Sunday 3 March 2013

Cultural Interlude: Richard Thompson, Vikings & Cloud Atlas

 Straight after my days in the hills with Terry Abraham working on the Cairngorms in Winter film I took the train to Edinburgh for a quick visit during which I attended a concert, an exhibition and a film in less than 24 hours, an urban cultural interlude.

The concert was by Richard Thompson, arguably Britain’s greatest living songwriter and guitarist. He played with a band, unlike last summer when I also saw him in Edinburgh, and the emphasis was on electric guitar, to go along with his new album Electric, from which he played half a dozen songs. He also went through a selection from his now vast back catalogue and threw in a superb version of Hendrix’s Hey Joe as a nod to sixties power trios. The songs, with Thompson’s witty, thought-provoking and sometimes downright disturbing lyrics, were all excellent but it was the musicianship that stood out with Thompson playing some astounding guitar and the drummer and base player adding flair and skill of their own. There are still some UK dates left – I really recommend going if you can.

The exhibition was Vikings at the National Museum of Scotland, which features over 500 objects from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. This well-laid out and designed exhibition tells the story of the Vikings and their explorations and shows that they were far more than just raiders and fighters (though they were definitely these). I found the exhibition fascinating, with the displays really bringing the artefacts to life. Some particularly stood-out. One was a tiny Buddha from Northern India, excavated from a Viking site in Sweden. This really spoke of the connectedness of that world of over a thousand years ago and the trade that linked Scandinavia and India. On the outdoors side I was intrigued by the little spikes the Vikings used to get grip on ice and hard snow. Micro spikes are not new! There was no mention of skiing though, which was used for travel over snow in Viking times.

The film was Cloud Atlas, based on the novel by David Mitchell, which I had read and enjoyed last year. The film has had mixed reviews. I think it is superb. However as it consists of six stories set in six different periods, two of them in the future, and the actors play several roles each, appearing in each story in a different guise, it does require some concentration. The novel has different literary styles for each story. Reflecting this, the film has different cinematic styles for the stories and jumps rapidly from seafaring sagas through slapstick comedy to dystopian sci-fi. I picked up many film references and probably missed many more. One of those I did get was Bladerunner and like that film I think that Cloud Atlas will take time to be a success but will eventually become a highly-respected cult film. It’s beautifully filmed and acted –  I reckon the actors must have really enjoyed playing so many different parts in one film – and a real visual delight (there is some good outdoors footage too, shot on Majorca). I’m looking forward to seeing it again. I’ll reread the book soon too.


  1. Hey, I was at that Richard Thomson concert! The drummer was amazing.

  2. Seeing him in Nottingham on Wednesday, Chris. Can't wait.