On the screen, a giant image of Alexander Moffat’s legendary 1980 group portrait of eight great Scottish poets in an Edinburgh pub; and on stage, a series of much younger poets performing the work of the greats in the portrait. When I arrive at the Roxy, there’s Janette Ayachi raising the spirit of Edwin Morgan with his great love poem, Strawberries; then there’s Peter Mackay performing Sorley McLean, Kevin Williamson with Sidney Goodsir Smith’s brilliantly timely Year Of The Crocodile, and an inspired Iona Lee giving a spellbinding performance of George Mackay Brown’s Beachcomber.
Signet Library, Edinburgh
Mountain Thyme:Land ***
Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh
It’s a superb idea for a performance, building links between generations of Scottish-based writers right before our eyes; and it’s one that could be extended far beyond this simple New Year’s Day format, to embrace a more detailed recreation of their time, and - perhaps - Jo Clifford’s wonderful feminist critique of this all-male group, written for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2014. Yet at the Roxy, it made a brilliant centrepiece to Neu Reekie’s contribution to this year’s Scot:Lands celebration, which also involved music from Scott Hutchison and the brilliant Skye-based Gaelic rapper G-Croft, and some fine sequences of black-and-white film, including a heart-stopping account of McLean’s great 1930s poem The Cry Of Europe; “the brute and the brigand at the head of Europe,” he cries with chilling insight, as we face a new pairing of brute and brigand, at the head of the whole world.
Up at the Signet Library, by contrast, there was a much less intense but wholly engaging introduction to the Wigtown Book Festival and to Scotland’s far south-west, in Wig:Lands, curated by the festival’s director Adrian Turpin. Upstairs, there was poetry and song, including delicious music from singer Robyn Stapleton, a superb interpreter of Burns in all his moods. Then downstairs, there were tiny pop-up versions of all the strange and wonderful shops that have made Wigtown Scotland’s book town, along with a book doctor primed to recommend literary cures for all emotional ills, a chance for children to get printing, and a workshop in how to make the beautiful marbled covers that still grace so many of Wigtown’s second-hand books.
Meanwhile at Greyfriars Kirk, Scot:Lands recorded one of the first national reverberations from the city of Paisley’s passionate bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021; for if Paisley boy Paolo Nutini was gracing the city’s main stage on Hogmanay, here was a celebration of the great Paisley poet Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), a disciple of Burns, and a writer of great love-songs and lyrics, the most famous of which gave Mountain Thyme:Land its name. Without even an information-sheet on Tannahill, a pop-up exhibition, or any strong linking narrative, Mountain: Thyme land was slightly less effective as an introduction to the poet than it could easily have been.
Yet it featured some superb music from veteran folk group Tannahill Weavers and from the wonderful Eddi Reader, whose performance of Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa fairly took the breath away. And the whole performance added another strand to the huge richness of this memorable New Year’s Day event, which offers a tremendous, life-enhancing introduction to the sheer range of Scottish culture, and to some of Edinburgh’s most magical buildings; and this year seemed to reach a whole new level of energy and focus, with a new system which avoids the initial queue at the National Museum of Scotland, and sends audience members direct to their first venue, and then onward, at the spin of a little wheel of fortune, to their next Scot:Land, and their next rich surprise gift.