Welcome to Unbound 2018

To get a flavour of this year's programme we pose ten questions to Unbound mastermind Roland Gulliver

Feature by The Skinny | 03 Jul 2018

For those who have never been to an Unbound event, could you give an overview?
For 16 nights, Unbound takes place in the Book Festival’s Spiegeltent in Charlotte Square Gardens. It’s free, it’s informal and it’s fun. It begins around 9pm, finishes around 11.30pm, and each night is different. Authors, performers, musicians and artists come together on stage to share stories, celebrate books and relax at the end of a festival day. It brings together authors who have been appearing at the Festival, some of Scotland’s most interesting live literature and a selection of international friends and partners. 

Unbound has become a staple of the Edinburgh International Book Festival line-up. Why do you think it's gained such an esteemed reputation? What is it about the Unbound atmosphere that's different?
I feel very honoured that Unbound has gained such a respected reputation over the years. The atmosphere is created partly by the venue – the Spiegeltent at night has such a great vibe which really appeals to both audiences and authors – in particular, musicians love to come back and perform here. And this year, we will have a new bigger and better Spiegeltent! Very exciting.

I feel like we have built a kind of community with Unbound. I hope there’s a sense of ownership beyond the festival – it gives authors and artists the chance to do something different, a place to take risks if they want, to have fun. It’s a night time venue where people come and relax, enjoy a drink but are respectful and attentive of who is on stage. Audiences discover new artists and authors – Billy Letford performed before he was published, Be Charlotte performed before heading to headline Scottish music festivals... It's where you get to see some legends up close – Nile Rodgers and Neil Gaiman being two classics from the past!

The work challenges, guarantees something different – it might not suit everyone every night – but always offers a quality night out inspired by books and stories.

How do you approach programming the Unbound bill?
Creating the Unbound programme is a deliciously organic process. It quietly simmers away in the background while we make the ‘main’ programme then comes to the boil in May and June before serving up the event listings in July, to be feasted upon in August.

Overdone cooking analogies aside, the programme responds to authors and themes in the main Festival and looks to give the themes a special Unbound twist; it comes from conversations with friends and partners both in Scotland and overseas, some new, some longstanding Unbound partnerships; it comes from people pitching ideas to me and from me pitching ideas to partners. Overall, I aim to create a programme that is engaging, unexpected, diverse and entertaining.

Could you tell us about some programme highlights for 2018?
I am terrible at picking highlights – I can never have a favourite Unbound child! We will celebrate our partnership with the Edinburgh Comic Art Fair with Andrew Rae hosting a night of music, performance and live drawing inspired by his Moonhead and the Music Machine; this will definitely make the most of our new look Spiegeltent.

I am really excited about the international elements of this year’s programme, with partners in Rio’s FLUPP Festival and Barcelona City of Literature bringing some brilliant ideas to the festival. Brazilian artists will be re-interpreting poetry through body language which simply just has to be seen; poets and musicians from Barcelona are giving voice to their changing times, and the bringing together of Irish musicians and poets with Scotland’s own Aidan O’Rourke and Brighde Chaimbeul will make for a special Friday night.

Our long-standing Babble On weekend knocks it out of the park with some of Britain’s best with Outspoken Press on one night then Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip on the next. Again, championing the energy, poetry and politics of spoken word.

The programme features a broad range of performers, from new starts to celebrating Macmillan’s 175th birthday. How core is it to Edinburgh to showcase and celebrate talent at all stages in their career?
It is so important for Unbound to present a range of voices and artists, especially those from the local scene. So it is great that Interrobang are joining Unbound this year. I’m intrigued to see what their Edinburgh Bible will bring. Also, it is about challenging people’s preconceptions of established authors and this year we bring in Marcus Sedgwick and Gill Arbuthnott, normally seen surrounded by teens and small people in the children’s programme.

There's a mix of formats – spoken word, podcasts, gigs – is it a conscious effort for you to try new ideas and break the mould of what events at a book festival can be?
Yes, definitely. We set up Unbound to offer something different to our audiences, to challenge the distorted stereotypes of what a book festival event is. It is also a space for us to experiment with different kinds of event performances and content to see how our audience respond. It is important for us to have a space to take creative risks.

Over the years, Ross Sutherland has done some brilliant Unbound events and this year will be presenting his award-winning podcast, Imaginary Advice, an event that mixes storytelling, soundscapes, exploring how the spoken word and music respond in a live performance.

There's a strong musical contingent, from the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers to Anthony Joseph's night on Calypso Stars – can you tell us more about the musical programme?
The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers exemplify why music is so integral to the Unbound programme – not just because it brings a different kind of energy and entertainment but because the relationship between writers, musicians and performers is intermingled with many artists working across creative genres depending on their project.

Acclaimed musician and novelist, James Yorkston, who is hosting our closing night, brings together elements of his spoken word music night Tae Sup Wi a Fifer and his international music collaboration, Yorkston Thorne Khan.

Anthony Joseph is another great example, he is a poet and musician who has written a fictional biography of Lord Kitchener, a calypso icon; a tale that encapsulates the Windrush Scandal.

Amidst the fun of the programme, it also tackles serious issues – including freedom of expression in Catalonia, ideas of privacy – why do you feel it's important for festivals, and literature in general, to explore issues head on?
It is massively, massively important to explore these kinds of issues in the Book Festival. Books themselves offer places to explore intellectual, emotional ideas, they are where we can find understanding, where we find the complexity and nuance in these increasingly simplified, polarised times. We aren’t arrogant enough to think we can provide all the answers but hope we can offer a space where we can safely ask the questions.

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas will bring four presenters to argue on four disparate challenging subjects and explore how we use our freedom of expression.

Although Unbound is about entertainment, enjoying a drink and the atmosphere, it is also about engaging in ideas and events happening in Scotland and beyond. But that doesn’t make it an either/or thing, some of the most celebratory nights have come from the most serious of subjects.

What do you hope people take away from attending Unbound events?
I hope people leave Unbound feeling refreshed, invigorated, inspired. Maybe they discovered a new writer, found a favourite they missed earlier in the festival, maybe they laughed a lot, maybe they realised book festivals are different places than they expected, maybe they should come back tomorrow night even if it’s another school night…

If you could sum up Unbound nights in three words, what would they be?
I can never do short, simple answers…

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