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This was the guitar of probably the first person to play the music of Leadbelly on British television, in the early 1960s. Rory McEwen presented (and sang and played on) the show Hullabaloo, a TV programme featuring folk and blues that ran for a few years with guests such as Long John Baldry and Sonny Boy Williamson. It was a big influence on musicians such as Van Morrison, who said McEwen (seen on left below) was the only person who could play like Leadbelly.

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Based in Edinburgh and an artist McEwen inevitably encountered Richard Demarco the champion of Joseph Beuys in the UK. So another claim to fame is the film McEwen made of a trip to Rannoch Moor with Beuys. The Scotsman review of the current exhibition (until 22nd September) at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the recent one at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh tells more:

The film was taken on a dreich day in the summer of 1970 when a convoy of cars leftEdinburgh containing Beuys, McEwen and Demarco, taking The Road to the Isles, headed for the Celtic land of Tír na nÓg, the ‘Land of Forever Young’, where at midsummer the sun sets and rises within a brief moment. Beuys called a halt at the edge of Rannoch Moor, emerged from his car and shaped a “large slab of gleaming and quivering semi-transparent gelatine and proceeded to sculpt it into the organic shape he thought fit to hold symbolically above the moor’s surface”, recalls Demarco. All the while, McEwen filmed it on his cine-camera and the result was performed twice a day for a week at that year’s festival.

“I remember complaining about the heavy rain and poor visibility,” says Demarco, but Beuys replied, “All weather is good weather.”

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(copyright Estate of Rory McEwen)

It was through Richard Demarco that I also found Joseph Beuys. I went to the Edinburgh Festival every year for a number of years and always made a point of visiting the exhibitions and theatre events he organised. My sister had an interview for a job with him once too!

McEwen’s own art, although he is principally known for his botanical drawings and paintings, was also wonderfully varied with glass sculptures (as shown in Scotland with one at Kew) and almost abstract images as well as naturalistic botanical work of stunning simplicity and beauty.DSC02862

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McEwen died age 50 in 1982 and his importance had rather faded into obscurity but these exhibitions and the accompanying book, The Colours of Reality, have given him back his place in history.

For further information:

http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/whats-on/rory-mcewen/artist-musician/index.htm

http://www.scotsman.com/what-s-on/music/renaissance-man-rory-mcewen-s-work-in-new-exhibitions-1-2926470

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