Music to make the Ears Glad

First to appear are Flook, an Anglo-Irish four-piece who, pre-pandemic, made a tour de force return to recording following almost a decade and a half out of the studio. The band first rose to stardom in the early 2000s and then, following their recording hiatus, returned with a triumphant new album in 2019.

With the flutes and whistles of Brian Finnegan and Sarah Allen, the guitar of Ed Boyd and the bodhran of John Joe Kelly, this iconic band weaves and spins traditionally rooted tunes into an enthralling sound – with agile but tight rhythms and virtuoso improvisation.

“Way back in 2005, when we released our third studio album, little did we know that it would be our last for almost a decade and a half,” said Finnegan. “We took a break but when Flook came calling again the voltage returned and, like all deep friendships, it felt like we’d never been apart.

“Part of the decision to re-group was the understanding that we had much left to say as a band, and a certain responsibility to our loyal fans, old and new, to create Flook music of the present, rich in both past and future.”

Different again are the soulful, stirring performances of Penicuik-born Siobhan Miller, who returns to the Eastgate as a multiple winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

Alongside her solo ventures, Siobhan’s exquisite, velvety-smooth vocal style has been honed during extensive tours with her own band, as well as guest appearances with the National Theatre of Scotland, a season on Broadway and on US/UK TV drama Outlander.

Now based in Glasgow, she is a regular at the city’s Celtic Connections festival and returned as part of a star-studded Transatlantic Sessions line up earlier this year.

Flook play the Eastgate Theatre at 7.30pm on Sat 30 April, while Siobhan Miller appears at 7.30pm on Wed 11 May. Tickets available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online at eastgatearts.com

Peebles Hosts International Film Festival

Held at the Eastgate Theatre from 19 to 24 April, with party nights at Peebles Hydro and elsewhere in town, this brand-new event is the sister festival to the celebrated Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema in California.

Peebles will welcome more than 60 filmmakers from around the world, all eager to share their work with new audiences. Films range from full-length features to shorts, animation and documentaries covering every possible genre.

Presented by Festival Director and Scottish actress Mhairi Calvey alongside a team that includes Peebles-based actress and writer Vivien Reid, the official programme has been selected by a Grand Jury comprised of Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated stars such as Shauna Macdonald (The Descent), Angus MacFadyen (Braveheart) and Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction).

The festival opens on Tues 19 April (12pm) with a screening of Dark Encounter, a haunting and cerebral spin on the alien abduction story, followed by a Q&A with US director Carl Strathie. The closing film, on Sat 23 April (5.45pm), is Cleanin’ up the Town – a fascinating look into the making of the original Ghostbusters, with never-before-seen interviews with the film’s cast, and a Q&A with director Anthony Bueno.

In between, the festival features almost 50 films, including some homegrown productions such as award-winning filmmaker Uisdean Murray’s Mara: The Seal Wife – a searing drama inspired by selkie folklore and filmed entirely in the Western Isles.

The festival also sees a range of themed seminars plus a special film history event: a full screening of the Warner Brothers’ classic Casablanca, with an introduction and Q&A by film director, Paramount Studios staff writer and film historian, Stephen Savage.

“Independent filmmaking has brought the most wonderful opportunities to me as an actress and to now be able to give back to the filmmaking community by bringing together so much extraordinary talent is a dream come true,” commented Mhairi Calvey.

“I am in awe of the films that have been submitted to us in this, our inaugural year, allowing the festival to start with a bang and inspire future generations of film creatives.”

The Scotland International Festival of Cinema opens at 12pm on Tues 19 April and ends with a glittering Gala Awards ceremony at the Eastgate Theatre on Sun 24 April.

For full programme details, visit www.scotlandifc.com and for tickets call Box Office on 01721 725777 or visit www.eastgatearts.com

Fantasy Epic Comes to the Stage

 

Shown on the big screen at the Eastgate Theatre on Fri 1 April, The Book of Dust is set 12 years before Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

And this gripping adaptation is no less epic as it revisits a fantastical word in which waters are rising and storms are brewing. At its centre are two young people and their dæmons who harbour a tiny child called Lyra Belacqua – little more than a newborn but who nonetheless holds the future of the world in her hands.

As the waters rise around them, powerful adversaries conspire for mastery of Dust: salvation to some, the source of infinite corruption to others.

Adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery and directed Nicholas Hytner, this remarkable production features spectacular staging, costumes and exquisite dæmon puppetry – from kingfishers to badgers, lemurs and more.

The Book of Dust screens 7pm, Fri 1 April. Tickets £17, £10, available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online.

Food for the Body, Mind and Spirit

Originally a joint initiative between Scottish Ballet and Dancebase, the weekly Dance for Parkinson’s (DfP) sessions have proved immensely popular since their launch in 2019.

