Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

Words of Wisdom – –

Jack apologizes for missing last Wednesday completely but makes up for it by being on time today –

Used-book stores are great. Wendy and I have always managed to find one wherever we went in the early years of our marriage. So it wasn’t surprising that we wound up opening one when we moved to the town of Big Stone Gap in the very southwest tip of Virginia, some fourteen years ago. We quickly made it a ‘hanging out place’ where disparate (and sometimes desperate) folks found a haven. If you haven’t already, you can read all about it in ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’.

All things have their seasons, and for various reasons we moved to Wytheville, moving into our new home in early January 2019, in an 1890s sort of farmhouse meets French chateau. We’re still in the southwest edge of Virginia, but just closer to the interstate (that’s motorway for Scottish readers).

To our great delight we found that a used bookshop known as Oracle Books had opened a few months earlier on the main street. We quickly made friends with the owner, Randy, and the place turned out to be just like all the best bookstores we’d ever visited!

Up until the pandemic lockdown kicked in we were able to work with Randy to help introduce mini concerts of Scottish music some evenings, within his wider musical offerings. But, more importantly, we made many more friends and Oracle Books turned out to be the same kind of community center as all the best bookstores we ever experienced.

And then, as if things couldn’t get any better, Randy started a record section…..

 He set up an area for LPs – yes vinyl! Here we are in very rural southern Appalachia and whenever something he thinks might interest me shows up he messages me. In among the bluegrass and country albums the most amazing and rare traditional Scottish albums also turn up. Since I present a weekly Celtic music radio show on a couple of local NPR stations as well as one in Scotland that’s a real bonus!

So here’s to used-book stores where e’er they may be – – – and here’s to Randy at Oracle!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Temple of Culture – – –

Jack makes it on time but for a very sad reason – –

I was saddened a couple of days ago to learn of the death of Robin Morton. I first became aware of him in the 1960s through his book of Ulster songs, and then through his being a founding member of ‘The Boys of the Lough’.

Eventually, after he left the group he set up his home and recording studio in a retired Church in Temple – a small village near Edinburgh. In 1979 my old group ‘Heritage’ recorded their second album there, our first experience of making a real LP. This was back in the days of editing tapes with a razor blade and I remember a mistake that meant rescuing discarded tape from the waste bin and restoring a missing bit!

Twelve years later we were back to record our final album before we all went our separate ways. What had been the control room was now the performance area and vice versa. Instead of a razor blade he sat in a comfy chair with a remote and zapped between two DAT recorders to edit stuff. But he still kept an analogue tape of the finished, edited and mixed final recording. Robin was a hard taskmaster and didn’t appreciate folk arriving underprepared. He made clear to us that we had to have everything ready to go and his studio wasn’t a rehearsal room. That was immensely helpful to us and resulted in an album of which we were all proud.

A few years after we finished that album, I was contacted by Wayne Bean, a folklore student of Sandy Ives at the time, up in Maine; not long after Wayne met and married a Scotswoman who had a copy of that early Heritage album. He phoned Robin and got my contact details because he wanted to meet the band, and promptly booked us for some USA shows. That’s how I started coming to the USA and eventually met Wendy—on Wayne’s back porch. Funny where paths lead!

When Wendy came to Scotland and we married, she served on the Scottish Parliament traditional arts committee alongside Robin, where he was one of the pre-eminent and forceful champions of Scots culture. When Robin got too nationalistic, Wendy pulled him down a peg or two, but they respected one another.

The last time I met Robin was just a few years ago when, on a whim, I took the small American group that I was touring round Scotland to his house and studio. He and Alison were the perfect hosts, providing tea and snacks, music and a guided tour.

Even more recently I’ve made a good friend in Alan Reid, one of the founding members of ‘Battlefield Band’ who were molded and managed by Robin.

So, in many ways our lives connected over the years and finally, when my friend Dirk Wiley made a video documentary of my musical career a couple of years ago, Robin was happy to allow some ‘Heritage’ tracks to be used.

RIP Robin Morton – you had an impact on many lives.

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, out of things to read, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch