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17 February 1979
SHAKE A LEG, JOCK
Visions of Highlanders in hobnail boots and tartan tutus shouting "Hey Jimmy!" were inspired by a rare invitation to drinks with the Scottish Ballet last week. Frankly we were puzzled. Why should the Scotch Hoofers, even though justly proud of their impending 10th anniversary celebrations, invite scruffy scribes of the rock press to an informal gathering at the Martini Terrace on top of London's lofty New Zealand house?
All became clear when the Ballet announced a daring new rock flavour to their current season of works. They have commissioned two of our most celebrated bandleaders, Ian "Och Awie Wi Ye" Anderson of Jethro Tull, and Jon "Cock-a-Leekie" Anderson of Yes (no relation), to write musical scores to be choreographed by the Ballet. And both turned up to the rooftop fling to hear the Ballet's administrator Robin Anderson announce this unusual venture.
Now Robin IS a relation. Much to our astonishment, we learned that the courtly, dignified gentleman in charge of the ballet was brother to the pipe-smoking gent in the Glengarry who once looked like Ian Anderson and is now like Rob Roy back from the grave.
There wasn't a hint of Glaswegian aggro as studious ballet chaps in quiet tweeds listening politely while the Anderson Boys outlined their plans. A segment of their season will be devoted to a project called Underground Rumour.
"We have invited two very distinguished rock composers, one of whom is my brother Ian, to write us new musical scores which will be orchestrated and choreographed," explained Robin.
Ian has written with David Palmer and Martin Barre an evocation of Scotland called 'The Water's Edge' which deals with the myths and legends of that ancient Kingdom including the Loch Ness monster and various silkies, sea beasties, warts, mermaids and shubunkins.
Jon Anderson's contribution is called 'Ursprung' and celebrates the dancing of the Rhine maidens at the Great Feast of Valhalla when naked young persons swill great flagons of mead and roast whole oxen over a slow fire, all the while emitting great burps of content. Something like that. Truth to tell, we spilt some Martini over our notes at this point and rather smudged Jon's description. But we do remember that Jon claimed Scottish ancestry and that he has been learning to write music for future large-scale projects.
A third piece for the season will be based on Duke Ellington's 'Such Sweet Thunder', which was the Duke's tribute to Shakespeare, recorded many years ago. The Duke was unfortunately unavailable for comment, but David Palmer was on hand to get very heated about the mistreatment of Handel by the English. He was invited to London to write opera and was ridiculed to such an extent that he took sick and died.
We wondered whether the ballet dancers would be wearing codpieces and hop around on one leg for Ian's epic, but David assured us it would be a tasteful affair in eight sections.
"The first will be a seascape to set the mood, and the middle five movements will evoke mythological creatures like silkies and water horses. The last piece is the traditional storm and I shall start orchestrating it — next Saturday! I usually end up writing everything in a cab on the way to the studio. Our contribution is full of tunes and we're very excited about it because it's out of the run of usual things we do. We hope that it won't invite such terms of abuse as 'mish-mash' or 'potpourri'. It won't be a classical ballet, more like a modern dance realisation accompanied by a fifty-piece orchestra."
The whole shebang (US slang, origin unknown) will hit Glasgow, Edinburgh and Hull (Hull?) in March and April with a grand opening at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow on March 7, and Yes, Tull and ballet freaks will doubtless give their verdict over orange juice in the foyer during the intermission. In the meantime there are few if any plans to bring it to London, although there are rumours of a Saddlers Wells production if the company have not been torn apart by enraged traditionalists en route.
Thanks to Bruce Carribine for this article, and Gerrit de Geus for the publication date.