One of the good friends I made fairly late in both our lives was the wonderful Jock Duncan. He had been a singer all his life and steeped in the traditions of his native Aberdeenshire, but didn’t record anything until he was seventy years old. His repertoire of ballads and songs were very authentic and rooted in the soil of his land, but he continued to learn new songs written in traditional style
Jock had moved to Pitlochry in Perthshire, where I was hosting a monthly radio show that went out live in the 1990s. Each time I’d finish by asking Jock to put the kettle on. So, many of my radio guests were conducted down the ten minutes to Jock’s house where his wife Frances would set out an impeccable tea with biscuits.
Wendy sometimes went with me and on one occasion I did the usual ‘kettle, tea’ sign off and we headed down to Jock and Frances’ house. What we didn’t know was they’d been visiting their son in Aberfeldy and heard me on the car radio. We arrived to find them as usual with everything ready, but only found out later they’d arrived a few minutes before us! That was what they were – always thinking of others and how to make them welcome.
I remember when Duncan Williamson was my radio guest, taking him to meet Jock and they immediately respected each other as important in the folk revival, despite their very different approaches to the ballads. As usual Duncan was talking while Jock was listening.
Later, when I started doing small group tours of Scotland for Americans I’d make a point of taking them to meet Jock and Frances and though they hardly understood a word Jock said they were always charmed by him and the welcome they received.
Jack hits the ground running and gets his blog post out on time – –
On St Patrick’s Day I’m taking the liberty of copying a quote from a message I received this morning from a friend.
Music is what language would be if it could. It returns us, in sometimes fleeting but sustaining moments to our true and highest selves. Ireland has a significant store of traditional music and there is a great diversity of style and nuance. Each region has a distinctive tradition. One can hear the contours of the landscape shape the tonality and spirit of the music. The memory of the people is echoed in the refrains. Traditional Irish music can be joyous and lively. The reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas and slides have tremendous energy and passion. In the slow airs and ballads the wistfulness of loss and sorrow is piercing. When one considers the history of suffering the Irish have endured through colonization, famine and emigration, it is fascinating that our music has such heart. Indeed some of the greatest and most distinctive Irish music developed among Irish emigrants, especially in America, and must have been one of their few shelters in exile. Arriving in a strange land and having to work hard, far away from their family, friends and home landscapes, their music must have opened secret doors in memory and allowed the heart to come home again. There was a sense that music is a homecoming. When they felt lost and forsaken, they rejoiced in this universal language that crosses all frontiers and barriers.
The music of the people offers a unique entry into their unconscious life. The tenor of what haunts and delights becomes audible there. The cry of the people is in their music. The mystery of the music is its uncanny ability to coax harmony out of contradiction and chaos. And always there is an abiding kind of vitality and sustaining integrity to the music. I know of friends of mine who when they play, they are unreachable. You cannot find them. They are serving the music. They are in another place.
So music does not touch merely the mind and senses; it engages that ancient and primal presence we call soul. The soul is never fully at home in the social world we inhabit. It is too large for our contained, managed lives. It reminds us that we are children of the eternal and that our time on earth is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth, creativity and finding beauty. This is what music inspires. It evokes a world where that ancient beauty can resonate within us again. The eternal echoing of music reclaims us for a while for our true longing.