I am preparing for Wednesday’s concert here in St Andrews. I am going to play a programme of “Ceòl Rígh Innse Gall”, my speculative re-imaginings of medieval West-Highland ceremonial music. This project is still very much a work-in-progress, and I am still thinking hard about how this music should work, and what sources of inspiration and musical material to raid.
As I have been practicing the Fairy Queen for tomorrow’s concert, and I have the Downhill harp here this week, I thought I would do a quick Youtube of it as a record of where I am at the moment.
On Friday 24th April is the first big public outing of the replica Queen Mary harp after it has been seriously reworked inside by Natalie Surina of Ériú Harps. I am going to present my “Margaret 1281” programme of storytelling, song, harp music and bowed-lyre tunes, as part of the annual Northern Streams festival in Edinburgh.
I have been getting my records out, ready for next Wednesday’s event in the Wighton Centre, Dundee. I am getting nervous now, whether the machine will behave itself, and whether it will all run to time OK! I have about half an hour, and so I was thinking that perhaps 6 sides would be OK, though I do think I may overrun if I chat about each track! But I do want to include Gaelic song, Scots song, fiddle, pipes and clarsach, so that’s 5 sides instantly, and I have to play the disc with Marjory Kennedy-fraser at the piano. So we’ll see.
I am thinking I might also take along some of my other discs just to show off or for people to look at (and perhaps for requests after the event is over!). I have another 1914 “Scots song” disc, the Joseph Hislop disc, and one Jimmy Shand (from the ’40s I suppose) and one Harry Lauder which looks like it is from the teens. It’s not a huge collection but it is pretty diverse representation of Scottish music.
I thought of also taking the Mabel Dolmetsch discs to show as well, but they are just too fragile to risk travelling with and they can’t be played so I think there is no point.
You can get the full description of the event next Wednesday lunchtime on the Friends of Wighton news page.
Last night we went to Dundee, as I was performing my concert on board the Unicorn. We travelled in early just so we could have an hour or so wandering around the centre of town to see if anything was happening.
In city square there were perhaps a thousand people with flags and music, very peaceful and friendly, lots of family groups. They organised a procession around the block, so we followed on at the end.
We left the gathering and headed down to the docks. The Unicorn is a really beautiful ship, genuinely old and not over-manicured like many historical things. On board, the captains cabin had been cleared and was set with chairs; the wine was laid out on a table ouside the cabin entrance, on the main deck. The ceilings on board are very low!
As it got dimmer, people started arriving. There was not a huge turnout, but the low ceilings and the homely atmosphere of the ship seemed to draw people out; everyone was talking to each other in unexpected intimacy.
For the first half of the concert, I played a selection of 18th century music, from the pibroch Maol Donn to the breezy baroque Blossom of the Raspberry. My fiddle tune went OK and was well received – especially with the story about it.
In the interval everyone went into the main deck for wine and conversation. This went on for quite a long time!
Then for the second half I played the Lament for the Union set. People were interested and sympathetic to the sentiments – it felt like a historic moment, thinking about the beginning of the Union in 1707, on the eve of the historic referendum to undo it. Especially with the evening glow from the docks through the windows…
Walking back up through the town late at night to the bus station to catch our ride home, we saw a battle of the billboards. Looks like Yes is winning this one!
As well as doing some work canvassing for the referendum, I have been preparing for a couple of forthcoming events in Dundee. On Wednesday 1st October I am presenting Scottish music 78s for the Wighton lunchtime concert, though more imminent is my concert on Wednesday 17th September, on the eve of the referendum. I’m playing the harp in the elegant and unusual setting of the captain’s cabin on board HMS Unicorn, moored in Dundee docks. This classy wood-panneled room will be a lovely setting for the replica Queen Mary harp. There will be an interval with a glass of wine, and for the second half I am planning to play my “Lament for the Union” programme.
For the first half though, I am thinking of continuing the “300 years ago” theme with a selection of 18th century harp music. Normally I use the Downhill harp for that, but I know the Dundee people love the Queen Mary replica, and I only recently commandeered the Downhill back from my student who has it, so I am thinking laterally. Perhaps one of the ports played by John Robertson on the original Queen Mary harp in the early 1700s will allow me to joke about “Port Athol, Port Gordon and Port Seton” given the nautical setting!
I am also thinking that, as I always like to in a longer performance, I should pull something completely different out as a novelty and so I am thinking of playing a tune on the fiddle. Port na bPucaí has a suitable marine story to go with it and I think might be a nice suprise item. I just have to practice enough to be able to play it convincingly! We’ll see if my resolve can hold until next week!
Today I performed my Lament for the Union concert in St Andrews. I played the programme of music from my CD-single of the same name, and I used my Downhill harp for the event. The big growly voice of this harp worked very well for this pungent 18th century music, and suited well the airy acoustic of All Saints Church hall.
As well as the candles lit, we also had a big vase full of red and purple roses. At the end audience members each took a rose away “to remember the Union”.