Category Archives: small town USA

In Freendship’s Name

Jack actually gets his Wednesday guest post up on time for a change – –

I’ve been thinking about strong friendships recently.

Max Johanny

Just a few days ago I emailed an old friend in France who I hadn’t been in touch with for a couple of years. I was desperately sad to get a reply from his wife telling me he’d died last November. Max Johanny had helped organize tours in the south of France for my old band ‘Heritage’ in the 1980s and we’d continued to correspond afterwards.

Two members of the band also had a special connection to Max. Mike Ward, who played keyboards, whistle and small pipes, and Davy Lockhart, our longest serving fiddle player. Mike was a teacher of French in a local high school and our expert in all things French. Davy was a lover of France and like Max, a lifelong socialist.

Davy Lockhart

Of all the members of our band Davy and Mike were probably closest to me and yet I very nearly destroyed their friendships. Like most musicians Mike moved in other circles, as did I, so it shouldn’t have bothered me when I stumbled across a communication from him to a festival that we’d twice played asking for a booking for another group. But I allowed myself to be bothered.

Mike Ward

Around the same time and just before ‘Heritage’ were due to record our final album, I was persuaded to give Davy the message that he was no longer part of the band. Davy would be the first to say that his playing was not of the highest quality but he had a lot of ‘soul’. I know that he was deeply hurt and I felt terribly guilty.

Some years after the final album came out Davy went on a sentimental return to France. I joined him there and we traveled around all the old haunts, eventually ending up at St. Jean Pied de Port in the Basque country where Max was the head of the local high school. Sitting at midnight in Max’s beautiful historic house I finally summoned up the courage to tearfully apologize to Davy as we demolished a bottle of Max’s single malt. We remained good friends until his death.

Mike and I never spoke about my irrational reaction to his festival approach, but I’m sure he must have known. Despite that, and when I started my annual small group tours of Scotland, I would always drop in on Mike before the tour started and eventually he visited with Wendy and me for three weeks here in Virginia. He had never been to America and was full of curiosity, delighting in meeting our friends and even playing piano for a service in our Presbyterian Church. We remained good friends until his death.

I suppose the message is that we depend on the grace of our friends, despite our failings. We’re all human after all and we make mistakes. I’ve made a good few and I’ll always be glad that Davy and Mike were able to overlook them.

Freendship makes us aa mair happy
Freendship gies us aa delicht
Freendship consecrates the drappie
Freendship brocht us here the nicht

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

A Word in your Ear – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post fails to make it again – Wendy threatens to cut his fee – –

A young friend in Scotland who has become a much admired singer of traditional Scots songs is Iona Fyfe (a name I thought had been adopted to represent the breadth of Scotland, but it’s actually her name). Just recently she was in the news across the globe for taking Spotify to task for not allowing singers to post their songs as Scots. She won the argument and they have now included that option.

It, of course, raised that old hoary argument that Scots isn’t a language but just a dialect of English. In fact they both started from common roots, as did most European languages. I usually tell people that the relationship between Scots and English is similar to that between Spanish and Portuguese or between Danish and Norwegian.

Nowadays most Scots speak a mixture of Scots and English – particularly in informal situations. That’s much changed from when I was young and teachers discouraged bairns frae spikken their ain leid. They felt that to get on in life it was necessary to speak ‘proper English’ and they were quite correct. What they didn’t understand was that kids can be taught and study more than one language. Of course when we reached high school we learned French or German but still our own language was suppressed. I wonder whether teaching all subjects in Scots and including English as an option along with French and German, as happens in Gaelic language schools now would have helped.

I was lucky to have a granddad who lived with us from the time I was born until he died and who was a natural speaker of Scots, so I heard the vocabulary and sentence structure as I was growing up. My parents, although they had middle class aspirations, still spoke a more diluted version of Scots and we had an old edition of Burns songs, poems and letters in the house. Incidentally, Burns wrote his letters and some of his songs and poems in ‘proper English’ while the others were in ‘proper Scots’, but even he absorbed his Scots language informally beside the ingle neuk.

It’s interesting how much a language can help define a nation, and that’s not lost on the London based ‘movers and shakers’. They think it’s bad enough to have road signs in Welsh and Gaelic but they winna thole them in Scots!

Like many immigrants to the USA I have learned to speak and understand American English, but I can still speak and understand British English (for which I thank those far off teachers). Still, my language of choice will always be Scots –

My childhood memories are – lowpin ower dykes; keekin at the muin; greetin fu sair; gien it laldie and haudin ma wheest.

Lang may yir lum reek!

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