Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

Scandinavian and Nordic folk stars visit Scotland

Anders Aasber, winner of Eurovision Choreography Prize 2009

1. Very hot male dancing

Anders Aasberg, winner of the Eurovision 2009 Choreography Prize will perform a Halling dance, a mixture of folk, breakdancing and streetdancing from Norway’s top dance group, Frikar

2. Norway’s sensational Folk Musician of the Year 2010

Sigrid Moldestad performs a range of exciting music, from Western fjords folk and blues to translations of Robert Burns songs.

“The songs are about love: the love you have experienced, the love you wanted to experience and of course the love that never happened!” Sigrid says.

3. Danish Folk Music Award 2009‘s Debut Album of the Year and Composer of the Year

Hal Parfitt-Murray (fiddle & voice) and Nikolaj Busk (keyboard / accordian) perform thrilling contemporary Danish folk from their award-winning ‘Hal & Nikolaj

4. Pushing forward Nu-Nordic collaborations

Fribo is a unique collaboration between Norwegian singer Anne Sofie Linge Valdal, Scottish fiddler Hannah Read and English born Ewan MacPherson on guitar. Described by Celtic Connections Festival as

“…one of the freshest and most inventive acts on the emerging ‘Nu-Nordic’ scene, exploring and creating links between British and Scandinavian traditions, with a deft peppering of wider contemporary influences.”

5.  A New Twist to Classic fiddle tunes and the nyckelharpa

Celtic Nyckelharpa Project will be performing tracks from their recently produced first album of Scotish and Irish dance music using the unique sound of the nyckelharpa (a Swedish keyed fiddle, similar to the hurdy gurdy) to produce a sound that is ancient and yet revolutionary.

Sigrid Moldestad

6. Danish Dancing, old school and new

The Dancing Danes will be showcasing competitive Danish male dances as well as couples dancing both contemporary and with old school flavours.

7. Ever fancied learning the Jew’s Harp?

Two-Hour Jew’s Harp Workshop with Ewan Macpherson one of the first ever students from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

8. Curious about Halling?

Halling Norwegian Male Dance Workshop with top dancer and choreographer Anders Aasberg

9. Superb Slavic and Norse folklore for kids

Children’s Folklore Session with James MacDonald Reid (artistic director of the Drumalban Folk Ensemble) who will lead this Slavic and Norse folklore story-telling hour, for ages 5+

All performances at the Pleasance, Edinburgh on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd April (Sunday performances in Glasgow at Glasgow University Union)

The Northern Streams Festival is part of Ceilidh Culture,  Edinburgh’s annual traditional arts festival which finishes with a street fair in Castle St and Princes St between 22nd and 25th April.

All tickets from Usher Hall, Lothian Rd, Edinburgh or or on the door.

For more information and times, see here


Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills is an Aesthete.  An international one, at that.  [Noun: A person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty].  You know the type: lofty vowels, airy arms and wafting sibilants.

Their buzzword bingos are ‘exquisite’, ‘engagement’ and ‘occupying spaces’.

I haven’t met one of those in a long time.  There aren’t many down Leith.

If you spot one, they’re normally being bundled into a cab outside one of our 5* restaurants, inhaling a lung-full of harbour before they fly off.

They are such a rare species I get twitchy frissons every time I encounter one.  How do they get like that? Is it years of training or do they breed them just so?

So I asked him.  I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Mills at the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival‘s 2011 programme at The Hub. The large hall was full of international arts press and festooned with giant dahlias and chrysanthemums on enormous plinths.

The exotic flowers were obviously in keeping with the front cover of the programme, although it did look a lot like an international drug dealer’s funeral.

Jonathan Mills delivered a brilliant presentation on the up-coming programme for this year, took questions deftly from the press then took individual interviews with a select few.  Obviously an accomplished media conductor.

The Programme 2011

He reminded us that opera was not simply a western genre and enthused about experiencing ‘The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan‘ – a Chinese opera based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet which is a sweeping, symbolic dance, graceful singing, subtle mime and compelling marital arts. (No jokes about Zennadine, the prince of football, please)

Wu Hsing-Kuo's King Lear

King Lear is also a must-see. Written, directed and performed by Wu Hsing-Kuo, with a cast of one, Mr Mills described it as “a very solitary play and a tour de force” where Wu Hsing-kuo depicts all the characters, including his own identity as the actor.

Shen Wei was the principle choreographer behind the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now based in New York.  His ‘Re-Triptych‘ is a ballet which takes a “distinguished look at life lived at a distance” using inspiration from Tibet, Cambodia and China’s Silk Road.

