By Niall Christie
Loud, brash and often provocative, former Hector Bizerk MC Louie John Lowis is back, this time tackling one of Scotland’s salient issues with a slightly unfamiliar medium.
Arriving at the Platform Theatre after a slow and tentative wander through, what looked to be through my unfamiliar, Dundonian eyes, deepest, darkest Easterhouse, I’m come over with slight confusion. Expecting a small, community theatre I am instead inside a modern, spacious building, housing a huge range of spaces. Everything from a local cafe to a swimming pool, I ask for and am led through to the practice space for Inheritance, Lowis’ upcoming theatre-writing debut.
As I pass through the blacked-out doors to the theatre itself I find rehearsal in full swing. Director Claire Bee, dawning a high vis vest, directs me to the writer himself.
Lowis looks every part the former rapping frontman I have enjoyed multiple times before. Casual, concentrating and lost in critical thought on the eve of the play’s debut, he enthusiastically jumps up out of his chair in the theatre’s balcony and introduces himself.
I take a seat in a slightly quieter area of the building and grab some water, quickly realising that despite having the flamboyance and theatrical spark of a playwright, Louie John Lowis is hardened by experiences, both within the arts and in society, a quality which was obvious throughout the following night’s performance.
“I was approached about a year ago by Platform, and they were really interested in me, because Hector Bizerk was so reactive to social constructs and to the economic challenges of, not just life in Glasgow, but life in Scotland or wherever. He was in to the idea of running an artist’s residency that wasn’t about paint or sculpture, but to do somethign responsive to our suroundings.
“It was a great opportunity to have some space and time to develop my piece that, otherwise, I wouldn’t have. I sort of had the story around the idea of refugees and asylum seekers landing in Glasgow as I grew up in an area where there was no ethnic diversity.
When he was in school, that changed overnight. Legislation meaning that councils could earn money by taking in asylum seekers meant an influx of people from across the globe moved into the city’s schemes.
“The crisis in Kosovo was going on at the time,” said Lowis. “Bus loads of refugees were arriving from Calais and my dad was a volunteer who went and picked them up from Dover and brought them to the red road. I was a wee guy so I never really understood the significance of it at the time.
“So I always had an understanding that I wanted to behave accordingly when meeting people from other cultures. Learn from them instead of disparaging them. It was a real change in the way Glasgow looked and that was the starting point, even if I didn’t know it was going to be a play at first.
“This is the first run at it. The quickest way to realise it was to include lots of other people and Platform gave us the chance to develop it.
Inheritance, written as part of Lowis’ year long residence at Platform, is not your ordinary stage show.
A live, original score, dialogue that would make a UKIP supporter wince and spoken word poetry embedded throughout, this challenging of Scotland’s racists and sectarian disease cuts close to the bone on many occasions.
But that, as I am told by the writer, is the entire point.
“It’s looking at an area of Glasgow, the Sighthill flats, where there are people who are third generation unemployed. And the divisive misinformation feeds a real jealousy and fear of the ‘other’ and I wanted to explore that.
“My family are from an Irish Republican background, and I have always felt Scottish, but there is always in the back of my mind my history and I want to see people treat people how I would have liked my ancestors to be treated.
“The play centres on a Nigerian boy who has just moved to Glasgow and a family, the McGregors, who are ‘staunch orange’ and the way he interacts with the way that wars are celebrated here hundreds of years later and complaining about their living conditions when he’s come from a place with no running water. In the grand scheme of things, does it all really matter?
“But really, one of the big factors in me doing this is that I think the Scottish definition of sectarianism is often wrong. Sectarianism exists in the Gaza strip or the West Bank, or in Rome during football there when fans do Nazi salutes.
“I have a real issue with the Government’s Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. While some of the language used on both sides of the fence in Glasgow is violent, much of it isn’t. There is a real caricature of the working class in Scotland as being violent and mindless and a lot of that stems from the football on a Saturday. It does my nut in.
“We’re using language that is unacceptable, there are some songs in it that are unacceptable, but they just roll off the tongue and that is everyday language for everyone.
“We want people to feel uncomfortable about it. We want to shock, we want to show people this is something that is reality for a lot of people and something needs to be done.”
Plans to write and produce an entire album are next on the agenda for the rapper.
With similar projects in his past, like The Waltz of Modern Psychiatry album following the production of stage show Crazy Jane, I am told to expect an LP which can accompany Inheritance. With an original score already prepared for the show itself, some of the creative process is already in motion.
“We sold out within two days and that made us think, “Oh shit, we better make this work”.
“I’ve skeleton-written a record, but I thought I would have to punt that first for people to come along. but it sold out before we even finished the material. So we parked the music to get this right.
Unusually, intentions for the show itself remain reasonably modest. With its hard-hitting message and controversial take on inter-personal relation in the poorest of Scotland’s housing estates,
Lowis sees the future of Inheritance in schools, as well as in theaters. An idea, he stresses, which is not only close to his heart but seen as imperative to progression if the state of race and religious relations are to improve.
“I want this to stimulate discussion, that’s what all good art should do. People should be annoyed at some of the lines in it, people should be offended. And I want them to be fucking offended. If we can’t achieve that then we haven’t achieved what we set out to do.
“If somebody takes me aside and tells me they were uncomfortable, I’ll tell them good, because it’s real, and you need to tell people that. And maybe realise that some of the language you use can make people feel uncomfortable.
“But I would like it to go on tour, all around Scotland, and to Ireland as well. I think there are a lot of myths about who we are in Glasgow but we coexist. Football tribalism, sectarianism, racism, fascism are all different. Football tribalism is OK, but the rest of it can fuck off.
“There’s a company who have approached me about taking it further but I’m going to write the record through the summer and then I’m not really attached to anything creatively, so I think, with my skeleton of ideas and the music we have created for the play, it could be the start of something that could escalate.
“I don’t feel nervous at all. I know, not in a cocksure or arrogant way that the team are fantastic, the dialogue is good. They are all my friends and we’re all proud of what we’ve managed to create. There’s nothing to worry about, so once the play is on we’ll take it from there.”