The Monday Book

The Folk River – Fraser Bruce

Previewed by Jack Beck

I’m married to an author, so it’s hardly surprising that I’ve seen many books as they have gestated.

This one is different, though, because it’s by an old friend who isn’t my wife – –

It is a book that is still in the making, although I (along with many others) have had some input. Fraser wanted to write about a particular period of history in which I played a part – the early days of the emergence of folk song clubs in Scotland in the 1960s.

He started researching and found that many of the accepted stories about those days weren’t really true. Time had played tricks with folks’ memories and an alternative history was beginning to emerge. So he took on the important, but enormous task of writing the real one, by talking directly to the people who had been there and were still around. I was honored to be one.

As I write this the manuscript is being proofed and tidied by another old friend and the finished book should be published later this year.

My contribution has been mostly providing information about the early days of the local folk club in my home town of Dunfermline which started in 1961 and has continued right up to the present.

Many people have supplied Fraser with firsthand accounts of other clubs that sprang up all over Scotland in the early 1960s. It’s clear that the work he has done on this over the last year has been very time consuming but he tells us that he is pleased with the outcome.

The emergence of these Scottish clubs mirrored what was happening in the US and England around the same time, but there was a particular ‘flavor’ to the scene in Scotland.

While my contribution and communication with Fraser has been entirely electronic, I know that earlier last year he traveled all over the country gathering insights from dozens of people.

In addition to the proofing of the text, Pete Heywood of Living Tradition magazine is assembling and scanning a large number of photos which will augment the book.

The book will be welcomed not only by the folk who were part of the story, but also those who have emerged since and kept the folk river flowing. In the words of Hamish Henderson “the carrying stream”.

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A Real Lady

We’ve been very lax this week because of our 2nd vaccine shots – onwards and upwards – –

I was thinking about memorable folk I’ve met in my life and happened to look up at something on our kitchen wall. It’s a cushion cover, but no ordinary one! Hand made by a remarkable woman who had trained at the Slade School of Art in London.

Nora Porteous came into our life via her son Lindsay who is also remarkable through his musical expertise. He and I wound up in the same traditional Scottish folk group and that’s how I got to know Nora.

She, her husband and children lived in the ‘hill-foots’ in central Scotland until tragedy struck and Nora was left a widow and almost penniless. She and the kids re-located to the beautiful and very historic village of Culross (pronounced Cooross) in Fife, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Almost every Scottish movie or TV series you’ve ever seen set in the 1600s has scenes filmed in Culross.

Nora rented the ‘Tron House’ and rebuilt a derelict wash-house nearby for a studio and gift shop. She painted pictures, made things like our cushion cover, designed postcards and souvenirs for tourists. Right next door was the Palace with lovely original faded designs that she used as the basis for much of her work.

Tron houses in Scotland were set in the market squares and were where weights and measures were checked and agreed, so they were very important places. But Culross changed over the centuries and the streets and alleys gradually rose until the Tron House kitchen door’s stone lintel became lower. It was about a four foot space the time Wendy knocked herself out on it. When Outlander was filmed there we were amused to see the main players ducking as they came out the door. Some of them were big men, and we remembered how many times we’d seen stars as we forgot to duck!

Nora was intelligent, clever and savvy so she worked at using her academic and life training to survive and taught these skills to her kids as well.

We admired her for her ability to get up every time she was knocked down and her sense of place in the world. Whenever we visited for tea she produced her best china and silverware and observed every required rule – knives, forks and spoons carefully placed.

She was a lady for sure, and an important artist, but a survivor too!

The cushion cover was her wedding present to us – – –

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