Another piece that looks pretty darn stunning is ‘One Thousand and One Nights‘ in two parts, performed by actors, musicians and a creative team from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Paris and London.  It’s a new erotic, brutal, witty and poetic production which is not suitable for kids.  That’s my type of art, that is.

I’ve only mentioned four pieces out of the 95 you can choose from.  Do have a look at the programme and expand your eyes and ears for 2011.  High art may seem irrelevant when remortgages, repossessions and reactionaries can be one’s sole preoccupation (see, these ‘ones’ are infectious) but there’s a very good reason to go.

Experiencing great art is like eating at a 5* restaurant.  You may not like individual flavours and concoctions but the process and challenges of savouring the exquisite professionalism and skill that have gone into presenting the fare explodes your senses in a way that fish and chips art can’t.

The Interview

I had to wait hours but it was worth it.  Up close and personal, he’s a likeable kinda guy but I was very nervous and very, very star-struck.  After all, the Edinburgh International Festival has always played a large part in my life.  Whether just the fireworks, the crowds, the congestion, the packed jolly bars or just the crazy eccentric people you can sometimes loathe and sometimes adore.

Here, in the flesh, was the impressario behind all the summer madness.  The curator of Edinburgh‘s cultural capital. The capo di capo of the international arts scene.

At what age does one decide one’s ambition is to be an international festival director? (Do excuse my language, there are a lot of ‘ones’ in Aesthetia. Trust me, I talk Aesthetish).

Never.  I am first and foremost a composer.  I was a composer before embarking on this.  When I finish, I will go back to composing and conducting.  I happened to start a little festival while at University and it just grew from there.  I was invited to do this as an artist, not as a project manager.

Mr Mills demurs though. He also holds a degree in architecture and is an authority on acoustic design.  Mr Mills began his artistic career studying composition in Australia and then piano and composition in Italy before becoming Melbourne’s Festival Director.

What is the significance of the Shamrock Chrysanthemum you have chosen to front your programme?

When working with our designers, we wanted something exotic and exquisite, which symbolised the Far East and the cross-over.  We wanted gorgeous flowers that are unfolding and poignant. We wanted fragrance, particularly in the atmosphere, where the audience can be enveloped and cherished, loved, and loved too briefly, before they are lost.

When somebody makes statements like that, for me, unfortunately, there are only two options.  Either I come over all jaiksey and say:

“likes-eh, you nevuh thocht aboot usin the thistle, likes? Cos it’s wur ain, and I’m sure they’ve goat sum doon yon Silk Road too, aye?”

Or, I get swept along by the pungent prose and exquisite enthusiasm.  Thankfully, I got with the latter.

When making the selection for the programme, you are basically reading the artistic runes of the international community? What influences those decisions?  Is it other arts festivals?  Funding?  Politics?  Or is it all pure art?

I am an artist. I choose what’s good, exciting, challenging and sublime. I travel around the world and experience much art.  If it’s brilliant, I select and bring it to the Edinburgh and international audience here.

So, how do you measure your success?

I don’t. I want an engagement with the audience. The ideas should reflect and challenge themselves.  Artists are given the opportunity to occupy space reflective of our and their ambitions.

What’s been your greatest failure, and how did you learn from it?

I’ve never had failure.  The Edinburgh International Festival is a roller coaster where there’s no getting off.  Of course there are a myriad of small things that go wrong, and likewise an infinite variety of things that go unexpectedly well.  There are surprises both ways.

But ultimately it’s never about MY success.  It’s the artists’ success.  I’ve passed them the envelope, they’ve stepped onto the international stage and allowed their art to thrive.  When that happens, that’s what I call success.

Shamrock chrysanthemum

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12th August till 4th September 2011.  Tickets start at around £10 but with discounts can be even cheaper and booking starts on 2nd April 2011.

© Fin Wycherley

You can also read this post, with some ever so dainty edits, on the Guardian Edinburgh site here or go to

The Snow Queen ©Alan McCredie

When I was young(er) all the usual role models for little girls were lame.

Their function was to be vacuous receptors of praise about their looks, cooking, cleaning and being a great mum.

It was a type of mass hysteria on behalf of the male hegemony (thaim wot got the power, likes) who commissioned, created, manufactured and published those ‘lovely liddle women’.

But fiest will out.

Instead, many of us underground tweenie feminists found our radical inspiration in unusual places.  The Snow Queen was a favourite, along with Cruella DeVille and Baba Yaga.

These characters were single, powerful, rich and witty, oh and beautiful. Despite our need for power and wit, us proto-feminists still cleaved to the beauty myth.

These characters were also evil: stealing children, cooking them and skinning cute animals.  But us pre-pubescent radicals did not buy it.

