How Long Before Spring?

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Algy flew onwards to the shores of the quiet loch, which, owing to the bitter March wind, was a wee bit less calm than usual. He tucked himself down among the masses of dead bracken beside the shore, trying to ignore the spikes of the numerous bramble stems which wound their way mercilessly through the dry fronds. It was a fine morning, and the loch was unusually blue, but the colours surrounding it were still those of winter, with not a hint of green in sight. Algy wondered how long it would be before the landscape was transformed once again by the touch of spring…

On Burns Night, Algy gazed at Ben Nevis across the upper reaches of Loch Linnhe and thought of all those people in far away places whose hearts are in the Highlands but who are not able to be here.

Listen to this beautiful traditional version of Robert Burns’ song My Heart’s in the Highlands performed by Shona Donaldson and Katie Mackenzie.

St. Andrew’s Day 2012

On St. Andrew’s Day, Algy woke at dawn and flew up into a patch of early morning sun at the top of his tree, to wave his saltire and sing his rendition of Scotland’s unofficial national anthem to the other West Highland birds:

                  O flower of Scotland
                  When will we see your like again
                  That fought and died for
                  Your wee bit hill and glen
                  And stood against him
                  Proud Edward’s army
                  And sent him homeward
                  Tae think again

                  The hills are bare now
                  And autumn leaves lie thick and still
                  O’er land that is lost now
                  Which those so dearly held
                  And stood against him
                  Proud Edward’s army
                  And sent him homeward
                  Tae think again

                  Those days are passed now
                  And in the past they must remain
                  But we can still rise now
                  And be the nation again
                  That stood against him
                  Proud Edward’s army
                  And sent him homeward
                  Tae think again

Flower of Scotland was written in the 1960s by Roy Williamson of The Corries. Listen to this original recording of the song performed by The Corries themselves back in 1968. The video quality is poor, but the sound is fine. The Corries first met and started performing while they were students at Edinburgh College of Art 🙂

Remembrance Day 2012

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On Remembrance Day, Algy perched on a low stone wall by the loch and thought sadly of the terrible damage done to the world and its creatures by war.

He quietly hummed An Eala Bhàn – The White Swan – a haunting Gaelic song with lyrics written by a poet from the island of North Uist while in the trenches of WWI during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Listen to this lovely version of An Eala Bhàn sung by North Uist’s own Julie Fowlis.

Algy Sings Puirt-à-Beul to a Fallen Pine

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Algy was in high spirits on this beautiful afternoon but he felt sad when he saw that a whole row of large Scots Pine trees, which had lined the edge of the beach leading to the old castle, had been uprooted by last winter’s storms. So he settled on one of the toppled branches, and sang puirt-à-beul (mouth music) at the top of his voice, to try to comfort the fallen tree.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – Algy made no recording of his singing, but other, much better singers have recorded their puirt-à-beul. Try listening to Catherine-Ann MacPhee from the island of Barra, across the water from Algy’s home – she sings puirt-à-beul in just the way that Algy would like to – or to Mary Ann Kennedy, who lives in Algy’s area of the West Highlands of Scotland.

Mull was Astern, Rùm on the Port, Eigg on the Starboard Bow

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Algy sailed his sky boat back to his home in the Sea of the Hebrides. As they sped across the water like a bird on the wing, he sang of another Skye Boat which crossed the same sea.

Algy first learned this song many years ago, when he was just a tiny wee chick. The magical names of the islands remained forever linked in his mind with the haunting Gaelic melody. Little did he realise that one day he would live among those very islands…

As he was so very young at the time, it was the gentler lyrics by Robert Louis Stevenson which he was taught to sing to this famous lament:

          Mull was astern, Rùm on the port,
                Eigg on the starboard bow;
          Glory of youth glowed in his soul;
                Where is that glory now?

          Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
                Say, could that lad be I?
          Merry of soul he sailed on a day
                Over the sea to Skye.
          …

          Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
                Mountains of rain and sun,
          All that was good, all that was fair,
                All that was me is gone.

[Algy is singing Robert Louis Stevenson’s (Scottish) version of the Skye Boat Song: Sing me a Song of a Lad that is Gone. The more familiar lyrics of this song were written by an Englishman, Sir Harold Boulton. Both versions were composed in the late 19th century, long after the Jacobite Rising which they commemorate, and were set to the tune of a much older Gaelic song. Sometimes the two sets of lyrics are combined.

Listen to a traditional folk version of the Skye Boat Song performed live by The McCalmans at Arisaig, close to Algy’s home, or to a version played on the bagpipes.]

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Oh! Rowan Tree, Oh! Rowan Tree.

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Like many other birds, Algy is extremely partial to rowan berries. Despite his obvious enthusiasm for the fruit, however, he is not unaware of the other properties of this most beautiful West Highland tree.

          How fair wert thou in simmer time,
          Wi’ a’ thy clusters white
          How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
          Wi’ berries red and bright.
          On thy fair stem were many names,
          Which now nae mair I see,
          But they’re engraven on my heart.
          Forgot they ne’er can be!

               Oh! Rowan tree!

[From the old Scottish song The Rowan Tree, whose lyrics were written by Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne (1766-1845). Many different versions of this lovely Scottish air have been recorded over the years. Try listening to this recording by John McDermott on YouTube.]

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