Scottish stars come out for Blabbermouth event

IT was billed as Scotland’s biggest ever open mic session, which brought together some of the nation’s finest artists and performers just hours before voters went to the polls.

A live twelve-hour celebration of Scottish culture. Picture: Greg Macvean
A live twelve-hour celebration of Scottish culture. Picture: Greg Macvean

Much-loved songs, famous speeches, iconic poems and classic comedy sketches were revived in one of the nation’s most historic buildings for the one-off event staged by the National Theatre of Scotland.

The marathon “house party”, which was divided into four sessions running between noon and midnight, also included extracts of classic novels and centuries-old letters and documents.

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Blabbermouth, the final show in a special NTS season exploring issues around Scotland’s national identity in the run-up to the referendum, took over the Assembly Hall on The Mound, the 19th century building which was home to the Scottish Parliament for several years.

Blabbermouth was billed as a non-political cultural celebration which it is hoped would also kick-start the “healing” process of the divisions opened up by the political debate.

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Veteran entertainers like Jimmy McGregor, Elaine C Smith and Gerda Stevenson, leading actors Douglas Henshall, Peter Mullan and Colin McCredie, singers Horse McDonald and Lorraine McIntosh and authors Janice Galloway and Alan Bissett were among those to take to the stage.

Special guests included BBC sports broadcaster Alison Walker, award-winning film composer Patrick Doyle, who masterminded the soundtrack for the Disney-Pixar film Brave, playwright Stephen Greenhorn, the creator of the musical Sunshine on Leith, Paul Laverty, Ken Loach’s regular screenwriter, and comics Hardeep Singh Kohli and Jonathan Watson.

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Graham McLaren, associate director of NTS, who masterminded the event, told the audience he wanted to create a family-style atmosphere in the venue, “before we all have to take that last walk that we have to do alone.”

He added: “One of the great things about working in the arts in Scotland is that we’re small enough to feel like a family.

“We might fall out and bitch like a family, but we can call on our pals and say: ‘Come on now, let’s sing some songs, talk some rubbish, hear some speeches and just let the whole thing wash over us.”

Bissett, one of the leading figures in the cultural movement for independence, said: “History will judge us not on the result of the referendum, but how we respond to the result.”

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More than 120 different pieces were performed by a 60-strong cast, including a house band featuring singers Karine Polwart and Annie Grace, and several teenagers among the 16 and 17-year-olds handed the chance to vote.

The songs performed ranged from Deacon Blue’s Dignity, Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up and The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys and Michael Marra’s Mother Glasgow to political material like Both Sides of the Tweed, about the 1707 Treaty of the Union, and John Maclean March, Hamish Henderson’s tribute to the celebrated Scottish socialist and anti-war activist.

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Songs by Billy Connolly and Matt McGinn, extracts from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, The Slab Boys by John Byrne and Iain Banks’ The Crow Road, “letters home” to Scotland from Flora MacDonald and Andrew Carnegie, and the final letter from Mary Queen of Scots to Elizabeth I, the day before her execution, were all performed.

Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s makar, opened the event with a spoken-word performance of Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man For A’ That, which singer Sheena Wellington famously sung in the building when the Scottish Parliament was “re-convened” there before the Queen in 1999.

Elaine C Smith revived the tribute to the late MSP Margo MacDonald she had performed in the same building at her memorial service, while Tricia Marwick, the presiding officer at the Scottish Parliament, performing Open The Doors, which the first Scottish makar, Edwin Morgan, wrote for the opening of the Holyrood building.

Juliet Cadzow, widow of the pro- Union playwright David Maclennan, who died earlier this year, read out one of his last pieces of work, the poem If Scotland.

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Harry Burns, Scotland’s former chief medical officer performing union leader Jimmy Reid’s famous “rat race” rectorial address at Glasgow University, while former shipyard workers on the Clyde recalled some of the other memorable speeches of the early 1970s.

Other highlights included Janice Galloway performing a classic “creme de la creme” extract from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark’s novel, and The Scotsman’s theatre critic, Joyce McMillan, reading the closing extracts of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped, as its heroes David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart bid farewell to each other on Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh.

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The Rev Colquhoun’s passionate sermon at the climax of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song was performed by Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh.

Taggart star Alex Norton joined forces with fellow actor Tam Dean Burn to perform one of Francie and Josie’s best-known routines, while Burn joined forces with children’s author to help bring The Gruffalo to life on stage.

The running time for the four Blabbermouth shows surpassed that for The James Plays, the acclaimed trilogy of plays staged by the company at the Edinburgh International Festival last month.