The Last of the Tinsmiths – Sheila Douglas
Jack gets to do the Monday Book this week –
I should start by saying that I knew both the author and subject of her book. Sheila Douglas was an academic expert on the life of Scottish Travellers and their culture. Her house in Scone was a meeting place where Travellers were frequently brought together with visitors from all over the world.
Willie MacPhee was one of her favorite source singers and interviewees; I met him many times, sometimes at her house, often at traditional music festivals and also at his trailer outside Perth. When he passed away I attended his funeral at a small Church on the banks of Loch Lomond.
The book grew out of Douglas’s research for her PhD, but there’s nothing dry or academic about it. It’s very obviously a labor of love. Willie was a singer, a piper, a tinsmith and a storyteller and closely related to many other notable carriers of those traditions. The author pays due attention to them as well throughout.
Included are a number of his stories. Douglas has been careful to set them out exactly as he told them. She also describes his life in his own words and keeps her observations quite separate.
I first met Willie at the parking place on the road to Fort William where he entertained the tourists dressed in full highland costume and playing his pipes while his wife sold bunches of white heather. Every time I’ve been back, since his passing, I still see him in my mind’s eye.
I enjoyed this book and can recommend it without reservation.