Oct 182018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Evita @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Margaret Thatcher once said that “If a woman like Eva Peron with no ideals, can get that far, think how far I can get” and she had a point.
The Iron Lady however took several decades to claw her way to the top; Eva took just the one.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita first took to the stage in 1979.

A film version followed in 1996 starring Madonna as Evita and Antonio Banderas as Che. With the stage version now pushing forty, the storyline remains controversial. Portrayed as a working-class girl who whored her way out of the slums and exploited the poor, her legacy remains subject to debate.

Hard to ignore however is her undoubted political prowess. Assuming control of the Argentinian Ministry of Labour in 1946, she generously handed out wage increases and promoted women’s suffrage whilst privately embracing a lifestyle lavishly populated with couture clothing and expensive jewellery.

Greats such as Elaine Page and Madalena Alberta have taken on the mantle of the lead over the years and in popular culture, parody has celebrated the role with the likes of Lisa Simpson’s Evita blasting out Don’t Cry for Me, Kids of Springfield to an international audience in the 2003 episode “The President Wore Pearls”.

Latest incumbent in the leading role of Eva Peron is Lucy O’Byrne and if last nights performance at His Majesty’s Aberdeen is anything to go by, she has thrown her heart into the part.

A Dubliner, blessed with astronomically high notes, she was recently quoted as saying that:

“Whatever people say about Eva Peron – that she was selfish, that she was a gold-digger – I am playing her in her story, and I have to make you like her.”

And, this is exactly what she does. As the backstreet girl hustles her way to the top it’s clear that O’Byrne is more than fit for the part.

The role of the new-world Madonna with the golden touch is not an easy one. Expectations are naturally high and its almost a case of the star is dead, long live the star.

But, apart from a few glitches with the sound envelope O’Byrne’s delivery of those huge songs makes muster.

A splendid counterpoint to the, often malevolent influence of Mike Sterling’s President Peron, Glenn Carter’s Che provides comic relief to what is otherwise a fairly dark tale of political intrigue and extra-judicial murder.

Che is slang in Spanish for friend or pal and dressed to the boots in Guevara style combat gear Glen’s Che represents the voice of the adoring masses and gets beaten-up by Peron’s secret police for his efforts.

All the familiar songs are there including of course Oh What A Circus, On This Night Of A Thousand Stars and of course Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. The Evita/Peron duets Dice Are Rolling and I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You are particularly poignant.

As Broadway Director Harold Prince once said, “Any opera that begins with a funeral and ends with a funeral can’t be that bad” and this touring version of Evita would meet with Prince’s wholehearted approval.

Stars: 4/5
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, Evita plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 20th October 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Oct 122018
 

It’s Dracula season in North-east Scotland as Duncan Harley reviews Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker.

Local writer Mike Shepherd is about to release a new book about Bram Stoker’s Cruden Bay connection and Dacre Stoker – in conjunction with Illinois born writer J.D. Barker – is about to unleash a prequel to Stoker’s Dracula classic.

Dacre Stoker gave a talk at Cruden Bay in early 2017 and both Janice and I were privileged to attend.

Alongside setting forth some solid ideas about the history and the mythology of vampirism, Dacre let slip the fact that his forbear, Bram Stoker, let loose upon the world that classic of the bloodsucking genre ‘Dracula’.

Indeed, the very venue of Dacre’s mid-winter talk – The Kilmarnock Arms at Cruden Bay – boasts a guest book entry which reads something like:

“Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again.”

The signature alongside the entry reads:

“Mr and Mrs Bram Stoker.”

Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic Vampire Horror tale ‘Dracula’, and many other literary sensations, stayed with his wife and son at the hotel for most of that 1884 August. He returned frequently over the subsequent 20 years and wrote at least part of his Dracula tale at Crooked Lum Cottage, one of his holiday homes at Cruden Bay.

There is a strong local belief that his tale of Transylvanian terror was heavily influenced by nearby Slains Castle although Ecclesgreig Castle at St Cyrus and the town of Whitby in Yorkshire also claim to be Stoker’s inspiration. But the jury is still out.

Jointly written by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, the new Gothic novel, ‘Dracul’ makes no pretence at solving the riddle and, in a volume dedicated to ‘finding the roots’ of the Dracula truth, both Dacre and Barker have penned a bold prequel to the Stoker tale.

Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings

Dracul is described in the PR fluff as ‘Scary as hell. Gothic as decay’. And for once, the cover fluff is pretty much near the truth.

Based on notes left behind by Bram Stoker, Dracul is really a fly-on-the wall insider-vision to what really happened.

Stoker is in a room, in a tower armed with various items. A gun, some mirrors and holy water litter the table alongside some plum brandy and a crucifix for fortification. His fevered mind imagines a night to remember and he awaits with some trepidation the inevitable battle with the undead.

Inevitably, the reader is drawn to the suspicion that this early tale reflects at best a dream sequence brought on by some dreadful childhood fever or, at worst, an over-use of some prescription medication.

Imbued with a sickly childhood, Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings and his later associations with theatrical empressario, Sir Henry Irvine could only have augmented the childhood recollections but in a mainly theatrical way.

But, back to the chase … imagine if you will a pre-adolescent Dracula author – in fact Stoker himself – sitting behind a firmly locked door awaiting the arrival of some dreadful apparition.

‘The Journal of Bram Stoker: From my earliest memories, I was a sickly child, ill and bedridden from birth until my seventh year, when a cure befell me. I will speak of that cure in great length to come …’

The indescribable tension will have you hiding your face in your hands at times and the complexity of the tale might draw you to the very edge of your seat. Blood and guts in nature, Dracul is one of those gripping reads which – by its very provenance – is difficult to put down.

All in all, this is a splendidly orchestrated piece of pure Gothic horror told in the style of the master of the art and by writers who have been privileged to access the family archives.

It’s not often that I pen a spoiler. But suffice it to say that Dracul ends with the immortal words:

“I will stay with you always.”

Stars: 4.5/5

Dracul is available in the UK in hardback from 18th October 2018 from Bantam Press @ £12.99
ISBN: 9780593080108

Oct 052018
 

Duncan Harley Reviews The Band at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

LtoR AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri in The Band.

Gary Barlow reckons that Take That was Britain’s very first successful manufactured boy-band and he is probably quite correct. I mean he, of all people, should know having composed pretty much most of their early hits.
When the band went their separate ways in 1996, the angst amongst the fanbase was so great that helplines were set up to help with the grief.

Gary went off on a solo career as did Robbie Williams, the youngest band member, and although the post Take That years have been tumultuous to say the least, the music and the songs from the boy-band years at the top feature in play-lists across the land.

Now, courtesy of Tim Firth, the legacy of Take That forms the backdrop to what in essence is a celebration of the power of an enduring friendship shared by a group of friends from the day.

This is not by any means the story of the boy-band nor is it a simple juke-box musical intent on squeezing dry the hit-playlist of the glory days.

Yes, the boys are there in almost every scene. And yes, the familiar hits – there are around eighteen of them – abound. But, the band in general serenade the action and set the mood rather than inhabit front of stage. All the big numbers are there including Relight My Fire and the classic Get Ready For It.

The fans, all five of them are the stars of the show and even when Debbie – Rachelle Diedericks – is tragically killed following a Manchester gig she continues to inhabit the action right till the very end.

In a nod to the likes of Shirley Valentine, the surviving four eventually re-connect twenty-five years later to heal the trauma of the past and move on confidently into the present. The script is variously hilarious, often poignant and sometimes emotionally raw.

Comedic highlights include a trip to a Prague Police Station following the snapping of a penis from a local sculpture and that completely splendid airport scene. Safe-to-say you’ll never look at a flight safety demo in quite the same way ever again. There’s even a wee bit of wing-walking.

