Monthly Archives: May 2021

SSSA in 70 Objects: “No Winder You Canna Catch Fish”

Response by: Holly Graham

Recording: Up Helly Aa peats replaced by tar barrels

Contributor: Katie Laurenson

Fieldworker: Elizabeth Neilson

Reference: SA1961.89.B74

© Gaada

My chosen object is a short audio extractan excerpt of a longer oral history interview with Shetlander, Katie Laurenson; held within the School of Scottish Studies online collection of archive audio. I came across it while delving through another gathering of materials that has become an archive collection in its own right, hosted online by Shetland-based art space Gaada. Over the past year or so, Gaada have been working closely with local activist group Up Helly Aa for Aa (UHA4A) to collect a range of matter that together tells a story of the island’s annual local fire festival and its historic exclusion of women.

This assemblage of scanned press-cuttings, screen-shots of Facebook posts, drawings, videos, photographs and more, exists as a Google drive of digitised ephemera, documentation and artworks built collaboratively with contributions from UHA4A members. I had been invited, alongside a small selection of other artists, to explore this collection and to develop some accompanying artwork in the form of a flag design, and pieces for a display unit – outdoor structures that could allow for socially distanced viewing in the context of Covid19. A selection of these artworks were later donated to Glasgow Women’s Library. 

As I read and surveyed images, a picture of the festival and what it meant to local people built in my mind – firearms, tar barrels, guizing, Vikings, community. The earliest festivals were “a highly ritualised form of mis-rule governed by the people” according to writer Callum G. Brown (Up-Helly-Aa: Custom, Culture and Community in Shetland, 1998); a show of what Brydon Leslie calls “disruption, devilment, and above all, flame” (New Shetlander, 2011). Brian Smith debunks the authenticity of what he terms the ‘bogus name “Up Helly Aa”’ and the festival’s links to Viking history, saying its inventors – young working men in Lerwick – ‘had their tongues firmly in their cheeks’ (The Shetland Times, 1993). Recent article headlines from local papers jostle and joust: ‘Is Up-Helly-A’ brazenly sexist, or is ‘the way it’s always been’ still acceptable?’ asks Peter Johnson in a 2017 issue of The Shetland Timesthere’s a ‘Burning desire for change’ says Zara Pennington for The Orkney News in 2018; ‘Leave it as it is’ reads the opener of a letter from Lerwick resident Jolene Tindall for The Shetland Times in a year later; ‘Up Helly Aa sexism under the spotlight’ reads a headline of a 2020 Sunday Times article written by Shetlander Sally Huband; ‘They call us backward’ claims a staunch member of the ‘remain the same’ camp in a short video feature by Huck Magazine posted on their site in the same year. 

There was a lot to look through, and I spent a number hours-worth of screen-time squinting at and zooming in on minute columns of newspaper text, lined by pixelated image boarders. The link to Katie’s sound file on the School of Scottish Studies website stood out to me as one of the only items in the Google drive present existing in audio format. It was a welcome pause from the glowing screen and I closed my eyes while I listened. Katie’s lilting narrative told of roots of the festival, steeped in sun-worship rituals. She spoke of flaming tar barrels and the healing properties of tar. She told her own anecdotes of being chastised for wandering to a neighbour’s house via a forbidden route. 

Postcards by Holly Graham

I often work with audio. I’m interested in story-telling and how individual voices present singular subject views, that listened to along-side others, can layer to build complex and nuanced narratives, versions of histories. I was intrigued by Katie’s recounting of her journey to the neighbour’s house and of how that mapped onto histories of the Up Helly Aa procession route, steeped in the superstitious belief that there was only one correct direction to move. Through Katie I learnt vocabulary that was new to me – ‘sungaits’, the way of the sun, also known as clockwise; and ‘widdergaits’, against the sun, or anticlockwise. She laughed at what ‘the old folks’ would say if they saw the present day Lerwick Up Helly Aa procession, weaving a figure of eight back and forth through the town centre. They’d think it was bad luck to travel in such a direction – they’d say ‘no winder you canna catch fish’. I liked this idea of tradition, superstition, direction, push-back and change. 

