A richt braw nicht last night, with Rab Wilson and The Mill Girl Poets (Mo Blake, Tracy Patrick, Gwen McKerrell, and Kathryn Daly). It was a fine stramash – indeed, a clamjamfrie – but not a stooshie (if you get the finer shades of meaning I am speirin’ at).
First up, the Mill Girls took turns to regale us with an extensive cycle of poems evoking the lives and times of the Paisley Mills. The heady atmosphere of days gone by, the hard slog and camaraderie, the excitement of young women looking forward to the weekend and the chance to spend their hard-earned wages – all this was brought brilliantly alive. Movingly also, the subsequent demise and dereliction of the mill buildings was evoked with lines like “this broken anchor without a ship to stay” – the sense was of the poignant loss of a whole way of life, with the death of Scotland’s manufacturing industry.
Rab then took to the floor, dazzling us with his Burns-style jacket (proudly procured for the night through Ebay!). A lively session of patter and poetry followed. Rab is a seasoned raconteur, relaxing the audience with his seemingly off-the-cuff stream of thought and multiple dips into his books of poetry: Life Sentence and A Map for the Blind. Of his own poems, there were many highlights; his tribute to the late Jimmy Reid, his challenge to Iain Duncan Smith over the raising of the retirement age, his rhyming dissection of the Raoul Moat affair (The Execution Will Be Televised), and his awe-struck reflections on finding a sword in a museum that had been used at Bannockburn.
No Rab Wilson performance would be complete without the ghostly presence of The Bard, and Rab’s six minute recital (from memory) of one of Burns’ early poems – in which he first showed off his craft to friends – was an almost uncanny experience. Poems are meant to be read aloud, as Rab passionately reminded us, and the work of Robert Burns only acquires its real life when performed by a true exponent of the native Scots tongue.
A powerful evening, of which it was a privilege to be part.