Category Archives: SSSA

SSSA in 70 Objects: A Seer Saw a Full-Rigged Ship

Response by Gill Russell, Artist

 

Material from the archives of the  School of Scottish Studies forms a central part of South West by South, An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography,  an exhibition of new work I created for An Lanntair in Stornoway, and Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist, in 2021. 

My recent focus as an artist, explores the dynamic relationship between sea and land – ‘South West by South’ is the result of many visits to the Western Isles. Along the extent of the liminal shore the interplay of tidal currents and weather is complex and, from a human perspective, fickle, authoring dramatic, sometimes destructive, events. In ‘South West by South’ these are expressed through a ‘poetic cartography’, in an installation of large-scale prints, vinyl wall drawings, audio recordings, and maps. 

The dense interplay of sea, land, and light in the northwest of Scotland, and in particular the Western Isles has captivated me since childhood. I often imagined living there. Although I felt a deep attachment to the place and however much it inspired my practice, I came to realise that I would always be a tourist, a spectator, on the outside of an entrenched culture looking in. It was important to make connections.

I listened to sea lore stories on the  Tobar an Dualchais website, oral history interviews recorded by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The stories were hugely powerful, giving first-hand accounts of the lore of these waters – including ‘South West by South’, in which an apparition changes the course of a ship. This story was given by Peter Morrison, North Uist, recorded by Gun Forslin (SA1968.109.A3)

In another tale, a seer spies a full-rigged ship approaching from the direction of St Kilda, years before the vessel was wrecked on rocks between Heisker and North Uist – this story was also recorded by Gun Forslin, told to her by Angus MacKenzie (SA1968.110.A5)

The interviews held so much more than the words they spoke. They flooded me with intense and emotional visual imagery.  In response to the stories, I began creating large drawings on a graphics tablet. The process became utterly meditative. I drew until the stories of the sea came back to me, producing hundreds, choosing just a few. It would be impossible to replicate any particular one, as I became lost in them.  

 (click on each image to open it fully)

Seer , 2021  

 

 

 

An Lanntair May-July 2021 ( photo c. John MacLean) 

 

Audio recordings of the stories were played in the gallery at a low volume, looping continuously. 

Selected extracts from the stories were made into a booklet: ‘A seer saw a full rigged ship’ 

Through seeking permissions to use the material, and my visit to North Uist in 2019, I met Catherine and Alastair Laing from North Uist. Alastair’s father Andrew Laing had given an account of the Van Stabel, a ship wrecked off the coast of Heisker. Andrew’s father in law, Donald John MacDonald, was stationed on Heisker as the Receiver of Wrecks c.1900. Catherine also showed me her daughter Mary’s dissertation about Heisker.  You can hear Andrew Laing’s recording with Donald Archie MacDonald on Tobar an Dualchais (SA1968.150.A7)

Catherine told me a story of a man she knew, who had stood out on the headland at Tigh a’ Ghearraidh, North Uist, watching a ship floundering in the sleet and gales with her sails torn. The day we visited that same headland it was very stormy. We walked to the point where the man had watched from, and the vision in his tale came to me vividly. It led me to explore shipwrecks, in the theme of ‘Lost Ships’. 

Hundreds of ships were wrecked around the coasts of the western isles to the sea and weather, war, or navigational error. I trawled through the maritime archaeological archives from Canmore mapping, absorbed by the detailed records of events: loss of life and cargo, weather conditions, accidents. The immense journeys some of these ships made a hundred or so years ago, crossing oceans to other continents, and coming to grief on the Islands. 
 

Map for Lost Ships, 2021 

 

 

Poem for Lost Ships,  2021 

in gale force winds and snow showers

her sails torn and tattered

lying on her side

thumping heavily in six fathoms

at Aird an Runair

north west of Shilley

blown off course

back and forth

demasted

a severe westerly gale

ripped her sails

and drove her through

the sound of Monach

to the sands of Baleshare

in dense fog she struck

a sunken rock

and was holed on the Uisgeir reef

at daybreak a heavy sea breaking

all around them

struck heavily on a rock

in the sound of Monach

during a gale in the night

a brocket washed ashore

at Hanglum Headland

with iron canons

struck by a huge wave

in rough weather off Barra

St Ilfonsado sank in ten fathoms

off the Butt of Lewis

three casks of whisky

marked ‘Glasgow Distillery Company’

floated on

St Kilda was sighted

off the port bow

by 6:30 pm the light

at Barra Head 

 

****** 

 

Thanks to  

Louise Scollay, from the SSSA who pursued permissions for the eight stories on my behalf. 

Dougie MacDonald, for translation of the two Gaelic stories. 

 

Gill Russell, 2021 

https://www.gillrussell.co.uk/

 

Images are copyright and used with kind permission. Please do not reproduce.

 

Thanks so much to Gill, for sharing her process with us and letting us glimpse at how the recordings in SSSA have inspired and motivated her beautiful work.

If you would like to tell us about a project which has been inspired by the work of the School of Scottish Studies. our recorded contributors or fieldworkers, we would be delighted to hear from you. Email us at scottish.studies.archives (AT) ed.ac.uk

 

 

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Puzzling Black Cats

Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia or Mavrogatphobia? Perhaps don’t read on!

Today is Friday, 13th August – Friday the Thirteenth! The day, it is said, that is purported to be unlucky or be shrouded in superstitious or even supernatural belief, although nobody really knows why! Nevertheless, we are always keen for an opportunity to delve into the collections related to superstitions.

I found this letter in a box of correspondence (SSSA/Box141) related to Alan Bruford, Archivist and lecturer at the School of Scottish Studies. This letter was sent from a school in Aberdeen by Class 1K and is dated January 1980; the query is on black cats and luck!  The class had been learning about superstitions, but had a burning question for Professor John MacQueen, the Director of The School of Scottish Studies at that time.

 

 

“Most of the things [superstitions] that we have thought of we have found a solution to them, but there is one thing that has had us puzzled, BLACK CATS. We don’t know why they are lucky or unlucky, so that is why we are writing.”