From what I’d read in the Gaada and UHA4A collections of text, the main argument against women’s participation in the annual procession was one founded in tradition, in the notion that things had not changed before and should therefore not change now. But in light of Katie’s memories of the festival this case falls short. Katie was speaking in 1961, and her voice reaches us intact 60 years later, to speak some home truths to ‘this modern Up Helly Aa that you see nowadays’. And while speaking to us from the 20th century, Katie was born in 1890, just 9 years the first organised torch-light procession took place in Lerwick. Viewed through the span of a life and a voice – human for scale – we see the festival past as not so old, not so distant and concrete, impervious to change. We make traditions collectively, collaboratively. They are often built around small truths that in turn expand foam-like to form myths, and we pack further myths in around them, insulatory protective wrapping to transport them. They morph and change with time. Why would we not desire our traditions to be flexible enough to accommodate us, and to suit us societally as we move and shift, rather than remaining rigid restraints that constrict our collective growth? 

The work I made for the project pivoted around a verbatim poem I assembled from Katie’s words, channelling the push and pull, forward and backward notions held by the terms ‘sungaits’ and ‘widdergaits’. The flag featured a mass of spiralling ribbons, and the two words – one on either face – constructed from these ribbons and enmeshed within them. The display case held a collection of prints: a collage of newspaper headlines, a dictionary definition of ‘widder-’, screenshots of a subtitled documentary on the festival and it’s accompanying calls for change. I also worked with other fragments of archive from the Scottish School of Studies collection; field recordings of songs sung and music played in the processions, recorded by Peter R. Cooke in 1982 [SA1982.010.011].

I pieced together an audio piece or ballad of sorts, that combined Katie’s voice with those of contemporary UHA4A women – Debra Nicolson, Joyce DaviesLindsey Manson, and Frances Taylor – who echoed her words to form a chorus. The audio cycles, returning to familiar melodies played in reverse, words layered and repeated, the narrative is slippery. Together, tongues in cheeks, Katie and the UHA4A women chant: ‘No winder you canna catch fish!’ 

Holly’s flag flying at Gaada, in Bridge-End, Burra Isle.

 

________With thanks to Amy Gear and Daniel Clark at Gaada; Caroline Gausden at Glasgow Women’s Library; Louise Scollay at The School of Scottish Studies Archives and Library; Debra Nicolson, Joyce Davies, Lindsey Manson, and Frances Taylor of Up Helly Aa for Aa; Katie Laurenson and her family, and Peter R. Cooke. 

______________ 

Thanks to Holly and Gaada for use of their images.

You can visit Holly’s website here: https://www.hollygraham.co.uk/

You can find out more about the project on Gaada’s website: https://www.gaada.org/weemins-wark 

Up Helly Aa for Aa campaign:  https://www.facebook.com/S4UHAE/about/

Glasgow Women’s Library: https://womenslibrary.org.uk/

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Psalm 118 to ‘Coleshill’

Contributor: Murdina and Effie MacDonald, Psalm 118 to ‘Coleshill’

Fieldworker: Thorkild Knudsen

Reference: SA1965.031

Link to recording on Tobar an Dualchais

Response: Clare Button

Visiting the Isle of Lewis with my parents at age fifteen seemed the ideal chance to use my newly acquired pieces of Gaelic. Back home in England I was a fervent convert, listening to all the Gaelic music I could find and devouring a book titled (more than a little misleadingly, as it turned out) Scottish Gaelic in Three Months. Thrilled as I was to hear the language around me on the streets of Stornoway, I lost the bottle to try it myself, save for a shyly squeaked ‘madainn mhath’ to a lady behind the counter in a charity shop. Bolstered by her kind reaction, I thought to repay her by purchasing something, and my eye was caught by a record titled Gaelic Psalms from Lewis, the cover emblazoned with J.H. Lorimer’s dramatic painting The Ordination of Elders in the Scottish Kirk.

Closer inspection revealed that it was Volume 6 in Greentrax’s Scottish Tradition Series, which showcased recordings from the School of Scottish Studies, a new name to me at that time. I hardly knew what to expect, but it was only twenty pence, and would just about fit in our suitcase. I suspect the lady behind the counter was somewhat bewildered to see this earnest English teenager expressing an interest in the devotional singing of her island.

