How Scotland’s music scene is surviving COVID-19

A look at the Scottish music scene’s coronavirus response, with Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale, Sneaky Pete’s owner Nick Stewart and SMIA’s Robert Kilpatrick

A feeling a lot like Doomsday fell about town last weekend. Up until then it had felt like business as usual, but while Boris Johnson told the public that schools would stay open and sporting events could go ahead, Nicola Sturgeon seemed to confirm on Thursday afternoon what Scottish promoters had feared for weeks – that large gatherings of more than 500 people would be banned in Scotland, starting Monday.

Events that were scheduled that weekend could still go ahead, and at Wee Dub Festival the room was full. That’s not to say there weren’t lingering signs of the coronavirus pandemic – events colleagues opted for the more hygienic elbow bump over hugs, and MC Natty Campbell shared on the mic how nervewracking passing through Edinburgh Airport had been. “It’s scary out there,” he said, “but tonight is about the music.”

“The show must go on” seems to be the operating mantra amongst promoters, though with each passing day that is becoming an ever more daunting task. In Edinburgh, the lack of large venues initially felt like a benefit. Smaller clubs, like the 100-capacity Sneaky Pete’s, could technically still keep their doors open, while nights like Church Edinburgh said that they would cap numbers for their night in the Liquid Rooms (now cancelled) to stay under the 500 limit.

But come Monday, it materialised that Sturgeon’s message was not an outright ban, just strongly-worded advice. In his first daily briefing to the public, Johnson avoided ordering a ban, in favour of discouraging people from communing in clubs, pubs and restaurants, and said that emergency services would no longer be in attendance at large gatherings. It is left to the musicians, promoters, and venues, then, to decide whether to press forward with their events.

Whether these individuals ethically feel that they can keep bringing people together is one thing. On Saturday, EH-FM resident DJ Andrea Montalto announced that a night he was supposed to play in The Jago in Dalston was cancelled. “Due to the lack of measures taken by the British government it’s very important to take responsibility and act in any way to protect the weakest,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “What is happening at the moment in Italy is a warning that we can’t avoid looking at.”

‘Closing venues for a few weeks could be a disaster’

But many who have staked their careers on live music have little other choice. A lot of these events are built by an army of freelancers, who must all now rely on the generosity of their clients to pay for work that might not go ahead. This line of work is already famously hand-to-mouth, and with a rapidly emptying calendar many have found themselves cut off.

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Local Hero, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – captivating musical with a harder edge

New staging brings the iconic 1983 movie’s themes and characters into sharper focus.

Review by David Kettle

“Cult” is probably an over-used adjective, especially when it comes to movies. But there’s undoubtedly something truly special about Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film – about a Texan oil executive on a mission to buy up a section of the Scottish coast for a vast new refinery, only to end up falling in love with the place – that makes it so warmly cherished by certain viewers.

Maybe it’s Local Hero’s disarming mix of laid-back whimsy and harder drama, its unapologetic sentimentality, its surreal eccentricity, its gentle humour. Or maybe it’s the movie’s ironic role-reversal, as villagers grow impatient to plunder their new-found wealth while the swaggering incomer grows ever more enraptured with the place. It’s a mix that’s undoubtedly helped by Mark Knopfler’s evocative original score, whose guitar theme “Going Home” alone can transport you straight back to the ramshackle charm of Ferness and its iconic phone box.

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Hero to Zero

Local Hero creator Bill Forsyth claims that he’s been dumped by the makers of a musical based on his film

Iconic: Peter Riegert, left, as Mac and Christopher Rozycki as Victor with Local Hero’s unlikeliest star – Pennan’s phone box

ITS blend of gentle humour and stunning scenery made it one of the most iconic films ever to come out of Scotland.

But the mastermind behind Local Hero claims he has been dumped from the upcoming theatre adaptation of his beloved movie – leaving him ‘in a state of shock’.

Bill Forsyth, the writer and director of the 1980s box-office hit, spent more than three years collaborating on the new stage version of his story, alongside playwright David Greig.

But the 72-year-old Glaswegian claims he has been told he should ‘cease to be actively involved’ in the highly anticipated project, due to open this month.

Local Hero, released in 1983, tells the story of American oil company executive Mac – played by Peter Riegert – who is sent to the fictional village of Ferness.

His mission is to buy up the place to make way for a refinery – but things do not go to plan when Mac ends up falling in love with the quaint village. The Ferness scenes – including those with the movie’s famous red phone box –were shot in Pennan, Banffshire.

Mr Forsyth won the 1984 Bafta award for direction for the film.

But he claims he has not been involved in the new musical adaptation of his Bafta-nominated screenplay since last year, when he was suddenly dropped from the creative team.

He said he has received only one email since then from Mr Greig.

The decision is said to have been made during a lunch with the musical’s producer, Patrick Daly, who had initially approached Mr Forsyth to help on the project.

Mr Forsyth – awarded a Bafta for his contribution to Scottish film in 2009 – told The Times: ‘What he said was, I should stop working on the musical and not be involved in any more workshops.

‘He [Mr Daly] said, “You can turn up with the execs and play an editorial part at the end of the process”, which I didn’t take to at all. They wanted me to step back, be a good boy and keep smiling. I left in a state of shock.’

The theatre production, which opens on March 23 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, is the first time Local Hero has been adapted for the stage.

Former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler – who composed the movie’s soundtrack – has created music for the stage show.

Mr Greig said he was ‘very sad’ to hear Mr Forsyth’s claims that he was being excluded.

He added: ‘I will immediately be getting in contact. We were expecting Bill to come to previews and to be offering thoughts and notes, and we were very much looking forward to welcoming him to the show.

‘I can’t stress enough that there’s so much of him in it, not just the original. He was a deep part of the drafting of the stage show.’

A spokesman for the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company said it was hoped that Mr Forsyth would attend the opening night show.

She said: ‘It’s a real privilege to work with Bill on bringing his beloved story, Local Hero, to the stage.

‘As Mark Knopfler developed a new score of 19 new songs, Bill Forsyth and David Greig worked closely together on several drafts of the script to ensure this transformation to the theatre retained the magic and essence of Bill’s film. As such, we are sad and surprised if he has felt in any way excluded from the creative process.’

The spokesman said that the musical’s director, John Crowley, and the entire stage play’s team had ‘always considered Bill’s voice to be central and integral’.

Without it, she added, any telling of Local Hero would simply not be possible.

The spokesman said: ‘Bill has been engaged with all script developments, and invited to attend each workshop and to all key rehearsal dates.

‘We sincerely hope Bill will be with us on opening night. The Lyceum and its partners would be so proud to share with him the experience of seeing his wonderful story in its new life on stage.’

‘They wanted me to be a good boy’