Lighting and scenery excelled and as the musical numbers stomped-on, it was hard to resist a bit of audience participation.
Indeed, by the end of the night, and with the encouragement of the MC, strongly played by Every Dave – Andy Williams, the theatre audience were on their feet participating in the action.

While generally this is a well thought out production it did seem as if Act 2 was slightly undersized.

Following some nicely balanced early action the dialogue sped towards a conclusive wedding scene implying perhaps that the plot had slightly run out of steam. Additionally, the use of blindingly-bright stadium style lighting during the gig scenes probably could be toned down a tad.

But, all in all The Band is a splendid foil to the standard jukebox style offering and delivers a decent storyline alongside the familiar song-list.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, The Band plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 13th October 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Sep 242018
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

While the Spanish construction giant may be shelling out pennies to local groups, its workers have come forward with yet more alarming footage, photos and tales of safety regulations flaunted.
A further worker has come forward to say they were dismissed after wanting to register an incident in the accident log.

Aberdeen Voice has seen images of the injury to the employee who had a cut and bruise at least 8” in diameter they say they got on site.

One worker from the site said:

“It’s usual they get away with murder. Majority of workers are agency so they’re scared to say anything and I don’t blame them as that’s exactly what happened with me. I report accident and was sacked .”

The ex-employee’s word is more than supported by copious quantities of video and photographs from diverse sources. These show site operations such as scaffolding work, scaffolding erection and working in enclosed spaces being carried out with scant – if any – regard for safety.

These images cannot be shared without compromising the anonymity of those who witnesses incidents such as people in enclosed spaces with no means of exit in case of a problem, scaffolding poorly constructed, people working at height without harnesses or safety railings in place, loose and rusted scaffolding.

A scaffolding platform is seen to bend when stood on in one video. Another video shows workers inside a pit they are lining with oil. The risk of slips is evident; there is no visible means of them leaving – or as one said in the video:

“How the f*ck are we supposed to get out?”

Aberdeen Voice told the HSE’s press arm there were serious safety concerns about work in progress; we were told to go through standard form-filling channels.

This is hardly possible not having access to required data as well as our need to keep sources confidential.

Workers on site who are involved are reluctant to approach the HSE for fear of losing their current job and of future blacklisting.

We consulted an experienced safety rep who has years of field work who, after watching some of our footage, responded:

  “…they should be reviewing their working practices”

Our safety expert says they have seen much worse on some sites. Then again, this is a flagship Scottish Government project that is costing the taxpayer millions: safety should be paramount, and perhaps the government should lead by example on their projects.

With regard to the pit being sprayed with oil, we showed our expert footage where a ladder was visible; there was later footage with no means of escape from the pit.

Our Safety rep said:

“The application of whatever it is should be done from elevated position. Again it’s not clear if there’s anyone supervising the task and any work done in a confined space should be done with adequate supervision.”

With regard to some of the scaffolding photos, a safety representative we consulted said:

“The platform in the last picture doesn’t look to be in good condition. You can see rust around the welded joints and the strap* would indicate that the bar in middle is not secure.”

 A man broke his leg on site last December. A further man said he was told not to complain about scaffolding concerns and just get on with it. One person who was let go earlier this year said they felt they were dismissed for airing a number of safety and environmental concerns.

When numerous safety issues are allowed to go unchecked, where there is a culture of secrecy (‘don’t talk to the press or to anyone about your work’) and where accidents are not being logged, there is a high potential for the probability of a serious injury.

Let’s hope Dragados are taking things more seriously than they seem to be, and that some of the HSE visits will have had some impact (though workers say that HSE advice eg on scaffolding was ignored as soon as the HSE rep left the site).

Dragados had been approached to comment on the fact we had been given material showing unsafe practices; they declined to respond.

Two of those we spoke to who had been on site said they would not be surprised if a serious accident happened.

