(A longer version of this article first appeared in Product Magazine www.productmagazine.co.uk so if you’ve already read it, and want to get straight to the possibility of free tickets, then scroll to the bottom of the post.)
This year’s Margins Book and Music Festival, which is on at The Arches in Glasgow from the 24th-26th of February, perhaps shows the way forward for the future of independant festivals. The big boys of Scotland’s book festivals, Edinburgh International, Glasgow’s Aye Write and Wigtown, tend to focus on the well kent and established, perhaps understandably, but there are so many writers, poets and performers trying to get their work read and their voice heard that the smaller festivals can offer an important platform for the relatively unknown to get their chance.
The organisers of Margins believe that there is, with careful programming and pricing, a way to bring together little known writers and more established names and find them new audiences. They believe that most people interested in the arts have broad tastes and multiple interests, which are rarely catered for under one roof. This year they have sessions which include three generations of poets on stage, with Tom Leonard, Don Paterson and Billy Letford appearing together in association with the Scottish Poetry Library, and there are other events tailored to specific audiences and readerships. I argue often that labelling and categorising writers has a negative effect on how their writing will be perceived, or rather prejudged, but it is difficult to argue that at an event such as this it helps to have some sort of guide as to what you may like, and hopefully people will hang around to try something out of their comfort zone. So you may be a fan of Louise Welsh and/or Christopher Brookmyre and attend their event, but since you’re there you may want to see what brand new writing there is on offer, as collected by magazines such as Octavius and Gutter, both of whom host their own events.
If you’re a fan of William MacIlvanney you be intrigued as to why the organisers have placed him alongside new writer Allan Wilson whose debut collection of short stories Wasted in Love is only 6 months old. There’s even a nod to that most divisive of Scotland’s national obsessions, namely fitba, as Graeme Hunter, an Aberdonian exile in Spain and expert on all things Barcelona, talks about the central role of that sport in Catalonian and Caledonian life, before there is a reading from Rodge Glass’s latest novel Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs. It does appear that considerable thought has been put into the line-up of each individual event which when taken as a whole makes for an exciting and eclectic few days, and that’s without mentioning the music which has Roddy Woomble supported by Alasdair Roberts and Withered Hand on Friday, and sees Malcolm Middleton supported by Aidan Moffat, his former partner in Arab Strap, who appears with Bill Wells.
However, surely the highlight of the weekend takes place away from The Arches. It is a production of Fleck, Alasdair Gray’s playful take on the Faust legend, an event which should bring everyone who has an interest in Scottish writing together. Fleck has only been performed twice before, debuting at last year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival and then crossing the Atlantic to the International Festival of Authors in Canada. The chances are that this will be the plays last performance, a situation which must be due to economics and logistics rather than the quality of the writing which is classic Gray.
Once again Margins have carefully considered matching the venue to the event as Flecktakes place in the main auditorium of Oran Mor, the space at the corner of Byres Road near Gray’s own West End home and which is adorned by his own beautiful murals. With the man himself taking on the central role of Old Nick, this promises to be the ultimate Alasdair Gray experience. The cast tells its own tale as to how he is viewed by his fellow writers as it includes Alan Bissett, Zoe Strachan, Louise Welsh, Chiew Siah-Tei, Rodge Glass and Carl McDougall. It may be the closest Oran Mor has had to a religious experience since the days before they poured their first pint of Tennants.
How we consume our culture has, and is, changing dramatically and it’s important to remember that live performance remains the best way to catch a clear picture of what is going on culturally in your locale. As the world continues to shrink there is something ever more vital about the shared live experience be it music, theatre, film (you know what I mean) comedy, poetry and prose. Festivals such as Margins offer the ability to pick and choose your favourites alongside the promise of discovering the new. Support your local festival; you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
We have three pairs of tickets to give away thanks to Margins. Answer one, or all three, of the following questions to stand a chance of winning. Correct answers will be pulled from the Scots Whay Hae!
The first is for the Christopher Brookmyre/ Louise Welsh event on Friday 24th.
Q: What is the name of Louise Welsh’s debut novel?
The next is for the William McIllvanney/ AllanWilson event at 4pm on Saturday 25th.
Q: What is the name of the McIllvanney novel made into a movie which starred Liam Neason as a boxer?
Finally two of you can go attend the 3 Poets reading in association with the The Scottish Poetry Library, also on the 25th, which features Tom Leonard/ Don Paterson and Billy Letford.
Q: Who is Scotland’s current Makar?
Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org before 10pm on Thursday the 23rd Feb and I’ll email the winners by 11pm so you can pick up your your tickets at the door of The Arches in plenty of time. See you there.