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June 04, 2006

Hampden Park, Glasgow

West End Festival

Various venues, Glasgow, 9-25 June Leith Festival Various venues, Leith, until 11 June

WHAT ARE FESTIVALS FOR? NEW ONES spring up in Scotland so often these days that it's near impossible to keep track of them all, particularly at this time of year, so it's a question worth asking before you decide which of this year's crop to go to. A festival is supposed to be about celebration, after all, but what exactly is it you will be celebrating?

Sadly, many of today's festivals seem to be purely about marketing, about a glossy brochure that will hopefully sell an event on page four to someone who is there for a completely unrelated event on page six. Take Burns an' a' That; ostensibly it's a celebration of Robert Burns, yet this year's programme had less to do with the Bard than ever, and was essentially a "something for everyone" attempt to sell Ayr to tourists out of season. Admittedly, this was surely a large part of its purpose in the first place, but it would be nice if it was less clunkily obvious. Glasgow's numerous festivals, meanwhile, sometimes suffer from such a lack of artistic identity that it's not uncommon for events to appear in up to three different glossy brochures, giving the impression that the city has more festivals than shows to put in them, and that the programmes are virtually interchangeable. Predictable, unimaginative programming is the norm.

Generally, the most inspiring festivals have a sense of coherence and community, a feeling that, even if you only attend a part of it, you are part of a bigger and - you'd like to think - nobler enterprise. There is nostalgia at work here, of course. Galloway's Wickerman Festival (21-22 July, full programme at www.thewickermanfestival.com) was, its organisers proudly say, "born out of a desire to recreate the counter-culture vibe of festivals from a bygone era ... a haven for those festival-goers who are disillusioned with the blandness and outright commercialism of larger events hijacked by the corporate behemoths". By which they mean T in the Park (8-9 July, www.tinthepark.com), which every year turns a field in Kinross into a giant advert for Tennent's lager, but puts on so many good bands that people have stopped minding.

But the nostalgia goes back further than the 1960s. Is Scotland's swathe of festivals a collection of surrogate village communities? Are we creating excuses to talk to our neighbours? The existence of the Leith Festival and the West End Festival suggest that we are. Neither setting is exactly a village, but their festivals work hard to inspire a sense of community spirit. Their programmes pointedly boast of the sheer number of events rather than the quality - which may be pragmatic, since the quality varies quite a bit, and neither festival has headliners as such - but the implication is that everyone can and should be involved. This year's Leith Festival has 180 events in 60 venues, and expects audiences of more than 24,000. The figures are even higher at the more established West End Festival, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this month.

With so much on offer it always seems unfair to pick highlights - see both festivals' websites for full listings, or pick up one of the thousands of programmes in bars and caf├ęs around the city - but the best time to visit is probably next weekend, when both stage a gala day, to close Leith's Festival and open Glasgow's. Leith's is on Saturday 10 June, when the festival will stage its Walk the Walk parade, to "remember the historic roots of Leith" . While you're there, you can also take in another festival, Edinburgh Treefest and Woodmarket, a weekend event at Inverleith Park with puppetry, music, food stalls and children's activities (www.treefestscotland.org.uk). In Glasgow the following day there is Scotland's Mardi Gras: the Byres Road Street Party, for which the whole of Byres Road will be closed to traffic, and Glaswegians in an array of colourful costumes will parade past stalls, stages and fairground rides.

Once you're done with the Leith and Glasgow festivals, it is theoretically possible to spend just about every day of the rest of the summer at a festival somewhere in Scotland, given unlimited resources. Want to try it? Here's how. Leave Glasgow in time to travel to Skye for two days, 16 and 17 June, and get your energy levels up for the long journey ahead with two days of pop music from KT Tunstall, Mylo, Sparks, the Fun Lovin' Criminals and others at the Skye Music Festival (www.skyemusicfestival.co.uk). Continue northwards and, if you can find somewhere to stay, spend the next five days listening to more musically sophisticated fare at the St Magnus Festival (16-21 June, www.stmagnusfestival.com), featuring the BBC Philharmonic, the Nash Ensemble, James MacMillan, and tributes to George Mackay Brown.

