Monthly Archives: May 2013

Scottish Ballet: Highland Fling

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling Poster

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling Poster

Scottish Ballet’s Insight events offer the public the chance to learn more about the company. This event, geared around “romantic wee ballet” Highland Fling, was a chance to see costumes, chat to dancers and watch them warming up before a Saturday matinee.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

It’s exhausting just watching the warm-up but the dancers look relaxed and happy on stage. They were just about to finish a successful debut and run at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, before the whole show went on tour to Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

At an informal get together in the theatre, Emma Jane McHendry, one of Scottish Ballet’s education officers, ran through a synopsis of Highland Fling and the conception of the Matthew Bourne production, originally produced in 1994.

Highland Fling rehearsal

Highland Fling rehearsal

Award-winning choreographer Bourne does not give his work away lightly, although he has contributed sections to various sources in the past, this is the first time he has delivered a whole production. It’s a coup for Scottish Ballet and understandably, they are delighted.

Bourne is known for slightly off-the-wall and edgy ballets. Based on La Sylphide by Herman Severin Lovenskjold, Highland Fling was conceived after Bourne visited Scotland and became captivated by the scenery, mystery and folklore. He saw a perfect world for recreating mythical sylph and fairylike creatures. So you might think he would set it among the heather, hills and forests of the north. But no, Bourne chose a gritty and perhaps more realistic setting. This production has more in common with Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting than the magic of Brig-a-Doon.

Set in 1980s Glasgow, enter the world of night clubs, hedonistic drinking and hazy drug-fuelled evenings, and the eve of Effie and James wedding.

James collapses in a toilet in a drug/drink induced haze on his stag night and it’s his first introduction to the strange seductive sylph like creature who will overtake his life.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

At the talk Emma runs through the characters. They are an eclectic bunch, and easily identifiable. Emma claimed most of these characters could easily be found around the streets of Glasgow on a Saturday night.

We are shown a selection of costumes designed by Lez Brotherston. There’s lots of tartan, but contemporary and edgy, not twee. The sylph costumes in particular have a designer look to them. Pale grey graffiti style kilts and sheath dresses with raggedly ripped edging.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

Respect also goes to dancers Owen Thorne and Christopher Harrison, who alternate to play the part of James. They have to dance while wearing a heavy kilt and full Highland dress. Owen admitted dancing in full Highland dress is a very sweaty affair, and tricky, with most problems stemming from a bouncing sporran. Also very cute are the white sylph wings, made of foam.

As the dancers rehearse in their stripped down training gear you get the chance to appreciate their litheness, agility and strength.

Ballet seems to be moving with the times and modernizing. Something Owen admits has to be done. Like Scottish Ballet’s production A Streetcar Named Desire, Highland Fling involves a lot of acting. It’s a skill dancers are getting used to. There will always be a place for traditional ballets like Swan Lake, but nowadays dancers have more skills to draw on. It’s about being more relevant says Owen. And there are many aspects of Highland Fling, both in situations and characters that the audience will recognize and relate to.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

Sometimes despite the best efforts to display the nuances of a character, unexpected things get in the way, like make-up. Bethany spent ages working on her facial expressions to play the sylph by flashing lots of dramatic eyes, only to realise that no-one could see her efforts. The sylphs wear heavy make-up and their eyes are blackened.

The dancers had to really get into their roles by coming up with a whole back story of their character, right down to their likes and dislikes. As the roles are shared, with the dancers interchanging, they worked with their “other half” on character development.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

Owen worked with Christopher Harrison to bring James to life, who was seen as slightly different from the rest of the cast. He’s the only one without make-up. It’s as if his soul is bare and exposed under the spotlights.

James is a very human character, and therefore flawed. He may take drugs, drink, mistreat his fiancé, and succumb to temptation, but the audience still has to like him. The dancers have the job of making him likeable, despite his failings.

Like Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in Mad Men or Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in House of Cards – characters you probably shouldn’t like, but you do.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

It’s a ballet that ramps up the Scottishness and the first half in particular is good fun. There’s a house adorned with tartan wallpaper, which has photos of Sean Connery, The Krankies and Annie Lennox hanging on the walls. The characters drink from cans of Irn Bru and James reads the Daily Record newspaper.

Wedding preparations are underway amid a few love complications. James’s tarot-card-reading ex Madge is also his drug dealer, Gurn is a born again Christian who wears a t-shirt saying Jesus Loves Me, but he only has eyes for Effie. Meanwhile James is obsessed with the mysterious sylph who keeps haunting him.

Scottish Ballet Highland Fling

After the merriment of the first act, the second half takes on a much darker hue. We move into seductive Sylph land, a remote wasteland with the familiar features of Glasgow’s Clydeside just visible in the distance.

Here we see the sylphs at play, they are catlike and full of impish playful movements. Like James, we are drawn into their world. But once he gets what he wants, it’s not enough and he wants more.

Don’t expect a swirling Scottish shin-dig finale because tragedy ensues leading to a dramatic and tearful conclusion.

Highland Fling is touring:

16-18 May 2013 His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

22-25 May 2013 Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

For more information see: Scottish Ballet website


Filed under Photography, Scottish Ballet, Videos

Aye Write Book Festival Glasgow 2013 What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos

Aye Write - Clare Grogan

“The the midst of Scotland’s punk explosion, a Glasgow maths teacher hung up his mortar board and picked up a camera. His name was Harry Papadopoulos and his photos would come to define and inform Scottish popular culture in the 1980s”

The Herald

(Excerpt from: What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos)

To promote this collection of iconic photographs taken by Harry Papadopoulos were Clare Grogan (Altered Images) and Ken McCluskey (The Bluebells), with lensman Harry sitting in the front row.

What Presence! Book Cover

What Presence!
Book Cover

There’s a stunning image of Clare standing in the rain holding an umbrella. She’s looking moody with a petulant ‘don’t mess with me’ stare. It’s 1981. She’s a tender but determined-looking young girl on the cusp of stardom. Clare sets the record straight. Harry, always on the lookout for a good photo opportunity suggested Clare get outside and stand in the rain. She had just arrived at Harry’s London flat, she was tired, fed-up and it was the last thing she wanted to do, but Harry was always able to persuade his subjects to do things they wouldn’t usually.

“His charm and easy wit put everyone at ease; conversation would flow and one would forget that one was involved in a photo session.”

Malcolm Ross, Josef K

Harry Papadopoulos

Harry Papadopoulos

As well as photos of the big stars such as Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop, most of the images in this book capture an exciting time in Glasgow and Scotland, running through 1978 – 1984. After starting a career as a teacher, Harry’s love for photography took over. It lead him to leave Glasgow for London to become a staff photographer for Sounds music weekly. His flat in Willesden became a stopover for many Scottish musicians visiting the big smoke. A lot of the photos featured were taken in and around what became affectionately nicknamed The House of Camp, or as Clare described it, this “Terry and June type of house”.

Meanwhile, the burgeoning music scene in Scotland was tempting the A&R men out of London and they were always to be found in Glasgow searching the city for “the next big thing.”

A lot of it was down to Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, as well as Alan Horne’s Postcard Records, located at the now legendary address of 185 West Princes Street, Glasgow. Clare admits they were a catalyst. They made other bands and musicians feel that everything was possible. Their presence around town was well known, and not only in a musical sense, they also stood out for their natty way of dressing, which came courtesy of local charity shops.

Harry spent a lot of time with Orange Juice and his photos show how relaxed Edwyn and the band were with him.

Edwyn Collins

Edwyn Collins

“That to me is a very typical Harry picture, in the unobtrusive style he had. He was in and out. He really hated faffing. I never saw him set up lights. He was never pretentious. But he lived in his dark room.”

Edwyn Collins

As well as persuading his subjects to do things they wouldn’t normally, he had that camera man’s skill of invisibility. People weren’t aware he was taking photographs.

Nicknamed the guerilla lensman, he would take random shots here, there and everywhere.

Today it seems to be a dying brand of photography. Bands and musicians are more heavily controlled, photos are more staged and photographers aren’t granted the same access. Images are carefully airbrushed and pop stars are perfect. “They don’t have plooks these days” joked Clare, who also adds that Harry would just photograph you as you were.

Harry’s photos record an important and ground-breaking era of musical history. They were destined to become lost and forgotten, had it not been for Ken McCluskey of The Bluebells.

Ken visited Harry, who had returned to Glasgow in 2006. That visit made him realise that Harry had years-worth of contacts, negatives and photos in need of urgent care and attention. Harry, whose health had declined following a brain aneurysm in 2002, had no plans to do anything with his photos.

The mammoth task took over two years and started with Ken preserving, cataloguing and scanning all the photos. He then enlisted the help of Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, who eventually held a successful exhibition in their gallery from December 2011 to February 2012.

Street Level Photoworks Glasgow

Street Level Photoworks

During the process Ken had no idea what would turn up and he was often stopped in his tracks by his discoveries.

One of those images again features a young Clare Grogan, who spookily appears like a ghost watching herself on stage with Altered Images. Harry admits this was a double exposure taken by accident, but the effect is stunning.

Not only persuasive with musicians, car salesmen also succumbed to Harry’s charms. The garage showroom The Bluebells were photographed in, way back in 1980, is still trading on Glasgow’s Woodlands Road.

The Bluebells

The Bluebells

What is striking about a lot of the images is the playful but youthful naivety that Harry has captured perfectly. Ken and Clare testify that it’s a quality that was most definitely there.

Aztec Camera

Aztec Camera

Feeling like they were the most unlikely pop stars, Clare spent most of her time in awe of the people around her, but even so, Altered Images were in the right place, music was their passion and they were “nuts about it”. Even today Clare says she feels lucky to have shared the same space as a lot of her idols like Siouxsie Sioux and Nick Cave.

“He (Harry) made me feel like I belonged just a little bit more to the place I found myself.”

Clare Grogan

Ken identified The Bluebells’ naivety as their strength, because in not recognizing the enormity of what they were doing, they just went along with the flow.

They also didn’t realise how important Harry had became. He was moving in big circles, taking photos of stars like David Bowie and Nick Cave. The Bluebells took a lot of it for granted, but not in a complacent sense, they just didn’t realize the importance of what was emerging, the history that was being written, recorded and photographed.

“ … here we have a collection of photographs that succeed time and time again in getting to the heart of the subjects and giving us a glimpse of the youthful dreamers behind all the noise.”

Peter Capaldi

The foreward to the book is written by Peter Capaldi, famous for The Thick Of It, but not so famous for his time in pop band The Dreamboys, which also featured US television host Craig Ferguson on drums. Harry captures the band’s moment complete with Peter’s Frank Spencer style v-neck tank top.

The Dreamboys

The Dreamboys

“I would love to have been a pop star – anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”

Peter Capaldi

There’s also a thoughtful and well-written introduction to the book by Ken McCluskey. The affection he has for Harry is obvious and the book feels as much a well deserved gift and memoir to Harry as it is a stunning collection to be owned by the  music/photography/book loving public.

Ken McCluskey was perfectly placed to co-curate this collection. He should be very proud of his efforts and hard work.

“Harry put bands at ease with his laidback attitude. He seemed wiser – like a quieter, thoughtful older brother.”

Ken McCluskey

Clare Grogan and Ken McCluskey at Aye Write! at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow Picture from The Herald

Clare Grogan and Ken McCluskey at Aye Write! at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow
Picture from The Herald

“Harry’s plans for our early Glasgow photo sessions generally began with him saying, “Let’s all go for an adventure and see what happens.””

Ken McCluskey

The What Presence! exhibition has been touring, currently at McManus Art Gallery & Museum, Dundee until August 11, 2013

What Presense! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos

Published by Polygon Books. £20

Birlinn Books website

Street Level Photoworks website

Street Level Photoworks Facebook

Feature from The Herald dated December 16, 2011


Filed under Aye Write!, Books, Photography

Aye Write Book Festival, Glasgow 2013 Tracey Thorn Bedsit Disco Queen

Aye Write - Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn hasn’t aged, she looks exactly the same as when she formed Everything But The Girl with her partner, now husband, Ben Watt in 1982.

The self-confessed reluctant pop star was at the Aye Write Book Festival in Glasgow in April 2013 to read from and discuss her book, a memoir called Tracey Thorn Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Became A Pop Star.

Tracey Thorn Book Cover

Tracey Thorn Book Cover

Reading sections from her book we heard how she bought her first electric guitar when she was 16, and a little wet behind the ears, she didn’t realise she needed to buy an amp – so she got used to playing it quietly at first.

It was no surprise to learn that she was never a fame-hungry child. She was more often to be found reading books than standing in front of a mirror and singing into a hairbrush.

But as Tracey reminded us “sometimes it’s the quiet ones sitting in the corner reading books that have the things to say, and the songs and stories to write.”

Even so, it took her a while to find her voice. She became a guitarist in a band called Stern Bops, and one day when their singer Paul failed to turn up, she was asked “What about you, Trace? Can you sing?”

It was something that had never occurred to her, and she agreed to give it a shot … but only if she could sing in the wardrobe. While they all agreed she sounded good, they also quickly realised that carrying a wardrobe around on tour so that Tracey could sing, wasn’t an option.

Eventually other bands followed including a spell in Marine Girls, who disbanded in 1983. Tracey had already met Ben Watt at the University of Hull and Everything But The Girl was formed in 1982. Their first album, Eden, was released in 1984.

Everything But The Girl New York 1995 Picture credit Marcelo Krasilcic

Everything But The Girl
New York 1995
Picture credit Marcelo Krasilcic

Obviously she had come out of the wardrobe and was now a front woman of a successful chart-topping band. Everything But The Girl eventually went on to release nine albums and sell nine million records.

But Tracey also wants to be remembered for being not just a singer, but a songwriter too, something she feels is overlooked.

She loved working with Massive Attack but reminded us she wasn’t just brought in to sing their hugely successful hit Protection, she wrote it.

A question and answer session at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library provoked lots of lively discussions. An advocate of the DIY approach to making records, it was interesting to hear Tracey talk about the advances in technology, making the DIY ethos of crafting music in your bedroom relatively easy. But there is a downside. As everyone starts to use the same packages and equipment, everything starts to sound the same.

Furthermore, the sophistication of technology means that music made in the bedroom can sound as if it was crafted in a high tech studio. It wasn’t like that in Tracey’s day, where charming little glitches betrayed their music’s origins.

One form of technology Tracey loves is Twitter. The connection to her fans with their feedback is important to her.

From today’s music industry, The XX were singled out for both their songs and for the fact that singer Romy Madley Croft  looks more like Tracey Thorn than Tracey Thorn.

Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn

Adele was commended for being a woman who doesn’t conform to the pop industry’s ideal of female singers, i.e she sounds amazing and she wears a cardigan! Something Rihanna should perhaps try sometime joked Tracey.

“Why didn’t I want it more? Or, not that exactly, for in many ways I really did want it, desperately. But why was I so ambivalent about the very concept of attention, both wanting and not wanting it? Making music is never just about making music. It’s about being heard, fighting for your personal vision – your own version of events – to be listened to, given weight. It’s about making people sit up and notice you, and acknowledge your worth. But while I wanted all this, I seemed to want it in an invisible kind of way. I wanted to be heard without having to be heard, or perhaps more specifically, without having to be looked at.”

Excerpt from Tracey Thorn Bedsit Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Rock Star

Published by Virago. £16.99

Virago Books

Tracey Thorn website

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Filed under Aye Write!, Books

Strathclyde Park, Hamilton, Scotland. April 30, 2013


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May 3, 2013 · 1:23 am