Figures of Speech: Music – Scottish Storytelling Centre

Hosted by Nicola Meighan and author Arusa Qureshi

With Performances from Dr. Katie Ailes

Launching a unique and interactive means of guiding audiences through the monumental (sometimes endless) realms of Scotland’s iconic books, stories and tales, Figures of Speech’s initial outing held a focus on Music. Pairing the nation’s adoration of the written word with our passion for song, instrumentals and spoken word.

Staged within the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s Netherbow Theatre, the series of six events will find a selection of scholars, writers, artists and broadcasters come together to pay tribute to Scotland’s literary wealth, as well as offer audiences the chance to discuss their favourite and unsung pieces. A fresh and inviting bridge for those seeking texts to launch themselves into, and an outing for those newly commissioned works and new voices punching out from the monolith of an already busy industry – Figures of Speech, in theory, is a spectacular way to encourage and unpack some nostalgic gems and contemporary voices, as well as pay tribute to those which defined genres.

Our initial venture into Figures of Speech back in May finds broadcaster and aficionado on all things past and present in Scotland’s music scene Nicola Meighan hosting with journalist and author Arusa Qureshi, known as previous List editor, diving into the diversity and accessibility of the arts and culture world. A fine pair to chair the event, the evening follows a simple but effective structure as Meighan and Qureshi take jumping points to cover Scotland’s relationship with music – from the historic plains of Robert Burns’s lyricism and sonnets to the Punk scenes of Glasgow, and the often-shunned relationship the country shares with rap and hip-hop.

It’s a fine start, though stilted in moments, the urge to branch off and engage with what the hosts and audience are passionate about is perhaps to be further encouraged to step away from the ‘listing’ format of texts and musicians. The dipping back into the authors attached to the books associated with the field in which the hosts may be discussing is the purpose of the event but sometimes carries over as a second-thought return to the format. But the depth of understanding and adoration with Meighan and Qureshi communicate and share tales is the brilliance of the event, and one would suspect this more natural display of awe and fandom is what audiences were seeking.

Now. We haven’t been entirely honest – as there is a third guest this evening, a regular with Scottish Storytelling Centre as a part of Loud Productions’ Loud Poets – Dr. Katie Ailes. In a sharp turn, and one which breaks up the dynamic of the event (for the better), the tail end of the show features a performance of sorts – this time with a choreographed movement and recitation of Dr Ailes’ reversal of Burn’s Tom O’Shanter, where the infamous Cutty-sark, the derogatory nickname for Nannie Dee, the ’witch’, is instead the protagonist, perplexed to the voyeuristic antics of Tam o’ Shanter.

Having previously been familiar with Dr. Ailes spoken word abilities – to witness a merge of their words to an original movement is a masterstroke and does make us wonder why all Loud Poets events aren’t transformed into dance numbers. The open physicality of the performance, and repetition to reinforce the carried words of how the original tale concerns a man glaring into a young woman’s room, watching her dance in a night-shirt, is somehow taken as her demonisation.

How Nannie Dee carries into contemporary environments, where men are often, and perplexingly, put off by the notion that a woman isn’t dancing for anyone other than herself, is emphasised by the movement, Dr Ailes doing a tremendous feat in pairing spoken word with choreography, incorporating score to align with said movements. Precise, fusing a few traditional movements with a more elaborate and condensed ballet, with occasional harsh strokes of aggression in her movements, it’s a building recital, where the frustrations grow and eventually explode in a euphoric and freeing manner.

It’s a tremendously effective break in the event, and now joining Meighan and Qureshi onstage to field questions and discuss texts, the event very much comes into its more natural cooldown as the hosts open up a touch more away from their (necessary) structure. The engagement with the audience swings, sometimes striking hot and resulting in a brief and humorous discussion on a forgotten piece, much to the delight of Meighan with something new to research, but occasionally lands with a more off-topic side-track, but that’s the gamble with the Scottish public.

Looking to the future, next Friday (June 24th) finds Figures of Speech return after a successful outing, this time under the theme of Friendship – hosted by award-winning poet and animateur Michael Pedersen, and celebrated author Val McDermid with performances from Kim Carnie.

The next Figures of Speech (themed around Friendship) will be hosted at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on June 24th.

The event will be hosted by Michael Pedersen and Val McDermid. With performances by Kim Carnie.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

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