Lessons on Dylan, Guthrie and McTell at Shetland’s book festival

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Anyone with an interest in some of the true greats within the illustrious pantheon of American songwriting is in for a treat early next month as prominent scholars arrive in the isles to give talks on Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Blind Willie McTell as part of the 2010 Wordplay festival.

Performer Will Kaufman will be bringing his “live documentary” of Guthrie, entitled Hard Times and Hard Travellin’ to Lerwick on Saturday 4th September. He seeks to set the great man’s songs in the context of the American 1930s – the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, the New Deal and the state of popular music at the time. His show incorporates performances of songs written by Guthrie and others to highlight “the blending of music and radical politics that mark Guthrie’s most powerful work”.

There will also be something for Dylanites to get their teeth into as Michael Gray, a recognised authority on the massively influential singer-songwriter, delivers the talk Bob Dylan and the Poetry of the Blues. He has published two books on his subject and will be using records and rare footage to show how Dylan was inspired by the blues.

Gray will also be using recordings and photographs – new and old – to tell the story of the charismatic McTell on the Saturday of this year’s Wordplay. Organised by Shetland Arts, curators of the festival will be Shetland-born poet and writer Christine Hughson and Genevieve White, playwright and chairwoman of local group Serpentine Drama.

In a busy programme, film critic and Screenplay curator Mark Kermode and natural wildlife enthusiast Simon King, who shot a series of documentaries in the isles last year, will be discussing and answering questions on their own books.

There are plenty more familiar faces too: Scottish mainland-based poets Christine De Luca and Robert Alan Jamieson will be returning to their native shores for the weekend, while 2008 TS Eliot prize-winning writer Jen Hadfield, currently working on a Depression-era novel set in a Canadian fishing village, will also be involved.

New to these parts will be Mitzi Szerelo, author, blogger and TV presenter, who will be running a two-hour workshop in erotic fiction on Sunday morning. She specialises in “taking existing stories and giving them an erotic edge and a strong literary twist”.

Along with the previously-announced appearance of Jason Isaacs, an actor who has appeared in Harry Potter and whose latest film Skeletons will also be shown over the week, the Screenplay film festival – running from 29th August until 5th September – will boast the presence of highly-rated director Julien Temple.

One of the early pioneers of the music video, Temple’s punchy biopic of Ian Dury, The Filth and the Fury and Oil City Confidential, a documentary about Canvey Island R&B band Dr Feelgood, will be screened. His 78-minute feature about the sad decline of the city of Detroit, described as a “cautionary tale of unbridled capitalism and industrialism”, will also be given an airing.

Fans of classic cinema will be able to enjoy White Oak, a silent Western from 1921, with live accompaniment from Kermode’s skiffle band The Dodge Brothers. A slightly later vintage, director Vincente Minnelli’s An American In Paris will give viewers the chance to see Gene Kelly dancing and singing his way through a series of Gershwin favourites in Paris.

• See Friday’s Shetland Times for a fuller preview of the two festivals. Full details of the programmes for both Wordplay and Screenplay can be viewed through Shetland Arts’ website.


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