Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Year: 2014

Opinion: Fielding Hope’s contribution to Glasgow’s underground live music scene

The brains behind Cry Parrot is moving to London to become senior producer at Cafe OTO

fielding-hope

The List
11 November 2014

After putting on some of Scotland’s weirdest, most fun, independent, DIY, new underground music events for almost eight years, Fielding Hope, the brains behind Cry Parrot live music, is moving to London to become senior producer at Cafe OTO. While it’s not necessarily the end for Cry Parrot – he wants to keep putting on gigs in Scotland and will continue to help programme Counterflowsfestival – it can’t help feeling like the end of an era. Claire Sawers asks collaborators and admirers to share a few of their favourite Cry Parrot memories

Alasdair Campbell – AC Projects / Counterflows
‘It is an absolute pleasure and privilege for me to have been able to work closely with Fielding over the last four years. When I left my job at the Tolbooth to go independent and start Counterflows and AC Projects, Fielding became a natural ally and supported what I was trying to do from the outset. It is this collaborative spirit that sets Fielding apart among the vagaries of the music world, that and his sheer love of the music. Fielding has done so much for the scene across Scotland that it is really hard to quantify. His unflappable manner disguises a huge strength that he focuses on making every performance that he produces the most important event in the history of music. He can appear laid-back but he is never shy of telling it how it is. The Cry Parrot community is a really beautiful thing. My favourite Cry Parrot moment so far has to be Heatsick’s Extended Play with special guests Golden Teacher and Joe McPhee (of course musicians from Whilst and others joined this jamboree of magic) at the Glasgow School of Art at Counterflows 2014. The throng of revellers were still dancing when the lights came on at 3am. Four hours of ridiculous musical pleasure.’

Nick Herd – Braw Gigs
‘As a co-promoter for the Group Inerane show with Emily [Roff] and Fielding, there was a specific buzz in the air on that miserably cold and windy evening in 2011. It was probably a combination of it being upstairs in the Kinning Park basketball court, setting up a cheap and very generous pop-up bar and having such an incredible live act in Scotland for the first time – total synergy. Just one of those nights where everything aligned in the most righteous manner with the perfect mix of community, DIY and Saharan exoticism in the same confined space. A definite highlight!’

Keith McIvor – aka JD Twitch, Optimo
‘I’m very happy for Fielding and know he will do fantastic things for the fabulous Cafe OTO but this is a real loss for Glasgow. Fielding has consistently been perhaps the most daring promoter Glasgow has ever seen, bringing untold brilliant acts to Glasgow who might never have played here otherwise. He is also very rare among promoters in that financial success seemed to be very low on his list of priorities. He absolutely epitomises the spirit of free-thinking DIY passion that has such a strong current here and I sincerely hope someone steps up and tries to at least partially carry on the great work he has done, even though this is undoubtedly a very hard act to follow.’

Stewart Smith – music writer, The List’s jazz and world music editor
‘Cry Parrot has been a real game-changer, arguably the most important thing to happen to the
Glasgow music scene since Optimo started in 1997. They have a lot in common with Optimo: open-minded and internationalist, but with strong Glasgow roots. Moreover, they know how to bring the party. Fielding and his cohorts have built on the great work done by punk and indie-oriented DIY promoters like Nuts & Seeds in the ’00s, while also engaging with experimental music and underground club scenes. The results have been a joy. To pick a favourite Cry Parrot show is a near impossible task. I could go for Group Inerane’s blazing Tuareg rock at Kinning Park Complex or the righteous blast of post-punk and jazz that was The Ex & Brass Unbound, but perhaps the most magical of all was the most recent: Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano at Nice’n’Sleazy. A beautiful, intimate show from two endlessly creative masters of free jazz and improvised music. McPhee previously played the Cry Parrot co-curated Counterflows festival in April, throwing himself into glorious party jams with Golden Teacher, Heatsick and Whilst. The 74-year-old saxophonist and trumpeter is an inspiration. That Glasgow has taken him to its heart is testament to Fielding and Cry Parrot’s great achievement of bringing amazing underground music to a wider audience.’

