Sunday 31 May 2015

Stone of Destiny and Arbroath

By pure chance on our drive up to visit our son in Dundee I picked up a small book on our Scottish hero William Wallace. I had been reading of Wallace in a Robert Burn's biography.  Burns was inspired by reading of Wallace and he wished to write a song for him - and so Burns wrote his now famous song 'Scots Wa Hae wi Wallace bled.'

It can be a strange thing how one journey steps us on to another. So there I was on the road to Arbroath abbey, which we found to be a large imposing red sandstone building steeped in Scottish history and built by William I of Scotland in 1178. Here men spoke of their cherished freedom back in 1320,  and here Glasgow students in 1950 returned the Stone of Destiny, on which Scottish kings had been crowned for 450 years at Scone Abbey near Perth. (they bravely stole the stone from Westmister Abbey at Christmas time!) .. This was the place that the Arbroath Declaration of Independence was signed by lords, commons and the clergy of Scotland in 1320.  In it they had affirmed our right to be free to live our own lives in our own way.  There is a clip of Ian Hamilton who led the students at the Arbroath visitors centre, speaking of his quest to awaken Scotland from its long slumber, his voice chokes as he speaks..

...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

So I bought Hamilton's book and enjoyed reading it. In it he writes, ' On the morning of 11 April 1951, I left Glasgow with Bill Craig. At Stirling Bridge we thumbed  a lift from a car driven by Councillor Gray, which contained the Stone of Destiny, now carefully repaired. At midday we carried it down the grass-floored nave of the abbey and left it at the high later. It was a crucifixion.
When we turned away and stood for a minute at the gate, and looked down the long nave flanked by the blood-red sandstone of the walls to the alter where the Stone lay under the blue and white of a Satire. I heard the voice of Scotland speak as clearly as it spoke in 1320. 

I continue on my journey learning Scots history and considering it is so interesting it is quite a shame that it practically died out in schools back after the war. Then we had to aspire to being second rate English here and learn English history - The Tudors, Wordsworth and Shakespeare etc. at school.
I was fortunate that I had a Mr MacDonald from the Hebrides who was a tall man who often wore a blue kilt, for my headmaster at primary school, and so we were lucky we learnt a Burns poem every year and sang Burns songs with our school choir. I have such fond and vivid memoirs of this.  It is wonderful to note that today things have changed and Scottish school children do now learn about their own country's past. 

A Short history. During Alexander II's reign things were stable in Scotland. He was married to the daughter of the English king and his daughter married the King of Norway
Sadly his two sons died and his daughter died giving birth to a daughter (who later died). Storm clouds were brewing and Alexander had no heir. Disaster was predicted and when he suddenly died  the Scottish Wars of Independence began.

When Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots, paraded north, he stole the Stone of Destiny from Perth and put it under a new Coronation throne in Westminster. Scottish kings had been crowned on the stone for 450 years. After Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn, Edward II agreed to return the stone to Scotland in 1328. 

Hamilton writes - "The symbol of her liberty had come back to Scotland, and we felt that some sort of rude ceremony was needed to mark the return of the Lia Fail to the custody of its own people.
We stopped and drew the coat back and exposed the Stone to the air of Scotland for the first time in 600 years. from the provision basket we produced the gill of whisky, and poured a libation over the stone's roughness. thus, quietly, with little fuss, with no army, with no burning of houses or killing people, and for the expenditure of less than £1000, we brought Scotland back the Stone of Destiny."

The Stone was returned to Edinburgh 'on loan' oddly (?) in 1997 with the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.  Was this the real stone? Does it all matter?  Yes the stone is a symbol of Scotland's long and unique history and identity. 

A movie about Hamilton and The Stone of Destiny was released in 2008 with Charlie Cox playing Hamilton.
Ian Hamilton writes in his Stone of Destiny, ' History is on the side of the small nations. Look about you and you will see the truth.' 
 'When on 25 march 1707 James Ogilvie, Earl of Seafield, Chancellor of Scotland, signed the Act of Union, ending Scotland's ancient independence, and merging the two parliaments of Scotland and England into the United Kingdom Parliament, he threw down the quill with these words: 'Now there's the end of an auld sang.'  
It may be, it just may be, that on Christmas Day 1950 four young people wrote a new verse to that old song. Whatever we did, the song is still being sung.'

