Chantel McGregor wanders on like a wee lassie, wearing a dress that would look more at home at a sixth year prom than on stage at a rock venue; her face swollen by problems with her wisdom teeth, you’d be forgiven for thinking, “Oh dear, what have I got myself into?” Then she picks up her guitar and, as the song says, plays. And the girl can play.
Backed by Martin Rushworth on drums and Richard Ritchie on a really cool orange-stringed bass, this is a tight set from a young woman who is very, very gifted. She has a perfectly acceptable voice, but, live, her guitar is the star of the show, and she rips through some cracking tracks, including “Help Me” (an insane version of which appears on Joan Osborne’s “Relish”) and her own “Fabulous” and “Freefalling”. There are plenty of crowd-pleasing covers too, such as “Voodoo Child” and “Lenny”, all of which she solos with aplomb. Unaccompanied, she delivers lovely versions of “Along the Watchtower”, “Rhiannon” and an excellent, bluesy “I’m No Good for You”. The small audience – all the better to interact with, which she does charmingly – enjoy the show immensely.
She is a terrific talent and, guided by her parents, by blues heavyweights such as Joe Bonamassa and by her own lack of pretentiousness, she has a bright future. At the moment, I’m not sure whether she’s a rock child or a blues gal (I’d prefer the blues, myself), and she perhaps needs time to develop her own unique sound and style. A lot of the numbers clunk a little into big set piece solos, and it needs to be just a bit more seamless; a rhythm guitar might help, but I’ll accept that she knows best. And, of course, a few more years under her belt will give her the technique and gravitas essential for credibility amongst an audience that still might find it strange to see a woman playing lead guitar, though thankfully that’s a dying breed thanks to new artists like Ana Popovic and Joanne Shaw Taylor.
However, that’s beside the point. She’s up there for the best part of two hours, toothache and all, and smiles and belts her way through her playlist like a trooper. Her album, “Like No Other”, is obviously aimed at a record-buying market, and the production values foreground her voice; but the version of “Help Me” which ends the disc and the epic “Daydream” are a terrific taste of what she can do on a guitar – and that’s something pretty special.
“A splendid set,” as one of our company remarked. And a splendid young musician.
Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s wee boy) avoids difficult second feature syndrome with a cracking sci-fi starring the always reliable Jake Gyllenhaal. I liked his first film, Moon, very much because in addition to hitting all the right techno-buttons required of the genre, it also created huge empathy for the main character, the equally impressive Sam Rockwell lost in space. Source Code is far more high concept: scientists create a way of hacking in to the last eight minutes of a dead person’s short-term memory in order to influence the future – and whoever came up with that idea deserves a long rest in a dark and quiet room. In this case, Gyllenhaal is sent back repeatedly to the terrorist bombing of a commuter train to identify the guilty party so that a much bigger attack can be averted.
Once more, Duncan ensures that the audience identifies with and roots for the characters, something missing from similar recent releases such as Inception. We find ourselves willing the decent Gyllenhaal and the pretty girl next door Michelle Monaghan to do the impossible, to change time, to win out against their horrific destinies, and all of the Fancy Dan stuff about Time and Quantum Mechanics and Warp Drives (sorry, wrong movie) and The Matrix (sorry, wrong movie again) really doesn’t matter, since the story boils down to a tale of love against the odds. What is nice is that the beautiful Monaghan isn’t in love with the dashing, handsome army captain Gyllenhaal, whose face she doesn’t see, but with a geeky teacher the audience only sees in reflection; “I knew he was a keeper,” she giggles at one point. Now that’s a really, really clever touch.
Totally at a tangent, in the opening title sequence, Duncan manages to make Chicago look like the most beautiful place on earth. Quite a feat. I haven’t been as gobsmacked by the first five minutes of scene-setting in a movie since that epic sequence of the biplane flying over the Sahara in The English Patient.
Of course, this is also a movie that warns us of the heartlessness of the military-industrial complex, and the rapaciousness of corporate greed that strips both science and humanity of any dignity in the pursuit of “higher goals”. It amazes me how many hugely popular and financially successful film narratives are built on a bedrock of anti-corporatist, anti-corruption, anti-technology, anti-military and anti-government sentiments, and yet when it comes to the ballot box, we settle for the same old same old. It’s almost as if we are willing to tear down the world and see the possibilities of better ways to live in our movies, but are terrified of actually doing anything to change the one we have in reality. Sad, really.