The letter was signed by 19 students.

You can really feel that sense of bewilderment and that vehement thirst for knowledge of Class 1k.

 

As you can see, the secretary at the School was perhaps unsure who was best to answer this question and suggested Alan Bruford or Jack [John] MacQueen might have the answer. But did they? Did Class 1K get a response?

Often with correspondence such as this, a copy of the response was kept with the letter and there was no response with this one. I hope that we might be able to give some information today, if it isn’t too late.

 

 

page 81 of "The cat, a guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short tratise upon their care, diseases, and treatment" (1895)

page 81 of “The cat, a guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short treatise upon their care, diseases, and treatment” (1895)

 

It is true, there are conflicting reports – sometimes Black cats seem to foretell good and bad luck. Perhaps one reason for this is that black cats were associated with being the devil or with the alleged ill doing of witches. The persecution of people as witches is a blog post for another day!

Perhaps (like “witches”) it’s all down to individual beliefs and who the luck is intended for. Often the cats came off worse!  Here are a few examples from our collections.

 

Bad Luck?

Nan MacKinnon told Anne Ross about a black cat that followed a man who had jilted his wife. The man’s mother had to speak to the minister before the cat, mysteriously, stopped appearing. Was this black cat really a wronged woman, come to seek out revenge?

BANA-BHUIDSEACH MAR CHAT. Nan MacKinnon (contributor), Anne Ross (fieldworker). SA1964.078.B. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/23715

 

In the Maclagan Manuscripts (1893-1902) there are a few mentions of Black cats and mostly of them related to bad luck. A female contributor in Newhaven, Edinburgh, told if men were to meet a black cat on their way to go fishing, they would just say to one another ‘We hae gane far enough the day’, and they would turn back, for they would be quite sure their luck was gone. (MML8840)

This practice was also observed in St Ninians; miners there held that it was unlucky for one to meet one. When they returned home after the encounter, they did not go out for the rest of the day, simply on account of a black cat having crossed the road before them! (MML9112). Also from Maclagan is a statement from an Lewis contributor, who stated that the breath of a black cat was pure poison (MML3847a)

 

Good Luck, but for who?

Another entry in the Maclagan manuscripts details another fishing-related black cat tale, this time from Westray, Orkney. An old man was often asked to secure good weather for the fishermen and he did this by putting a black cat under a creel while the boats were out. On one occasion a boy (who became the reciter’s brother in law in time) let the cat out for mischief. This apparently caused a sudden storm at sea from which the fishermen managed to escape from (MML 6771-6772).

 

Donald John Stewart, of South Uist, told a curious tale of a Glasgow man who went to stay in the highlands for his health. An old woman told him about a particular mirror in one room in the house he was staying in, and said that anyone who looked in it when the full moon was shining on the sea outside would turn into a cat. The man did just that, and turned into a big black cat. The old woman then told his family to submerge the cat in the well seven times by the light of the full moon, and that when they let him go the seventh time, he would be restored!

AN SGÀTHAN ANN AN TAIGH COIRE BHREAGAIN. Donald John Stewart (Contributor), Donald Archie MacDonald (fieldworker). SA1975.113.B3. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/76886

 

Stanley Robertson told a tale to Barbara McDermitt about a woman who sold her soul to the Devil for some wishes. Before her time came to spend the afterlife with the Devil, she wished to be young and beautiful and for her black tom cat to be made into a man to love her. Sadly – for both, presumably – ‘Big Tom’ was lacking somewhat!

An old spinster wished for her cat to be turned into a handsome young man, Stanley Robertson (Contributor), Barbara McDermitt (Fieldworker). SA1971.13.A1. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/65452

 

Good Luck – they just are!

In my own upbringing I was always told that a black cat crossing your path was good luck indeed. According to my Nannie, they just are lucky!

I can’t find too many examples from our material available on Tobar an Dualchais, but Donald Sinclair, from Tiree. told John MacInnes that it was fortunate to have a Black cat around the place {SA1968.024) and Eileen McCafferty, from East Lothian, told Morag MacLeod and Emily Lyle that the tail of a black cat could cure warts (SA1974.24). If that isn’t good luck, then what is?!

Thankfully, we don’t only have to look to the archives to find out the answer to the query. We took to the twitter hivemind and this is what they had to say (well, 42 of them!)

poll which reads 64.3% of respondents think black cats are good luck

 

 

Class 1k, from Bankhead Academy, 1980 I think it is safe to say there is no real solution to this one.

What are your own thoughts, reader?

 

We will leave you to ponder your own superstitious beliefs with two bonny black cats belonging to Archive & Library Assistant, Elliot.

 

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Queering the Archive with drag king Dorian T. Fisk

 

For the second podcast for Queering the Archive, Elliot sat down with Dorian T. Fisk to discuss representation in the drag scene and elsewhere.  

Dorian is just one of many of Scotland’s Drag Kings and performers. Dorian represented Scotland in EuroStars Drag Contest, drag’s answer to EuroVision, in which Dorian placed in the Top 5. Dorian also runs the collective Shut Up And King, a Glasgow-based platform for Scottish Drag Kings everywhere.

Dorian first got their start in Shanghai, beginning with stage management for shows for Pride and Qi Pow! Burlesque & Cabaret and was inspired by the King Ennis FW, which began the experience and the creation of Dorian T. Fisk. Dorian started as a ‘roadie’ and events manager, and is drawn from “experiences of being a teen in the 80s loving rock music and that sort of glam rock type vibe, and this guy Dorian T Fisk was a bit of a smush of some lead singers from bands I grew up liking long haired dudes and a bit of Johnny Depp thrown in there”. After growing as a performer in Shanghai and representing Shanghai Drag Kings, Dorian came to be in Scotland around 2018 and is now based in Glasgow and has performed across Scotland. 

