Alison Eales is currently completing a PhD about the Glasgow Jazz Festival. The Music subject area has research strengths both in jazz – most notably through Dr Björn Heile – and music-making in Glasgow, with Kenny Forbes recently completing a PhD on the history of the Apollo Theatre.
I’m now in the final stages of my PhD, which is a critical history of Glasgow Jazz Festival focusing on the relationship between the festival and the city. My research has been supported by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, with Glasgow Jazz Festival acting as the collaborative partner as well as the subject of my research. This relationship has afforded me a valuable insight into the workings of the festival, both at the event itself and on a year-round basis. It has also provided networking opportunities. Sadly, networking has never been a strong point of mine, as I’m very easily embarrassed when I meet well-known figures in any field. I have learned that doing artist liaison for a notoriously bad-tempered jazz musician (naming no names) is one way of getting over that kind of awkwardness.
I’ve undertaken various public engagement activities throughout my study, including performing at Bright Club (an initiative where researchers present their work as stand-up comedy). When Glasgow Music City Tours was launched last summer, Jill Rodger – the Director of Glasgow Jazz Festival – recommended me as a potential guide. As the name suggests, the company offers guided walking tours celebrating Glasgow’s rich musical heritage and culture, with two options currently on offer on Fridays and Saturdays. Glasgow’s Music Mile starts at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and concludes at King Tut’s, weaving up and down around Sauchiehall Street in order to take in the Art School and the CCA. The Merchant City Music Tour includes the Clutha Bar, the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall and Mono. Both tours are packed with stories not only about the stars of rock and pop, but also the city’s star venues – including those no longer with us, such as the Empire and the Apollo. The tours are led by a team of lively and knowledgeable guides, and the company is now developing bespoke tours alongside its regular outings (for example, tours connected to particular artists or events). Having run successful tours for Celtic Connections, Glasgow Music City Tours approached me about writing and delivering a walking tour as part of Glasgow Jazz Festival. The Festival started in 1987 and is still going, making it Glasgow’s longest-running annual cultural event; it was only natural that the theme of the tour is ’30 Years of Glasgow Jazz Festival.’
At the time of writing, I’m working with the GMCT and Jazz Festival teams to finalise the route and the script. This is an iterative process, with versions being emailed back and forth for feedback and amendment. It has been a positive experience for me, if challenging. I’ve found that when I am preparing for any kind of public speaking – whether it be teaching, delivering conference papers, or performing stand-up comedy – it is very difficult to disentangle writing from rehearsal. Very often, I don’t realise that something is funny or otherwise engaging until I have said it out loud; I find that dates, ideas, and phrases stick in my memory better once I have heard myself saying them; and I dislike reading from a written script.
I like to think that I’m able to produce engaging written material (and any insecurity on that front has never stopped me churning out more tweets about Eurovision than anybody could possibly want to read). However, a PhD student’s relationship with their thesis is a strange one, particularly while making corrections. We’ve all experienced ‘semantic satiation’, where you see or hear a particular word or phrase so often that it loses all meaning; in the run-up to thesis submission, I’m sure many researchers have felt that way about entire paragraphs. Turning academic text which is engraved onto your retina into an entertaining nugget to be said out loud is a multi-stage process which starts (at least, it does for me) with pretending to have amnesia.
Quite a high proportion of my first attempt at a tour script came from my own research, but I knew as I was writing it that that content would probably get chopped, as it was simply too dry and factual. I would describe the script in its present form as a collaborative effort between myself, the GMCT team (Fiona Shepherd, Alison Stroak and Jonathan Trew) and the Jazz Festival team (in particular, Jill Rodger and Alison Mussett). The GMCT team have provided the expertise they have gained in writing and leading their own tours – they know what works in terms of routes and locations, as well as material. Rather than offering a history of the Festival, their advice was to try to ‘tell the story through stories’ – stories which were provided beautifully by Jill and Alison from the Festival, and include anecdotes about Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett. My job has been to bring all of this together into a script which gives a sense of the Festival’s history without being too concerned with details that of course fascinate me, but might leave punters perplexed. And, of course, to deliver the tour as engagingly as I can!
This year’s line-up for Glasgow Jazz Festival is really exciting, and I’m very proud to be involved. My own recommendations for the out-of-town acts are the Soweto Kinch Quartet (Saint Luke’s, 22 June) and Kamasi Washington (QMU, 27 June). There are lots of local acts worth catching too – Skinner’s interpretation of the beautiful Frank Sinatra album Watertown is going to be something special (Saint Luke’s, 23 June), while Stu Brown’s Twisted Toons (City of Music Studio, 24 June) is one of the most charming musical projects I’ve ever seen. This year’s programme also includes a ’30 under 30′ strand, celebrating some of the amazing young jazz musicians currently working in Scotland. And of course, there’s my walking tour, starting in the Scottish Music Centre at 2pm on 24, 25 and 26 June. Tickets are available by clicking on the dates above. It’d be lovely to see some fellow researchers there!