National Collective, the campaign of artists and writers for independence held the first of their Edinburgh festival shows last night. Referendum TV’s Sarah Beattie-Smith went along to check it out.
In the dark, cosy theatre of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, some of Scotland’s biggest and best known writers, poets, artists, playwrights and musicians will be sharing the stage with up and coming talent from across the cultural spectrum throughout the festival. The first of National Collective’s festival gigs was no different with Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead following Scottish/Scandinavian folk duo Rona Wilkie and Marit Falt, London based poet Robert Somynne and playwright Keiran Hurley as well as a screening of Scotland Is – a short film illuminating Scotland’s place in the world.
Robert Somynne opened the show with a performance of Fishers of Men – a poem featured in the National Collective book Inspired by Independence. Full of imagery of new beginnings and a chance, taken, the performance evoked thoughts of shepherds herding a flock and fishermen in a nod to Norman MacCaig.
Scotland Is followed the young poet. The film by Andy Summers and Ross Aitchison, two Edinburgh based architects asks not just who are we, but where is our place in the world. The short film with simple and evocative imagery shows just how big Scotland is in comparison to our neighbours and some nations further afield, addressing the idea that we’re “too wee” to be independent. Accompanied by the harp playing of Rachel Newton, the film clearly had the audience making appreciative “huh” noises as if to say “I’d never thought of us like that”. A beautiful and thought provoking film.
Playwright Kieran Hurley followed and injected some humour and poignancy into the evening. Reading out imagined letters between him and a character called Jack, Hurley played both the part of himself and Jack – a composite of his English independence-doubting friends. Starting with the kind of conversations that many Scots will have had with English friends and family, Jack asks why Kieran wants them to become foreigners. Accusations of racism, betrayal and hurt swiftly follow and the dialogue becomes difficult, painful even for both imaginary sides. Concluding with the thought that things can never go back to the way they were, this moving performance clearly felt familiar to many in the audience.
Musical duo Marit Fält and Rona Wilkie, brought a fusion of Scotland and Scandinavia to the capital. Starting as a strange and angry Swedish lullaby, their opening song evolved into a Gaelic lullaby, bringing together two closely intertwined musical traditions. The pair are both incredibly accomplished musicians, winning the Danny Kyle Award at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival in 2012. In between performance, the two talked in turn about their support for a yes vote, with Fält saying she hadn’t yet heard a good reason to stay together. Wilkie talked of the duo’s recent trip to the Cambridge folk festival where she was encouraged to hear of agrowing feeling of Englishness amongst folk musicians there and a reclamation and redefinition of what it means to be English today. Marit and Rona’s debut album is available now. The title – Turas – means the same in Swedish as in Gaelic: to take turns and the two talents do so wonderfully.
The night, ably hosted by poet Jenny Lindsay, was rounded off in style with Scotland’s Makar Liz Lochhead performing part of her play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987). Fiercely Scottish in language and attitude, the monologue gave way to a performance with saxophonist Steve Kettly. Lochhead introduced this part of the show as “busking our way through” – like so much of the Edinburgh festivals. The duet performed a piece that didn’t make it into their show Somethings Old, Somethings New at the Assembly Rooms. Imagined letters from the figures in the frame of the portrait gallery to Scotland gave Rabbie Burns a new voice for the modern day. As Lochhead said – you could just imagine him, from the wall of the gallery or straight off your shortbread tin.
Our Makar finished her performance with a line that for me, summed up both the evening and so much of the huge messy array of conversations happening across Scotland; “Ah dinnae ken whit kind oh Scotland your scotland’s like, but here’s mine.” If her Scotland is like that night’s performance then I’m all for it.
National Collective Presents is on Aug 8-9, 14-16, 21-23 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre at 9pm. For guests and tickets see the Fringe Box Office.