Victoria Melody is an artist, theatremaker and performer, who is bringing Ugly Chief to the Festival of Ian Smith at Summerhall. In it, she celebrates her Dad, Mike Melody, his life, and the odd journey he had after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease – a journey that ended up with a surprising ending.
Can you tell us more about Ugly Chief?
Ugly Chief is a show that I’m making with my Dad. We’re still in the research and development stage of it, so what we’re bringing to Summerhall is a glimpse of where we are in the process. We’re finishing making it in 2017, which is when we’re going to tour it. It’s a show I’m very excited about.
It all came about because, first off, he’s a big show off. He’s a big character. Sometimes when people meet him they’re quite taken aback. He doesn’t stop talking and he’s unconventional in that he doesn’t care what people think of him, so he says what he wants, but he’s quite funny with it. He does daytime TV shows, he’s an antique dealer, and he’s got a lot of stories about the business. He started from very meagre beginnings and he’s built up a business for himself. He’s got all these tales of what it was like going from being brought up in the north of England during a tricky time, and how inventive you have to be when you don’t have any money, and how he basically scraped a living for himself.
He and I are similar. We’re the only show offs in the family. We’re the only ones that have gone into the business of entertainment, and we both like to talk. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness - motor neurone disease - and this was obviously really, really sad. After two years of living with that hanging over him, he went to the doctors and they said that he wasn’t degenerating - they’d misdiagnosed him. And he’s fine! When Dad gave all of us the news, I said straight away: ‘Do you wanna make a show with me now you’re not gonna die?’ It made me realise that we’re similar and it’s a shame that we’ve never collaborated on a project. He absolutely jumped at the chance, so we’re making a show about his funeral. This show is his funeral.
What are you hoping people will get out of the show?
We’re still exploring different angles, and we're still disagreeing on which direction it could go. The show is a love letter from a daughter to her Dad. It’s about speaking eulogies while we’re alive, because it’s a shame that those speeches, these incredible speeches where people talk about your life, are kept for when you’re dead, rather than being told while you’re alive. You’d love to hear that stuff, wouldn’t you? So it’s a eulogy for a living soul.
It’s also about breaking the taboo about talking about death. Obviously Dad and I have talked a lot about death and about funeral plans and things like that. I think there’s something quite comforting about knowing exactly what somebody wants, rather than the time coming, being struck by grief and having to make all these decisions. So it’s about demystifying the British funeral industry. I’ve been training to be a funeral director so that I can explain what goes on, because there’s something about being confronted by your own mortality that allows you to really live your life. Finding out all the behind-the-door routines and rituals that happen to your body has made me fear death less.
As a society, do you think we’re changing the way we view and talk about death?
The Victorians were much more in touch with dying and the death process, but over time it’s become very medicalised. It used to be very common that people would take their last breaths in their house, but now people want them in a hospital. For me, it’d be nicer to be in your home and to have your family around you. There’s a real big positive death movement around at the moment and I’ve been working with quite a few people who are trying to open it up for more discussion. People want to talk about this stuff. We’re at the beginning of a movement and at the beginning of change.
What else should people know?
Although this is a very serious theme, it’s funny. Dad and I are funny, and we’re funny together. We’re a real father and daughter on stage. Dad can’t be scripted; he’s better when he’s reacting. When he’s got a script in front of him, he’s dreadful. It’s going to be a different show every single night. I’m going to create a different eulogy for him every evening. Sometimes he doesn’t agree with what I’ve written in his eulogy, and we’ll have an argument and you’re seeing a real insight into a father and child relationship. Although the theme sounds heavy, we’re doing it in quite a light way, we’re not hammering it in. It is a work in progress, I’m going to be reading from a script, so it’s going to be a little bit rough, but I think that’s quite exciting. You’re going to see more of us than when the completed, quite slick show tours.
by Kirstyn Smith
Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death is at Summerhall, 28 Oct-27 Nov. Click here for full listings of the exhibitions, performances and events taking place as part of the festival.
Image: Andy Schofield
Currently running in various venues across Renfrewshire, Recovery Fest is a festival that aims to demonstrate the therapeutic benefits that the arts, music and cultural activities can have upon recovery from addiction. Funded by Renfrewshire Alcohol & Drugs Partnership, Recovery Fest showcases the work of several local recovery groups and services.
Events include the premiere of Dykebar and Me, a poignant film by the Torley Unit’s Long Term Recovery Group, featuring the personal challenges, triumphs and hopes for the future of those who have journeyed through addiction to recovery.
The Paisley Guitar Group (based within the Sunshine Recovery Café) will host their second Big Peace & Jam event, celebrating music’s positive impact on recovery.
Write into Recovery @ Sunshine Recovery Café will showcase inspirational poetry and prose created by the writers’ group at the Sunshine Recovery Café.
The Family Support Group will host a monologue play at Paisley Arts Centre, as part of the performance of Where the Crow Flies. The monologue addresses many of the issues faced by families affected by addiction.
Recovery Fest culminates with a large dance music event, Strictly Recovery: Time to Dance. Working with partners from RAMH, Strictly Recovery will offer a night out without alcohol and drugs, celebrating recovery and offering an opportunity to improve social networks. The following day, Paisley’s first Recovery Church will explore hope, faith and love as key elements in recovery.
by Mark Jones
Click here for more information on all the events taking place as part of Recovery Fest.
Andrew Tibbles' Immortal offers participants a chance to leave a message behind to be heard once they can no longer say what they want to say. The subsequent exhibition allows viewers to explore a variety of statements and see to what extent their opinions are shared. Andrew spoke to Talking Heads reporter Kirstyn Smith about the project.
Can you tell us more about Immortal?
It has a couple of different avenues, but the one that’s going to be shown at Summerhall is going to be a performance piece with an installation afterwards. So in it, I’ll be talking one-on-one with people about what they want to be heard once they can no longer say it. I use that terminology because at some points before you die you might not be able to express yourself fluently. So, it’s a little bit longer, but more correct.
We usually start off with me asking: ‘would you want to be immortal?’ and usually people say no, which is always helpful for the piece. At that point, they have to recognise that at some point they do want to die. From that, we progress to: ‘what do you want to exist beyond your death? What kind of things would you want to tell people that you’ve learned? What pieces of advice or memories would you like to leave behind?’ And I help signpost that. I don’t want to direct them in any particular route except for asking them what they want to say. So I try and keep to that because it’s something they can have control over, rather than starting to think about what’s going to happen in the afterlife or life after death. It’s slightly practical, but hopefully it’s a good performance piece as well.
How did you come up with the idea?
My background is in product design and in my honour year degree show, I designed an underwater burial system. I needed lots of help from different scientists to get together and ask a lot of questions: ‘How would it be done?’ ‘Where would be the best place to do it?’ ‘What kind of material would be environmentally friendly?’ ‘What are the ethics of it?’ ‘What’s the best way to degrade a body underwater without damaging the sea environment?’
After I did that, I designed the graves. I needed to put names on them, so I asked people who’d contributed to it if I could use their names and, if they got to visit the graves, what would they want to hear from it? So it was borne out of that kind of thank you.
It was always really interesting to see what people would say, because it really reflects their personality and how they perceive themselves. I worked on the format for a couple of years, working out what’s the best way to draw those kind of feelings out from someone in the most natural way. And that’s going to be the Immortal project. A confession-style booth screen was the best way, I found, to do it. If you leave people alone they don’t know what to say and they panic. If you’re in a group, people piss about and they don’t take anything seriously and they don’t express what they actually feel. Doing a one-on-one, face-to-face didn’t work, because they’re always looking for approval from me. So I built a screen where they knew I was there and I could help their thought process and signpost them, but they could talk a lot more freely.
What kind of things do people say?
Everyone is really different and it does reflect on each personality. Some people will want to talk to a large audience, thinking about their aspirations - what they would like to leave behind is usually on a grand scale. You’ll get other people who are more personal, where they feel their family are integrated into their personal life and they would much rather talk to a couple of individuals rather than a broad societal range. Now and again there’ll be other people who just want to give a small piece of advice that they’ve learned to anyone who will listen.
Do you think as a society we’re capable of changing the way we view death?
I believe we are shifting away from the traditional Christian burials, where it’s all very resting on tradition. The talking about it beforehand is more of an issue. But with things like Death Cafes, which I’ve been helping to run, these kind of neutral spaces really help. They either help solidify someone’s thought path and opinion if they have it already, or people will be very interested in new things and discovering what can happen that they didn’t know about. It’s a bit informative and a bit philosophical; I find those spaces really encouraging. A lot of the time, we tend to fall back on tradition. It’s something that we think about so much that when someone dies, if we’re not prepared, we go for traditional things, rather than anything unorthodox. We wouldn’t fall back onto a natural burial – that would be something the person would have to express beforehand.
What are you hoping people will get out of Immortal?
For the one-on-one piece, the idea of it is that what people record is actually their property, and I’m using it as next-of-kin information that will be passed onto them. So, in that way, it’s a bit of a service, but at the same time I’m hoping they’ll have a clearer reflection on how they’re living their life. You can see death as an end point, so what do you want to achieve by then, and what kind of things do you want to express? It could be professional or personal, or it could be something they’re not quite sure of, but they’ll start to discover it as they’re talking about death as a perspective lens, rather than something that has to happen. It’s looking through the lens of: ‘I will die at some point, so I do have a limited amount of time to do certain things I’d like to do.’ I’m hoping people will have a nice, clean feeling afterwards. That they’ll be able to enjoy their life and be able to look around a bit more.
That first part is where it all happens. The second part is that I’ll ask the people at the time if it’s alright if I use their recordings in the exhibition, with desensitised information. We take out names, dates, locations, anything that could be recognisable to that person. What we’re doing is setting up a speaker with each recording down in one of the basement halls and I’m hoping it’s going to be a general murmur of voices all talking at once, so you’ll not really be able to hear any one of them unless you focus on one of the speakers. You’ll get to hear people’s life aspirations and you’ll get to see if there are any similarities with yourself and how you’re viewing your life, and then you can take a new stock of things.
by Kirstyn Smith
Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death is at Summerhall, 28 Oct-27 Nov. Click here for full listings of the exhibitions, performances and events taking place as part of the festival.
Alzheimer's is a subject that is close to Geez a Break Productions, the company that produced If I Forget to Remember. Thinking it would be the perfect topic for this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, they began work on this play, which was written by company founder Liam Lambie and inspired by some of his real life experiences whilst caring for his grandmother who suffered from dementia.
The show tells the heart-breaking story of Margaret “Maggie” Patterson, who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 52. The audience follows Maggie and her family, as they are forced to make preparations to cope with her descent into the depths of the illness.
The people of Bellshill and its surrounding areas didn’t do the play the justice it deserved, given the sparse audience that turned up for the performance, but I must start by praising the cast for their professionalism. They gave 100%, especially during the many emotional scenes they had to portray.
The first and second halves of this play were in stark contrast. The comedic first half set it all up for the hard-hitting, thought-provoking second half, and, for me, it was the second half where the play really began.
Although the first half was enjoyable in its own right, there was nothing truly memorable about it, except for the short foray into colourful sexual references in the second scene, which I’m afraid did cause a couple of people to walk out. But it proved to be to their loss, as the second half started with a startling monologue from Maggie, the main character, played fantastically by Jacquline Gilbride.
In fact, the whole portrayal of this character and her fall from basic human functioning was performed brilliantly by Jacquline, and a definite highlight of the play. Truth be told, the level of performance from all the cast was of a very high standard, especially, as I said earlier, when it came to the most emotional scenes.
All in all, if you can understand that the weaker first half is a set up for the powerful second half, you see a very well constructed piece that in the end leaves you feeling emotional, as you think back to the jovial characters from the beginning. Overall, If I Forget to Remember leaves you in no doubt as to what a horrible disease Alzheimer’s is and is worth the ticket money for the second half alone.
by Colin MacGregor
If I Forget to Remember will also be performed on Thursday 27 October from 7.30–9.20pm at Rutherglen Town Hall. Click here for booking information.
Twenty years ago, I regularly spent lunchtimes gazing at a house opposite my sixth-form college. 183 Hills Road in Cambridge had been the childhood home of Pink Floyd founder and original frontman Syd Barrett. It mattered not that Syd hadn’t lived there for decades. I was a fan, and, like many Syd fans before and since, slightly obsessive.
Meeting Ian Barrett in Glasgow ahead of Dream & Reality – a 70th birthday tribute to Syd Barrett at Òran Mór, held to celebrate the opening week of Alan Bissett’s biographical play One Thinks of It All as a Dream – I wondered how greatly our perceptions of the same person might differ. It felt apt that I, as a fan who never met his hero, should think of him as “Syd”, a nickname, rather than as Roger, the real name by which Ian, his nephew, knew him. In some ways, Syd and Roger seem like different people.
Syd quit show business in the 1970s at the height of his fame. Roger (the name to which Syd reverted) spent the rest of his life avoiding the public eye. Eager for more, however, fans and the press attempted to fill the gap with whatever information they found, fact and fiction often merging to form myriad versions of the same person. Now, seventy years since Roger Keith Barrett was born, Ian is keen to present a more rounded view of the man he knew as an uncle rather than a rock star:
“The house he lived in was where he’d moved back to Cambridge, our gran’s house. It’s not far from Luton, [where] I’m from, so we would quite often go and visit. We always called him Roger because I was born in ’72, almost at the point he gave up music. It was strange growing up because without the internet it was quite hard to work out, from my perspective, what he actually did. You’d have a few music books and magazines, but he wasn’t really mentioned a lot. He’s probably got a higher profile now than he ever had in the ’80s.”
