Category Archives: Scotland

The Beat Goes On – –

Once again Jack scrapes in under the wire –
Back when I was on the teaching staff at Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week outside Asheville NC, one of the students who always attended my classes was Stefni. She sang in a choir in Pittsburgh that specialized in Eastern European music and she made their costumes. The last year I taught there Stefni didn’t show up and I wondered why. A few months later I received an email from her husband explaining she had died of a rare lung disease. That was very sad, but then he told us she had left her music and book library to us in her will! We were astonished and drove up there a few months later.
Sorting through her stuff was difficult and we came to an agreement to sell anything we didn’t want and split the proceeds. But that still left us with lots of stuff that never got put anywhere easily accessible.
Following our recent house move I’ve been sorting through the LPs and CDs from her collection that had never been properly stashed and I’ve been discovering amazing things. Mostly very rare English, Scottish and Irish recordings in excellent condition. It’s clear from the stickers on them that she was an avid collector and appreciated what she was finding.
So my upcoming radio shows will feature much from Stefni’s collection and keep her very clearly in my mind.
There’s no room here to list all the stuff, but it ranges from everything Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger ever recorded to very obscure albums by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.
Of course the books included full first editions of Child’s ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, Bronson’s ‘Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads’, and Sharp’s ‘English Folk-songs from the Southern Appalachians’.
I hope dear Stefni Agin is looking down approvingly at the continuing life of her amazing collection as I try to do justice to it.

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Filed under crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized

Branching Out – –

Jack hits the ground running and meets the deadline – for once – –

Regular readers may recall that I’m no fan of gardening. This goes back to my earlier life in West Fife, where the earth tends towards solid clay. So solid, in fact that I once fashioned a frog from it, let it dry in the sun (it does shine occasionally in Scotland) and couldn’t break it with a hammer! The soil was near impossible to dig and the only things that grew were weeds –

In profusion – – –

The odd thing is that my childhood hero was my Grandad, who was an enthusiastic and successful gardener. He grew vegetables and fruit for our table and roses in the front yard. But I do recall he had to dig an awful lot of horse manure in to get the ground into condition.

When Wendy and I married and moved to East Fife I was astonished at how easy it was to dig our back yard and plant potatoes. But it didn’t turn me into a gardener – the non-gardener seed had been sown long before. I grew up thinking that trying to grow stuff was some kind of Calvinist punishment for past or future sins.

But there are some outdoor chores you simply can’t get away from and for me that has been trees and grass. When we moved to Big Stone Gap we found we’d inherited three heirloom apple trees, a pear tree and a peach tree. I managed to allow one apple tree and the peach tree to die and then tried to trim one of the other apple trees, nearly killing it as well. The grass became less of a problem when I purchased a used riding mower (that’s also when I really became an American!).

Our new dwelling here in Wytheville has a big backyard with four enormous walnut trees and more equally big but more nondescript ones. The walnuts aren’t near enough to pose a danger but some of the others definitely did. One was looming over our house and the garage and the trusty odd-job man we inherited with the house took care of that. But maybe it’s just because I have a rechargeable cordless chainsaw that I eyed the smaller one that was, nevertheless, encroaching on the power line feeding the house. Or maybe I just can’t see a tree without wanting to trim it!

tree

The last branch’s last stand!

tree2

Et voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, everywhere from New Gilston to Wytheville, Wendy and I have gotten quite good at growing tomatoes from seed, so maybe there’s still hope?

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Tae see Oorsels as Ithers see Us, Y’all!

Will wonders never cease? Jack posts on time – – –

My good friend Dirk is the expert technical guru who records my radio shows at his excellent home recording studio. But his real expertise is in making videos and although officially retired, he continues to do that for his previous employer as an external contractor.

In the process of working on the radio programs he became fascinated by the background information on the music that I provide and that got him sucked into an idea.

So a few months ago he announced that he wanted to make a video documentary about my life with a core focus on me as an immigrant who chose to become an American. Running alongside that will be my professional career(s) and my musical life.

