This month marks 50 years since the death of the playwright Robert Kemp. To commemorate this, I have created a memoir which is downloadable here as a PDF, readable on Kindle or any other device. This is a work in progress – a corrected and finalised version will appear soon. Comments and contributions welcome via Facebook or Twitter @jackiekemp.
Scots musical artist Mairi Campbell is in Boston to perform in WGBH Celtic Sojourn at the Cutler Majestic and touring. On Dec 2 at the Shea Theater in Turner Falls she will perform ‘Pulse’, a musical drawn from her own life which she performed throughout the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, gaining some five star reviews.
Not many musicians could hope to fill a theatre with a one-woman experimental musical about their own lives. But Mairi Campbell’s ‘Pulse’ in which she acts, sings, plays the fiddle and dances the story of her own musical coming of age has been touring Scotland for the last two years, showcasing the best of modern Scots culture at Celtic Connections in 2016 and at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. Mairi is an old friend of mine and below is a piece I wrote about the show at its inception in 2015.
The theme of the 70th Edinburgh International Festival this year is remembering the ‘Spirit of 47’. Among the audience is at least one faithful festival-goer who was there at the start – my uncle David Kemp. Here are some of David’s reminiscences of his many Festivals, stretching back to those post-war years when the colour and beauty of art returned to a traumatised world.
David Kemp outside the Usher Hall, Edinburgh before the Mariinsky/ RSNO concert on 23/08/2017
Real newspapers can be used for many things that their digital counterparts never could – from lining the veg box to making paper boats and beyond. Artist Jane Couroussopoulos finds a novel use for the pile of old Guardians she keeps in her studio, turning them into works of art.
Jane and Poppy in the studio.
I laughed more in my short visit to the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) – than I can remember doing at an art gallery. But the experience was not only amusing; it helped me to reflect upon the curatorial process at work in all art galleries, and to reach a conclusion about the Frances Stark retrospective which is currently on show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.
The current MOBA exhibition is entitled “doppelhanger” and features portraits which bear an intended or accidental resemblance to a famous person. My guide, Louise Reilly, pointed to “Sunday on the Pot with George” (above).
“This is one of my all time favorites. Pointillism is difficult. Why would anyone expend that much energy painting a middle-aged man in his tighty whities sitting on a toilet?” And look” she pointed to where the portrait ends, at the subject’s ankles, where either by accident or design the painter has avoided having to include those challenging feet.
Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron, circa 100BC, Denmark.
Images courtesy of the British Museum and the NMS
Celts could be weird and scary. They were mad for the drink and when they had it, you had to watch out for them: they saw things and became aggressive. They were radge fighters, absolutely mental, they dressed up to go into battle and they played great big war horns that made a sound that would scare the living daylights out of you. And they liked bling, loved it actually: gold, bronze, iron, glass, precious stones. They wore chunky jewellery decorated with abstract patterns and symbols. They were skilled at metalwork, leatherwork, pottery and weaving and if something precious was broken, they would mend it – a bronze flagon with a broken handle would get a different handle, or a hole would be fixed with a decorated patch, and made as good as new – better in fact. Oh and they loved parties and feasting; the women were great hosts and they were buried with their special pots and flagons, probably so they could use them for a big after-party on the other side.
Catterline in Winter. Joan Eardley. Images Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland
There are many powerful pieces in the current exhibition of Modern Scottish Women’s Art from the late Victorian era to the early 60s and the show casts light on the challenges that women artist faced.
They had to contend with barriers such as the bar on married women’s employment and the misogyny which meant they were not admitted to bodies like the RSA. There was prejudice from families which made it harder to train and caring responsibilities which absorbed their time and emotional energy.
But these were strong women all of whom earned at least a partial living from their endeavours as artists and this exhibition is a rare opportunity to see their often unfairly neglected work.
The faultlines of Scottish politics go back a long way: historians are still arguing about the Union of Parliaments back in 1707 when the Scottish Parliament voted itself out of existence. For some it was a pragmatic decision; for others it was a grave error. These controversies were argued over afresh at “1707: What Really Happened?” at Scotland’s History Festival last month.
Playwrights Tim Barrow and Jen McGregor read from Tim Barrow’s play “Union’ set in 1707. The scene dramatised the clash over the Treaty of Union between Lord Queensberry who was a main proponent of the measure and steered it through Parliament and Lord Hamilton, who led the opposition to it. Here is an excerpt from the scene, set in the “magnificent chamber of the Scottish Parliament”.
This is an excerpt from a scene which was read at an event at the “Previously…” Scotland’s History Festival, on November 19 2015
Set in the magnficent chamber of the Scottish Parliament, the scene features Lord Queensberry, the main proponent of the Treaty of Union and Lord Hamilton, who led the opposition.
In the run up to the historic vote intense debate raged among “Great & Small, Rich & Poor, Old &Young, Men & Woman”. It was ‘the common discourse and universal…
If there is one thing that Americans do a lot better than Europeans, it is failure. An example is ‘Rising Strong’, an incredibly successful book on the subject of failure and its aftermath. Now a UK best-seller, I picked it up from Edinburgh airport bookstore, drawn by the sub heading “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about getting back up.”