Dorian has recently performed in London as part of ‘All The King’s Men’, an all Drag King ensemble for Tuck Shop West End at the Garrick Theatre, which also included performers Len Blanco, Tito Bone, Chiyo, Romeo De La Cruz, Louis Cyfer, Richard Energy, Manly Mannington, Sigi Moonlight, Oedipussi Rex, Max Ryder, and Rex Uranus. 

Dorian can also be seen performing in an upcoming gig with Drag Race star Gottmik at AXM Glasgow on the 10th September.  

In this podcast we discuss the drag scene in Edinburgh and Glasgow and wider Scotland, as well as Dorian’s time uplifting kings in the collective and workshops for Shut Up and King. We also discuss EuroStars and what influences Dorian’s drag and the creativity that goes into costuming and performing and much more.

 


Listen to the full podcast on Media Hopper here: https://edin.ac/3s68450

 

 

 

You can find out more on Dorian on their website: https://www.doriantfisk.com/  

And on their socials here:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/doriant.fisk/ 
Links: https://linkin.bio/doriant-fisk  

 

Shut Up and King details can be found here:  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shutupandking 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shutupandking/ 
Links: https://linktr.ee/ShutUpAndKing  

https://www.instagram.com/d_knstrkt/  

 

Dorian is currently in the UK and available for bookings: doriantfisk@gmail.com  

You can still get tickets for the Gottmik show at AXM here:
https://gottmik-glasgow-18.intix.com/  

 

Copyright disclaimer: Copyright belongs to those interviewed and recorded and there is strictly no re-use for publication and broadcast of this recording or blog text. Quotation and para-phrasing from the recording and/or blog post is also prohibited. If you wish to use the recording for private study and research and any potential other uses, you must get in touch with scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk for permissions and access.

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Queering The Man and Woman’s Love Song

 

An image of our Tale archive with a Progress Pride flag filter. The image includes cabinets, index card boxes on top, and shelving with books above.

 

 

 

Throughout Scottish tradition and history we have heard many iterations of the Love Song, be it through themes of unrequited love, courtship, lamentations at the loss of a lover, or even bawdy tunes and romance. No matter the theme, there is always one thing in common – that they are a man and a woman’s love song. There is not much in the way of recorded queer love in traditional Scottish songs, and it would have been near impossible for these to enter into the mainstream of known love songs. However, in my research on what we hold on the traditional Man’s Love Song and Woman’s Love Song, I have found some content that can be ‘queered’. Through a mix-up of pronouns in song or change of the gender of the singer and the protagonist we can find queer undertones and subtext within these traditional love songs. 

Within the Man’s Love Song, we of course have many examples of songs with a male protagonist describing his love or telling a tale of love about a woman. I will take you through a few examples of songs that can be ‘queered’ through being sung by a female singer and no change of the gender of the person the protagonist loves. Below are just a few example of songs that we hold that can be viewed through this lens. 

For example, there is “Mo Ghaol an Tè Nach Dìobair Mi”. This version, sung by Mary MacRae and recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald is a Man’s Love Song on how ‘he will always stand by beautiful Mary as being a woman of virtue.’ What I like about this version is that the lover is named, and through queering can be seen as a romantic tune about the virtues of women as recognised and sung by another woman. Listen to this track on Tobar an Dualchais linked below:

MacRae, Mary, “Mo Ghaol an Tè Nach Dìobair Mi”, recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald, The School of Scottish Studies Archives, SA1964.062, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/104516

There are also examples of unrequited love. “Och Mar a Tha Mi ‘s Mi nam Aonar”, sung by Peggy Morrison and recorded by Morag MacLeod is of a man’s love song for a beautiful girl from Lochcarron. The protagonist hopes she gets a man who is worthy of her. As this particular recording is sung by a woman, we can view this recording as being about a woman’s unrequited love for the beautiful girl from Lochcarron, but they cannot be together so she hopes she finds a good man who is worthy of her love. Listen below:

Morrison, Peggy, Och Mar a Tha Mi ‘s Mi nam Aonar”, School of Scottish Studies Archive, SA1975.210.A4a, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/108130?l=en  

There is also another about promises of marriage, sung by Nan MacKinnon, in “Gur Tu Mo Chruinneag Bhòidheach.” In this love song, ‘a man praises his beautiful darling. He would do many things if she promised to marry him’. Different from Och Mar a Tha Mi ‘s Mi nam Aonar”, this song allows for a reading of a woman promising many things to her lover if she married her, and is not about unrequited love or not being able to marry the lover described. Listen below:

MacKinnon, Nan, “Gur Tu Mo Chruinneag Bhòidheach”, School of Scottish Studies Archive, SA1958.132.5, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/97353?l=en  

 

 

There are also a few examples of The Woman’s Love song as sung by men about a man the protagonist longs for or is telling of love for him. Although we have less examples of men singing the Woman’s Love song, there are still more recordings of this type within the collections. 

 

The song “Ò Hù Tha Mo Ghaol air Òigear a’ Chùil Dualaich” is a, ‘woman’s love song to the young man with the beautiful hair.’ This version is sung by John MacLeod and recorded by Polly Hitchcock. Again, through the singer being male, we can hear the description of his love and admiration of the man with beautiful hair.  Listen below:

MacLeod, John, “Ò Hù Tha Mo Ghaol air Òigear a’ Chùil Dualaich”, School of Scottish Studies Archives, SA1951.43.A7, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/90295

 

In “Cha Bhi Mi Buan ‘s Tu Bhith Bhuam”, the singer, ‘will not survive if she is parted from her beloved, whom she has loved since she was young. She sits on the hillock, looking over the narrows seeing his boat passing.’ This version sung and recorded by Calum Iain MacLean can be viewed about the sadness of the childhood lover leaving for sea and being so in love it is difficult to part with him. Listen below:

MacLean, Calum Iain, “Cha Bhi Mi Buan ‘s Tu Bhith Bhuam”, School of Scottish Studies Archives, SA1953.79.1, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, Tobar an Dualchais

 

  

 

 

With Queering the Archives, we are creating a finding-aid to help other’s locate queer and related records. If you are interested in responding to these recordings with your own work or researching our queer collections, please do just get in touch with us. Visitor Information | The University of Edinburgh 

Why not take a look at the material we hold remotely on Tobar an Dualchais and think of ways in which our sound recordings can be ‘queered’? If you are interested in recreating our material in any form, please get in touch with us or submit an access to digitised collections form directly. Access to Digitised Collections | The University of Edinburgh 

As always, we would love to hear thoughts on the material we hold and would love for you to work with us and our records. 

