Category Archives: Festivals

Nina Conti, Festival Fringe, Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh – August 2015

Nina Conti

Nina Conti

You could go and see Nina Conti every night and be guaranteed of a different experience. It depends who’s in the crowd and Nina admits her audience are her show, but she is doing herself a disservice and she deserves credit for how clever she is.

Part of her act is dedicated to her alter ego – Monkey – a cheeky, naughty hand puppet, who has revived the forgotten act of ventriloquism. Who remembers the likes of Emu, Spit the Dog and Orville? They got the stuffing knocked out of them long ago and are now limply languishing in a puppet show in the sky. When ventriloquism is done well, it’s admirable and Nina has perfected the art. The test is when you actually start thinking Monkey is real – despite the fact you know he’s a furry sock with a squeezable face and a penchant for shouting the odd obscenity.

There’s one point during the show where Nina goes into a sleep and leaves the stage to Monkey to take over, rendering him speechless. It’s a strange and funny addition to the show, and the long protracted silence is eventually broken by the audience rousing Nina out of her slumber.

Nina Conti and Monkey

Nina Conti and Monkey

What about the audience? Her act depends largely on who turns up on the night, how willing they are to participate and how they behave on stage. It’s good to remember not to sit at the front, unless you have a bit of an exhibitionist streak and don’t mind the possibility of being dragged onto the stage and having a strange mask stuck on your face. What happens after that is anyone’s guess because Nina takes over the person’s persona by using the information she has gleaned from them. The results are hilarious. Some people become expressive in their movements when they are on the stage, while some others are more reserved.

Sometimes Nina has to control three audience members. She manages to keep a scenario going through conversation, by throwing the voices of three people, controlling their masks, while also using her own voice. It’s a tricky feat and requires a lot of quick thinking, dexterity and co-ordination. She makes it look seamless, but it’s totally unpredictable and you feel it could all go a bit wrong. She is however skilful in bringing the audience with her and her easy-going nature makes people relax.  There also seems to be anonymity behind the mask. Perhaps it allows people to hide and feel like they are someone else.

What about the real Nina Conti? She spends a lot of time occupying the minds, personalities  and voices of other people, so it’s interesting to try and figure out who she is.  Judging by her show, she’s a fine comedian who doesn’t take herself too seriously. At the end of the evening she pulled on a bright yellow skintight Morph suit which was back to front and poked fun at herself. She’s clever, quick-witted, fast-talking and someone you could hang out with at the bar. She’s probably never alone though and it’s likely she’ll pull a few friends out of her handbag to join you.

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Filed under Festivals, Scotland, Theatre reviews

Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill, Edinburgh, 30th April 2015

It was a perfect night to herald in the May Queen as a quiet calm descended over Edinburgh’s Calton Hill and an almost full moon lit up the way for the crowds that gathered.

Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill Edinburgh, 2015




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Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill Edinburgh, 2015

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Any martians visiting Earth that night dropping in on the grassy hillocks would have beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of their planet. They would have been met with nearly naked people painted red and dancing like demons, figures dressed as birds and animals, blowing on hooters, while others were covered in black paint and banging drums in a procession which announced the arrival of the May Queen.


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The night ended with the May Queen marrying the Green Man as a representation of spring and fertility.

Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill, Edinburgh, 2015



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May 31, 2015 · 10:45 pm

Music & Movies: Celtic Connections / Glasgow Film Festival – 2015

Music can make a movie. The right choice of music in a film can reduce you to tears in the first quiver of a carefully placed violin string.

At this year’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, composer Craig Armstrong showed how music can complement the silver screen. His concert at the city’s Royal Concert Hall displayed his compositions against a backdrop of the movies his works have featured in.Celtic Connections 2015 logo

Armstrong is the man Baz Luhrmann calls upon to wave a magical musical wand over Hollywood blockbusters such as Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby

As we watched film clips and listened to Armstrong playing piano accompanied by Scottish Opera’s Orchestra, he took time out to highlight other talented musicians, such as Clio Gould who played violin on The Great Gatsby.

Other films featured were The Quiet American and Peter Mullen’s Orphans as well as Oliver Stone’s The World Trade Center with cellist Alison Lawrance performing solo.

Films scores withstanding, Armstrong has his own works, with collaborations throughout the years including Jerry Burns and Elizabeth Fraser. His latest album, the sublime It’s Nearly Tomorrow, includes vocals from Jerry Burns, who also joined him on stage during this Celtic Connections performance.

Craig Armstrong - It's Nearly Tomorrow

And when the songstress took to the stage, there was an air of anticipation. Burns seemed slightly nervous during This Love, taken from album The Space Between Us, but when she sung Dust from It’s Nearly Tomorrow, she was totally at ease and it was truly magical.

