For a town so small and so comparatively remote, we get a lot of good stuff coming our way in Hawick. Whenever a big arts organisation decides to get their show on the road, it’s always a decent shout that the Grey Auld Toon will feature somewhere on their list of community centres and village halls. Only thing is, though these barnstorming tours are great and all, the product as you experience it is rarely comparable to the sort of thing you’d expect in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Everything is shortened and stripped down, the performers are reserves, and though you’re not exactly disappointed you do come away with the feeling that what you’ve just participated in was Diet Culture rather than the real thing.
So, naturally, you do what grown-ups do and you moderate your expectations. When you see that Neu! Reekie are coming to Hawick on the second last date of a countrywide tour, you go along more out of gratitude than actual hope. It probably won’t be that riveting, but it’s just nice to have some visitors.
Because the other thing is that, even if the event turns out to be quite good, it won’t be anything new. Chances are it’ll be some little greatest hits revue, a few crowd pleasing standards. Nothing you’ll be in danger of remembering the next day.
Well, it’s the next day but three, and my recollections of Neu! Reekie are still extremely clear. I remember Michael Pedersen’s poetry, those intricate little boxes of surprise, and the spoken word of Hollie McNish, whose performances are so powerful that they seem to derive from some, like, totally original art form, as yet undiscovered by mortal men. I remember the stupendously grouchy Kevin Williamson, growling about ‘No’ voters (in the Borders, of all places), the hilarious films of Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson. And then there was the amazing Stanley Odd, a Scottish hip-hop group previously (and inexplicably) unknown to me, and who were so good that their presence on a stage in Hawick three metres away seemed like some unaccountable glitch in a video game, Lionel Messi in an Accies shirt.
We get a lot of good stuff coming to Hawick, but we rarely get anything which runs the risk of failing. By the time it gets to us, most stuff has been gone over so many times that it could run equally well without an audience, and sometimes does. On Friday night Neu! Reekie respected its audience enough to give us an event rather than just a performance. Spread the word.