Had an interesting day at the annual STEC conference. Highlight for me was the opening keynote, delivered by Tara Fenwick of the University of Stirling. Looking at the issue of teacher education with an “outsider’s” point of view – she’s Canadian, and had worked mostly in workplace research rather than teaching per se – she looked at the issue from the perspective of globalisation, with trends in the blurring of boundaries, conflicts over territory, authority and rights and mobility and migration which characterise the global flows that present us with new challenges. She posed various questions: why prepare teachers only for school when most will end up in some other form of education job at some point in their lives?; what do we do to counter the damaging stereotypes of teachers as, for example, hero-rescuers or healers which limit the ability to respond to a variety of contexts? ; how do we prepare true professionalism, which often works between the codified criteria of “professionalism” imposed by an accountability culture?; why on earth do we flog Kolb’s learning cycle to death?
She presented a far-sighted vision of what we can do that was really refreshing; I couldn’t help wondering, though, where, in our current bureaucracy, the leadership for such a vision was going to be found.
The rest of the day was fairly predictable. Graham Donaldson spoke to his recent report, a document in which a lot of sense is talked. However, he still persists in some of the old prejudices about the way teacher trainers do their job. For instance, he keeps saying that schools need a central role in the assessment of student teachers when they already have that role: students spend half of their time in schools, where they should be exposed to high quality formative feedback and clear assessment of strengths mapped on to the Standard for Initial Teacher Education (SITE) benchmarks, and where they should receive a detailed report that is at least as important as university tutors’ assessments. Whether or not they are doing it well enough is the real issue.
In addition, he parroted an insult I have heard from senior academics about university tutors “tootling” around the country to visit their students. Our own research into this clearly indicates that students value this visit more highly than any other feedback they get while on placement, and I suspect schools want us to visit more, not less. I’m all for finding ways of communicating better with students, but I haven’t seen an improvement on the present system yet, because most alternatives are driven not by pedagogical reasoning but by a cost-cutting university-driven agenda which has little sympathy for professional education courses or for what the paying students want.
The day finished up with some words of wisdom from a panel of the great and good, though there were worrying signs of the Newspeak flimflam so beloved of a cynical managerialist culture. For instance, I am all for the re-accreditation of teachers; everyone (including me) should be regularly assessed to ensure we haven’t become obstructive, lazy and ineffectual, and we do the greatest harm to education when we allow incompetent teachers to remain in the profession. However, even given that, it worries me when we are invited to view re-accreditation as a teacher’s “entitlement”. We are entitled to a pension scheme, to holidays, to sick pay; to say we are also “entitled” to have our competence assessed is simply disingenuous, especially when that assessment brings with it no “entitlement” to bonuses, promotion or other forms of professional recognition. Let’s call it for what it is; dressing it up as something it is so patently not will only create suspicion and resentment.
Similarly, the phrase “reinvigorating professionalism” seems to me to be a non-sequitur. Isn’t professionalism always vigorous? If the powers that be believe that teaching needs to be reinvigorated so regularly (McCrone, anyone?), can it really be called a profession at all?
So – good and not so to be taken from the day. Tara Fenwick, though, provided the freshest breath of air when she warned against being too “up ourselves” about the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF) in case it obstructed our engagement with the real world. And she’s a Professor of Education. Good for her.
Huge praise should be heaped on Glasgow writer Iain Paton for spearheading a campaign to raise funds to support victims of the recent Japanese earthquake. Iain’s wife Deborah has taught in Iwate, and their compassion drove them to come up with the idea of a charity booklet, written by local authors. Iain’s boundless enthusiasm – his tail rarely stops wagging – has captured the imagination of many Glasgow writers who are at this moment furiously writing Japanese-themed poems and fiction.
The project has grown wings since its initial conception. More than two dozen authors (many mentioned in this blog) have offered work, and the booklet – now a fully fledged book – is being considered by two commercial printers/publishers. In addition, Iain has been invited to the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh for talks.
Jointly edited by Iain, Alan Gillespie, Cara McGuigan and Alex Cox, it is hoped that the anthology will be available in early summer. I’ll re-post then with details of how to buy what should be a very worthwhile book.
In the meantime, you can follow the project’s progress at Glasgow Writers for Japan. Needless to say, if you can offer help in any way – sales space in your shop, services of any kind, such as artwork or photography - please get in touch. Feel free to donate at The British Red Cross too.