It is understood some senior staff have left the project, and that things like toolbox talks before operations are not routinely happening. Or to sum up, as one source told Aberdeen Voice:

“It’s a complete joke.”

* A different person says this is not a strap but a piece of frost blanket used to mitigate a concrete problem.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Sep 192018
 

By Duncan Harley.

The four-star Maryculter House Hotel was today the venue for the Scottish Samurai Awards.  Scotland and Japan have long enjoyed both trade and cultural links – well for just around 150 years in truth.

Japan sent many students to the UK between the late Edo period (1603-1867) and the early Meiji period (1868-1912) in order to explore and import Western technology.

The various international trade exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th Century provided useful platforms for the sharing of both scientific and aesthetic ideas. 

Cities such as Glasgow and Aberdeen provided ripe-pickings for the aspiring technologists and alongside acquisition of new skill-sets the two nations exchanged cultural and artistic aesthetics which continue to create broad-ripples to this day.

Japan, of course, had participated in the second Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901.

The Japan Pavilion was located near the main exhibition hall at Kelvingrove and there is a likelihood that Rennie Mackintosh and many other influential Scottish designers of the day would have visited and been influenced by what they saw there.

Some 11.5 million visits were recorded during the eight-month span of the exhibition and surely Mackintosh would have been one of those tempted to return again and again to absorb the sights.

Contemporaries of Mackintosh certainly visited Japan at about this time and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum hold a collection of so-called ‘Industrial Art’ collected by Glasgow born designer Christopher Dresser who visited Japan in 1876 or thereabouts.

Aberdeenshire, of course, has a splendid claim to the forging of the Scottish-Japanese relationship and one man in particular played a pivotal role. Variously known as the Scottish Samurai or The Scot who shaped Japan,

Thomas Blake Glover was probably born in Fraserburgh in 1838.  His father worked as a coastguard officer and the family lived at various locations along the Aberdeenshire coastline including Sandend, Collieston and at Bridge of Don.

On leaving school, Glover began work with the trading company Jardine, Matheson & Co and quickly progressed to the Shanghai office before taking up a post in Japan. 

His role in Shanghai has often been glossed over in order to present a popular image of Glover as an enlightened trader intent on hauling an impoverished Japan into the industrial age. In truth however, Jardine Matheson & Co were happy to trade in everything from silks and tea to guns and opium.

Glover excelled in his role as trader and alongside making vast amounts of profit for his employer he soon started taking a substantial cut for himself.

His move to Japan, in 1859 age 21, came at a time when various rival clans were warring for control of the country. For more than 200 years, foreign trade with Japan had been permitted to the Dutch and Chinese exclusively.

However, following an episode of gunboat diplomacy in 1853, the US Government had persuaded the Japanese to open trade up with the West. 

Glover arrived in good time to use his proven skills to exploit the situation.

Soon he was supplying both sides in the civil war with guns and munitions. Before long he was taking orders for the building of warships, to be built in Scotland, to arm a fledgling Japanese Navy. The market for weaponry however soon became saturated and he turned to mining to maintain his by now dwindling fortune.

Glover is often credited with importing the first steam engine into Japan.

Demand for coal had surged as steamships began to proliferate in Japanese waters. Glover, in partnership with a Japanese clan, invested in developing the Takashima coal mine on an island near Nagasaki in 1868. 

The mine was the first in the country to employ Western methods. Mitsubishi acquired the Takashima mine in 1881 in the organization’s first main diversification beyond shipping.

Glover is often credited with importing the first steam engine into Japan and being instrumental in the formation of the Mitsubishi conglomerate. Japan also lacked modern facilities for repairing ships. So, Glover imported the necessary equipment for a dry dock in Nagasaki in 1868.

He later sold his share to the government, which leased the dock to Mitsubishi as part of the shipyard in 1884. By 1905 Japan had, according to many accounts, become the 3rd largest naval power in the world.

