Thursday 31 December 2020

Year of Turbulence 2020


Walks kept us going
We’ve Lost and Gained

We have passed through the porthole of the pandemic into a new existence and we don’t yet know where the pieces will land. The world as we know it has fragmented. Much has changed, much remains the same. 


The vaccines are coming, but we are only at base camp for recovery. Its been a year of limbo, with a blank calendar, working at home, empty shops, queues,… 2020 saw many major and life threatening errors – failure to act quickly, out-of-date PPE, failure to listen to the science, 


We started using Zoom and Skype much more – for interviews, business and family get togethers. Some of this was good and will continue and many found working at home went okay. We went our daily walks which mattered a lot.

City centres were deserted though, and all the small cafes and shops that support city working will surely close. Cities will need to adapt and change as people bought more locally. 


Empty Princes street during lockdown

Edward Carson statue thrown into river Bristol Black lives matter

Will calm waters lie ahead in 2021 – perhaps? 

How can we explain the isolation and disquiet of this Covid pandemic to future generations? After seven long months, with our lives often on hold, its been a strange, strange time. It has given us pause for thought though and to consider what is most important in our lives. By far the hardest part has been missing family, 


I’ve kept myself busy with major tidying projects in the house and with my vast archives online. After 12 years now pursuing photography, I have a large website archive of photos from Celtic Connections music festival and from Edinburgh book festival –

And also reviews and other essays on my blog


Over the years I’ve taken photos of many famous people: musicians, novelists, artists, politicians, poets and more. Recently I’ve renewed my interest in history, particularly Scots history, which I had little knowledge of before – from George Buchannan, Edinburgh enlightenment, Thomas Muir, Robert Burns, Eliabeth Stewart, Covenanters, Brognar of Ness Orkney, more. 

In particular I’ve been reading of our Scots Bard RB and I recommend these books –

The Bard by Robert Crawford; robetr bursnan dthe Hellish Legion, John Burnett.


President Elect Biden

HIGHER NOTES : President Elect Biden

We may be ending the year on higher notes and its hard to express my desire to see the back of that dark and ignorant bully in the white house, Donald Trump. As the long slow march of Democrat votes were tallied up in November, it was akin to voices of light and sanity speaking up. 

What a relief! I listened to Joe Biden’s first speech as President Elect with hope, as he spoke of healing divisions in America and hopefully worldwide too. This was such a crucial election. I want to tell Biden, education is the key, even if he cant’ pursue all he’d like to! Then I hear that his wife is a teacher. Good news.  

The relief is enormous to return to some kind of sanity and see the back of an opportunist populist and hopefully we might see the back of other opportunists and disrupters closer to home.

People painted windows, stones and decorated with bright lights

I may support an Indy Scotland – but my main motivation is democracy (prefer to be part of a Scottish Democratic party) rather than any sort of nationalism (as Boris likes to focus on) and that’s for Scots to have a voice.


Meanwhile the excellent Irish Times writer Fintan O’Toole theorises that the Right has realised their route to electoral success is extreme populism – with opportunistic, fake electoral lies to hoodwink the public to vote for them.

The Tories used to be the party of decency, morality, family values, but not anymore: now Its all taking the party line. Now they represent reckless greed, capitalism and selfish individualism begun under Thatcher, who famously said, “There is no such thing as society.”

And during the First lockdown March the spring air was the most perfect and clear we'd ever seen. I took photos of the blossom with my new Sony  camera.


It’s hard to look ahead with any certainties anymore – who can really say. Better to expect the unexpected. There are Big Anniversaries in 2021 – The Declaration of Arbroath, 100 years of Northern Ireland in April, May – Scottish parliament elections. 

If this hard year has taught us nothing, its that the real heroes are the ordinary people who kept our country going and not the people at Westminster. 





Fare Well - Hogmanay Celebrations

Fare Well - Part 129 December - 

Filmed in the stunning Scottish Highlands, tonight we host the premiere of the first instalment of our 2020 online celebrations. 

Fare Well, a visually captivating and emotive experience, will see 150 individual drones take to the skies to deliver the UK's largest swarm drone show.

Set to the words of award-winning poet and Scots Makar, Jackie Kay. Fare Well Part One takes inspiration from what we've been able to do and not do during 2020. Jackie writes about the way that the air carries airs, music, the virus, chants and hymns.  Despite the trauma of the months gone by, we can and must still hope.  Hope for the future, hope for a new year and hope for each other.  Part One of Fare Well looks at the year gone by – the funerals and weddings cancelled, the griefs and despairs which have been collective, with a feeling that the world has become a village.

"This air has heather and malt on its breath

as it sighs, puffed oot after a year of death,

under the blue mask of its flag. The Saltire’s

been a warning cross. Dinny come too near. "

 Drone show pioneers, Celestial have used sophisticated AI software to choreograph their movements, the drones reached an altitude of 150m and top speeds of up to 25mph to form images created by Scottish illustrator, Gary Wilson.  Reflecting both the words from Jackie’s poem and the surrounding nature of the Highlands, the drones depict a series of images including a stunning Stag galloping across the scenery and the Saltire Cross.  Lending their voices to part one are renowned actors David TennantSiobhan Redmond and Lorne MacFadyen; with 25-year-old native Gaelic speaker Winnie from the Isle of Skye completing the line-up, all to a musical score from Skye-based Celtic fusion band, Niteworks.

"Let us remember and never forget

That we won’t let our hopes fizzle out"

SONGs of 2020


There were a few songs that helped through the tough times we all unexpectedly suffered through in 2020. 


Songs of pulling together. 

There were many heroes of 2020 – those who selflessly worked in care. 

Each Thursday we clapped on our doorsteps for the health workers – perhaps the clapping might get rid of the virus!



Times Like This by Foo Fighters

A star-studded cover version of the Foo Fighters' Times Like These has topped the UK singles chart after a close battle for the number one slot.The charity single, which features Dua Lipa, Chris Martin, Jess Glynne and Biffy Clyro, beat The Weeknd's Blinding Lights by just 3,000 copies.


Stand by Me 2020


True Colours by the local school choir


Hit song Blinding Lights by the Weeknd spent 8 weeks at No One 


Ceilidh nights – with renowned fiddler Duncan Chisholm’s from the western isles. Perfect pick up.



Live concerts and festivals were cancelled – but many albums were released.

Taylor Swift re-recorded her albums as Spotfiy take so much of the money on the streaming services. 

Lewis Capaldi – most streamed 

One World concert Lady Gaga

Tv shows and concerts with Zoom audiences. 


**TV meanwhile TV series kept us afloat too. 

Queens Gambit

Normal People

The Crown




Bond movie delayed for one year. Cost 250m with 5m in media.

We saw Tenet by in a near empty cinema in September




*The Big Indy night in -


The Losses of Brexit

“That us one reason why Brexit seems such a sadness for Scotland both in a economic and cultural sense, because it loosens our ties with one of the most ancient relationships to the European continent. “ Professor Tom Devine Scotlands top historian

MANY Scots will be filled with a great sadness, sense of loss, regret and will be grieving our enforced departure form the EU.. I grew up in Edinburgh and it always seemed a great centre of international culture, connections and travel. After five years I still have no idea what the benefits of all this Brexit chaos really are – except for the tax-avoiding off shore trust funds and saving the Tory party.

It’s a day I hoped would never arrive, but here it sadly is. Scotland voted to stay in Europe and our ancient history and ties to Europe run very deep: we have long been an outward looking nation on the edge and entrance to Europe. In fact our ties to Europe are much deeper and longer than Scotland’s attachment to Britain. I recently travelled to Scotland’s islands  - Orkney, Lewis, Harris, Barra, Uist, Mull, Iona - and I more clearly understood our links to the seas and travels and our strategic importance.

I have no trust or confidence in Boris’s Tory team or how well they are prepared for extra red tape, customs checks, hold ups and other issues. Their goal is for de-regulated freeports of reckless, exploitative capitalism. This is not the future I imagine for Scotland. For Scotland I hope for a very different future with improved social protection, greener policies, land reform, close private schools, equal and democratic opportunities for all its citizens (not subjects)

Back in the 70s when we first voted  to be in the EU, there may have been some questions over the EU. But over this time more and more it became evident all the obvious advantages both for Britain and Scotland gained from EU membership. 

We gained from regional investment, immigration, cultural exchange, freedoms of movement and more importantly peace in Europe. We have enjoyed the benefits of EU membership for 47 years – increased prosperity, immigration, regional development, environmental protections. Now we loose passports, Erasmus, no customs paperwork, free movement, just in time trade, and more… for what exactly?

This English Brexit – for that is assuredly what it is, is an insular, backward-looking, regressive and harmful thing. I’ve struggled to understand. And I wondered why the bigot and opportunist Farage was so often on BBCs Question Time, plying his false, extreme lies. I highly recommend Irish times writer Fintan OToole, Heroic Failure, an excellent interpretation of this English existential crisis and act of self harm.


AS I watch Boris gloat as he waves his 2,000 page Brexit deal, I feel sick with foreboding. What other country would vote to leave a successful trading block and how much is it all costing? Of course Cameron’s remain fear strategy would never work on the English – they were, ‘how dare anyone tell us we can’t.’ Wheras with the Scots, fear has worked over the centuries and the fear no campaign of 2014 meant many Scots were, ‘oh perhaps we really can’t. 

It’s the End of an Auld Sang

We left the EU 1st January – parcels to Europe will require customs checks; loss of fast movement of good across borders; slowdown at ports; increase paperwork; health certificates required; raw materials and Rules of Origins; EU safety requirements; barriers to professions working in Europe; Financial services more difficult and complex, still to be negotiated; tourism, data flows also affected. 

The big issues in 2021 will be Scottish independence with the May Scottish Parliament elections. I now see the future as Scotland’s place in Europe – much as other nimble, small nations are flourishing in this successful trading block which has been brought us peace and prosperity in Europe.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the house of Commons – “ Now we have an isolated UK amid a global pandemic – its economic vandalism, bad for fishing….. Worst of all worlds for Scotland.”

John le Carre, one of England’s greatest writers and the master of the spy thrillerwho died recently in a cottage near lands end so he could be miles away from London, and all that had gone wrong with a once great capital city.” His books about espionage were “compelling and a metaphor for the decline of Britain, Le Carre was fascinated by the end of empire, by the emotional debris it left behind and by the folly of the misplaced superiority complex that still festers in the minds of many today. He despised Brexit and loathed the people who had been the architects of its deceitful promise.”


“Brexit is the great catastrophe and the greatest idiocy that Britain has perpetuated… I’m not just a remainers. I’m a European, through and through, and the rats have taken over the ship. My England would be one that recognises it place in the EU. The jingoistic England that is trying to march us out of the EU. That is an England I do not want to know.”


Tom Devine writes Sunday National 27th Dec 2020, “Due largely to extensive migrations at every level of society – clerics, farmers, mercenaries, “ The bonds between Scotland and Europe between the 12 and the 17 century were much stronger than they were between England and Europe. Essentially I see Scotland as a global nation fashioned by generations of emigration and external connections. Tom Devine examines Scotland’s global identity and experience in his book – ‘To the Ends of the Earth : Scotland’s Global diaspora 1750 – 2010.’ Scots migration routes were not only to empire but to all corners of the world.  

Monday 30 November 2020

MULL Photos

Before our trip to Iona we spent some time on Mull near Tobermory. One morning on our drive south on the east coast there was perfect light. Yes photos ARE all about the right light: when the light is flat it impossible. The weather October was one that shed many rainbows and ever changing skies can be perfect too for that drama. On the boat over there was misty dream over Duart castle the home of clan McLean.

Duart castle


The Saltire – St Andrews flag

Dates back to 832 AD as Europe oldest flag. The saltire is not a martial symbol of the crowned portcullis of Westminster but rather promotes the saltire as a welcoming symbol for all Scots - whether by birth, choice or family roots. 


The Battle of Athalstaneford, an army of Picts under Angus mac Fergus, King of Alba and aided by the King of Dalraida, Eochaidh, fought a large force of Angle Saxons led by Athelstane. King Angus led prayers and was rewarded by a dramatic appearance of a white saltire on a blue sky.


Since the war there has been renewed interest in Scots history, culture, and symbolism. Our past stories. 

On the AUOB marches thousands of saltires stream along our city streets. For me my identity as Scot is not only about sense of place or past stories, but about democracy. 

Flags can have many meanings.The Union Jack in the 60s was a symbol of Carnaby street and 60s modernity. What matters is the values that underpin our saltire and shaped by the Scottish people – and not our neighbouring country’s think tank. 

The 55th anniversary of the Saltire Memorial 

in 1963 the minster of Athalstaneford had a contact from a Reginwald Livingston who was recently back from India where the Saltire was raised and lowered each day. He was surprised there was no memorial to commemorate the Scottish flag.


