Tag Archives: music

Oh Death – – –

Another very sad post by Jack – –

colin

I first met Colin when he helped organize the folk-song concerts at the Music Hall in Aberdeen during the first Bon Accord Festival in 1965. At the time I was half of a duo with Barbara Dickson and we played every night for a week as top of the bill.

We kept in touch and by the early 1970s he was booking guests for Aberdeen folk club. This was when I was erroneously billed in the local newspaper as Jeff Beck (not his fault). Lots of disappointed punters but a profitable night for the club!

Shortly after that he moved down to Fife to take up the position as a teacher of English in a local high school, where he was able to introduce the study of Scots ballads to the curriculum. After that he was a regular at parties and ceilidhs at my house and those of other friends in the area.

He was a wonderful singer with a deep and rich repertoire of Doric song, but never had any real interest in either recording or getting gigs, which meant he never got the recognition he deserves.

More recently, after my move to the US, he helped me and Wendy with our small group tours of Scotland and Ireland. As an excellent driver he was the natural choice to drive the minivan, but he quickly turned into joint tour guide. His running commentaries along the way after I ran out of wind and stories endeared him to everyone and he stayed in touch with many folk over here.

I would usually fly over to Edinburgh a few days beforehand, rent a car, drive to Colin’s house where he’d feed me mince and tatties. Then use his place as my base for visiting friends and family, before we’d pick up the minivan at the end, just before the tour started. During these evenings we’d feed each other our favorite YouTube discoveries which always included this –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYwbpCm2apA

Back in the 1960s I bought a very early MGB Roadster and eventually sold it to Colin, who did lots of refurbishing. Eventually he sold it back to me and it crossed the Atlantic! Our mutual friend David bought it from me as a birthday gift for his wife Susan and it is currently being completely rebuilt in North Carolina – – – it’s in this video and so is Colin!

I was right in the middle of recording a radio show about his friend and mentor Arthur Argo when I got the message that Wendy needed to speak to me urgently!

I was stunned by her news that Colin had just died. I’m obviously of an age now when I’m bound to lose old friends (or them me), but this was a real jolt. I still can’t quite believe it.

Driving home this morning after recording the radio shows I remembered that my black funeral suit is hanging in his guest room closet – – -along with so many memories.

Rest in Peace Colin. No one deserves it more.

 

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

Up an’ Awa – – –

Jack misses the deadline again – – –

For the last twelve years I’ve been organizing small group tours of Scotland, and it’s been both good fun and an opportunity for me to visit new places.

map-of-scotland

But it’s gradually become more work and more worrying. Every time some emergency happens (and they do) I think about the other things that could happen. I work with an agency over there for hotel and ferry bookings, and they are very good when things go awry, but still – – –

It was always the intention that Wendy would also be along, but it’s hardly ever been possible because of her work schedule. So she’s usually been left to ‘hold the fort’. I’ve always regretted that because on the few occasions she has gone she added a dimension that I couldn’t!

This year will be the final one and because it is we have lots of previous folk making the sentimental last tour. Happily, Wendy will make it this time for sure (the flights are already booked). But we have twice as many going and two mini vans instead of just one  – – –

Of course this won’t be the last return to Scotland, but in future it will be different. Just with close friends and not traipsing from hotel to hotel.

The downside of all this is that most years Wendy and I have been separated for three weeks and that was brought home to me very forcefully just recently. She’s usually the one left alone. But her parents have needed support so she was the absent one recently, and I was the one left alone. What a salutary lesson!

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Branches – –

Jack actually makes it in time –

This week has been a bit strange, what with Wendy being away for two weeks helping her parents and me keeping an eye on the (very hard working) guys trimming back the tree overhanging our house.

tree

But then there was this –

My friend Dirk who engineers my radio show is also a video guy and he startled me a year ago with a proposal to make a documentary film of my life. As we worked on the radio shows he had become interested in all the things I mentioned, including why I moved the US, my various different careers and my musical life.

He started with a great number of videoed interviews with me and the original idea was to try to cover all of that. The first version I saw was an hour long and dived all over the place. Interesting to me but probably few others!

But once he decided to focus essentially on the musical side it all began to make more sense.

It was fascinating to see how he went about it, chasing after people who knew me and persuading them to share their observations then painstakingly transcribing their interviews. Busy folk in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and even in Scotland.

But then he had to turn it into a narrative that made sense, where one interview meshed with others and where various musical interludes contributed.

It finally went public a few days ago.

I think he did a wonderful job. I hate to use words like ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ but this time I have to. I’m so grateful to him and to all my friends who took the time and trouble to contribute so thoughtfully.

I’ve been emailing today with my sister about an audio interview with our mother that Wendy helped me do twenty years ago and it reminded me how important a legacy these seemingly fleeting things can be.

The video can be seen here –

https://vimeo.com/382758864

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Pies Have It!

Jack scrapes through – – –

People often ask me if I miss anything about Scotland. Well, of course. But when I go back every year the thing I really go straight for is the food.

