Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30
13.00 (18-19, 24-25 August)
**** (4 stars)
A full house in the small intimate setting of the Storytelling Centre’s George Mackay Brown library welcomed Morna Burden as she slipped from behind a screen and launched straight into her first song, a lullaby with a difference, written in 1958 by Nancy Nicholson. Mushroom cloud and heavy water and the lively refrain beginning merrily, merrily nuclear power plunged us straight into the brilliantly black humour with which women have creatively waged peace in a world which is seeing an ever-increasing proliferation of wars.
Morna told the stories of women of all ages who in their own way have tried to bring peace to situations and protest against the stupidity of war. Sadako Sasaki was a young Japanese girl who died from leukaemia in 1955, ten years after she was caught in the fall-out from the atomic bomb that targeted Hiroshima. She folded over 1,000 paper cranes while in hospital, and her story has inspired people all round the world to join a movement which began with her schoolmates and resulted in the erection of the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Park in 1958. Buffy Sainte-Marie, a young First Nation Canadian woman, was shocked by the soldiers she saw returning from the Vietnam War: at a time when the horrors of that war were being denied, she wrote the powerful Universal soldier. Artist Jill Gibbons disguises herself in smart suits and appropriate jewellery and infiltrates arms fairs, where she makes art deriding the civilised veneer of the whole arms industry, which denies that it sells products designed to kill and maim, preferring instead to protest it is purveying “defence and hospitality”.
Fellow-Quaker Penny Stone went with a choir to Palestine, to sing to and show solidarity with Palestinian people and on her return home talk about it “to anyone who would listen”. When the choir went with the local people to attempt to reach their fields their way was blocked by Israeli armed forces: as they were fleeing from tear gas, chemical stuff and rubber bullets, she realised she was singing a song sung originally by members of the LGBT community, but later adopted by many other protest movements, We are a gentle, angry people, which has the refrain and we’re singing, singing for our lives…
Morna met another of my fellow-Quakers, Beth Cross, in the Boundary Bar which straddles the Leith-Edinburgh border, and heard how she, while at university in Annapolis, Maryland, intended simply to support for a week a peace walk that started in California – but found herself joining this World Peace Walk and travelling through Scotland, England, and much of Europe. A song often sung on the walk was Eric Anderson’s Thirsty Boots. And then, of course, there was Greenham Common, and Helen John who found her life transformed by her involvement in the women’s camp. My favourite song has to be Lily of the Arc Lights – sung to the woman with the bolt-cutters, beside whom the singer is attacking the perimeter fence, this is a wonderfully anarchic rewrite of Lili Marlene. Its fantastic rhymes and dauntless spirit made me laugh out loud and salute the women who could be so brave in the face of very real danger, carrying out civil disobedience because they simply couldn’t stand by and do nothing,
Morna sings simply, and her songs come straight from her heart: in the interest of accuracy, the stories she tells are read from a folder – but she is continually interjecting her own and others’ experience, which stops them being dull factual monologues. It might be helpful to have a brief ‘fact sheet’ of names and dates to take away with us as we leave, to help us remember – but the overall impression on leaving the venue was of the courage and determination of so many people, which gives hope and lifts us above the sadness of the refrain to Pete Seeger’s song Where have all the flowers gone? – WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN???