A few years ago, the director Stewart Laing invented a character called Paul Bright. He was a Glasgow performance artist who had staged an epic adaptation of Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg in the 1980s, and Laing assembled the press cuttings, posters and first-hand memories to prove it.
In another parallel universe, 12 miles east in Airdrie, a band called Memorial Device were acquiring a similar cult status. As imagined by David Keenan in his 2017 novel, they grew out of the ashes of North Lanarkshire combos with names like Occult Theocracy and might even have supported Sonic Youth had they not split up. Those other local bands were good – Chinese Moon, who represented themselves on stage as mannequins, were particularly notable – but Memorial Device were the special ones.
You can see how special by the look on Paul Higgins’ face. The actor plays fanzine editor and local newspaper stringer Ross Raymond, who has gathered us all in the Wee Red Bar – which, in the throwaway design of Anna Orton, looks like just the kind of dive Memorial Device would have played – to celebrate not only the band but that moment when an unlovely town could seem like the centre of the cultural universe.
In director Graham Eatough’s lovingly detailed adaptation, Higgins retains the boyish sense of wonder that compelled Raymond to interview all concerned for a fanzine that never reached its second edition. However deranged their adolescent theories, however wayward their musical and literary tastes, he accepts them all with puppyish openness; thrilled even when he is bewildered.
This collaboration between the Royal Lyceum and the Edinburgh international book festival captures the nerdish enthusiasm of a time in life when everything – books, poetry, songs, art – has a life-or-death intensity. “I’ve never been able to enjoy a paperback without wanting to commit myself to it forever,” says Raymond, not making a grandiose claim, just a statement of fact.
Higgins is excellent and, in a seamlessly integrated production, is well served by Stephen McRobbie’s score, Martin Clark’s video design and a series of very credible vox pops. How long before the box-set retrospective?