Category Archives: out of things to read

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

The Monday Book – The Sinner

The Sinner – Stuart MacGregor (J Philip O’Hara 1973)

There are many facets to the city of Edinburgh – cultural, historical, academic and poor suburbs. I lived most of my life within easy distance and rode the thirty minute train journey most weeks in the late 1950s and early 1960s to go to jazz clubs and folk clubs. It usually involved climbing the steps from the station to the high street, stopping at the pub halfway, then on up to Bunjie’s coffee bar and finally to number 369 and the jazz club before racing for the last train home.

MacGregor’s book is set around that time and captures the atmosphere well.

There are really three strands to the story – the main character is Denis Sellars who has an on-off relationship with Kate and is a folksinger. Then there is a debate between traditionalist folkies and entertaining folkies. There are many thinly disguised real people who emerge in this strand. Denis is caught in the middle and his brother is being groomed as an entertaining folksinger.

I could fairly easily recognize many of the ‘real’ people who were referenced and I worried about that, as I don’t think they were as ‘right and wrong’ as MacGregor suggests. My memory is of a much more understanding time and Hamish Henderson (who is one of the thinly disguised ones) always encouraged guitar wielding youngsters like me.

I do believe, however, that he captured a particular atmosphere of cultural Edinburgh at that time really well. That I recognized!

The relationship with Kate was also believable and, I’m sure, would chime with many of my generation.

MacGregor was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, helped start one of the first folksong clubs in Scotland, and wrote songs and poems. After graduating, he married and moved to take up a job as a doctor in Jamaica. He died in a road crash around the time this book was published.

I was amused that the cover looks like a reference to Bob Dylan’s second album.

His best known song is ‘Coshieville’ a bittersweet love song set in a small hamlet in Perthshire when the hydro-electric dams were being built – here’s a nice performance –

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Filed under between books, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing