The Made in Stirling Store has been the venue for a unique exhibition, Superfan, in a collaboration with Stirling’s renowned record store Europa Music, featuring a collection of Beatles and other ‘sixties music print ephemera, collected over many years and curated by local Beatles ‘superfan’ Douglas Montgomery.
The exhibition was also the setting for a unique one-day-only performance the day before it closed on 14th August: created in collaboration with local arts and creativity-stirrers Creative Stirling, Imagine is a three-person play, written and directed by Kate Donne, in which a mum describes to her children the excitement of seeing The Beatles when they toured Scotland in the early 1960s. Combining researched, historical facts about the concerts and snippets from the local people who were there, it’s a lively, entertaining and accurate story of a unique time in history (the Fabs visited Scotland between 1960, when they were unknowns, and 1965 when they were globally famous, forever changing the course of popular music).
The action centres on mum Margaret, played by Carolyn Konrad, and her two children – daughter Katie and son Paul, played by Erin Seath and Sam Spencer, who are preparing to move house. Among the boxes is a suitcase containing Margaret’s collection of Beatles memorabilia, which prompts her to reminisce, explaining to the teenagers the thrill of seeing them when they toured Scotland (1960 – 1965), and other of her ‘Beatles stories’.
It’s fascinating, for one thing because it’s true – the band first played Alloa Town Hall, where there is a now a wall-plaque to attest – but also because, like the best Fab Four stories, there is a uniquely compelling human dimension – the ‘I was there’. In fact Michael Haughton’s book The Beatles – I Was There is quoted for substantial reinforcement, and again adding to the ever-dizzying Beatles-universe, there are catchy wee details that draw you in, such as in the post-performance Q&A, which brought forward Davy, who saw the band on that first Alloa gig. He found The Silver Beetles merely functional as a backing band to the star billing – crooner Johnny Gentle – but as soon as they were let loose to showcase their own songs, he could see they had something special about them.
The dialogue is comfortably-paced and convincing – the youngsters’ reaction to the idea of a night out for five shillings (twenty-five pence), and the inevitable interplay between Mum as the vinyl record-player generation and the youngsters, used to accessing streaming services via a spoken instruction their Alexa digital assistant. Kate Donne is an experienced writer and director, but this is actually her first time combining both, and all works uncomplicatedly, with dialogue mainly around the table but occasionally bursting into lively episodes such as a dancing sing-along of Long Tall Sally, which the audience was unable to resist dancing along to. The one Beatles song accorded a full rendition was a closely-harmonised Nowhere Man, to acoustic guitar accompaniment.
And the title of course is apt – sixty years on, we can only imagine what it was like from stories like these, and first-hand accounts.
I felt it a shame the performance could not have been over more days, and maybe with a while for the exhibition still to run, rather than the one final day. That said, the piece functioned as a fitting climax to the exhibition, accompanied as it was by a DJ set of Beatles rarities (Jimi Hendrix on guitar on Day Tripper – amazing) and a young local guitar duo performing some associated songs. And all’s not over yet, as Europa Music is set shortly be auctioning some of the artefacts which have been on display, such as the cut-out figures pictured.
The enterprise, which has been made possible by Scotland’s Year of Storytelling 2022, Museums and Galleries Scotland and Event Scotland, is a great showcase for the progress Joe Hall and her team at Creative Stirling have made in the last four years, with the Store and exhibition/performance space in use to tell local stories right in the centre of the city.
And this show, which Kate Donne later mused to me might suit venues elsewhere in future such as the Edinburgh Fringe, exemplifies the best of storytelling performance – one of the best of the many stories Stirling and central Scotland has to tell.
With thanks to Paul and colleagues at Creative Stirling for their assistance with this review.