends in one of Scotland's poorer neighbourhoods have tried and failed to secure tickets for the last eight years, and believe it's not just bad luck which is stopping them.

Organisers deny any fixing - it's just the sheer popularity of the event they say which means 80,000 tickets sell out most years in an hour or less.

But whatever has happened, it makes for a more pleasant atmosphere. Admittedly, it'll never be a family friendly festival. It's boozy image - thanks to its roots and its sponsors - will never be shaken off.

But while it's still a huge part of the festival for many people, performers and fans alike, it's not everything. There are now so many alternatives - 11 stages, a funfair, stalls, a spa - that you'd have to be extremely dull to spend all day drinking in your tent.

The biggest change, though, is in the security. Not in response to violence - although there have been attacks at T in the Park before - but in response to terrorism.

In 2005, just days after the London transport bombings, and just a few miles from the G8 gathering at Gleneagles, organisers racked up the security. Metal detectors, bag searches, all became commonplace alongside the regular ticket checks. While the rest of the UK kept their eyes peeled for suspicious looking rucksacks, T in the Park had the prospect of checking 80,000 people who each brought their worldly goods in a rucksack.

But fans rose to the occasion - as they did two years later when torrential rain caused some of the car parks to subside and led to 12 mile tailbacks on all roads leading into Balado. Of course, there was fury and impatience - but there were also roadside parties and offers of accommodation for those who'd travelled great distances.

That was the reason organisers opened the campsite a day early this year, to try to stagger arrivals. Around 10,000 fans were in the campsite by Thursday night, 54,000 by the time the first bands came onstage on Friday. The atmosphere was good - noisy and high spirited, but nothing to suggest what was to come.

For all that it's a massive site, it's relatively well policed. Stewards patrol the site, it's well lit and managed.

There's also a camaraderie among the campers, even among those who start the festival as strangers. Hopefully that sense of cameraderie - so much more representative of the event than mindless violence - will be the strongest force here. Encouraging any fans who saw anything which might help police, to come forward with the information.

And I'm sure most T in the Park regulars would wish the 22-year-old in intensive care in Ninewells Hospital, the speediest of recoveries.

Soundchecks and checkpoints

Pauline McLean | 16:53 UK time, Friday, 11 July 2008

Things are far from good when the "help team" are looking for help themselves.

Dressed in red caps and red jackets, emblazoned with the word "help", the girls are looking baffled. "we were supposed to meet somewhere for a team briefing and we just can't remember where."

It's easy to get lost on T in the Park's Balado site - a massive former airfield near Kinross.

There are numerous gates and checkpoints, 11 stages and thanks to early opening, almost 10,000 fans on site a full day earlier than normal.

Organisers are trying to combat last year's traffic problems by staggering the arrival of fans - and so far, it seems to be working.

The Blimp - a camera attached to a hot air balloon high above the site - is monitoring roads to and from the site, warning of any delays and possible bottlenecks.

Good news for those who reckon they're too long in the tooth for four nights of mud and mayhem on the main campsite.

T now has an upmarket alternative. Podpads - small chalets containing a blow up double bed and plenty of room for two are proving a popular choice for the slightly more mature concert goer. You even get a lift to the front door of your cabin.

A bit pricey at £500 but no doubt worth the investment when you realise both bar and shower complex are a mere stone's throw from your front door.

And if you really want to splash out, you could spend £2,000 on a hotel yurt - complete with kingsized bed, chocolates on the pillow and chandelier.

Even the performers aren't offered such luxury. With 180 bands and performers over the weekend, their time in the plush backstage area is strictly limited.

Jo McGregor, who's in charge of their schedule, says excess riders are a thing of the past.

Most want simple pleasures like alcohol, fresh fruit and flowers. Juicers are apparently a common request as performers attempt to boost their energy levels before their onstage appearances.

Already here and backstage - The Verve, Stereophonics and KT Tunstall. KT - whose only demand for her and her band is hummus, pitta Bread and whisky - is back on the mainstage tonight, and says she regards this festival as the best in the world.

And while many of the festival goers were still in nappies when the first T in the Park happened, there are plenty of performers who remember it all perfectly well.