He suggested steps for a Saltire memorial. The minister contacted the Earl of Wemyss and donations came worldwide, in 1965 the memorial was completed and unveiled by Lt. General George C Gordon Lennox, Scottish command the Scots guard and the first regiment to carry a saltire into battle. Plus a saltire heritage centre in a restored doocot.


*SCOTTISH FLAG TRUST – is looking for donations for fundraising restore the monument.  Website 


Guy Fawkes

AND who was Guy Fawkes and why do we in Scotland celebrate a failed attempt on another country’s parliament?  Why on earth does Scotland celebrate with fireworks and a bonfire an English plot to blow up its House of Lords in 1605 – this is before the Union of the Two Parliaments. James Stewart VI of Scotland became James I of England at the Union of the Crowns in 1603.


Our new Scotland should instead celebrate our St Andrews on 30th November to remember all those great Scots who stood up for our nation. 


Sean Connery : Scots Hero


Sadly died. He was the best known Scot of recent times across the word as the most charismatic Bond.

He defined the role.


He was a true believer in Scottish independence and helped to campaign for the Scottish devolution vote in 1997.

For the restoration of our Scottish parliament he was the voice of the Pro-independence broadcasts. His involvement was a big boost for the SNP’s indy campaign.

Following Salmond’s election as party leader in 1990, Connery was the biggest force driving momentum. There was a Connery day when he scheduled a photo call with Gordon Brown on a boat flying a saltire in the Firth of Forth and headlined a cross party rally in the Old Royal High school – when he said – 


“The issue of self government went beyond any political party.” With 100 hours remaining he cautioned, “We don’t have much time.”


George Kerevan wrote, “Connery’s own time came to an end last Saturday but not before he made a lasting difference for Scotland.”

Perfect Light IONA

There is a stillness and purity of light, as if time has stood still here. We stood calmly in the suns bright midday rays – chatting and watching as the ferry to take us over the short crossing from Mull, come into view and gently dock at the pier. The gulls call overhead and the calm waters sparkle. We wait with expectant talk, and a woman tells us she has seen dolphins jumping around a boat.


We walk on sandy shores and sit a while to have lunch and watch and listen. Yes there are no overhead planes or cars. The colours are soft blues, turquoise and pale greens that blend perfectly together. We are glad we chose a sunny Sunday for our trip.


First we visit a well preserved Augustan nunnery that offered a calm sanctuary to abused women – estranged wives, illegitimate daughters, abused children.


Then we walk along the shores to the Iona abbey where early kings of Scotland are buried.

On Iona there is the ancient burial ground of early kings of Scotland and Norway. Iona abbey is the best preserved medieval Christian building from the middle ages.

St Colombia arrived from Ireland with 12 companions and brought Christianity here.


We pass a plaque that tells us about the visionary reformer who believed that belief is grounded in action. In the 1930s great depression the Reverend George MacLeod, saw the despair,  poverty and hopelessness around him in Glasgow and offered these men some hope and they came to help rebuild the ancient monastery and gave them a sense of self-worth and purpose. 




I sit on the grass to bask in the moment, to listen to my soul cry, to watch the sparkling waters, to hear the voices from the past tell their stories. Many Scots kings are buried on Iona, and also Labour leader John Smith. 


So much history here – Oaths were sworn on the black stone of Iona and is considered specially binding

When King James VI was working to suppress the powers of the clans, he held a great meeting of clan chiefs, when one agreement was that the Scottish chiefs sent their sons to be educated in England.

Maybe he thought he was uniting the country - which came at a great cost of many lives. 


The Iona community remains committed to issues of poverty, peace and social justice.


There are places that lift us up and renew us, if we allow the light to shine on. 

Many are pausing a while to reflect on their own shadow. 

We feel the centuries hold us a while, all the lost souls, forgotten hearts, searching travellers.


Hallowed ground. Purity of light – offering body and soul if we can only hear it. 


Some places offer magic light. 



Alexander Pope, ‘An honest man is the noble work of god.’

Saturday 31 October 2020

Singers Transatlantic Sessions

Jim Lauderdale

Julie Fowlis

Here are a few images of the top singers I’ve been privileged to take photos of, who have sung with the Transatlantic Sessions band at Celtic Connections music festival Glasgow over the past decade. Nothing much beats singing with such a quality band! 

Wonderful memories.

John Paul White

Kris Drever

Cara Dillon
Sierra Hull

Eddi Reader

Karen Matheson

Rachel Sermanni