Archie Anderson, scots songs

The most popular record at yesterday’s Wighton Centre event was the 1914 disc of Archie Anderson singing Scots songs with a wind-band accompaniment. Some of the Scots Song group who meet weekly in the Wighton Centre were there, and they of course knew the songs and so were very interested to hear this 100 year old recording being played on the antique wind-up machine.

I played his recording of “Jock o’ Hazeldean”, a traditional border ballad re-written by Water Scott, as part of the half hour event. At the end, Sheena Wellington acting as host suggested there would be time for an extra disc before everyone had to leave, so I asked if anyone had any requests, suggesting perhaps a second side of one of the discs we had heard. Archie Anderson’s record was the one called for, so I played the other side, “The Bonnie Lass of Ballochmyle”, a song by Robert Burns.

When I got home yesterday evening I played them both for you to hear as well! I hope you enjoy listening:

Alison Kinnaird

Today I was pleased to be able to introduce Alison Kinnaird, who gave a lovely performance of old Scottish harp music at the Friends of Wighton’s Community Music Day in the Bonar Hall, Dundee. Alison talked and played for an hour to a very appreciative audience, using three different harps.

In this picture Alison is playing her copy of the Lamont harp made by Robert Evans, and you can also see her 1930s Briggs harp. She also had her Renaissance bray harp with her. As well as playing some representative tunes to illustrate the voice and traditions of each instrument, she sang a really super song – one of the big Scots ballads about the murderous sister.

Here’s a photo of my come and try earlier in the day:

Thanks to my glamourous tuning assistant on the right there!

Margaret 1281 concert in Dundee

On Wednesday lunchtime I’ll be presenting my Margaret 1281 programme in the Wighton Centre, in Dundee Central Library. This is always a fun event, the free concert run by the Friends of Wighton on the first Wednesday of every month at 1.15pm.

I presented this programme back in June at St Andrews Cathedral and it worked very well. The idea is to present a dramatic episode of Scottish history in music and verse. All of the six items on the programme have strong connections to Scotland or Norway in the late 1200s and early 1300s.

As well as playing the replica Queen Mary harp, I’ll sing the traditional ballad telling a part of this story, and I’ll also pull out the jouhikko for a bit of old Scandinavian flavour.

Heroic music at the Cathedral

On Tuesday is the last in my summer series of cathedral concerts for this year. I’ll be repeating a programme from last year, of music connected to the heroic legends of Britain and Ireland. The centrepiece of the concert will be a performance of one of the medieval Gaelic lays – the story of Caoilte and the giant with five heads, which I have learned from a 1965 field recording of Kate MacDonald. There are a large number of such recordings of these medieval heroic songs being performed, and I have catalogued a number of them on my website at As well as lays from the Fenian cycle, as this one is, there are also lays dealing with characters from the Ulster cycle, the Historical cycle, and also from the Arthurian cycle.

All of these lays that survived down to the mid 20th century (I believe only one, Am Bron Binn, is still current in living tradition) survive only as unaccompanied solo song. This is of course very valuable for the study of early Gaelic music because we get a medieval text, a reciting melody, and a performance style. But for a harp concert I wanted to find instrumental music on a similar theme, and not just play instrumental adaptions of the vocal reciting melodies.

So for Tuesday’s concert I cast my net as wide as I can to try and find an interesting selection of genuinely instrumental music which somehow connects to this heroic theme. Come along to the cathedral at 12.45 and see what you think!

Harlaw: 1st session

Yesterday was the first in my series of Saturday afternoon workshops on the music associated with the Battle of Harlaw. In the pleasant and airy surroundings of the Wighton Centre in Dundee, a mixed group of singers and instrumentalists came together to explore the traditions. In this first session, we started with an overview of the battle, looking at a map of the area north-east of Aberdeen, and discussing 15th century Scottish politics.

Then, using the tombstone of Gilbert de Greenlaw as an example, we discussed the military technology of the time, and the nature of the fighting and preparations. Everyone was interested to handle the replica 15th century arms and armour!

Finally, we studied the Scots ballad. Working from Child’s version, and listening to Jeannie Robertson, we discussed the tune, as well as the subtext behind the story, and sung and played through the entire ballad.

Next week, we will be considering the story from the other side, looking at the Gaelic incitement to battle, or brosnachadh. Saturday 9th July, 2pm, Wighton Centre, Dundee. See you there!

September’s Cathedral recital

Tristan being sent into exile, from a medieval German woodcut

On Tuesday 7th September at 12.45pm, early harp specialist Simon Chadwick will be playing historical Scottish and Irish music in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Using his decorated replica of the medieval Scottish ‘Queen Mary’ harp with gold and silver wire strings, Simon will play a selection of music associated with ancient Scottish, Irish and British heroes.

Starting with a medieval composition said to have been performed before King Arthur and his Knights as they sat at the Round Table, the programme will look at the medieval Gaelic legends of Fionn and Oisean, before finishing with a heartbreaking lament for the forlorn Cornish lover, Tristan.

This event is the last in Simon’s summer series of medieval harp concerts in the cathedral. Performed in the Priors House, a medieval vaulted chamber set within the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews, this series brings to life different aspects of ancient and historical Scottish music, from the medieval church, to stirring battle marches, to weeping Gaelic laments.

The harp Simon uses is a unique replica of the clarsach of Mary Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original is preserved in a glass case in the National Museum in Edinburgh, as featured on the BBC’s “Reporting Scotland” last month, with Simon providing musical accompaniment! Simon commissioned his replica from Irish harp maker Davy Patton in 2006-7. With its amazing soundbox carved out of a single huge willow log, and its intricate carved and painted decoration, the replica harp is a precious medieval art object that fits very well into the ancient ambience of the cathedral.

Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling the Cathedral visitor centre on 01334 472563.

A preview of this event will be performed in the Wighton Centre, Dundee Central Library, Dundee, DD1 1DB, Wednesday 1st September, 1.15pm.

The Fife Traditional Singing Weekend

On Sunday I was at the Fife Traditional Singing Weekend, in a fine, airy windowed building in the Fife countryside by Collessie. It was very interesting to see and hear so many different traditional singers, many from the East of Scotland but a number from further afield. So many different styles of vocal delivery, and types of song.

There was little really ancient, to connect with my work here (in a direct form anyway), but I have a lot to think about and it was great to see people like Sheila Stewart there.

My favourite moment was an anecdote from Phyllis Martin, of visiting an old lady in Galloway to collect songs. The lady said “I’ll get some tea”, and came back with a tray with 2 cups of tea and a large sponge cake, cut neatly in 2 down the middle. Phyllis said, she asked if they should have a knife. The lady replied, no, this half is for you, and this half is for me.

It was also a lovely day, sunny and quite warm.