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 Day the World Ended –

Jack is this Monday’s book reviewer –

The Day the World Ended at Little Big Horn; Joseph M. Marshall

Six years ago Wendy and I set out on a road trip that wound up in North Dakota, and towards the end we visited Wounded Knee. We were surprised to see that the only sign was an obviously amateur locally made one and there was no historical marker. There were some tables down off the road with local Nakotas who were very willing to tell us what had happened there.

The following year we retraced our steps with a couple of friends and, this time, went further North to Little Big Horn. The contrast was very clear! A visitor center with books and souvenirs and a regular guided tour round the site where the message was all about the heroic ‘Custer’s last stand’.

Marshall’s book tells the history of the Nakota from the first arrival of French explorers in the 16th century right up to today. He is a professor of history, an academic and a Nakota. His book tells the story of Little Big Horn and Wounded knee from the Nakota perspective. It’s both triumphant and horrific, of course.

When we visited Little Big Horn we did the tour which was led by a local Nakota and he was following the script which was completely focused on the Custer story. So it was both refreshing and informative to read this book. It portrays the battle as a triumphant victory for the First Nations which led on, of course, to the vengeance that was wreaked at Wounded Knee.

Marshall comes right up to date in the 21st Century with the aftermath of the ‘Indian Wars’ including the removal of First Nation children to special schools, the stealing of the land and the removals to the reservations. He even mentions Sitting Bull joining Buffalo Bill’s wild west show for a tour of Europe!

I first became interested in this history when I discovered my grandad had seen Buffalo Bill’s show in my home town in Scotland in 1908. A good friend and marvelous songwriter discovered his father had also seen the same show and wrote this –

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing