Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Scotland - the promised land

Scotland: the promised land

The Cultural Revolution: in the wake of the Great War, two visions of Scotland emerged - a nationalist cultural resurgence led by a band of writers and a popular revival that appealed to the masses.

The final film in this series examines the struggle between these two ideologies, charting the remarkable transformation of those who helped give birth to the modern Scotland we know today. 'Scotland the promised land: the cultural revolution' is available from the BBC store.

How the kailyard segued into the cultural renaissance, driven by poet Hugh MacDiarmid (pictured) and others. Learn about the role played by the Angus port of Montrose in this intellectual revolution.

'1919, and the Great War was over; there was a sense of relief. Folk flocked to the country's music halls and theatres for their entertainment. It was a golden age of Scottish variety. Wherever it was, music hall was always local or regional in character, a peoples' theatre. In Scotland it had a national dimension, a distinct character of its own; tartan, kitsch and escapist. It was an invented version of Scotland that found its way into all sorts of productions. Scottish pantomimes had a scene added called the 'Highland Glen', whereby the audience were suddenly transported to a Highland glen. It was an excuse for Scots dancing, a celebration of identity in costume and songs. One of the most popular performers of the time was Tommy Lorne. Part clown, part comic, he was the leading pantomime star of his generation. Lorne wore white make-up and white gloves worn over long expressive hands. He took Highland fantasy to new heights, depicting a surreal, almost grotesque version of Scotland. His portrayal wasn't to everyone's taste. By the 1920s, Scotland’s identity, culture and voice were fast disappearing, eclipsed by her imperial English neighbour. In music halls up and down the country, Scotland had been reduced to a tartan caricature.

A group of resistance fighters were attempting to change Scotland, to rescue her from this invasion from south of the border, this occupying force. A small army of writers and artists plotted a revolution that would revive Scotland's disappearing culture and allow her true voice to be heard. They would fight with polemic, thoughts, imagery and words.

Christopher Murray Grieve was 27 years old  when he left the Royal Army Medical Corps. At the front, he had witnessed the deaths and suffering of his fellow Scots. But at home, his countrymen were reduced to a laughing stock: Scotland had become a figure of fun. After the war Grieve and his wife Peggy settled in Montrose, a harbour town on the Angus coast. Grieve took a job as a reporter on the local paper, the Montrose Review. He covered the unveiling of the town's war memorial: to some, the memorial was a tribute to those who had fallen for King, country and Empire. But to Grieve, it was a reminder of wholesale slaughter in the trenches, of comrades needlessly ordered to their deaths by the British ruling class. To Grieve, nothing less than a revolution could prevent this from ever happening again.

In Welwyn Garden City, a new town outside London, exiled Scot and former newspaper reporter in Aberdeen, James Leslie Mitchell is typing the final chapter of his seventh novel. Mitchell was a Mearns loon who used the pen-name Lewis Grassic Gibbon. The novel was titled 'Sunset Song'. This young novelist was part of a small army of writers who were attempting to change Scotland, to rescue her from an invasion from south of the border. Rather than military, these occupying forces were cultural. By the 1920s, Scotland’s identity, culture and voice were fast disappearing, eclipsed by her imperial English neighbour.

It was 1931, and Mitchell was to die of peritonitis caused by a perforated ulcer in 1935, tragically young at the age of 33. With a growing family to support, he vowed that Sunset Song would be his last attempt at writing the great Scottish novel. Contained in the manuscript is a story of loss, the memories of a Scottish childhood and a generation of young men wiped out by the Great War.'

There's a host of further links, features and reviews about Sunset Song and Lewis Grassic Gibbon on the forviemedia site. There's also articles that explore the lives and work of Hamish Henderson and a feature on our third Makar, Jackie Kay, in Blogs. In addition I found the following links to be informative and of interest.

Alan Riach: Hugh MacDiarmid's satirical to and fro with Glasgow University undergraduates

'Hugh MacDiarmid: Our greatest poet who saw Scotland on an infinite level' - Harry Reid

'How friendship blossomed between firebrand Hugh MacDiarmid and Mary Poppins writer PL Travers' - Martin Hannan article in the National

'Poet's lost plea for nation to be confident and self-aware unearthed after 70 years' - Kathleen Nutt

Nan Shepherd

'Unanswered questions, unfulfilled potential' - Alan Riach

Igniting the creative spirit ... a television series that left its mark

Wall Projects, Montrose: news from the Angus port in 2016.  Based in the Old Ropeworks, Wall Projects is the labour of love of artist Kim Canale, who moved back to her hometown with a mission to bring contemporary art to North-East Scotland. Driven by the philosophy that “not all roads lead to Glasgow and Edinburgh”, Kim supports emerging talent while showcasing artists who are at the top of their game. 

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