The Cairngorms, “In A Big Country” and Heatwaves in Scotland!

Tuesday seems to have become my default day for posting something new, however with all this fine weather I haven’t been spending much time on the computer, or pondering blog ideas. Hmm…

Time to resort to the dash cam!

Last Saturday Mr WIAA and myself headed down the A9 to The Cairngorms as only 45 minutes from home and a great place to visit on a beautiful sunny day. Yes – unbelievably – Scotland is also experiencing this very uncharacteristic heatwave that seems to be sweeping the country. The film I took was hard won I can tell you, as every few minutes the device over-heated and had to be slotted into the car’s air-conditioning vent to cool down. I have however managed to piece together the following and when asked what music might be appropriate for it, Mr WIAA suggested In A Big Country by who else but Big Country.

In A Big Country by Big Country:

Big Country formed in Dunfermline in 1981 and had their heyday in the mid ’80s. The band had a very distinctive music style which involved engineering their guitar sound to evoke the spirit of bagpipes, fiddles and other traditional folk instruments. In A Big Country was released in May 1983 as the third single from their debut studio album “The Crossing”, and reached No. 17 in the UK Singles Chart. The album was a hit in the United States which is how my friend Rich from Kamer Tunes Blog must have come to know about them and how they became his favourite band during his high school years (I know this because he has mentioned it often). He is on hiatus at the moment but because of his great affinity with Scotland, here are a few more pictures taken whilst out and about recently, just in case he drops by.

It actually rained today, for the first time in about five weeks. Can it really carry on like this for much longer? Who knows, but with all the political shenanigans going on right now, it’s nice to be able to just chill out under the shade of a tree. Scotland may not in reality be a “big” country, in fact it’s really quite small, but it has a big heart which was what those boys from Big Country capitalised on back in the ’80s.

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Until next time enjoy the sunshine, and remember that even in Scotland, we still need to wear sunscreen. I can’t turn the clock back and tell my teenage self of the dangers of too much sun (let’s face it we all got burnt every single year) but a bit older and wiser now fortunately. Cross fingers it’s shaping up to be another Summer of ’76!

In A Big Country Lyrics
(Song by Stuart Adamson/Mark Brzezicki/Tony Butler/Bruce Watson)

I’ve never seen you look like this without a reason
Another promise fallen through, another season passes by you
I never took the smile away from anybody’s face
And that’s a desperate way to look for someone who is still a child

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered
I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

So take that look out of here, it doesn’t fit you
Because it’s happened doesn’t mean you’ve been discarded
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted
I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered

I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

Postscript:

It may be a small country but Scotland extends a bit wider in all directions courtesy of the many islands off its coasts. One of these is South Uist, the second largest island of the Outer Hebrides, and I couldn’t help but gasp in wonder at the pictures shared recently by a friend after a visit. She grew up there and those beaches used to be her childhood playground. Spectacular, and barely a soul in sight.

Seven in Seven #4: Capercaillie, “Caledonia” and Letters From America

Day Four of my annual challenge to write seven posts in seven days. No pressure on regular visitors to leave comments though and these….. Oh what the heck, you know the score by now, I’ll just get on with it.

So far so good with this challenge but as I was away last weekend, today the garden beckoned. Lots of plants to be bedded in and pots to be filled. I am seriously cream-crackered so this will definitely have to be a shorter post.

One of the gardening pressures I have, is that I am custodian of the “family begonias”. Some people inherit money and some inherit good genes. After my dad’s death I inherited begonia corms! These corms have passed down the generations and can’t be purchased in garden centres nowadays but continually reproduce every year. I usually have around ten tubs of beautiful red flowers in my garden every summer but as the only child, of an only child, of an only child, I feel the pressure not to render them extinct. Darling daughter is sadly disinterested in gardening at the moment, but then again so was I at her age, so all is not yet lost – Down the line these knobby corms will become hers, and hopefully she will rise to the challenge of keeping them going for another generation.

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The family begonias!