Interview: General Ludd

A new project from Glasgow duo Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, and Richard McMaster of Golden Teacher

General Ludd

The List
21 October 2014

General Ludd fuses the talents of a bunch of Glasgow music acts we already loved. The duo of Tom Marshallsay (aka Dam Mantle), and Richard McMaster (from Golden Teacher, Lovers Rights and Silk Cut) was a shoo-in for good things, and recent DJ mixes and an upcoming EP of twitchy, bouncy house/ techno/ pop confirm suspicions – yup, it’s a match made in electronic heaven.

Where were you when General Ludd first came up in conversation?

At home flicking through the pages of [1960s Marxist text] The Society of the Spectacle.

Did you set out to make music that was going to sound a certain way? Or did it just kind of evolve out of the gear you were using/ the way you were producing it at the time?

I think we have some sort of process that we feel comfortable with now. It’ll inevitably evolve as we go along and is never fixed; the environments that are imagined when we’re constructing tracks are varied. Our sound doesn’t necessarily revolve around specific gear, but we tend to use this old Allen & Heath mixer we acquired, and if we have equipment that performs the same task as the computer we try to use that as you can access more immediate visceral responses from being hands on. There is this space in yourself when making music that almost feels out of your own body – it’s like you are looking at yourself playing or performing a task and you forget what you are actually needing to do. Whenever that happens it’s something that we focus on and that is an essential part of our production.

Can you sum up the General Ludd sound in five words??

Not really.

Why did you call yourselves General Ludd? (ie: the guy we take the word luddite from?)

I don’t think the Luddites were necessarily anti-technology or backwards looking (which is how the word tends to get appropriated), they were just protecting their craft from those who capitalised on running the mills where they made their living as artisans. By using the name of a mythological hero of a leaderless movement we hope to draw attention to the struggles of those who were trampled in order to establish the industrial empire we live and work within today … It’s about having a healthy sceptical attitude, although we don’t align ourselves with a specific ideology, critical thinking is important to us …

You’re well connected – with gigs at Berghain, and doing stuff for Huntley and Palmers, Optimo, Boiler Room – any other collaborations or projects in the pipeline?

We’ve been really lucky to work with people who are mindful, charitable and are into music for the right reasons. A lot of that just is the product of music in Glasgow. We just finished an EP and have quite a few plans in the pipeline.

How do you swap / work on music?

We’ve both been in Glasgow for around 7 years. We work together at a home studio that we’ve slowly constructed over the past few years. Our time does get limited by our various commitments but we’re always trying to be as productive as possible with our time together.

What do you both get from GL that is a bonus / missing thing from your other music projects?

The chance to make distilled productions outside of a ‘live context’ that are mainly focused for DJing. We also get opportunities to DJ as GL and that is a really exciting experience. Even just this last weekend we played in London at a Black Atlantic party at Village Underground with Golden Teacher and Optimo and it was such a great experience. It’s so exciting to play the music that we love to 1000 people and see bodies moving and smiles on new faces. Music can really transfer emotion in such immediate ways and it’s so exciting to be part of that exchange, that’s what we’re doing this all for.

What do you want from a crowd when you play live?

Communitas. Empowerment. Freedom. Party!

soundcloud.com/general-ludd

Read the interview in The List here.

Interview: Michel Faber discusses his new book The Book of Strange New Things

A personal tragedy and his decision to quit fiction have brought Michel Faber to a turning point in his career. Claire Sawers meets a writer who is considering his own literary legacy

Michel Faber

The List
9 October 2014

When Michel Faber began writing his latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, he knew it would be his last. What he didn’t know is that it would end up being not just a farewell to his career as a novelist, but also to his other half, Eva Youren (in their case, the term ‘other half’ is practically literal). Faber’s wife – his unofficial manager / literary editor / mentor / PA / friend, or to give her a more grandiose label, his personal saviour (the reclusive Faber once thanked her for ‘bringing me back to earth’) – was diagnosed with a rare plasma cell cancer, and sadly died in early July.

‘The book was conceived before Eva was diagnosed,’ says Faber who, when we meet in the living room of his Edinburgh flat, is wearing several days’ stubble and a threadbare Rammstein t-shirt. The chameleonic, addictive fiction writer is probably best known for his Victorian sex-work epic The Crimson Petal and the White, and alien sci-fi thriller, Under the Skin which was recently adapted into a film with Scarlett Johansson.

He may be a little subdued today, but Faber hasn’t lost any of his ability to casually drill deep into the conversation, mining it unexpectedly, hitting hard insights while talking about his cats, or a pair of shoes. He’s just back from an American book tour, and pulls out Eva’s red ankle boots from his not-yet-unpacked bag. He beams sheepishly as he explains how he photographed the shoes next to things Eva would have liked.

‘The book was always going to be about grief; grief at how we treat each other and the planet. Loss of precious human beings. But I wasn’t expecting to lose Eva.’ Faber always intended his final novel to be ‘a journey into the darkness’, relying on the reader’s trust as he led them, and himself, into unmapped territory. An ‘obsessive shaper’, his work this time was deliberately much less planned. ‘Always being in control of everything, I felt uneasy. Really good books need a chaos element, something weird or inexplicable.’

With supremely cruel irony, Faber has noticed before that his books sometimes end up being ‘anticipatory, almost prophetic’, and The Book of Strange New Things – about a Christian missionary’s voyage to another planet – was no different. In this part dystopian travelogue, part epistolary love story, Peter and Bea are separated while he goes to preach to the indigenous people of Oasis; a foetus-faced species who speak with otherworldly, asthmatic voices, sounding like ‘a field of rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete’.

As Peter makes progress with the Oasan people, Bea is back on earth, witnessing it short circuit in freak weather disasters and spasms of civil unrest. ‘It’s an enormously sad book, obviously. Heartbreaking things happen in it. I was writing it, line by line, as Eva became incredibly ill, and later when I lived with her in the hospital where she died. But I didn’t think it would be fair to make it the ultimate feel-bad book. I couldn’t do that to people.’

Faber wanted to find some consolation, without straying into cheesy, sentimental territory. ‘So often the “uplifting” thing just ends up being really platitudinous. Pathetic and specious. I really wanted to avoid that.’ And he has. On the surface, The Book of Strange New Things reads like an Orwellian bad dream, if JG Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut found themselves wandering the sterile hallways of a space base filled with piped-in Patsy Cline songs, maggot-based hybrid foods and out-of-date lesbian porn mags. It’s a morose, matter-of-fact allegory on modern life, but one enlightened by Faber’s gentle, resigned wisdom. the-book-of-strange-new-things

‘I’m not normally superstitious,’ says Faber, ‘but I didn’t write any dedication in the front of the advance proofs. All the other books were dedicated to Eva, but for this one I was a bit spooked. I was very much hoping for a remission, that she’d live longer; it felt almost like inviting bad karma.’ The finished copies, to be published three months after her death, will say, ‘For Eva, always’.

‘Eva said she’d like a dedication. This one was very precious to her. She’d worked on it a great deal, as with all the others. It’s obviously valedictory, and about saying goodbye to the flesh.’ As the person who initially jumpstarted Faber’s career and coaxed him out of his crippling shyness, Eva was ‘distraught’ at the prospect of him giving up writing fiction. ‘She was worried about me just shutting myself away as I tend to do. But I’m trying to say yes rather than no, and I want to live the sort of life she’d have liked me to live after her death.’

Although Faber says he’s written his last novel (‘Most books and works of art disappear down the plughole. If one of my books is destined to be remembered by anyone, it’s probably already out there’), he’ll continue writing poetry and non-fiction, with plans for a book on music theory ‘which will probably appeal to 178 people in the whole world’. He also talks of an intriguing plan to possibly ‘collaborate’ with Eva, and add to some of her own unfinished writing. ‘We discussed that. We had some wonderfully precious and intimate times and the relationship definitely deepened towards the end. It’s hard to think that might be extinguished.’

The Book of Strange New Things is published by Canongate, Thu 23 Oct.
Read the interview at The List here

Interview: Peter Zummo

The trombonist and Arthur Russell collaborator reinvents the cult composer’s work with an experimental sextet

peter-zummo-6tet

The List
8 October 2014

’Let’s just say, I can sometimes have an attitude about the cellist who’s going to play Arthur Russell’s music. When we were choosing the right musician, I think it’s fair to say I expressed a few opinions,’ Peter Zummo confesses, laughing quietly down the phone from his home in Staten Island, New York.