I have just had an article published in the Times Education Supplement Scotland on behaviour management in schools, in particular the relationship between limit setting strategies and restorative practices.
Here’s the link:
All comments welcome, but any punctuation errors have been inserted by TESS (grrr!).
I’ve just watched Louis Theroux’s second visit to the Phelps, the founders and driving nutcases of the Westboro Baptist Church. Jeez.
I am an atheist. I have been since I was five years old, and realised I had no conception of what on earth the daily Lord’s Prayer I was required to chant really meant, nor to whom it was meant to be addressed. My mother was Church of England, my father (apparently, though I never knew it) a devout Catholic; or at least, he was in Poland, which perhaps is an indication of how Westboro and other cults – both local and global – work. Neither, though, ever insisted on any sort of religious education: I remember being surprised when I finally realised they actually believed when I was, oh, about fifteen.
A poem that was, unfortunately, done to death in Scottish schools was Norman MacCaig’s “Assisi”. It was a lazy option for teachers; once upon a time deemed suitable for Higher study, but only along with other MacCaig poems, it became a default choice for a quick-fix Higher English essay. The fact is, it is much better meat for Higher Religious Studies, because it is a wonderful atheist poem.
Take the second verse, describing Giotto’s frescoes in the church of St Francis:
“A priest explained
how clever it was of Giotto
to make his frescoes tell stories
that would reveal to the illiterate the goodness
of God and the suffering
of His Son…”
MacCaig asks the obvious question: why does God need a mortal human being like Giotto to explain His goodness? Should God’s goodness not be crystal clear to all human beings? Do the actions of God need an interpreter, like Giotto, to explain Himself to human beings?
The beauty of MacCaig’s poem – missed by many English teachers – lies in the end of the verse, where enjambment creates meaning:
“that would reveal to the illiterate the goodness
of God and the suffering
of His Son…”
Note how he chooses to break the lines on the words “goodness” and “suffering”, giving them both ironic weight. If he had chosen to end the lines on “God” and “His Son”, we would have a distinctly Christian poem: as it is, we are left contemplating the balance of God’s goodness and the suffering of Jesus with the horror of being born and living a life as a “ dwarf with his hands on backwards”. You suffered, Jesus? Well, for fuck’s sake, look at this poor fucker.
So MacCaig is absolutely accurate when he says
the explanation and
because the cleverness is the lie, the con-job all and every Church has ever sold us: that they tell us God is good, and they, and only they, have the evidence for it, in the form of frescoes and art and music.
And the Bible. Why does an omnipotent God need human beings to write down his words? It’s a manual for us to live by, say the believers. Bullshit, I say. If it’s a manual, it’s at least two thousand years out of date: I’m not going to use the manual for a Roman chariot to fix my modern Volkswagen. It is a book, and therefore has exactly the same provenance of any other book, written by flawed human beings with an agenda, an agenda that is usually wrapped up in profit. And by God, are God’s churches profitable.
God has a track record, apparently, of talking to human beings when He wants to: Adam, Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses et al. If He can’t be arsed, He sends angels, just like He did to Mary and Joseph and a few others, by all accounts. So – why does He need a book? Why does He need human interpreters of his message? Why the fuck doesn’t He just say, “Do as I say, or you’re all fucked”? That way, He won’t have to worry about high levels of illiteracy in society, or that niggly little problem of the rather large number of humans who don’t speak Aramaic. Or Hebrew. Or Koine Greek.
Of course, true believers – oh God, save us from true believers – will have some explanation, but what it will boil down to is that God has His ways, and who are we to question? Not good enough, I’m afraid. I’ve got a brain – whether God-given or, my preference, evolved from star dust (isn’t that a bigger fucking miracle!) – and I’m going to use it. If He doesn’t want me to, then He’s no more than a petty Eastern European dictator: and I’ve heard all about them, thank you very much.
But no, actually He’s a lot worse than that. Stalin sent you to the Gulags for thirty years. Sure, many, many died; but many came back. This God thing, though, will torture me for all eternity in everlasting fire and brimstone. Worship that? No thanks.
And as for the Phelps family? God, I hope God has a sense of irony, and scares the shit out of them by sending them where they belong.
I just know I’m going to get pelters for this: but, hey, I’m content in the knowledge that I’m a better person that those Westboro fuckers.