Wooden road

Last Saturday I was walking along Whitehall Crescent, Dundee, and I noticed that the street was completely coned and barricaded off, except for the pavements. The tarmac was up, and the entire street under the tarmac was made of wooden blocks stood on end, like parquet flooring. There was a flat concrete base layer, then a later of wooden blocks perhaps 8 inches tall, and perhaps 8 by 5, arranged brick-fashion. Some were looking a bit fibrous and rotten, some were looking rock-solid. Some had been dug out and left in a big pile. Where the tarmac layer was still on it was only about one inch thick, laid directly on top of the wood.

Unfortuntely I didn’t have my camera to record this scene. Yesterday, I took my camera in. Unfortunately all of the wood blocks had been removed, and half of the road was already tarmacked over on top of the concrete base layer. But I was able to photograph one lone block, and an area of blocks which survived in a corner, buried under rubble. Also the general view shows the impression of the wooden blocks on the concrete.

Karen Loomis sent me the following links which give a history of wood-block road making. I was amazed to find one surviving in the centre of Dundee, still in use though hidden. I thought it was a shame that it is no more, that it has been taken up.

Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society

Sydney Streets

Classic Cars Forum

Old Gaelic Laments: concerts in October

Historical harp specialist Simon Chadwick is performing a series of concerts of old Gaelic laments around Scotland in October.

Performed on a unique and beautiful decorated replica of a medieval West Highland clarsach, the concerts will uncover unusual and little known treasures of old Scottish music.

The concerts focus on laments, composed by the old Gaelic harpers to commemorate famous people or to express sorrow and longing. From grand, formal memorial pieces for bishops and noblemen, to complex and subtle bagpipe-style variation sets, to personal expressions of loss, the music ranges across the emotions including anger, grief and love.

The clarsach used for Simon’s concerts is an important art object in its own right. Commissioned in 2006, it is the most accurate and detailed replica yet made, of the “Queen Mary harp”, a medieval West Highland clarsach now considered a national treasure and preserved and displayed in Edinburgh in the National Museum of Scotland. The replica harp copies every last detail of the medieval original, including the fantastically intricate designs of mythical beasts, interlace and plants, which are carved, inked and painted onto the wooden parts of the harp.

Simon Chadwick is based in the medieval university town of St Andrews, and specialises in the medieval and Renaissance harp music of Scotland and Ireland. His music is based on years of studying the old music, techniques and idioms preserved in old books and manuscripts.

As well as performing concerts with the replica harp, Simon teaches regular classes in Dundee and Edinburgh, and is Assistant Director of the main international summer school for historical Gaelic harp music, held every August in Kilkenny, Ireland. Previous concerts presented by Simon include gallery recitals in the National Museum of Scotland beside the original Queen Mary harp and a regular series of medieval concerts for Historic Scotland, in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral and Arbroath Abbey.

Simon has written two method books for historical harp music, and has also released a CD featuring the Queen Mary harp and music connected to it, “Clarsach na Banrighe”. He is currently working on his next CD which is focussed on the old Gaelic laments.

For more information including photos, bio, and sample tracks, please visit http://www.simonchadwick.net/

Saturday 22nd October, 10.30am – Wighton Centre, Dundee
Thursday 27th October, 7.30pm – Dunollie Castle, near Oban
Friday 28th October, 7.30pm – Shielbridge Hall, Acharacle

Harlaw – 5th session

For the 5th and final session on the Battle of Harlaw, we sung through “Harrow’s March” from the Campbell Canntaireachd manuscript:

Hio tra dre o hiharin
Hio tra dre o hihambam
Hio tra dre o hinto hinto
Hin da hio a hiharin

Che dari o hiharin
Che dari che o din hihambam
Hio tra dre o hihambam

Che dari ha dre
Hio tra dre him bari
Che ha hio dre o hiharin

Click here for the manuscript facsimile
Click here for my Harlaw page

Harlaw: 3rd session

For the third in my series of Saturday afternoon music workshops in Dundee’s Wighton Centre, we looked at the ceòl mór or pìobaireachd of “the Battle of Harlaw”. This is a complex and disputed area of study, with many scholars not noticing the connections and relationships between various source notations, or being misled by variant titles or historical claims. We looked at and sung through five different versions, starting with the ballad text in the Scots Musical Museum, and then looking at Danial Dow’s 1796 fiddle pibroch variation set, the lute version from the Rowallan manuscript (c.1620), the version published by Stenhouse in the 19th century copied by him from a now lost “manuscript… of considerable antiquity” and finally looking at a standard pìobaireachd setting, “The Desperate Battle of the Birds”.

Links to these items will be found on my Harlaw web page. Next week we will consider the English masque tune, as well as revisiting the Gaelic Brosnachadh. 2pm in the Wighton Centre, DD1 1DB.

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!

School visit, Baldragon Academy, Dundee

Baldragon Academy in Dundee has posted on its website, photos of my visit to the school last month. I spent an hour with the Higher Music pupils talking about the old native idioms in music, and demonstrating some old Irish and Scottish repertory on the harp. I think they found the concepts and styles very thought-provoking!