These begonias have been mentioned in this blog before, when I wrote about The Proclaimers’ song Letter From America (link here). The lyrics reminded me that although my family in Scotland is really small, if I included all those who left for America at the turn of the last century to find work, and perhaps their fortunes, it would be enormous. My grandad’s aunts and uncles all left the family croft and made the brave journey across the Atlantic to the New World. To track down their offspring would be an enormous task, and one that might have to be a retirement project, but at this time of the year I often wonder if any of them took a few begonia corms with them, as a reminder of home. If they did, there could well be gardens all over America with pots of red flowers just like mine.

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Letter From America by The Proclaimers:

The Scottish diaspora is said to be around five times the size of our native population, and often far more fervently Scottish. Caledonian Societies abound and many bands from Scotland are probably far more widely known in “The Colonies” than south of the border. The folk band Capercaillie was founded in the 1980s, and is fronted by singer Karen Matheson. The group adapt traditional Gaelic music and lyrics with modern instruments such as electric guitar or bass and are probably one of our most successful exports. Here they are performing Cape Breton Song at Aberdeen’s Capitol Theatre in 1992.

But I always include the lyrics in my posts and although I laboured over Peter Kay’s Car Share Buddy song yesterday (which I couldn’t find anywhere), this time the lyrics are in Gaelic, so I have no chance. Time to think of another song that seems to go down well in those parts of the world where the residents often have a surname with the the prefix Mac. The song Caledonia was written in 1977 by Dougie MacLean – He was on a beach in France, feeling homesick, and wrote it in less than ten minutes. The song has became something of an anthem for Scotland and has been covered by many artists. The version I have in my collection is by Frankie Miller, so the audio clip will be that one, but for the video clip I think it will have to be the man himself. I wonder if he is also custodian of the family begonia corms?

Caledonia by Frankie Miller:

Caledonia Lyrics
(Song by Dougie MacLean)

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way

I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have travelled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind

Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

Postscript:

Just in case anyone doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I mention the word “corm” – This is what they look like.

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Not very attractive granted, but once buried in some soil they start to perform their annual magic.

The scene of our “End of the Summer” get-together.

The Proclaimers, “Letter From America” and Sunshine on Leith (the movie)

Last night we watched the film of the stage show Sunshine on Leith on DVD – Not as good as when viewed at the cinema but still really enjoyed all that great music from The Proclaimers. I think the popularity of the jukebox musical really hit new heights when Mama Mia!, featuring the songs of Abba hit the West End stage in 1999 so it was inevitable that such productions would become a staple of theatreland. The music of many an artist has now been set to scripts capable of stringing together, in an entertaining fashion, the various back catalogues.

Sunshine on Leith was originally written for Dundee Rep in 2007 and I remember going to see it when it came to the Highlands soon after. Unlike Mama Mia!, it was not set in a sunny location but in an often wet and drizzly Edinburgh. The film didn’t have A-list Hollywood stars in it either but it did have heart, and some very acceptable singing voices. One of the main stars of the film was actually Edinburgh itself and they managed to cram in as many great locations as possible. (If you know the city well you do ask yourself, “Why would they use that particular route to get from Leith to Waverley” but of course it was obvious why.)

I have mentioned Sunshine on Leith before in the blog when I wrote about the song of the same name (can be found here) and how it has been adopted by Hibs fans as their anthem. Having possibly heard that song just once too often now, the one that made more of an impact when watching the film last night, was Letter From America.

Letter From America by The Proclaimers:

Any regulars to this blog will know that we have a close family member far from home at the moment, in the great state of Illinois, birthplace of Abe Lincoln but also Ferris Beuller and Wayne from Wayne’s World! A very relevant song therefore, but as it turns out, letters are more likely to be substituted by Facetime (a lot of Facetime) nowadays so compared with the Scots in the song, the America we travel to now doesn’t seem nearly as far away. The scriptwriters for the show manage to (tenuously) incorporate the song by having one of the main characters, a nurse, get a job in a Miami hospital via an online recruitment site.