‘Mairi Campbell reacted angrily when she was downgraded for playing her own composition in her final exams and left Guildhall College of Music and Drama for her bolthole on the Isle of Lismore. Supportive tutor Peter Renshaw found the phone number of the family’s cottage there and called her, a moment which features in the show. “I said ‘you can get tae fuck’ and got on the train home to Edinburgh. I never went back. The next thing was Peter’s call to Lismore where I was recuperating. He said that they’d keep up the fight.” ‘
PULSE to showcase at Celtic Connections, Jan 2016
Not many musicians could hope to fill a theatre with a one-woman experimental musical about their own lives. But Mairi Campbell’s new show ‘Pulse’ in which she acts, sings, plays the fiddle and dances the story of her own musical coming of age has been selected to represent the best of Scottish musical culture at the prestigious Showcase event at Celtic Connections in January 2016.
THE BIGGEST threat to freedom of expression in Britain today is not the shadow of the law, but whispers behind the scenes. Not the courtroom so much as a slippery excuse from someone in authority that says, I’m so sorry but we can’t put this on, because of this or that or the other dog-ate-my-homework reason. The fear of protests; the wrong kind of attention, a storm on social media. Trouble with the venue, the risk assessor, the insurance adviser, the head of college. These nebulous fears are recast politely as “it doesn’t quite fit in with our programme this year,’ or ‘ we don’t think it will sell enough tickets”, or “I’m sorry, we are already full.” This was what I argued when, at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I took part in a panel discussion after a show about the tension between art and politics, inspired by a trio of called-off productions in 2014, called “Walking the Tightrope” staged by Underbelly Productions.
I first heard the song “Call it Alba” at an African evening at my children’s primary school. The choir sang it to visitors from a school in Tanzania and I wasn’t the only one blinking back the tears as they belted out the chorus: “I belong to the land I live in, and the land is in the deepest part of me.”
The song allowed the children to express love for their country of Scotland but in a simple style, free from the hubris these things often contain. It seemed inclusive too, offering a sense of belonging to everyone who lives here. I couldn’t think of another patriotic song that would have worked in that context and which would have made me feel so proud.
“Flower of Scotland” is fine for a sporting arena but the lyrics are very focused on Scotland’s sometimes conflicted relationship with England. I for one was glad when the Scottish Parliament recently rejected a petition to make it an official anthem. (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/wilting-blossom-flower-of-scotland-national-anthem-bid-rejected-by-msps.120916231)
The others I could think of like Scots Wha Hae, Caledonia, or Highland Cathedral are too martial, too adult or too grandiose.
I enjoyed Top Gear. You would think from the reaction I get to this statement from some of my friends that I was voicing support for Islamic State or something. But when my kids were younger it was one of the best family viewing experiences that we had. I will remember it fondly for that reason.
The big new exhibition at the Southbank Centre in London “History is Now” is meant to address British postwar history. It does not do so. As a Scot who voted ‘No’ in the referendum I found the experience of visiting this show profoundly depressing. I left with an increased sense that a ‘British’ identity has become problematic, dislocated and fragile, and that the ties that bind the countries that make up the Union are fraying.
A friend of mine was kind enough to say recently that she had found the piece I wrote below about the movie Kingsman The Secret Service really helpful. Her 15-year-old daughter had been to the movie with friends and because my friend had read my blog, she was able to raise with her daughter the fact that there is a graphic image of anal penetration in the closing minutes of the movie. Her daughter said “Oh Mum, it’s all right, the woman wanted that done to her.” My friend responded that this scene represented a male fantasy. My friend then went on to say that she felt sorry for all the young women who might be thinking: ‘What’s wrong with me, that I don’t enjoy this?”
The scene is a glimpse into the porno world which I generally manage to avoid. But taking place as it does in a mainstream movie now heavily advertised on TV as a DVD or download – it’s another example of how mainstream that current has become.
Though ridiculed by critics, artist’s work is honest, with an authentic, working-class sensibility, writes Jackie Kemp
From The Scotsman, October 25.
WHAT on earth is happening at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow? It is mid-morning on a weekday but the car parks are overflowing. Cars are jinking about, competing for any vacated space. The art gallery itself is hotching. There are actual traffic jams in front of certain pictures and there is a queue at the till in the exhibition shop. The postcard rack is half empty and the limited edition prints are flying off the shelves.
The public response to Jack Vettriano’s first major retrospective is a marked contrast to the funereal atmosphere of the big empty rooms at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival exhibition of the recent work of Peter Doig, a commercially successful painter whose massive and anodyne, though slapdash, landscapes would be a safe bet for decorating the foyer of any corporate headquarters in Zurich.
The rich tapestry of Scotland’s past, long neglected, downplayed and overshadowed, is finally being given the prominence and attention it deserves, writes Jackie Kemp Published in the Scotsman op-ed section, September 3, 2013