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Friday 29th June
It’s been a fantastic time lately with lots of travelling, I’ve recently performed in Australia and the US and it’s been superb to see a wee bit more of the world recently. Over in Australia I performed for and had the pleasure of being a part of the Camperdown Burns Festival. Situated in Camperdown, approximately 214 miles from Melbourne the Burns Festival has been running since 2012 and is a joyous celebration of Robert Burns and the Scottish diaspora in Victoria Australia. It was my first time performing in Australia and I was so grateful for the immense warmth and hospitality shown to me by all in Camperdown. A community wide effort the Camperdown Burns Festival is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had on tour and I genuinely mean it when I say that we in Ayrshire could learn a lot from the Camperdown Burns Festival about how to really celebrate Burns and his legacy in an innovative and inclusive way. Local schools, shops and businesses were all involved in the festival which is put together with a team from Corangamite Shire Council with support from a team of passionate local volunteers.
The reason for having the Camperdown Burns Festival in the first place is a fascinating one. Camperdown is home to the very first commissioned statue of Robert Burns anywhere in the world. Created in Scotland in 1830 and gifted to the local community of Camperdown in 1883 by W.A Taylor the statue of Burns is the only one known to have been based on the earliest known portrait of Burns.
Many people are used to seeing effigies of Burns as based on the portrait by Alexander Nasmyth which I have always thought to depict Burns as quite ‘cute’ and almost effete. Indeed there is often a tendency in history to ‘beautify’ the characteristics of our heroes and remarkable figures. Certainly I was none too surprised back in 2012 when a project led by a team from the University of Dundee to reconstruct the image of Burns using the latest forensic technology produced an image quite unlike the most common depictions of Burns as in the style of the famous Alexander Nasmyth painting which is on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. In truth though it’s not the most important thing what Burns actually looked like and as with his poetry and song it’s our own imagination sparked by his magic that truly brings his great works to life in the present day.
I must say to travel 10,000 miles from Ayrshire to Australia to perform and celebrate Robert Burns is quite an incredible thing! I was so impressed by the passion of the local Camperdown community for Burns and to learn how relevant and important Burns is today to the people who live there. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the descendents of W.A Taylor who was responsible for the statue of Burns coming to Camperdown and I talked with great pleasure about how important that would have been for future generations of Scots descendents to celebrate their history and heritage and indeed keeping the spirit of Burns alive down under.
There was a great wealth of artistic talent and performances on offer at the Camperdown Burns Festival with performances coming from the Melbourne Fiddle Club, Fiona Ross, TriGuthan, the Warrnambool Pipes & Drums, Peter Daffy, Claymore, The Neon Effect and yours truly. They all offered unique and brilliant interpretations of Burns songs and poetry and it was such a joy to experience this many miles from Scotland.
There was a great range of talks and workshops at the Camperdown Burns Festival with hugely interesting talks focussing on Scottish migrants and the making of the Western District as delivered by Dr Ben Wilkie. His book, The Scots in Australia 1788 – 1938 makes for compelling reading and his presentation was of great interest. Also of great interest was a talk delivered by Dr Iain Buckland entitled ‘Guid auld Scotch drink – drinking culture in the time of Robert Burns’. I’m sure Rabbie himself would have been interested in this one. It was a privilege to give a talk myself on the international export of the Scottish tradition, from the early migrants to the modern day. Many thanks to all who came along to the talk and it was a pleasure to speak as well as to learn a thing or two from those present. Going to an event like the Camperdown Burns Festival is a uniquely brilliant opportunity to meet and talk with many people with a great passion for Scottish culture and tradition. It’s a marvellous thing to meet people so passionate about Scotland all over the world it really is and it will never become anything less than utterly brilliant to learn the stories of heritage and history which people so passionately present.
I had the privilege during my time in Camperdown to enjoy the hospitality of Dr John Menzies, President of the Camperdown Burns Society and what a treat it was to stay with John and Carolyn Menzies, I am most grateful to them as I am to Jenny and Lance Wade for hosting me, I will be forever grateful to you for looking after this Ayrshire lad in Australia.
Thanks go to the team at Corangamite Shire Council for their warmth and hospitality and of course invitation to be part of the Camperdown Burns Festival, Rory, Tammy, Chris, Councillor Gstrein and Chris Maguire all made me feel very much welcome and I thank them sincerely for that.
Monday 8th January
Hello amigos I hope you are all very well and having a hugely positive start to the new year, happy 2018 indeed!
Tuesday 26th September
I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead, with gigs in Ballater, Nairn and then to London on Monday for a performance at the London Burns Club which will be superb. I’ve very kindly been invited down to perform at Caledonia House by London Burns Club President Alison Hemmings and it will be an interesting and exciting wee trip. I’ve not sang in London for quite a few years now and look forward to some sightseeing and inevitably getting lost in the big city. I’m definitely a fan of getting lost as much as I am finding my way about, the two seem inextricably linked to me and I do like a wee wander wherever I’m playing. The London Burns Club was founded in 1868 and is listed as Club Number 1 on the roll of Burns Clubs at the Robert Burns World Federation. I had the privilege a few years back of being the first person to record inside Burns Cottage in Alloway for my Roots EP and it was an incredible experience to think that history itself was seeping into the recordings. I remember working on the recordings with my friend Jean Nicolson, a really great person to work with and an excellent sound engineer who works from her studio in Mauchline Ayrshire. It genuinely felt like we were making history at the time and it was a surreal feeling to watch BBC Reporting Scotland feature it on the evening news that night as I was home eating my dinner. I perform Burns songs in my own contemporary way, shirking traditional interpretations of his material and very much doing it my way. That feels like the most honest way for me to interpret the source material, probably with more contemporary chords than you would typically hear a musician perform his songs with, but I think there is value in bringing your own flavour to an interpretation and I hope that people out there like it. It will be a pleasure to perform for the London Burns Club on Monday 2nd October. The event is open to the public and you can find out more information at www.burnscluboflondon.org.uk/events
Saturday 23rd September
I haven’t written on here in what feels like an awful long time but it’s fair to say it’s been an interesting time since I last wrote. I’m quite productive at the moment with different projects and it feels good and rewarding and healthy to be busy. It’s good for the mind, my mind, to have things that occupy me and allow me to use different parts of my brain. I guess it is for all of us! I’m interested in so many things at any one time that it’s sometimes quite a challenge to sit down and focus and often my shortcoming has been an inability to just work on one thing at a time, as there’s so much I’m doing and want to do. Right now I’m working away on my People of Ayr project, a photojournalism project all about highlighting people who live/work/contribute towards making Ayr the unique community that it is. Although I wasn’t born here (t’was in Falkirk) I’ve lived in Ayr for the vast majority of my life and whilst I feel it’s got some way to go to realise itself what it wants to be and where it wants to go, there are so many good, talented, hardworking and caring people. That’s what I love about Ayr the most. People of Ayr will focus and highlight these people, the people who make this town what it is. I hope to have my exhibition for the project take place in January / February with a wee launch at Carnegie Library and then hosting it at County Buildings, Maclaurin Galleries.
Friday 26th May
So it’s been an interesting time lately, what an opening statement, hardly ever going to be one which is a headline in itself and certainly one that applies to every single human being on this earth, but it truly has been, to say the least. We’ve seen awful events unfold, close to home, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by the awful atrocity in Manchester. The world has too much crazy going on. Too often. Everywhere. I hope that one day we will as a human race find that love is the answer, the reason and the everything. I am sure that one day we will but I hope that it won’t take forever. We’ve got to look after each other, I’m sure that’s the key to everything.
I’ve had a weird and wonderful time of it recently, from coming back from my travels and performances in New York last month to looking forward to next month as I’m headed to perform at the Ohio Scottish Games, my very first time visiting Ohio and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and singing in New York City three times now and I’ve had a great time everytime but it’s great to be going someplace different in my next foray into the US. I am looking forward to meeting a lot of people with an interest and passion for Scotland and Scottish culture. I feel incredibly glad to have experiences like that, just meeting people who have an interest in where you come from is a great thing and a real privilege for me to tell them what Scotland is like and to encourage people to visit us. I look forward to making lots of new friends in Ohio.
Thursday 13th April –
It’s been an exciting time having just returned from New York where I was performing at New York Tartan Week. It’s an incredible event which draws people from all over the world in celebrating Scotland, Scottish-American community and culture, and of course being Scottish, we know how to have a good time resulting in a brilliant party and celebration for all.
