Last week was the beginning of festival season. There's the Edinburgh Fringe of course, but there's a lot going on in Glasgow too. As part of the European Championships festivities, last Thursday we were entertained by an afternoon of amazing Glasgow and Renfrewshire youth music from the main stage at George Square. The acts included Static Union, The Lizzie Reid Band, Weatherston, Awkward Family Portraits, and Moonstranger, with a special performance from the terrific Bowie Tribute Band.
All of the bands were fantastic. Most of them emerged from the excellent SQA-accredited Behind The Noise (BTN) schools programme. When we think of music in Scottish schools, we usually associate it with classical training. By contrast, BTN specialises in rock and pop, the logistics of which are far more manageable and affordable in a post-school environment.
I know most of the young people in the bands listed above (one of them, Lizzie Reid, is my daughter). This growing community of musicians would probably not have emerged without BTN. Dozens of confident young bands now on the live circuit have cited the programme as their kirk-starter into the business. It is difficult to overstate the value of BTN. At their annual showcase this year, 'Gig at The Grand,' over 70 pupils took to the stage performing their original songs to audiences of over 400 people each night. In addition, all the participants engaged in shadow roles for sound, lighting, DJ-ing, stage teching, merchandising and box office.
This year's shows were hosted by BBC presenters Vic Galloway and Nicola Meighan, who both expressed their genuine surprise at the level of talent and professionalism. As one parent commented, 'Behind The Noise is, without doubt, the most inspiring and engaging programme for young people. It develops confidence, creativity, commitment and collaboration. In a world where attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, it teaches young people that they really need to stick at things to get somewhere. And does all this while having a lot of fun.' I couldn't agree more.
But after seven successful years, the BTN programme is under threat. The ebullient programme director, Rico Capuano, told me that Glasgow City Council has withdrawn direct funding for next year, which Creative Scotland matches. This is a great pity. Glasgow secondary schools including Cleveden, Holyrood, King's Park, Springburn, St Mungo's and Shawlands will lose out. On the other hand, Renfrewshire Council have committed to fully funding the programme in eight of their schools. For just £20k of annual funding, this programme could continue in Glasgow schools. To lose it would be a crying shame and a huge loss.
The atmosphere of the Edinburgh Fringe was quite different – just as exhilarating, but different. Perhaps because the festivities are of a different class – sociologically, that is. And although many of the performers are young, the average age of the audiences in the venues we attended was around 54. This is the second time in my life that I have visited the Fringe. I don't exactly know why that is, but suspect it is my vulgarian tastes. So as a relative ingénue, what follows is a selection from a whistle-stop tour with my wonderful, high-spirited, fun-loving cousins.
First up was the Oxford Gargoyles, a fabulous a cappella jazz group. Their superb voices, style and impeccable delivery and harmonies were exquisite. When I closed my eyes, I could have sworn they had a rhythm section. Their rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's 'America' and an ingenious mash-up of the Toy Story's 'When She Loved Me' and McCartney's 'Blackbird' were breathtaking.
Next up was an hour with '1895-1927 in New Orleans: The Red Hot Roots of Jazz,' which turned out to be a history lesson in New Orleans music – the first music to be known as jazz – by the Tenement Jazz Band. A band of excellent players, this event was terrific fun in the relaxed, speak-easy atmosphere of the Jazz Bar. We then sozzled our way up to George Street to catch some theatre with '1-2-1 This Sex is Real,' in a tiny, windowless, dark, hot room with an audience of about 30 uncomfortable, squirming middle-agers watching two youngsters caught in the toxic world of online dating and insecure sex fuelled by Instagram, Snapchat and the rest of it. It was a pity that most of the audience's online presence probably didn't range beyond the odd Facebook or Twitter post.
On Monday we started with an extraordinary impersonation of Frank Sinatra by Richard Shelton in 'Sinatra: Raw.' His phrasing, his voice and his dialogue between songs was quite phenomenal and captured the charisma and pathos of Sinatra. Close your eyes, and it's the old master himself.
Later on, a crowd of us (including Twitter 'friends' I have now met in person) braved the crowds to see Glaswegian Darren 'Loki' McGarvey's show 'Poverty Safari Live': a tour de force bringing together hip-hop, comedy and verbal eloquence to explore themes of social mobility (or to be more precise, the lack of it) class, poverty and identity. Immersed in Edinburgh's cultural extravaganza, he made me feel quite homesick for the rawness of my home town.
Immediately afterwards we went to see another Glaswegian, Ayesha Hazarika, a stand-up comedian, political commentator and former political advisor to Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband. She is funny, irreverent and pointedly scandalous. Her show, 'Girl on Girl – The Fight for Feminism,' was insightful and toe-curlingly frank.
Although the juxtaposition of the two shows was accidental, the contrast was revealing. Both Glaswegian, both concerned with identity and intersectionality, both gritty and raw, both so different socially and culturally. A tale of two cities right enough. I'd love to see those two together doing a 'disco' (ghastly media jargon, apparently, for a discussion in a radio studio). All in all, we had a ball.
Photograph of summer in Edinburgh by Islay McLeod