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Scotia Review Presents - BARLEY BREE STRATH & SEA

26th July 2005

Words & Music at the Mill Theatre from Scotia Review for Caithness Arts Week

Anyone who's spent this summer so far in the north must - like myself - be wondering what we've done to deserve such sunless July days. At times like these it's not hard to understand why our ancestors raised so many hefty stone geometries - if I thought it would appease the gods of weather, I too would gladly salute them, and beg for clemency.

Fortunately, the next week brings an alternative from gloom, whatever the sun decides. Caithness Arts has designated 30th July - 7th August Caithness Arts Week, and Scotia Review has put together an event at the Mill Theatre, Thurso which sets the tone for the duration.

Writers Bess Ross and George Gunn will be reading from their work as part of Barley Bree Strath & Sea, an evening of poetry, prose and music. Joining them was to have been Wick singer-songwriter Nancy Nicolson; unfortunately, Nancy has had to withdraw at the last moment due to illness. Instead, we are delighted to welcome to Thurso another well-regarded novelist & poet: Anne Macleod, and Wick composer and musician, James Ross.

Anne Macleod has published two well-received novels. The Dark Ship is set in the community of Lewis, devastated by the sinking of the Iolaire on rocks off Stornoway on New Year's Day 1919. Instead of welcoming home their menfolk spared from the hell of war in France, Lewisachs found themselves grieving for the drowned bodies of those same men, cruelly denied the fulfilment of their reprieve from death by a casual but deadly swipe of nature's paw. The author herself has said: 'The Dark Ship is a story of love in all its complexity, of music, of war, of life. It celebrates love and courage, music and story.'

Her latest novel, enigmatically entitled The Blue Moon Book, is a different, contemporary love tangle, published last year. Also a gifted poet, Anne Macleod juggles her writing life with working as a dermatologist.

Bess Ross, too, is working on a new novel, from which she will read on Saturday night. Bess has previously published Those Other Times, Strath, as well as A Bit of Crack and Car Culture, a collection of short stories, and Farmland, a play commissioned, produced and toured by Caithness' own Grey Coast Theatre Company. No-one who has read Bess's work can fail to be impressed and moved by the observation, the compassion and the humour that depicts the often unfashionably harsh side of life in the Highlands. No sentimentality or 'kailyard' here; but no missing either the love of life within the family and the community, whatever the difficulty.

George Gunn is better known to many as Artistic Director of Thurso-based Grey Coast Theatre Company and Pictish Naval Commander of his John O'Groat Journal column. At heart, however, George is a poet.

Like Bess, he has no time for a view of the Highlands seen through ros tint. Yes, his poetry describes the beauty of his beloved native land; but his Highlands are linked clear-sightedly to Otherlands - be they England, Iceland or Iraq - and those human experiences at once common and unique to all. Few poets today combine such a strong evocation of place with an uncompromising hatred of political betrayal and duplicity, whether personal or international. For George Gunn, both Kildonan and Fallujah are raw wounds, impossible to forget or excuse.

George is about to have a new volume of poetry published by Chapman. Winter Barley will join Sting and Whins as substantial testimonies to an honest and lyrical imagination.

Composer James Ross is already a stalwart of Scotia Review after his beautiful performance of 'Caithness Cycle', commissioned by Scotia Review, written with David Morrison, and performed earlier this year at Lyth Arts Centre. He returns to the Mill to offer more magic from those pianist's fingers. James, currently living and working in Edinburgh, is recording a solo album for Greentrax, to be released in January, as well as composing a piece commissioned by the Caithness Orchestra.

Scotia Review is proud to host an evening of talent that demonstrates the literary quality and ambition on our own doorstep. It is not xenophobic to find special resonance in the feelings evoked by artists who come from our own culture. Ultimately, all true art is expansive and inclusive. Undeniably, however, there are very special privileges available to us as audience or spectators of one of our own. Scotia Review's Barley Bree Strath & Sea offers that in quadruplicate.

See you there.

Mill Theatre, Thurso; Sat. 30th July 7.30pm
Admission 5/3 at the door or Tel. 01847 892599
Scotia Review is grateful to Live Literature Scotland for making this event possible.

Christine Russell
Editor, Scotia Review

 

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