Step forward Prodigy, Primal Scream and Rage Against the Machine, all of whom featured on the first line up 15 years ago, and all of whom are back this year for more.

Just a couple of hours to go before the first performers come on stage - and the atmosphere is convivial - with many of the fans in fancy dress (cow costumes seem to be the thing - why?).

At four days, 11 stages and 180 bands and performers, it's all a far cry from the first one-day concert, but it's looking like being every bit as much fun.

Remains of the day

Pauline McLean | 12:11 UK time, Tuesday, 8 July 2008

I've been to a couple of repatriation ceremonies in the past few years.

I saw the return of Toi Moko - human skulls gathered by collectors in the 19th century - to Maori people and also to Mer Islanders.

Aside from a traditional song or perhaps a gift to the museum returning the artefact, it's a fairly standard procedure with a few forms to be filled in and perhaps a speech or two.

Representatives often spend some time in private with what is, they claim, the last human remains of their ancestors.

But in the case of this week's claim by the Southern Australian Ngarrindjeri people, it was the closest I've ever come to an Aboriginal funeral.

We were ushered through the bustling Museum of Scotland to the strangely hushed rooftop.

They say it's available for weddings but it could have been designed for this funeral, as we all gathered round in a circle.

In the centre, Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner, in full body paint and ceremonial head-dress, a long bone piercing his nose.

At his feet in a box, covered by an Australian flag, lie the six Aboriginal skulls, which were brought to the museum in the late 19th century.

He's in no doubt these are ancestors.

"These are ordinary people. They walked around, they laughed, they had families and they died. In Aboriginal culture, we believe that if any the body isn't buried intact, the spirit can't be at rest. So these spirits have been waiting around a long long time. And today we've come to take them home."

His traditional song he says, is asking the spirits if they want to come home - then he clicks two boomerangs together as he chants and moves round the circle.

The other Aboriginal representatives, in smart business suits turn with him as he looks east, west, north and south.

Then he walks round the group with a bowl of smouldering eucalyptus leaves - the familiar scent of his homeland.

We each waft the steam into our faces and wish the spirits well on their way.

Then it's all over and the Ngarrindjeri leave - Mr Sumner first washing off the paint and changing back into his own clothes.

The human remains will be collected later and flown home with them later in the week.

It's one of four visits to institutions in Edinburgh, Dublin and London they'll make this week - and they say they'll make many more journeys until they can be sure they've brought home all the human remains of their ancestors from museum collections across the world.

But while museum curators are sympathetic to their campaign, they say it has to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Since the 1980s, repatriation requests have increased dramatically, helped along enormously by the weight of Australian, New Zealand and US governments (perhaps trying to make amends for their own attitude towards indigenous peoples in the past).

Cases like this are hard to argue against - the Museum of Scotland have never shown these skulls and they never would.

And although they give insight into another era in which colonial explorers thought it appropriate to barter for human remains - and bring them home as macabre souvenirs - their actual presence in the vaults of a museum isn't necessary.

If anything, these repatriations are opening up new cultural and educational links between Scotland and indigenous people across the globe which give far greater insight than the original acquisitions ever could.

But there are many legitimate reasons for museums to house human remains - whether that's fossilised remains or Egyptian mummies.

Or modern art which uses human blood or hair - Marc Quinn's Blood Head, which used his own blood - or more controversially Gunther Von Hagen's skinned corpses.

Then there's Scotland's world renowned anatomy museums - the Hunterian in Glasgow and the Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh - which tap into a tradition dating back to the Enlightenment.

That's why many non-national museums believe they need to have their own guidelines, separate from the Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill which came into force in 2006.

Without the expertise or clout of national museums, they're anxious about making the right decisions in the face of an increased number of repatriation claims.

And faced with the emotional issues and the weight of whole governments, it's easy to see why they're worried.

The new guidelines are expected to be completed by the autumn, at which point the Museum of Scotland will receive its next delegation - this time, a Maori group who'll take home four skulls and two mandibles (lower jawbones).

As for the Aboriginal remains, there'll be a final service for them when they arrive back in Southern Australia next week, after which they'll be buried on home soil.