After that, travel south for the Borders Book Festival in Melrose (22-25 June, www.bordersbookfestival.org), and spend a few days winding down in the company of AL Kennedy, Jackie Kay and Ian Rankin. Or, if you prefer, visit the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston (also 22-25 June, www.royalhighlandshow.org). Then return to Glasgow to spend a few restful (and, with a bit of luck, sunny) days at the Bard in the Botanics Shakespeare festival in the city's Botanic Gardens (21 June until 22 July, www.glasgowrep.org) before hitting the road again to get to the East Neuk Festival in Fife (29 June until 2 July), featuring performances by violinists Pekka Kuusisto and Alexander Janiczek, and vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices.

You may need a rest by now, so - assuming you have a ticket or have some underhand way of getting one at this late stage - stay in Fife and prepare yourself for T in the Park (8-9 July). After negotiating huge crowds of drunken, shirtless young men in an attempt to get within half a mile of Red Hot Chili Peppers , have another rest - you'll need it - then prepare to compare the corporate pop festival experience to the more "alternative" Wickerman Festival, a few days later. If you leave early you'll just about have time to catch the Inverness Highland Games (22-23 July, www.invernesshighlandgames.com) straight after that.

Exhausted yet? You've not even got started. The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is about to kick off (28 July until 6 August. www.edinburghjazzfestival.co.uk), so get to the capital early and spend your time booking tickets for the mother of all festivals, which is just around the corner. Then again, if it's a communal experience that you crave, you might be better off leaving town just as thousands of the world's biggest egos descend, all competing for attention. Instead, retreat to Pittenweem, where around 80 exhibitions will be open in local people's houses, garages, courtyards and gardens (5-13 August, www.pittenweemartsfestival.co.uk). The artists are generally up for a chat - and, often, something as simple as that can be the most memorable festival experience.

For further information visit www.leithfestival.com and www.westendfestival.co.uk

Lamb's House, Leith, until 10 June
IN galleries, museums, and historic sites across the world, people now absorb huge amounts of cultural experience via headsets which take them on recorded tours. So it was only a matter of time before artists began to experiment with the creative possibilities of the genre; and now the annual Leith Festival is staging a new piece of "headset drama" called Ghost, which leads audiences from Lamb's House in Burgess Street through the streets of the old port, inviting them to look again at some of the scenes and objects they encounter, given significance by the story playing in their ears.

The show features a state-of-the-art recorded soundscape, and text by the leading stage and radio writer Judith Adams; and it draws on the ancient myth of Daedalus, who invented human flight but lost his son Icarus in the process, to drive its quest through the streets. "There are so many complex layers to this show," says director Symon Macintyre of the Puppet Lab. "There's the town itself, there's the unobtrusive installations we've made in the streets, and there's the story we want to tell through the headsets. But Judith is a wonderful writer, with a terrific sense of poetry and mystery; and we hope we've struck just the right balance between poetry, and storytelling, and the reality of Leith today." JM

Tel: 0131-228 1404

Karine PolwartInnerleithen Memorial Hall, tomorrow; Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 6 June, and on tour

THINGS really took off last year for this Stirlingshire-born singer-songwriter when she won three Radio 2 folk awards for her debut album, Faultlines. She has spent the last month on the road in England and Wales promoting the more pared-down follow-up, Scribbled in Chalk. Now comes the Scottish leg of the tour; these two opening shows are followed by gigs in Aberdeen, Portree, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Support comes from Kris Drever and, in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Yvonne Lyon. AE

Tel: Innerleithen 0870 903 3444, Dunfermline 01383 314000. Full tour information at www.karinepolwart.com

The New Statesman
Playhouse, Edinburgh, 5-10 June
IF the people in power are always B'stards, then it makes perfect sense to find that 19 years on, Rik Mayall's notoriously amoral Thatcherite MP - first seen on television in 1987 - has reinvented himself as an ultra-cynical Blairite. This new stage version of the show, created for the age we live in by original New Statesman writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, shows Alan B'stard (pictured) crossing the floor of the house to wallow in the sleaze, arrogance and abuse of power that tend to accompany any government that has been in office too long; and the show's star, Rik Mayall, says it's a pleasure to be recreating the character on stage, rather than on the small screen.