Folklorist Margaret Bennett

Her background is Glasgow, Irish and on her mothers side from Skye and the Stewarts. Her father was a piper.  
When she was young she was ill with polio and during that time heard stories from her grandfather. 

She went over to Newfoundland Canada with her father and discovered all these old Scottish traditions that had died out in Skye and in Scotland. She had trained as a primary teacher but now decided to become a folklorist and she has been teaching at the school of Scottish studies at Edinburgh university. There she worked with the Scottish poet Hamish Henderson who was always asking her to poetry readings.    

Her talented son Martyn Bennett went with her everywhere and heard as a child all these traditional singers and pipers. He had an excellent teacher at school and when he was doing his higher music students were allowed to play the Spanish guitar but NOT the Scottish pipes!  So he sat his higher music playing the pipes, one of the first to do so.

Martyn sadly died at the young age of 32. I was at the wonderful opening concert at Celtic Connections 2014 which was the first orchestration of Martyn's incredible Grit album - one of the best concerts I have been at. I wondered where he got all these references for his music as if he'd pluck them out of the air - now I know it was from his mother. She said in a recent radio interview that she tries to be thankful every day for the small gifts.  Things that rankle - let them go. 
Martyn Bennett was influential in the evolution of modern Celtic fusion, a blending of traditional Celtic and modern music.

Say AWARDs shortlist has been announced

Say AWARDs shortlist has been announced - This year’s Scottish Album of the Year Award shortlist:
Belle and Sebastian - ‘Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance’
Errors - ‘Lease Of Life'
Happy Meals - ‘Apèro’

Honeyblood - ‘Honeyblood’

Kathryn Joseph - ‘Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I've Spilled’

Paolo Nutini - ‘Caustic Love’ (Winner of the Public Vote)

PAWS - ‘Youth Culture Forever’

Slam - ‘Reverse Proceed’

The Amazing Snakeheads - ‘Amphetamine Ballads’

Young Fathers - ‘DEAD’

Monday 18 May 2015

Scottish Renaissance

Frightened Rabbit
In 2009 we celebrated 250 years since the birth of our national poet Robert Burns with many events and concerts across Scotland..

Today in 2015 rock bands like Frightened Rabbit can sell out US venues and are signed to Atlantic records. They have developed their fan base worldwide while being based in Scotland. Also the band The Errors, an electric rock band, say they don’t need a London office to communicate today. According to radio DJ Vic Galloway PR and Publishing continue to be based in London.

Scotland over the past decades has hosted some of the world’s most successful arts programs and events. T in the Park is the UK’s second live event; Celtic Connections is one of the main worldwide roots music events. Edinburgh festival is the worlds biggest arts festivals.

Twenty years ago people might have mocked folk singer songwriters The Proclaimers Scottish accents – and now it is normal for musicians here to sing with their Scottish accents and write about where they come from and be proud!.

The band Twilight Sad say that ‘American audiences sing back to us in pretend Scottish accents!’ Great!

Our main festivals encourage a great deal of cross-collaborations which are highly productive and illuminating. Folk singer songwriter Karine Polwart has spoken of the special musical collaborations that are welcomed here between different artists. As long as we continue to welcome and embrace other cultures – as we do whole heatedly at our arts festivals.

The internet has broken down barriers too and this cultural identity and pride in your roots has been happening elsewhere. 
Biffy Clyro

The question remains whether cultural revivals have driven devolution – I can’t help but feel they have. It is part of the crucial debates over our distinctly Scottish identity. 
Today many young musicians are less affected by the Radio One formula sound. It used to be Scottish artists felt second rate, but no more!

Frightened Rabbit, ‘Now there is more confidence about staying in Scotland. ‘