Another highlight of the night was Love and Money’s James Grant who performed a cover version of Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy, a song which was used in Moulin Rouge!  Grant’s version rumbled with a deep soulful timbre scaling the heights to a cinematic explosion. The effect was out of a James Bond movie – think classic Shirley Bassey sending shivers up the spine with her 007 signature themes.

Jerry Burns and James Grant also collaborated on Powder from It’s Nearly Tomorrow, their  very different voices complementing each other.

Vocalists Katie O’Halloran and Lucia Fontaine also shone on One Day I’ll Fly Away and Crash.

If you haven’t already bought Craig Armstrong’s album It’s Nearly Tomorrow, it is highly recommended. You can also hear his works throughout the Thomas Vinterberg adaptation of Far From The Maddening Crowd, released in May 2015.
 Glasgow Film Festival 2015

Setting music to film also played a part at the Glasgow Film Festival, during an evening entitled A Night At The Regal, held at Glasgow’s 02 ABC.

This was an eclectic mix of music which included John B McKenna of Monoganon singing along to a home movie of himself as a toddler, his face illuminated by torch light, an experimental set by Edinburgh based eagleowl and Joe McAlinden singing vocals for Edit, a thought provoking short film.
Headlining the night was British Sea Power, who faced the screen and sung vocals to Penny Woolcock’s movie From The Sea To The Land Beyond.
It’s film which is a British social history lesson depicting everything from industrial heavyweights such as oil refineries and ship building to British holiday-makers frolicking on sandy beaches. The film footage is captivating as it passes through the decades and British Sea Power’s music proved a perfect fit and conveyed all emotions from the carefree holiday makers skipping on the beach to the heavy industry of the sea.
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Filed under Festivals, Film Reviews, Films, Glasgow, Glasgow Film Theatre, Music, Uncategorized

A Farewell to T in the Park – Balado


As the 21st T in the park drew to a close in July and said a final farewell to Balado, I was watching Calvin Harris from the comfort of my sofa and thinking about previous years.

At the Sunday Mail I was part of a team that covered T in the Park from 2001 to 2011. It’s Scotland’s biggest music festival and it was treated with respect. Our Editor wanted every band on every stage covered, no mean feat, especially as over the years T in the Park has grown exponentially.

The team was headed up by Sunday Mail Showbiz Editor Billy Sloan and one year the T in the Park coverage got off to a sticky start. I believe it was 2007. There had been huge traffic problems and when Billy and Sunday Mail Showbiz Writer Steve Hendry eventually arrived at Balado, some hours late, the ground was muddy, their car got stuck and they were going nowhere. Then in true Laurel & Hardy fashion, they got out to push, the wheels started spinning and they were covered from head to toe in dirt … And that was just the start of the weekend …

The press tent was often a bit of a tight squeeze as people sat close together and photographers always brought lots of gear. Then there was the time an unknown drunk person wandered into the tent and randomly swung a punch at someone, who was easily able to dodge the drunken fist before the staggering man ambled off elsewhere.

Armed with pieces of paper letting you know the running order of every stage, it was then time to get out on site and it was often the last time you saw your colleagues until the end of the day.

T in the Park - 2009

Working hard – Some of the Sunday Mail T in the Park team  – 2009

T in the Park has brought a huge amount of bands and musicians to Balado and I’ve seen some truly memorable performances over the years.

There’s been glamor, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt showed off an amazing washboard stomach in 2002, there’s been Fergie of Black Eyed Peas, while Lady Gaga and Kerry Perry fought to be the Queen of T 2009, and festival favourite Alison Goldfrapp always captivates. Lively and vibrant on stage were the Scissor Sisters in 2004 and 2007, with both Ana Matronic and Jake Shears equally bedazzling.

Gwen Stefani in 2002

Gwen Stefani in 2002

When the sun descends on a festival stretching out its long hazy afterglow, it becomes a magical moment. People at this point are usually merry and carefree. They haven’t quite tipped the scales into overindulgence, with its messy aftereffects. It’s also when most of the headline acts start appearing giving them a chance to shine.

Sunset at T in the Park

Sunset at T in the Park

And there’s been some amazing headliners at T in the Park. 2003 belonged to REM and The Flaming Lips. Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters were on top form in 2005, while you knew The Killers, with their slot some way down the bill on the main stage, would be back to headline. (They headlined in 2007). They’ve got the tunes, as crowd-pleaser All Those Things That I Have Done, is perfect singalong festival fodder and they’ve got Las Vegas style glamor, all padded shoulders and feathers, sported by front man Brandon Flowers.

