UNBEAST* (Mary Shelley to Frankenstein)

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Friend or foe? Who went hence?

Begotten of whaleback

in loins of fancy

by a silvery Tay,

prompted by happy night

and restless morning.

Quo Vadis my child,

my dissenting unbeast?
Speak to me if you would

out of friendly fire

with whaling industry

and of textile towns.

Anything, any thing,

any damn blessed thing?

There lay carved initials.

Friend or fiend? Who went hence?
*In Scots – monster

ZeroThreeFifteen

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…Theatre Company are holding auditions for and will premiere ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ by er…John Quinn in the lovingly restored High Mill at Verdant Works Scotland’s Jute Museum in Dundee this June. To be precise the dates are 23rd 24th and 25th. That’s two evening performances and a matinee. The show is more than a couple of months away but I’m excited as all self respecting big bairns should be. I’m excited at seeing something I’ve worked long and hard on come to fruition of course but I’m also excited by the opportunity to work with ZeroThreeFifteen.

They’re young graduate actors out of Dundee and Angus College’s excellent Acting and Performance school – where my daughter was a student a few years ago – so we’re talking talent and skills in the craft and boundless energy and ideas. (That’s enough for now – Ed.) And you know ZeroThreeFifteen am was around the time I finished the first draft of the script one morning around a year ago. If you think about it three fifteen am is roughly where the early bird meets the night owl! Maybe some things are meant/written in the stars etc. You pay your money and pick your cliche.

Tickets are now on sale via Verdant Works’s Eventbrite Page or over the counter at the museum shop. Check it out! But whether or not you can manage – Lang Micht Yir Lum Reek as we say in Scots. It’s an idiomatic expression wishing good health on the listener. Literally it means may your chimney continue to smell and it’s an expression used in the play. But as to how it got from one meaning to the other – best not ask!

Great Tapestry Two

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‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ by moi (or eh since we’re talking Dundee) will be performed by ZeroThreeFifteen Theatre Co. in the High Mill at Verdant Works Dundee this coming summer. But once the show is over we’ll need to strike the set etc (not difficult since we’re going minimalist) sharpish. The reason? The Great Tapestry of Scotland which played to around ten thousand people over a several week run there last year is set to return shortly afterwards. To sort of quote a spicy mix of General Douglas McArthur and the Governator Arnie Schwarzenegger ‘I shall return and be back!’ And if that qualifies as fake news I shall not retract.

Last time there wasn’t room for the whole Tapestry from the great forests of eight thousand years ago to the present pass whatever the hell that is. This time the plan is to exhibit those parts that didn’t reach us last time. And I further understand that the panel which was pinched in Kirkcaldy last time round has been re-embroidered and replaced for the Verdant Works gig. Therefore if any residents of the Kingdom of Fife ever read this you’ll need to understand me not recusing myself from reaching for a long spoon!

A Free Annual Pass means that one ticket purchased covers as many visits as the purchaser wishes over a twelve month period, one ticket covering entry to both the Tapestry and the Museum. If you are in Dundee over the summer check out these and a cornucopia of other things happening.

Songs in the Key of Dundee

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Now I have a condition called OCWD or Obsessive Compulsive Writing Disorder. Most commonly this manifests itself in perspiring poetry but I have written a novel – hasn’t everyone – and more recently the play ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ which I might just possibly have mentioned on this blog. This is of course on the grounds that it is being ‘premiered’ in the High Mill at Verdant Works Museum this June. (I may have mentioned that detail too). However I’ve just crossed for me a Rubicon of a writing line so to speak in that I’ve been co-writing with my wife Marion writer musician and (That’s enough -Ed!) three er…songs for the play!

I’m sorry I’ll write that again – tone deaf Tony here is writing song lyrics. Though come to think of it Ludo Van B to give him his rap handle wasn’t just tone deaf so there’s inspiration there! Two of the songs are based on poems of mine ‘Mother of All the Peoples’ about Mary Slessor and that £10 note and ‘No Pasaran’ which concerns men from Dundee who fell in the Spanish Civil War while fighting with the International Brigades. The third is a reworking of ‘The Piper O’Dundee’ to become ‘The People O’Dundee’. No copyright issues will be harmed therein!

And even if the musician has to rescue the lyricist on this one so to speak I’m getting a bungee jump level of buzz (fear attached) out of giving it a go. Think I’ll try putting some more words to music after the play. I fancy trying a rap song. After all one of the most famous Dundonians of all – Will T – was the godfather of rap I’m told.

Alice Marra in Broughty Ferry

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Saturday afternoon was one of those where it outdid its billing. Assai Records in Broughty Ferry or ‘the’ Ferry as native Dundonians tend to call it were hosting singer musician and choir director Alice Marra performing a short acoustic set from her new album ‘Chain Up the Swings’ Alice is the daughter of the late Michael Marra one of the great bards Dundee has produced. She is too chanteuse with The Hazy Janes and Choir Director with Loadsaweeminsingin now Choir in residence at the McManus Galleries Dundee. Hence she’s both talented and busy!

It was variously funny emotive and poignant music sung in a beautiful voice backed by some members of the Gaels Blue Orchestra. ‘Frieda Kahlo’s Visit to The Tay Bridge Bar’ ‘Australia Instead of the Stars’ ‘Mother Glasgow’ and ‘Taking the Next Train Home’ from ‘Chain Up the Swings’ were all movingly performed. ‘The Lass Wi the Flax in Her Hair’ another beautiful song of Alice’s father’s from the album was not performed on this occasion but.. it’s one of the songs she and Loadsaweeminsingin are going to perform as part of yours truly’s ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ at the High Mill Verdant Works this June.

It might perhaps be germane to point out that after listening to such fine music in the heart of Dundee’s favourite urban village and seaside resort I was persuaded by a wild woman of my acquaintance to retire to one (ok three) of Broughty’s excellent hostelries to consume some libations into the afternoon. A very good day in ‘the Ferry’!

Who Were Those Masked Men?

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This is a reblog from 2014. The central character will not be  appearing in the play ‘O Halflins and Hecklers and Weavers and Weemin’ at Verdant Works in June but I am seriously thinking he should be in another play.

The man in the pic hanging in the air is an out of work Portuguese actor performing Street Theatre in Dundee. Just yards from where the pic was taken between Reform Street and City Square another man was seen hanging in the air almost two hundred years previously in rather different circumstances. He was an Irishman named Mark Devlin and unlike the Portuguese actor in the picture he had attracted a huge crowd. For he was about to be hanged as a member of the Black Band Criminal Gang.

But there was a problem. In that Dundee had been experiencing difficulty recruiting Executioners because the citizenry still objected to the hanging of popular Jacobites some 90 years after the 1745 rebellion!! So the City Fathers outsourced to Edinburgh. But the Edinburgh hangman seemingly didn’t fancy the Dundee gig and City Hall had to find a replacement. An hour before the scheduled hanging on May 30th 1835 they found a volunteer executioner with the deal being he had to wear a mask to hide his id from the crowd who loved executions but hated executioners!

Soon word went round the stand-in was James Livingstone a Travelling Fairground Salesman from Forfar. He despatched Mark Devlin to meet his maker and melted back into the crowd. Meanwhile the er….. real James Livingstone was operating a merry-go-round in er…….Forfar! The executioner incredibly was just some random Dundonian from the crowd!! James Livingstone had to get an affidavit that witnesses had seen him in Forfar at the appointed time.

Around a hundred and twenty years later and a few hundred yards to the West of all this I was in a huge crowd surrounding another masked man – the Lone Ranger. As a then five year old he was my great hero and he came to Dundee. To Green’s Playhouse the second biggest cinema in Europe then. Small boys have difficulty seeing in large crowds and he never took his mask off that I could see. It was probably just as well – because if he had done and turned out to be another impostor instead of Clayton Moore who played the Lone Ranger there would have been another fine riot I can tell you!

Green’s Playhouse is now Mecca Bingo and not nearly as grand as it was in its heyday. But I still go back and gaze from the outside and wonder about those masked men.

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Playing with the Boulton and Watt

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The cliche here is that Boulton and Watt sound like a bog standard firm of dodgy solicitors – or a cliche within a cliche perhaps. But of course they’re not. We’re talking THE James Watt as in Godfather of the Industrial Revolution so to speak with Boulton being the man with the money. And the Boulton and Watt being the name given to the massive beam engine which now has pride of place (That’s enough cliches – Ed!) in the High Mill at Dundee’s Verdant Works Museum. There are only five of these leviathans left in Britain. And unlike most of the other machines in the High Mill at Verdant Works it won’t be wheeled aside to allow ZeroThreeFifteen Theatre Co to perform me play ‘O Halflins an Hecklers..’ there this June.