As someone who worked and shared a music studio with the cult composer – the one-off, mysterious genius that was avant-garde / proto-disco producer / musician Arthur Russell – Zummo is understandably a bit picky about anyone attempting to recreate the distinct cello sound of his friend. ‘It was never just about sentimentality with Arthur, he played with this raw energy and supreme intelligence, it’s important not to get the wrong interpretation of that.’

But Zummo – himself a noted experimental composer and trombonist – is giving the seal of approval to Oliver Coates, the cellist who’ll join him onstage, alongside Ernie Brooks (guitar) and Bill Ruyle (hammer dulcimer, percussion) with live beats and processing from JD Twitch and Bass Clef. As a half American, half British sextet, they plan to play live over selected tracks from Russell’s vast back catalogue.

‘Keith [McIvor, Glasgow’s JD Twitch] has isolated the rhythm of ‘Is It All Over My Face’, for example. He’s taken an extended sample and remixed it – that will be the foundation that we play live on top of.’ While Zummo is keen ‘to check back in with the original songs’, he also thinks Russell, himself an endless reshaper (there were 40 tapes with mixes of the same song found in his apartment when he died), would want them to push the sound forward. ‘He moved fast, he didn’t believe in repeating himself. If he was alive today, he’d be into totally different stuff, so I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to rework his stuff, rather than spin out the same concept.’

Although Zummo initially wasn’t keen to get involved in the growing Russell revival following his death in 1992 (‘I figured we should let him rest in peace!’), he is pleased he eventually let himself be talked into it. Zummo featured on 2011’s debut album from Arthur’s Landing – a collective of ‘Russell alumni’ – musicians who’d all worked with him at some point, on his more introspective, acoustic work (World Of Echo) or his pioneering disco projects (as Loose Joints and Dinosaur L). Arthur’s Landing visited Scotland that year to play the Tramway alongside Chris and Cosey, curated by Optimo DJ Keith McIvor. McIvor first got in touch with Zummo, asking if he could re-release his Zummo With an X, a gorgeous record of Zummo’s from 1981, featuring him on trombone, Russell on cello and Bill Ruyle on tabla. ‘I took over mastertapes with me, and Keith ended up putting the record out on Optimo. From there I seemed to start building up a lovely bunch of UK contacts.’

And so it is that Zummo finds himself, four years later, returning to Scotland.

‘Some people find it odd to have live instruments playing over a pre-recorded track, but that’s exactly how Arthur used to perform, back in nightclubs in New York in the 70s and 80s. If he wanted to create street level interest, he’d go into a dance club, do a cameo performance, with him singing, or playing cello, or with a guest vocalist over a track that he’d prepared.’

‘It’s the same now, if the rhythm is tight enough, then the trombone can just float on top.’

Summerhall, Edinburgh, Thu 16 Oct.

Interview: Anneke Kampman of Conquering Animal Sound

The List
8 October 2014

Anneke Kampman and Jamie Scott, Conquering Animal Sound

Conquering Animal Sound

Giddy, gorgeous, cacophonic, experimental – the music of duo Conquering Animal Sound is all-over-the-shop-pop, in the best way. The Glasgow two-piece (Anneke Kampman and Jamie Scott, who also perform as solo artists ANAKANAK and MC Almond Milk) return in October with their first new material in a year and a half, the EP, Talking Shapes, recorded at Kinning Park Complex. It’s a blissfully wonky, shapeshifting exploration through four new songs of clicks, claps, primary school recorders, harps, abstracted hip hop beats and Kampman’s distinct stop-starty, cooing then mechanical vocal.

But for all the layers of playfulness and form-bending, there is a growing undercurrent of ideas to ponder – this time musical languages, gender, genetic coding and family, feminism and er, football.

‘There’s a subtle feminist dimension to this track [‘Puskas’]’ explains Kampman. ‘I used football references as a way of liberating myself from instruction. Football is a game; it has rules. Gender is also a game; it also has rules. I’m eager to break out of patterns that people fall into within music, specifically relating to gender. Women almost always have submissive roles in music practice, especially in the pop music industry. They tend to be passive when it comes to taking control of certain aspects of music creation, and it has always been important to Jamie and I that it’s a conversation; an equal process.’

Stereo, Glasgow, Fri 3 Oct; Summerhall, Edinburgh, Sat 4 Oct. Talking Shapes EP is out Mon 6 Oct on Chemikal Underground.

Read the original interview online at The List here

Interview: Yann Seznec

The List
15 August 2014

Yann Seznec on his fan-based work, Currents, in the Edinburgh Art Festival

Yann Seznec has installed 172 computer fans inside a police box on Easter Road and is inviting audiences to step inside.

‘At its most basic, sound – whether it’s someone making music, or the act of speaking – is basically the physical movement of air. What we hear, is the motion of air molecules.’

To explain his latest project, Currents, Edinburgh-based sound artist Yann Seznec is rewinding to the first spark of an idea, which triggered a thought process, which led to an art installation and live performance, commissioned as part of Edinburgh Art Festival. He’s fascinated by the invisible forces behind the noises we react to, but particularly the noises that we are oblivious to; because we’ve trained our ears not to hear them anymore.

Computer fans, for example. There might be one within earshot right now. But it’s unlikely your ears are registering it, says Seznec. ‘Like the buzz from the fridge, we’re bombarded by these constant low frequencies around us, but we’ve developed the ability to block them out – so we don’t go insane.’

Seznec got hold of some discarded computer fans – 172 to be precise – from a UK computer recycling charity, and has installed them in a police box on Easter Road. They’re wired up to a computer which gets weather updates every ten seconds from six stations around the world – the often wind-slapped cities of Cape Town, Wellington and St Johns, Newfoundland, as well as Delhi – where the earliest report of a mechanical fan is believed to come from – plus one each in Thailand and China, as close as Seznec could get to the factories where the computer parts were originally manufactured. ‘Even a fan has interesting historical, political connotations. Colonisers who weren’t used to the heat got servants to fan them. I liked the idea that an Indian man invented a mechanical one.’

Seznec’s work is then presented as a walk-in installation, where three people at a time can allow mechanical winds to caress or pummel their faces (depending on what the winds are up to at that time in Delhi, Cape Town etc, Seznec has programmed the fans to react accordingly, turning on the requisite amount to produce a similar blast of air). The installation works in ten second bursts, as the fans need time to cool down in such a confined space.

Besides creating a sonic, sensory experience; maybe a sybarite frisson on a muggy Edinburgh day, or a fleeting sense of the giant, meteorological forces buffeting the globe in real time, it’s typical of Seznec to focus on the technology we are surrounded by, and how it colours and manipulates our environment. His work is often concerned with electronics; he’s a frequent collaborator with experimental musician Matthew Herbert and has created a mechanical, playable pigsty (for One Pig) and virtual piano (for Twenty Pianos) in the past for him. For the performance element of Currents, Seznec’s created his own miniature orchestra, from computer fans and mics. ‘It creates these wonderful clicky clicky sounds, and amazing dry, percussive sounds. And I had to call it the Yann Seznec Fan Club, because I’m basically a giant dork.’

Currents installation, Easter Road (corner of Albion Road), until 31 Aug, 10am–6pm, free; artist talk, Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 26 Aug, 6.30pm, free but ticketed; performance, Trinity Apse, 31 Aug, 6pm, free but ticketed.

yannseznec.com

Review: Siddhartha the Musical

The List
2 August 2014
4 stars

Siddhartha the Musical

Siddhartha the Musical

A Buddhist musical about spiritual enlightenment, with lasers, fireball projections, porn heels and pounding Euro beats? And it all began as a rehabilitation programme in a maximum security prison in Milan? It’s unlikely you’d imagine any of that, when you hear they’ve made a stage version of Herman Hesse’s 1920s novel about the Buddha’s journey. But, welcome this glorious oddity into your life with pure love, for it is as utterly mesmerising as it is ridiculous.

The opening scenes feel like stumbling into a cruise ship ballroom. Spray-tanned, nimble gym bodies leap across the set, belting out lyrics like ‘Gods of the sky! What is the meaning of life?’ The glossy, high-camp production follows Siddhartha’s journey – pampered ‘I’m alright Jack’ prince, then homeless truth-seeker, and eventually radiant wise man (portrayed by a Richard Gere-ish Michael Nouri, the one American/English actor in the otherwise Italian language, subtitled production). It’s a loincloth-version of Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane, transported to a meditation class, with more-is-more singing to accompany it all – and that unlikely combo leads to something incredibly enjoyable, perhaps not necessarily for the reasons the producers had in mind. Regardless, the enlightened crowd are up on their feet for an ovation when it ends.