Queering the Archives will have our very first workshop held on the 25th August from 13.00 – 15.30. This is a public workshop and is open to all under the LGBT+ and Queer umbrella and allies. Get your tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/165396797273 

This will take you through understanding of queering, what we are doing for Queering the Archives, and working with our queer records and will involve discussion and practical work on improving our search-terms and catalogues. Access to event via QR code below:

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: A Superstar

Ian MacKenzie: More of a superstar than an object,  but very much SSSA.

by Caroline Milligan

Black and white image of two women in side profile, Dr K Campbell looks at her interviewee Lizzie Angus. They smile openly towards eachother

[i]

From dozens of ideas on my ‘What shall I write about for my SSSA in 70 objects blog post’ mind map I finally chose to share with you this photograph, of Kath Campbell[ii] and Lizzie Angus which I have loved and admired from the moment I first encountered it, which was probably in a Scottish Ethnology 1 lecture in my first year.

When I worked at the School of Scottish Studies (2004-2018) I would give a couple of lectures a year on Fieldwork Practice and this picture was very often the opening image for my PPT presentation.  I love ethnology and thank my lucky stars that I found my way to the School as a mature student in 2000 and for me this image encapsulates so much of what I admire about my discipline.

At its very essence, ethnology is a conversation and an opportunity to share community and pass on knowledge that we, as researchers, can collate, interrogate and then describe in order to understand our shared cultural lives. In this photograph, both Kath (ethnomusicologist) and Lizzie (a sprightly 106 year old who had been a pupil of the great north-east song collector, Gavin Greig) are  very obviously enjoying their time together: they’re leaning into each other, meeting each other’s gaze, and smiling like a pair of Cheshire cats.  This photograph, and the others discussed in this blog post, were created by my fine, much loved and greatly missed colleague, Ian MacKenzie, who was the School’s photographer and photo-archivist for the best part of 25 years.

Ian was a photographer with a splendid eye for detail who created beautiful images across a range of themes.  I especially like his portraits.  He was a sociable man who loved people, and his photographs are a lasting testimony to that.  He also possessed a great ability to notice, successfully photograph and develop images which celebrate and draw attention to distinct textures and details.  In this image of Kath and Lizzie, just look at Lizzie’s cardigan, with its heart-shaped pattern, and the heart-shaped pin brooch on her dress.  Kath and Lizzie look at each other as if through a mirror: Kath may be seeing the old woman she hopes she will one day be, while Lizzie sees the enthusiasm of youth and, perhaps, a reflection of the young woman who rests inside her own ageing body. I never tire of looking at this photograph, and always I see the sheer joy of sharing knowledge and life stories that is at the heart of many ethnological fieldwork sessions.

black and white image of adam sitting back in a chair in each hand he holds a newspaper style pamphlet. He is smiling broadly

 

[iii]

 

Another portrait by Ian which I adore is this one of singer, songwriter, antiquarian book-seller, teacher, researcher etc. etc.- the splendidly marvellous and multi-talented, Adam McNaughtan.  This portrait seems to capture the essence of Adam: his laughing eyes, always with a ready smile, but also self-effacing – he’s almost hiding behind copies of the song-sheets he takes such a delight in.  The Songs & Parodies pamphlet he holds, headed ‘The funniest book in the world’ is an entirely fitting choice given Adam’s own song-writing genius when it comes to the comedic – Skyscraper Wean, Cholestoral and Oor Hamlet being particular favourites.  This photograph says to me, ‘Life’s a laugh!’, which is exactly the feeling I have whenever I’m in Adam’s company.

For T C Smout, ‘studying photographs [can convey] an untold wealth of detail in social history, and [raise] all sorts of odd questions’.[iv] While the portrait shot of Kath and Lizzie, and the one of Adam, are beautiful in their simplicity, there are other portraits by Ian which work in a very different way, with settings which can be read like a book.  For Ian, this was clearly no happenchance.  The settings are deliberately recorded so that we can read and understand the people being photographed, as well as the time, place and space they inhabit.

 

black and white image of a group of people in a sitting roo,. a man stands with a fiddle , two others are seated with fiddles.

[v]

One example of this is Music in the Home, Forrest Glen, Dalry, Galloway, 1985.  To my mind, Ian leaves us in no doubt that the seated musician in the middle of the photograph is the most important person in the room.  All the others in the photograph seem to look and lean towards him.  Although seated, your eyes go first to him, rather than the standing fiddle player to his left, or any of the other figures on the periphery.  There’s a stillness and reverence to the gathering: the only hands visible belong to the musicians, the curtains are drawn over: this is all about the music.  I also love the textures in this photograph and can readily conjure to mind how the cold tiles on the fire surround, or the textured pattern of the wallpaper, would feel to the touch.  This textural richness is something I think Ian worked hard to reveal when he made his photographic prints.

The craft and skill of Ian as a photographic developer and printer is clear in this image.  I well remember visiting Ian in his warren of rooms in the basement at 27-29 George Square.[vi]  His darkroom, especially the lingering chemical smells, reminded me of evenings spent at the Street Level gallery darkrooms in Glasgow, painstakingly practicing the nuances required in producing photographic prints from my negatives.  I remained pretty much a novice, but I remember the thrill of producing a print which I could be proud of and which reflected the nuances of the image I wanted to reveal.  I believe working in the darkroom would have been a particularly immersive and rewarding aspect of Ian’s creative practice and this is evident in the subtle precision he consistently managed to achieve in his work.

A series of photographs which illustrate Ian’s skills as an ethnologist and his eye for texture and detail are those he made of the Gourdon fishers. In contrast to the images discussed so far, these photographs were created in a much more dynamic setting.  In my chosen image, the woman baiting the fishing lines for the next launch hasn’t time to look up: she’ll be racing to get the baited nets ready in time for the next launch and taking her eyes off the task in hand looks likely to result in injury.  Her fingers are working more quickly than the camera shutter and her surroundings are entirely functional and efficient.  You can tell at a glance that this is tough, cold, dirty, smelly work and way too important to be paused for a mere photograph.  Again, I love the contrasting textures: the startling gleam of the mass of baited fishing line in the tray, the stained buckets, the wall and doorway coverings.  We can glimpse a small table and chair in the background, maybe to allow for a short rest if work is going well and there’s time for a 5 minute breather.

This image is one which allows us to appreciate how Ian brings a painter’s eye to his photographic work.  Like Vermeer’s, The Lacemaker, this photograph contains everything we need to see so that we can understand what is essential: in this instance about both the baiter and the bait-netting task.

 

black and white image of a woman, head down, bust at work baiting lines

[vii]

 

The next photograph is another work-related one.  The photographs of Kit Sked, taken in 1987, are perhaps some of the most well-known of Ian’s ethnological portraits.  Kit was the fourth generation of the Sked family to work as blacksmith at the Cousland Smiddy, and, when this series of photographs were made, he had recently announced his retirement.  With no-one yet identified as his successor, one wonders what Kit’s thoughts were during this session or when he is moving around the workshop.[viii]

Black and white image of a blacksmith who is sitting on the edge of a fireplace, a flame behind him. TThere are chalk drawings on the breast of the chimney. Light is streaming in a window just out of shot

[ix]

Again, we’re in a functional work-space, one that has not changed for perhaps hundreds of years.  However, unlike the previous image, this space has a feeling of permanence.  This is Kit’s domain.  There’s a strong feeling of ‘a place for everything and everything has a place’ about the smiddy.  A space that is as much part of the man as the man is part of the space.  Like the fish-baiting station, the space is functional and work-ready: the fire is going strong, tools laid out, strong sunlight streams through the window and Kit’s jacket hangs such that we can believe it hangs in that exact place every working day. This time Kit meets our gaze square on.  I love his clothing and the precision of the light and the way this falls into the room and over the left side of Kit’s body.  Again, this image, like many created by Ian, is like a painting and can be looked at, considered and enjoyed time and time again.  The surface of the brickwork, Kit’s shirt, the chalk markings on the fireplace lintel and the wide array of tools (what are they for?), all merit closer attention, yet all of it can also be appreciated and enjoyed in a single glance.  Yes, Ian has left us an impressive body of work, but he also left us too soon.

I remember the occasion of Ian’s final resting which took place at Inerinate, Kintail in February 2010 on a cold, clear, bright-blue day.  I recall feeling so angry that such a lovely man should be taken so early and of being quite overwhelmed by the sad truth of this.  But I also remember feeling happy that so many lovely people had been brought north, to be together, by their love of the man.  There was a real sense of joy on that day.  Ian was a simple-living, funny, warm man who loved life.  He told me more than once that there were few things in life as good as discovering that the pear you had just bitten into was at the absolutely perfect moment of ripeness for eating.  This about sums up Ian’s approach to life and the joy he found in it.  He lived a very good, albeit far too short, life and I remember him fondly for his humanity, humour, generosity of spirit and for his great artistry and craftsmanship and the wonderful legacy he has left within the cabinets and catalogues of the SSSA photographic archive.

It has been a pleasure to choose Ian as my ‘favourite object’ from the SSSA collection and to have the excuse to set aside a little time to spend in his company and renew our friendship.  It feels like he’s given me the gift of some of his quiet joy in return and I think he’d be chuffed (if a little abashed) to be called to mind and remembered by us.

Self portrait of Iain inset on an image of autumn foliage

[x]

Grateful thanks to Louise Scollay for helping me with the images and photograph credits for a number of items included in this blogpost.

Caroline Milligan, July 2021

All Images by Ian MacKenzie,  © The School of Scottish Studies Archives.

[i] Dr Katherine Campbell and Lizzie Angus, Ythanvale Nursing Home, Ellon (Aberdeenshire), 2000

[ii] Dr Katherine Campbell was ethnomusicologist at the School for a number of years and worked on the Greig-Duncan song collection with Dr Emily Lyle.

[iii] Adam McNaughtan – song book, 1989

[iv] To See Ourselves, Dorothy I Kidd, with preface by T C Smout, NMS 1996

[v] NII/8a/8774. Neg. A6/228/19. 6 December 1985.  Gathering of Galloway musicians in the house of Robbie Murray at Nether Forrest, Forrest Glen, Dalry, Glenkens, Galloway, From L to R: Alyne Jones, Davy Jardine and Robbie Murray.  Evening recorded by Jo Millar.

[vi] Ian wrote to me in 2008, when he was coming back to work after a long period of ill health and he thanked me particularly ‘for keeping the place [his archive] company’.  Re-reading this letter, I smile at that line, remembering again the quiet calm of the photographic archive, the back door often open to the garden, the little zen garden on the wide windowsill, the frequent stream of people seeking Ian out for guidance, discussion and good company.  He was very much part of that space, as it was very much part of him.

[vii] BIII6c1/8599

[viii] The smiddy had been in Kit’s family continuously since 1882.  Kit had announced his intention to retire in 1986, and then retired in 1989).

[ix] BVIII/7/g1/8782

[x] Collage image by Colin Gateley using one of Ian’s self-portraits.

 

Caroline Milligan is Archives Assistant with the Regional Ethnologies of Scotland Project, at Centre for Research Collections. She is also Research Assistant, within the European Ethnological Research Centre, University of Edinburgh. 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Bha Là Eile Ann

Response by Fraser MacBeath

Hello, I’m Fraser MacBeath, a sound artist/electronic music producer from the Isle of Lewis, currently a postgraduate Sound For The Moving Image student at The Glasgow School of Art and a follower of the archive for the past 5 years or so.