We figured it was just bad PR and propaganda by the enemy. Men were spiking our heroines to make sure they were thoroughly unlikeable and not role-modelable.  The same way witches were castigated for being single childless women with property needing to be confiscated.

But those days are over. We can find role models of women-with-power wielding it responsibly all around us. We don’t need to turn to the evil ones for inspiration.   Or do we?

I was fearful about taking my 7 year old daughter to see the Lyceum’s new Snow Queen.  Not for her, but for womankind.

After all, if wee Zazou had chosen the Snow Queen, it would mean we had not progressed one iota.   Who are the role models for the noughtie girls of today?

Thankfully, reporting from the gender wars frontline, I can report to the troops that she chose …dugh dugh … dugh dugh … dugh dugh… (giving it an X Factor delay) … COBWEB SPIDER as her favourite character, yay.

Or does that mean more bad news?  Cobweb Spider works for the Snow Queen but when he (yes, he’s a bloke) doesn’t get sufficiently rewarded for his labours, decides to support the goodies.  On the one hand, a chancer, on the other, a turncoat and opportunist.

Go see the production and take a young girl, or even a boy, for that matter.  There is a full range of characters and role models to chose from. Pantomimes and children’s theatre are the best introduction to theatre.  Find out their favourite character then analyse at leisure.

A brilliant show full of lovely scenery and music, great acting, most of the panto conventions (he’s behind you, oh no she isn’t …), great humour and especially the lovely special effect of falling snow on the audience just before the break.  As a tribute, I’ve done the same for this blog.

The Snow Queen continues till 31 December. You can hear Zazou’s brief review on Leith Tonight radio show – the arts and culture centre of excellence in East Central Scotland here.

©Fin Wycherley

Other Related Articles

Four and Five stars from the media in Scotland


Lyken's Brugal tribute


On Friday and Saturday 15th and 16th October, five professional street artists took over Castle St in Edinburgh.

The brief?  To be inspired by Brugal, a new rum launching around the UK, on a four giant wooden canvases.

“Was pretty dopers to paint a massive space just off Princes St in Edinburgh,” said Lyken who trained at Dundee Uni and loves the vibe of urban art.

Lyken, along with his colleagues from the Recoat artists agency in Glasgow, gets commissioned by everyone from Amnesty International to Edinburgh Fest Magazine, in streets, on canvas and in bars.


Conzo's RBS for AMNESTY


“I was painting right on the dancefloor in front of a DJ booth once so I’m fairly sure a bunch of folk will have woken up with multi coloured acrylic smeared across them as they bumped into the board!”

“So what do you think about being pimped by the man?” I asked.  This latest commission had come courtesy of Edrington, the Perthshire whisky gurus (Macallan, The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, etc) who recently acquired their first rum.

“Hey, no problem.  It’s a pleasure to get to work on such a massive scale in a great part of Edinburgh where maybe some new faces will see my work for the first time.”

“As an artist, it’s a real blast to be out there.  Plus the money helps.  One day I’ll be able to buy my friends real presents rather than giving them the equivalent of a home made card made with macaroni & glitter.”

On the other side of the large square installation, there was Rekur and Syrkus.  They do large-scale pieces together, full of chunky shapes and weird, twisted characters. They are inspired by pop, Japanese, street, and Rockabilly culture and love meeting artists and traveling when they can.

Conzo, has also been around the world with his art.

“”I am from a little town outside Glasgow known for its inbreeding, missing green lights and love for sausage rolls.  Add in a few spraycan markers into the equation and you have an idea of what inspires my style.”


Rekor + Syrkus


Vues, the fifth artist on show in Castle Street, is a Canadian artist who lives and works in Scotland. He has painted internationally and recently won a place in the Scotland ‘Secret Wars’ team for the renowned Euro League of 2009/2010.

“It’s like performance art,” said Vues.  “You get to see folk’s reactions as you’re painting.  That inspires you more.”

Street Wars

Street artists, like their brethern, Hip Hop Dancers are never more happy when battling.  At Graff-Offs, or Street Wars, they do international competitions against tough competitors.

This year’s venue was Glasgow’s Sub Club: “Sixteen cities all over Europe throughout 2010 will battle it out for the right to call themselves European Champions of Live Art,” announced Secret Wars Euro League.

Armed with sponsorships, live TV in different countries from Lisbon to Poland, merchandising, rappers and groupies.  It’s a different world for talented artists of today.

“Ha, what can I say,” said Conzo, cheesing.  “We went, we partied, we battled and painted.”

©Fin Wycherley

This article is brought to you courtesy of one pimped t-shirt by Conzo; a very fine whole bottle of Brugal, and a blue Brugal t-shirt.  Peace, out.

Sir James Guthrie's To Pastures New

Just to show how unprejudiced we be, LeithTonight paid a visit to Glasgow for the stunning ‘Glasgow Boys’ exhibition.

There’s not much time left to see it: it finishes on 27th September but it is worth the trip.

Why?  Well, it’s always nice to drive through to cheery Glasgow with the perennial west coast rain bouncing off yer windscreen.

2ndly, it’s always good, aesthetically-speaking, to get a grip on one’s own cultural and artistic national heritage.

Willie, Old Wurthy - James Guthrie

And 3rdly, the blond and I were gagging for soup but couldn’t take the queue outside the Kelvingrove Museum cafe so we dived into an incredible wee bistro right in front of the entrance.

The Pelican Cafe had only been open 15 days.  With trendy booths, a family-friendly atmosphere & fresh paint on the walls, it had already developed that most prized and rarely achieved great smell that comes from a great kitchen.

The Pelican offers such sumptualities as Ham hock & Fois Gras with home-made piccalilli, Chorizo & Leek Soup, Salmon, Crab and a veritable cornucopia of fine dining.  Two starters and two mains came to an astonishing £20 quid.

Add £7 for the fabby glasses of chilled white wine and you have two uber-sated quines-wot-lunch with only one hour to race round the exhibition before it closes, agh!

A real find.  Do go, and say LeithTonight says hi.

The Masterclass

Guthrie, A Hind's Daughter

The Glasgow Boys consist of 19 blokes and one female, Bessie MacNicol, who painted around 1870 – 1910.  Most of them were trained in, or had strong ties to the city of Glasgow.  They were passionate about realism and naturalism and were united by a hatred of the snobby Edinburgh-oriented Scottish art establishment.

The main boys consisted of Joseph CrawhallThomas Corson MortonThomas Millie DowSir James Guthrie and James Paterson and were friends who hung out and were inspired by each other. Initially, they painted in rural areas around France and the East coast of Scotland (because of the light) like Cockburnspath.

Later, they searched for the exotic in Japan and Spain, and more middle class subjects in the West coast in order to satisfy their burgeoning middle class consumers and to shift more product.

Early period

Sir John Lavery's The Goose Girls

The Glasgow Boys’ imagination was caught by cabbages.  Lots of cabbages.  They didn’t stop at cabbages.  They did cabbage patches and cabbage cutters.  All with a prosaic eye towards the realism of Scottish rural life.

Among the cabbages, you can find cottages, peasants, carpenters, gamekeeper’s daughters, high horizons with dominant figures, clogs, orchards, woodland, potato planting, hedgecutters, women that sewed (‘sewers’ just doesn’t seem right), washer women, cattle, goatherds, influences of stained glass, Glasgow International Exhibition 1888 and a whole lorra geese.

Later period

Henry and Hornel, The Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe (1890)

Pattern and design became more important than detail.  Paintings became more impressionistic with a strong influence from the frozen movement of the new photography.

While the early period had been about the real Scotland, the later period saw the artists with families to feed and bills to pay.  They catered more to the growing middle classes in Helensburgh, Cathcart and Paisley (honestly, that’s what it said on the wa’!)  Sir William Burrell, the art impressario of the time, even funded Henry and Hornel’s trips to the far east to capture the market in ‘the exotic’.

Horizons and perspective were out.  Claustrophic subjects from literature, folklore, Japan and Spain were in.

Stuart Park's Roses

Sunshine, picnics, boating, tennis, cycling, Stirling railway station, pastels, the Pascha, Japanese ladies and landscapes with a slash of exotic red, the Middle East, blottesque and the birth of those quaint, chintzy rabbits, donkeys, pigeons, aviaries and roses you can see all over John Lewis and other department stores of that ilk.

At the end of their careers, some of the boys became part of the establishment, some worked in foreign fields, many influenced the Scottish artists of the future, but as Rob MaCauley Stevenson said:

“At heart, we were just the boys.”

George Henry's Japanese Lady with a Fan

Prices are £5 and £3 concessions and it should take about 3 hours to go round the 140 paintings lovingly displayed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Although at a canter, it can be done in one.

© Fin Wycherley

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know.

Related Articles

  • The Scotsman review
  • Times Educational Supplement review
  • The Herald review
  • The Glasgow Boys Beat Van Gogh for Visitors at Kelvingrove, The Herald, Sun 19th Sept 2010

@ James Christie

The Edinburgh International Festival has finished, boo.  Viva EIF 2011, yay!