The Performance Area where the travelling players will strut their stuff without advice from a navel gazing Prince of Denmark was actually large enough to house most of the Great Tapestry of Scotland which is due to return to Verdant in August this year. But before that we’re going to do our show in the round using the ambience acoustics and dimensions of the High Mill. To be honest I’ve had a thing about shows ‘in the round’ since seeing a brilliant production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in the Other Place at Stratford some years ago. The show was set in Victorian times among merchant bankers before that term became one of abuse! And this middle aged writer dude(?) managed to persuade the young actors that in the round was a good idea. But there’s also the possibility of using some of the smaller machines as part of a set. Definitely maybe methinks – I see a hard hat and a luminous yellow jacket on the horizon!

Weavers an Weemin

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To borrow an Ernie Wiseism ‘the play what I wrote’ (ref previous post to cyberspace black hole) has the full title of ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’. The Halflins are gone now of course but the Hecklers the Weavers and the Weemin of the Jute story are of course still powerful presences above the Tay. But having referenced the origins of the word ‘heckler’ in the Dundee Jute Industry I’d better say a little about the Weavers and Women of the play.

One of the reasons Jute came to the Tay was what we might today call a skill set in the area of textiles going back centuries. The William Wallace story -‘Escape from Dundee’ – from Blind Harry’s epic poem references textiles – and it was only written a Century and a half or so after Wallace’s death! The Weavers’ Craft of Dundee was formed 1512 and in the 1690s  the Hilltown area of the City was incorporated into the then burgh partly as a result of some Weavers dealing in dodgy cloth!

The arrival of Jute in the early 19th Century also meant industrialisation and the factory system for many hand loom Weavers. Though some bucked the trend. There was one in particular name of McGonagall who…(That’s enough on that – Ed!)

Women weavers and spinners and batchers and more, along with Halflins constituted around 75% of the Jute workforce at the late 19th/early 20th Century peak. The Jute Barons would not employ men because they were (slightly) dearer and many former Halflin boys had to move to gain employment. One of my own grandfathers for example ended up working in a linoleum factory in Kirkcaldy. But it is this period that has given us the twin monikers of She Town and Kettle Boiler. And helps explain why Dundee has produced so many women of character strength and spirit in the face of dehumanising odds. Mary Brooksbank or Mary Slessor anyone?

There were too men in the area whose first ‘job’ was going to the Trenches – trenches which in the words of Professor Tom Devine ‘would have been impossible without sandbags made from Dundee Jute’. As well as no women 40% of men didn’t have the vote prior to 1918 and so some of them would have fallen without having the franchise – at which point words begin to fail me.

‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ will be premiered in the High Mill at Verdant Works Museum Dundee this June.

Halflins and Hecklers

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The word Halflin is not as you might be forgiven for thinking, an abbreviated version of Halfling aka a synonym for hobbit courtesy of JRR Tolkien. Although there are echoes and overtones in the meanings of the two words. Because the word halflin too refers to a small person in the physical sense as in a child. Specifically a child who after half a day in school worked part-time in the Jute Mills of Dundee prior to 1918 when the system was officially abolished. The thousands and thousands of primary school aged children such as my own grandfathers who worked in this way were more commonly known as half-timers. 

Many of them would also have been excellent hecklers. Proud perhaps of a word with its modern sense origins in the very same Dundee Jute Industry. To heckle is to comb fibres out of raw jute or textiles and one of the City of Dundee’s monikers was the Radical Town. And if we factor in the literally deafening noise of jute machinery and do the Maths we should find Hecklers as we know them today!

So mes amis I’m currently tweaking the script of a play I’ve written about Halflins and Hecklers and Jute no more. And one of the things which motivated me was that while it is a historical narrative so many themes in the Jute story are I believe relevant today. There’s globalisation, the wealth and poverty chasm, the status of women, immigration and the environment! 

‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ will be performed in the High Mill at Verdant Works Scotland’s Jute Museum in Dundee this June by actors from the ZeroThreeFifteen Theatre Co. So please watch this space if you feel able over the coming months and I’ll blog anon about Halflins and Hecklers and more!