Visiting Little Sparta

Pauline McLean | 21:28 UK time, Friday, 4 July 2008

Why does Brian Taylor's Blog attract reasoned debate on all manner of political issues while my blog inspires the complete lyrics of My Lovely Horse from Father Ted. To be honest, it tickles me that it does inspire that kind of response so thank you - a song far worthier of an Irish Eurovision win than Dustin the Turkey!

To more artistic matters. Like so many people, i've been saying for years I must make a visit to Ian Hamilton Finlay's garden Little Sparta. I've seen umpteen photos and documentaries, but somehow never managed to make it to the garden itself. Well today I got there.

It's only a 45 minute drive from Edinburgh - just short of Dunsyre - but there's a half mile walk up a steep track road which might put some people off. Although I think the biggest deterrent has always been the miminal opening hours - not quite as restrictive as Brigadoon but only three short afternoons a week in the summer.

That's partly because Little Sparta is now owned and run by a trust - a small band of loyal IHF supporters, all juggling their day jobs with running the garden.

But it's also because the Trust can't afford to let too many people into the garden. Already it's showing signs of decay - a number of toppled, moss covered obelisks. And while the sole gardener Ralph and his team of green fingered volunteers do an amazing job, they're fighting quite a battle.

(Ironically really given Ian Finlay Hamilton's long running dispute with Strathclyde Regional Council, first over rates - they regarded it as a commercial concern - and then over planning permission for his Greek temple)

Jessie Sheeler - secretary of the Little Sparta Trust - reckons just maintaining the garden costs around £60,000. On top of that, they really need an endowment fund for the future, to make sure any major works can be dealt with. Fundraising is already ongoing.

Meantime, visitors continue to arrive from as far afield as Australia and Japan and as close as Edinburgh and Aberlady. Their £10 entrance fee a welcome boost to the coffers but not enough to ensure it's future.

There are positive signs though. The hortus conclusus - a medieval walled garden - envisaged by the artist but never completed in his lifetime - has come into bloom. More seeds and new gates will be added later this year. Those who remember IHF's long running battles with the council - or as he described it "the Spartan war" - will recall that was his military headquarters.

Mane attraction

Pauline McLean | 08:15 UK time, Wednesday, 2 July 2008

No one could ever accuse my job of lacking variety. Having ended the week, on the red carpet amid luvvies at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I started this week in a lockup in Maryhill, downwind of a large flatulent horse.

Mention the artist Andy Scott and it might all begin to make sense. Andy's back catalogue includes a few horses - not least the M8 Heavy Horse, something of a landmark for motorists - but his latest horse project will overshadow everything he's ever done.

The Kelpies - two hundred foot horse heads - will sit between the M9 and the canal near Falkirk. As big as the Falkirk Wheel and every bit as functional, rocking back and forth, they'll lift the boats between the upper and lower levels of the canal.

After two years of planning, pitching and eventually securing funding, it's fair to say the plan is now off the drawing board - but the versions in Andy's Maryhill Studio are still only a tenth of the size of the planned Kelpies. And it's vital at this stage, that he gets the detail right.

Hence the need for Baron and Duke, two towering Clydesdale Horses from Pollok Park. They're regularly taken out to meet schoolchildren, and illustrate local history talks about Scotland's industrial past.

It is, as far as the council knows, the first time they've enjoyed a modelling session but no one would have known - at least as far as Baron was concerned.

Clip-clopping

Cheerfully snorting as Andy Scott took a closer look at his muscles and markings, and carefully jotted the changes down onto his own model.

The detail is vital as the next stage of the project will move onto full scale, and the biggest problem will be finding a workshop big enough.

"The full scale ones wouldn't fit, not even in my new workshop here," said Scott.

"They're going to be fabricated, hopefully in a shipyard - it's a major civil engineering project.

"With the kind of skills Glasgow is well known for, I'd love to think it could be done in the west of Scotland but the key thing is to find the right fabricator, someone who understands it's an artwork as well as an engineering feat."

Tenders for the project will go out shortly. Meanwhile Duke and Baron, clip-clopped back into their wagon for the short trip back to Pollok Park, immortalised not just in the morning papers but in the Kelpies, which if all goes to plan will be transported - perhaps by canal - to Falkirk some time in 2010.

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