The monocyclers have pedaled off to the train station; the hoardings, venues and posters are being pulled down, and the restaurants, hotels and cafés have tumbleweed whistling through their corridors.

“If we had the Festival all year round, I’d be able to retire to Ibiza in a few year” said one taxi driver.

With the help of Leith FM’s sparkly new arts and culture blog, the Edinburgh International Festival has smashed box-office records (he he).

A record 50% of buyers came from Edinburgh post codes, and more than half the entire city shared the fireworks experience (250,000), from under- to over-privileged Edinburgensians, to al flagrante breast-feeding mums and al fragrante zimmer-toting aulds.

The blog is an offshoot of the arts and culture radio show on Edinburgh’s local community radio station, Leith FM 98.8.  It has been praised by the likes of Lesley Riddoch (“excellent”), the Guardian (“inspired”) and EIF (“brilliant”).

“I definitely think we should continue,” said Annabel Cooper, presenter.  “There is a real gap in the market for some down-to-earth reporting.”

The Edinburgh International Festival tickets is such good value for money.

“Once you get your student, unemployed, YoungScot or OAP concessions, you can score a ticket for as little as £6,” said Andrew Moir, presenter.  “That’s a far better deal than the Fringe can offer, except for Free Fringe events of course.”

Commentators have questioned the professionalism and abilities of the huge upsurge in amateur bloggers.  “Who is reviewing the reviewers”, asked the Guardian theatre blogger Bella Todd.

“The vast majority of the audience don’t have PHds in the Arts and neither do we,” said Jonathan Hartley, presenter.  “We are grassroots, up-and-coming journalists who know how difficult it is to part with cash.  The professionals might say it’s a great play for its artistic merits or because they are embedded with the luvvies.  But is it actually enjoyable?  That’s what we go for.”

With the threatened cuts coming upstream for the Festivals, the Leith Tonight team decided to take a stand.

“The International Festival is like international football,” said Fin, guru and visionary behind the arts and culture radio show and blog.

“Every other day, you watch local teams battling it out on the pitch.  Once in a blue moon, you get to see  international teams like AC Milan or Barcelona play on your own home turf.”

“The International Festival director, Jonathan Mills, scours the entire globe for the cutting-edge excellence in dance, theatre, opera and  music and brings them home to Edinburgh for us to savour.

“And you can still get change from a tenner.”

The EIF achieved the highest ticket sales income in its 62-year history, with more than £2.67 million taken at the box office, representing 3% more than last year.

“We’ve had a successful year financially, which is fantastic, but what is more important, I believe, is that we have more than measured up to our name,” said director Jonathan Mills.

Economic & Social Impact

Edinburgh’s population is over 450,000, but that figure swells to well over 1 million during its famous festivals in August.  The Edinburgh Festivals 2004-5 Economic Impact Survey estimates that the Edinburgh summer festivals generate £126.5m for Edinburgh, support 2,500 jobs, and contribute £134.7m for Scotland as a whole.

Edinburgh was voted 10th in the world’s top cities; 13th in the list of the cities with the most vibrant culture, and 19th in a list of cities with the best quality of life.  Edinburgh International Festival came third in the Best Festival Cities, pipped to the post for first place by the Rio Carnival and Womad music festival.

For every £1 the public purse invests in the Festivals, they deliver a £60 return to Scotland.

That’s the cheapest way to make Edinburgh the fun and international place it is.  And what’s more, you get to feed your soul.  That’s more than straight tourism investment could ever achieve.

Leith Tonight Awards

In time-honoured fashion, Leith Tonight is handing out the LeithTonight Awards for the top experiences  during the Festivals.


Hottest Male Artist Award goes to falsetto singer and mass murderer, Adrian George Popescu who played the role of Cortes in the critic-slated but LeithTonight-adored opera, Montezuma.  Popescu flashed the first operatic male penis ever witnessed by the Leith team during a particularly debauched love scene and fond memories have been regularly revived ever since.

Hottest Female Artist Award goes to No Fit State‘s high-heeled tight-rope walker who rolled a joint and showered while performing some spectacular balancing activities.

Friendliest Audience Award goes to all the lovely greys at Purcell’s Indian Queen for their enthusiastic chat and inquisitive nature.

We will be back regularly throughout the year.

© Fin Wycherley


This is a tough gig, you know.  It may look like fun to you.  Parties, press launches, world premieres, hobnobbing with artists and journalists …

Well, it is fun really.  So I’ll shut up on that one.

But then you have to write about it.  Be balanced AND opinionated.  Critical AND considerate.  Informative AND entertaining.  Ask questions without causing offence.  Ha, now there’s a wee coorin timrous beastie!

On Tuesday 31st August, I had the pleasure of an audience with Her Excellency, the 37th Governor of New South Wales, who with her delicious praise for Scotland, was truly spoiling us.

Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO is a most charming lady who could have been a muse for Modigliani with her sharp angular face and 1920’s bob.

Her Excellency Marie Bashir

She spoke eloquently and at length, at The Hub, in front of hundreds of academics, cultural commentators and Festival artists.  It was for the Edinburgh International Festival’s Explorations Series where everyone

“comes together offering a fascinating opportunity to exchange ideas and understanding on quests from the past and journeys into the future.”

Lachlan Macquarie by John Opie (1761-1807)

Lachlan Macquarie, was the subject, 5th Governor of New South Wales who, as a son of the Hebrides and the ‘Father of Australia‘ in the early 1800s, established a Native Institution on the outskirts of settled civilisation.

Macquarie was at the forefront of stealing children from their families and forcing them to be educated, churched and abused by the marauding European hordes.  All this was achieved after the aboriginal nations had been driven from their ancestral land and claimed for the Empire.

Well, that’s not strictly how Her Majesty put it.

In describing Macquarie, we heard phrases like political harmony, social stability, egalitarianism, emancipator, benevolence, tolerance for dissenters, nation builder …

I’m not trying to decry the honourable Macquarie or Her Supremacy for their great and munificent works and words.

But …

Nelson Mandela

I wonder if Mr Nelson Mandela would agree with this interpretation of history?  After all, both South Africa and Australia suffered industrialised genocide, slavery, rapes and land confiscation at the hands of white settlers bringing ‘civilisation’.

There may have been one or two individuals who tried to lessen the murderous devastation wreaked on indigenous populations.  But facts is facts.  Europeans culled the indigenous Australian population by 90%, brought lynchings, disease, a denial of human and political rights, confiscation of children and the hunting of human beings as sport.

When Her Excellency was asked by a member of the mainly Australian audience whether she could paint a less rosy picture of Macquarie, she answered thus:

European sport

“No human is perfect.  In many ways you could say Macquarie was narcissistic because so many roads, buildings, bridges and towns are named after him.  You could say he was also easily hurt and suffered a kind of depression when he was driven out of office.

The question of the treatment of aborigines is another issue.  But I would say he lost patience with them.  This was precipitated by their unacceptable behaviour due to the fact that they had misinterpreted his generosity.  He set them up in farms and schools, removed children from their parents and forced them to work.  He was a military man of his times.

But by and large he was full of compassion and courage.  In fact, when he was in Bombay, he instructed his soldiers to behave with respect towards the Indian population.”


This was a speech worthy of Hendrick Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, and the whole colonialist, patriarchal ‘land of the free’ class.

From North to South America, from Africa to Australasia and from Asia to the Caribbean and the South Pacific, the Europeans were called ‘Devils’ because they preached on a Sunday and nation-destroyed Monday till Saturday.

Her Excellency Marie Bashir did mention the national apology of 2006 when the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised for stealing generations of children from their parents right up until 1969.  But they refused to offer compensation or an apology for the genocide.  As they say, talk is cheap.

Despite accounting for 2.5% of the population, indigenous juveniles constitute 59% of all in detention.  The most common offence by Indigenous prisoners is ‘acts intended to cause injury’ (32 per cent).  Life expectancy is 17 years less than whites.

Myall Creek Massacre 1841

This Edinburgh International Festival has been about Oceans Apart: the European explorers and brutal suppressions, the coloniser and the colonised and the impact each have had on each other.  As such, it has been a poignant reminder of the Freedom legacy that Enlightenment brought to those that conquered.

The current Western empire-building in Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer based on land, but resources.  These wars were promoted under the promise of bringing Freedom and Democracy to the downtrodden natives.

When they’ve finished totting up the death toll and adding up the bank balance, I wonder which side of Enlightenment the history books will fall.

It also made me sad that an ambitious person like Marie Bashir, with perhaps a good heart and great skills, would act as an apologist for one of the most brutal periods in history.  Macquarie may very well have been an honourable sort of fella.  Fair dinkum.  But the legacy?

As they say in South Africa, “When a white guy comes around promising freedom, you know somebody’s going to be dead by sundown.”

Check this video on the Indigenous Australian Genocide

© Fin Wycherley

Paul Higgins as William Paterson

As a patriotic Scot, I was incensed by Caledonia, the new national offering from the National Theatre of Scotland, at the Kings Theatre last night.

If the English had produced it there would have been outrage.

The Scots were greedy, arrogant, stupid, vulgar drunkard and sanctimonious to a man.  And the women were merely fey and wan attendants.

The aristocrats were fat and lazy, the middle classes were self-serving and the poor were uncouth drunkards (no change there, then).  Nobody escaped the self-loathing and false consciousness of this scotching poison pen.

They strutted the stage with melodramatic gestures, sang crude songs, scoffed out of large troughs with arses raised, conquered a swamp and died in their thousands.  This could have been written by AA Gill about the Welsh.

In between they sang Brechtian folk songs about how ‘History is written by the Winners’ and ‘Dumbala Dumba’ and the Spanish ambassador claimed that while he was only a quarter Scot,

“I am still not as foolish as the Scots.”

Meanwhile, William Paterson, the founder of the Bank of Scotland and mastermind of the Darien Scheme, stood with visionary foot on bucket like an early day Oor Wullie.

Dumb and dumber

The first joke alluding to the bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland, raised a wry laugh from the audience.  “The Bank in whose name all men may trust”.

But by the 15th wise crack, it had grown into a tumbleweed chasm which had swallowed up the production whole.

No wonder the author scurried back to London a week before the World Premiere, and refused to talk to the Press ever since.

The cast

It was a cross between Horrible Histories for children, panto …

“Bits of Monty Python, Blackadder and The Muppets but not equalling the sum of those parts,” said Soapyfrogs on Twitter.

Following the law of unintended consequences, we must be grateful for the fact that the Darien Scheme failed since although it was coyly refered to as ‘trade’ it was actually to get a piece of the human flesh action, or slave trade.

After making his fortune in the ‘West Indies’, Paterson certainly had a fair idea of the money was to be made.

Wouldnt it have been more interesting to investigate whether Paterson was a plant by the English?  For centuries, the English had warred with their feisty neighbours, but this brilliant scheme was all it took for the Scots to go cap in hand and sue for union with their sworn enemy.  Had they not been bankrupted by this scheme, would the Union have taken place?

I feel sorry for Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External Affairs who blurbs,

“I am delighted we are supporting this new and exciting piece of theatre.”

Really?  Methinks an SNP MSP would have told the National Theatre of Scotland tae bolt if she’d actually read the script.

It is the story of how Scotland bankrupted itself then had to get a bail out from England.  The price?  Independence.  Nine years later the two mortal enemies became the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

The performances were impressive, as panto actors can be, but they did not have enough to get their teeth into.  Characters drunk and debauched at the beginning remained drunk and debauched at the end.  The sanctimonious Presbyterian preacher, played for laughs by Paul Blair, remained the same.

The only character that went through any developmental arc was William Patterson, played by Paul Higgins, and he was a less than sympathetic character.  Greedy, foolish, short-sighted and ambitious, he was portrayed as the villain that lost Scotland’s pride and wealth, much the same as Fred the Shred losing RBS.

(But did he?  Really?  When the rest of Anglo-Saxon bankerdom did the very same thing because there was an inadequate regulatory framework to reign in the excesses of capitalism? Wasn’t he an easy scapegoat, a smokescreen for the lack of state regulation?)

There was nothing for the audience to get their teeth into emotionally, except for the laughs, buffoonery and slapstick.

By the time the 2nd Act came, and the piece became  more serious, the lack of empathy, conflict and compelling plot became exposed and the audience lost its appetite.  Polite applause was the reception and a deathly silence on Twitter.

To be fair, the audience loved the humour in the first half but when they realised the jokes were on them, as mocked Scots, the laughter faded rapidly.

Caledonia, written by Alistair Beaton; produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival and directed by Anthony Neilson


The Prison Industrial Complex is a theory that describes how the USA has chosen to deal with economically unviable individuals and communities.

The theory suggests governing authorities  have decided that it is better to flood areas of high social deprivation with drugs, watch the inhabitants fight it out, then imprison the flotsam and jetsum.  Why?  It is cheaper than supporting petty criminals through the benefit system and diversionary support system, thus costing the tax payer millions.

Putting someone in jail (£22k in Scotland in HMP Saughton, Edinburgh) is more economically sustainable because the miscreant provides a massive increase in agents of social supervision: wardens, socials workers, lawyers, judges, criminologists, etc.

The Prison Industrial Complex also supports a rapid prison-building program with all the required ancillary services provided by the public, private and third sectors. Thus regenerating local economies previously devastated by economic crises.

Plus, it keeps poor people out of the voting system.  And it stops them breeding during their most fertile years.  Bonus! for the agents of social control.

The theory comes from leading criminologists in the USA who have concluded that strategies like ‘War on Crime’ and ‘War on Drugs’ are nothing less than wars on economically disadvanted communities.  According to Human Rights Watch, “black people comprise 13% of the US population, 30% of people arrested an 40% of those in prison.”

Lets look at the evidence …

Topping the World League in Cocaine

Today, Scotland was officially identified by the United Nations as the country with the biggest cocaine habit in the world.

A study by the UN reveals that more people per head of the population use cocaine in Scotland than anywhere else.

The UN World Drug Report found that 3.7 per cent of the adult population in Scotland used cocaine in 2009, the same level as in 2005 but almost three times as high as in 2000.

By contrast, in the United States, which is perceived to have a huge cocaine problem, the level of usage was 2.6 per cent of the adult population aged 16 to 59.

The global cocaine market is estimated to be worth £60bn and in Europe the number of users doubled to 4.1 million in the last 10 years.

Researchers for the UN said of cocaine use: “The only major European market showing an increase is the United Kingdom. The highest prevalence of cocaine use in Europe is found in Scotland. The United Kingdom is thus overall Europe’s largest cocaine market in absolute numbers with some 1.2 million users in 2009.”

Unofficial figures from government suggest that the overall drugs industry in Scotland is worth £12bn to the economy.

Our intrepid crime reduction special task force is working tirelessly on cleaning up the trade in Scotland.  The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) seized 105kg of class A substances worth a paltry £21m last year.

The official reason for the increase in cocaine use is that Colombian producers have been forced to look for new markets after authorities cracked down on supply chains to the US.

The last party I attended in Edinburgh was a very gregarious affair.  It comprised the usual mix of 30 and 40 year old social workers, middle management bank employees and small business owners in the local community.  By midnight the party was in full flow and everyone was wanting to take it to another level.  A pile of £10 and £20 notes started piling up on the side of the table and furtive mobile calls were being made.

“What’s that for?” I enquired naively. “Well, if you want to chip-in for some coke, please do.”

An hour later, huge white lines were being cut and divided with poetic artistry.  I left, feeling like the designated driver at a Roman orgy, surprised that Edinburgh parties had come to this in such a short time.

Prof Neil McKeganey

Predictions Were Well Known

Yet all this was predicted on January 1st 2006.  Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, said: “We certainly know that there are many, many more people using cocaine than there were even five years ago.”

“COCAINE could overtake heroin in the next few years as Scotland’s main drugs problem, a leading researcher has warned.”

“And it is possible in Scotland that over the next five or so years cocaine could even overtake heroin as the major drug problem.”

Professor Neil McKeganey’s research suggested that more than 50,000 children in Scotland have been exposed to drug addiction at home.

And so it has come to pass.

Remember, when you read the stats that they refer to percentages of total population.  In the USA, they have reduced the stats to population segments to find that a disproportionate amount of black people are enslaved by the prison industrial complex.

In Scotland, we must find the stats that describe the amount of people living in areas of multiple social deprivation.  We would probably find that 40% of economically disadvantaged people in certain Dundee and Glasgow (top of the drug misuse charts) wards are also enslaved by the justice system.

Topping the European League in Sending People to Prison

Scotland sends more of its people to prison on a daily basis than any other country in Europe including Russia and Turkey, according to research in 2005.

Scotland sends more of its people to prison on a daily basis than any other country in Europe including Russia and Turkey, according to new research.

More Scots per 100,000 inhabitants are sent to jail than 48 other countries, including Albania, Austria and Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.

The Council of Europe’s penal statistics place Scotland at the top of a league table of flow of entry to prisons – despite the promises of successive ministers to curb the numbers.

The figures show that 753.9 people are sent to prison per 100,000 inhabitants with England far behind at 253. Second is Switzerland, with Moldova third.

Scotland already has one of the highest per capita prison populations in Europe but this is the first time it has topped any of the European prison league tables.

Topping the World League of Most Violent Countries

Violent crime has doubled in Scotland over the past 20 years and levels, per head of population, are now comparable with cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Tbilisi.

The study, based on telephone interviews with victims of crime in 21 countries, found that more than 2,000 Scots were attacked every week, almost ten times the official police figures. They include non-sexual crimes of violence and serious assaults.

The study, by the UN’s crime research institute, found that 3 per cent of Scots had been victims of assault compared with 1.2 per cent in America and just 0.1 per cent in Japan, 0.2 per cent in Italy and 0.8 per cent in Austria. In England and Wales the figure was 2.8 per cent.

Rates of functional illiteracy are record high and growing. About 50 per cent of that figure are “functionally illiterate” – below SQA intermediate level 1 – according to the Scottish Prison Service.

Is any of this preventable?  Is anybody responsible?  Or is this impoverished nation just another statistic in the Prison Industrial Complex?