There are many enduring myths surrounding the life and career of Thomas Blake Glover.

One involves the notion that his Japanese wife Tsuru was somehow the inspiration for Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”.

There appears to be little substance to this idea. A booklet produced by Aberdeen City Council to publicise the areas links with Glover asserts that:

“the association of Glover Garden in Nagasaki and Madame Butterfly no doubt relates to the fact that American soldiers after the Second World War dubbed the house Madame Butterfly House.” 

Thomas Glover eventually became famous in Japan and was the first non-Japanese to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun.

today’s event saw some 23 or so Samurai and Shogun awards made to a broad range of recipients

When he died in Tokyo in 1911 age 73, his ashes were interred in Nagasaki’s Sakamoto International Cemetery. Fraserburgh Heritage Centre host a permanent exhibition celebrating his North-east links and his former house in Nagasaki attracts two million visitors each year.

Founded and overseen by Aberdonian and OBE Ronnie Watt, the Order of the Scottish Samurai is an award inspired by Blake Glover and those admitted to the Order are encouraged to use the letters OSS after their name.

While Ronnie actively heads the Order, he is supported by patrons, members and recipients – many of whom, such as Lord Bruce and Joanna Lumley take an active interest in the progression of the historic relationship between the two nations.

Opened by Ms Masami Fujimoto, Deputy Consul General at Consulate-General of Japan in Edinburgh, today’s event saw some 23 or so Samurai and Shogun awards made to a broad range of recipients.

Two previous Lord Provosts, Margaret Smith and Margaret Farquhar received Shogun awards for services to Aberdeen while Duncan McPherson and Robert Boyd received Legendary Samurai Awards for services to the Japanese Martial Arts.

Terry Boyle and Tyrone Smith were awarded OSS Shogun and Becca Hobart – alongside delivering a splendid display of Highland Sword Dance – collected up a well-earned OSS Hatamoto for services to the Order of the Scottish Samurai.

Previous recipients of the various Scottish Samurai Awards have included Ian Wood, Alex Salmond, Charlie Abel, Len Ironside (for services to wrestling) and film producer Compton Ross. So it looks likely that Becca Hobart is in fairly good company.

Words and images © Duncan Harley – Inverurie September 16th 2018.

  • Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire- due out in March 2019
Sep 062018
 

Review and photographs by Dod Morrison.

P.I.L hadn’t played Aberdeen since the mid 80s, so this was a highly anticipated gig. The gig sold out about a week after it was announced.

The shows starts off with “Warrior” and the crowd gets excited to see a punk legend.

He now has a book in front of him to read the lyrics and doesn’t move around so much, but still pulls silly faces and grimaces as he puts heart and soul into each song.

This was a no nonsense show, no rants ( well a wee one when he asks the lights to be turned down a bit ) , no banter, just a song after song.

There is a lull in the crowd when a few new songs are played but once the hits are played. 

“Flowers of Romance” and “This is not a Love Song” perk the crowd up again, but it is “Public Image” that really gets the crowd in a frenzy and singing along..

I think the crowd may have been mostly PIL fans but I felt there was quite a few who were just there to see John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten in their home town.

Here some comments from people on the night.

Margo McCombie:

“Transported back to my youth. Last time I saw PIL was in the Capitol over 30 years ago.”

Jeff Bruce: 

“Debut PIL gig for me, wasn’t disappointed!, great sound and visuals!”

Paul Reid:

“3rd PIL gig, once again pure class. No nonsense, we we’re treated to pure PIL.”

Gary:

“From the moment I walked in and saw the backdrop I felt the hairs rise. Memories of The Capitol and bouncing down the front. This was to be a nostalgic experience for so many.

“From the second the band emerged I felt a sense that something special was about to be witnessed. John Lydon’s presence on stage is mesmerising and his voice intoxicating. A tour not to be missed by any Lydon fan. Feeling blessed, still smiling.”