emigration

Very different to the stories that led the folks in the song to America, and quite rightly it is very hard “to imagine the way they felt the day they sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia” as for many, they would probably never see home again. Even in my own family, emigration to America at the turn of the 20th century was prolific. My grandfather was brought up by his grandparents as his father went across first (a result of a lack of employment in the area) and then his mother joined him later. I would imagine the plan was to come back for my grandfather at some point, but possibly for economic reasons that didn’t happen, and they never saw each other again – Seems sad nowadays considering how small the world can be for us now but I cannot emphasise enough how it would not have seemed that way in the late 1800s. My grandfather didn’t ever make the big journey across the pond but had a fine life in rural Scotland as part of a large family and had the distinction of driving/handling/operating (not sure what you call it) the first combine harvester in the North-East. Yes the crowds came out in droves that day to see it in action, and now in the local archives.

proclaimers

As for The Proclaimers, they were actually “discovered” by one of hubby’s boyhood friends, as they used to travel north to play in a local bar. The friend, already in the music business himself, wrote (no Facetime in those days) to The Housemartins suggesting they use them as the support act for their 1986 tour – They did, and the rest as they say is history. I actually saw them on that tour, and although we had predominantly gone along to see The Housemartins, we were pretty much bowled over by the very distinctive, bespectacled Reid twins from Auchtermuchty.

As for me, after watching the film again last night I have added “be part of a flash mob” to my bucket list. Not managed so far but that massed “mob” dance, right in the centre of Edinburgh’s Princes Street, looked like great fun – Wish I’d been on the top deck of the No. 17 bus the day they were filming that one!

Letter From America Lyrics
(Song by Craig Reid/Charlie Reid)

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada
Broke off from my work the other day
I spent the evening thinking about
All the blood that flowed away
Across the ocean to the second chance
I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land?

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada

I’ve looked at the ocean
Tried hard to imagine
The way you felt the day you sailed
From Wester Ross to Nova Scotia
We should have held you
We should have told you
But you know our sense of timing
We always wait too long

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada

Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more
Lewis no more
Skye no more

I wonder my blood
Will you ever return
To help us kick the life back
To a dying mutual friend
Do we not love her?
I think we all claim we love her
Do we have to roam the world
To prove how much it hurts?

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada

Bathgate no more
Linwood no more
Methil no more
Irvine no more

Bathgate no more
Linwood no more
Methil no more
Lochaber no more

Postscript:

Some people inherit money and some inherit good genes.  After my dad’s death I inherited begonia corms! These corms have passed down the generations and can’t be purchased in garden centres nowadays but continually reproduce every year. I have about ten tubs of beautiful red flowers in my garden every summer and I would like to think that all across America there may be similar gardens, as my forefathers may have taken with them a small knobbly corm, as a reminder of home.

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St Patrick’s Day, Shane MacGowan and “The Irish Rover”

A short post today but couldn’t ignore the fact that it’s St Patrick’s Day.

What better song to write about then, than The Irish Rover sung by The Pogues and the Dubliners. I wrote earlier this week about Runrig who are a Celtic rock band, but The Pogues, led by the inimitable Shane MacGowan, were very much a Celtic punk band. From their first outing on television, Shane was not a man you could easily forget. His teeth were the worst in show business and he always appeared to be drunk when performing on stage. I doubt very much if this was possible (he always remembered the lyrics) and it was originally, probably, part of his punk image – Since those days however, he has suffered from the problems that arise from years of drug-use and binge-drinking, and it is an absolute revelation that he is still with us when so many others of his generation are not. The toothlessness is no longer with us however – As of last year, he became the proud recipient of 28 new dental implants, one in gold, so at age 57 Shane is now looking better than he has in decades!

But back to today’s song – It was in the UK charts in March 1987 just around the time I was preparing to leave my home city and move to the Highlands. A farewell party was planned and I bought this record and Living In A Box which were my two favourites at the time (odd mix I know). I can’t remember much about Living In A Box now and whether we danced to it or not, but I absolutely remember dancing to The Irish Rover as it lends itself well to the kind of ceilidh dancing we are fond of in Scotland. It was a night to remember!

pogues

And as for Shane, he may have looked less than perfect, but later that year he penned the most perfect Christmas song, so there is the balance that I talked about last time. In December 1987, Fairytale of New York performed with Kirsty MacColl, reached No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart and in 2012 was voted Britain’s Favourite Christmas Song ever – Thoroughly agree with that verdict and look forward to sharing it with you later in the year.

