Interview: Simon Liddell | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Gary McNair, one of Scotland’s most inventive performers and Writer in Residence at the National Theatre of Scotland will be bringing his new production, McGonagall’s Chronicles to Live Theatre, Newcastle on Wednesday 6th and Thursday 7th November. It’s a biography in ‘almost rhyming verse’ of the late Dundonian poet, Sir William Topaz McGonagall who has come to be known as the ‘World’s Worst Poet’.

Alongside McNair’s unique storytelling the show will also feature live music from Simon Liddell of Scottish indie band, Frightened Rabbit. We catch up with Simon to find out more.

Who was Sir William Topaz McGonagall?
McGonagall was a Scottish poet, active in the mid to late 19th century, his writing and public performances were widely mocked, and he was thought of (unfairly) as perhaps the worst poet in the world. His terrible account of the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879 became infamous. He worked as a weaver (his poetry sadly didn’t pay the bills) and spent most of his life in Dundee. He was a fairly tragic figure, but one who I now have a great deal of respect for!

How did you get involved in the project?
Myself and Gary have been friends for years, and there was always a mutual respect – we’d been trying for a while to find an opportunity to work together and this show gave us the chance. It was originally made for ‘A Play, a Pie and a Pint’ at Oran Mor in Glasgow, and went on to do a couple of runs at the Traverse in Edinburgh, Dundee Rep, and Latitude Festival earlier this year.

What was it like working with writer Gary McNair?
An absolute pleasure! He’s an extremely talented gentleman. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a couple of other shows since this one (“Square Go” and “After the Cuts”). This play was originally created in just a week, so there had to be a great collaborative energy in the room, which fortunately we had – along with Joe Douglas (director) and Brian O’Sullivan (actor/musician). It’s written entirely in rhyme, in the style of McGonagall – Gary’s ability to write dreadful couplets is one of his finest talents…

Describe the music that you will be playing in the show. How did you go about writing it?
It’s a live score, using mainly organic sounding acoustic instruments. Much is centred around the harmonium drones, which are perfect for underscoring. We took inspiration from trad melodies that would have been present in the bars and streets that McGonagall would have been performing in. The play carries humour and poignancy in equal measure – it was important that we tried to mirror that in the music too.

What do you hope people take from the show at Live Theatre on 6th/7th November?
I hope they leave with the same feeling of affection and gratitude towards William McGonagall that we have! And maybe a newfound love of bad poetry too.

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