Hen:

“Absolute stotter of a gig , I’ve seen them a heap of times but last nights rendition of Flowers of Romance was the best I’ve heard them do it, got me duncin like a neep!”

Micheal Foreman:

“Great gig same as Hen I’ve seen them loads, great gig, loads of new versions of the classics with Lydon ad libbing throughout.

“He said at rebellion he used the music stand cos he couldn’t remember the lyrics. Maybe he should have consulted his lyrics before writing them down. Great show though didn’t disappoint.”

Billy Aitken:

“No Lydon psycho-drama – just let the music do the talking which is always a good move. Lu is the dude like.”

Donna Bruce: 

“The Public Image gig last night was fantastic with some old favourites and some new gems and I have not seen a gig so well attended at the Assembly. Cracking night.”

Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Cilla The Musical at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Cilla the Musical is based on BAFTA-winning writer Jeff Pope’s 2014 ITV series and tells the story of Black’s meteoric rise from ambitious Cavern cloakroom girl to chart-topping mega-star.
Her sometimes turbulent relationships with Bobby Willis and the troubled Brian Epstein feature strongly alongside a no-holds-barred peek into Black’s less-savoury aspects.

At a not-too-long two hours and fifty minutes, including interval, the show celebrates the triumphs and the tribulations of one of Epstein’s many stars and covers the greats from the Cilla back catalogue along with tribute numbers from the bands from the heady days of the Black magic.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Mamas & the Papas and of course the Fab Four feature alongside a stream of biopics of the men behind the labels. Burt Bacharach, Ed Sullivan and Andrew Lancel’s splendidly vulnerable Brian Epstein feature alongside Alexander Patmore’s study of the dependably stoic Bobby Willis.

Scottie Road Songbird, Liverpudlian Diva, Mersey Beat Gracie Field, girl next door – call her what you will, she never diluted her accent and, although the early critics were sniffy, Epstein’s eye for a shed-load of talent launched her firmly into the hall of fame despite the crowded teeth.

She loved Rolls Royce’s and celebrated her poverty-stricken childhood in endless promotional interviews.

Kara Lily Hayworth’s Cilla is the undisputed star of the show. Picked from some 2,000 hopefuls she has, in the words of a fellow reviewer ‘Got it nailed!’.

From start to finish, Kara’s distinctive Liverpudlian tones – she is actually from Watford – and Cilla-like mannerisms capture the essence of the Black magic.

As she belts out one hit after the other it becomes obvious that she inhabits the role 100%. You’re My World, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Something Tells Me, Dancing In The Street, Alfie – they’re all there alongside some totally splendid tribute-band numbers from the early Beatles catalogue.

Both the singers and the songs are fab and Cilla The Musical is a good night out with the big plus that, alongside the bucketloads of nostalgia, the production delves deeply into the backstory which transformed a wee lass from a Liverpool backstreet into a national treasure.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Alan Stewart’s new book.

Five years in the making, Alan Stewart’s new book ‘North East Scotland At War’ will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in the history of the North-east of Scotland.
There are plenty of books out there which record the difficult years between the Chamberlain peace accord and the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Osborne’s ‘Defending Britain’ and Gordon Barclay’s ‘If Hitler Comes’ are the classics.

But this book is slightly different and there is certainly room for further historical accounts of the dark days when Hitler threatened our shores.

With a decidedly local slant, North East Scotland At War launches the reader into the minutiae of the defence of the North-east against what was, for a brief few years, perceived as the Nazi threat.

The archaeology of those distant times is laid bare and many of the official documents which record the difficult days inhabit the pages.

A ground-based Invasion never came. But preparations were firmly in in place and Alan’s finely researched history brings the day to day story of those difficult times sharply into focus.

Fougasse – developed by the Petroleum Warfare Department as an anti-tank weapon, Dragon’s Teeth and Railway Blocks feature in this book along with the stories of the stop-lines, the Home Guard roadblocks and of course that secretive plan to harry the invaders using suicide squads tasked with assassinating both their own commanders – who might betray them under torture – and German officers.

