Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

Not Fade Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday post reverts again to default Thursday – tsk, tsk – – –

Long lost and broken tape.

Back in 1997 just before Wendy and I married we visited my Mum and recorded her memories. She was almost ninety years old by then and although she was beginning to fail a bit her long term memory was still good.

I had tried a few times to record her stories but she always dried up as soon as the microphone appeared. However Wendy was an experienced folklorist with lots of skill in putting people at ease in these kind of situations.

So we ended up with almost an hour of wonderful stories about her early life, my early life, her father and grandfather and much more.

Dad - RAF

Bill – my Dad

Mum

Alice – my Mom

Just a few days ago my niece asked about the tape and coincidentally I had just found it again. So I went to copy it onto my computer and archive it more safely. To my horror I found that at some point in the past the tape had broken. I was mortified and full of guilt!

Out came the tiny screwdriver and apart came the cassette. After hours of painstaking work and endless attempts to re-thread the now repaired tape through the various wheels and gates it finally went together again. But would it work and had I done everything correctly?

I knew that it only had to play once but would it?

I plucked up courage, booted up the computer, opened the program, then hit play on the cassette machine. There was nothing but a hiss! I took out the cassette and it had survived OK. The only thing was to fast forward to the end and turn it over, but would it handle that without breaking again?

It did survive and I turned it and hit play – and out came Mum’s voice as if she was right there in the room!

It seems we only recorded one side and put the label on the other side. The break, instead of being near the beginning was actually at the end, so nothing was lost. But the odd thing is that the start clearly leads from a previous tape, so there’s another one I need to find now.

I’m pleased to say that the recording is not only on the computer but also up in my DropBox in the sky, and as soon as I find that other cassette it will go there as well. I just hope I don’t have to use that wee screwdriver again!

The moral? Get these fragile cassettes digitized and saved safely or you will regret it!

 

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Filed under between books, blue funks, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: The Story of the Tweed

Jack gets to do the book review this week –

The Story Of the Tweed by Herbert Maxwell

I’m not usually all that keen on travel books, but this one intrigued me as it’s about a part of Scotland with which I’m familiar. In fact I was there in June this year with my tour group, as I have been every other year for the last fourteen.

This is a facsimile reprint of a book first published in 1909, but it holds up well and could easily have been written more recently.

Maxwell traces the journey of the river Tweed from its source near Moffat to the North Sea at Berwick. But he takes a good few side turnings to explore the countryside, adjacent towns and other smaller rivers that feed into the Tweed.

river_tweed

The Tweed with the Eildon Hills in the background

Of course this is ‘ballad country’, and Maxwell was clearly well acquainted with many of them – many are quoted, including ‘The Dowie Dens o Yarrow’, ‘True Thomas’, ‘Johnnie Armstrong’ and more. Walter Scott’s famous ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ is the definitive collection and it would seem Maxwell had his own copy!

The writing is excellent, descriptive and humorous. Much of Scotland’s history was played out in this ‘debatable land’ covering the much disputed border with England. Again the author proves himself well up to the task of dissecting and explaining the history as he leads us along. Like most of my generation my schooling included very little Scottish history so it’s through books like this that I’ve had to re-educate myself.

Maxwell is clearly a big fan of Walter Scott, who lived the last part of his life in his mansion beside the Tweed. It’s clear also that he, like Scott was a big supporter of the union of Scotland and England. However I think the reason was more to do with the ending of cross border raids and the establishment of peace than for the economic reasons Scott espoused.

If you can find a copy then I highly recommend this to anyone with connections to the area or with an interest in Scottish history and balladry. Fans of Outlander will also recognize some familiar themes!

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Onward and Upward – – –

Jack gets there in time again –

maslow

I’ve seen a lot recently about encouraging young folk to go for trades rather than university and I absolutely approve of that. I had a fairly miserable time at High School and only really enjoyed French, Art and Woodwork. So I left school at age fifteen with no formal qualifications and entered my apprenticeship as a house-painter and sign writer.

