Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Marriage of Figaro - Scottish Opera

The Marriage of Figaro - Scottish Opera, Review, Theatre Royal, Glasgow October 2016.

Without having any great knowledge of classical music I have enjoyed going to see Scottish Opera at the Theatre Royal since I was a kid. They have always had a policy of having reduced price seats available for young people, so it is always worth just trying something out, with seats starting lower than tickets for a Scottish Premiership football match. With that in mind I took my three kids to see Mozart's Marriage of Figaro last night at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. Making it a family affair my mother-in-law was there too, and at times she was almost ready to sing along in parts as she had an old, well loved cassette of this opera at home once upon a time. 

Inside the Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Although for many people a night at the opera is a good excuse to dress up, theatre-going in Glasgow is never stuffy and I always think that there is a bigger mix of people and ages here than in theatres I have been to in London and Edinburgh. I do like the new extension at the Theatre Royal, with its twisting stairwell, and roof terrace for admiring the view with a pre-theatre drink. 
View from the Theatre Royal roof terrace
I last saw Scottish Opera perform the Marriage of Figaro in 1995, in what was an English translation and it did feel a bit like a Westend farce as far as I can remember, so I was glad we were getting it sung in Italian tonight, a revival of their 2010 production. As always there is English translation in the super-titles above the stage to help you follow the plot. 

Although it is filled with wild imagined conspiracies I enjoyed sitting down to watch the 1984 Oscar-winning film Amadeus last week to get me in the mood for tonight's performance. The Marriage of Figaro was written in 1786 by a 30 year old Mozart. It is based on a French play by Pierre Beaumarchais. The play had performed amidst controversy in Paris two years earlier, controversial for it mockery of the aristocracy. An earlier play involving the same characters has also become an opera, Rossini's Barber of Seville, which includes the famous "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.." aria when this character first comes on stage. 

As with any performance by Scottish Opera the production values are very high, with beautiful sets and ornate costumes, which is what you expect from a night at the opera. The Scottish Opera orchestra sounded crisp and perky all night, in keeping with the bouncy music, with the old fortepiano giving an atmospheric harpsichord-like sound for the rhythmically spoken interludes. 

I thought the singing of all the characters was fantastic, with Ben McAteer, who I last saw in Scottish Opera's Devil Inside, a charismatic and knowing Figaro. Eleanor Dennis's voice soared when singing her solos as the Countess and when dueting with Anna Devin (Susanna) together they made a beautiful sound. The acting of all the characters throughout was excellent too, in what is basically a farce.

Personally I find Mozart's operas a bit too close to Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas (which isn't meant as a compliment) which this production plays up to a bit with lots of pinched bottoms and cross-dressing characters, and I do prefer operas where half the cast are dead from consumption by the end of the second act. There are too many gags in this story to make it one of my favourites. However my kids really enjoyed it despite it being three and a half hours long (still shorter than Lord of the Rings and they sat through that quite happily). Everyone else we were with really loved it too. Sometimes I think we can take Scottish Opera for granted. Despite their budgets being pinched they are still turning out high quality productions again and again. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Suppliant Women. Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh , October 2016. Review

The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus. A New Version by David Greig

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh on a sunny October night
As the new Artistic Director of the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, David Greig has begun his stint in this role by creating a new version of an ancient Greek play. Written 2500 years ago by Aeschylus, it is one of the world's oldest plays and yet the subject is chillingly contemporary. In fact many of the lines from the original play (which I recently wrote about here) fit perfectly in describing our world today.

Edinburgh Castle in October
On a crisp autumnal night in October we made our way through from Glasgow to the Athens of the North to see The Suppliant Women. Aeschylus' play is the first part of a tetralogy telling the story of The Danaids, a tale well known to the audiences of Athens that first saw it performed in around 470BCE. The Suppliant Women is the only surviving part of Aeschylus' Danaid Tetralogy. It tells of the 50 daughters of Danaus, fleeing across the sea from near Syria, escaping from forced marriage to their cousins, the sons of Aegyptus. They land in Greece at Argos and seek asylum. Although they may look foreign, they tell the people there of how they are descendants of the Argive heifer goddess Io, basically "we're all Jock Tamson's bairns".

Theatre of Dionysos, Athens
The play was first performed in the theatre of Dionysos in Athens, where the wealthy sponsors of the plays would carry out a libation before it began. This is a tradition which has been resurrected for The Suppliant Women, with different MPs and MSPs this week having performed the libation each night on stage at the opening of the play. We were told where the funding for our play came from, and the gods are offered an offering of wine (Dionysos was not just the god of theatre). It is a smart reminder of where the funding for theatre such as this comes from (largely the people, the demos, as it turns out). In that respect they are missing a trick in fully achieving the 30p in each £10 funding provided from the theatre bar by running it as a 90 minute piece with no interval, as I missed the chance to chip in an extra £4 for a wee tub of ice cream. We are asked to see if we can see anything of our current times reflected in the mirror of this old piece of theatre.

Theatre at Epidavros
With ancient paintings of theatre performances and Aeschylus' words themselves really all we have now to go on, what did ancient Greek theatre actually look and sound like? When you look at the scale of the theatre of Epidavros, despite its famous acoustics, it is hard not to imagine that music and a raised chorus of voices would be required to lift the sound to the cheap seats at the back. The Suppliant Women is unusual because the chorus here plays a large part in the story as a character. In David Greig's telling of the story they set the mood from the moment they stride on stage, rhythmically beating out the metre with their feet.

The stage is stripped back and open. The play is set in ancient times. The modern, casual dress of the chorus keeps us in the present. The chorus themselves is made up of local volunteers with professional actors Gemma May, Omar Ebrahim and Oscar Batterham taking the lead parts. The chorus though, the suppliant women themselves, are a fantastically well choreographed, ebbing and flow, huddling and scattering ensemble. The fact that the asylum seekers are here drawn from our local community emphasises the feeling that they are our kin. Written by David Greig, directed by Ramin Gray and with music composed by John Browne, the team behind The Suppliant Women have already worked together successfully with The Events. When that play toured it triumphantly used local choirs on stage as part of the piece, and with the Suppliant Women again local people will be used. The chorus in Edinburgh will be replaced by people of Belfast and Liverpool when the play moves on.

The rhythm that started with the marching feet carries on through the play in the pulse of the language and John Browne's music, played by two musicians. I am no expert of ancient music but it feels and sounds true, equally Eastern and at times like a mournful Celtic keening. Particular credit must go to the Aulos player whose playing was very evocative.

Aulos player from Ancient Greece
When the women are met by King Pelasgus of Argos (Oscar Batterham) he is suspicious of these foreigners and the troubles that they might bring. Sharply dressed and with a politicians measured assessment he decides to put it to the people of Argos to decide - the word democracy is first found in Aeschylus' writing. It falls to a man, their father to make their case in the city, whilst the women still fearing violence against them from men stay in the safety of the holy temple they have come to. Their father warns them that people will fear them, they should "always be modest", "defer" to people, keep your head down and don't cause trouble.

Only this week the people of Hungary were asked to vote in a referendum on whether asylum seekers should be allowed into their country. Whilst 98% of Hungarians who voted stated that they would not allow refugees entry to their country, most people in the country managed to scupper the vote by not participating. I don't need to labour the point that the words from 2500 years ago seem again and again to echo to our times. Even when the people of Argos vote overwhelmingly to welcome these people in need (and more than that, to fight to defend them if required) dark clouds (or sails) are on the horizon and the men from their homeland arrive to drag them back by force. The older women of Argos welcome the women, but with the coda that they should not scorn Aphrodite but welcome men and lust as that is the way of things. The suppliant women display a more independent streak, as they leave the stage with their exiting ode (Exodus).

In a week where Theresa May's Conservative party asks employers to report foreign workers, overseas doctors are being told they are no longer welcome and there will be a crackdown on overseas students and visas, it is clear that Danaus' warning to his daughters that people fear foreigners is as resonant today as it was for the original audiences. The people of Argos are shown to have done the right thing in the play, aware of the potential consequences. We clearly still need taught this lesson.

On top of the language, words like drama, democracy and exodus that came from the Ancient Greeks, I am astounded at the modern parallels being found in the stories of ancient plays of Aeschylus. Recently the three plays of The Orestiae was retold (as This Restless House) by the Citizen's Theatre. Working with a smaller fragment of source material The Suppliant Woman packs a mighty punch. It is also the nearest that I have been to encountering what the ancient Athenians maybe saw. Stripped of marble columns and chiffony robes, the words are allowed to sing out. If the aim of David Greig's time at the Lyceum is to bring poetry and community into the theatre, he is off to a flying start.

I would really encourage you to go and get a ticket for this if you get the chance.

As it is national poetry day today, I will finish with a short poem from a modern Greek poet and playwright - Stamatis Polenakis, called Elegy.

"Nothing, not even the drowning of a child, 
stops the perpetual motion of the world. 
I know that today or yesterday some child drowned; 
a child who drowned today or yesterday 
is nothing - an inanimate puppet 
in the hands of God, a short motionless poem 
in the perpetual motion of the world."

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Castles of Glasgow

Castles In and Around Glasgow

Does Glasgow have any castles? The whole reason that Edinburgh exists is because 1000 years ago the rocky hill at its centre was the most easily defended place thereabouts. Whilst Edinburgh Castle is world-renowned, Glasgow doesn't really have the medieval grandeur of a fortified volcano in its city centre. You would not really associate Glasgow with castles. There have been castles in and around the city of Glasgow, but not much physical evidence of them exists now, however the clues are there. There is still a Castle Street in the city centre, an Old Castle Road in Cathcart and a Castlebank Street in Partick. These street names come from the castles that previously stood among open countryside hard to picture in today's city.

Castlemilk (also known locally as Chateau Lait of course) on the other hand has, disappointingly, never housed a castle. The Stuarts who owned the land and gave it the name, were from Castle Milk in Dumfriesshire. When they took the land on the outskirts of Carmunnock they brought the Castlemilk name north with them, but no castle.

So these are the castles in and around Glasgow that I could think of. Have I missed any?

Earliest fortifications around Glasgow

Roman Bar Hill Fort
People have lived around the River Clyde for thousands of years. In 142 AD the Romans camped nearby with 37 miles of  the Antonine Wall stretching from Old Kilpatrick, through Bearsden towards the River Forth, with regular fortifications along it.

Near Twechar the remains of a Roman fort can be seen at Bar Hill, and at Bearsden the Roman fort is hidden under a block of flats but you can still explore the Roman bathhouse attached to it.

At Bearsden, on the outskirts of Glasgow, all the features you would want from a Roman bathouse can be seen, with cold plunge pools, warm rooms, a hypocaust and a nine-seater, communal latrine. Many of the finds from the site are on display at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. The soldiers stationed here were believed to be Gauls, who may have come back with Emperor Antoninus from his North African campaign of 146-149AD. A wee change for them I would have thought.

Only 20 years after building the wall and its fortifications the Romans abandoned the Antonine Wall and withdrew to the south again. Emperor Antoninus was succeeded by the more renowned Marcus Aurelius.

Roman bathhouse at Bearsden
Roman cludgie in Bearsden
Are there other ancient fortifications in Glasgow? At the highest point in Queen's Park, hidden among the tress beside the flagpole are eroded earthworks and a mysterious stone circle.
View from the flagpole at the top of Queen's Park, Glasgow
This is Camphill and there are various theories about what once stood here. The earthworks hidden in the trees at the summit measure over 90 metres in circumference and were for a long time thought to mark the site of an iron age fort or a Roman settlement. There is a small (rather unimpressive) stone circle here also, sometimes described as thousands of years old, or maybe marking a military position from the nearby Battle of Langside in 1568. However the stones were not present when antiquarian archaeologists explored the area in the 18th century. Either somebody has put them there to jazz the place up a bit, or it is just debris from some nearby building work left because it made a nice place to sit.
Stone circle in Queen's Park
Theories about the hilltop fort have swung from it being a 3000 year old iron age settlement, or more likely medieval, or merely a couple of centuries old. All the theories have been hard to prove as the 18th century archaeologists cleared so much stuff away that they have wiped out a lot of clues. And then, in 1985, fragments of Roman pottery were found on the site. So maybe it was a Roman hilltop fort all along? Perhaps all the theories are correct. An ongoing mystery.

Two further similar, circular earthworks lie among the trees in nearby Pollok Park, on the hill above the Burrell Museum.

Bishop's Castle

It wasn't really until the 6th Century that the city of Glasgow was established. Glasgow became a religious centre after St Mungo founded his church at the Molendinar Burn, where Glasgow Cathedral still stands. The burn, now mostly covered over, used to power the Bishop's mills.

