Saturday, March 14, 2009

Shetlandic Evening, Glasgow

Brilliant evening yesterday in Glasgow’s Mitchell theatre - a Shetlandic Evening organised by the Aye Write! festival and Vital Synz. In the video above, you can listen to Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, whose unique interpretations of traditional Shetlandic tunes were simply mesmerising. It's great in the video, but even better in real time. I'm not even a huge fan of folk music, but these people were really, really good. Afterwards in the Bon Accord Bar, I caught sight of Rihanna in concert (with the sound down) on the bar’s TV and reflected, not for the first time, that far greater talent is found in people like Chris and Catriona than in the identikit pop stars delivered for the MTV screens. Also, that good poetry has worth in itself, no matter how unpopular it is compared with a Danielle Steele romance or a Gordon Ramsey celebrity cookbook, in the same way that a brilliantly-played violin and harp have real worth in themselves, no matter whether they shift millions fewer CDs than Rihanna. Stuff the popularisers and dumb-downers: let’s make art, people!

I could say the same of the poets – unique, individual voices, every one of them. Jen Hadfield, following her T.S. Eliot Prize win, is the best known of them, and she read an excellent set. However, both Alan Jamieson, widely regarded in Scotland as one of the finest poets in the UK (he writes more poems in Shetlandic than English), and Christie Williamson, among the best of the younger Scottish poets, gave terrific readings. A really memorable night.


deemikay said...

"Stuff the popularisers and dumb-downers: let’s make art, people!"

Arr can be popular as well. :)

There was a programme on last night about life in communist East Germany (very good it was too). In between some horror stories, there were people regretting the fall of communism because it encouraged art and creativity and placed great emphasis on cultural activities. They were non-elitist.

So perhaps the problem is capitalism and the free market economy rather than popularisers?

The event sounds like it was good... damn my local country bus service for not running buses late at night!

deemikay said...

Oh, and I love the harp and fiddle... I've always wanted a harp. (I've got a 15 string zither, but not the same thing...)

Rachel Fox said...

There's a lot of great music being made just now that comes loosely under what you might call the folk umbrella. There are loads of great singers, musicians and writers around (many Scottish, others from all over the place...many different styles) - so many that if I tried to list them I'd be here all day and I'd advise anyone to forget any old anti-folk music prejudices they might have and go and enjoy the kind of performance you refer to in this post. I've been into all kinds of music but I'd say that right now folk is...well...perhaps to some...surprisingly exciting. Go to your local folk club (ours in Montrose is particularly good) or to a local folk festival. And I'm not even on commission. Karine Polwart for president of the world. End of proclamation.

Rob said...

David, communism encouraged art and creativity only if the art and creativity suited it. If not, there were serious consequences for artists, as I'm sure you know!

I agree good art can be popular. But my point is that good art should produce itself, without worrying whether it might be popular or not.

I'd suggest that the popularisers and dumb-downers' are inextricably linked to the capitalist economy - but it's very complicated - too complicated for me.

Rachel, I've a very wide taste in music. I've always been into the alternative side of rock/pop music, but I enjoy any style when it's done well. I'm sure you're right about the current folk scene. In fact, I think there have always been astonishingly original folk musicians in Scotland - few (almost none) of them, of course, becoming major MTV stars, so it's a good example of my point above.

deemikay said...

Oh yes... in some Communist countries, creativity was very much state-sanctioned. (Though there was the interesting story in the programme about East German punk bands and animators who got informed upon, but no action taken... curious)

And I agree completely that art need not be popular (remember what we said about the Go-Betweens?). I've no problem with unpopularity. But I'd maybe not class dumbers-down and popularisers together... they don't always go hand-in-hand.

And thanks to this post I was getting frustrated yesterday when tuning my zither. Shockingly it's still in one piece!

rosswilson said...

Deemikay, the poor girl who drew on Stalin's portrait in that programme was put off art for life, if I remember right, by what happened to her as a result of her creative impulse.

"Only in Russia is poetry respected – it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?" MANDELSTAM

Have you seen The Lives of Others? One of the best films I've seen in recent years, spying on the public and artists in particular (those strange people who think differently!) Something that might be closer to home now our emails are apparently not as private as we'd like to think.

I agree things aren't always black and white, i.e. dumb-downers and populisers. I've known a lot of people who will dismiss a certain music, for example, because it's "commercial."

deemikay said...

I wasn't saying terrible things didn't happen. I was just pointing out that some people felt that being in a communist country was preferable to being in their current capitalist country.

There were some awful, awful stories and that first one was a shocking example. The main difference between that and later stories though is that was when Stalin was in power. Stalinism was a completely different kettle of paranoias.

I've only travelled in one communist country (Cuba, from one end to the other) and the people were, on the whole, happy and content. I know that human rights abuses were (and still are) taking place, that the country isn't free and that everyone is very, very poor. But the people are, mainly, happy. There's also quite a lively art and music scene - state funded. But I wouldn't want to live there...

Funny you should mention The Lives of Others, because I was going to buy it on Friday! Had it in my hand... but I got La Grande Illusion instead.

(The Mandelstam quote also applies to lots of other countries... Africa, South America, Asia. Could it be that there's no happy medium? A poet is either murdered or ignored?)