Last week I saw the musical 'The Last Ship' in the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, now an even more beautiful venue following refurbishment. The music and lyrics are by Sting, and the man himself said it was inspired by the UCS work-in and his own Tyneside. It is a deeply moving epic of a family, a working-class community and its act of defiance and solidarity in the face of a ruthless government who couldn't have cared less about ripping the community apart.
The cast of actors and singers, never caricatured, is loosely based on an amalgam of individuals. One of the main characters is the troubled, self-educated shipyard foreman Jackie White, played by Joe McGann. He has a wee chat with worker Charlie Richmond (Adrian) about Homer, of all things. I remember some years ago a similarly recondite discussion between the UCS shop stewards about the Medici during one of their visits to me in GSA. Art mimics life right enough.
Then there is the cynical and hard-bitten drunk Kevin Wathen (Davey), whose characterisation evokes sympathy and understanding, and would have responded willingly, in the end, to 'no bevying.' Sean Kearns' portrayal of an indifferent boss has more than a passing resemblance to Nicholas Ridley, whose notorious Ridley plan recommended the denationalisation and 'return to the private sector' of shipbuilding, mining and others. Thatcher finished the job.
Penelope Woodman (Baroness Tynedale) is unmistakably Thatcher right down to the gold button two-piece suit – and that voice. In fact, what I liked most about the musical was the presence and portrayal of strong women. Charlie Hardwick (Peggy) was fantastic as the stoical wife of Jackie, and Frances MacNamee (Meg) was quite magnificent as the female lead alongside Richard Fleeshman (Gideon) who had deserted her for 17 years, gone to sea. But her relationship with her daughter Ellen (Kate Moore) was beautifully drawn.
Ellen was based on Sting himself, and his desire to abandon his town for London, to be a musician. The character was also based on the 1936 Jarrow MP Ellen Wilkinson – 'Red Ellen' – whose outstanding achievements are described by Matt Perry (reader in labour history at Newcastle) in the accompanying programme to the show. Her book 'The Town that was Murdered,' he describes as the '"I, Daniel Blake" of its day.'
'The Last Ship' had a rough time of it in its Broadway run. I'd guess that the northern accents would have stumped the Americans in this quintessentially British drama, whose ending is a tour de force – a call to resist – by people condemned to austerity, the gig economy and foodbanks. The design of the set was impressive and reminiscent of the skyline of Clydebank where enormous ships, built in John Brown's, would hover over the tenements.
The score is unmistakably Sting's. He has said that the musical was also inspired by my dad, Jimmy Reid, one of his heroes. Dad would have chuckled with pleasure to hear that, although his interest in pop music was zero, and he wouldn't have heard of Sting. Once introduced to Roger Daltrey, he looked quizzically at him and was asked, 'Do you know who he is?' Dad, a football lover, trying desperately to recall where he had seen his face before, replied: 'Which team do you play for, again?'
Talking of football, I love the World Cup. I am not a proper football fan, I only watch top football. Still, I follow this four-yearly sporting jamboree with much excitement. Its four-week duration is also a kind of therapy. Engaging but not complex, relaxing but rarely boring. National fervour, extremes of emotion displayed by fans in their entertaining outfits and horrendous bands, are usually a joy.
But Scotland's presence is sorely missed. Who to support, then? Lots of teams. England? For most of my life I've been one of those 'anyone but England' types throwing various soft objects at the screen at English commentary. Since devolution, actually because of it, I have finally grown up and got over myself. Do I support England now? Yes. Will they win it? Probably not. Panama wasn't a difficult team to beat and England have yet to play a strong side. But there is no particularly outstanding team, so it's feasible. How would I feel if England win the World Cup? Eh, that's a different matter. I may have to retrieve my soft objects.
A lovely story emerged from the fine town of Rothesay last week: Syrian refugees living on Bute opened a new bakery in the family name – Helmi's Patisserie. According to the local paper, the Buteman, the refugees were 'blown away' by locals' response. Within two hours of opening they were sold out. Bashar Helmi owns the bakery with his son-in law, Mohamed, who ran a patisserie for 16 years in Syria, doing the baking. A heart-warming story that shows communities supporting their refugees despite the climate of ugliness and racism created by Brexit.
According to the Buteman the family have settled in nicely to life on the island. 'It's home now,' said Bashar. 'I have been made to feel very welcome here.' They should be proud of their achievements, as should the warm, welcoming Brandanes. Together, they do Scotland proud.
Finally, Darren 'Loki' McGarvey won the Orwell prize on Monday night for his book 'Poverty Safari' published by Luath press. I knew he would win, I just knew it. However, that 'knowledge' did not take away from the sheer joy that a working-class lad from Pollok won Britain's most prestigious prize for political writing.