Mairi Campbell and Kath Burlinson on the story of Pulse

Mairi Campbell and Kath Burlinson at the the List magazine's party at Summerhall, Edinburgh
Mairi Campbell and Kath Burlinson at the List magazine’s party at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Mairi Campbell and Authentic Artist Collective founder Kath Burlinson have been collaborating together since 2009. Their latest work Mairi Campbell: Pulse is running at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 3-28 August.

In the last of this three-part series, Mairi and Kath talk about where the story of Pulse came from, the journey from trad musician to theatre and what Mairi has learned since starting her journey with Pulse.


Where did the story of Pulse come from? Talk a bit about your creative process.
Mairi: The story is my experience in 1990 of leaving music college, travelling/backpacking for a few months in Mexico and then heading up to Cape Breton, Canada where I heard Scottish fiddle music that blew me away.

I was a frustrated musician at the time. Trained to play viola in an orchestra, which I never wanted to do, but what I did want to do was understand music better, understand how it worked, why it’s so emotive, how to create it and play it – not just play a few composers from a very niche tradition of middle European classical music. I needed to be able to play with really good timing, and that was one thing that my training spent very little time on. There’s no emphasis on that in an orchestra, which I totally understand, but it was frustrating too. I couldn’t play a tune or sing a song from Scotland and that was doing my head in – it felt wrong. So, I left London, moved back to Scotland and threw myself into traditional music to find my feet again and carry on. 

The journey from trad musician to theatre. Why? How?

Mairi: There’s a rich seam to be explored between music and theatre. It’s been a gradual journey. Music takes many years to mature in a person, so when I felt that my timing (ability to keep a beat and swing) had ‘landed’ which was around 2011, then the next steps could be taken. I had three shows to find: one, a story from the female line of my family, the other, from the male line of the family, then my own story.

Kath: These stories became three shows, the first two performed by Mairi and Dave Francis (‘The Red Earth’ & ‘Revival!’) and now ‘Pulse’.

Mairi: Kath, Paul Oertel and his wife Nancy Spanier were all working with me to help me nurture the courage and skills required to make a solo show. It also helped that I was asked to work with Youth Music Theatre UK as music director for three productions in the last few years as well as creating ‘The Red Earth’ and ‘Revival!’, our own shows. These were important learning steps and again, came about through the Authentic Artist Collective. With such care for each person’s gifts to be brought out, what I didn’t see was seen and encouraged by my mentors. I am so grateful.

What have you learned about yourself since doing Pulse / how have you grown?

Mairi: Making shows, and digging in like this does require being able to experience pain! It does require tears and outrage. It does require positive disintegration. It’s been hard at times, but the result is so exciting that it gives me the courage and confidence to carry on.

Our whole culture needs positive disintegration, to find new narratives and it’s better for us to do it consciously, so we don’t inflict it on everyone else. I’ve discovered that I’m not as robust as I thought I was, that I can get very scared, that I also have the gift of music and can rest in strong pulse. Pulse is ballast and gravity.

A major change is the relevance people are now finding in native American and indigenous teachings. There’s a deep respect for the wisdom that is there, and for the nobility of character that it fostered. I think that it is a precious addition to our time, that the native peoples are speaking out.

Mairi Campbell: Pulse
3-28 AUG 14:25 (15:20), PREVIEWS: 3 & 4 / BSLI : 18 & 25, NO PERFORMANCE: 15 & 22
The Old Lab, Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL

Buy Pulse tickets here:

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