Happy St Patrick’s Day.

The Irish Rover Lyrics
(Song by Unknown – Traditional)

On the fourth of July eighteen hundred and six
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand city hall in New York
‘Twas a wonderful craft, she was rigged fore-and-aft
And oh, how the wild winds drove her.
She’d got several blasts, she’d twenty-seven masts
And we called her the Irish Rover.

We had one million bales of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrels of stones
We had three million sides of old blind horses hides,
We had four million barrels of bones.
We had five million hogs, we had six million dogs,
Seven million barrels of porter.
We had eight million bails of old nanny goats’ tails,
In the hold of the Irish Rover.

There was awl Mickey Coote who played hard on his flute
When the ladies lined up for his set
He was tootin’ with skill for each sparkling quadrille
Though the dancers were fluther’d and bet
With his sparse witty talk he was cock of the walk
As he rolled the dames under and over
They all knew at a glance when he took up his stance
And he sailed in the Irish Rover

There was Barney McGee from the banks of the Lee,
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Jimmy McGurk who was scarred stiff of work
And a man from Westmeath called Malone
There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Tracey from Dover
And your man Mick McCann from the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper of the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years when the measles broke out
And the ship lost it’s way in a fog.
And that whale of the crew was reduced down to two,
Just meself and the captain’s old dog.
Then the ship struck a rock, oh Lord what a shock
The bulkhead was turned right over
Turned nine times around, and the poor dog was drowned
I’m the last of the Irish Rover

Celtic Rock, Runrig and “Loch Lomond”

Last time I wrote about George Martin and of his legacy in assisting The Beatles and all those other great Liverpudlian bands and artists achieve great things in the 1960s.  Before that however, the thread I had been following was concerned with artists who are very much identified with their “place” in the world.

Anyone who has read my posts will have worked out by now that I come from the North of Scotland and although my childhood was rural, I have since lived in both of the big(ish) cities up here. You would have thought that the tracks of my years might have been very different to those of someone who has lived all their life in, say, Norfolk or Manchester but no, we pretty much all listen to the same radio stations, watch the same television shows/films and now have access to everything that the world wide web can throw at us.

It was not until I arrived in the Highlands however that I really started to appreciate some of the great Celtic rock bands that hail from this neck of the woods. In 1987, the band always guaranteed to sell out any concert was Runrig, orginally from the Isle of Skye. Their lead singer Donnie Munro had taught my husband art at school in the ’70s, but by the late ’80s he was very much a full-time musician. When he’d told the class he was involved with a band, and that they played a kind of Gaelic/Celtic rock, the class were highly sceptical (this was the decade of glam rock, punk and disco after all) but he certainly proved them all wrong. In the period 1987-1997 they were signed to Chrysalis and released five very successful studio albums. I remember buying “The Cutter And The Clan” in 1987 not long after arriving in the Highlands and I saw them perform three times in a short space of time at various venues, including a large marquee during a memorable homecoming trip to Skye.

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I really don’t know how familiar they would have been to audiences in the rest of the country but they did enter the charts several times during that period so did achieve mainstream success despite the fact they were very much of their “place”, the Gaelic-speaking Isle of Skye.

In 1991, they released an EP which of course I bought, along with the rest of the population of the Highlands. The main song on the EP was Hearthammer but on the B-side was Loch Lomond (really gets going after 3:00), a traditional song given the full-blown Celtic rock treatment.

Although Loch Lomond itself is north of Glasgow and not really closely connected to Runrig’s place in the world, it is a rousing song and I am sure it must go down really well in Canada, New Zealand, the US, Australia and all the other places with a large Scottish diaspora. Suffice to say, if you are at an event in Scotland, it is a definite crowd-pleaser and is often the last song to be played at the end of the night. Lends itself well to the forming a circle and letting the mayhem commence.

