A Gab wi Michael Pedersen

Neu! Reekie! Photo: Kat Gollock 

Founded in December 2010 by poets Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson, Neu! Reekie! (“Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers” The Skinny) is a literary, music and animation collective with an international output, plus a record label and publishing house on top.

We caught up with co-founder Michael Pedersen to find out how the collective celebrated their fifth birthday, their plans for 2016, and the lowdown on short film Anywhere But the Cities and sequel poetry anthology #UntitledTwo. 

Neu! Reekie! recently celebrated its 5th birthday (Happy birthday!), how did you mark the occasion? 

Why we threw a rollicking, rabble-rousing, verve and vim fu’ party at Central Hall boasting some of the country’s finest talents.

We heaped together the old and the new, commissioned Festive duets and unique performances, whilst launching books for fervent favourites. The whole space was curated and decorated to be as vivacious as our nine hundred person strong audience. The stage beckoned the likes of Irvine Welsh - unshackling the world exclusive reading of his new novel The Blade Artist - alongside a phenomenal turn from our then Makar Liz Lochhead; the screen projected out films from Rachel Maclean, Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson; and live musical outings arrived in force from Hector Bizerk, White, Withered Hand, Honeyblood, Emma Pollock, RM Hubbert & beyond.

Liz Lochhead at Neu! Reekie!'s 5th Birthday  

As well as the half-decade landmark, you also won Creative Edinburgh’s City Award. What does this recognition mean?

Awards always take you by surprise, you’re so busy doing everything else that makes the ship sail that plaudits and anointments aren’t really on your radar. Suffice to say we were rare chuffed, especially as what was essentially being said was that nominators and a well-constructed panel of creatives reckoned we were making an outstanding cultural contribution to fair Caledonia’s capital. Kevin and myself, we’re both in love with Edinburgh, both write about it constantly - the nooks and crannies, Portobello tae Leith, Arthur Seat, the Coogit, its depths and underbelly; to hear it wasn’t unrequited love was a jolly jamboree of a thing. Plus I think every time you win something it's a catalyst to raise the bar even higher and exceed expectations.

Creative Edinburgh Awards & 4th Birthday Party from Creative Edinburgh on Vimeo.

What are Neu Reekie’s plans for 2016? 

Perpetual movement: develop new limbs, forge fresh partnerships and keep surprising our audiences, as well as each other.

We’ve splendiferous things in the making with National Galleries of Scotland, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival and more. Plus we’re constantly roving, finding new (often unused in an arts capacity) venues and creeping further out of the city centres – like a big literary glacier. We’ll be building upon our Scotland wide touring network and reaching out internationally, plus making further trips south of the border. The big show 100 is soon to waltz into sight - that’ll need marking, with gumption and gusto.

Then there’s everything that happens more mercurially too - testament to that was last year’s showcases across Japan supported by Creative Scotland and British Council. During which we billed one of my favourite bands, Tokyo’s Tenniscoats, had our poems translated into Japanese, made a short film in the Osaka Fish Market with Momus and unearthed a poetry recital on the highest peak of the highest summit overlooking the ancient capital of Koyto.

#UntitledTwo 

Sequel poetry anthology #UntitledTwo is due out in May - what can we expect? 

The #UntitledOne anthology was a roaring success and quickly went into reprint – summoning a five hundred strong audience for its launch and seeing Irvine Welsh and Aidan Moffat turn their hand tae poetry alongside star-blazers like Jenni Fagan, Jock Scot, Tom Leonard and Douglas Dunn. This was our debut collaboration between Neu! Reekie! Publishing and Polyon / Birlinn books, and it worked out rather well.

#UntitledTwo will be just as mighty – 32 writers that have read at Neu! Reekie! over the last couple of years, printed in finest inks on heavyweight paper with a mirrored / metallic gold cover. We’ve went gold on this one with: Jackie Kay, Kathleen Jamie, Liz Lochhead, Ciaran Carson, James Robertson as well as Ross Sutherland, Hollie McNish, Luke Wright, Alan Bissett and flocks maire. Yes – sure as fruit sugar in Satsumas, there will be another downloadable album bundled in with this treasure trove – the last gaggle featured exclusive tracks from Young Fathers and Owl John / Frightened Rabbit, we’ll no let you down this time around either.

