BBC BLOGS - View from the South Bank

Archives for October 2009

Lights go out

Pauline McLean | 16:19 UK time, Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Lighthouse Trust - the charity which ran the Lighthouse in Glasgow - is to be officially wound down.

No surprises there.

Since August when the Trust announced the company had gone into administration, following a string of funding problems, it's been only a matter of time.

This week, with the withdrawal of Glasgow City Council's funding, it was clear the trust's role in the building was over.

What now? Glasgow City Council is keen to keep the concept alive, perhaps as a business centre for the creative industries.

And unless it wants to go down the route of unravelling its funding - and returning some of the millions the Lottery gave the project when it first opened in 1999 - the council has to think beyond the realms of a business centre to something which appeals to as wide a range of people as possible.

Not an easy task as those who've run the centre for the past 10 years will admit.

It's position down a dark lane, and its esoteric subject matter don't help.

And with so many other cultural centres vying for public attention and money - not least the newly opened Trongate 103 and the newly refurbished Tramway - it's going to be a tough one for the council to justify.

Writing on the wall?

Pauline McLean | 17:44 UK time, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Time is running out for the 27 staff based in the Edinburgh Headquarters of Chamber Harrap, which publishes the Chambers Dictionary.

Despite a high profile petition, it's likely they'll all be issued with redundancy notices, with the Chambers side of the business transferring to London and the Harrap operation, which publishes foreign language reference books, transferring to Paris.

There are a lot of reasons to rue the closure - not least the fact that it brings to an abrupt end 200 years of publishing history.

Since William and Robert Chambers first established their dictionary in the capital in 1867, it's been a pillar of publishing, first for Victorians in search of a little self improvement, latterly as the best reference point for ambitious crossword and Scrabble enthusiasts.

Part of its appeal is the fact it's a no nonsense, Scottish institution which published everything you required in one volume.

Of course, reference publishing has been in trouble for decades, and not just because of the decline in sales or the increasing appeal of online editions.

But many campaigners believe that's a simplistic argument - and if it's the case, how can they justify moving the work elsewhere? Where's the longer term outlook?

It's ironic given Edinburgh's status as UNESCO's first city of literature, that one of its most historic publishing connections is being broken - although not without a fight as politicians and writers alike have taken up the cause. An online petition has attracted hundreds of signatures.

Ironic too that it's only a matter of months since MEP David Martin called on the dictionary to be given the same EC protection as Arbroath Smokies, champagne and Black Forest Ham.

We can all laugh, but in the faceless world of global publishing, that little bit of old fashioned Scottish reference is unique and important.
It's not just about words - or online versus hard copies. It's not about luddites versus a more high-tech form of reference.

It's about a historic reference point - dating back to the Scottish Enlightenment - which once lost - won't be easily restored.

Stage success large and small

Pauline McLean | 14:12 UK time, Friday, 23 October 2009

Eventually made it along to see the much acclaimed touring production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when it arrived at the Kings Theatre in Glasgow.

Originally adapted for the stage by Adrian Noble almost a decade ago, it consistently tops friends and colleagues' lists of must see stage shows.

Noble has done a fine job of honing down both the Ian Fleming story and the Roald Dahl script into a much less flabby affair than the film - although at two hours and 20 minutes, it's still a bit of a marathon.

It seems as if everyone who's anyone has had a part to play in the production since it was first staged in 2002. From Michael Ball and Jason Donovan as Caractacus Potts to Wayne Sleep, Alvin Stardust and Richard O'Brien - who was surely made for the role of the Childcatcher (although no-one has quite topped the sinister movements of ballet dancer Robert Helpmann in the original film).

Our show is an unstarry event - and no bad thing for it. Just Barbara Rafferty hamming it for the home crowd and everyone else slick and polished after weeks on tour together. And the star, after all, is the car, and it doesn't disappoint.

There's a collective gasp when it first appears amid a burst of stage fireworks, and again when it takes to the skies.

Soap stars

One night later, and the other end of the theatrical spectrum for a piece of theatre so small, so intimate and so up to the minute, you can perform it standing up in a pub. Westenders, the new live theatre soap is, like most soaps, set in a pub but the difference is that this show is also performed IN the pub.

Creator Ann Marie Di Mambro was inspired by the venue's lunchtime theatre programme - A Play And A Pie And A Pint - to which she contributed. She decided if audiences could turn out every week for a play, they could do the same for a soap.

She's persuaded several of her fellow writers from River City to help, and pulled together a cast of actors - including Andy Gray, Jonathan Watson, Juliet Cadzow, Greg Hemphill and Julie Wilson Nimmo - who've all agreed to take part for next to nothing.

Set in the fictional pub The Pig and the Poke, it follows bar-owner Ruby, aspiring writer husband Rabbie, Ruby's sister Pearl, mum Beryl and others. The pub - like Oran Mor - has a kindly approach to writers and there's even a cameo for writer Alasdair Gray in episode one when he orders a whisky before launching his own book upstairs.

It was standing room only for last night's opener - and despite problems with the sound which meant many people at the back of the pub couldn't hear the show - it looks like it's hooked people in for a few more episodes.

And while there was no obvious cliffhanger at the end of last night's episode, Ms Di Mambro promises a mighty cliffhanger for episode eight (on 10 December). Enough she hopes to persuade someone somewhere to commission a second series.

Celtic connections

Pauline McLean | 16:10 UK time, Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Never mind 66 shopping days till Christmas.

There are only 86 days till the start of the 2010 Celtic Connections festival, and a fair amount of excitement at the launch this morning in Glasgow of the new programme.

Since his appointment three years ago, the artistic director Donald Shaw has pushed the world music element of the festival and he admits himself it is an important strand of this year's programme.

One of his biggest coups is reuniting Ry Cooder with The Chieftains - who'll perform a concert exploring Celtic and Mexican musical connections.

"I didn't know there was a connection between Celtic music and Mexican music," he admits, "but if The Chieftains say there's a connection, there's a connection."

Negotiations to confirm the gig were only finalised in the wee small hours of this morning, with Ry Cooder, who toured Europe in his own right earlier this year, not keen to travel to Glasgow in the middle of January.

And although Donald Shaw admits the concert - which will also feature Cara Butler from the original Riverdance show and Mexican band Los Cenzontles - is something of a coup for the festival, he hands most of the credit to Chieftains founder and leader Paddy Moloney.

"Paddy has a real affection for the Scottish audience and he was keen to see this city host the concert. He thought if any city, if any festival, should stage a concert like this, it was this one," says Donald Shaw.

Celtic Connections has grown dramatically since it was first dreamed up 17 years ago as an answer to the black hole in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall's winter programme.

But the festival now has the clout that allows up to 1,500 performers to consider travelling to Glasgow in the middle of a winter for a festival appearance.

And despite his own experiences as a jobbing musician with Capercaillie, Donald Shaw admits he's still surprised by how long it can take to persuade a musician to appear and fix a date in the diary.

Two of his latest conquests - Bobby McFerrin and Natalie Merchant - took months of persuading.

Merchant, the former front-woman of American indie band 10,000 Maniacs, was a particular achievement.

"I'm a big fan and she hasn't performed for so long," he says.

"I knew she was working with Lunasa, the Irish band, so I knew she was interested in traditional music. So I started talking to her management about persuading her to come.

"And then a few months ago, she decided she couldn't do it, the album wouldn't be ready. I said come anyway, and just appear at the festival.

"So I was delighted to be the one to drag her out of hibernation."

And indie/americana/traditional isn't the only mix you'll hear.

For real crossover, check out Dick Gaughan who's gone all out reggae with a special dub show featuring Jason Wilson, Brinsley Forde, The Fab Five and Dave Swarbrick.

There are two tribute concerts too for songwriters Nick Drake and John Martyn.

Drake's record producer Joe Boyd will lead the Drake concert with contriubutions from Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside and Danny Thompson.

And it's Thompson, who'll also lead the tribute to John Martyn, who died during last year's festival and was the subject of many informal tributes at the time.

As a close friend for two decades, he's been asked on several occasions since then to stage a tribute concert but believes this event - with contributions from Martin Simpson, Luka Bloom and Eddie Reader is the one.

And of course, there are connections too - celtic or otherwise - between John Martyn and Nick Drake, with Martyn writing the title song of his 1973 album Solid Air for Drake.

And for those who're after sociable connections rather than musical ones, there's good news about the festival club, which will be held nightly at Glasgow School of Art.

Will it ever return to its spiritual home in the Central Hotel? Only time and a multi-million pound hotel makeover stand in the way.

Talking to the animals

Pauline McLean | 15:40 UK time, Wednesday, 7 October 2009

It's hard to believe anything could upstage an African opera premiere in a tiny converted garage with the rain pounding on the tin roof.

But a few hours ago, I spent my final evening on Botswana in the truly spectacular setting of the game reserve at Mokoldi.

And as the sun set and the moon rose, I joined the author Alexander McCall Smith and his friends and family in the little rest camp he himself established here a year ago.

It's a simple affair, just six thatched huts with oil lamps and basic shower and toilet facilities - but it gives a real sense of being part of the natural landscape, which offers the perfect ending to an extraordinary trip.

The reserve is only a few kilometres from the country's capital Gaborone. But its spectacular scale - 10,000 acres in all - means it feels remote.

Our guide Tshepo takes us into the park, which safeguards many animals, not least the white rhino, which is being hunted into extinction.

Head Ranger, Neil Wilson later tells us he fears for the safety of the nine rhino they now have, so great is the value of their horns.

Attempts to divert the hunters by dehorning the beasts elsewhere, haven't brought good results so Neil's hope is to be able to buy a microlite to be able to survey the reserve and keep an eye out for potential hunters.

The big draw of the reserve - at least for locals - is the cheetah enclosure. Duma and Lletoso were rescued as cubs when their mother was shot by a farmer.

They've been in captivity so long, they'll happily allow humans to stroke them, as if they're giant purring domestic toms.

It's useful to be wary though. They have been known to take an irritated swipe - they're 14 years old now so the cheetah equivalent of grumpy old men - and one of Bill Clinton's bodyguards came a cropper a few years back.

Sandy McCall Smith admits he too sustained a cheetah injury himself. "t was just a scratch but I was able to send my agent a telegram saying 'ustained cheetah injury, but still in one piece'," he said.

Not that anyone can afford to be complacent. Last year, two Sri Lankan keepers were killed when a bull elephant turned against them.

The park has since struggled with bad publicity although the male elephant was destroyed and Sri Lankan guides continue to apply for work there.

McCall Smith set up the rest camp a year ago but this is the first time he's stayed here himself, along with his wife Elizabeth and the close friends who've helped him establish the opera house.

It's a philanthropic project, with all profits ploughed back into the conservation work of the park. Almost an hour's drive from the park gates, it's as close as you'll get to communing with nature, in the kind of atmosphere Sandy's character Mma Ramotswe might have experienced growing up in rural Botswana.

Working with park authorities, he's also keen to establish a star gazing facility, since the roof of the little restaurant offers unparalleled views of that section of the African skies.

After an evening braai - the southern African equivalent of a barbecue - it's the most obvious thing to do. And that's followed by a spell of storytelling around the campfire.

A suitably African end to the whole adventure.

For those who are interested, you can hear the whole documentary - The Number One Ladies Opera House - on Radio Four next Tuesday at 1330 BST.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.