Review: Missing and Migration Stories at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Originally published by Buzz Magazine 28th February 2012

When the Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopened in December it seemed to have shifted focus. From simply displaying evocations of people, the gallery has been rebranded to offer ‘A Portrait of a Nation’. This was coined in April 2009 when the gallery closed for a refit, but since then the SNP have gained overall control of parliament and we find ourselves hurtling towards a referendum on independence. An auspicious idea then, if the exploration of Scottish national identity hadn’t already been the portfolio of most major artistic heavyweights in the country. It does seem curious that a portrait gallery would display large landscape prints in its photography gallery, and the policy has mixed success with current temporary installations Missing and Migration Stories. Continue reading

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Review: Aberfeldy at Nobles Bar

Originally published by Buzz magazine 13th March 2012

“You’re probably wondering where the girls are,” Riley Briggs tells a packed crowd at Nobles bar in the heart of Leith. “Well, we actually found out that they were ninja assassins from the future and had to get rid of them. It turns out every prominent Scottish indie band has been infiltrated.”

Aberfeldy are ten this year. They have had a chequered past; numerous members left – including Briggs’ ex girlfriend Ruth Barrie – and they were dropped unceremoniously by record label Rough Trade in 2006. Whether this statement by Briggs can be taken to mean that there is another impending personnel change in this cheery Edinburgh band remains to be seen.

Billed as ‘Just the boys’ and tonight down from their usual six to a female-free four, the band use the opportunity to try out some new material. In any case, the tiny stage at Nobles, framed by stained glass windows, would struggle to fit anyone else on it. The small venue, coupled with free entry and the fact that the band go on an hour late, gives the whole thing a chilled out, informal feel.

But there’s nothing remotely amateur about the depleted Aberfeldy by the time they launch into the brilliant A Friend Like You to open the set. Gone are the cutesy keyboards and cajun-folk fiddle; as a twin guitar four-piece, the stripped back sound reveals true rock credentials. Putting bittersweet lyrics with upbeat pop is Aberfeldy’s speciality, but in this rawer form songs like Summer’s Gone and Come on Claire lose any sense of whimsy and have a harder emotional impact; brought to the foreground are the impeccable, close harmonies and the tight, skilful rhythm section. Ken McIntosh in particular, on this display, must rank as one of the better bassists in the country. If this more direct sound is a product of the circumstances then their next album producer should take note – Aberfeldy can rock.

After a short break the band come back on to play a second set of cover versions
including a Roxy Music track, much to the delight of the drunken Leith crowd. Given the opportunity, even those who criticise Aberfeldy for being ‘too cheery’ should check them out as their experimental four-piece – because when their ninja assassins are absent, they pack more of a punch.

City Officials Under Fire

Originally published by Edinburgh Reporter on November 11th 2011

Senior Edinburgh city officials came under fire yesterday from all sides, as plans to outsource Edinburgh’s environmental services to private firm Enterprise appeared to be scuppered by the SNP group, a coalition partner.

At a heated public debate last night organised by the Council, Mark Turley, Director of Services for Communities recommended that the privatisation model go ahead as part of his “statutory obligation to get the best value for the city.”  According to Turley the move would save the city £72 million compared with £45 million of saving under the in-house model.  Many of the Edinburgh residents who were present disputed this.  A 90 year-old man shouted:- “Who can we trust?” and officials were even faced with questions over their own motives. Continue reading

Jack Drew The Lot

Originally published by Edinburgh Reporter on November 14th 2011

Six-year-old internet sensation Jack Henderson of Prestonpans finished his 536th and final commissioned drawing to raise funds for charity this week, marking the end of what his father Ed calls “a mad year”.

Web developer, Ed, has been running the site ‘Jack Draws Anything’ which was set up by Jack in March after youngest brother Noah was sent to the Royal Hospital for Sick Kids in Edinburgh with breathing problems.  Jack drew pictures in return for donations to the hospital with help and support from brothers Noah and Toby.  Eight months, 314 pens, 162 crayons, 96 pencils, a publishing deal and several TV appearances later Jack has finally completed his marathon of drawings, raising over £31,000 for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.

Before he ‘went into hibernation’ like his favourite animal the hedgehog, Jack said:- “I’m happy I got finished, but sad it’s the last one.” Although he admitted that he’d had enough drawing for the time being:- “I do get fed up sometimes, so I go and do something else like play the Wii, or with my brothers, or my Lego,” the Cockenzie Primary pupil told us.

Jack’s whirlwind year started when he interrupted his dad’s work on mum Rose’s website to ask him to create a site for him.  “It was strange” said Ed “I’ve never been asked by a six year old for a website before.”  Since then Jack has made appearances on STV’s The Hour, BBC breakfast, Fern Britton and Channel 5’s Live With Gabby, and he has created pictures for people across the globe including actor David Tennant and The Wiggles.  He attended four awards ceremonies and won the title of Child of the Year at Bighearted Scotland Awards.  Last month a book containing his first 290 drawings, ranging from ‘A rubber duck riding a bike shooting lasers’ to ‘A dinosaur diving into a pool of jelly’ went on sale, with proceeds going to the charity.  The book has been given 16 five star reviews on Amazon.

But despite being ‘incredibly proud of him’, for the Henderson family it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.  Mum Rose, dad Ed and brothers Noah and Toby, have all been involved, helping bring 222 cups of juice, 133 biscuits and 103 apples while he was drawing.  Noah, who has had a viral infection since birth, has been admitted to hospital twice since the project began.  “Jack genuinely thinks Noah is going to die every time he is submitted to hospital,” said Ed.  “He wanted to give something back.”

At first the family was flooded with goodwill, publicity, picture requests and donations. “I received 2,000 emails in the first week and I answered them all. It’s important to say thank you,” Ed told the ‘Be Good Be Social’ conference in Edinburgh last week, which brought together third sector professionals interested in social media for social good.  After a few weeks the family had to stop taking requests to prevent setting Jack an impossible target, and there even came a point when some people started contacting Ed demanding to know where their pictures were.  “The pushy part was just a few bad apples.  As I said in my Be Good Be Social talk, my advice is be nice to everyone, even the bad apples, and move on. I am a big boy, I can cope with folk being mean to me, but don’t hassle my kid – that makes me mad!  You can lead a boy to crayons but you can’t make him draw.  Six-year-olds get bored, it doesn’t matter what it is.  He’s not a machine.” Ed said, “He’s drawn two pictures a day, on average, for eight months”

For the Sick Kids, Jack has been a hero.  “Jack’s achievement is truly amazing.” said Maureen Harrison, chief executive of the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.

Jack told us his favourite drawing from the 536 was: “A bumblebee for my cousin Ethan”

“My favourite is Bat on Fire,” Ed said, “I don’t know why, I just think it would make a kick ass t-shirt, its so simple, effective and stands out.  It’s been a mad year.  We’ve a couple of little things still up our sleeve with regards to Jack but no spoilers! I suppose I best finish Mum’s website I started in March now!”

You can still support Jack and all the Henderson family by visiting www.jackdrawsanything.com and donating to the Sick Kids Friends Foundation through the Just Giving button.

Gaming Event raises £20,000 for Sick Kids

Originally published by Edinburgh Reporter on October 16th 2011

 

Geeks across the UK raised over £20,000 last weekend for the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh in the second annual 24-hour video games marathon, Sick Kids Save Point. Over 65 gamers took part in 24 hours of non-stop gaming, raising the sponsorship through Just Giving.

Rachel McKenzie, community fundraising manager at the Sick Kids Friends Foundation said staff at the charity were amazed. She said:-”Their jaws were hitting the floor. It is a phenomenal figure and I really cannot believe it. Huge congratulations to Sick Kids Save Point 2011.”

Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar North, who is based in the capital, supported the event by making a substantial donation and gave prizes for the top fundraisers. Jack Henderson, the six year-old internet phenomenon, also donated a signed copy of his book ‘Jack Draws Anything’ to the event. Jack has already raised around £30,000 this year by himself for the charity.

The top fundraiser for the event was Queensferry dad, Neil Gow, who raised a staggering £1,500 on his own. “It was a blast and a half” he told us. Neil’s 22-month old son Conor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes over the summer and needed to spend five nights in the Hospital. Gow said:-“As a keen gamer I was over the moon that I found something that I could contribute to.”

Other participants included members of the Ichthus Fellowship, the English speaking side of Chinese Evangelical Church in Edinburgh (CECE), and staff at city flight search company Skyscanner, who took over their office for the marathon. Twitch Gaming, Edinburgh’s gaming centre in Nicolson Street also took part as well as lone gamers and groups all over the UK.

It is hoped that Sick Kids Save Point, which is organised on behalf of the Sick Kids Friends Foundation,  will become a regular part of the fundraising calendar.

Finland Says Goodbye to the Markka

Originally published by Edinburgh Napier News on 24th November 2011

 

Before leaving Scotland a friend handed over some old Finnish markka,
challenging me to see if I could “still use them.”

In truth the Finnish markka ceased to be legal tender in 2002. Finland adopted the euro when entering the Eurozone in 1999, and is still the only Scandinavian country to have embraced the single currency.

My only option, then, is to get them changed.  On a day when the euro crisis has deepened, and Nokia Siemens Networks has been forced to announce cutting a quarter of its workforce,  I show the 240 Finnish markaas, including two big green notes depicting the composer Sibelius to Jenni, the teller at Forex Bank.  She looks surprised to see them. “You want to get rid of them,” she advises, adding that from next year nowhere will take them, even the Finnish National Bank.  “Are the Finns sad about that?” I ask.  “No” she says instantly.

“With everything that’s been going on in the Eurozone, do Finnish people want their old currency back?” I ask, adding, “are you fed up of the euro?” Jenni’s smile falters.  She looks at me as if I am stupid.  “No, why?” she asks.

Her reaction will be a disappointment to Timo Soini, the outspoken leader of the far-right party True Finns, who made surprising gains in last year’s election.  Soini is an outspoken critic of the EU, and has since voiced his desire to run for the presidency.  He takes credit as attempts to derail the bailouts of Portugal and Greece.

Every Finn I speak to seems embarrassed by the True Finns.  “Finland is a Social Democratic country, like the rest of Scandinavia,” Taisto Oksanen, 47, a well-known Finnish actor tells me. “But in the last ten years we’ve seen that erode.  We didn’t have too much of a class divide before, but since the Euro some people have got very rich, and a few hundred thousand people have just dropped into poverty. Our education and social welfare has been damaged.   The old parties were seen as corrupt and in with business, so I think people voted for the True Finns for change.  But it’s happening all over Europe – people are voting for those that blame the immigrants.  Look at Spain.  It is history repeating.”

“True Finns are very conservative, want the Finnish markka back and to kind of isolate Finland from the rest of Europe.  I don’t know how the support packages will actually help the citizens and I think that the banks should also take some responsibility for all of this.” says International Business student Milka Tanskanen, 21. “ I was ten years old when we started to use Euro in Finland, so I don’t actually have any real experience of the Finnish mark.”

“The old notes were nice,” Oksanen tells me.  “The euro, the note, doesn’t mean anything to me.  It has less ‘value’.”