Assembly Rooms, 0844 693 3008, until 24 (not 6,13), 6.10pm, £15 (£12).

Interview: Matthew Herbert

The List
15 July 2014


Experimental musician Matthew Herbert’s latest project records the sounds of 20 different pianos, each one with its own story

Matthew Herbert remembers his grandad playing church hymns at home on an art deco piano, his black patent shoes tapping out accidental percussion on the wooden pedals. That same piano was sampled for a new work by his grandson – 20 Pianos – which will be played in Glasgow as part of a mini tour.

‘It’s not just the sound of 20 pianos – it’s 20 different stories, and 20 different rooms,’ says Herbert, the prolific – and freakishly multi-disciplined – electronic producer, composer and DJ who over the years has made deep house records, glossy pop productions and more recently, recorded the sounds of a pig, from farmyard to slaughterhouse on One Pig. He founded his own virtual country once online too.

But today he’s talking pianos. ‘That art deco piano immediately makes me think of my grandad – such an interesting and important man to me,’ says Herbert. ‘He was a conscientious objector during the war, and I remember him giving me a copy of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto – I was only ten!’

In the past, Herbert – a restless experimentalist, who is also creative director at the relaunched New Radiophonic Workshop – has made music and sound art from crisp packets (his first live performance), birdsong (for a recent Boiler Room session of the British Library’s Sound Archive), apples (on 2005’s Plat du jour) and human skin (on 2002’s Bodily Functions). But for 20 Pianos he was interested in sampling a ‘disparate, democratic spread’ of pianos.

‘I knew I wanted a very expensive one, a royal one, a really battered school one, one that had witnessed some really difficult times … I think the selection is pretty amazing in the end.’

The witnesser of ‘difficult times’ ended up being a prison piano, recorded in situ in Wormwood Scrubs and at one time tinkled on by inmate Ivor Novello; the expensive one was used by John Lennon as he wrote ‘Imagine’; and other oddities popped up unexpectedly too. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall supplied a tiny ship’s piano that was played on a yacht that sailed to New York, and Finchcock’s Musical Museum in Kent unearthed one that was played by a Victorian cult leader – who ran a harem of 60 women disciples.

Once recordings had been made of all 20, Herbert sampled them and wrote a composition, for solo pianist. It will be played on a small wood block, that Edinburgh-based Yann Seznec (also of the New Radiophonic Workshop) has turned into a virtual piano, making a MIDI keyboard from touch-sensitive copper tape.

‘I wanted it to look really simple, domestic and plain, with not many wires,’ says Herbert, who met Seznec collaborating on a project about ‘a musical virus’, and invited him to work on his One Pig project.

‘Ever since then we’ve been friends. Yann’s like the missing piece in my jigsaw – before, if I wanted to do something particular on stage I’d have to track down the right hardware. Now I just ask him, and he’s able to make it himself.’

The end result, when performed live, is a bit like, ‘one pianist walking through a piano museum’, says Herbert, who just released a house EP on Accidental Records a few days after DJing in Ibiza.

‘It’s designed so you can hear two pianos at a time, or five, or ten – there are 20 fragments, and the pianist improvises with them. When you hear all 20 played altogether, it sounds pretty special.’

‘Music shouldn’t be about making ready meals – I try never to repeat myself,’ he says. ‘I try and make music that pushes outwards, and helps create a new language. And when I’m not doing that – I make deep house, because it’s fun!’

Matthew Herbert’s 20 Pianos, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat 2 Aug.

matthewherbert.com

Read the original interview here at The List.

Interview: Anne Archer on The Trial of Jane Fonda

The List
15 July 2014

Anne Archer and cast in The Trial of Jane Fonda

Anne Archer and cast in The Trial of Jane Fonda

When Jane Fonda outraged US public opinion during the Vietnam War, was she exercising free speech or being duped by a PR machine? Claire Sawers talks to Anne Archer about the new play that sheds light on a dark period in America’s past

Jane Fonda is famous for plenty things. Writhing around in wet-look silver as a coquettish space traveller in thigh boots for Barbarella. Lunging and reaching through aerobics workouts, shrink-wrapped in Lycra leotards and building up her own fitness empire. Waltzing her way to an Oscar nomination in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. And wisecracking in Nine to Five alongside Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin. But her haters remember Fonda most for an ill-advised move she made during the Vietnam War.

