Barry Humphries’ Weimar Caberet

usher's hallWe have visitors at our George Square Edinburgh Festival house, amongst them my dear friend Rob Hain, an artist from the Scottish boarder s who created this wonderful canvas of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall from where all her scholars take their graduation honours and where all the great orchestras of the world come to play.



And it was to the Usher hall we went to listen to Barry Humphries introduce and compere a programme of songs and music from the German Weimar Republic, the music of Weill and Krenek, the music of the cabarets of the smokey “degenerate” Berlin, before it was all banned and outlawed by the rise of the third Reich.

Yes, presented by Barry Humphries, he who as the legendary Australian Cultural attaché sought to persuade us that the one thing Australia did not have was any cultural appreciation of the finer things of life. The lying bastard! He evoked for us an Australia of the 1940’s and 50’s of tea shops and book shops, where sheltered the refugees, Jews and Germans, fleeing the horrors of Europe. A Melbourne where as a boy, he bought a battered European suitcase, in a barrydusty second hand book store, full of the sheet music of the Weimar. He could not read music but he treasured the hoard and now, he opens the suitcase, so full of music and memories, and shares them all with the Usher Hall. It was an Australian night, a European night, a Berlin night, a night of Jazz and of Tango and of cabaret and of sexy smokey songs, including the sultry Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata erotica. It was the music and the writing and the musicians and the songs of those who either escaped from or were consumed by the Holocaust. It was all in Barry’s rescued suitcase.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra, provided the music, talented beyond the size of their continent, and Meow Meow sang in throaty German. Barry danced the tango, how old is he, in his 80;s now, and he sang too, with passion, in the ruins of Berlin.

He didn’t say so but it was also a tribute, the most wonderful of tributes to all that our fathers fought for, for all the bits and pieces of civilisation that they saved, and rescued and preserved, for their children and their grandchildren and among what they rescued among the treasures they saved for the world, was surely, this magical night at the Usher Hall.


The Edinburgh Charity Shops.

There are probably more charity shops in Edinburgh than in any other city in the British Isles. I don’t know why. There just is. On some streets there are more charity shops than ordinary shops. I long ago reached the view that at least one out of every three people you meet in Edinburgh must be wearing the other two’s clothes, or perhaps drinking from their glassware, cooking in their pots, reading their books, wearing their jewellery and listening to their music. For me it is one of the joys of Edinburgh, Each year, when I visit for the month of the festival, the very first charity shop purchase is usually a set of candlesticks, for we dine by candlelight during the festival. I now have a collection of about twelve pairs of charity shop candlesticks, for I always take them home with me. I have stopped taking shirts to Edinburgh in my luggage, for you can buy good quality shirts for £2.50, and why not?. Again I tend to take them back home and by now I have sufficient shirts to clothe a small army
The charity shops are so abundant in Edinburgh that there is a map, a sort of London underground type map, detailing the location of all the shops across the city. If you are really obsessive you can co-ordinate the charity shop map with the bus route map and systematically raid each shop in each district. It might take you six months but I am sure it could be done. Almost certainly has been done. But I much prefer to meander about the city. Leave a fringe show and catch a bus to Morningside or Stockbridge and see what’s to find. Last year I bought a fine pair of brogue shoes in Brunsfield for about £6.00. Of course we must have tins for our Edinburgh Flat. I only take Earl Grey tea, my wife takes Typhoo, my first son only organic tea and my second son Irish builders brew. We need separate tins for each of us and the charity shop tins are wonderful. Needless to say I now have a quite extensive collection of tins… I am a bit of a sucker for a good piece of glassware and have purchased good looking wine and beer glasses in Stockbridge, Morningside, Tollcross and Leith. Must admit, somewhat reluctantly, that we are beginning to run out of space at home.
This year I bought an audio book of Obama’s life story, five discs, £2.50 on the Lothian road; an audio book of Robert Harris’s Pompeii, four discs £2.00 in Shelter and another audio book of the No. 1 lady Ladies Detective Agency, five discs 2.50 Barnardo’s. A couple of books about the first world war, a cookery book for my son who is moving into his own flat and a small jazz book called Wild Party with illustrations by Art Spiegelman and signed by the artist! £5 on the Westport next to Hooters nightclub. There was also some music by Leonard Cohen, a tin tray featuring a London bus advertising good Scottish whisky and a glass fruit bowl for the flat in which we were staying. The only thing I left behind was the fruit bowl.

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Scottish Portrait Gallery Edinburgh and Lavery’s war paintings

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh has re-opened in its dramatic, neo gothic palace on Queen Street.  Ruskin would be delighted.   It is a rather rambling interior and quite difficult to navigate.  I wondered about with nothing really grabbing my interest, until I stumbled upon, entirely by good fortune, the exhibition of war paintings by Sir John Lavery.   Most of them I had not seen before and had never seen them collected together like this.   Many of the works were on loan from the Imperial War Museum.

Lavery never actually went to the war.  He wanted to. Very much so.  He joined the Artists Rifles in 1914 and for a few weeks drilled with them in the quadrangle of Burlington House and went on route marches into the country.   But he was 55 by then and was told he would make a better contribution to the war with his paint brush.   He got appointed as an official war artist and arranged for a van and for transport to the front.  But if never happened.  His wife became very ill following a motor-car accident and he never travelled to the front.   He was ever afterwards bitterly disappointed.  He admired greatly the works coming back from the front by other official war artists, in particular those of Orpen, and Eric Kennington, a private in the 13th London Regiment and later Nevinson, a private in the RAMC, and John Nash and his brother Paul, but he constantly remonstrated with himself at not being in at the action.

He was asked by the war office to complete a series of canvases depicting the home camps and activities and these works, now on display in Edinburgh are the result.  Lavery was unhappy with the works and felt they were a bit thin and not up to the standard of those artists who were in the thick of the action.

By this time Lavery was a rich and much sought after portrait artist and had completed portraits of almost every celebrity of his period.  He was Irish by birth but the Scott’s love him, far more in fact than the Irish.  They claim him as their own largely  because he trained in Glasgow and was one of the founders of the Glasgow Boy’s school of Artists.  During that period, heavily influenced by the French Impressionists, he had produced works full of colour and light and movement, works that put him alongside the finest impressionists and most certainly the finest British artists then working.   He had turned to the riches of portraiture work and although producing some quite outstanding portraits, particularly of Carson  and John Maxton the Scottish socialist,  he had, by the nature of the work, toned down his palette of colours and his impressionist brush strokes.

I think he was wrong to disparage these war pictures.   Some of his old colour and light from the Glasgow days reappears.   The picture of the air-ship attacking submarines springs particularly to mind.   And his painting of the submarines at Harwich is especially fine.   He also painted some of the military camps and bases. His painting of the naval air station (for air-ships) at Queensferry must surely capture one of the first ever naval air stations.   There is a very good portrait of a convoy sailor, an excellent interior of shell making by women workers in Edinburgh and a haunting landscape of ships lying at Scarpa Flow.  There is also an excellent display of his portraiture skills in the painting on board HMS Elizabeth at the surrender of the German Fleet.   Lavery specialised is such pictures, perhaps his most famous example being that of the appeal of Sir Roger Casement against a sentence of death for High Treason. (not in this exhibition but you can read about it here)  In both instances he was present at the scene.  On board HMS Elizabeth he dressed as a naval officer and hovered in the background behind a pot of flowers.  In court he sat in the empty jury box preparing his sketches of the scene.  Both are in fact fine war pictures.  

At the end of the war Lavery visited France and captured the rather poignant image of the cemetery being prepared at Etaples with it’s wooden crosses, What a pleasure this exhibition was.

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Picasso and Modern British Art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

60 outstanding Picasso’s gathered from around the galleries of the world and chosen to show the influence of Picasso upon Modern British Art and Artists. Placed between, amongst and about the Picasso’s are the works of those he so influenced. Henry Moore and Picasso; David Hockney and Picasso; Francis Bacon and Picasso; Wyndham Lewis and Picasso and so on. The exhibition establishes Picasso’s enormous influence on leading British Modernists. It is astonishing this has not been put together before now and it was a real privilege to see it during the festival. It runs until the 4th November 2012.

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Jimmy Carr at the Edinburgh Festival

British comedy has never before, been this desperate:

“Your boyfriend asked you to piss on him? Ha ha ha ha guffaw guffaw Did you like it? Ha Ha Ha Ha guffaw Ha Ha:  He shows a slide of a  drawing of a man masturbating using the dead arm and hand of a man in a coffin, sperm spurting onto his coat: Ha ha ha ha guffaw, so funnie..: Anal sex is a load of shit, Ha ha ha, And it hurts like buggery, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha And it bores my wife ha ha oh ha ha oh guffaw guffaw ha ha: Heckle from audience “where’s your accountant?” Ha ha ha. He’s at your place fucking your mum. Ha ha ha ha guffaw ha ha. Go home and wipe the cum off her mouth: ha ha ha guffaw ha guffaw ha ha, what a put down ha ha ha bloody brilliant ha ha guffaw guffaw; Invites woman from audience to join him in a “playlet” she reads from prepared script. “ I want you Jimmy for your large fat cock” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha . There’s a collection at the end for abused children he tells us. With every £100 we can buy their silence; ha ha ha guffaw guffaw ha ha ha ha .ha ha ha ha”.

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The Age of the Geek – Edinburgh Fringe

This show doesn’t really work. It hasn’t joined the dots together fully, which is a great pity, for the writing is absolutely first class. A real poet of the interweb. If he has a book of poems then I’d buy it and recommend it to anyone I know. I hope he sticks to it. He has a great touch in the writing not so great in the performance. Hayden Cohen. We shall undoubtedly be hearing more of him.

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The Ginge, The Geordie and the Geek – Edinburgh Fringe, – a review

The venue for this three man comedy sketch group was in the old Cowgate section of the city. Cowgate is also known as Little Ireland and once housed the City’s large Irish immigrant community in squalid slum conditions. James Connolly, the Irish Trade Unionist and leader of the Citizen Army during the Easter Rising was born here. The same buildings are now used as venues for the Festival. This one was a deep arched cave, the arch about 120 feet above us, the walls wet with damp and a couple of old windows bricked in. It was no more than 18 foot across and about 30 foot long Sometimes in Edinburgh, the venues are more interesting than the acts.

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