“Story is in our DNA”; A successful book on failure by Brené Brown.

If there is one thing that Americans do a lot better than Europeans, it is failure. An example is 'Rising Strong', an incredibly successful book on the subject of failure and its aftermath. Now a UK best-seller, I picked it up from Edinburgh airport bookstore, drawn by the sub heading "If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about getting back up."

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Arts news: Mairi Campbell's new show 'Pulse' to premier at Showcase at Celtic Connections

'Mairi Campbell reacted angrily when she was downgraded for playing her own composition in her final exams and left Guildhall College of Music and Drama for her bolthole on the Isle of Lismore. Supportive tutor Peter Renshaw found the phone number of the family’s cottage there and called her, a moment which features in the show. “I said 'you can get tae fuck' and got on the train home to Edinburgh. I never went back.  The next thing was Peter's call to Lismore where I was recuperating.  He said that they'd keep up the fight.” ‘

PULSE to showcase at Celtic Connections, Jan 2016

Not many musicians could hope to fill a theatre with a one-woman experimental musical about their own lives. But Mairi Campbell’s new show 'Pulse' in which she acts, sings, plays the fiddle and dances the story of her own musical coming of age has been selected to represent the best of Scottish musical culture at the prestigious Showcase event at Celtic Connections in January 2016.

Read more: Arts news: Mairi Campbell's new show 'Pulse' to premier at Showcase at Celtic Connections

A Science Professor Pens a Patriotic Song

March, 2015
I first heard the song "Call it Alba" at an African evening at my children's primary school. The choir sang it to visitors from a school in Tanzania and I wasn't the only one blinking back the tears as they belted out the chorus: "I belong to the land I live in, and the land is in the deepest part of me."

The song allowed the children to express love for their country of Scotland but in a simple style, free from the hubris these things often contain. It seemed inclusive too, offering a sense of belonging to everyone who lives here. I couldn't think of another patriotic song that would have worked in that context and which would have made me feel so proud.

 "Flower of Scotland" is fine for a sporting arena but the lyrics are very focused on Scotland's sometimes conflicted relationship with England. I for one was glad when the Scottish Parliament recently rejected a petition to make it an official anthem.  (  

The others I could think of like Scots Wha Hae, Caledonia, or Highland Cathedral are too martial, too adult or too grandiose.

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Freedom of Expression and Edinburgh, 2015

THE BIGGEST threat to freedom of expression in Britain today is not the shadow of the law, but whispers behind the scenes. Not the courtroom so much as a slippery excuse from someone in authority that says, I’m so sorry but we can’t put this on, because of this or that or the other dog-ate-my-homework reason. The fear of protests; the wrong kind of attention, a storm on social media. Trouble with the venue, the risk assessor, the insurance adviser, the head of college. These nebulous fears are recast politely as “it doesn’t quite fit in with our programme this year,’ or ‘ we don’t think it will sell enough tickets”, or “I’m sorry, we are already full.”

This was what I argued when, at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I took part in a panel discussion after a show about the tension between art and politics, inspired by a trio of called-off productions in 2014, called “Walking the Tightrope” staged by Underbelly Productions.


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Top Gear, RIP.


I enjoyed Top Gear. You would think from the reaction I get to this statement from some of my friends that I was voicing support for Islamic State or something. But when my kids were younger it was one of the best family viewing experiences that we had. I will remember it fondly for that reason.


Read more: Top Gear, RIP.