Monday, 19 May 2014

The Kelpies

The Kelpies @ The Helix, Grangemouth/Falkirk 17th May 2014

Andy Scott is the artist who designed and organised the build of the stunning equine heads by the side of the Forth and Clyde canal providing a glorious view from the passing M90 motorway. Although I had seen them thus (from the car), this was my first up close and personal visit to the monumental sculptures  - with even an opportunity to walk inside the broad necks and view the Kelpies from within.

Photo courtesy of © andy scott public art ltd. 2014

 (By the way, if you have ever travelled along the M8 from Glasgow to Edinburgh you may have seen Andy's first ever public art installation "The Heavy Horse" ).

Photo courtesy of © andy scott public art ltd. 2014

There are also many other examples of his work all over the UK here - The Works 

However "The Kelpies" is/are his most recent, and largest work. They are the largest equine sculpture in the world, standing 30 metres (100 feet) tall.  (There is another horsey statue in Mongolia which is taller, but only because there is a Genghis Khan on the horse's back - so this is the largest purely equine statue in the world.)

The Myth:  Kelpie, or water-kelpie, is the Lowland Scottish name given to a water-spirit or demon inhabiting the lochs and waterways of Scotland. It has most often been described as appearing as a horse, but is supposedly able to adopt other forms, including those of beautiful women and handsome men.

From Andy Scott's web page - "Falkirk was my father’s home town and that inherited link to the town has been one of my driving inspirations.  The mythological associations behind the original brief have been absorbed by other sources of inspiration in the creative processes, and the ancient ethereal water spirits have been forged into engineered monuments. The Kelpies are modelled on heavy horses and it is this theme of working horses which captured my imagination and drove the project. They are the embodiment of the industrial history of Scotland and the Falkirk / Grangemouth area. Heavy horses would once have been the powerhouse of the area, working in the foundries, the fields, farms and of course the canal itself, pulling boats along the Forth & Clyde from coast to coast." 

Photo courtesy of © andy scott public art ltd. 2014
Originally, the Kelpies had been intended to be functional as well as aesthetic, operating a "displacement lock system" to provide boat access to the canal from the River Carron and ultimately the Forth and the North Sea. One of the massive horse heads was to have rocked forward 5m (16ft) and the other was to have raised backwards by the same distance. The water displaced by this movement was supposed to fill a central lock to lift the boats into the Forth and Clyde canal. But, as the project dragged on, safety concerns were raised and in June 2011 the boat lift plan was scrapped due to "very complex and fluctuating engineering challenges". Despite its initial function being dropped, the plan for the sculptures went ahead and the canal still passes directly between the Kelpie heads.
Aerial view showing canal through the site

The Kelpies themselves are awe inspiring close-up and the guided tour (£4.95) provides all kinds of background information (no two of the 475 steel plates on the outside of the Kelpies are identical) and also allows a stroll inside the neck of the "Head Down" Kelpie.
The equine structures were based on two local heavy horses - Duke and Baron, and the guide often used these names when describing the structures - however they are officially "Head Up" and "Head Down" in the official signs and literature.

Quite beautiful either when viewed close-up, or at a distance framed against the Ochil Hills, anyone who tell you that this is not "art" (e.g. Jon Jones - Guardian art "critic") is talking out of their hindquarters.

Here you can view a time-lapse video of the Kelpies build

Friday, 2 May 2014

Martin Stephenson and The Daintees

Òran Mór, Glasgow 2nd May 2014

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees

I've been a fan of Martin George Stephenson since the Boat to Bolivia album but for some reason, until recently I only owned two of his fairly extensive repertoire of Daintees albums. Namely: Boat To Bolivia (1986) and Gladsome, Humour & Blue (1988), and none of his many solo contributions. There are many tracks from these albums that you'll no doubt recognise, even if you aren't sure who they are by: Crocodile Cryer, Slow Lovin', Boat to Bolivia, Little Red Bottle, Coleen and Wholly Humble Heart.

Martin is a Durham native, who now lives in Invergordon in the Scottish Highlands, where he also runs his own small label for up and coming artists, Barbaraville.

I heard that Martin was on an extensive tour of the UK this year and promised to make good my lack of fan support - and anyway, I had also read that the new album ‘California Star’ (Nov 2013) was already being heralded as the Daintees’ finest work since ‘Boat To Bolivia,’ and on first listening I had to agree. 
The Òran Mór venue is a relatively recent (2004) refurbishment of the  Kelvinside Parish Church which was built in 1862. This was my first visit, and I was quite impressed. 
It was great to see such a good turn out, and it was also good to see the mix of ages - plenty of youngsters among the first-time-around fans. Martin and the band bound onto the stage and were greeted with the same enthusiasm that they received when I last saw them in 1990-something. The band were: John Steel (guitar), Kate Stephenson [no relation] (drums), Chris Mordey (bass) & Finn Macardle (percussion & bongos) - some details about the Daintees band here.
"This is our 3rd gig on the Gladsome Humour & Blues Tour" announced Martin, "and it's great to back in Glasgow where they appreciate the jokes and don't get upset when I swear". "I love the faces they pulled when I used the C-word in Windsor" he pulls a not-very-happy face "They do this neighbourhood-watch-face thing" he says with a huge grin.
The first song was the sing-along There Comes A Time, then Slaughter Man. The sound was good, the band were great (Steel's guitar and Stephenson's drums in particular). He dedicated The Wait to Anne Stephenson, the violinist who played on the Gladsome, Humour & Blues album and whose haunting violin made this track so memorable. 
I Can See and The Old Church Is Still Standing followed. He dedicated Wholly Humble Heart to Billy Mackenzie. The version of Me & Matthew (In the greenhouse my Grandfather and me) was beautiful. When they launched into an up-tempo version of Nancy with some lovely duelling guitar, the crowd could restrain themselves no more and the first bout of dancing began. 
Goodbye John (July was a fruitless month) was introduced as a "Stream of consciousness that ended with a tent in the duvet erection". 
I Pray lacked the saxophone of the original, but they made up for it with some restrained but beautiful guitar playing and vocal harmonies. The reflective and melodic Even The Night (has turned it's back on me) was in the same vein with understated beautiful guitar arrangement and the whole crowd sang along. ("Great singing Glasgow - that was really nice")
Interlaced between the timeless songs of love, sadness, happiness and memories, Martin's anecdotes about his time supporting various acts in the 70s and 80s were laugh out loud funny (The Smiths came in for a few choice swearwords; Roddy Frame was a talented wee kid, but a good lad). Stephenson's love for the music is obvious and he never stops grinning.
Get Get Gone and Running Water were signals for the second bout of unrestrained dancing and this time everyone joined in. But Martin had been enjoying the playing and chatting so much that the 10pm curfew had been and gone - the band waved and left the stage. Despite repeated calls for an encore, the house lights went up and it was over. 
I know at least one Daintees non-fan who was there and really enjoyed the outing. Throughout, the music was top notch and Stephenson's songwriting is timeless.
There Comes A Time
Slaughter Man
The Wait
I Can See
The Old Church Is Still Standing
Wholly Humble Heart
Me & Matthew 
Goodbye John
I Pray
Get Get Gone
Even The Night
Running Water

Nice touch - you can download the new single from the California Star album here for free - in return for some free publicity i.e. Twitter, Facebook, canvassing of your local radio station, etc.

The support acts were:
Scott Macdonald
Scott was first up, and while the crowd milled about, buying beers, choosing the best vantage points, and browsing the merchandise stand, he performed some lovely songs. "This is my first time on such a big stage, and with such a small guitar" he joked between songs. His lyrics were particularly good and his acoustic 2/3 size guitar and harmonica soon drew the crowd closer, and appreciative applause. Definitely worth some more investigation, and a great opener for the night.  Lots more info here.

Helen McCookerybook
Helen was next on the stage, backed by Martin Stephenson and the Daintees! Helen was the bass guitar player and lead singer with Brighton-based punk rock band The Chefs during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her most recent album is Take One, released on the Martin's Barbaraville label in October 2010. Gone are the punk influences these days. Now it's definitely more country and western. Her songs were pleasant, but it was a cover of a Daintees tune that stood out in her set. She finished up with "This is Anarchy Skiffle - 1,2,3 4". More info on Helen here.