Outskirts festival aiming for to be eclectic

Guitarist R M Hubbert of Wounded Knee. Picture: Contributed
Guitarist R M Hubbert of Wounded Knee. Picture: Contributed
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EASTERHOUSE’S Outskirts festival aims to cross boundaries in the arts world while also inspiring local people, writes Susan Mansfield

When Dadaist sound poet Jaap Blonk performed at Platform at Easterhouse, nobody was quite sure what would happen, particularly when four young boys who were running around the building were invited to come in and join the audience. “But they sat down, and absolutely loved it,” says Alun Woodward, the music programmer at Platform, who also runs Glasgow record label Chemikal Underground. “They were the only four kids in Britain, maybe in the world, that afternoon that were watching a dadaist performance poet, and they all wanted a photo with him afterwards.”

I wanted to write songs that were really celebratory about Easterhouse

Alun Woodward

It is moments such as this which have marked out Platform as an unusual – but successful – venue for innovative arts programming. Whether the work is a children’s show by contemporary sculptor and musician Sarah Kenchington, or a performance of Bartok Variations by award-winning pianist Matthew Bourne (not be confused with the choreographer of the same name), Platform is becoming known for hosting the kind of work one might expect to catch at the CCA or the Arches, and for hosting cross-boundary collaborations, often with a musical element.

“Everything we do is with an eye to making it accessible to all,” says Woodward. “I think sometimes there’s an idea that certain kinds of art or culture are for a certain group of people. I think that’s wrong. You don’t need a particular vocabulary to enjoy a certain kind of work, you can just sit and enjoy it for being an incredible performance.”

Three years ago, this ethos coalesced into Outskirts, a day-long festival organised by Woodward and the other arts programmers at Platform. This year’s gathering, on 25 April, will see the building host a day of pop-up events, gigs, theatre, visual art and cross-genre collaborations. Expect a fresh take on a piece of cult electronica, a new soundtrack written for a lost Scottish film, and a brand new song-cycle which celebrates life in Easterhouse in the 21st century.

“We had an idea to start a festival which celebrated things that were on the edge, or crossed boundaries,” says Woodward. “That’s not to say it’s a really highbrow, edgy festival, but I think there’s an appetite from people to go and watch something which combines different art forms.”

Events and performances will spill out into The Bridge – the integrated community space in which Platform is situated, which also includes a library, café and swimming pool. Local teenage performance artists engage in a battle-of-the-bands with theatrical musicians Swim Team; Turntable, the interactive installation by composer and musical Michael John McCarthy (Zoey Van Goey) and designer Rachel O’Neill, invites members of the public to pick their favourite vinyl track; Lisa Keddie’s Post Office encourages the lost art of letter-writing for all ages.

Artist Raydale Dower will create a sound installation in the library, while Matthew Bourne will return with a fresh take on a seminal work of European electronica. In collaboration with electronics enthusiast Frank Vigroux and visual artist Antoine Schmitt, Bourne will create a live performance inspired by Kraftwerk’s cult 1975 album Radio-Activity.

However, the day will begin with a spot of “afternoon cinema” with a screening of The Silver Trumpet, made by maverick film-maker Enrico Cocozza in 1961 in Wishaw, here presented with a new live soundtrack by musician Mark Scanlan, whose father appeared in the film.

Cocozza spent most of his life teaching Italian at Strathclyde University, but in his spare time created a substantial body of films made using amateur actors in Wishaw, ranging from social realism to the surreal (he has been described as “Wishaw’s David Lynch”). Woodward says that discovering Cocozza’s work made him aware of his own preconceptions.

“Originally I’m from Motherwell, and I spent a lot of time when I was growing up in Motherwell and Wishaw. I left as soon as I could. But then you find out that 50 years before there was a man making these incredible films with people who lived and worked there. When Mark told me that he was planning to write a new soundtrack for the film his dad was in, I thought it was perfect for Outskirts.”

A particular highlight of the day promises to be Easterhouse Conversation, a suite of songs commissioned for Outskirts by folk bard Wounded Knee (aka Drew Wright) and guitarist RM Hubbert. Woodward says it’s an idea he hopes to continue in future festivals.

“The idea is to get two artists and invite them to go and talk with people living in Easterhouse today about what life’s like. I didn’t want to be prescriptive. The idea was to have the inclusion of local people in Outskirts, through the prism of Hubby and Drew.”

Wright says he enjoyed meeting and interviewing a range of people involved in activities at The Bridge, from young people from Glasgow Kelvin College to older people at the Sunday Social drop-in. The conversations led to a nuanced portrayal of life in the community today.

“The older generation were very keen to talk about the fact that there is still a real sense of community and togetherness in the stairs and the tenements where they live, they were really positive about the area. Some of the young people said they just wanted to leave, but young folk across the country are always desperate to get away from the place where they grew up.”

He has written a song which is an Easterhouse take on Romeo and Juliet, about two teenagers from rival gang territories who fall in love. “I was interested in how everyone, even the older generation, speaks about what part of Easterhouse they live in according to the gang names.

“But the young people told me that things are a lot better now because they’ve knocked down a lot of the old schools and built big community high schools, so kids from different parts go to the same schools and grow up together. Romeo and Juliet are fine, they go to the same school, but their parents and grandparents have old emnities going back to their gang days.”

He has woven elements of local geography into the songs: catching the bus on West George Street, going to “the Shannie” (the local Shandwick shopping centre) to post a letter, tracing the path of the old Monklands Canal – now the route of the M8.

“I’ve been back in my own time, just to take a wander around and get a sense of how it all fits together. For example, the Bishop’s Loch, just to the north of the housing scheme, is a wooded, protected area, it’s like stepping into a different world. I was walking through the woods in winter and saw some deer. You don’t expect deer in Easterhouse, do you?”

In the course of writing the songs, he found himself thinking about the work of folklorists such as Hamish Henderson and Alan Lomax, who recorded thousands of songs in the American folk tradition.

“There is an element of this which is folkloric. I subscribe to some ideas that people like Alan Lomax had about cultural equity; that playing people’s stuff back to them gives them a real sense of empowerment or identity. I wanted to write a couple of songs that were really celebratory about Easterhouse in all its positive aspects.”

Outskirts is at The Platform, Easterhouse, on 25 April. For more information see www.platform-online.co.uk