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The Great May Day Cabaret
Oran Mor, Glasgow
THIS Great May Day Cabaret did exactly what it said on the tin at a packed Oram Mor, as a stellar line-up marked international workers' day with a rousing mix of music, poetry and comedy.
Part tribute to Chris Bartter, whose too-early demise last autumn robbed the trade union movement of a great campaigner and supporter of the arts, the night was produced by Glasgow Friends of May Day and Fair Pley and sponsored by Unison Scotland.
There were many warm tributes to Bartter, with Unison's John Stevenson delivering an amusing and heartfelt accolade to a giant of a man in every sense of the word. He tirelessly promoted the role of popular culture in advancing and supporting radical change and he surely would have appreciated this night.
A superb quartet of musicians — guitarists Stephen Wright and Rab Noakes, Fraser Speirs on harmonica and keyboardist and pithy MC Dave Anderson — set the tone from the off, with singer-songwriter Noakes delivering a great reworking of David Bowie's Heroes as tribute to the UCS workers. He followed it with a blistering rendition of Sixteen Tons, that classic about worker exploitation with its sadly still relevant refrain of “I owe my soul to the company store.”
Maeve MacKinnon (pictured), who's just released the outstanding album of Gaelic song Stri, accompanied by Wright and Jani Lang on violin, delivered a haunting immigrant song from Uist and an equally impassioned story of a child in exile from the Pinochet regime. And she struck a memorable balance between the heartbreaking and the visionary in her rendition of Patrick Galvin's great song about James Connolly.
That internationalist strand was present too in the razor-sharp offerings from Jim Monaghan, “the second-greatest poet to come out of Ayrshire,” who delivered a biting set on the Iraq war, media manipulation and a hilarious take on left sectarianism.
Hilarious too was observational comic Susan Morrison with her accounts of a hair-raising plane trip from Dublin to Edinburgh, meeting the Queen at at a Holyrood Palace bash (it didn't end well) and the fatal consequences for a goldfish of the fatwa on the demon drink by a Church of Scotland fanatic.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, in an impassioned speech, paid tribute to Bartter's support for his election campaign and declared that commitment to arts and culture by a Labour Party people can “ believe in” is a central part of the party's new direction.
That upbeat note was followed by a rousing conclusion with Arthur Johnstone, in marvellous voice, leading the audience — in fine voice too — in a singalong of Joe Hill, Your Daughters and Your Sons, Jarama Valley and the insurrectionary Bandiera Rossa.
A great night and, in its mix of domestic and international music, comedy, spoken word and politics, something of a model for how these things should be done.
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