There’s homage or paean paid to my co-chief Kevin Williamson’s Rebel Inc. publishing house in these books too with the inclusion of Paul Reekie last time, a secret writer this time and limited edition Rebel Inc titles (from the arcane archive) stashed inside a selection of the anthology hampers.

We’ll be launching #UntitledTwo on 29 April in Edinburgh, with more details to be announced soon.

Anywhere But the Cities 

On top of everything else Neu Reekie have produced a short film ‘Anywhere But the Cities’. What’s it about and where will people be able to see it? 

The idea for Anywhere But The Cities came from us, the band / arts collective FOUND and a whisky company (rather a whisky and arts guru named Stephen Marshall) all wanting to do something of this ilk at the same time – a documentary tour of Scotland, multi-sensory, multi-medium, multi-everything really.

What happened was 16 shows over 23 days, involving well over 30 artists. We were swapping stories and shibboleths for nips of rare whisky as we went and the camera was always rolling. The clue is in the title – these shows went anywhere but the cities, often where none of our names were known, where events like this never or rarely happened and where we needed to pull out all the stops to fill the room with excited punters.

We came at this from myriad angles: taking top practitioners in their field to places they’d never been; working with local artists, performers, promoters and festivals to sculpt and deliver a show that worked for them; and by bringing central belt based artists back to the hometowns from which they hailed.

We were erroneously called Scottish Cultural Ambassadors over in Japan and felt a little uncomfortable aboot that – we’ve a proven track record within the central belt but elsewhere in Scotland who kens what they’d reckon of the Reekie troupe. This was our attempt to rectify that; and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding endeavours we’ve ever embarked upon.

We’ve screened at Summerhall and the Creative Scotland HQ, next up is the Glasgow Short Film Festival on Friday 18 March (with Eyes of Others, FOUND, Eugene Kelly/The Vaselines and some surprise spoken worders).

Michael Pedersen 

Last year you were a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellow - what did this opportunity allow you to do?

Visiting the fantastical site of Grez-sur-Loing was opportunity enough. RLS had met wife-to-be Fanny Osborne there, so not only are the streets rife with literary lustre there is amorous notes spicing the punch in the air. Thick blanketing darkness, crisp auburn sunsets, filigree bursts through the trees and a stunning, deceptively gelid, stream stitching it aw the’gether. Access to Paris was tremendous but the opportunity to be 100 kilometers away, and what felt like a 100 years back in time, was even better.

I was powdering the nose of my second collection of poetry following my Play With Me release in 2013 (Polygon). That and working on a first draft of a film-script with Scottish Director Robert McKillop. We’d signed off the script synopsis after many month of lexical jousting and I’d produced what felt like a short novel’s worth of text on the characters cast in the story, so I relished the opportunity to spill dialog over the page. I really steeped in these characters, lived with them and through them for much of my time there – this was my inaugural film project and it felt like a disservice to write it in stolen moments. Robbie’s worked with everyone from Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe to Game of Throne’s Richard Madden and Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley; there’s no stopping him, so I wanted to get this bang on the bell and the environment, the boost of the award and the majesty of the surroundings were a key part of that. Here’s to it.

Neu! Reekie! screen Anywhere But the Cities on Friday 18 March for Glasgow Short Film Festival, and present Neu! Reekie! in the Gutter as part of Aye Write! on Saturday 19 March.

Neu! Reekie! launch #UntitledTwo on 29 April in Edinburgh, keep an eye out on their Facebook page for more details.

Images with permission of Neu! Reekie! (assorted: Kat Gollock, Ryan McGoverne, John Bryden)

Neu! Reekie! has received funding through our Open Project Fund. Michael Pedersen was one of the Scottish Book Trust’s Robert Louis Stevenson Fellows in 2015.

This article was published on 16 Mar 2016