Air crashes also inhabit these pages. Alongside the enemy casualties, and they were in the hundreds, Alan details the stories behind some of the Commonwealth gravestones which litter the cemeteries of the North-east.

Training accidents accounted for many of the casualties.

A Czech fighter pilot killed when his Spitfire spiralled into the ground, an air-sea rescue crew lost in a collision with railway wagons on the perimeter of RAF Dyce Airfield and the gravestone of Flight Lieutenant Wheelock – killed attempting an emergency landing – again at Dyce – are featured.

This is one of those books which is difficult to set aside. The minutiae of the location of pill boxes and the stark reality of the bombing maps, feature alongside some difficult tales of children killed on the local sands, not by the Germans, but by the very defences intended to keep them safe.

Landmines and barbed wire were as much a hazard as air-borne bombs and machine gun bullets.

Alongside the difficult descriptions of civilian carnage, Alan has included a number of images of official documents which give a flavour of the times. In a memo marked TOP SECRET, a Colonel Geddes, commander of Aberdeen Garrison, expresses his concern regarding the vulnerability of Tullos Hill.

“I am a little uneasy” he writes, 

“about the defence of TULLOS HILL – Area 4624. This is a very commanding feature, on which the following units are located: A.B. 2 Site, Heavy A.A Bty, Detachment 319 Search-Light Regiment, RAF Wireless Installation and Royal Observer Corps Post.”

And there are literally dozens of such so-far hidden documents sprinkled throughout this account of the time when the invasion of our shores seemed such a certainty.

Profusely illustrated and replete with a plethora of new information gleaned from both local and national records, this is a local history book which I am pleased to include on my bookshelves.

North East Scotland At War – by Alan Stewart is Available from http://www.cabroaviation.co.uk/book.html at £21.99 + £3 P&P

ISBN 9781527215689
Cover image © Alan Stewart

Aug 212018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Jersey Boys at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame arrives in Aberdeen this week in the form of the 1960s era, jukebox-laden musical Jersey Boys.

From curtain rise to curtain call this is a highly polished and electrifyingly energetic production features around 30 original Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons numbers.

With a pedigree of 27 Top 40 singles including Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and Rag Doll, the original Four Seasons’ tough-but-tender doo-wop harmonies continue to wow Rock ‘n’ Roll fans of all ages.

Add to the mix around 100 million record sales, and it’s difficult to see how Director Des McAnuff’s musical portrayal of the group’s often troubled rise and fall could fail to please the theatre audience.

In fact, this is one of those shows that should be seen again and again. I should know – to date I’ve seen this tribute show three times and given a whiff of a chance, I would go back at least one more time.

As always, casting makes or breaks a musical, and the choice of Michael Watson to play lead Frankie Valli is more than satisfying.

Bearing a passing resemblance to the younger Frankie, Michael’s stage presence and ferocious vocal range steal the show. Alongside the fast-paced numbers – Bye Bye Baby/Working My Way Back to You/Rag Doll – Michael’s mellow Can’t Take My Eyes Off You had the audience spellbound.

Peter Nash as the slightly dodgy Tommy De Vito, James Winter as Who Wears Shorts Shorts composer Bob Gaudio and Lewis Griffiths as the Ringo-like Nick Massi completed the band line-up and in numbers such as Sherry and Bye Bye Baby, the quartet’s performance bordered on the magical.

At times it was difficult to separate performance from reality. And don’t you just love those smart-smart red blazers!

The narrative is neatly subdivided Vivaldi-like into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, with each band member taking a turn to relate his own particular version of the band’s rise and fall.

As the rags-to-riches-to-rags story plays out and the discord between band members becomes unbearably raw, the musical score stays apace. Spring’s I Can’t Give you Anything But Love leads us on to Summer’s Oh What a Night. Fall’s Big Man in Town gives way to Winter’s Fallen Angel and Who Loves You.

