Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mela, Bad Manners and Macbeth

I've got a bit carried away with buying tickets again. I see something coming up that I fancy, go buy the tickets, then realise its a week when I've a dozen other things on that I'm meant to be doing. Still it means that in the space of a few days I've had the chance to see Alan Cumming perform a solo version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Buster Bloodvessel stomp his stuff into the wee small hours and visited the Glasgow Mela festival.

The Glasgow Mela has been going for a good few years now, and recently has dovetailed with the West End Festival since it relocated to Kelvingrove Park. Saturday this year was a bit of a washout, but when the sun appeared on Sunday I headed down to wander about the various stages, stalls and eateries. The only disappointment is that the queues for food were prohibitively long - they're missing a trick there.

Anyway the stages offered the usual varied stuff from Scottish country dancing (see picture) to magicians, drummers, acrobats and singers. Too many of the people running stalls and the entertainers look like wannabe hippies who've enjoyed a gap year in India and come back as experts (I know many people with a love of India, but they wouldn't come home to Glasgow, wear a bindi and run a stall selling henna tattoos). Curiously the busiest stalls away from food always seem to be those selling material by the yard. It was nice to see it very busy though and there is definitely a much more multi-cultural crowd than all the usual West End types that turn out for all the various festivals, so that can't be a bad thing.

The night before I visited the Mela it had been my pleasure to revisit my student days and skank the night away on The Ferry. I don't think it's the greatest venue in the world, stuck under the Kingston Bridge in a bit of no-man's land with no bars or houses or life nearby, but I like going there for nostalgia sake as I can well remember crossing from Yoker to Renfrew on it in its previous life as the Renfrew Ferry, and years earlier my great auntie was a clippie on the ferry. This was to be the fourth time I've seen Bad Manners, and it was as much fun as the first time.

Buster Bloodvessel 2012 edition
In the early 80's they were phenomenally successful with hit after hit after hit and it's safe to say that they haven't moved on much from that time, touring on and off with a changing roster of musicians. The first time I saw them live was in the QM at university, a curious night when I'd also hoped to see The Fall, but a fight between the 2 bands before they came on involving knifes and police lead to The Fall storming off leaving the stage for Buster and his band. Another occaision that I saw them, in Level 8 at Strathclyde Uni I seriously thought I would be killed, as with a night of solid dancing my legs were like jelly when Buster, at that time up at his top weight, threw a surfboard onto the crowd and leapt on. I had visions of my ignominious demise, squashed under a fat man on a surfboard in a student disco, but I survived and was back seeing him again for the first time in a few years. To be perfectly frank I've aged better than most of his audience. As Buster has shed a bit of weight in recent years his audience seem to be gaining it, whilst losing their hair as a kind of aging tribute act. He didn't come on stage until 11.30pm and before that the crowd were already dancing away to all the support acts: a Jam tribute act, Esperanza Ska (a reliable 9 piece Glasgow ska outfit) and Max Splodge who finished with his "Two Pint of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please". He had already given us his punk reditions of "Nelly the Elephant" and "Two Little Boys" which were a joy to behold.

Buster finally came on and I just couldn't stop myself and bounded forward to get involved in 90 minutes of ankle-crushing, unarmed combat that is skanking. I'm pretty certain he did the same set I've seen three times before, with an encore of Lip Up Fatty and the Can Can. He may not be as mobile now as he once was (except for his tongue) but he puts on a good show and is playing with an excellent brass section just now. I left The Ferry after 1am feeling like I'd had a fantastic workout, totally forgetting quite how sweaty a ska gig can be. In the past 6 months I've seen The Specials, The Selecter and now Bad Manners. I think I'll give it a rest from the Dance Craze mob for a bit now, especially as Madness have blown any credibility they had left by performing on top of Buckingham Palace for the Queen.
Bad Manners at The Ferry, Glasgow
Jaggy Macb

When I bought tickets for macb I was expecting a performance by Partick Thistle's mascot, the big cheery bumble bee thing found on our sponsor's flavoured water, but NO. It turns out it was the other macb, William Shakespeare's Macbeth, performed by Alan Cumming for National Theatre of Scotland at the Tramway, and co-directed by John Tiffany (director of The Bacchae, Black Watch and recently winner of a Tony award for Once). I liked The Bacchae , which NTS did in 2007, also directed by John Tiffany, but apart from that and the fact that Alan Cumming flashes his arse in both plays, they have little else in common. Alan Cumming has come a long way from being half of 'Victor and Barry' and Take the High Road's first murder victim. Via Nightcrawler in the X-Men 2, the baddie in Spy Kids 2 to a Tony Award winning performance in Cabaret. In this production of Macbeth he plays all the parts from the play in an mesmerising and exhausting 2 hour performance, with fleeting appearances by two other characters, a female psychiatrist and male nurse.

The setting is a modern day secure psychiatric ward, spectacularly created with high green-tiled walls by Merle Hensel with security cameras and screens adding to the feeling that the patient being admitted has committed a terrible crime. The atmosphere of tension is aided by the musical soundscapes of Max Richter used throughout, which I ordered on my way home (I think its from Infra). Alan Cumming flits between all of the characters convincingly and clearly, flits between man and woman, sanity and madness and with the vicious murder of MacDuff's wife and children maybe gives you a window onto the back story of the character in front of you. It was quite hypnotic and the whole audience was spellbound throughout, and rose to give him a well deserved ovation at the end. It is a great story, a great play, and a great production with a great piece of acting at the heart of it all. I hope that it does well in New York where it heads next after its run at the Tramway. If you get the chance to see it I would heartily recommend that you don't miss the chance. One thing the New Yorkers miss out on when they see him there in these big performances is not having the Alan Cumming memories of having seen him doing Victor and Barry's Tron pantos. Ah, those were the days.

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