Image: Fraser MacBeath

I became aware of the archive while working at An Lanntair Arts Centre on Lewis. I had been looking for ways in which to integrate aspects of Hebridean life into ambient/electronic music and the archive offered a unique sonic resource to draw inspiration from.

This work was created in response to an open call for soundworks from Radiophrenia Glasgow. I’d always found the folk stories and lore really fascinating. The sense of mysticism alive in the culture with talk surrounding the existence of fairies, mermaids and witches that has been very much stamped out in modern culture is something that seemed worthwhile to try and contemporise. I wanted to further dramatize it however by also building atmospheres and using music to formulate it into a kind of sonic journey. Creating a more immersive listening experience inspired by the kind of emotions and environments that might have surrounded the stories when they were told.

The finished piece is a fully homegrown product of Scotland, although unfortunately I’ve had to rely heavily on the English material due to my very limited understanding of Gaelic at this point, but everything heard is either sourced from the archive or recorded on the Isle of Lewis. The music is made from recordings of small snippets of various traditional instruments and other sounds you might hear floating around the islands. Once recorded there are an infinite number of things that can be done to twist the sound into any kind of music you can think of. The compositions here are made primarily from looping very small segments of audio, after which these can then be time stretched, pitch altered and mapped to the keys of a keyboard, allowing a new instrument to be born out of virtually any sound while still retaining the source texture.

It’s a bit of a crude first attempt production wise, In the future hopefully more of these will materialise with a bit more Gaelic. My hope is that It could develop into an interesting topic for a dreamy podcast series, whilst also providing an educational resource for folklore enthusiasts and Gaelic learners to immerse themselves in the language.

Hope you enjoy it.

 

You can find more of Fraser’s work on his website: Home | Fraser MacBeath – Music & Sound Design (wixsite.com)

All archive recordings used from SSSA as listed below:

Contributor Title Fieldworker
SA1973.160 Betsty Whyte A changeling baby banished and the real baby restored Peter Cooke and Linda Williamson
SA1976.109 Betsy Whyte A fisherman saw a mermaid sitting on a rock, Linda Williamson
SA1975.107 Betsy Whyte A man was changed into a woman and had a family before being… Linda Williamson
SA1972.176 Duncan MacKinnon An Ataireachd Àrd Ian Paterson
SA1957.041 Essie and Alec Stewart Essie Stewart gives a description of a fairy she saw. Hamish Henderson
SA1955.094 Brucie Henderson A woman was rescued from a cliff prison by her lover. Calum Maclean
SA1957.043 Alec Stewart The contributor discusses his fondness for storytelling. Hamish Henderson
SA1989.045 John James Santa Cruz Margaret Bennet and Stephanie Smith
SA1964.067 Gordeanna McCulloch The Shoals o Herrin Norman Buchan
SA1971.072 Dolina Maclennan Dh’fhàg mi ‘n Seo na Shìneadh e Peter Cooke
SA1985.057 Thomas David Edgar Unknown/Gypsy Woman Peter Cooke and Jo Miller

Upcoming Events Celebrating SSSA at 70

As part of our ongoing celebrations for our 70th Anniversary, we are delighted to announce some events which are coming up in August.

Fieldwork & Creative Engagement: Oral History of Port Glasgow Women

Thursday, 12 August 2021, 14:00-16:30.

Online, via Zoom.

Free, but ticketed via Eventbrite:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/157935676861

Our two presentations are rooted in the lived experience of women in the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow, recordings of which are held in our collection. Through our presenters’ fieldwork – undertaken almost 30 years apart – we see the importance of fieldwork, the collection and preservation of oral history recordings. It is from this perspective we will explore the value in creative reuse of archive recordings.

Speakers:

Dr Hugh Hagan, Head of Public Records Act Implementation at the National Records of Scotland, is passionate about the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow and Greenock on the lower reaches of the River Clyde, particularly in the inter-war period. These towns, being removed by some distance from the large and diverse economy of Glasgow, depended entirely on shipbuilding and they developed a very particular sense of community. This was the subject of his PhD research at the School of Scottish Studies in the 1990s and he will draw on that research, specifically the role of women in these communities, in his talk.

Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood, of GaelGal Productiions, were undertaking studies at the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, when they attended a lecture by Hugh Hagan, about his Port Glasgow work. They were galvanised to revisit this fieldwork, recording new material with the family of Cassie Graham, one of Hugh’s contributors. They have also been inspired to take these stories to centre stage, lifting the voices and experience of women of the Port Glasgow community and using these recordings in their creative practice. The presentation at this event is but one postcard-sized venture into their ongoing creative piece, What A Voice.

Q&A

After the presentations we shall have a short break, followed by a chaired question-and-answer session with our presenters. Participants are encouraged to submit questions in the chat facility during the papers and the break.

This session is open to anyone who wishes to attend and those with a particular interest in collecting, researching, or creating with oral history recordings. Please register for the event via the link to Eventbrite. Joining instructions will be sent with your ticket.

colour photograph of a reel to reel machine in action. The focus over the reels is blurred to show the fast movement

SSSA at The Edinburgh International Festival

There will also be two special events centring on the work of The School of Scottish Studies (Celtic and Scottish Studies Department) and on music, songs and singers within the collections here at SSSA. These events are hosted by EIF, and you can buy tickets from the website links provided.

A Folk Song Sharinghttps://www.eif.co.uk/events/university-of-edinburgh-a-folk-song-sharing

Sunday, 8 August, Old College Quad. 15:00

An intimate intergenerational exchange of songs and their stories: three artists share their favourite songs, how they came to sing them, the story behind each song and how their interpretation evolved. Features performances from Nancy Nicolson (Scots song and story), Josie Duncan (Scots, Gaelic and original song) and Arthur Cormack (Gaelic song).

 

The Living Archive – https://www.eif.co.uk/events/university-of-edinburgh-the-living-archive

Sunday, 8 August, Old College Quad. 20:00

A range of song, music and dance inspired by material from the School of Scottish Studies Archive. Performances inspired by material from the School of Scottish Studies Archives from Kirsty Law (Scots song), Mary MacMaster (clarsach, electro harp) and Mike Vass (fiddle, tenor guitar) with Sophie Stephenson (dance).

 

To be kept up to date with the events happening for our 70th anniversary, please follow our blog here or find us on twitter https://twitter.com/EU_SSSA

#SSSAat70

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SSSA in 70 Objects: The Tiree Clapperboard

On Sunday, August 22 1976, the School of Scottish Studies filmed an open air baptism in Tiree. This was the first baptismal service of its kind in several years and the community and church of Tiree were happy for fieldworkers from the School to capture the event for preservation.

For anyone who has visited us over the past few years, you may have seen this film playing in our foyer.

One of the objects we have in our archive is the clapperboard, which was used by the unit who went to Tiree to make the film.

Clapperboards, or sometimes clapsticks, filmsticks or slate, were used in film productions to assist in synchronizing of picture and sound, and to designate and mark the various scenes and takes as they are filmed and audio-recorded. It was operated by a Clapper loader.

 

This is a still from the film showing SOSS staff setting up. with Dr Margaret Mackay being the ‘Clapper loader’.

When I took the board out of its box, from the archive store, I was surprised at the weight and heft of it. Presumably it was used for other purposes over the years, as it appears to show the vague etchings of writing and so may have been used in other filming pursuits by the School. I am sad to say though, it also looks like it could have been used as someone’s coaster at one stage too!

 

 

These items are still used in film production today, but the modern equivalent – digislates – have an electronic display, the time code of which is synced with the cameras.

And, if you are wondering, of course I gave it a try and yelled “Action!” (into the set of the empty Scottish Studies Library). Mind you, I did not bring down clappper with any kind of dramatic snap – previous use as a coaster aside – it is an archival object after all!

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Plants used in traditional Shetland medicine

Contributor: Tom Tulloch

Fieldworker: Alan Bruford

SA Reference: SA1978.068

Chosen by: Jenny Sturgeon

My chosen object is a recording of Shetlander Tom Tulloch talking with interviewer Alan Bruford.

Recorded in Yell, Shetland (presumably in Tom’s house), Tom and his wife, Elizabeth, chat about the local Shetland names for plants. The recording opens with a list of plant names including arthie (chicken-weed) and blugga (marsh marigold).

I came across this recording whilst researching for a workshop I was running as part of an artist residency at the National Library of Scotland. Working with participants from across Scotland I ran four workshops exploring creative music and spoken word responses to a series of plant lectures given to University of Glasgow students in the 80s. Presented by Professor James Holmes Dickson, these lectures are housed in the Scotland’s Sounds archive and gave the group an insight to ecology and conservation of plants in Scotland. Alongside mentions of the common and Latin names of plants I was keen to explore local plant names and uses across Scotland, with particular reference to Shetland, which is where I live.

The thing that really endeared me to this particular recording on Tobar an Dualchais is Tom saying,  ‘I keyn the wirds but I dinna keyn deir proper names’. This struck me when I first heard him saying it because my interpretation is that he does know the ‘proper names’. It got me thinking about different names for plants and animals and how there is not one ‘proper name’. There is a Latin name, which is the accepted scientific name, but that does not mean much to a lot of people, myself included! Local names for flora and fauna root us to where we come from and there is a
cultural history and identity associated with them. Being able to delve into archives such as this is a way we can access and be inspired by our heritage.

Along with several other recordings from Tobar an Dualchais this recording of Tom features in one of the two pieces created during my residency. As with many of the recordings I came across from that time, you can clearly hear the ticking of a grandfather clock in the background. The finished sound pieces feature music, words and field recordings created by participants during the workshops.

You can listen to these pieces at the link below.
https://jennysturgeon.bandcamp.com/track/pushing-reaching-falling-replacing
https://jennysturgeon.bandcamp.com/track/as-far-north-as-anything-grows

You can listen to the original recording of Tom Tulloch on Tobar an Dualchais: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/81445

Jenny Sturgeon is a singer-songwriter based in Shetland. In addition to her residency with Unlocking our Sound Heritage, Jenny has recently collaborated on an audio visual project based around  Nan Shepherd’s book, The Living Mountain. https://www.jennysturgeonmusic.com/thelivingmountain

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Tocher at 50: Morag Macleod and Tocher

We are incredibly grateful to Morag Macleod, who has written this week’s post about her recollections of Tocher and her wider work in the School of Scottish Studies, working with Gaelic material.

I was very fortunate during a break in my undergraduate career to be asked to fill the recently vacated post of Texts Transcriber in the School of Scottish Studies. That was in 1962, and my work was to write Gaelic stories and interviews and the words of Gaelic songs.  The material was mainly on 5” and 7” tapes, and some of those  were in a bad way.  With storing conditions that were not ideal, the tapes tended to dry, and this made them brittle. After a time I would sometimes make an attempt to collect the bits of tape that scattered around, and mend them, but it was mainly the work of the technicians to make the best of that. A story went around of a comment by Calum Maclean when bits of tape landed on the floor, “Catch that tape, it might be a grace-note”.

A device, a repeater, invented by Fred Kent, the chief technician, was indispensable for me. A short piece of spoken or sung text was recorded on to a short loop which could be played over and over to facilitate making a correct interpretation of the item on the original tape. As texts transcriber, I was given recordings from Harris , the easiest for me to understand. That material was then added to files in the library, ready for typing when required.

In my time, Mary Macdonald did most of the typing, and that familiarised her with the richness of the material, and encouraged in her the strong wish that it should be seen. Mary’s roots were in Islay although she had lived for some time in Barra. She loved the material held in the School and she it was who thought of publishing it, with eager support from Dr Alan Bruford. Dr Bruford was then the editor, with Mary his assistant.  Between them they came up with an A5-sized booklet,  Tocher,  TALES, SONGS, TRADITION, SELECTED FROM THE ARCHIVES OF THE SCHOOL OF SCOTTISH STUDIES.

The basic English translation of the Gaelic word Tochar is dowry, but it can convey collection or treasure, and had the advantage for us of  having a similar sound in English or Scots.

All members of staff were required to contribute to the booklet, leaving the choices and editing to Alan and Mary, and Donald Archie Macdonald, Cathie Scott and Joan Mackenzie were amongst those who were involved in its production over time, as well as Tony Dilworth.  Ralph Morton contributed fine illustrations by hand and edited photographs.

 

Personally, I was advised to write the Gaelic material in a way that let the reader know how the informant pronounced the words.  Of course I couldn’t be given the luxury of confining myself to my native Scalpay, Harris, Gaelic, and I remember well some difficulty I had with a waulking song from Lewis.  Waulking songs  accompanied the rhythmic beating of tweed on to a board in order to wash it and shrink it.  The form was solo and chorus, and a lot of the texts were spontaneous. The performer (and author) had to be familiar with the concept of assonance, at the ends of lines or between a word at the end of a line and one in the middle. O mo leannan, é mo leannan (Oh, my sweetheart, ay, my sweetheart) is the refrain to a very popular waulking song. There is a verse that goes:

‘S e mo leannan am fear donn

A chì mi  ? a’s an taigh-chiùil.

My sweetheart is the brown-haired

one whom I can see   ?  in the ceilidh-house.

 

That  ? word had to rhyme with donn, which is pronounced like English down. My colleague John Macinnes had to tell me that it was bhuam (along / across from me, pron. voo-um in my dialect) which would be pronounced  like fomm = fowm  in Lewis.

A greater leap was when John MacInnes asked me to transcribe stories and songs from the traveller Alex Stewart . His Sutherland Gaelic was very different from mine, and that created a steep learning curve for me. I was given me a lifelong awareness of the ties of spelling with pronunciations, especially in Gaelic.

Alexander Stewart, photograph by Sandy Paton
SSSA-HH14

An incident that stays in my mind connected with my contributions to Tocher is when I chose a song from the archive that I had known from childhood, to fit in with a fishing, sailing theme. I actually made no claim for its provenance, – thank Goodness, although I had thought it might possibly be from my native island – but that the singer was from Scalpay. In the next issue of Tocher , No 20, there was a notice from Dr John Lorne Campbell of Canna to say that the song was a version of one by John Campbell of Lochboisdale, South Uist, and was published in Orain Ghàidhlig le Seonaidh Caimbeul by J. MacInnes and J.L Campbell in 1936.  The notice in Tocher was probably much more polite than Dr Campbell’s private comment. Incidents such as those two made me aware of the tremendous knowledge there was around about the simplest things that I had taken for granted over the years, and of how ignorant  I was.

 

After a year another vacancy occurred when Gillian Johnston resigned as music transcriber. I had done Higher music in school, but I did not see myself as competent to produce written versions of melodies. When approached by the current musicologist, Thorkild Knudsen, a Dane, I tried to explain my limitations to him, and he boosted my morale so much by saying “You’re not the best, Morag, you’re the only one.” It is hard to believe now that at that time that was true. Anyone who had qualifications in music did not see this work as at all prestigious, and their being literate in Gaelic was immaterial. It was to the credit of Prof Sidney Newman, head of the Music Faculty in the University, that he was an enthusiastic member of the academic board of the School of Scottish Studies at its beginnings, but such a combination was unusual.

 

Transcribers in Tocher, apart from me, produced a tremendously accurate reproduction of the singer’s performance. One example of a song learned from the magazine showed me that an indication of speed was advisable. I hear the song on radio and the vocal reproduction is, to me, so slow as to be unrecognisable. Dr Emily Lyle at one time tried hard to persuade us to put together a collection of the material in Tocher, and I confess that I resisted that idea, which I now see is a pity – Sorry, Emily! It would, especially with, perhaps, some further editions have been an asset to folklorists.

 

But, how things have changed. Even by the 1960s,  more attention was being given to Gaelic music in education, and the interest of the Royal College of Music in Glasgow giving classes in Gaelic singing and piping, quickly brought about a greater prestige to the subject. Some of the first students from there – later the Conservatoire – are really well-known now. Tobar an Dualchais, was established officially in December 2010.  It consists of  archive material, mainly from the School of Scottish Studies, Canna and the BBC. It has made an incredible difference to the general knowledge of traditional Gaelic music.

 

Now there is a change in attitude to the rights of the informants. There were different kinds of implication in collecting traditional material. Sometimes we would be asked, “So when will we hear it?” as employees of the BBC were the most familiar carriers of microphones and recorders.  Others would almost require an oath that it would not be heard by anyone outwith the department. I remember one occasion when someone who had given us a large number of songs said something like. “Why should I give you songs when you just give them away to any  Tom Dick or Harry?” (I won’t try to think of a Gaelic form of that). A well-known singer had sung a song on radio which could only have come from one of our recordings and was completely recognisable as that. Of course, if a song or story was selected for use on radio, forms were produced for permissions.  Mary Macdonald saw the publication of a portion of the material as a way of passing on the treasures that she loved whilst keeping to the desire for confidentiality to a reasonable extent, and Tocher fitted her wish perfectly.

 

With Tobar an Dualchais there is little need to produce something like Tocher, and the last issue, no. 59, came out in 2009. I was responsible for one issue and was really surprised at the amount needed to provide a reasonable volume. It is still, I think, useful for items relating to particular themes, and particular informants.

Morag has was involved with several roles and projects in The School of Scottish Studies from music transcriber, fieldworker, Senior lecturer in Gaelic song, and working to create Tocher and the Scottish Traditions Series. Morag is now retired, but she remains a valuable touchstone of knowledge for us at the Archive. Thanks to her once again for writing about her memories of The School and Tocher.

If you would like to listen to some of Morag’s fieldwork recordings for The School of Scottish Studies Archives, you can listen to over 1000 tracks on Tobar an Dualchais.

 

Please do not reproduce images without prior permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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