It was around a month or two before I played the LP on my dad’s record player, but when I did, my musical landscape was changed forever. I had heard sacred music before, of course, but nothing like this, with the psalm being ‘lined out’ by the precentor, and the congregation following after in a heavily ornamented style, each person at their own pace. The effect was an ocean of sound, both alien and familiar, human voices locked in private devotion yet joined in communal worship.

I loved the richly dramatic congregational recordings, but I was especially struck by the singing of two sisters, Murdina and Effie MacDonald, of Balantrushal, north west Lewis. Recorded at their home in 1965 by Thorkild Knudsen, a Danish musicologist then on the staff of the School of Scottish Studies, they intone verses 15-23 of Psalm 118 to the tune ‘Coleshill’, their brittle voices trilling, soaring and swooping together in two barely separable strands. ‘Guth gàirdeachais is slàinte ta / am pàilliunaibh nan saoi…’ Their singing is particularly touching because it is domestic, sisterly, intimate. The notes to the recording mention that, although it was quite unheard of for women to precent, they may often ‘be heard singing Gaelic Psalms while at household chores.’ Now, years later, with many recordings of the MacDonald sisters available online via Tobar an Dualchais, the extent and depth of their skill at psalm singing can be truly appreciated.

A year or two later, I heard the same recording sampled by Martyn Bennett on another album which changed my life, Grit (2003). In the sleeve notes, Bennett tells the story of travelling to Balantrushal to see Murdina, then in her late eighties, to get her blessing to use the recording. She confided to Martyn her own initial misgivings back in the 1960s on recording these religious songs, a confession which he found reassuring. Of the resulting composition, ‘Liberation’, Martyn wrote:

‘I could not find any other way to express the profound feeling of losing faith, and the determination to find it again.’

It is both touching and strange to think of the sisters giving their blessing to this epic mashup of their voices with clashing rave beats, euphoric sonic whirls and Michael Marra’s best (and, I suspect, his only) attempt at being a minister. The track is radically different from Murdina and Effie’s world, but it does, I think, retain the kernel of purity found in Knudsen’s original recording.

Now, many years later, I have been entranced by sacred music of all kinds, from the astonishing Canu Pwnc tradition of Wales, to the heart-bursting ecstasy of Sacred Harp, to the simple grace of medieval plainchant, but the billowing swells of the Scottish Gaelic style hold a unique magic. My Gaelic may still not be much improved, but this recording grows with me all the time.

Clare Button is Archivist at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.

 

Listen to Murdina and Effie MacDonald here: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/fullrecord/67880/1

More about Martyn Bennett here: https://realworldrecords.com/artists/martyn-bennett/

Find out about the Gaelic Psalms from Lewis here: http://www.greentrax.com/music/product/Various-Artists-Gaelic-Psalms-From-Lewis-Scottish-Tradition-Series-vol-6-CD

 

 

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SSSA In 70 Objects: The Pictish Arts Society

Written by Stuart McHardy

In 1988 the School of Scottish Studies began to host gatherings of the Pictish Arts Society, both its committee meetings and its public lectures. The Society, formed to further interest in, and study of, all aspects of the Picts was originally conceived by myself and the American-born artist Marianna Lines.

Our presence was facilitated by linguist David Clement who was seconded to the School from the Celtic department. I had kept up a tenuous connection with the school since my undergraduate days. The three of us were joined as the inaugural committee by ethnologist Bob Brydon, historian Graeme Cruikshank, lawyer George Fraser and knitwear designer Heather Richard.

In 1992, due to a considerable level of public interest, our initial Newsletter developed into the PAS Journal, which presented a wide range of academically sound articles from a range of contributors, including archaeologists, historians and linguists, as well as professional artists, as the original mission statement of the Society had specifically laid emphasis on the corpus of Pictish Art and its potential to stimulate new work in the modern world.

The open meetings in the Conference Room were always lively and stimulating and within a couple of years the Society began to stage annual conferences, which were initially also held in the School, and which originally included exhibitions of contemporary Pictish inspired artwork.  Over time the conferences began to be held in other locations, most of which would generally be considered to be somewhat more appropriate than Edinburgh, even if tradition tells us that Arthur’s sleeping companions inside his Seat in Holyrood Park, are Picts.  This highlighted the situation that many members had to travel extensively to come to Edinburgh and in 2000 the PAS officially moved from 27 George Square to the appropriate location of Pictavia near Brechin, with the support of Angus Council through the commitment of my successor as President of the Society, Norman Atkinson.

illustration drawn by J D Moir and used with kind permission

Since then, the society has continued to hold regular meetings and conferences, currently on Zoom, and to publish a quarterly newsletter, the Journal having ceased publication after 17 issues. At the time when the PAS formed there were no books on the Picts in print and it is testament to the work of the membership that nowadays there are so many works available, both reprints and new works, and it is likely that the efforts of the early group in George Square has helped ensure that today’s Scottish archaeologists ad historians are much more involved with matters Pictish than was the case when first we met. Sadly, since our early days in the School of the Scottish Studies many of the original enthusiasts have passed on, including in 2018 our co-founder Marianna Lines, whose vibrant and colourful interpretations of Pictish Symbol Stones were so effective  in bringing so much of Scotland’s ancient culture to wider public notice.

Stuart McHardy is a Teaching Fellow, Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh

Musselburgh

2021

Information:

The Pictish Arts Society logo is designed by Nick Simpson and the illustration of the stone is by JD Moir. We have used these with permission, please do not reproduce.

http://www.thepictishartssociety.org.uk/

The Pictish Arts Society Newsletter has an open access archive here: http://www.thepictishartssociety.org.uk/newsletters/4593763668

 

SSSA in 70 Objects: Hò Ro Gur Toigh Leinn Anna 

Contributor: Peigi Anndra MacRae, Mairi Anndra MacRae 

Fieldworker: Donald Archie MacDonald 

Reference: SA1964.062 

Link: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/104487

Response: Dr Alison Mayne 

It’s extremely hard for me to pick one object from the School of Scottish Studies Archives.  I first discovered its treasures when Louise Scollay found a lever arch file full of clippings and letters about Cleekwork and she asked me to make a cleek glove based on a pattern found there.  This work developed into a Handmaking in the Archives event for the University of Edinburgh Festival of Creative Learning.  

Unsurprisingly perhaps, my interest in the SSSA focuses on the world of textiles and wool processing in particular.  The archive is packed with images, stories and songs of sheep, shearing, spinning and the transformation into cloth through knit or weave.  Louise herself selected a Barra waulking song as her favourite object, celebrating the community preparation of tweed.  Coming in a close second for my own favourite is the Tom Anderson 1960 recording of Rosabel Blance singing her own composition of ‘Roo the Bonny Oo which magically replicates the sound of a burring spinning wheel. 

However, I knew my special SSSA object had to come from Peigi Anndra MacRae.  With her sister, Mairi, Peigi opened her home to a young Margaret Fay Shaw in the late 1920s and introduced her to the crofting way of life, traditions, stories and music of South Uist.  After her marriage to ethnologist John Lorne Campbell, Shaw remained fast friends with Peigi Anndra as she developed the work which would become Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist. 

Mary and Peggy MacRae
Image used with kind permission from Alex MacRae.

The relationship between folklorist / ethnologist and contributor is fascinating:  There are ethical concerns we are more aware of now which can make the uneven power relations between collector and singer feel uncomfortable; the mantle of expertise may have been borne by the fieldworker, but the incredible depth of knowledge lays with the singer or contributor.  In many ways, the interest lies for me in the process of collecting, not necessarily the item itself. 

Peigi Anndra’s singing of  Ro Gur Toigh Leinn Anna was recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald (who worked at the SSSA between 1962 to 1994) in 1964.  It tells of a woman sad that she is unable to take part in waulking the tweed and was composed by Mrs Catriona Campbell of South Lochboisdale. 

What I love is the uncertainty of memory, repetition and occasional pauses of Peigi Anndra’s singing, the quiet interjections of MacDonald where she forgets the words, Mairi calling corrections from across the room, the whirr and click of the reel to reel tape.  Recordings like this are not only significant in recording traditional song and ways of knowing, but in reminding listeners and researchers down the years of the process of recording.  It is a precious reminder that we should not forget the relationships and labour of collecting which have constructed the archive. 

 

Dr Alison Mayne is a researcher in everyday textiles and wellbeing, with additional interests in digital communities and design for older people. She holds awards from Women’s History Scotland, The Pasold Fund and is a University of Glasgow 2020-21 Visiting Library Fellow, supported by the William Lind Foundation.

@knittyphd

 

Image used with kind permission of the MacRae family. Please do not reproduce.

Further resources

There are further recordings from The School of Scottish Studies Collections featuring Peigi and Mairi MacRae. Many of these are available to stream via Tobar an Dualchais.

http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/searchByTrackId?id=SA1964.062

http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/searchByTrackId?id=SA1965.118

http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/searchByTrackId?id=SA1966.081

For more information about Margaret Fay Shaw and her relationship with the MacRaes visit The National Trust:  https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/stories-songs-and-starlings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Queering the Archive: Chat with Rufus Elliot and Rylan Gleave from OVER/AT and their new EP, “Folk’s Songs”

 

 

An image of some of the SSSA collections and shelving with the progress pride filter added. Bottom text says Queering The Archive in white.

 

As part Queering the Archives, we will feature conversations and podcasts with various people undertaking work and projects that feature LGBT+ voices and representation. My first conversation is with musicians and vocalists Rufus Elliot and Rylan Gleave about their work with OVER/AT and their new EP, “Folk’s Songs”.

 

“FOLKS’ SONGS is a new E.P. from the trans music-making world of OVER/AT. It comprises three exclusive, newly commissioned audio pieces by three Scotland-based trans, non-binary, or other gender-minority artists: new songs for/by/with the Folk. It is unlike any trans music-making which has come before it in Scotland.”

 

Rufus is a composer and musicians and founder and producer of OVER/AT, “a trans nonbinary and gender diverse music making world” that works directly with Scottish and Scotland based trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse musicians. OVER/AT is designed to empower and create imaginative responses from trans voices. It commissioned three artists to make pieces, responding to the idea of the trans voice. This included Malin Lewis, Harry Josephine Giles, and Matthew Arthur Williams. They each made completely different responses to that idea that made up the EP of “Folk’s Songs”.

Rylan Gleave is a composer and vocalist based in Glasgow, who also teaches singing and has produced and worked on the OVER/AT project. Rylan held introductory vocal workshops and individual lessons with some of the artists from the EP. He also recorded Viv singing Out of Existence, on Rufus’ direction, due to C19 restrictions. Alongside Rufus, Rylan created some accessible singing resources, including making audio voice-overs and BSL interpretation to go on the website

The EP is an incredibly visceral record that takes you through the trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse music experience through the voice and its eclectic sounds. The EP explores the idea of speaking out, the voice, and trans voices and spaces and being empowered to explore our voices. The voice is something that can be so personal to each trans experience and the EP is an example of how strong the trans voice and creativity is, as well as showing how trans, nonbinary and gender diverse Folk can use the voice and create spaces in the music scene and beyond. It was a joy to chat everything OVER/AT and the EP with Rufus and Rylan and delving into the influences of the EP and their own work, as well as trans and queer representation in music and elsewhere.

 

Listen to the podcast here:

https://tinyurl.com/yah5j8vr

 

 

 

“Folk’s Songs” was released March 26, 2021.

artwork – Jamie Crewe
additional design – Leo Valenti
producer – Rufus Isabel Elliot
mixing and mastering engineer – Kay Logan

track 1 recorded by Malin Lewis
track 2 recorded by Matthew Arthur Williams & Joel Cu
tracks 3-7 recorded by Rylan Gleave
track 8 recorded by Matthew Arthur Williams and Rufus Isabel Elliot

The work was made possible by Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator programme, and supported by Creative Scotland. Composer-Curator is supported by Arts Council England and PRS Foundation.

Find further information on OVER/AT and purchase “Folk’s Songs” on Bandcamp here: https://over-at.bandcamp.com/  Access the learning resources here: https://www.ambf.co.uk/learning-resources

Find more about Rufus here: https://www.ambf.co.uk/

Find more about Rylan here: https://www.rylangleave.com/

And check out the album, “Not Passing” here: https://comfortglasgow.bandcamp.com/album/not-passing

 

 

 

Written by Elliot Holmes.

Elliot is one of the Archives and Library Assistants at the School of Scottish Studies Archives and uses He/They pronouns. You can also find him on twitter @elliotlholmes

Follow @EU_SSSA on twitter for updates and sharing our collections.

Please do feel free to get in touch with Elliot to take part in a podcast or other Queering the Archive blogs and information on the workshop and future events!

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