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The band has changed its lineup many times since forming in 1973 but the two songwriters Rory Macdonald and Calum Macdonald have been there right since the beginning. Donnie Munro left in 1997 to pursue a career in politics but was replaced by Bruce Guthro, a Canadian from Nova Scotia, who seems to have been just the right fit.

I visited Skye last summer and met up with a native who has been a friend for years. She took us to one of the many fine-dining restaurants on Skye (two have Michelin stars) and pointed out that if we looked closely when the door to the kitchen swung open, we would see Donnie Munro loading the dishwasher! Turns out his son is now a successful chef and his dad is only too happy to help out behind the scenes, even supplying the tablet that we thoroughly enjoyed with our coffee. How things change over the years…..

Loch Lomond Lyrics
(Song by Unknown – Traditional)

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines on Loch Lomond.
Where me and my true love spent many days
On the banks of Loch Lomond.

Too sad we parted in yon shady glen,
On the steep sides of Ben Lomond.
Where the broken heart knows no second spring,
Resigned we must be while we’re parting.

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before you.
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Ho, ho mo leannan
Ho mo leannan bhoidheach

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before you.
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

The Proclaimers, Hibs and “Sunshine On Leith”

Last time I wrote about Elvis Presley, a performer who could only have come from the southern states of America. His accent, his good manners, his songs, all reflected his roots and his “place” in the world, right from the very beginning and throughout his career. In Scotland, we didn’t produce an Elvis Presley but we did produce The Proclaimers. Like Elvis, their accents, their good manners and songs were very much of their “place” and like most Scots I am really proud of what they have achieved.

I will admit that unlike Elvis they were never destined to become teen idols, but ever since twins Charlie and Craig Reid appeared on the music scene in the mid ’80s they have produced an impressive body of work and kept entertaining audiences around the world with their very distinctive brand of anthemic music.

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I first saw them in concert in the autumn of 1986 when they supported The Housemartins who were touring the UK at the time. I can still remember my quite “posh” friend’s surprised reaction to the twins, as she had never heard anyone sing with such strong Scottish accents before. Also they sang about places and happenings that we all could relate to. It didn’t take them long to cross the Atlantic and appear on US television chat shows, their songs becoming big hits over there too. They have even appeared on Family Guy!

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My favourite Proclaimers’ song is Sunshine On Leith which came from their second album and was a minor hit in 1988. It is a song that is just so connected to their birthplace, Leith, a district in the north of Edinburgh. A stage musical called Sunshine On Leith was written in 2007 featuring the songs of The Proclaimers, and an excellent film of the same name was made in 2013. It is one of the rare times I have enjoyed a film so much that I went back to watch it for a second time the next night.

Sunshine On Leith by The Proclaimers:

Like last time with the Elvis song, I have decided to include more than one version and these next two bring a lump to my throat every time. The first shows just what can happen when football fans adopt a song and in the case of Sunshine On Leith, that could only have happened with Hibernian FC, the club based right there in Leith. Fortunately Charlie and Craig are fans of the club and they must have been really moved by what happened after Hibs’ amazing Scottish League Cup Final win in 2007 – You can tell that the club’s manager, John Collins, definitely was.

Sunshine On Leith Cup Final version (best bit kicks in at 1:14 – no pun intended):

The second version of this song is from the film and is performed by Jane Horrocks. A completely different version from the one sung with such passion on the football terraces but sung with a different kind of passion, that of a wife for her poorly husband. If you haven’t seen either the stage show or the film, I would thoroughly recommend both although I would also thoroughly recommend bringing a large supply of tissues as I ran out last time – Not a pretty sight leaving the cinema.

Sunshine On Leith from the film soundtrack:

Sunshine On Leith Lyrics
(Song by Charlie Reid/Craig Reid)

My heart was broken, my heart was broken 
Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken
You saw it, You claimed it
You touched it, You saved it

My tears are drying, my tears are drying 
Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you
My tears are drying, my tears are drying
Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth