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.

Greenland, Guam and How Often Do You Check Your Stats?

A bit of a silly post this but I have previously asked the question, “Are you also addicted to blogging?” and the responses were interesting. Like myself, many others would admit to being addicted, but in a good way. To share our thoughts with others in this community can be a great stress-buster at the end of a busy day and the community itself is something to be cherished, a beautiful add-on to a world of real-life friends and colleagues.

My question today is, “How often do you check your stats?”. I ask because I tend to check mine quite frequently. I’m not sure how it works on other platforms but here at WordPress we get all sorts of breakdowns on a daily basis as to how our blog posts are faring – How many visitors and views, where these visitors come from and which posts are the most popular. Having dealt with statistics for most of my working life, I know that we have to take these stats with a pinch of salt, as there are many underlying reasons as to why a particular result might arise – Still makes for interesting reading though.

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An example of the WordPress stats page

At the moment my most visited post by a country mile is this one – The Proclaimers, Hibs and Sunshine On Leith. It was written right at the start of my blogging career but by sheer coincidence I picked a post title that matches exactly what a Hibernian Football Club fan would enter into a search engine after winning a big match. The song Sunshine On Leith is the anthem the fans sing from the terraces whilst supporting their team and those who want to relive that emotional moment probably stumble upon my post. This in turn pushes it up the search engines so when the recent documentary about the twins was aired on telly, that post started getting another massive hike in views. Interesting stuff but whether these visitors hang around and read any of my other posts is debatable.

Another statistic I love is looking at is that map of the world which shows where your visitors come from. First thing in the morning your top views are likely to be from North America and Australasia as those are the English-speaking regions that have been surfing the net whilst we in the UK are sound asleep. By mid afternoon however the tables turn and your most frequent visitors are likely to come from the UK and the rest of Europe. A fellow blogger wrote recently about all of this – I mentioned in his comments box that it fascinates me too and that I have had views from countries as diverse as Greenland and Guam. I threw those two in as I thought it formed a nice bit of alliteration – Imagine my surprise therefore, when only last week, on a single day, I had views from both those countries! There is a good chance that any visits to our blogs are merely the result of a google search for something else and the surfer didn’t linger long – Just in case that was not the case for my visitors from Greenland and Guam however, I decided to do a little research into the music of those two, very different countries.

Greenland:

Most of us will know that Greenland is that island within the Arctic Circle that always looks enormous on a conventional map but mainly down to the way the globe is stretched at the north and south poles via Mercator projection. It is however still the world’s largest island although it is also the world’s least densely populated country, no doubt because of that giant ice cap that practically covers it. Although part of the North American continent, it has long been politically and culturally associated with Europe and more specifically Scandinavia. Its people are in the main of Inuit and Danish descent.

The traditional music of Greenland features drum dances but modern day music tends to be influenced primarily by rock bands from the US and the UK – According to native drummer Hans Rosenberg, Greenland is definitely a rock country, both musically and literally. With the wonders of modern technology at my disposal it didn’t take long to find something by this popular modern day Greenlander band Nanook. The video clip gives a really good impression of what it would be like to live there (brrr…) and I have become quite smitten by this song which is tricky to spell but hopefully I’ve got it right – Ingerlaliinnaleqaagut.

Guam:

Unlike Greenland, Guam has a tropical rainforest climate and is the largest island in Micronesia. Most of us will know that it’s a territory of the United States and since the 1960s the economy has been supported by two main industries – Tourism and the United States Armed Forces. Indigenous Guamanians are the Chamorros who are related to other Austronesian natives to the west in the Philippines and Taiwan. A frequently used territorial motto is “Where America’s Day Begins”, which refers to the island’s close proximity to the international date line.

Modern music from Guam has American, Spanish, Filipino and Polynesian influences however it seems that of all the popular Chamorro musicians, Flora Baza Quan is the “Queen”. Her most famous recording was of the song Hagu so time to head down to Pika’s Café where Jen and RJ perform a fine cover version. 

So, another little geography lesson courtesy of “What’s It All About?” – Other countries that seem to pop up on my stats quite frequently, but unusually I think, are Japan, Finland and The Philippines. Always interested in who drops by this place so please pop your head round the door if you do indeed visit from these countries.

Getting back to my native Scotland, it does seem appropriate that my most popular post to date featured those heavily accented twins from Auchtermuchty, The Proclaimers. I do have a category dedicated to Scottish bands (link here) of which there are many, but for this post I should really include something else by Craig and Charlie Reid. As there is a lot of “love in the air” around here at the moment (yes, darling daughter has a new boyfriend), it will have to be I’m Gonna Be from 1988. I’m not entirely sure if the new boyfriend would as yet walk 500 miles and then 500 more to fall down at her door, but as love songs go it’s a belter and not schmaltzy at all.

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers:

Until next time….

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) Lyrics
(Song by Craig Reid/Charlie Reid)

When I wake up, well I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next you
When I go out, yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you
If I get drunk, well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you
And if I haver up, yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

When I’m working, yes I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s working hard for you
And when the money, comes in for the work I do
I’ll pass almost every penny on to you
When I come home (when I come home) well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you
And if I grow-old (when I grow-old) well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s growing old with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

When I’m lonely, well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s lonely without you
And when I’m dreaming, well I know I’m gonna dream
I’m gonna dream about the time when I’m with you
When I go out (when I go out) well I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you
And when I come home (when I come home) yes I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home with you
I’m gonna be the man who’s coming home with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

An American Odyssey in Song: Maine – Roger Miller and “King of the Road”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

First of all thanks to everyone who helped out with suggestions for getting this trip started. It may not happen in real life now (although never say never and all that), but I’m going to try and make sure it happens on these pages. I have planned a route map that means we take in all 50 states but never enter and leave the same one more than once. I won’t share the map with you until the end however as best to retain an element of surprise as to where we are going to end up next (although sometimes of course there will be only one contender).

After a bit of thought I have decided to start in Maine and end up in Florida as opposed to doing it the other way round. North to South makes more sense from a geographical point of view and we will build up to all those great songs from the Southern States gradually.

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So, we have just flown across the Atlantic from Scotland and are about to explore the State of Maine. This is not going to be a travelogue style series of posts so I will just include a few pictures and links, but suffice to say, Maine is the most northernmost state in New England, it has an awful lot of forests and coastline, its climate is warm and humid in summer but cold and snowy in winter, and it’s famous for its seafood cuisine, especially lobster and clams. The musical Carousel is set in Maine (songs from which I have written about twice on these pages here and here) and of course a certain amateur lady detective also resides there, in the fictitious Cabot Cove (the American equivalent of our Midsomer it seems). The prolific author Stephen King comes from Maine and many of his books, in turn made into films, are set in that State (Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption and the film that forever gave clowns a bad rap, It).

When I first considered this series, I was a bit troubled that I might sometimes get stuck, and be unable to find songs that I could write about for certain states, but of course you didn’t let me down. A fair few suggestions came in from Marie, CC, Lynchie, Rol, Neil and Chris (links to their blogs on my sidebar) but the song I hadn’t realised even mentioned Maine before, was King Of The Road by Roger Miller (credit for that one goes to both Lynchie and Rol). This song is all about the day-to-day life of a hobo, who, despite being poor (a man of means by no means) revels in his freedom, describing himself as the “king of the road”. The first line in the second verse goes as follows, “Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine” which is why it becomes my first featured song in this series.

Roger himself of course didn’t come from Maine but from Texas. He wrote mainly country songs, and was very successful at doing so, but King Of The Road was a major crossover hit into mainstream pop and was No.1 in the UK Singles Chart in 1965.

King Of The Road by Roger Miller:

As is often the case I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from first time around, but someone who would have done, was my Uncle Keith. This is where it gets a bit personal as is often wont to happen on these pages. Keith was a lad who grew up in our village in Scotland and followed the usual path for young men in those days – Went to school, completed an apprenticeship, met a girl, got married and had a family. The opportunity came along for him to move to the city and start driving lorries long distances. With a large family to support he took it on. Soon he was travelling all over the UK and the Continent, gone from home for long periods at a time. He loved it and whenever anyone was going on holiday by car, he could always be relied upon to come with the best route.

(Uncle Keith is the tall dark-haired one)

This life on the road was not of course conducive to family life and in due course his marriage failed and we didn’t see much of him for long stretches of time. Every now and again he would turn up at my grandparents house in a massive articulated lorry, stay the night, then head off again. He was very unlike my own very stable, home-loving dad and was a bit of a mythical creature as I was growing up. As I got older I was busy getting on with my own life so didn’t see him often at all, but a few years ago now we heard he was ill, so my mum headed off to see him in his little flat. It wasn’t good and he died soon after at the age of 76 with, ironically, his ex-wife and his children at his bedside – He may not have been a great family man but they had stayed close over the years and loved him to the end.

When it came to organising the funeral it turned out he wanted to be buried along with his parents (my grandparents) in the village where he had grown up. A bit of a surprise but it made sense. The important thing was that he wanted King Of The Road to be played as his coffin was carried out of the church. My mum (his sister), who finds it very important to always “do the right thing”, was a bit concerned – In her experience people always chose very sombre hymns – What would people think? But no, his family stood firm and King Of The Road it was. When the time came there wasn’t a dry eye in the church and even my mum had to admit it was the right choice.

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Before I go, it might be an idea to include the version by those very Scottish Proclaimers from 1990. If he was still driving lorries at that time maybe Uncle Keith liked that one too. Whatever, I am pretty sure if the chance had come up, he would have loved driving across the highways and byways of America in one of those very large trucks, maybe even up as far as Maine. This post therefore is for him. (Look out for The Proclaimers’ homage to Roger Miller at 2:20)

“What’s It All About?” – I have often seen talk on the blogosphere of the music people would like to have played at their funeral (morbid I know but true) and I too have chosen my particular song. We may not be there in person but we will be leaving a little bit of ourselves behind in our choices. Those left will feel a surge of emotion, but it will be much appreciated, as was the case with Uncle Keith.

So, we have now visited Maine in song (very tenuously I know but I think that’s how it will often go) and the next state we will cross into is New Hampshire. I will always have a standby song but would very much appreciate some more suggestions that I have no doubt (if this post is anything to go by), will be better than mine. You know where the comments boxes are.

Until next time….

King Of The Road Lyrics
(Song by Roger Miller)

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out clothes and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked, when no one’s around.

I sing, trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

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.

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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.

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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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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