Liz Lochhead, animations, and Teenage Fanclub doing Velvet Underground songs? Must be Neu! Reekie!, says David Pollock
‘A literary circus – a confusing mixed-arts medley of avant garde animation, spoken word and music creations all under the same banner, which is just the way we like it.” That’s how Neu! Reekie!’s Michael Pedersen describes the regular arts event he co-founded in January 2011 with former Rebel Inc publisher Kevin Williamson. Beginning life at the Scottish Book Trust in Edinburgh, this month it expands to residencies at the city’s new arts venue Summerhall, and the Jim Lambie-designed Poetry Club at Glasgow’s SWG3.
“It developed viscerally all on its own,” says Pedersen of the night’s origins (its name is a tribute to the late Edinburgh writer and poet Paul Reekie). “Myself and Kevin had been put on a bill together a few times (both are writers and performers), which led to us pontificating about the kind of night we’d want to be a part of. There was a real dearth of them in Edinburgh.”
With a description like the one above, it’s not surprising. As well as reflecting the pair’s own tastes, though, Pedersen also says that an important factor in Neu! Reekie!’s format is that it “doesn’t suffocate performers, that it’s not a carousel which allows no time to breathe. So part of what we set out to do was to develop a paradigm.”
What this partly involves is booking a diverse range of cross-media local artists (Pedersen’s job), but also spreading their sets with a range of Williamson’s filmed animations to create a distinctive aesthetic.
The booking itself takes on the quality of an artistic expression in its own right, says Pedersen. “The spoken word element is often experimental,” he says. “For example, we put on Liz Lochhead and Sue Tompkins alongside one another. We thought, instead of programming another strong poet alongside Scotland’s Makar, we’d put a sound artist in there to show just how much variety can exist within spoken word performances, which often tend to be rather neatly packaged.
“This side of things has continued to develop. I think with a lot of musicians we’ve put on, they’ve also seen the opportunity to be experimental when playing in front of an audience of poets and filmmakers, rather than just playing the fan favourites.”
He cites the example of Belle and Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson and Edinburgh’s Roy Moller teaming up to play Elvis covers, or Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Duglas T Stewart from BMX Bandits playing the Velvet Underground.
“We sit down and programme the night quite meticulously from the moment people arrive until the moment they leave,” continues Pedersen, “even the films they see playing when they walk in the door, a shape on the wall which draws them in.
“When you look at a lot of the things Kevin did with Rebel Inc and people like Irvine Welsh back in the day, there was a real frisson about these events, a vehemence that you don’t find in literary events any more. So we selected a lot of our performers by actually going out to events and seeing them perform, and developing a certain synergy between them. If we booked one performer, we’d bring another who perhaps challenged their practice or brought a different element to it.”
As the popularity of the event has increased, so their ambitions for it have had to grow in scale. Pedersen tells of crowds at the Scottish Book Trust expanding at such a rate that queues would form on the Royal Mile before a show, and of Neu! Reekie!’s legend carrying it to festival appearances at Doune the Rabbit Hole and Wickerman, and of a touring show in Camden. Rather than try to stage more events, then, they decided to just find a bigger venue – so the news that Summerhall, (where Neu! Reekie! have an office) would be open beyond the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe came as the perfect solution.
Concurrently, the pair will also be establishing a regular night in Glasgow at the Poetry Club, the Jim Lambie-renovated downstairs bar in industrial gallery and gig venue SWG3.
“He did the artwork for our first double A-side single,” says Pederson, referencing Neu! Reekie! Records’ first release, which broke Edinburgh supergroup Jesus, Baby! (featuring the Fire Engines’ Davy Henderson, Moller, Marco Rea and Futuristic Retro Champions’ Carla J Easton). “At the time he mentioned he’d custom-designed this club and invited us over for a look, and we realised there was plenty of room for us to curate a night around what he’d done. It felt like it could be a home for us, rather than just another venue.”
This month, Pedersen says, represents the next stage in the evolution of an artistic crucible which is designed to do exactly that: evolve. “We hope to spend the next year doing with these venues what we did with our last one. A kind of ceaseless powering forward. “We don’t want to spend every month dusting off something similar; our paradigm works because it’s based on forward propulsion and continual development. We find it very difficult to stay still.”
• Neu! Reekie! is at Summerhall, Edinburgh on 28 September and then at the same venue on the last Friday of every month; it’s also at the Poetry Club at SWG3, Glasgow tomorrow night and Saturday 6 October. For more information, visit neureekie.tumblr.com