But the messages I’ve seen all concentrate on the amount of money to be made from the likes of plumbing or electrical work and I’d like to suggest that there are other, sometimes surprising, positive outcomes from following the trade path.

As part of my training I attended the local college and discovered that I could go there in the evenings and get the academic qualifications I’d failed to garner at school – English and Math. So I wound up with them plus the highest trade diploma in my specialism. Some years later this proved to be required for me to become a lecturer in the construction department of that same college.

That’s when I really finally entered higher education. I attended Jordanhill teacher training college in Glasgow and studied educational psychology among many other things. That was when I first encountered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was a revelation to me and cropped up regularly during my career progression from lowly part-time lecturer in painting, full-time lecturer, senior lecturer, head of the construction department and finally senior manager. It was only five years before my retirement that I finally attended Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to gain my MBA.

Through all this Dr Maslow kept cropping up and nudging me – from student motivation through to team dynamics and leadership styles and even marketing strategies!

But it’s not just dry academic stuff. I look around the world right now and I can see how lucky I’ve been. I mean that I’ve managed to hover around the top of the pyramid, while an awful lot of folk aren’t so lucky. So the hierarchy of need continues to haunt me.

And – yes – follow a trade by all means. You won’t necessarily make a fortune but you might be surprised where it takes you!

 

 

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Monday Book – The Rituals of Dinner – Margaret Visser

Jack gets to review the Monday book this week –

dinner

This book is both fascinating and frustrating.

Visser chose a strange way to progress her story, not chronologically as might be expected, but by topics. This results in a good deal of repetition – revisiting the Greeks, Romans, medieval Europeans etc in every chapter. Other reviewers have suggested the book could have been a good deal shorter and more readable and I’m inclined to agree.

On the other hand I found it hard to put down because of all the really interesting stuff scattered throughout. Although her specialty is literature, she is clearly a fine anthropologist as well. There are a good few references to folk motifs that I’m familiar with and was a bit surprised to find in a book about table manners. In fact, although the title suggests a fairly narrow focus, Visser ranges pretty widely around the central subject.

You could be forgiven for expecting this book to be about table manners and how to behave at the dinner table. It actually starts with cannibalism, goes through the development of tables and chairs, covers the invention of forks and spoons, deals with social attitudes in different cultures and a host of other loosely food related matters.

I think what was perhaps a bit startling for me was recognizing familiar dinner table and restaurant situations and for the first time understanding what lay behind them – everything from the placing of a knife (blade towards you and not your neighbor) to signaling the time to change courses.

The final chapter examines present day mores including the fast food culture – reflecting another book – ‘The MacDonaldization of Society’ by George Ritzer, but that’s another story – –

I have some reservations about Visser’s book, but if you don’t mind skimming here and there, it’s still fascinating stuff!

 

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The Monday Book: The Last Days of the Sioux Nation.

Jack gets to do the book review this week –

The Last Days of the Sioux Nation – Robert M. Utley

sioux nation

My interest in this subject was sparked by a song. My old singing friend John Watt and I, both from the same small town in Scotland, knew that Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show had played there during its final European tour. He was intrigued enough to do a lot of research and wrote the song.

He discovered that among the performers was a group of Sioux who had been ‘paroled’ from a South Dakota reservation by Cody. I started singing the song a few years ago and when Wendy and I decided to plan a road trip we wanted to include the Black Hills and the Badlands. On that trip we also took in Wounded Knee and the Crazy Horse monument.

More recently we repeated the journey with a couple of Scottish friends and this time added in a visit to Little Big Horn. Along the way, on both trips, we naturally picked up a good few books that filled out our knowledge. In addition, I found an excellent book by the Scottish writer James Hunter called Glencoe and the Indians that added another layer of fascinating hidden history.

Utley’s book is probably the best I’ve come across covering this whole sad period. The period he covers is about ten years around 1890 and takes us from Little Big Horn to after Wounded Knee. His excellent research describes the tensions within the different Sioux sub-divisions as well as the rivalries between the US army and the Department of the Interior. The Sioux were reeling from the many broken promises, particularly around their sacred Black Hills and Badlands. Their final attempt to revive their lost way of life was to embrace the ‘Ghost Dance’ and this was grossly misunderstood by the Federal authorities and particularly the army.

Utley includes a collection of photographs from the period including the main actors as well as notable places such as Wounded Knee creek.

In Hunter’s book he points up the similarities between the experiences of the Sioux and those of the Highlanders who were cleared off their Scottish land. The real irony is that some of those Scots ended up in America and took a leading part in the Sioux clearances!

There’s a well known story that a few of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Sioux left his show in Glasgow and settled there. What we do know is that a popular Glasgow museum recently returned a ghost shirt to the US that they had had in their collection for over one hundred years.

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this dreadfully sorry period in US history – five stars!

 

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If Music be the Food of – – –

Jack easily gets in under the wire this time – –

I have a fascination with certain musical instruments – some of which I can play and others I wish I could. Guitars, obviously, but also various reed instruments such as the concertina, melodeon and even the jaw harp.

A few years ago I built Wendy a rather nice harp from a kit and noticed that the company also had a hurdy-gurdy in their catalogue. Now, that I would love to make, and it’s long been on my bucket-list!

But before I get to that there’s another project awaiting.

heritage organ

Heritage with the pump organ

Back in the early 1980s when my old folk band Heritage was young we somehow got hold of a portable pump organ. Imagine an accordion turned on its side with pedals to operate the bellows! We had just recruited Mike Ward who was an excellent keyboard player so it provided a lovely wheezy bass to our music. Of course we knew little about how it worked and were probably very lucky that it continued to.

Wendy and I love visiting antique and thrift stores and I’m always interested to see what instruments they have. Very occasionally there will be a pump organ, but they’re usually not portable. However a few years ago we came across one in NC for a reasonable price and bought it. That’s when I began to learn what went on inside them. Because the bellows was – knackered – – –

I was able to make enough temporary repairs to push air through the reeds and we discovered they all worked and were in tune! Since then I have looked at it and promised myself (and Wendy) that I’d get it working again, but still it sits.

pump

Are you going to fix me this time?

A few days ago I said I’d love to get that hurdy gurdy kit – – –

“As soon as you finish the pump organ” she said.

hurdy

Me next!

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Monday Book – My Song is my Weapon

My Song is my Weapon – Robbie Lieberman (1995)

Reviewed by Jack Beck

Once upon a time (actually about eighteen years ago) Wendy and I were booked to perform at the Orkney Folk Festival off the north coast of Scotland. The festival took place in various venues in Stromness and we were accommodated in a lovely old hotel overlooking the harbor. Not surprisingly the hotel bar was a favorite gathering place late at night after the official concerts and ceilidhs were finished.

stromness-hotel

One night we found ourselves chatting to a young American lassie who said she had published a book we might find interesting! I immediately bought a copy and have now read it for maybe the fifth time –

As a young man in the late 1950s and early 1960s I was developing my left of center political views as well as a strong interest in folk songs. So I was well aware of Pete Seeger, the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, the connections to Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson.

What I didn’t know was what had preceded this in the US and where all these people had in their turn served their apprenticeship, both politically and musically.

my song is

Lieberman’s book was a revelation to me in many ways –

First of all I had no idea how large and popular the US Communist Party was in the 1930s and how well accepted that generally was. Then again, I knew nothing about the ‘popular front’ and was fascinated to see how that had helped generate the ‘folk revival’ of the 1950s and 1960s.

There was much that was familiar too – the ‘redscare’, McCarthyism, the blacklist and so on.

I have to admit that on first reading I found the book pretty dense and hard going. However each time I’ve re-read it I’ve found it not just easier but more enlightening. Each time I find more gems I’d missed before!

I can thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in 1930s US politics, the roots and routes of the 1950s folk revival or all three!

 

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