To have a famous relative is unusual and Syd’s fame was stranger still in that he actively spurned it, although this wish wasn’t always respected:
“It was unusual in that he didn’t have a traditional show business career. He refused to continue with it, but everyone else said: ‘Hang on, we’re not going to let that one go.’ And that was one of the problems he did suffer from. He would constantly have people turn up. Word got out about the address. We used to hear stories of people travelling from Italy and other places. Some of the fans would pluck up the courage to knock on the door. I don’t know what they were expecting. I’ve seen videos on the internet of inside his house. Some fans had peered through windows and filmed bits of the inside of his house and that’s creepy, isn’t it?”
Such intrusions were, sadly, neither desired by Syd nor always to the benefit of his wellbeing. From towards the end of his time with Pink Floyd, Syd’s health left him, in Ian’s words, “not particularly mentally strong – no one’s going to pretend he was super sturdy.”
Much has been surmised about these problems, and drugs have always played a part in Syd’s story. Ian admits there is some truth to this:
“Nobody’s denying that any of that happened. But then that’s a different era. I mean, most of it was completely legal then. It took quite a while for a lot of them to become illegal so you can imagine it was easy for people to become a mess.”
It could also be that Syd’s youthful drug-taking simply exacerbated problems to which he was already predisposed, and which may have developed anyway.
In some ways, public awareness of Syd’s health contributed to breaking down misconceptions regarding mental illness. Unfortunately, some of the wilder accounts of his behaviour perpetuated stereotypes. Ian is eager to refute the many myths:
“I think in the ‘80s and ‘90s the focus was on the crazy stories, and, to be honest, I’ve looked into quite a few of them, to actually find out how much truth there was, and when you delve down, there are an awful lot of stories where there’s very little evidence. There’s been an awful lot of mythologising over the years. Some of it might be true but if you don’t know if it’s true, it doesn’t have an awful lot of value, does it?
Thankfully, attitudes have improved:
“People have tended to put aside the crazy acts that he was supposed to have done, which is partly why we wanted to do the website. It’s so that people have a direct focus for the things that he did make.”
The new website, www.sydbarrett.com, created by the family, has amassed a huge range of materials concerning his life, music and art:
“We can put out what we want people to see. We thought it would be nice to make sure fans get the right images, and the dates are right and so on. Because one thing fans are very keen on is getting everything right. You’ve got to be on the ball!”
Ian recognises too, though, that there are limits on how much the family can supply to sate demand:
“The one thing there’s never going to be enough of is pictures. In a sense, he had a short career, and, obviously, music is the other issue – there’s not an awful lot of it. Quite often, though, even now, pictures filter through of gigs and things that have been found and sent on. But one thing that’s never going to change is that there’s not enough.”
Ian tells me of a seven-year-old American boy who dressed as Syd for his school fancy-dress day. A decade since he died, Syd continues to attract new admirers. Ian spoke of the public reaction to his uncle’s death:
“I remember going into a paper shop on the Monday because I was curious to see if there was anything in any papers. I picked one up to flick to the music page, but it was on the front cover – that was the bit that amazed me. As a family, we didn’t realise that was the level of interest he had. It was surprising in a nice way that someone who hadn’t played since the 1970s was on the cover of most of the national newspapers.”
Nothing suggests this interest will fade away soon. Syd remains a deeply fascinating and inspirational character, an artist of extraordinary creativity. Before Ian departed for Dream & Reality, I asked if he has a favourite song by his uncle:
“The song Opel. It’s kind of stark, and it never really gets much press. It’s not bleak but it’s haunting.”
I left the interview honoured to have gained greater insight into a man who – whether known as Syd or Roger – means so much to so many, and whose work remains, as Ian so beautifully put it, not bleak but haunting.
by Mark Jones
Alan Bissett's play based on the life of Syd Barrett, One Thinks of It All as a Dream, is now showing at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh from 25–29 October and The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen from 1–5 November. Click here for more information and booking details.
Creativity runs in the Barrett genes, and Ian creates (and sells through his website) a lot of visual art. One of his paintings is even being turned into a song as part of a synaesthesia project. Ian also crafts exquisite items from meteorites and fossils. His Jurassic Jewellery is currently attracting clients such as Sean Lennon and Oasis’s Andy Bell, as well as supplying museums, galleries and the NASA Kennedy Space Center. Click here for more information, and here to read an in-depth interview about his work.