The Killers - Brandon Flowers

The Killers – Brandon Flowers

Arcade Fire were third from the top on the main stage in 2007, and they rocked the crowd, although they seemed a bit bemused by the Scottish audience, and perhaps that’s why they never came back?

Apart from the headliners, there’s been lots of other stand outs. Maxi Jazz of Faithless getting the whole crowd jumping finger in the air to their massive anthem We Come One. Elbow and Doves always delight and unite with their blokeish but sensitive rock. There’s been Tim Booth’s James and the good-natured vibe of hit Sit Down, The Proclaimers will always make sure everyone is up for a party and Paolo Nutini’s mix of laid back style and feel good romp is always popular.

The feisty crowds that appear for Primal Scream, Kasabian and Oasis are always a challenge when you’re standing with a notebook and pen. You’re bumped around, dodging pints and fielding statements like “who are you writing for?” and “gonna write about me”.

Snow Patrol headlining the King Tut’s tent 2004 just before single Run was about to propel them into super stardom and change their lives, was a special moment. The reception they got just about brought the tent down.

Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody Picture Credit - All Posters

Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody
Picture Credit – All Posters

Then fast forward to 2009, and on the main stage Snow Patrol were just behind headliners Blur – who were playing a “will they / won’t they appear?” game – as guitarist Graham Coxon was hospitalized with suspected food poisoning. They made it eventually.

Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro have played at T in the Park more times than any other band. In 2014 they made their 10th appearance. They were signed as young band in 1999 after their first outing at T which was on the T Break Stage.

Biffy Clyro - T in the Park 2014

Biffy Clyro – T in the Park 2014

T in the Park is also a great place to discover new bands to love. A band that captured me at T was Sons & Daughters with a brilliant set that I raved about for ages afterwards.

And it’s good to see how bands progress through the years, like Snow Patrol, mentioned already, and also Calvin Harris. He was second to open the main stage in 2009 with an understated set – and look at his headline act this year. It had an announcement from Hollywood actor Will Smith and more lights than Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley’s house at Christmas.

In the earlier days of reporting T in the Park you phoned your copy into the Glasgow office to a team of dedicated copy-takers.  Later on the copy-takers in Glasgow were no more and you phoned your copy to a central team in England. There were quite a few challenges around this process. You had to find a quiet spot away from the stage, music, and throng of people, and a decent phone signal.  If you found a quiet spot, you suddenly became like Houdini, i.e. invisible, as drunk people were often also looking for a quiet spot … to pee. Then when you eventually got through to a copy-taker, read your carefully thought out words, you left the phone call wondering if your words would appear as you had said them. It made for a nervous pick up of the newspaper the following morning as you wondered if any musicians had suddenly joined other bands without them knowing it.

And there were deadlines, which meant a rush during the headliners to get all copy over as the editors and sub-editors were sitting waiting patiently / impatiently for words and photos to arrive.

At the end of the night everyone would get together again in the press tent, with sore feet and legs from standing or running about all day. We might have exchanged a few terse words during the day, it’s expected, but we still had a celebratory hug at the end.

T in the Park 2009

T in the Park 2009

T in the Park Balado is no-more … it will be interesting to see what next year’s T looks like in its new home.

Pic: from T in the Park

Pic: from T in the Park



For more information about T in the Park 2015:  T in the Park website

Tickets on sale now for 10th – 12th July 2015


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Filed under Festivals, Gig Reviews, Music, Scotland, T in the Park

Bothwell Scarecrow Festival September 2013

There wasn’t a yellow brick road, a cowardly lion or cold-hearted tin-man … but there were plenty of scarecrows. 


The Bothwell Scarecrow Festival has celebrated its third year. If you walked around the town during its two weeks in September you would be met by various straw-filled bodies as they adorned shop fronts, residents’ gardens and sometimes scaled walls and roof tops. There was even a “policeman” armed with a speed gun ready to catch unsuspecting drivers.

Bothwell Scarecrow Festival

Hanging out at the local nursery

Postman Pat gets his pockets picked by a young fan

Postman Pat gets his pockets picked by a young fan

Bothwell Scarecrow Festival

If I only had a brain I could read a newspaper

The festival has grown since its inception and there was a packed programme of events during the two weeks ranging from music to fun runs and food markets. Just over £16,000 was raised, with some of the funds going to Glasgow’s Yorkhill Hospital Children’s Foundation.


Stone the crows … a scarecrow comes to life

One new addition of this year’s festival was a vintage car display. And on a sunny Sunday, car enthusiasts and curious visitors descended upon a car park to glaze wistfully at the four-wheeled wonders all polished to perfection by proud and careful owners.











Lots of world famous names proudly showed off their shiny iconic emblems.


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And there were a few curve balls.


Until next year …



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November 2, 2013 · 8:30 am