"This script came out of the blue," says Mayall, "and I was thrilled, because I see the theatre as the last bastion of free speech. Nowadays, the BBC just wouldn't allow three quarters of the jokes in this play to be made on television. And Marks and Gran are coming on the road with us, so that when something happens in the world of politics, they'll be able to hand me a new gag or line." It's all pretty exciting, up-to-the-minute stuff, in other words; and Mayall and his company must be feeling confident, as they launch what's essentially a medium-scale drama into a week of performances at Edinburgh's mighty three-thousand-seat Playhouse. The show is also at the King's Theatre, Glasgow, from 26 June to 1 July. JM

Tel: 0870 606 3424

Bon Jovi

Hampden Park, Glasgow, tonight

WHEN will they hang up those sweaty leather trousers? Because after 22 years, nine albums, 100 million in record sales and (for Mr Jon Bon Jovi at least) a cameo appearance in Sex and the City, Bon Jovi must be living on a tad more than a prayer these days. Yet the boys show no signs of slowing down, and are currently mid-way through a European stadium tour that will see them roll into Glasgow this evening.

Despite controversial hair trimmings a few years back, the band have done pretty well for themselves - Jon has carved out a successful second career as a movie actor, Richie Sambora has an Honorary Doctorate, while Tico Torres - who used to be hitched to the original Wonderbra model Eva Herzigova - has his own line of children's clothing (no, really) and is a noted painter and sculptor.

But who cares about all that when you can still see the original 1980s hair-metal rockers ramp it up live on a stage near you? They may be a smidgen wrinklier nowadays, but with a set list that includes You Give Love A Bad Name, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead and, yes, Livin' On a Prayer, no one will be counting the crows' feet. So look out that leather jacket, dust down the hairdryer diffuser and make like it's 1987 all over again. EC

Tel: 0870 013 2652

Rembrandt at 400
National Gallery of Scotland, today until 27 August
MARKING the 400th anniversary of the great Dutch artist's birth (on 15 July), this new exhibition showcases etchings from the National Gallery's collection, a mixture of self-portraits, Biblical scenes and studies from everyday life . See page 38. AE

Tel: 0131-624 6200

Jack Vettriano: Love, Devotion and Surrender
Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery, today until 16 July
First seen at London's Portland Gallery, this features 24 new paintings and six limited-edition prints by Scotland's favourite artist. The rush of air you hear is the weary sighs of critics bracing themselves for another pointless debate about the merits of Vettriano's art, which will achieve nothing except making them look more like stuffy snobs and him more successful. So let's not do that, except to say the new work is essentially more of the same: sexual encounters in anonymous-looking offices and hotel rooms (one involving what appears to be bondage); a well-dressed couple kissing outside a power station; a woman in a shower; two phone calls; and a "traffic light moment" in which a glamorous woman in a car glances (flirtatiously?) in the painter's direction. What's the secret of Vettriano's success? The ambiguity, maybe. His figures are so static, their faces so blank, that you can read whatever story you like into the paintings. Those who dislike him see misogyny and an undercurrent of violence, but you can just as easily see intimacy, escape and adventure. But is the ambiguity evidence of a brilliant artistic mind at work, or evidence that he's not really very good? Pay a visit to the only gallery to own a Vettriano in its public collection, and make up your own mind. Alternatively, the paintings (all already sold) can be viewed online at www.portlandgallery.com AE

Tel: 01592 412860

Words by Emma Cowing, Joyce McMillan and Andrew Eaton

Posted by riesambo at June 4, 2006 06:12 AM