Puff piece: solo piping at the Highland Games in Dunoon. Photo: Getty
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Better with the sound turned low: BBC Radio Orkney’s Pipeline

Highlights from day one of the Northern Meeting solo bagpipe competition. 

BBC Radio Orkney’s weekly show Pipeline (Saturdays, 9.05pm) was devoted, this episode, to giving the highlights from day one of the Northern Meeting solo bagpipe competition. Since the bagpipe is not an instrument that fully lends itself to a quiet night in, Pipeline is always best approached with the sound turned low. Even then, prepare to be harried for 55 minutes by the mental image of mottled-kneed pipers with cream kilt hose going into ghillie brogues without the intervention of discernible ankles.

The star of the show was Callum Beaumont, who played an untitled tune (among a clutch of old songs rather George R R Martinishly known among the piping fraternity as “the nameless ones”) that went on for 12 minutes and 38 seconds, only to be dismissed by the piper afterwards as “very short”.

You can rely on pipers to be economical with their responses. When, later in the show, the presenter Gary West pointed out, “That’s a lot of tunes you’ve had to get under your belt in the last few months. How on earth did you go about that?” Beaumont replied with devastating finality, “Hard work.” And then, like a steelworker pulling his mask down in a foundry, added, “Hard work through the winter.”

The chat between the music on Pipeline is soothingly despondent. Rarely do you get the feeling that the life of even a star piper is much fun. Gary likes nothing more than talking about Angus MacKay, Queen Victoria’s piper at Balmoral, who suffered from desolating mental health issues and wound up in an asylum in Dumfries from which he wandered out one day in 1859 only to drown in the River Nith. “A bad end to a great career,” he admitted, equably.

West’s level of fandom is pitched just right. You suspect that he is someone whose response to bagpipes stops at admiration rather than love; because of this, he never sounds weird, even after 15 straight minutes of a Mr Liddell playing what sounded like a repeated and astonishing scream of brakes liable to give even the god of thunder a migraine.

“Another chance there to hear Stuart playing ‘The Pap of Glencoe’,” said Gary, evenly, as though all this were perfectly normal.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

My Scientology Movie
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Is Louis Theroux’s new film, My Scientology Movie, “banned” in Ireland?

The film isn’t getting an Irish release – could the country's blasphemy and defamation laws be to blame?

The Church of Scientology is a touchy subject. So touchy, in fact, that the plot of Louis Theroux’s new documentary, My Scientology Movie, revolves around the controversial church’s refusal to appear in on camera. As the institution becomes more and more impenetrable, Theroux’s film uses dramatic readings and re-enactments (alongside more traditional methods like interviews with former Scientologists and scenes showing their attempts at access) to get to the heart of the subject.

Now, Theroux is discovering new complications as his film approaches release. As the buzz around the feature grew, Irish entertainment sites began to notice that although a UK distributor, Altitude, was attached to the project, there was no release date listed for Irish cinemas, nor an Irish distributor. This sparked concern among those familiar with Irish blasphemy and defamation laws – Alex Gibney’s 2015 Scientology documentary, Going Clear, did not secure an Irish theatrical release over libel claims.

The 2009 Defamation Act states that any “person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000”. Blasphemous matter is defined as anything that is “insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, and that intends to cause outrage.

There is a loophole in the law, if it can be proved that “a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” in the work. The law also states that blaspemhy laws do not apply to an organisation or “cult” that prioritises making financial profit or manipulates followers and new recruits. Scientology isn’t officially recognised as a church in Ireland, but it’s unclear whether or not it counts as a religion under the acts definitions.

It’s important to note that the decision not to show the film in Ireland lies with the distributors – this is not a case of the Irish government banning the film from cinemas, as many have been keen to point out on Twitter. As this is at their discretion, it also means we might never know for sure why they decided not to go for an Irish release.

Altitude had this to say in a statement:

Altitude Film Distribution currently has no plans for a theatrical release of My Scientology Movie in Ireland, and has no further comment to make at this time.

Informative, GRMA guys!

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.