Govan Music Festival was established last year, bringing powerful performances from folk, hip hop and classical music to Govan. Festival organiser Paul MacAlindin who formed the Govan-based orchestra the Glasgow Barons spoke to us about the changes in the area, empowering people through music and the plans for this year’s festival.
Everything you do with both The Glasgow Barons and the Govan Music Festival is very rooted in the community.
I would say most of Govan is run by people who don’t live here. That’s very common for an area of deprivation of low political agency. So the fact that I did, by accident, end up here in 2016 and started thinking about how I would respond to this place artistically, creating a charity like The Glasgow Barons was a logical thing for me to do. But it was also about the fact that if I’m basically regenerating my life by putting money that I raise into my pockets to run this charity, then why don’t I do that for other people as well?
There’s an awful lot of third-sector involvement that happens here in Govan. But Govan hasn’t improved. I mean, if you look at the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation that started in 2001, we stayed in exactly the same place since then which is the bottom 5% of all Scotland. So, what are the tangible ways to challenge that? And one very simple, tangible way is simply just about direct investment; actually putting cash into pockets in the area, who then reinvest in the area. Now, in comparison to the size of the problem here it’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s still part of the strategy. These are very pragmatic, straightforward things to do that have nothing directly to do with art, but they are to do with building self-esteem.
The gigs with Musicians In Exile have been really special events, they have a great openness.
With Musicians In Exile, it’s all about building trust between incredibly different people. So you’ve got the cultural differences, you’ve got the language differences, you’ve got the differences of level of ability. But it doesn’t really matter because they’re all in the same boat. And that’s where the openness and the honesty of communication and understanding starts to build itself up.
Musicians in Exile was very much about not just giving people their voice back and allowing them to make the music that they made back at home, but also putting on the gigs which showed just folk locally what the person who walks down the street sounds like when they sing. It’s a way of giving a nugget of their lives and their culture and their sense of personal dignity back to the community.
You’re launching Steg G’s new album at The Grand Ole’ Opry?
This is our fourth hip-hop album commission. The first festival was Surface Pressure which is the climate change album. This year it’s Demons and it’s really about Steg’s mental health issues. So it’s a very personal album about coming out of the pandemic and getting your head straight again – or not as the case may be. What I’m doing right now is I’ve got the ten tracks of the album and I’m orchestrating them for a ten-piece ensemble. We’ve worked together now on four different albums. We know how we work, we’ve got trust and it’s a special thing that doesn’t happen anywhere else.
So that’s that on top of that a much crazier and for me, subversive project, that doesn’t have a name! I’m working with Solareye, Freestyle Master, and Empress and I trust these three people implicitly. So I’m putting them in a room with a quartet and I’m telling them to just ‘do shit’. Each of the three rappers gets three three-hour sessions with the string quartet, so there’s no notes in this performance at all. The musicians themselves have to collaborate with the rappers and vice versa to create a live backing track. It will just be entirely up to the players exactly how they create that, exactly how it fits what’s being rapped about and how they perceive each other’s musicianship. So the first outing of that gig will be in the Freed Up gig in Kinning Park Complex.
I feel like Govan is very much on the cusp of change. There’s development over the road, the bridge to Partick is being built. The Barclays Campus in Tradeston is going to very much change the makeup of the area. Is there a fear about that?
This is about the most political question you can ask around here right now. One of the things that we noticed immediately around Govan Loves Christmas; a big community event every December in that car park, run by and paid for by Govan Housing Association. We couldn’t use that car park because it was being built on so we went to the car park behind Govan Cross Shopping Centre; we had primary school choirs, a high school band, a couple of professional acts, and a local community choir. Now that’s being built on. So that entire ecosystem is being put under pressure and essentially what’s that bridge for? That bridge is so that Govan becomes the closest subway to the Riverside Museum. So, again; the agenda really isn’t for the people here, it’s for the people there. Or it’s the people who want to get there.
The trick is to try and find a way in which classical art can sit comfortably next to Freed Up on one side and also Gotta Sing Gotta Dance on the other side, which is a showcase of local dance troupes and local singer-songwriters singing about the SWG3 murals which landed in Govan whether anybody wanted them or not. That’s very much where the festival exists. To find the stakeholder balance so that we have a response to that on our own terms, without being imposed upon, without being ‘arted at’ but also trying to prove that on an equal footing with community events like RENEW, an eight-song cycle where each of the schools in the area gets one song to premier.
Again, that’s just internal investments; I’m not commissioning a client to write eight songs for Govan kids, I’m commissioning the local head of music at Govan High to do it. Because she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself. I don’t need big names to create an impactful festival. It’s just about re-establishing a sense of worth in an area that’s had a lot done to it and has had its sense of worth round down over a very long time.