The road outside the cathedral in Glasgow is still called Castle Street. This comes from the time that the Bishop's Palace (or Bishop's Castle) stood just north-west of Glasgow Cathedral, where Glasgow Royal Infirmary now stands.

Bishop's Castle around 1560, with Glasgow Cathedral behind it
The first stone built cathedral in Glasgow dates from 1136 and the bishop's residence is presumed to date from this time, originally just a circular earthwork. By the time that Edward I invaded Scotland in 1290 the Bishop's Castle was a fortified building and Edward garrisoned his army here for a while. In the 15th century a five-storey tower was built here by Bishop John Cameron, and his successor built a defensive wall around it. However during the Reformation the Bishop's Castle was besieged six times, until the bishop of Glasgow at the time fled to France. The building later housed a jail before falling into disrepair in the 1700s, with the stone been taken away for new buildings in the growing city. There was still enough of the tower standing at the time of the 1715 Jacobite uprising for it to be used to hold 353 prisoners, guarded by 100 troops.

Castellated gate leading to Glasgow Royal Infirmary on Castle Street
In 1755 some of the stones were removed to build the Saracen's Head Inn. The building was finally flattened to make way for the hospital in 1792, and a castellated gate at the Royal Infirmary entrance commemorates the previous structure on the site. Also in Cathedral Square a pillar marks the site of the former Bishop's Castle/ Palace, although you wouldn't know this from looking at it as the brass plaque is missing from it. This pillar (and informative plaque) were unveiled in 1915. Also a line of stones in the ground near the St Mungo's Museum of Religion marks the place where castle walls were found. This museum is meant to be built in the style of the castle tower that once stood nearby.

Pillar marking the former boundary of Bishop's Castle
 in Cathedral Square outside Glasgow Cathedral


Castle Vaults pub, Maryhill
The Castle Vaults pub which still stands at the lower end of Maryhill Road, dates from the 1880s. It takes it's name from a brewery rather than any castle that once stood here. Proprieter George McLachlan also owned the Castle Brewery in Maryhill. From 1889 the brewery was located where Maryhill Police Station now stands, in a former linen and cotton factory. To meet growing demand, in 1907 MacLachlan opened a larger brewery in Edinburgh and closed the Maryhill works, taking this Castle from Glasgow to Edinburgh. "Fortress Firhill" is the only fortification in Maryhill. There are no records of any castles, apart from the brewery, in Maryhill.

There are a couple of castles still standing on the southside of Glasgow however, and archaelogical evidence of Partick Castle has finally settled the arguments about where this used to stand.

Crookston Castle

Relatively unknown to most people living in Glasgow, and tucked away in a housing estate in the southside ,stands Glasgow's last true castle. Crookston Castle sits among trees at the top of a hill in a non-descript park near to where Levern Water joins White Cart Water. The first fortification here was built by Robert de Croc in the twelfth century, timber structures surrounded by deep ditches. The area of Crookston took its name from Robert Croc, but by 1330 the Stewarts of Darnley owned the estate. Around 1400 they replaced the wooden structures with a rectangular stone castle, with towers at each of the four corners. When John Stewart took part in a rebellion against King James IV in 1489, the king bombarded the castle and destroyed two of the towers and the central block. One of the most famous of the Darnley Stewarts, Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), was allegedly betrothed to Mary, Queen of Scots beneath an ancient yew tree here in 1565. When the tree was felled in 1816, a model of the castle was carved from its wood and can be seen on Pollok House.
Robert de Croc's defensive ditches, Crookston Castle
Although the Stewarts continued to live in the castle, they finally abandoned it in the late sixteenth century. By 1600 it was in ruins. In 1757 the Maxwells of Pollok bought the castle. In 1847 their family partially restored it for a visit of Queen Victoria to Glasgow. One of the towers still stands and the now roofless central hall can be explored. A staircase and steep ladder can take you to the roof to enjoy the views across the south of Glasgow. Entry to the castle is free, although the gates to it are locked at night.
Crookston Castle, Glasgow
The central hall at Crookston Castle, now roofless
After climbing up ladders to the top of the castle, weather permitting, views can be had
from Eaglesham Moor to The Cobbler, Ben Ledi and the southside of Glasgow
Crookston Castle, Glasgow

