Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook review – from Big Country to John Martyn 

The C90 cassette unspooling on the sleeve makes an apt motif for an album that is both a tribute to Scottish pop and a personal testimony from Caledonia’s reigning folk queen. Not that there’s much folk involved; most of the songs Karine Polwart interprets here are from the mainstream, drawn from a live show in turn inspired by an Edinburgh exhibition, Rip It Up, celebrating Scotland’s distinctive contribution to British pop. Big Country’s Chance, for example, was an air-punching anthem for a teenage Polwart in smalltown Stirlingshire, though it’s here transformed into a meditation on domestic abuse and an abandoned young mother.Polwart works similar reconstructions on the likes of Deacon Blue, the Blue Nile and John Martyn. Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday morphs from bubblegum romance into a commentary on Alzheimer’s – “I’m scared I’ll have to say/ That a part of you is gone since yesterday” – while the Waterboys’ rocking The Whole of the Moon gets a minimalist treatment, with deft backings of glockenspiel and clarinet from a fine band. Whatever the song, Polwart’s vocals, austere rather than exuberant, tease out underlying themes of resilience and resistance to make a compendium of small-p political pop.

Source: Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook review – from Big Country to John Martyn | Music | The Guardian

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Why are British films not angrier about the state of the country?

Ray-Winstone-Scum.jpg
Patrick Murray and Ray Winstone in Alan Clarke’s 1979 film ‘Scum’

A generation ago, British films like Isaac Julien’s ‘Young Soul Rebels’, which is screening at the BFI, embodied such a rich period for polemical and engaged filmmaking

Where are all the Brexit movies? One of the most dispiriting elements about the British film industry currently is its almost complete failure to engage with the complexities and turbulence of contemporary British life. Ken Loach apart, few directors old or young are making movies which explore the tensions and injustices in our society or the grotesque comedy of Britain’s blundering search for the Exit signs from Europe.

“I haven’t seen a great Brexit film. I don’t feel the British cinema is engaging with the contemporary in any interesting way at all,” screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful LaundretteSammy and Rosie Get Laid) recently observed.

There is one film screening in London this month that does address racism, nationalism and the tension between classes and generations. It has punks, skinheads, inebriated Scots, soul music DJs, murderers, bent police officers and sneering media folk among its characters. It could be the perfect Brexit movie if it weren’t for the fact that it is set in 1977 (Jubilee year) and was released in 1991. Isaac Julien’s Young Soul Rebels, the film in question, is screening at the British Film Institute as part of the season Nineties – Young Cinema Rebels, celebrating “the explosive and iconic film and TV of the 1990s”.

It is probably no coincidence that the Thatcher years were such a rich period for polemical and engaged British filmmaking. Julien’s film was made right at the end of the Thatcher era but had the energy, rage and irreverence that characterised so many British films of the time.

“Thatcher was fantastic for dissent,” Kureishi remembers.  “She really created this wall of fury which came out of British youth culture… she was great, very stimulating. Our hatred was very useful at that time.” [ . . . ]

CONTINUE AT the independent: Why are British films not angrier about the state of the country?

Unpentangled: The Sixties Albums – John Renbourn

Comprising six full albums and bonus tracks, all well remastered and housed inside the box in individually slip-cased mini-repros of the original LP sleeves. Plus a 24-page booklet setting the scene of those now far-off days that includes a sizeable chunk of memorabilia from the Folk Forum of Melody Maker and other sources. They’ve done a good job.

This was the era during which John Renbourn emerged as a scorchingly talented guitarist, with a diverse range of sources and influences – particularly Davy Graham, Wizz Jones, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie Johnson – before slowly getting diverted in a faux Elizabethan direction.

The three Renbourn solo albums here are his eponymously titled Transatlantic debut, its follow-up Another Monday and the oddly titled Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte. Another Monday is the best of that trio: gobsmacking though his playing was on his debut compared with most other things around at the time, it had got much more assured by his second outing and his rather haphazard singing in a notably dodgy London-American accent was slightly more on the case too. The oboe on One For William is also rather nicer than the flute on the next album, Sir John Alot… by which time he’d abandoned singing altogether. Continue reading

The Best Plays in London

What to see where and until when: theartsdesk’s stage tips

More at THE ARTS DESK: The Best Plays in London

Shakespeare gets a sitcom in ‘Upstart Crow’

Upstart Crow

The popular film “Shakespeare in Love” seemed to unleash a wave of fictional imaginings of the English writer: the plays “Equivocation” and “The Beard of Avon,” the films “Anonymous” and “All Is True,” the short-lived TV series “Will.” But 1999’s frothy Best Picture winner was hardly the first rendering of Shakespeare as a fictional character.

The Bard of Avon made periodic appearances in novels throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, from a trilogy by Robert Folkestone Williams in the 1840s to Anthony Burgess’s 1964 book Nothing Like the Sun. And his first recorded stage appearance as a character is from 1679, some 60 years after the playwright’s death, when “the Ghost of Shakespeare” emerged to give a prologue to Thomas Dryden’s version of “Troilus and Cressida.”

There is nothing ghostly about the Shakespeare we meet in “Upstart Crow,” a delightfully cheeky BBC sitcom comprising three short seasons, available in the United States through the on-demand service Britbox as well as via Amazon. As played by the acerbic David Mitchell, one half of the comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, this Will Shakespeare is a mildly schlubby and insecure if well-intentioned striver, dividing his time between a bustling family hearth in Stratford and a rooming house in London from which he is building his playwriting career. The show’s title comes from an epithet hurled at Shakespeare in 1592 by a jealous poet, Robert Greene, in a pamphlet.

A fictional Greene is on hand as the show’s mustache-twirling villain to pound home the familiar theme of Shakespeare’s low birth and insufficiently fancy education. In a typical pithy putdown, he dismisses Shakespeare as “a country bum-snot, an oik of Avon, a town-school spotty-grotty.” The show’s Greene also functions as a literal nemesis, positioned (ahistorically) as the Master of the Revels, the impresario and censor through whom all staged entertainment must pass muster [ . . . ]

Continue at AMERICA: Shakespeare gets a sitcom in ‘Upstart Crow’ | America Magazine