On a 1972 visit to a Hanoi military base, she sat down on an anti-aircraft gun. It belonged to the Vietnamese, and was designed to shoot US soldiers. Perched there, with ammunition piled at her feet, Fonda laughed, pulled goofy faces, winked, clapped her hands, and joked with Vietnamese people around her. She’d been a staunch anti-war activist for a couple of years by that point, and part of the FTA (‘Fuck the Army’) travelling sketch troupe with Donald Sutherland.

This was the last straw. When photos got out, it was taken as her petulantly flipping the bird to the US military, and anyone who supported it. Soldiers called her ‘Hanoi Jane’ and it stuck. Cadets at the US Naval Academy learned to chant ‘Goodnight, Jane Fonda!’ and the whole company would shout back ‘Goodnight, bitch!’ Even now, a Google search throws up pages of hate-filled posts about the ‘whore of communism’ and her ‘ugly little mouth’.

‘It was a terrible, terrible mistake,’ says Anne Archer, who’ll be playing Fonda in a new Fringe drama which focuses on her controversial anti-Vietnam activism. ‘The whole country was protesting and not just the hippy movement: everyone was rebelling against the war. I don’t care how tired she was, she shouldn’t have sat on that tank. But she regrets it, and she says she will regret it until the day she dies.’

The Trial of Jane Fonda zooms in on a later event during the 1980s, where Fonda was in Connecticut, faced with irate Vietnam vets who tried to stop her filming the movie Stanley & Iris. It was her co-star Robert De Niro who suggested she met with them in an attempt to defuse things. That sit-down is the crux of this new play, and helps unravel how a hot property celebrity of the time got drawn into a war of spin, political protesting and accusations of treason: on both sides.

‘It becomes pretty apparent that she was used,’ shrugs Archer, a sage mix of calm, reticence and softness, who you may recognise as the docile brunette that Michael Douglas cheated on in Fatal Attraction, or Harrison Ford’s surgeon wife in Patriot Games. ‘How can we say for certain that that day with the gun wasn’t a stunt or a trap?’ says Archer. Like her husband Terry Jastrow, who wrote and directed the play, she’s done her homework into Fonda’s life, using an especially fine-toothed comb to run through that day at the army base.

Glenn Close and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction

Glenn Close and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction

‘Jane wasn’t the only one protesting; everyone was speaking out, but she was particularly famous at that time. She was Henry Fonda’s daughter and she’d just won an Academy Award [for Klute]: the press would grab at anything she’d do.’

Archer, who founded and runs Artists for Human Rights, which raises awareness for the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, believes Fonda was just a propaganda pawn, someone in the limelight who needed to be publicly brought down a peg or two after speaking out against the war.

‘Jane herself admits she is someone who was eager to please, especially the men in her life: her father, her husbands,’ says Archer. ‘On that day, she had told her guides three times that she didn’t want to visit a military installation. They insist, she doesn’t want to disappoint, she’s exhausted, she agrees: suddenly there are film crews around which haven’t been there before. If it hadn’t happened to her, they’d have found someone else. When you live to hate, there’s always someone to target.’

Jastrow wrote to Fonda about his plans to make a movie about her activism, but she tried to talk him out of it. LA film producers took one look at his screenplay and dropped the ‘hot potato’. Jastrow wasn’t listening and decided to bring a world theatre premiere to Edinburgh. He hopes that his combination of research (he tracked down Fonda’s guides and interpreters in Hanoi, and stayed with the actress at her Santa Fe ranch), plus his leading lady (‘Anne Archer is a class act, world class’, he beams about his wife) will give this story the clout it needs to go down well with Fringe audiences. Ultimately, he hopes it will make it to the West End.

‘Vietnam was the first televised war,’ Jastrow explains. ‘That in itself interests me, but the issues Jane’s story brings up are universal and timeless. We saw them again with Iraq and North Korea, and we’ll keep seeing them. America considers itself a country where we permit dissent, free thought, and freedom of speech. Does opposing war make you a peacemaker or a traitor? I know some sleeping dogs should be left to lie, especially when they are very vicious, aggressive ones. But it’s only by looking at our past that we stand any chance of not repeating it.’

The Trial of Jane Fonda, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0844 693 3008, 1–24 Aug (not 11), 4.05pm, £16 (£13). Previews 30 & 31 Jul, £10.

Read the original interview at The List here

Interview: Caitlin Moran

The List
7 July 2014

3.3 billion feminists – that’s what journalist and author Caitlin Moran would like to see, and she’s continuing her crusade in Edinburgh as part of a comedy tour promoting her debut novel.

‘Options for teenage girls can be limited when it comes to role models,’ Caitlin Moran is explaining, while battling a hangover that she says is threatening to bring on a ‘tiny ladylike vomit’ any minute. A female journalist came to Moran’s house the night before to interview her for Dutch Elle and they ended up draining a few bottles of wine. ‘I need a crisp sandwich – that usually helps,’ she adds, bulldozing on with her chatter – which, like her prolific writing and tweeting, has the ebullience of an agitated can of lager. And perhaps the same potential for fun, or carnage.

Moran is smart, insta-matey (‘Let’s suffer through our hangovers together, darling!’) and never far from an anecdote about crotches / trade unions / feminism / her heroes.

‘Options for teen girls seem to be: “Be sexy”, or “Be a bit stupid”, or “Be a lesbian”,’ she eyerolls. ‘I need way more options than that. Come on!’

Moran’s clearly given it a lot of thought – not only is she mother of 11- and 13-year-old girls, but she’s also just published her first novel, How to Build a Girl, written from the point of view of a 14-year-old ‘fat girl in a council house’. Moran’s author’s note states: ‘Like Johanna I came from a large family, in a council house in Wolverhampton and started my career as a music journalist as a teenager. But Johanna is not me. [ . . .] It is all fictitious.’

Moran’s synopsis of the book goes a bit like this: ‘You know that awkward and uncomfortable feeling when you’re a teenage girl? You think it’s all about your thighs? It’s not about your thighs. You need to change the world.’ (The last bit would probably get caps lock if she was tweeting.)

Moran’s on a literary tour just now. The first half of her show covers the book (‘Perfect hobbies for Johanna, besides masturbation and listening to rock ’n’ roll, are fermenting a revolution,’ she soundbites). Part two is Moran’s ‘raucous, dirty comedy’ and childhood memories – for example, the time teen Moran wrote a regular column for The Observer. When they failed to publish a column for four weeks, she faxed The Times, who took it, and have published her ever since. ‘I love The Observer but you expect to read about Marxism and feminism there. It feels more naughty writing about them in The Times.’

Moran is bringing her feminist politics to Edinburgh, with accompanying merch, displaying the Rules of Feminism. ‘Rule No 1: Women = Men. No 2: Don’t Be a Dick. That’s It.’ (Proceeds go to a women’s refuge, of course – she’s not a dick.)

Speaking of heroes, she still can’t get over that Girls creator Lena Dunham is a huge Moran fan. Dunham halted filming in Brooklyn when they met to announce to the crew, ‘This is a very important feminist from the UK!’

Tina Fey is another comedy and feminist role model for Moran. ‘Who’d have believed ten years ago she’d be debating massive feminist issues on Saturday Night Live, making it incredibly funny, while getting huge ratings? Good on you fucking Fey. I love you, man!’

Now it’s Moran’s turns to rally the troops. It’s been fairly effective so far, apparently. ‘People have got married, and started up feminist societies after meeting at my book signings,’ she beams.

‘There are 3.3 billion women in the world,’ she continues. ‘So potentially 3.3 billion different forms of feminism. Some want to campaign against genital mutilation, others to talk about relationships and pants. I see it as a big patchwork quilt – we all need to take a little square and contribute a small bit in making things better for women. Feminism isn’t something you read about. You take part in it. Come along and be a feminist with me! Admittedly in a very drunken environment …’

Caitlin Moran appears at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 11 Jul. How to Build A Girl is out now, published by Ebury Press.
Read the original interview here

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