Haggs Castle

A photograph from 1855 by Duncan Brown of Haggs Castle
As my granny lived in nearby Mosspark as a child I was often taken to Haggs Castle in Pollokshields At that time it housed a Museum of Childhood. Haggs Castle still stands on St Andrews Drive, but is now a private residence after previous owners, Glasgow Corporation, sold it in 1998, two years after closing the museum. 
Haggs Castle today, now a private house
It was built in 1585 by Sir John Maxwell of Pollok as the family's main residence. It was named after the bogs or "haggs" that were nearby when it was built. Though they lived here in one form or another for a long time, they let it fall into decay in 1753 when the family moved to their newly completed mansion, Pollok House. Haggs Castle was later partially restored and in the 1850s became home to the Maxwell's Pollok Estate factor.
Haggs Castle today
During World War 2 it was requisitioned by the army and after the war divided into flats. In 1972 Glasgow Corporation bought it and converted it into the Museum of Childhood that I remember, which opened four years later. It had rooms filled with old toys and a big kitchen in its vaulted basement. I've still got a Haggs Castle badge that I must have got on a visit there once. 
My Haggs Castle souvenir
With walls in places five feet thick it was always more of a sturdy tower, rather than a fortified castle. To see it now you have to stand across the road and jump up and down to see over the high walls which surround it. Hidden away and fitted with modern adaptions, but still standing.

The Maxwell family's later home on their Pollok Estate

Cathcart Castle

Cathcart Castle is another one on the southside that people may remember from childhood visits, but unlike Haggs Castle and Crookston Castle, it has been flattened now. Located in what is now Linn Park, Cathcart Castle was built as a strong tower on a hilltop location in the 15th century. As the family home to the Earls of Cathcart it was originally a five-storey, stone-built, rectangular keep.

Prior to that an earlier fortification was home to Alan de Cathcart, on this site overlooking the White Cart Water. Cathcart at this time was a much larger area than on current maps, covering lands in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, down to Langside. Alan de Cathcart was a staunch supporter of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. With these connections he extended the family lands into Ayrshire.
Cathcart Castle on a 1913 postcard
In 1546 the castle became the property of the Semples, who lived here until they moved into Cathcart House (also now gone) in 1740. The castle is one of the million castles in Scotland which claims Mary, Queen of Scots spent a night here. Eleven days after escaping from Lochleven Castle she had rallied 6000 men in Hamilton and was marching them to Dumbarton Castle. At the pass of Lang Loan (now Battlefield Road) on Thursday the 15th of May 1568 they faced Regent Moray's troops. She is meant to have stood on a hill here watching the battle, which lasted 45 minutes and led to the defeat of her forces. She fled south to Dundrennan Abbey, and then south into England where she was captured and imprisoned. A small hill here just outside Linn Park called Court Knowe is marked with a commemorative stone as the point where she watched the battle.
Court Knowe, with views across Glasgow beyond
From here on the other side of Old Castle Road stood Cathcart Castle. In 1927 Glasgow Corporation took ownership of the castle ruins. Planned restorations never took place and by the 1950s it was closed off to the public as it was becoming dangerous. It was finally demolished in 1980, leaving only a couple of feet of walls standing above the ground. It is no longer marked or signposted, on the edge of Linn Park. I went with my daughter to try and find it, climbing through a hole in the fence on Old Castle Road and clambering through the undergrowth, what now remains only hints at what once stood here.
Old Castle Road, access to remains of Cathcart Castle
Walls of Cathcart Castle, Linn Park
Walls of Cathcart Castle, Linn Park
Cathcart Castle, hidden in the undergrowth of Linn Park

Partick Castle

Yes, not only is there a Partick Thistle, but there has been at least one Partick Castle. 

It was known that the Bishops of Glasgow had a country retreat in (what was then) rural Partick as long ago as the twelfth century. Before that the kings of Strathclyde were believed to have a castle or hunting lodge in this area, possibly linked with the ancient Govan church on the other side of a shallow ford which crossed the Clyde here. The bishops' castle, or country house, of Partick is depicted in the old Partick Burgh coat of arms. The other noteworthy matters depicted on the Partick coat of arms are the bishop's mitre, boats marking its maritime links and millstones and a wheat-sheaf. 
Old coat of arms of Partick
At the lower end of the River Kelvin several mills were set up in the medieval period, and were expanded over the years to supply the nearby growing city of Glasgow. It was only in 2002 that this trade ended here with the massive Meadowside Granary being demolished. Now even the Hovis factory in ....street is in the process of being converted into flats and the remaining old mill buildings that can still be seen on the banks of the Kelvin are also now flats.

