How five Glasgow grannies became a rapper's delight

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Karen Dunbar turns Glasgow grannies into rappers

This group of Glaswegian grannies might be more hip-op than hip hop, but rap music brought them together.

Pensioners Maggie, Susan, Wilma, Betty and Jean had no idea what they were doing when they signed up to join a rap workshop run by Scots comedian Karen Dunbar.

Over four weeks, they channelled love, loss and loneliness into their first rap song and performed it for their community.

The north Glasgow matriarchs may not have become the Maryhill Gang, but the joy on their faces after they smashed their big performance was pure rapper's delight.

Scots comedian Karen Dunbar was challenged with turning the five into lyrical supremos, and was moved by the outcome.

"This will stay with me forever," she said, as the novice rappers celebrated their achievement. "I'll never forget it."

Image source, Alan Peebles/BBC Scotland
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Comedian and actress Karen Dunbar took on the challenge

It all started during lockdown when Karen's work vanished. Gigs were cancelled and she "needed to do something for my sanity".

A friend asked Karen to work with her on a rap workshop she had arranged with a group of refugees.

"I love music, and I love speaking, so this was perfect," she said. "It just grew from there."

This mission to teach the grannies has been filmed by BBC Scotland for the one-off documentary Karen Dunbar's School of Rap. She says anyone expecting to see older ladies decked out in bling and rhyming will be disappointed.

"This is a story about community, about friendship, about family and about how a thing like rap, poetry and spoken word can empower people to tell their own stories - no matter who they are or where they come from," she said.

Image source, Alan Peebles
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Former homeless centre manager Jean sends "cupid prayers" to strangers to send them hope

The rap's lyrics start with a slew of "F" words: family, friends and faith.

Karen asked her "crew" to put into words what was important to them.

Jean Dallas said her faith got her through her biggest challenges, managing a homeless centre before she retired.

She now makes tablet for a nearby cafe to sell for hospice funds.

Her admission that she sends "cupid prayers" to people on the street to give them little arrows of love visibly moved her mentor.

Image source, Alan Peebles
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Susan McGinlay misses her husband, but said learning to rap had given her more laughs than she has had in a long time

In the film, Susan McGinlay admits she misses her husband Michael, who died 10 years ago.

"It was awful hard. It was a wonderful marriage. His spirit was unbelievable. I miss him terribly."

Susan has lived in Milton since "I was young, slim and had my real colour of hair" and dotes on her grandkids. She has found friendship in the group.

"I like people, it's nice you feel you belong. Social contact is essential and what we are doing now - I don't think I have laughed as much for a long, long time."

Image source, Alan Peebles / BBC Scotland
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Wilma and Betty visit a memorial garden every Monday to remember lost loved ones

Betty Todd and Wilma Dale met through the church and became best friends after Betty was seriously ill.

The pair visit Mosesfield Memorial Garden every week and tend a tribute to friends lost.

Betty said: "I went to the church and met Wilma, Mary and Irene. Irene was mad on Elvis. Her favourite colour was purple. We all just clashed together and had so much fun.

"Irene was my sister," said Wilma. "She passed away about 18 months ago from cancer. Mary was our other friend who passed away this year from cancer. It's been a difficult two years for Betty and I."

Image source, Alan Peebles
Image caption,
Maggie Cassidy stopped going out during lockdown

The last member of the bunch is Maggie Cassidy. Lockdown left her terrified of mixing and unable to visit her own mother.

Being part of the group has got her out of the house.

The day of the performance arrives and Karen asks the friends how nervous they are, on a scale of one to 10.

Maggie answers not with a number, but with fears of a forced visit to the loo.

"I'm scared of messing up and letting the lassies doon." she added.

"The Gallus" gave their performance leaving their teacher proud and the audience cheering.

"They gave it everything they had," Karen said.

"What more could you ask for?"

Karen Dunbar's School of Rap, BBC Scotland channel, Thursday 23 March at 22:30 GMT and afterwards on BBC iPlayer

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