Category Archives: sssa

SSSA in 70 Objects: Embracing the Unknown – A musician’s response to Bob Hobkirk’s Unknown Air

Today we are delighted to have a post from Carla Michal Sayer, who used material from The School of Scottish Studies Archives in her work for the Situated Place art exhibition, curated by MScR students in Collections and Curating Practices, in early 2020. Today Carla writes about one of the sound recordings which she used to incredible effect in her composition for this exhibition.

East lothian beach

image of an East Lothian Beach, by Carla Sayer

Archive recording:  SA1973.032 Unknown Air, played on fiddle by Bob Hobkirk, recorded by Ailie Munro and Hugh MacDonald, 

Response: original arrangement and solo performance by Carla Michal Sayer, free streaming and download available on Bandcamp. Created and performed live in February 2020.

 

A lot of the pieces on Bob Hobkirk’s profile on Tobar an Dualchais are labelled ‘Unknown’. They’re brilliant.

In the two years since I created this response there has been so much unknown that we’ve had to deal with. But is there anything to be said for not knowing? Is it worth living in this Unknown space? What are those spaces like? What would we find there? Would it be worth the not knowing?

Whatever you feel about the unknown, I think there’s something there worth exploring. Music is one way of doing this. Whilst the name is a mystery, the depth of feeling in Bob Hobkirk’s playing is not. That’s what originally drew me into this entry. The object is unknown, but the purity and clarity of feeling about it is certainly not. It travels through the slightly scratchy recording like a beam of light. The unknown story is told with conviction, held steady from beginning to end. It says something about himself. I don’t know what but it’s there. I could deeply relate to this Unknown Air and felt inspired to create a musical response as a solo performance using low whistle and synth alongside the archive recording of his playing.

My response is a dialogue between us. My whistle playing follows his fiddle playing and ornamentation exactly, and the piece is held together by droning synth that speaks to the future and past, with both Church-organ-like quality and fabulous electronic buzz and stereo movement. I play live and Bob Hobkirk ‘plays’ through recording, and we pass each other by in slow motion, both coming in and out of focus. The process reminds me of how things pass between generations, some things clearly heard and other things left forgotten and slightly out of focus.

When I performed this piece live the effect was hymnal and meditative, with a quality that looks back and forward, and is endless – with the extremely slow looped harmonic rhythm, starting where it begins with Bob Hobkirk’s playing. Combining ‘old’ sounds with new music-making possibilities was deeply rewarding in this commission, awarded by a team of MSc Curation students from Edinburgh College of Art working in exhibition design in early 2020. The performance was to launch an exhibition that showcased Edinburgh University visual archive material, in collaboration with Travelling Gallery, The gallery subsequently went on tour around East Lothian. This was the final piece of that 20 minute performance to launch the exhibition. My brief was to create music to reflect on the relationship between archive and place, it’s up to you as a listener if this was fulfilled in the piece! Here is more information on the full exhibition, which hopefully managed to go ahead in February 2020: https://www.eca.ed.ac.uk/event/situated-place-art-collection

Thank you, Bob Hobkirk, for your fiddle playing in March 1973, and thank you to the School of Scottish Studies Archives for helping me find and use his beautiful music in this arrangement in February 2020.

Here’s to what is learnt and what remains unknown.

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An exciting year for Queering the Archive

This year saw the development of the Queering the Archive initiative as part of our 70th Anniversary.

Join Elliot as he takes you through an exploration of the initiative as well as updates and upcoming plans.

 

 

Continue reading

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Voices, Voices, Voices! Fieldwork, Creative Practice and The School of Scottish Studies

Written by Louise Scollay, Archive & Library Assistant

 

Back in August, we held an online seminar and Q&A with Dr Hugh Hagan, Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood where they discussed their fieldwork and research into the lived experience of women in the shipbuilding community of Port Glasgow.

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 drew from that research for the talk, specifically the role of women in these communities.

Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood, of GaelGal Productiions, were undertaking studies at the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, when they attended a lecture by Hugh 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. At this event, they presented a post-card sized version of their creative project, What a Voice.

The event was well attended and we had some excellent questions for the panel. However, because our speakers were all connected with SSSA through their studies and fieldwork, we decided to arrange a further conversation for our blog, as part of our ongoing celebrations of our 70th Anniversary.

As Hannah, Hugh, Martine and myself are all alumni of The School of Scottish Studies, you can imagine that there was a lot of shared memory and a lot of enthusiasm for oral history – we talked for over an hour and so we have split this conversation into three parts to be more digestible. Included throughout these are extracts of the original fieldwork recordings and excerpts from Hannah and Martine’s work What a Voice.

A point to consider: This is a zoom recording, so we were at the mercy of connections. As such there are one or two frozen images and moments of patchy audio.

If you are a University of Edinburgh Ease-user, you can also view these on our Media Hopper Channel.

Memories of The School of Scottish Studies and studying at The University of Edinburgh

 

Fieldwork Practices

 

Creative use of Oral History Recordings and the future for OH in Scotland

It is always incredible to see how people interact and respond to oral history recordings in the archive.

As we discuss here, the experiences of women in Port Glasgow aren’t found in official statistics or in public records. Memories and lived experience can only be captured by talking to someone from that community, someone who experienced that life. It is an incredible privilege to have these recordings in the collection at SSSA and it is thrilling to see how archive material can be used creatively – opening up the lives and experience of Port Glasgow women to new audiences.

As we stand on the cusp of Scotland’s Year of Stories in 2022, whose are the voices and what are the stories that you want to hear or draw out of archives? Indeed, whose are the voices and stories you wish to put into the archives, with your own fieldwork or creative practice? Do you have a story to tell? We would love to hear from you. Contact us via email , or leave us a comment on this post.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Photograph of Sorley Maclean and Ian Paterson

 

a black and white image of two men sitting at a table.  They are turned into one another in conversation


Sorley MacLean and Ian Paterson in the School of Scottish Studies tea room, Summer 1981. © The School of Scottish Studies Archives, Ref: V_2b_8119

 

This week saw the 110th anniversary of the birth of Raasay poet Sorley MacLean (26 October 1911 – 24 November 1996) and so today’s blog is a great opportunity to share with you a photograph from the collection that I really like, for two reasons.

 

Here are Sorley and Ian Paterson, sitting at the tea table in the School of Scottish Studies. Ian Paterson was a native of Berneray and worked at The School of Scottish Studies first as a transcriber and then began collecting fieldwork of his own. In July 1974 and November 1978, Ian recorded Sorley reciting his poems at The School. You can hear these recordings via Tobar an Dualchais by following the Reference links below:

SA1974.174

SA1974.175

SA1978.147

It is an incredible gift to be able to listen to one of our greatest contemporary Gaelic poets reciting his own work in fine, resounding voice. 

 

I like the candidness of this image too; such a lack of ceremony. Two people, taking their ease, caught in a conversation while having a cup of tea. And that is the other thing I like about this image. It was taken in the Tea room at 27-29 George Square, in the School of Scottish Studies building and for anyone who worked, studied or had connections in the building, the tea room and the tea table was a special place indeed.

From special occasions to plain old elevenses, there was always a community feel about that room and you were never quite sure who else would be joining you for your tea. When the Celtic and Scottish Studies department and the Archives moved in 2015 the tea table was much mourned as that hub. We often hear stories from people who have memories of being at the tea table and so we thought it would be great to share some of these here on the blog, along with some more photographs from our collections. If you have any memories of occasions in the tea-room, no matter how long or short the tale, please drop us a line at scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk, or leave us a comment below. 

 

 

Louise Scollay, Archive & Library Assistant

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Filling the Creative Well: A Tribute to Joan W. Clark

Manuscript: The Joan Clark Collection

Response by: Elaine MacGillivray

 

Out of a thousand possible options, I have chosen to respond to the manuscript collection of Scottish botanist Joan W. Clark (1908-1999) – in particular, her wildflower specimen books

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Water Speedwell’, pinkish broiwn stem with seeds and leaves

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Water Speedwell’, collected by Joan Clark from a ditch on North Uist, August 1976 (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Joan Wendoline Clark grew up in Kincardineshire and Sussex. Fluent in French and German, skilled in shorthand and a trained typist, she worked for a time at the Foreign Office in London and at the British Embassy in Paris. In the 1930s she returned with her Scottish husband to Scotland and together they settled in Lochaber, where she remained until her death on 6 July 1999. Shortly after her death, her daughter, Anna MacLean kindly gifted Joan’s manuscript collection to the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The collection includes her correspondence and botanical research notes dating from the 1970s right up until 1999, along with three specimen books containing almost 350 pressed wildflowers collected around Onich, Ballachulish, North Uist and Glencoe in around 1976.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bitter Vetch’

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bitter Vetch’, collected by Joan Clark at [B]allachuil[ish], May 1976. (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

 

Joan Clark’s wildflower specimen books are made up of three A4 sized sugar paper leaved scrapbooks.  Turning the pages, I found each leaf contained between one and three pressed wildflower specimens. Bedstraw, iris, sea pinks, sundew, dog’s mercury and so many more are all represented, carefully laid out and attached with tiny strips of paper glued at either end. Beside each specimen the name of the plant, the location it was found, the date collected and additional notes are recorded in blue or black ink. The addition of this metadata means that the specimen books are not purely aesthetic but also scientifically valuable.

Joan Clark’s manuscript collection is testament to her incredible contribution to botanical science. Her meticulous and painstaking research informed Richard Pankhurst and J. M. Mullin’s Flora of the Outer Hebrides (1991), and she collaborated with Ian MacDonald of the Gaelic Book Council to publish Gaelic Names of Plants / Ainmean Gàidhlig Lusan (1999). Many have paid tribute to her calibre as a botanist, not least the renowned and respected botanist A. C. Jermy of the Natural History Museum (Watsonia, 2000).

Pressed plant specimen, ‘St John’s Wort’ (also known as Goat Weed), A stem with two fat green leaves at the bottom. two further up and two yellow flower heards

Pressed plant specimen, ‘St John’s Wort’ (also known as Goat Weed), collected by Joan Clark from the shore at North Ballachulish, July 1976. (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Jenny Sturgeon wrote in her response to Alan Bruford’s recording of Tom Tulloch (11 Jun 2021), “local names for flora and fauna root us to where we come from and there is a cultural history and identity associated with them.” Growing up on the west coast of Argyll, I was taught the names of the local wildflowers there by my mother and grandmothers. During my post-graduate studies in Liverpool, my mother once sent me a snapdragon – collected, pressed and placed between two pieces of tissue paper in a card. On the card was a scribbled note: “snapdragons are out and so I thought you would like to see one!” For me, and for many, flora and fauna offer up a very tangible connection to people, place and time.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Dog’s Mercury’, This is a burgundy in colour with eight or nine leaves terminating at the top of a long stem

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Dog’s Merury’, collected by Joan Clark at Duror, April 1976 (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

With this in mind and inspired by Joan Clark, earlier in 2021 I set out to collect some of my own herbarium specimens. I packed up my rucksack with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Guide to Collecting and Pressing Specimens, my phone (for the camera), a pair of scissors, a pack of coffee filters (in place of parchment paper), and Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookbook (the weightiest book in my library and my makeshift flower press).

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bluebell’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

I collected around 10 specimens from a local Perthshire woodland. Some of them I knew well, like the common broom, vetches, campion and bluebell; others left me scratching my head.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Unidentified’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Unidentified’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

 

In attempting to identify my specimens, I found myself poring over Francis Buchanan White’s Flora of Perthshire (1898), the Perthshire Society for Natural Science’s Checklist of the Plants of Perthshire (1992), and an old copy of the Readers’ Digest Guide to Wildflowers of Britain (1996). I compared my specimens to photographs that I had of Joan Clark’s specimen books, and to images and descriptions on the webpages of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Wildflower Finder, and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. The result is that some of my metadata remains lacking until such a time as I can identify and name the plant, or until my newly acquired membership of the botany section of the Perthshire Society for Natural Science pays dividends!

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Common Broom’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at Nether Balgarvie / Parkfield House, Scone, June 2021.

 

The creative process of collecting, pressing, identifying and documenting was completely absorbing. Through it I have learned to pay greater attention to my environment, gained a deeper understanding of my locality and the interdependence of people and plants. One of the many privileges of working so intimately with archival collections is that we are repeatedly offered a unique opportunity to develop knowledge and interest in a person, subject or era that otherwise may well have eluded us. In trying to see the world through the botanical wisdom of Joan Clark, the present-day natural world has opened up to me in a way I might never have imagined. I have an even greater respect for the knowledge, work, tenacity, dedication and patience that she and others must have brought to their botanical studies. I wonder what Joan Clark would have made of my amateur attempt to emulate her. I hope that she would be pleased that her legacy has inspired, and is able to continue to inspire, a new found passion to know, understand and protect plants and their environment.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Louise Scollay, Caroline Milligan and Dr Ella Leith for their encouragement, prods, and proofreading.

 

Images are copyright, please do not reproduce.

 

Sources and further information:

Jermy, A.C., Obituary of Joan Wendoline Clark (1908-1999) in Watsonia, No. 23, (2000), pp.359-372 (http://archive.bsbi.org.uk/Wats23p359.pdf)

Murray, C.W., In Memorium – Joan W Clark (Rust) 1908-1999 in BSBI Scottish Newsletter, No. 22, (2000), pp. 12-13 (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=2BC0FC507955B7D126E651E0C6CFE287?doi=10.1.1.659.2850&rep=rep1&type=pdf).

 

Elaine MacGillivray was the School of Scottish Studies Project Archivist, 2014-2016

 

 


Is there an ‘object’ related to the School of Scottish Studies that you would like to write about or respond to? It could be a recording, an image, a manuscript or something else!
We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at scottish.studie.archives (at) ed.ac.uk

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Remembering Maurice Fleming

Staff, colleagues and friends of the School of Scottish Studies Archives were very sad to hear of the passing of Maurice Fleming in August last year. 

David Fleming, Maurice’s son, has written a touching memorial to his father, which he has asked us to share. 

 

Maurice Fleming (1926-2020) Image: Scottish Traditions Series


Maurice Fleming, a song-collector from the early days of the School of Scottish Studies, passed away in August 2020.

Maurice was born in the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie in 1926. His father, James, owned a local draper’s shop and the family lived in comfortable circumstances in a house on the town’s Perth Road. Largely self-educated, James R. A. Fleming was an avid book collector with a particular interest in French and Russian literature. The family room at home, always known as the Library, was dominated by large glass-fronted bookcases full of works by the great writers of the day. Maurice’s parents both wrote in their spare time. His father composed reviews, travels sketches and a detective novel; his mother, Jessie, published volumes of poetry. In the 1920s, they collaborated on a successful radio play The Lost Piper which drew on folkloric material and concerned a ghostly musician roaming a warren of tunnels under the city of Edinburgh.

Maurice was educated in Blairgowrie. He left school without any formal qualifications but had developed a love of the written word. As a child, he roamed the fields and woods near his home and became very interested in wildlife, particularly birds. His first ambition was to become a nature writer, following in the footsteps of authors such as H. Mortimer Batten and F. Fraser Darling.

Called up for military service in 1944, Maurice joined the Cameronian Rifle Regiment and began training for service overseas in the Far Eastern Campaign. However, a misfiring Bofors gun shattered his eardrum, rendering him unfit for combat and leaving him with lifelong deafness in one ear. He saw out the war as a lance corporal, serving as a barman in the Officers’ Mess at Fort George and later at Dreghorn Barracks. These postings left him time to pursue his interest in bird-spotting and to enjoy solitary walks in the countryside.

After leaving the army, Maurice pursued a career in hotel management by taking on a number of jobs in hotel kitchens and working for a time in a busy Lyons Corner House off Piccadilly. It was while working at a country hotel in Glen Shee that a colleague suggested he could develop his literary interests by becoming a journalist. In November 1953 he joined the Dundee publishing company D.C. Thomson where he worked on women’s magazines before getting his “dream job” on the staff of The Scots Magazine. He took over as editor from Arthur Daw in 1975 and remained in the post until retirement in 1991.

Maurice’s involvement with the School of Scottish Studies began on the evening of the 26th July, 1954. His old school friend Archy Macpherson had invited him through to Edinburgh to attend a formal dinner in the Adam Rooms, George Street, and quite by chance the two men found themselves sharing a table with Hamish Henderson. Maurice was enthralled by Hamish’s account of the School’s work in seeking out and recording traditional singers and storytellers, and readily agreed to have a go when Hamish suggested he visit the berryfields around Blairgowrie where large numbers of travelling people, still bearers of a folk oral culture, would be at work picking the annual harvest of soft fruit and camping out in fields near his home.