The Bishops of Glasgow maintained a residence in Partick until the Reformation in 1560, when Bishop James Beaton fled to France. There he was appointed by Mary, Queen of Scots as her ambassador to France. The Partick Castle was believed to lie on the west bank of the River Kelvin, near to where it meets the Clyde. Recent archaeological excavations by Scottish Water in this area, beside Castlebank Street, may have located its location, and also a later castle.

This later Partick Castle was built in 1611 by George Hutcheson. With his brother he also founded Hutchesons' Hospital in Glasgow, and Hutchesons' Grammar School. By 1770 it was empty and fifteen years later was in ruins. In the 1830s it was demolished and its stone taken away to be re-used in local construction. With Partick rapidly expanding the site was cleared in the 1880s to build Partick Railway Station down here, and later a scrapyard occupied the site. Now it is unrecognisable from that period, with waves of student flats being built on this site.
Site of Partick Castle on the banks of the Kelvin,
near the railway bridge at the top of this picture
A few old paintings exist showing this old castle but its exact location was unknown until last year. It was thought that 140 years of industrial activity here would not have left any traces of the previous buildings. However archaeological investigations carried out before Scottish Water built a new plant on the site turned up some surprises. They found the ruins of two separate tower houses that would match the stories of old Partick Castles. This was confirmation of the 12th century Bishop's Castle and of Hutcheson's 17th century tower on almost the same site. The analysis by GUARD Archaeology  is still ongoing.
Recent archaeological dig at the site of Partick Castle
(I have written previously about other old Partick stuff here)

Two Castles in Mugdock Park

Just on the outskirts of Glasgow there are another couple of castles that I sometimes visit with my children. Mugdock Park in the 14th century was home to the Grahams of Montrose. By 1372 they had built a castle where Mugdock Castle now stands, protected on two sides by rocky promontories, and on another by Mugdock Loch which was much bigger then than its current size.
Mugdock Castle on a small hilltop
In the 1640s when the Marquess of Montrose called Mugdock home, the castle was sacked twice during the wars with Charles I. In 1650 Montrose was executed and his lands taken by the Marquess of Argyll. 11 years later when he was executed, the Grahams took possession of the land again and rebuilt the castle as a mansion within the old castle walls. Over the subsequent centuries various occupants demolished sections, built walled gardens and connected mansions to the old building, leaving today's isolated tower connected to a confusing jumble of structures. One tower remains, although you cannot get into it.
The remaining tower at Mugdock Castle
Mugdock Castle
If you walked from the main entrance of Mugdock Park towards the old castle, you probably passed a much more derelict building on the way. This is called Craigend Castle, built as a country house for the Smith family in the 17th century. John Smith was born here in 1724 and after making his money through trade with the slave economy of the West Indies, he founded the booksellers John Smith and Co. that still trades today in Glasgow. The house was rebuilt in a Gothic Regency style, with turrets and castellation in 1824 by James Smith of Jordanhill.

The ruins of Craigend Castle last winter
Craigend Castle, disappearing now into the foliage
A succession of owners lived in the house until it was sold to Andrew Wilson and his son William in 1948. They already owned "Wilson's Zoo" in Oswald Street in Glasgow and they ran the estate as a zoo for a while with elephants, lions, monkeys and crocodiles. Never a successful venture it closed in 1955. Thereafter the grounds became Mugdock Country Park and Craigend Castle has become a ruin. Unless propped up soon, it looks as if it is on the verge of collapsing forever. The former stable block of Craigend Castle is now used as the visitor centre and tearooms at the park and maybe gives an idea of how grand the old building once looked.

Visitor centre of Mugdock Park, previously the stables of Craigend Castle,
 then later still home to Charlie the elephant when the place became a zoo
Other grand villas around Glasgow were built, like Craigend Castle, in the style of a castle, such as Sherbrooke Castle in Glasgow. Now a hotel it was built in 1896 as a private villa, the only fighting it saw was when it was requisitioned by the Royal Navy during WW2 and used as a radar training centre. Similarly in Mugdock Park the emplacements of anti-aircraft guns from this period can still be visited.

Further afield...

Without going far from Glasgow there are plenty of other castley castles worth a visit. Stirling Castle is one of my favourites for taking visitors too. Edinburgh Castle I always think looks better from down in Princes Street, but is a bit of a disappointing jumble of British Army offices once you are inside it. Nearer to Glasgow but worth a visit....

Bothwell Castle
Bothwell Castle is run by Historic Scotland, and parts of it are currently under renovation (October 2016) but is a proper grand castle as drawn by any child.

Dumbarton Castle sits atop Dumbarton Rock
Built on a spectacular volcanic rock on the Clyde, Dumbarton Castle has a long history and a great location. It offers lovely views across the Clyde and, on the other side, down onto the appallingly named home of Dumbarton FC - The Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium.

Newark Castle
On the opposite bank of the River Clyde Newark Castle is one of the most intact castles around. Just outside Port Glasgow there are no longer any defensive walls, but plenty of rooms inside to explore and a handsome doocot too.

(Okay, within two minutes of me posting this three decent suggestions for castles I had never heard of were sent to me. Any other suggestions gratefully received

Castle Levan, near Gourock

Castle Strathven, didn't know it existed, looks impressive

Springburn Castle, a gothic villa from 1820, aka Balgray Tower)

Anyway, in a country that has spent 2000 years fighting against Romans, fighting among ourselves, against Vikings and against our beloved southern neighbours there are plenty of castles and forts in Scotland. Even in a city like Glasgow, that exploded into existence with the Industrial Revolution, they are all over the place if you look hard enough.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Björk - Hammersmith Apollo. 24th September 2016. Live review

Björk - Hammersmith Apollo

Live review. 24th September 2016.

In recent years Björk has not played many live concerts outside of festivals, so when I found out that she was playing in London when I happened to be in town I jumped at the chance to get a ticket. This meant meeting up with a German punk with a 1980s British electronic pop obsession, who had flown from Berlin for the concert, and a woman who had flown in specifically from Spain to be here. Her next trip to Britain will be to see Korn and Limp Bizkit play in Glasgow. 

I know it's a song by a different Icelandic mob,
but it seemed an appropriate place for pre-gig drinks
It is fair to say that Björk has a diverse collection of admirers, as eclectic as her music has been over the years. After my German friend and I had traded stories of recent Adam Ant concerts we had been to we settled down to see what Iceland's pop pixie had dreamt up for us tonight. Sitting next to me was another guy from Glasgow. He was seeing Björk again for the first time since he saw her play the Barrowlands with The Sugarcubes in 1988. For me it was my first time, definitely one ticked off of my personal bucket list.

Björk at the Hammersmith Apollo, London 
As the lights darkened the string orchestra who would accompany her all night took their places. With an elaborate, lacey mask covering her face and dressed like a diaphanous, white jellyfish complete with dangling tendrils, she came on stage and launched into the songs from her recent Vulnicura album. When originally launched the album was co-produced by Arca and the Haxan Cloak. The lyrics told the story of the recent end of her marriage, her rising and falling voice crackling with emotion. A few months later a new version of the album was released, Vulnicura Strings; her voice, no percussion and a string section accompaniment. Seeing this live it had an almost Baroque quality to the sound. With just her voice and the Aurora chamber orchestra, here a 26-piece strings section, it's a sound that could have been made anytime in the past 450 years since the violin was invented, if anyone had ever imagined it before now. Despite it being 28 years since she sang at the Glasgow Barrowlands her distinctive voice and vocal style are undimmed. In fact I was blown away by the energy of her singing.

Björk and the Aurora Orchestra 
Her fluorescent costume flicked through various colours as she hovvered in front of the musicians, the biting History of Touches a stand out performance from the first half.

Björk at the Hammersmith Apollo 
After a quick break, and change of costume, in the second half she went through several older tracks, now given string arrangements. Dressed in red, this half had a different energy and pace, her voice the lead instrument, playing just off the rhythm of the orchestra throughout. With three songs from the 1997 album Homogenic, and The Anchor Song from her 1993 album Debut in her final encore, there was plenty for the fans that have been with her all the way to enjoy. Only at the end was I aware that I'd been grinning warmly all evening. 

Aloof, ethereal, weird, dramatic. If ever one person seems to encapsulate the place they come from, Björk seems to be Iceland, the land of ice, fire and elves, condensed into one human being. A work of art.

Holiday snaps from beautiful Iceland