Jun 172016
 

By Duncan Harley

Music Hall frontage pre-hibernation 2016 - Duncan HarleyWe all have our story to tell about Aberdeen Music Hall. Rocket-Man Elton John can still remember playing his first ever Aberdeen gig at the venue in far off 1972 and many Aberdonians can still recall their shock introduction to Glam Rock a year later when Bowie plus legendary guitarist Mick Ronson brought Spiders from Mars to the Music Hall stage.

Elton and Bowie were in good company since the historic venue has hosted performances from many of the good and the great over the past 194 years.

Built to a design by Archibald Simpson the building opened in 1822 and over the decades performers as diverse as Charles Dickens, John Anderson the Great Wizard of the North plus the comedy duo Pinky and Perky have trodden the boards to entertain and amaze Aberdeen audiences. Politicians Tony Benn, Winston Churchill, and Lloyd George put in appearances and throughout its history, the building has played host to everything from concerts and bazaars to theatre and sporting events.

As the A Listed venue begins a £7m restoration and re-generation uplift, Aberdeen Performing Arts recently hosted a series of “Lights Oot!” events showcasing the diversity of the venue.

March 31st saw a first performance of APA Associate Artist’s Aidan O’Rourke and Jason Singh’s experimental sound work “Connect:ed” (sic). Created through the Connect Project and a year in the making, the work represents the culmination of a process involving musicians and vocalists from all walks of life and genres within the City and Shire.

The next night the Music Hall hosted “Your Hall Your Story”. Following an introductory speech from Aberdeen Provost George Adams the evening focused on the recollections and reminiscences of the users of the venue.

Music Hall courtesy Alford Transport Museum and Toni ToddDirected by Douglas Irvine with Artistic Production by Lesley Anne Rose, compere Robert Lovie and actor Cameron Mowat led the audience of around 600 on a journey through the sometimes turbulent but always entertaining history of Aberdeen’s favourite concert venue using both live and recorded recollections told first hand by those who were actually there.

The stories came fast and furious throughout the evening. Roberta Duncan told how her father rose to international fame following a world record roller-skating endurance marathon in the main hall.His record making 61 hours performance seemingly stands to this day.

Mary Smith remembered meeting Sir John Barbirolli at a Hallé Orchestra performance, Sandy Hood recalled hearing Mahler and local councillor, former European and Commonwealth lightweight wrestler, Len Ironside told how wrestlers had a particular dislike of the Music Hall wrestling ring.

“It was up on stage” he said “which meant that you felt every bump and had every chance of being thrown out of the ring and down the ten feet to the floor. When this happened, the audience would simply lift you up and throw you back in.”

On one occasion, as this was going on, a voice rang out:

“Is there any word yet oh ma new hoose councillor?”

The final “Lights Oot!” night featured the first public performance of Aidan O’Rourke and Jason Singh’s musical piece “Hibernation”.

Played as a finale at “Hootenanny”, an evening hosted by the Scottish Ceilidh All Stars, the new work has become the final musical piece performed within the historic venue prior to the two year closure.

During renovation APA will be “Stepping Out” in and around Aberdeen with a programme of events inspired by the Music Hall stories.

When doors reopen in spring 2018 the venue will feature an upgraded and restored auditorium, a new 100 seat performance space plus a new box office, café and bar.

Text and images © Duncan Harley and Grampian Transport Museum, Image design – Toni Todd. First published in the May 2016 Leopard Magazine’

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Apr 032015
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR.

NEWSLINE MEDIA LIMITED

Dr Alison Burke, Drum Castle Property Manager with the haunting image ‘Gallowgate Lard’ by Ken Currie in the background.

The £30 million redevelopment of Aberdeen Art Gallery has led to an innovative collaboration bringing contemporary art to an historic country castle.

The National Trust for Scotland’s Drum Castle at Drumoak, Aberdeenshire, is hosting key pieces of contemporary art from Aberdeen Art Gallery while the city centre attraction undergoes a major refurbishment.

Works from the city’s collection are being temporarily homed in a specially created gallery at the castle now open to the public  – part of a project to ensure works remain accessible to the public during the art gallery’s 18 month closure.

An area of the castle which has, until now, been unseen by the public has been specially adapted to host the works. The area, originally the castle’s long gallery, latterly the property manager’s accommodation, has been transformed into a museum-standard gallery and features more than 20 artworks on loan from the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The curated selection is called ‘Human Presence’ and includes some of the gallery’s best known works, including ‘Gallowgate Lard’ by Ken Currie.

The exhibition will run for two years and complements the castle’s own artworks, including paintings by Joshua Reynolds and Henry Raeburn.

Drum Castle property manager Dr Alison Burke, said:

“When we found out that Aberdeen Art Gallery was going to be refurbished, and we were looking at developing a gallery space, we thought it would be amazing if we could bring some of the art work here.

“This is an exciting and innovative partnership. Drum dates back to 1323 and is one of the oldest intact castles in Scotland. Visitors can now take a journey from the art and artefacts of the old castle to our amazing new gallery with seminal artworks featuring mid to late 20th Century figurative painting and contemporary installation works on the theme of Human Presence.”

The Art Gallery redevelopment aims to transform Aberdeen Art Gallery and Cowdray Hall into a world class cultural centre, celebrating art and music in the North-east, and to provide a focal point for the creative industries and Aberdeen’s Cultural Quarter. The Art Gallery is due to reopen in 2017.

The partnership with Drum, alongside projects at Aberdeen’s Maritime and Tolbooth Museums, play a major part in keeping art in the public eye during the refurbishment works, says Deputy Leader of Aberdeen City Council Councillor Marie Boulton.

She adds:

“By partnership working we are ensuring that the city’s collection will remain accessible to the public during the redevelopment.

“Aberdeen Art Gallery staff working with the National Trust for Scotland have led to an exhibition being created, which will show work from the city’s collection in a specially created gallery at Drum Castle.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is ‘Highly Sprung’ by Julia Douglas, a dress made from 12,000 clothes peg springs; ‘Gallowgate Lard’, a ghost-like portrait by Ken Currie; and ‘Restraining Coat II (Female)’ by Julie Roberts, a painting which implies a human presence with no body in it.

Drum Castle is located 10 miles west of Aberdeen off the A93. The castle is set in extensive grounds with walks, picnic area, an historic rose garden, adventure play area, tearoom and shop. Normal castle admission charges apply.

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Sep 132011
 

The Friends of Duthie Park will continue their monthly gardening activities in the park on Sunday 18th September from noon until 2.00 pm. On the third Sunday of every month, during the summer season, the Friends of Duthie Park meet up to undertake gardening tasks to complement the staff in the park. With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

On Sunday, the Friends will complete the planting of a new Sensory Bed at the west side of the park.
A class from local primary school, Ferryhill, designed the bed as part of a competition and the Friends secured sponsorship for the plants from local garden centre Ben Reid & Co. In addition, herbaceous plants will be planted in other areas of the park.

Current and new members are invited join members of the committee meeting at the entrance to the David Welch Winter Gardens.

The Friends of Duthie Park, the group responsible for the resurrection of ‘Spike’ the talking cactus in time for last month’s successful inaugural Open Day, is also on the lookout to bolster its committee numbers, with certain specific skills being sought, as Chairman Tony Dawson explains.

“As a group, I believe we’ve achieved a great deal in a short space of time but if we are to continue to progress as we would like, we do need to supplement our committee numbers. While we are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in assisting, there are areas where we do require specific assistance, namely the development of our website, marketing & sponsorship, research & history and education & learning.

“In addition, the return of Spike was more of a success than we could ever have hoped for, resulting in a huge demand for regular appearances from him. Consequently, we would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in becoming one of the pool of people that we will require to call on to be the voice of Spike.

“With the forthcoming restoration work at Duthie Park, this is a hugely exciting time for the Friends and it would be fantastic to get some more people on board.”

Anybody interested in finding out more about any aspect of the Friends, including joining the committee, should, in the first instance, e-mail info@friendsofduthiepark.co.uk with their contact details and the area they would like to get involved in.

Sep 082011
 

Recent visitors to the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park have been left badly disappointed after vandalism caused the closure of some important sections including the Arid Room where Spike the Talking Cactus is on show. The new ‘Voice of Spike’ Andy Gibson reports on a worrying turn of events at the park.

I recently succeeded in my campaign to reinstate our favourite talking plant known as Spike The Cactus at the David Welch Winter Gardens in Duthie Park.
I was also given the honour and privilege of providing a voice for the prickly fellow for the first time in approximately 13 years. Duthie Park recently gained a grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund to restore the grounds to their original glory.

This included getting Spike repaired with help from a really nice man called Richard Irvin and his friends.

There have been previous attempts by vandals to smash the windows of the Arid Room and this time, sadly, the vandals succeeded.

Inside, the Arid Room itself is covered in broken glass which has forced the Friends of Duthie Park, in the interest of public safety, to close that area and other damaged sections throughout the Winter Gardens.

This has of course been of great inconvenience to the Staff at the Winter Gardens  including myself, and more importantly the public.

I created and uploaded a video to hosting site YouTube regarding this issue. In the comments box I have read that someone’s father in law, a keen gardener, came here to visit from Derby in England. This gentleman could not see the true David Welch Winter Gardens in all its glory.

This is a shame because there is not much else in Aberdeen that provides such an extensive view on various gardening styles. Seeing the full Winter Gardens as we know and love it would have been a great experience for a visitor who has an interest at what Duthie Park can offer.

As I documented above,  Duthie Park was given a large sum of money from the Heritage Lottery to refurbish the grounds including the restoration of the ponds in the hope of attracting wild ducks to return to the spot. Some of this will now need to be set aside to cover the cost of repairs.

I am very keen and raring to go as far as operating Spike is concerned; I loved entertaining the public last month during the Open Day, and I was looking forward to returning soon.

However, now everything has been put on hold until the mess has been cleared away, the repair work completed, and the Health and Safety aspects addressed.

I have spoken with the manager of the Winter Gardens and he has informed me that there have been no further attacks. Whether this represents and end to such idiotic behaviour, we’ll find out over the forthcoming weeks. I do hope he/she/they are caught before they cause any more destruction elsewhere.

If you have any suspicions regarding who may be responsible for this damage, then please contact Grampian Police on 08456005700 or if you want to remain anonymous you can communicate with Crimestoppers completely free on 0800555111.

Further Info – Click on the links.
Friends Of Duthie Park
The David Welch Winter Gardens
Spike The Cactus’ Facebook page

Andy Gibson’s YouTube Video
The kind man and his pals who operated on Spike to give him a new lease of life

Sep 062011
 

By Mike Shepherd.

Aberdeen Council have recently noted an interest in applying for Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) from Scottish Government funds. The idea is that the Council would underwrite a loan of possibly £80M or more, £70M of which would be used to help pay for the City Square Project. The final application for funding will not be made until December, by which time a business case for TIF will have been completed.

Earlier this year, the then Council leader John Stewart, extended the remit of TIF to include city centre projects other than the city square. These are:

The City Circle Project: A walkway connecting Union Square and the railway station in a circuit from Guild Street, along Market Street through the St Nicholas Centre, down Schoolhill through the City Garden down Bridge Street and rejoining Guild Street to complete the circuit. Basically, it’s a walkway whereby shoppers in Union Square will be heavily prompted to visit the rest of the city by signs and possibly colour coding.

St Nicholas House Redevelopment: A recent council document stated this:

“In the current property market, however, the Council is concerned that developers will be unwilling to take the risk of demolishing redundant parts of the site, delaying any sale and redevelopment and resulting in a vacant city centre eyesore for a number of years. The council therefore wishes to pre-clear the site, to prepare it for sale, and bring forward development.

“The aspiration is that the tower, if not demolished, would be stripped back to its’ skeleton ready for redevelopment, and recladding and put to new uses either as a hotel, apartments or offices, and a new public square would be created to improve the setting of Marischal College and establish a focal point for a new ‘civic quarter’.”

Of interest in this statement is that the possibility of building a public square next to St. Nicholas House has been resurrected. This otherwise hasn’t been mentioned recently in council papers.

The document mentioned is the Aberdeen City Centre Redevelopment Economic Impact Assessment Information, August 2011. This provides information for a questionnaire to be answered by some 500 organisations and individuals which would provide feedback to assess the economic impact of TIF.

Denburn Valley Health Centre Development: From the same document:

“The health centre on the roof is reaching the end of its design life and NHS Grampian is looking to vacate the building. Planning guidance issued by Aberdeen City Council has called for “imaginative” development of the site using the “highest standard of design and materials to complement the surrounding urban form, listed buildings and conservation area”. Redevelopment must continue to provide for substantial public car parking on the site and is expected to comprise largely commercial space for small and medium businesses and some residential development.”

Aberdeen Art Gallery:

“Infrastructure and development required to link the Art Gallery and Cultural Quarter to the City Gardens including partial redevelopment of the gallery and creation of additional gallery space.”

The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) are seeking six ‘pathfinder’ projects to help establish the feasibility of TIF in Scotland. Three projects have been approved (Edinburgh Waterfront Development, Ravenscraig, and the  Buchanan Quarter in Glasgow) and three more are being sought.

There is strong interest as Barry White, Chief Executive of the SFT  told me in an email last week:

“I can confirm that we have received a submission from Aberdeen City Council and will be considering it along with the submissions received from many other local authorities over the coming days.”

The Case for TIF in Aberdeen.

Tax Incremental Funding is well established in the United States and has recently been introduced to the UK. The idea is that a local authority borrows a sum of money for a development project from Government funds and that the extra business rates generated by the development is captured to pay off the loan over 25 years for instance.
It works best where a brownfield site is used to develop a large scale business operation, the revenue from which is to some extent predictable. In this instance, the risk on a council borrowing a large sum of money is mitigated by a sound business model.

The Aberdeen TIF case is largely predicated on the City Square rejuvenating business in the city centre. There would only be a small amount of revenue generated on site and this would be insufficient in itself to provide business rates to pay back a large loan. Instead, it would be hoped to capture business rates from the surrounding city centre both from rates generated by extra business and new developments.

Trying to predict how much extra business will result from a new city square will be to a major extent speculative with a large uncertainty involved.  In other words, if Aberdeen Council borrowed £80M through TIF this would be based on hope rather than certainty that the money could be paid back.

Aberdeen Council is £562M in debt according to an Evening Express report earlier this year. The interest on the debt is paid from the revenue budget and soaks up cash that could otherwise be used for service and amenities. The Council cannot afford to take a risk on being left with more debt to service, the budget is under severe strain as it is. On the other hand, I have been told that the city is so short of capital for spending that it is unlikely that there would be any investment in the city centre without TIF.

The £70M loan for a city square would be a loan too far; particularly given how unpopular the project is in the city. There is tacit recognition in the questionnaire document that the City Square Project may never happen.

“This option considers the outcome where the City Garden Project is not realisable, but the other projects are. In this scenario, economic benefit and new business rates would be generated primarily by the North Denburn Valley and St Nicholas House developments. Although likely to be less than would be the case if the City Gardens were to be realised, these two projects would nevertheless likely provide the basis for a smaller TIF.”

In this instance, Aberdeen would get a public square at St  Nicholas, which is where most people wanted it in the first place.