‘Whenever I write about something really depressing, it goes viral.’ So says author and Guardian journalist George Monbiot, who presented the final night of his Scottish tour alongside Scottish folk singer Ewan McLennan at Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp tonight.
Monbiot’s Guardian article on the devastating epidemic of loneliness in our societies quickly went viral when it was published in 2014, and became the catalyst for a musical collaboration between the pair.
Realising a book on the topic of loneliness would be a solitary pursuit for both writer and reader, Monbiot approached McLennan with a series of narrative sketches that could explore the topic instead through music, resulting in an album and tour entitled Breaking the Spell of Loneliness. And how right they were to bring forth a topic that has an almost-taboo associated with it in today’s overwhelmingly interconnected society, to a live and captive audience.
Tonight’s performance begins with Such a Thing as Society, which Monbiot introduces with a short speech on the disappearance of our altruistic nature in exchange for a deeply dominant and destructive narrative of the ‘self-maximising man’. The night follows this form, where Monbiot eloquently introduces a range of issues surrounding loneliness, and McLennan follows with a song from the album.
These Four Walls touches on issues of isolation, and was the result of the first lyrical sketch between the pair. The performance by McLennan proves himself as Scotland’s very own voice of protest, in a time when it is so sorely needed.
The standout track of the night is McLennan’s a cappella version of My Time and Yours, recounting his grandmother’s Govan of the late 1920s, and comparing that with the disconnected and hollow cities of today. Cities he says in which ‘social solidarity’ has been replaced with human-less automated tills.
The night ends with a stirring cover of We Shall Overcome, which the pair invite the audience to join in with. The result is a most beautiful and moving crowd participation moment, making the Blue Lamp sound more cathedral than pub.
Monbiot concludes the evening by stating simply that ‘we stand together, or we fall apart’, and instead of an encore, he invites the audience to turn around and speak to someone new. The Blue Lamp is filled with a joyous cacophony of conversation, ringing out into the cold, grey Aberdeen night.