Scotland_American_flag

He started the project by videoing a series of interviews with me and that was quite intimidating! Almost from the start I decided to treat this like one of these personality tests where you answer questions without thinking too hard. The questions were mostly short and open, and my answers were usually lengthy. However, because I didn’t have any pre-warning of what the questions would be, I did occasionally have to ponder a bit.

The next stage is for Dirk to video interviews with Wendy and some of my friends, both here in the US and in Scotland.

Luckily he was recently in Scotland visiting his son Trevor who is studying at St Andrews University in my home county of Fife, so he could interview folk there. Equally luckily our musical buddy Alan Reid was passing through this way recently and Dirk was able to ambush him too.

The next stage is continuing to interview folk including a central figure to the story – Wayne Bean who first got me to the US back in the 1980s and then to WETSfm where the story continues.

I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during all this and have a clearer understanding of what brought me here. Despite all the practical and principled explanations I usually give (all perfectly true) I think underneath it all I was just ready for a completely new life!

But is that really possible?

I have been organizing small group tours of Scotland annually for the last twelve years. The first couple of times I had a definite sense of ‘going home’. However around year three I suddenly realized that boarding the plane to come back at the end I really was ‘going home’.

I think I have finally arrived at the point where I feel equally Scottish and American – not an American Scot or a Scottish American, but a US Citizen who will always be Scottish.

I’m waiting to see the finished documentary with both anticipation and trepidation – – –

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Always Look on the Bright Side – – –

Jack scrapes in under the wire as he does – occasionally – – –
I’m involved in a couple of interesting projects right now – one is a video documentary of my life by my friend Dirk who engineers my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’. The other is helping an older friend with his attempt to chronicle the early days of the Scottish folk revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Being of a certain age, now myself, there’s a good deal of poignancy as well as pleasure in recalling many happy memories of other friends, some of whom are no longer with us.
One of those is the wonderful singer Gordeanna McCulloch who was laid to rest just this morning in her beloved Glasgow.
gordeanna

Gordeanna with Wendy at our wedding. She let us use the pic for a story and song cassette.

She was one of the guests at our wedding twenty years ago in Auchtermuchty, and sang during the ceremony as part of the group ‘Palaver’. Another member of that group was Maureen Jelks who also sadly died recently. Others who were there and are no longer with us include John Watt and Duncan Williamson. When I first got interested in folk songs, John was my guide and mentor, while Duncan, a wonderful traveller storyteller and singer, became a close friend to us towards the end of his life. Also present then but now included in the ‘departed list’ are Mike Ward, who was a member of my old group ‘Heritage’ and Davy Lockhart, fiddle player with the group from the very beginning.
Despite this sad list, there are good reasons not to be gloomy, as many are still around and keeping in contact through the wonders of the internet. Another member of ‘Palaver’ was Aileen Carr, who kindly lent her gorgeous old house for our wedding and reception, and Davy’s wife Jean who handled the catering, my Best Man George Haig who still continues to amaze with his expertise on the autoharp, Colin who took many of the photographs (including the one of Wendy and Gordeanna, and drives the bus on my annual group tour of Scotland). And let us not forget the incredible Donna Marie, “Haint Mistress” of Abingdon, Virginia, who was Wendy’s Maid of Honor and had a grand adventure.
So, despite being well past the allotted ‘three score and ten’ (sounds like a song – and it is!) I continue to make new friends and take part in new adventures. That might explain why I remain in good health myself – much to Wendy’s relieved surprise!
Here’s to old friends and new, to memories and to new adventures –
Here’s tae us, wha’s like us – – – damn few, an’ there’s some o them deid.

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

To See Your Husband Honored

lockerbieLast week Jack and I went to catch the final performance of The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort. Central High School’s One Act team selected the play this year as their performance piece. Jan Thompson and Elaine Sheldon, director and choreographer, called in Jack to coach the team on Scots dialect and word choices.

Normally high school directors will let dialect go, Jan says, but since Jack was around….

It was love at first sight, between Jack and the students. The play is intense, set seven years after the crash when the investigations and recriminations are over, but the women in Lockerbie still find their lives in pieces from the trauma of that time. The women describe in graphic detail picking up body parts, seeing the sky on fire, having nowhere to put the grief of Americans who come seeking solace, or their own blame for America shooting down the Iranian airliner that led to Lockerbie as revenge.

The play is based on the true story of Lockerbie’s women petitioning to have 11,000 pieces of clothing, gathered from the crash sites and investigations, turned over to them to launder and return to the families of those on the flight. Families who never received bodies, because of the nature of the bomb and crash. They wanted to bring closure to a terrible time, but they also wanted to bring healing, mother to mother, woman to woman.

That part of the play, subtle though it might have been, was not lost on the high school students. Each time the play ended, the actors were still crying. The terrible sense of loss it carries, the recognition that we are sharing a world where we might have to suffer bad things because of others’ decisions, and the bittersweet win of the women being given the clothes of the crash victims, these are heavy things. The kids carried them so well.

What people may not recognize, unless they’re married to someone from Somewhere Else, is how much everyday life revolves around not bringing up the differences between life Here and There. Or the ways in which nationalities (or nationalism) divide us.

The affirmation of the high school students to my husband, shrieking and clapping and yelling his name, each time he was recognized as their dialogue coach, heals what others have said: he was a dirty foreigner who wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance; he didn’t deserve to vote, let alone run for office; he didn’t have to pay taxes because he was using foreign money laundering. Silly stuff in a hatemongering world. Small politics we dismissed from our minds. Emphasis on small.

But these kids, they embraced Jack as they embraced a play about world sadnesses and cracks in the walls of our defenses, airplanes that fly over them, feelings that one cannot find a way to wash away. Except by affirming kindness.

I loved seeing Jack honored by the younger generation, who don’t play the games the older ones might want to teach them. I am sorry for high school students in this era who are inheriting a nation divided, a cowardly new world to have such leaders in it, but I’m so proud of them for not letting hate have the last word.

It wasn’t just a play. It was an affirmation that the future has some bright spots–as well as some bright young minds–in it. Go forth and be kind, kids. The world needs what you’re bringing it.

lockerbie playAnd: thanks for making my husband feel good about what he contributed. He is a man of many gifts, and I’m so glad he got to use some of them with and for you.

 

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Filed under Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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Will ye no Come Back Again – –

Jack gets in under the wire with his Wednesday guest post –

I’ve been helping a group of local high school kids prepare for a ‘one act play’ competition, by coaching them in their Scottish accents. The play is called ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ by Deborah Brevoort, and is set in the aftermath of the downing of Pan-Am 103 on December 21st 1988, with the loss of everyone on board and a good few residents of the town too.

women of lockerbie

I decided that for our first meeting I would revisit my memories of that terrible day to give them a bit of context and also to put me back into the same space they would be occupying.

This is a bit like remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot, or on 9/11!

I remember very clearly the unrolling news during that day. In late afternoon all the TV stations were reporting what seemed to be two unrelated incidents. The first was a plane mysteriously disappearing from radar as it crossed the border from England to Scotland. The second was an explosion in Lockerbie and thought to be in a gas station. As the afternoon wore on and by the time of the 6pm news, the Lockerbie explosion was turning out be much bigger than first thought and it was obvious that the newsreaders were beginning to connect the two stories. By the time of the late evening news there were camera crews in the town and the images were horrific! I clearly remember seeing a man still strapped in his seat and fully clothed on the roof of a house – and that piece of video was never re-shown as far I know.

Thirty-five of the passengers who died were students of Syracuse University returning home for Christmas, and the mother of one of them is a main character in the play.

The play focuses on the bond that quickly became established between the women of Lockerbie and the those from the US who came to find where their sons and daughters had died. Both sets of women are feisty and willing to take on both the British and US authorities. The play finishes with the women insisting that they wash all the recovered clothing and return it to their American friends. As they wash the clothes they sing ‘Will ye no Come Back Again’ and I was close to tears by then.

I’m tremendously impressed at how these young kids have researched and got under the skin of this story – something that happened far away and long before they were born. If you get the chance to see their performance you should – Central High School in Wise VA.

As for me – I’ll never forget that day or these young folk!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch