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used to. We’re not a band to waste money. really. We’ve always been concerned with being a live band. I’ve never been a big fan ofstudio gadgetry — what matters to me is the actual songs. But the money’s there ifwe want it, really. It meant we went into good studios. but we went into good studios for George Best.‘
Such nice boys, how did they get mixed up with Steve Albini. the man behind Big Black and Rapeman (and producer of Pixies. amongst others) and driven by the conviction that he was born with a divine mission to irritate as much of the world as is possible in one lifetime?
Too wary to approach Albini himself, RCA persuaded him to ﬂy from America to produce their new single. a re-recording of ‘Brassneck’. the track that opens Bizarro. and left to work in Edinburgh with Throwing Muses/Pixies offshoot The Breeders. professing little affection for the group other than as individuals. and bemused by the ‘emotionless’ way they went about recording. The single is no less excellent for all that. a drum-heavy one-take job that makes the band sound fresher than they have done for a while.
Enlisting Albini is part ofthe freedom that their contract with RCA has allowed, and Gedge is grateful for it. But he claims he won’t be shattered ifit falls apart.
‘If RCA said tomorrow. it‘s not working. we‘re not selling enough records. goodbye. I’d probably say fine. We’d only be back where we started again. . .‘
The Wedding Present play The Network. Edinburgh on Tueo.
When my play Sailmaker was first produced at the Traverse in 1982, critical response (and more important, audience response) was enthusiastic. Yes, it must be revived at the Festival Fringe. Yes, it should transfer to London. Yes, above all, it must go on in Glasgow. Yes!
None of that happened. Various reasons, but mainly just the ephemeral nature of folk‘s enthusiasms. Oh yes. it was great, but that was last week. However, a number of factors combined to give the play a kind ofcontinued life. First of all, the script was published by Tom Fenton’s Salamander Press
' as the first in his Traverse Plays
series. Then in 1983 Stewart Conn produced a fine radio version for Radio 4. I know for sure that this was bootlegged and used in many Scottish schools, often in conjunction with the short story on which the play was based. The printed edition of the play also started to find its way on to school reading lists. It had become a text. All ofthis was fine. even gratifying.
So too was the number of people I’ve |
worked with over the years — actors, producers, directors — who were aware ofthe play. (‘Oh aye, you wrote Sailmaker. I never saw it but I’ve heard it’s a great wee play.’) But it still seemed a pity that it had never been given another production, and it rankled especially that it had never been done in Glasgow. (I mean, this is such a Glasgow play!)
So when the script was published again last year. in a new edition by Hodder & Stoughton, I decided I should push it. Tom McGrath suggested I try Alan Lyddiard at TAG. Alan had heard ofit (!). He read it, loved it. And here we are. It’s touring schools and community venues in February/March, with a week at the Tron and three days at Cumbernauld.
God bless the Year ofCulture!
Working on the play again has been a curious experience for me. It
is directly autobiographical, and yet as a piece of work it has a life of its own, separate from me. I remember the precise moment, in rehearsals for the original Traverse production, when this separation became apparent. I was watching a scene between the two main characters — a father and son at odds after the death of the boy’s mother — and I found myself getting really annoyed at the boy. ‘Why doesn’t he leave his old man alone? Can’t he see he’s doing his best?’ No, ofcourse he can’t, just as I couldn’t when I lived this scene.
Interestingly, when we had the read-through for the present production by TAG, someone pointed out how much of the discussion afterwards centred on people’s memories. It seems to have that effect on people - sets them off on remembrance of things past.
A story I like to tell, when things start getting anecdotal, concerns a little bit of research I did for that first production at the Traverse. The Sailmaker of the play’s title was my father. That had been his trade. I remembered as a boy playing with his sailmaking tools — wooden marlinspikes, huge needles, a leather palm. Now, these tools feature in the play, and I wanted them to be right. My father was dead. So who could I ask? In the end I arranged to go and talk to a sailmaker working in a ship’s chandlers in Granton. He was very
helpful. We had a good long talk about his work. Then just as l was going, he told me that as an apprentice he had learned his trade in a tarpaulin shop in Edinburgh. ‘And I’ll tell you the funny thing,’ he said. ‘Ken where that tarpaulin shop was? It was where your Traverse theatre is now!‘
So the play was going on in a room that had once been a sailmaker’s workshop! It’s the kind ofthing that makes you feel like a character in a Hesse novel! There is always that something else going on behind the surface of things, unfolding.
And in a sense that’s also true of the play. It’s not just some easy nostalgia trip. Nor is it just a naturalistic drama about social change. the running down of Glasgow‘s heavy industry, the effect ofthat on this one man. The ‘nostalgia’ is for something more than times past. ‘There’s something I’ve forgotten,’ says the character of the boy at one point. ‘Something I’ve lost.’ He is unable to define that ‘something’, but by the end ofthe play, when the power of his imagination is able to perceive a vivid beauty in the heart ofwhat seems like destruction, he is on the way towards it.
One friend I‘d always thought of as a hardline Marxist told me that watching the play was the nearest thing he’d ever had to a religious experience in the theatre! Someone else described it as a ‘Buddhist play’. (Yes, well, sort of!) Liz Lochhead said that, paradoxically for a play with a cast of four men, it was a strongly feminist play, because the absence ofthe mother. the female, the feminine, was the strongest presence throughout.
It is to Alan Lyddiard’s credit as director, aided by a strong cast, that the TAG production is doing justice to all of these elements (as well as being a lot of fun!). I’ve enjoyed watching it take shape. Yes, it is a great wee play, even if I do say so myself!
Writer Alan Spence relaunches his acclaimed play Sailmaker, first produced at the Traverse in 1982 and
soon to be reﬂoated by TAG.
The List 26 January — 8 February 1990 7