With gigs at Deacon Brodies, Iona, St Andrews, The Rookery, Beer Authority and The Cutting Room I was kept busy and I’m grateful to all the staff at the venues for making me feel so at home and looking after me, it always makes it a great experience. It was great too to see so many people I met at Tartan Week last year, so many friendly and passionate people from all over and the gigs were good fun as well. One extremely fun music moment happened when a group of lads from Edinburgh joined me in singing Sunshine on Leith and 500 Miles at St Andrews on Thursday night, well done for getting up laddies! It was great to visit Brooklyn for the first time as well with gigs at The Rookery and Iona and a great atmosphere at both. Other highlights include meeting Andy Weir who played a young Hamish in the Oscar Winning smash Braveheart and he is a smashing fella indeed, from Ayr originally too.
There’s something quite magical about feeling so at home when you’re actually 3209 miles away. Taking part in the New York Tartan Day Parade is quite an experience. It’s surreal, brilliant and it certainly fills the heart with joy to see so many people come out to support Scottish heritage and culture. It’s a fascinating thing and walking down 6th Avenue surrounded by pipe bands, Highland Dancers including Becky Forbes, Flings and Things, marchers, community groups, Scottish culture aficionados, performers, entertainers, schools, politicians, with marchers from all over the world it’s an amazing feeling. You should absolutely experience it one day if you get the chance! This year I had the pleasure of walking with the Alexander Robertson School – it was great to see the wee ones having the best time and I thank the school for kindly inviting me to join them on the Parade.
It was a pleasure to attend the American Scottish Foundation Post Parade event before heading to the Post Parade Party at BB Kings and I heard some fantastic performances during the week from artists including Andrew Forbes of Scottish Octopus, Craig Weir and Gleadhraich, The Highland Divas with Cheryl Barnes of Angelstar, Mike Ogletree and Riyo, Ryan Joseph Burns and Elias Alexander. There’s so much going on during Tartan Week in addition to music with performances this year from Scottish Ballet, talks about Scottish influences and contributions to the founding of America and more. It’s a cultural happening as well as being a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and members of the Scottish Government being amongst the delegation to visit this year.
Superb to see Scottish fashion represented with Scot Street Style‘s Gordon Millar leading a group of handsome looking Scots including the Kilted Yogis‘, Howie from 21st Century Kilts and Scottish model Simone Murphy in the parade drawing some very admiring glances indeed.
It was brilliant to visit the aforementioned Alexander Robertson School on my last day before returning home to Scotland. The school was founded in 1789 by Alexander Robertson, a Scot, with the intention to ‘to educate the sons and daughters of farmers and “common folk” so that they could become effective citizens in the newly created United States of America.’ It was lovely to meet with the staff and pupils at the school who had a real interest in Scotland and Scottish culture and I enjoyed very much singing a few Burns songs for them which made for a charming experience indeed! The school has a relationship with World Peace Tartan which I am an ambassador for and the school has adopted the tartan as it’s official tartan. Thanks to Irwin and Joan for kindly inviting me to visit.
Thanks go to Victor Spence at World Peace Tartan for my beautiful World Peace Tartan kilt which was admired by many and I hugely enjoyed telling them about what World Peace Tartan means and what it does (World Peace Tartan is a charity which supports other charities and community initiatives such as the Homeless World Cup). You can purchase World Peace items knowing that you are helping to support others in the name of peace and friendship.
Thanks also goes to Iain Sutherland of Clyde Kilts for the lovely jacket and waistcoat; a pleasure to wear and certainly went very well with my kilt, thank you Iain.
Thanks to Belhaven for their support and sponsorship with my performances during Tartan Week.
Well done to the National Tartan Day New York Committee for organising a brilliant and hugely memorable event which will be fondly remembered by all who attended for a long time to come! Thanks for doing what you do, as a Scot who feels hugely fortunate to share in the experience I can tell you it’s like nothing else on Earth and I tell everyone I can that they should visit and experience it in their lifetime.
Most importantly thanks to everyone who made it a special week, thanks for your support, kindness and good grace. I will always be grateful for what you do for my Little Fire heart and soul. The conversations, the company and community that you help to build by being who you are, it changes the world and undoubtedly make it a better one, all whilst celebrating Scotland and the Scottish-American community, bringing us closer together strengthening our bonds of friendship and shared heritage whilst looking to the future together.
I am glad to be home now back in Ayr but certainly looking forward to returning to NYC again in the near future. Like me, The Big Apple never sleeps so we get on very well indeed.
See you next time,