More than 20 people from the local area attend each week, to enjoy live music and a range of seated and standing dance that help develop confidence and creativity. The sessions also address concerns around balance, mobility, coordination and social isolation – with tea and cakes and the chance for a chat a key part of every session.

Much missed during a lengthy postponement due to Covid, the DfP sessions resumed at the theatre in autumn 2021. “I have been coming since the very beginning and the classes had become an important part of my life,” commented John, who attends with his partner, Co.

“It’s not just the physical movement which I enjoy, but also the enthusiasm of those who run the classes. They push you, but only to do what you feel you can do.”

Although designed for people living with Parkinson’s, others who feel they may benefit are also welcomed. While Co initially came in a caring capacity, she is also now feeling less than 100% and gets a huge amount out of the sessions. “It’s the exercise, the movement and the live music,” she commented. “There are lots of different elements – I love it.”

Another regular is Gina, who suffers from arthritis. “When the classes started up, I explained that I didn’t actually have Parkinson’s and was told that I would be very welcome,” she said. “I’m on my own, so it’s very social and we all seem to gel. No-one worries about what they look like, we are too busy enjoying ourselves.”

And it’s not just inhibitions that are left at the door each week. “Once inside the room, you no longer feel like you have an illness,” commented John. “It’s a total mind and body cure.”

Currently on a mid-term break, the next DfP sessions resume on Thursday 28 April and run weekly until the end of June. The sessions are part of a wider health and wellbeing programme at the Eastgate that also includes Memory Lane Music, a cheerful hour of music and song each week for those living with dementia, run by Nomad Beat, Peebles Community Music School.

And as part of Scottish Mental Health Awareness week, this year’s Inspiring Life event includes an extended programme of events running from Wednesday 18 – Saturday 21 May each one designed to give much needed energy for the body, mind and spirit.

Trees inspire Tunes

This is music that takes inspiration from, and celebrates, the forests and woodlands of Scotland – in particular the Grantown area where he grew up.  Album tracks include The atmospheric opening The Pioneer, The Wildfire, a musical warning against very current disasters and The Tree of Life/The Tree of Lightning and The Capercaillie Rant/An Taghan two energetic tin whistle and pipe duets enveloped in rich and dynamic arrangements.

Hamish is joined on stage by Patsy Reid on fiddle and Innes Watson on guitar and viola.  Join them for an exciting and immersive musical adventure.

Tickets for Hamish Napier: The Woods are available now from the Eastgate Theatre box office: 01721 725777 or www.eastgatearts.com

Playing it for Laughs

Best known for his acutely observed character comedy, including playing Scot Squad’s lunatic Chief Commissioner Cameron Miekelson, the play instead sees Docherty explore material that is a little closer to him. It is a tender, playful, darkly comic tale, in which he grapples with lost youth, infatuation, fatherhood, sex, secrets and truth.

“Half the fun of the show is imagining the audience thinking ‘this can’t be true, can it?’,” he explained. “And I never let on what’s true and what’s not. I mined my past but fictionalised it. Put it this way, I’m playing ‘me’.”

Described as a love letter to Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and summer rain, Nothing But enjoyed a sell-out run at last year’s Fringe, resonating deeply with audiences.

“I was so pleased it worked well – probably the best reviewed show I’ve ever done,” reflected Jack. “I loved the feeling when the audience fell quiet in the serious bits. I felt like a proper actor!”

And the play continues to touch a nerve now that Docherty has taken it on tour. “At heart, it’s a rom-com, a ‘what might have been’ story and we all have a ‘what if’ in our lives, some relationship that didn’t work out,” he explained. “And then it becomes more a story about a father/daughter relationship, and all of us has family. So, it’s a pretty universal tale.”

It’s also an experimentation that audiences can expect more of from one of Scotland’s most popular comic performers. “I’m always looking for the next challenge; something I haven’t done before and a comedy with serious bits fits the bill. It doesn’t mean I’m leaving behind the character comedy. I’m just mixing it up.”

Material that is a little more introspective feels like it might have been a lockdown project but it actually pre-dated the pandemic. Docherty was originally going to perform it in 2020, having worked on the play while out in Australia visiting his brother-in-law.

Then the pandemic hit and all plans changed. “I managed to get the last flight out of Sydney, otherwise I might be there to this day playing Chief Commissioner Bruce Miekelson of the Unified Australian Police Force,” smiled Jack.

“But I wrote it in lockdown and it did influence the nostalgic tone of the piece. We all believe in better days that have come before.”

Jack Docherty appears at the Eastgate Theatre in Nothing But, 7.30pm, Thurs 17 March. Tickets £15, £13, available from Box Office on 01721 725777, or online.

Make Music with the Mad Hatter

Together with cheeky duo Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Mad Hatter will prepare a topsy turvy tea party fit for Alice, with performances featuring teacups and kitchen utensils and rhythms guaranteed to get everyone up and dancing.

Presented by Owen Gunnell, and accompanied by the Essential Orchestra, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is part of a series of Children’s Classic Concert’s performances that provide children and families with a fun-filled introduction to orchestral music.

Before jumping down the rabbit hole on stage, all are also invited to a very loud percussion workshop where children can explore some of the featured music, meet the musicians and create their own musical tea party.

During the workshop, the Mad Hatter will present an array of special percussion instruments – many raided from kitchen cupboards – as he invites all to join Wonderland’s First Kitchen Samba Band.

Participants are encouraged to bring along home-made instruments made from old milk bottles, cereal boxes, biscuit tins, plastic tubs and more as the Mad Hatter demonstrates how to turn junk into funk!

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party workshop is at 1.45pm on Sat 5 March, with main performance at 3pm. Tickets for the performance (£10, £6 children, £14 adult & child) and workshop (£2) available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online.

Righting a Historical Wrong

Performing as Heal & Harrow – also the title of their already acclaimed new album – the duo’s music is inspired by specially commissioned stories by celebrated Scottish author Màiri Kidd that remember individual women who were tried as witches from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Each piece of music pays a humanising tribute to these women while also exploring historical beliefs in the supernatural and modern-day parallels.

Known for their work with bands such as The Shee, The Furrow Collective, Salt House, Rant and Spell Songs – the latter based on The Lost Words book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – Rachel and Lauren are two of the country’s most celebrated folk musicians. While they have collaborated on each other’s projects for many years, this is the first time they have worked together as a duo.

This musical exploration of a particularly dark chapter in Scotland’s history is timely, set as it is against the backdrop of the Scottish Parliament debating a bill that, if approved, will pardon those convicted and executed during the witch trials.

In Scotland, the Witchcraft Act was enacted in 1563 and remained in law until 1736, during which time lawmakers pursued prosecutions with particular zeal compared with many other countries in Europe. It is thought that around 2,500 people, mostly women, were accused of witchcraft, tried and executed, including many in the Borders.

“As traditional folk musicians, we have always been very interested in folklore and storytelling but it struck us that this is a very real part of our history in Scotland that we are not really aware of,” commented Rachel Newton, speaking recently as part of a performance on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. “The scale of the witch trials was so huge, we just felt like there was a lot to explore.”

And while the subject matter itself is undoubtedly grim, the music is far from sombre. Instead, Heal & Harrow have created an album – and a performance – that is tender, thought provoking and really rather beautiful.

Heal & Harrow perform at the Eastgate Theatre, 7.30pm, Sat 19 Feb. Tickets priced £17, £15, £8 under 16s, available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online.

Love is in the Air

Filmed at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy, set to Prokofiev’s score, features Principal Marcelino Sambé as Romeo and Anna Rose O’Sullivan as Juliet.

The story itself is well-known, but never loses its allure. Romeo and Juliet fall passionately in love, but their families are caught up in a deadly feud. They marry in secret, but tragic circumstances lead Romeo to fight and kill Juliet’s cousin Tybalt. As punishment, he is banished from the city.

When Juliet’s parents force her to marry another man, she takes drastic action by drinking a potion to make her appear dead so she can escape to join Romeo. News of the plan fails to reach Romeo and he returns to visit her tomb, grief stricken. Presuming Juliet lifeless, he drinks a phial of poison. Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead. Devastated, she stabs herself.

“Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet opened our first full season for 18 months, receiving stunning reviews and standing ovations,” commented Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet. “It’s a real pleasure to be able to share this special ballet with cinemas around the country.

“Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé make the most wonderful star-crossed lovers and I hope audiences can join us to experience this masterpiece.”

Romeo & Juliet screens at the Eastgate Theatre, 7pm, Mon 14 Feb. Tickets priced £17, £10 under 16s, available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online. The Royal Ballet Cinema Season will also include a live broadcast of Swan Lake that will screen at the Eastgate in May.

Wayward Jane Makes Live Return at the Eastgate

The band’s stand-out sound features fiddle, clawhammer banjo, double bass, guitar, wooden flute and close vocal harmonies. Their live shows have a joyful energy and range in mood from high octane, toe-tapping tunes to tender and soulful songs – with a warm dynamic between the band members.

As regulars on the Edinburgh alternative folk club scene, Wayward Jane have built up a strong following in the capital and beyond.

The line-up sees Rachel Walker (fiddle, vocals) play alongside Dan Abrahams (guitar, double bass) from Edinburgh folk-jazz pioneers Dowally and Sam Gillespie (vocals, guitar, woodwind). The quartet is completed by Michael Starkey, a banjo player who has travelled and studied traditional music in the Appalachians, returning with a host of tunes that help shape the band’s melting pot sound.

The show in Peebles will be the band’s first live gig since the initial lockdown in 2020, so expect a full-throttle performance.

Wayward Jane play the Eastgate Theatre, 7.30pm, Fri 28 Jan. Tickets priced £15, £13, £8 under 16s, available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online.