Just as Scotland will make one of the most formative decisions of its history on September 18, so too will there be a need for a great auld party the night before. Yes or No, there’s genuine electricity in the air and NTS Associate Director Graham McLaren has lassoed this energy to conceive and curate Blabbermouth: a live twelve-hour celebration of Scottish music and spoken word. As it welcomes an absolute truckload of famous names across four instalments at Assembly Hall (everyone must have heard about it by now?), the only condition is that whatever is performed, it must have been written by a Scot.
“At one point I thought it could go on for 24 or 48 hours”, McLaren starts. “You could go on without repeating or exhausting any of the great Scottish works. The idea of doing it on the eve of the Referendum was partly about reliving the parties we all had when we were kids, where our uncles sang songs, our grandfathers told jokes and we all played guitars. Certainly that was my upbringing. My mum would sing Patsy Cline, there’d be acoustic tunes and spoons on the go and my granny always sang hymns. It was a family that, like all families, had its challenges. Not everyone saw eye to eye all the time and it seemed a very good way of dealing with this. It’s a good thing to do, to let your hair down, and it’s no more complex than that as an idea.”
However uncomplicated an idea, it certainly took an invested effort to piece together. McLaren explains that the candle was first lit back in 2011, during the Scottish parliamentary elections, when he was working in Montreal. Collaborating with Brigitte Haentjens, they staged a 24-hour open-air shindig that saw actors, musicians and politicians perform texts from across Canada, an event rather beautifully named Windmill of Words. Bringing this back to Scotland saw the creation of the Dear Scotland programme, with Blabbermouth an offshoot.
“I’d be surprised if there’s more political context [in Blabbermouth]”, admits McLaren. “The pieces that will be performed on the day will be something personal, not a last-ditch attempt to make someone vote one way or the other. All the arguments have been had, all the deals have been stitched out. People will have made their decision. I’d like all of us to get together and celebrate how we have so much more as Scots than what we argue about. That’s a real thrust behind it, not about the binary decision of yes or no.”
In this sense, it sits curiously between projects that have flourished in Scotland over the last few years. On the night of the General Election back in 2010, Dominic Hill and David Greig brought playwrights in to elegise Gordon Brown that turned out to be a hilarious and exhilaratingly raw series of political parodies. Blabbermouth also uses relevant political events as its stimulus, however detached from the actual vote itself it may be, in the same way Theatre Uncut constantly keeps debate on our radars. And it celebrates the great poetry and fierce artistic vision of many Scottish writers, balladry that was refreshed and experimented with by Lorne Campbell at last year’s The Bloody Great Border Ballad Project. It’s not quite the same as any of these but contributes to a tradition of celebration, of a people expressing through politics and performance, sharing fundamental and lasting conversations—with a few welcome drams along the way.