Tag Archives: Fife

♪ Old Friends ♪…. (RIP, Jean Redpath)

jean redpathAs I get older more old friends depart this life and this week was no exception. A special one took the trip a few days ago.

Fellow Fifer (as in Fife, Scotland) Jean Redpath and I crossed paths many times over the years as she blazed a trail for singers of genuine Scots ballads and songs here in the States. Her voice and her ‘Coinyach’ were wonderful. She died this week, in hospice care.

When I first started getting interested in Scots ballads and folksongs, Jean was just a little bit older than me. She was a member of the Edinburgh University Folksong Society, led by the famous and influential Hamish Henderson, so had access to the archives of the School of Scottish Studies and had already begun to make recordings that were an inspiration to me.

I eventually began singing in partnership with Barbara Dickson and I tended to be the researcher of potential material. Jean was always a regular ‘go-to’ and we ‘stole’ quite a lot of her stuff. :]

After she moved to the US, she would regularly return to Scotland to tour the folk clubs and festivals, and I always made a point of going to see her. On one of these  nights she said that one of the things she’d kind of forgotten was how polite Scotsmen were. While staying at her mother’s house in Fife she had gotten what she described as a ‘heavy breathing’ phone call. But the gent on the other end of the line started by saying “would you mind if – – -“. So Jean’s great sense of humor also permeated her performances and that taught me a lesson as well.

Many years later, just around the time I was touring the States quite a bit, I found myself sharing the stage with Jean at East Tennessee State University. During the afternoon we appeared live on the local radio station to help promote the concert. I had almost forgotten about that program until it re-surfaced recently; I was stunned when I heard her rendition of Robert Burns’ song ‘O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast’ – absolutely beautiful and a real challenge!

Shortly after that she again toured in Scotland and I was fortunate to interview her for my own radio show Scene Around. We did the interview in her late mother’s beautiful house down near the harbor in Elie, Fife–the same place where the polite heavy breather had phoned.

For someone so well known through regular appearances on Prairie Home Companion and other great venues, I found her completely charming and down to earth, never over the years turning the least bit ‘prima donna-ish’.

My abiding memory of her, though, is of her performing one of Robert Burns’ most explicitly raunchy songs–it’s so bad, I can’t even write the title here–to a typical audience of elderly ladies at that concert at ETSU, and getting away with it through her sheer personality.

Or maybe they just didn’t understand any of the words, given her lovely Fife accent.

Rest in Peace, Jean. You inspired successive generations, and you will be missed.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Scotland

Crossing the Topiary Chessmen off my Bucket List

The winners of the AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST in the author category will be posted Friday. Meanwhile, enjoy Wendy’s adventures in Scotland!

Digital CameraI hadn’t seen my friend Bun in eight years, since leaving Scotland for the States. We used to run a storytelling club together, and like me she is an avid textile artist.

So when she said she had promised to take her mother on a garden tour Sunday afternoon (the only day I could see her) I–who can’t tell an onion from a lily–said sure, I’d tag along.

“Great!” Bun said. “It’s at Leuchars, Earlshall Castle.”

Could it be…? Leuchars was only a few miles from New Gilston, where Jack and I used to live in Scotland. As a bride my first year there, I’d tried several times to visit a famous garden in Leuchars, listed in the guidebook just before the new owner had shut it up and installed security cameras.

Digital CameraHot diggety! In one of those rare coincidences life sometimes hands out, I not only got to spend a happy hour with my friend Bun, but she led me straight to something I’d wanted to see for more than ten years: the Topiary Chessmen.

Hey, I don’t make comments about what’s on YOUR bucket list.

Digital CameraThe pieces are laid out in mid-play. Allegedly, one king is under some threat; to really appreciate their positioning, you have to view them from the tower window of the castle. As the family weren’t offering that option in their Open Garden for Charity day, Bun and I contented ourselves with running about screaming, “Oh, here’s a knight! This must be the queen! Look, that one’s a Dalek!” and generally acting like school children.

Digital CameraMost of the people attending had come straight from the Church of Scotland’s Sunday Service, and were dressed in expensive shoes, sweater sets, and suits. Bun was wearing a lot of her own handiwork, plus a poncho. I was wearing “tourism casual.” We attracted several stares.

Which made us cut up more. “You will be exterminated!” Bun intoned in front of a Dalek-esque pawn.

Digital Camera Digital CameraA man in a flat cap with tweed patches at his elbow stopped, looked at us, looked at it, and said in a posh English accent, “Blimey! THAT’S what it reminds me of. Ta, ladies!”

Tis true that some of them required more benevolent imagination than others, but I’d been wanting to see these things for ten years. In fact, I suggested a run out in the last week Jack and I lived in Scotland, just to see if perchance we could get into the gardens.

Digital CameraJack does not share my fascination with hegemonic sculpture.

And now I’ve seen them. And Bun and I will remember our day out among the topiary chessmen for a long time. About as long as the owners of the garden remember us racing ’round shrieking in nasal drones, “Exterminate!” and doing mouth music versions of the Dr. Who theme.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Silliness, long-lost dreams helped to come true, and a really good cup of tea in the garden?Digital Camera

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing, YA fiction