Among the songs Hamish mentioned to look out for was The Berryfields of Blair and Maurice was to find this song and its original author not in a traveller’s camp, but in a small house in Rattray on the other side of the Ericht river from Blairgowrie. The house was occupied by a settled traveller family. Though singers, they were unknown outside the travelling community but they were soon to be internationally famous as the Stewarts of Blair. Maurice made frequent visits to their home, where he recorded Belle Stewart and her daughter Sheila. Belle introduced the young song-collector to many other local singers, and Hamish made trips through from Edinburgh as it became apparent what a wealth of traditional material had been uncovered.

In notes made concerning his memories of Hamish Henderson, Maurice has left us this impression of these exciting times:

 “One day I told my mother I was going to a ceilidh that evening.

 “Where is it to be held?” she asked, expecting it to be up at the Stewart’s home in Old Rattray or in one of the Blairgowrie hotels.

Instead I told her it was to be at the standing stones on the Essendy Road. This ancient circle is believed to be the only one in the country that has a road running through it. On one side was a raspberry field, and the travellers who had come to pick the fruit had pitched their tents on the grassy strip just over the fence from the road, next to the track leading to the Darroch, now popularly known as the Bluebell Wood. It was on the latter strip that the ceilidh was to take place.

Hamish and Belle Stewart had made the arrangements between them, telling all the pickers on the site and sending word to other singers and musicians camped round about. Hamish, of course, was to be making recordings of the event.

Although it was a warm evening, a few open fires had been lit and the smell of the woodsmoke hung in the air when I walked down the Essendy road. The ceilidh had already begun and I knew the voice of the singer. They had persuaded Jeannie Robertson to come down from her home in Aberdeen.

Hamish always regarded Jeannie as the greatest of his discoveries. A powerful ballad singer, her repertoire was astonishing. And here she was, come to join her friends the Stewarts and other travellers to make a night of it.

But Belle Stewart was on home ground and, surrounded by the crowd, she was at Hamish’s side, ready to point out to him this or that singer who could give what he wanted on his tape.

And, of course, Hamish was loving it all. Watching the two of them it seemed to me that this is how song-collecting should be, a joyous affair, not in some studio but out under the open sky and with the sights, sounds and smells of nature around us.

The ceilidh was still going strong when I rose, stiff, from the ground and bade everyone goodnight.”



Over the next few years, Maurice roamed Perthshire in search of more singers and songs. He often travelled by bike, carrying the heavy tape-machine with him, and made recordings of such distinguished traditional singers as Charlotte Higgins and Martha Reid. Among his most charming field recordings are those he made of the youthful Betty (Dolly) White who he came upon by chance camped out on a hill with her father above the waters of Clunie Loch one sunny day in 1956. (A selection of his Perthshire Field Recordings was released as a CD in 2011.)

During this time, he wrote a series of articles about traveller life and customs. Some of them appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News and The Countryman under the pen name Muiris MacEanruig.

In the late fifties, Maurice moved to Dundee to be nearer his work and was quickly involved in the folk scene there. In 1964, he recorded the singer and fearless political campaigner Mary Brooksbank who was by then a pensioner living quietly with her nephew in a city prefab. The two became friends and Maurice was able to do her a great service by retrieving a manuscript of her writings that had long been in the hands of another singer. This manuscript was to form the basis of Mary’s poetry collection Sidlaw Breezes.

During the 1960s, Maurice was involved in the organisation and hosting of concerts such as that held at the Dundee Art Galleries in July 1961. He also tried his hand at composition and wrote a couple of songs about the old Dundee to Newtyle railway. He was a founder member of Dundee Folk Club but had concerns about the commercialisation of the folk scene and feared that traditional singers were being squeezed out by popular entertainers. These concerns, shared by others at the time, led him to help form and work for the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland. With the renowned song-collector and singer Pete Shepheard as its guiding light, the TMSA aimed to give a platform to grassroots musicians and singers by running a number of locally based ceilidhs and other events. These included the now legendary Blairgowrie Festivals of Traditional Music and Song which were held each August between 1966–70. Maurice’s intimate knowledge of Blairgowrie performers and venues, along with his journalistic skills, help to ensure the success of these events. He also collaborated with Pete in collecting material for a Dundee Song Book. The fruits of this collaboration were to form part of Nigel Gatherer’s Songs and Ballads of Dundee.

Maurice had a great love of the theatre. He wrote plays for both the professional and amateur stage. His debut, The Runaway Lovers, which was produced at Dundee Rep in 1956, drew on his experiences in the hotel trade and was inspired by legends of Grainne and Diarmid which he found circulating within the oral tradition of Glen Shee.

His other plays included The Comic, set during the dying days of Variety Theatre; The Assembly Murder, a fast-moving Edinburgh thriller; and the highly popular Me and Morag, about a spirited young woman who shakes up a stuffy Edinburgh publishing house – produced at Perth Theatre in 1990. His last performed play, The Haunting O’ Middle Mause, (1992) was based on historical records of strange occurrences at a farm near Blairgowrie in the early eighteenth century and incorporated folksong material. Amongst his unperformed work was a one-man-play concerning the life of the Blairgowrie-born covenanter Donald Cargill. With the exception of a one-act play about Anne Frank, all Maurice’s plays were set in Scotland and celebrated the Scots language and people.

Maurice enjoyed a long and fruitful retirement after leaving The Scots Magazine. He wrote books on local folklore for the Mercat Press – The Ghost O’Mause and other Tales and Traditions of East Perthshire (1995) and The Sidlaws: Tales, Traditions and Ballads (2000) as well as a more general work, Not of This World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland (2002). There was also a book for younger readers, The Real Macbeth and other Stories from Scottish History (1997), and a torrent of freelance journalism for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

A founding member of Blairgowrie, Rattray and District Civic Trust, he served as Chairperson for a number of years and was deeply involved in the successful campaign to establish the authenticity of the Essendy Road Standing Stone Circle and prevent its removal elsewhere to facilitate traffic. This took eight years and involved a good deal of patience dealing with various interested parties. Having gained the necessary permissions, an archaeologist was employed to survey the Stones and confirm their prehistoric credentials.

Maurice played a leading role in another local controversy in 2006 when an historic trophy, known as the Rattray Silver Arrow, was in danger of being sold at Southeby’s by its then custodian who considered himself its owner. The affair attracted national press attention and was the subject of a public debate chaired by John Swinney MSP during which Maurice successfully put the case for the Arrow being the rightful property of the People of Rattray.

A keen postcard collector, Maurice compiled two books of old Blairgowrie and Rattray Cards for Stenlake Publishing, and over the years assembled a comprehensive visual record of his home town and district. The collection now rests in the archive of the A.K. Bell Library in Perth.

Maurice married Nanette Dalgleish in 1958 and the couple were together for 59 years until Nanette passed away in 2017. They had three children: Gavin, David and Airlie.

His final years were darkened by the loss of Nanette and the onset of several health issues but he was able to continue living at his home in Blairgowrie until a few weeks before his death. He retained a love of folk music and always thought of his collecting days as some of the happiest and most exciting of his life.

Maurice was modest about his achievements, courteous in his dealings with others, and generous with his time in helping aspiring writers. In his own quiet way, as song collector, journalist, dramatist and folklorist, he carved a legacy for himself across several facets of Scottish cultural life.


David Fleming

 

You can find over 120 of Maurice’s recordings from The School of Scottish Studies online, via Tobar an Dualchais.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Cassette of Annie Arnott Recordings

 

Recently this object was received back to SSSA.

The tape contains several recordings of Gaelic songs performed by Mrs Annie Arnott, of Skye. Born and raised in Linicro, in the Kilmuir district in Skye, Annie learned a large number of songs from her mother, who was descended from the Macdonald bards. Annie was regarded as a great tradition-bearer and she was recorded many times by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies.

You can listen to over 150 recordings of Annie Arnott singing, from SSSA collection on Tobar an Dualchais .

The tape was made for Annie’s Grand-daughter, also named Annie; She sent us a letter to say she had listened to the tapes (this is one of a few she has) many times over the years and she hoped that we might be able to fix it for her.

