Lau folk supergroup musician Martin Green on the story behind his latest podcast The Portal

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When musician Martin Green thought up a tale about an eccentric collector of folk songs, a free-spirited Scottish woman partially based on Yoko Ono, and a love story in which in a series of archival recordings they leave messages for each other, he decided to make it into a theatrical spectacle, with audiences gathering in a tent to turn their heads and puzzle their ears. What’s there not to like about it? Not much, but just in case, Green even throws in some Morris dancing and a hefty dose of rave culture from the late 20th century.

The South Bank Centre in London was looking forward to showing the show this summer, and it was already planned by the Edinburgh International Festival for its 2021 program. Covid-19 then happened. Undeterred, Green and his partners have absolutely turned the production into something else, including theater director Wils Wilson, playwright David Greig, actress Alison Peebles, electronic musician James Holden and Adrian Utley, guitarist for Portishead’s Mercury Prize-winning trip-hop legends.

Called The Gateway, it is described for uncommon times as “a fictional podcast for unusual times.” It is narrated by a character named MG (voiced by Green, one-third of the Scottish folk supergroup Lau) and starts with his meeting with a character known as The Tup during his father’s May 1 morris dance. At the time of this first meeting, MG was nine years old. The year is 1988, the height of the rave era, and the second summer of love is a period frequently referred to. For MG, not.

The Tup is basically a Morris dancer in costume who looks like a giant ram. Young MG acknowledges this, but the beast nevertheless infiltrates his dreams and remains with him into adulthood, an ever-present demonic force at the edge of his subconscious. When he sees a picture of the same Tup in a folk dance journal, he goes to find answers that lead him to the work of folk archivist and collector Etteridge (voiced by Dylan Read) and to the soulmate of Etteridge, Angela (played by Anna Russell Martin and Alison Peebles). As MG tracks them down, she is 90, but we hear her and Etteridge’s love tale in flashbacks and in the battery of recordings used when he bounces back and forth between eras in the podcast’s 12 chapters.

From his home in the Midlothian village of Pathhead, which is also home to a bevy of Scottish folk and jazz talent and where he lives with his partner, Shetland-born musician Inge Thomson, Green says, “We had talked about doing an audio version anyway, because there’s so much sound in the show and we’ve done so much sound design for it,” “But right at the start of the lockdown it became clear pretty quickly that we couldn’t play live, and fortunately for us all the principals were happy to make that change. It was a surprisingly happy switch to audio, and I’d do more of it.”

It also helped that otherwise busy collaborators such as Utley, Holden, and sound designer Eloise Whitmore, who collaborated on the acclaimed Tunnel 29 BBC podcast, all had time on their hands (and a home studio for recording music in Utley’s case).

In Green’s own family history, the root of The Portal’s plot lies. His father was originally a Morris dancer, born in Sheffield and raised in Cambridge, and as a child, Green was actually taken to dance at dusk in May. He later became active in the free festival circuit around Cambridge, which was mostly focused on folk music but intersected with the new-age traveler groups in the late 1980s and early 1990s that were such a significant part of rave culture.

As a kid, I wasn’t really aware of the rave, but I always thought it was fascinating that during that period we were all dancing out there at dusk, in our own way,”I wasn’t really aware of rave as a kid, but I always thought it was interesting that we were all out there dancing at dusk during that time, in our own way,” “I feel like I got some of the rave culture, and I always felt like it was more similar to traditional music in its social makeup than I might have expected, in terms of people being aware of the heritage, how the music had evolved, and who its pioneers were at different points.”

Green draws on both the distinctions and connections between rave culture and folk practices in The Portal. This synthesis of liberation and confinement is represented by his two main characters, Etteridge and Angela .

“A folk song collector is one of our characters.

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