14 Jan 2021
By Natalie Jayne Clark and Loretta Mulholland
Take the twenty-minute train from Glasgow Central, leave Paisley train station, walk down and round, past the clothes and coffee shops, past Paisley Abbey, the mill and the River Cart, down and round some more, and arrive at the Paisley Arts Centre.
Here was the heart of the inaugural Paisley Book Festival, with the other limbs and organs of the festival to be found out, about and across all parts of this large historic town.
The theme of 2020 was ‘Radical Voices and Rebel Stories’, a nod to Paisley’s rebellious past; the buzz of something radical was set in the opening evening, showcasing the festival’s ability to demonstrate the wealth and variety of local talent and Scotland’s warm creative spirit. The first night had local historian Maggie Craig regale us with some particularly rebellious historical stories from 1820 and Glasgow’s Makar Jim Carruth evoking the beautiful and the bucolic to be found around Paisley and Scotland with his poetry readings. Heir of the Cursed provided an exceptionally entrancing and haunting soundtrack to the evening.
Events such as the Pop-up Poetry Shop, paying homage to Paisley bards, Robert Tannahill and Tom Leonard, added to the vibrant ethos. Long-established authors and playwrights, Janice Galloway and John Byrne, were in conversation with contemporary writers and performers Kirstin Innes and Gary McNair. Billings with Writing Rebel Women, Writers and Rebellion and The Fountain’s Evening of Rebel Poetry leapt out at visitors, while the informality of John Byrne’s Big Birthday Bash was amplified by friends like Paulo Nutini and his dad casually dropping in after lunching with the great artist himself.
Back in the impromptu volunteers’ canteen in the Arts Centre, we had the honour of meeting up with the young actors from Glasgow’s Tron Theatre as they posed for Instagram, minutes before they sang Three Steps to Heaven from Byrne’s Underwood Lane. Their performance was electric, and a sneak peek at the man from Ferguslie Park, under the dim lighting, revealed John’s sense of pride in a legacy now in good hands. We even had cake after the party!
This rebellious fizzy feeling continued throughout the festival with an incredibly diverse mix of Scottish-based artists. With lots going on around the town during the day (kids’ activities and readings in the library and shopping centre, myriad writing workshops, insightful debate panels and lectures and so on), the evenings provided a chance to settle in at the Arts Centre, library or a local pub for epic performances and celebrations. From Jackie Kay to Open Mic sessions, from the Janet Coats Memorial Prize Award Ceremony to the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers and much more besides, every night was a phenomenal occasion.
Each evening was notable, not just for the people performing but for the bringing together of folk. One of our favourite spaces of the whole festival was the upstairs area of the Arts Centre – otherwise known as the bookshop. It was a place for selling and signing books but also for plenty of mingling and blethering with like-minded people.
The radicalism of Paisley’s past was evident throughout this festival but diverse rebel stories from the present were equally represented with events including addressing the issue of disabled and low income access to publishing; a BAME Writing Master-class with Raman Mundair; Chitra Ramaswamy and Emily Morris talking about modern motherhood and Dean Atta and Eris Young in conversation in the Writing Queer Identities event.
Paisley Book Festival 2020 gave us a rich mix of big and up and coming names and everything in between, all kinds of writers, digital events and hands-on messy activities for families, lots of free events along with the ticketed ones and plenty of opportunity to take in, to share and to spend time with Scottish and international art and artists.
Even the dreich weather and threatening snow throughout freezing February did not keep audiences and participants away last year and remembering this unique first festival with many honourary Paisley buddies has only whetted our appetites for more sensational events. With Imogen Stirling in the new writer-in-residence role and Booker Prize winners and Scabby Queen authors heading the bill, watch this space as anything can happen in 2021.
Open the digital door Frank!
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Photo Credit: Kausar Yasin