After a lovely telephone call with Annie, we learned that she remembered well the fieldworkers from the School bringing their huge recording machines to Skye to record with her grandmother. We asked her if she wanted the recordings put on a CD, which she did, but she also was keen to see the tape fixed – if it was possible – as the cassettes are an important item to her.

Fix it we could! It took short work from Stuart, our AV technician, and here it is almost as good as new. This is winging its way back to Skye today.

The same tape as before, but this has now been fixed!

Stuart is going to do a little video for us on tape repairs like this, but in the meantime, here is one he made earlier on fixing a microcassette.

 

It is always special to hear from people who were recorded by the School, or who have memories connected to their family or local area and the recordings in the archive.  Do you have any connections to The School of Scottish Studies or our archives? We would be delighted to hear from you. Drop us an email at scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk or telephone (or leave a message) at 0131 650 3060.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Nagra III

by Stuart Robinson, AV Technician at SSSA

 

It was hard to pick a single object from our extensive collection of historic equipment to speak about in this article. I did consider writing about some of our “repeater” machines like the one mentioned by Morag Macleod which are a great example of the inventiveness shown by my predecessor, Fred Kent, but in this post I thought I would share a device that is as easy on the eye as it is on the ear: The Nagra III.

A nagra recorder. There are two reels on the top of the machine. On the front sde there are a series of dials

The Nagra recorders were designed by Stefan Kudelski, a Polish engineer who fled the war in Poland in 1939 and were named after the Polish word “nagra” meaning “will record”. Manufacturing began in 1951 by Kudeslki Company, his eponymous engineering firm based in Switzerland specialising in high-end recording equipment. The company still exists and makes field recorders and other Hi-fi equipment today (they also manufacture my all-time favourite amplifier, the Nagra VPA, which shows a similar design aesthetic).

As one would expect from the name there had been two preceding models of Nagra field recorders before our Nagra III was made, the Nagra I and II. These models are very impressive technically but still relied on clockwork winding mechanisms which suffer from poor speed control, and valve amplification circuits which required very high voltages and drew a great deal of power which is a major issue when recording in the field.

The Nagra III was designed in 1957 and was transistorised meaning lower power consumption for longer recording, and had a servo controlled motor for precise speed control, Kudelski also had the foresight to use a spring belt drive mechanism rather than using rubber or leather belts as other manufacturers did at the time, meaning a massive increase in reliability. The machines were designed by Kudelski to last 5 years in the field with no maintenance, and proof of his success is evident in the fact that there are still so many working examples of these machines out there more than 60 years after they were manufactured.

what the Nagra looks like inside the machine. There are many coloured wireds, cogs and components

The Nagra had many design features that were ahead of its time, such as 3-way speed selection (3.75, 7.5 or 15 ips) and dual equalisation (CCIR or Ampex). This along with accurate level monitoring, recording quality, portability, and the optional Pilot-tone add-on made Nagra recorders the standard for location film work for at least 30 years.

We are fortunate enough to own two Nagra III recorders and the accompanying mini microphone mixer and external speaker unit. Here it is accompanied by a Sennheiser MD421, another classic piece of recording equipment.

These were used extensively, it is hard to work out exactly how many recordings they were used for, but a quick search suggests nearly 500 in the official SA catalogue the earliest available on Tobar an Dualchais features Calum Johnston singing “Chunnacas na trì, na trì, calmanan geala” and the audio quality is still impressive to hear – note the lack of hiss or hum, and the clarity of the sibilants.

The Nagra recorders were also used to record one of the Archive’s most important works, “Cloth Waulking in South Uist”(VA1970.01,) as seen in the picture below of Peter Cooke and Morag Macleod.

(C) SSSA

This video is currently available to view on our Youtube channel:

 

It is amazing to think of the songs, tales and music that have passed through this unit’s Germanium over the past 60 years, and it is a joy to get to use it and be part of that great history. Even today people are finding new ways to use and experiment with these incredible recorders and finding new outlets for their creativity by doing so, like in the video below.

 

Thanks for reading,

Stuart Robinson,

Archival Audio-Visual Technician,

School of Scottish Studies Archives.

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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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