Tuesday, 5 April 2011



GETTING HIGHERThe Complete Mountain Poems 

Getting Higher (again . . .)  Back in 1975, two young, bright-eyed musicians - Andrew Greig and James Hutcheson, were introduced to each other via a mutual musician mate who had also been at Edinburgh University. Jim was an illustrator for Canongate books at the time and when Greig said he had a book of poetry which might interest the publisher, he prepared some drawings to accompany the presentation. The folk at Canongate; Stephanie Wolfe Murray and Charles Wilde, were very interested and commissioned JH and AG to finish the project. This was to be called ‘Men on Ice’ - a book of poems with a distinctly Zen take on mountaineering, both physical and metaphorical.  Also working for Canongate at this time was Ruari Maclean. He was the doyen of British Book design   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruari_McLean 
JH and RM were to work together on various projects including Antonia Fraser’s ‘Scottish Love Poems’ and Alasdair Gray's'Lanark'.  Of particular interest to Jim and Andrew, was the fact that Ruari had worked on the Eagle comic for Marcus Morris in 1950 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_(comic) This highly illustrated publication, with it’s educational tales of derring do, had been one of their influences growing up in the 50s. Ruari had also worked with Berthold Wolpe (another stalwart of British Book Design) on various type headings within the comic - in fact, it was Wolpe who designed the Eagle masthead. As a homage to the comic, Dan Dare et al, Jim handpainted the lettering for ‘Men on Ice’ as a pastiche of the Eagle header. In those pre-digital days, the entire cover, front spine and back, was hand painted - actual size! He also provided all the illustrations for the interior of the book.
Two more collaborative books followed in the eighties and nineties respectively: i.e. ‘Surviving Passages’also Canongate and ‘Western Swing’ for Bloodaxe.  
In 2010, Andrew and Jim, having met up again after some years, suggested to Neville Moir (ex-Canongate, but now a Director of Polygon) that the three books might be re-published as one volume.  This idea was then extended to cover all the mountaineering poems and so also included poems from some other books; ‘This Life, This Life; New & Selected Poems’ and ‘At The Loch of the Green Corrie’  It was decided that the new volume be entitled ‘Getting Higher’. 
With some trepidation, Jim dusted down a lot of the old drawings and they now re-appear along with some ‘out takes’ from the seventies + some new drawings. As a further tip of the hat to the Eagle comic, the title page of Getting Higher has been re-drawn using Wolpe’s original 1950s letter forms. 

AG: I have to say 'GETTING HIGHER' is the most visually various and satisfying book I've ever been involved in, full of elegant and witty solutions to complex and multiple elements of texts, sketches, illustrations, out-takes, facsimiles of manuscript drafts, handwritten notes. I love books as visuals, as objects containing extras and surprises - goes back to the LPs I knew way back when. Though we conferred a lot together, the credit for GH's design must go to Jim.

(James Hutcheson is Birlinn's Creative Director)

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