Full Scottish breakfasts with bacon, eggs, black pudding, haggis and baked beans – great Indian curries – steak bridies (think calzone, but Scottish) – fish and chips – and Scotch pies.

I do my best over here to get close to all these. Recently I learned how to replicate Indian restaurant base curry sauce and make a big batch to freeze regularly. I can manage an occasional full Scottish breakfast. Fish and chips requires the secret batter and lard, but I can do that when the planets align.

A steak bridie would be the ultimate challenge though – imagine a savory turn-over with small chunks of steak in a delicious brown sauce, a bit of savory onion in the mix….mmmmm. The only folk I know who make them are Stephens of Dunfermline and they are rightly famous for their recipe. My next big challenge will be to try and replicate it.

What about the pies, I hear you ask?

Over here pies are usually sweet – in Scotland these would be called tarts. Over there a pie would have meat of some kind, and a ‘Scotch pie’ would have minced beef (ground beef) along with onion and a variety of (secret) herbs and spices.

Just recently my friend Trevor finished a year at St Andrews University and came home with the recipe. He made a batch while I was bunking at his place, and I was instantly back there. Of course I had to give it a try, and with some guidance from him I managed to do no’ bad.

It’s messy and time consuming, and there’s no guarantee of success, but I’ve made two lots now and they’re worth the effort.

The pastry is flour, frozen butter, ice water and egg. Freezing the butter is key. The filling is a secret. We will be having them along with haggis and other delicacies at the Burns Supper on January 25th at Oracle Books here in Wytheville.

pies

 

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Filed under between books, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Thyme brings a’ things tae an End

Jack gets over the line with time (thyme) to spare – – –

Scotland_American_flag

I’m in the throes of organizing my final group tour of Scotland right now and it’s at the point where everything starts getting complicated – which is why it’s the last one. By the time it’s over I’ll be seventy-eight years old and ready to stop!

I use a really good agent in Scotland to book hotels, ferries and tickets for ‘attractions’, but inevitably there are always timings that don’t work or hotels we’ve used before that didn’t appeal. So negotiations – –

This time, because it’s the last, I have more folk going including many past customers, so for the first and last time – two minivans instead of one – so negotiations – –

Like every year there are folk who sign up, pay their deposits and then, for perfectly good reasons, have to cancel. Other folk come along looking to join – so negotiations – –

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and never thought that anything could go wrong or that I could be held accountable for anything. That’s another reason to stop!  I’ve had two customers with emergency dental appointments, an oxygen cylinder chasing us unsuccessfully from hotel to hotel and an overnight hospital visit by a customer in Perth.

Despite all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute, because of the joy of sharing my country of origin and discovering corners I’d never visited.

What I think made my tours unique are down to three things –

1) Persuading great musical friends to entertain along the way

2) Having my old friend Colin both drive the bus and add fascinating insights

3) The sheer luck of having groups including close friends and complete strangers that all got on well

It’s been a whirlwind and I won’t be sorry to stop, but it’s also been a great series of journeys.

The final tour will not only have lots of old friends, but will also be one of the few ones that Wendy will also be on – and she is the shopping expert!

 

 

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

Behind the Microphone – –

Jack’s guest post is another sad one –

I started recording and broadcasting my radio show Celtic Clanjamphry some twelve years ago at the studios of WETS fm in Johnson City, Tennessee. From the beginning it was normal for Jim Blalock to be in the next-door studio preparing his classical music shows.

jim b

When I finished recording my programs Jim would always chat with me and often commented on something he’d heard on ClanJam as he had been driving somewhere. I discovered that he had wide musical interests that extended far beyond his specialization.

At this time WETS was broadcasting solely as an fm station but changes were afoot. Coming over the horizon was HD radio, and our station was preparing to pioneer this format in the area. It wasn’t clear what the implications would be for existing shows and rumors abounded. Some months before the start of three HD channels the fm schedule was changed and all Jim’s classical shows were dropped. Although I was relieved that ClanJam was retained and even moved to a much better time, I felt bad for him.

However Jim was switched to continuity and news links and did local interest interviews. I was very impressed with the dignified way he handled what must have been a difficult time for him. Eventually, when the HD channels began, one of them was largely dedicated to classical music, so Jim was back with even more air-time than before!

Jim was back next-door and we began planning a special program that would examine how classical composers had been influenced by traditional music. He gathered some CDs with examples from the classical music perspective, while I lent him some showing the crossover from the other direction. We continued to discuss this for months but sadly could never find a mutually convenient time to record it.

Then Dirk Wiley came along with an excellent home studio much closer to me and a willingness to support WETS, so my connection to Jim became more fragmented and distant. Finally he moved to Knoxville and I discovered he was fighting cancer. But still he broadcast for a station down there right to the end.

He and I had a similar approach to the making of our programs, with minimal notes and no script – just calling on our knowledge and memories as we went along. He frequently spoke to me about this and how authentic and refreshing it was. In other words he was a mentor, an example, a supporter and a very valued friend!

RIP Jim Blalock

 

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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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