This Vivaldi-esque approach inevitably elasticates the truth. The gang connections, for example, might be ever so slightly romanticised.

Two rather than just the one of Frankie Valli’s daughters actually died, one by apparent suicide and another by drug overdose. And perhaps inevitably, the genuine Tommy DeVito strenuously denied, in the Las Vegas Review, being the band-member who habitually peed in the sink:

“I was probably the cleanest guy there … I don’t even know how they come up with this kinda’ stuff.”

The storyline exists in an explosive bubble of doo-wop and aside from a reference to Bob Gaudio’s pre-Seasons chart-topping Short Shorts and some insight into buying airplay on prime-time radio, we are pretty much left in the dark about the general music scene in the far off 1960s.

Asides such as ‘come back when your black’ and ‘there are only two kinds of girl’ firmly set the general tone of the times. Suspend moral indignation mode prior to taking seat, might be good advice!

Choreography, lighting, sound and costumes were pin sharp and in all, Jersey Boys is a show well worth seeing.
Sit back and go on a roller coaster ride of some favourite songs and some great back-story from the 60’s and the 70’s. Oh what a night and what a well worked tale.

Stars: 4.5/5

Jersey Boys plays at HM Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 25th August

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Aug 122018
 

Duncan Harley reviews  Far, Far From Ypres at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

It’s difficult to adequately classify Far, Far From Ypres.

Described as “the story of the Scottish war effort during World War One” with “its excitement, hope, suffering, endurance, humour, fear and disillusionment in the face of horror told through the eyes of fictional, prototypical soldier Jimmy MacDonald” this ambitious multimedia production sits oddly – and please excuse the pun – with its feet astride two camps.

A strong documentary-styled historical narrative, delivered by veteran broadcaster Iain Anderson, frames a broad range of popular song from the period whilst overhead a mix of trench imagery combines to add poignancy to the performance.

We are told that the fictional Jimmy is from any town or village in Scotland and that when issued with his tin hat and his rifle, he heads off to the continent in search of medals for the victory parade and of course for a great foreign adventure.

An acceptable figure for Scottish war dead has yet to be calculated – some put it at between 100,000 and 146,000 – and the enthusiastic Jimmy is portrayed as one of those who did not return.

Killed in France or Belgium, not by bullets nor by shells but by an influenza better known as Spanish Flu, he certainly died in uniform but is probably not numbered amongst the roll of the war dead.

Based on a Greentrax double album of WW1 songs, “Far, Far From Ypres” is laden with familiar and not so familiar song.

Within the context of the narrative, most are a good fit for the performance and most are delivered strongly by a cast of largely familiar folk-figures. Barbara Dickson, Dick Gaughan, Alan Prior, Tam Ward, Ian McCalman and Mairi MacInnes are just to name a few.

In fact, there are around 27 performers on stage at any one time making for a crowded performance space and indeed a difficult place for the soloists to excel in.

It was perhaps the male dominated chorus which brought the intent of the production solidly home. Decidedly appropriate and atmospheric of the era, Pack up your Troubles and When this Bloody War is Over vied with Tipperary and Armentieres to tug the heartstrings.

All in all, this is a largely successful attempt to track and trace changing perceptions during the course of that First War to end all wars through the songs of the day.

From hopeful beginnings through to eventual despair, the song list bravely traverses some four years of the bloody history of that hundred-year-old conflict in which young men could take the boat-train to the continent, stick a bayonet into the skull of a youngish man from a neighbouring land and, if he were lucky enough not to be stuck in his turn, return home with a medal in time for the local victory parade.

At the close of the night and indeed during the performance, not a few tears were shed.
Stars: (4/5)

Following last night’s performance at HMT, Far, Far From Ypres heads off to Oban, Skye, Ullapool, Stirling, Inverness, Dumfries and Edinburgh.