Listening Post 200. When Mary Ann Kennedy was artist-in-residence at the Gaelic College on Skye, in the Inner Hebrides, it occurred to her that Gaels love to sing about home, which usually means Scotland’s Highlands and Islands—their mountain mists and village trysts, heather fields and cattle folds. But Kennedy hails from witty-pretty-gritty Glasgow, where Scottish Gaelic songs—like the language itself—swim in a much larger linguistic sea; compiling a home town canon would require deep diving. Happily, preserving a minority language in a cosmopolitan center inspires resolve, and the singer-composer-musician’s musings turned into a Homeric journey of song about generations of her city’s Gaelic speakers, how they have worked, played and navigated urban waves. The collection opens with Camanachd Ghlaschu (The Glasgow Shinty), describing a long-ago match of the Highland stick-and-ball game that is a forerunner to ice hockey (video 1). In Horo Tha Mi Fo Smalan Dheth (Statues, A Goose and the Morning After) a New Year’s reveller gets carried away and dances with the statues in George Square, from Queen Victoria to Rabbie Burns (video 2). Mother Glasgow is an iconic ode, full of lore going back to St. Mungo, the city founder (video 3). The sightseeing odyssey Òran don Clutha (Song for the Clutha) recalls the ferry that steamed along the River Clyde in the late nineteenth century (video 4). Glaschu’s sweeping panorama relies not just on Kennedy’s lush voice and vivid stories, but also on deft touches—uilleann pipes that invigorate a pub brawl, a saxophone echoing a ferry’s foghorn, a sudden vaudeville riff. And threading through 10 historic songs are spoken vignettes describing Glasgow street scenes from the 1980s, when Kennedy was growing up. In the end, that homeward meditation has raised Gaelic’s urban profile and even seems to have pulled Glasgow—perhaps not on the map but certainly in the imagination—a wee bit closer to the Highlands. (ARC Music/Watercolour Music)
Note: For the review of Mary Ann Kennedy’s previous album, An Dàn – Gaelic Songs for a Modern World, see Listening Post 126, November 27, 2017
Camanachd Ghlaschu/The Glasgow Shinty
(M. MacPherson, M.A. Kennedy)
From the album notes:
New Year 1876, Queen’s Park, Glasgow
Shinty owes its first ever match report—from preview through live commentary to post-match analysis—to poet Mary MacPherson (“Big Mary of the Songs”). She was the ultimate fan, the songwriting champion of the Gaels in Glasgow, as well as a major protagonist in the campaign against the Highland Clearances. The game took place at Queen’s Park in the southside of Glasgow, 30-a-side, one team in kilts and the other in knickerbockers, and the result was a revenge win from the previous year for the Glasgow Gaels against their Greenock compatriots.
(from the Gaelic lyrics)
These darling lads are an inspiration/They made this New Year a cause for celebration
They might be in the heart of the city, a long way from home
But custom will out, and the usual plans were made
They all turned up, caman in hand/And at eleven they stepped out in fine style, pipes at the head
When they reached their battleground all was set/Full glasses of the best whisky
With bread and cheese and mounds of bannocks/Home baking by the girls from home
When the heroes took to the pitch I was there alongside to talk tactics
And what a beautiful sight, each young man, coat off
And each flawless youth, stick in hand with the ball whizzing away from them
Deer-swift they were/And you’d hear nothing but cries of “Up with her, Donald!”
What skill, what a clatter of sticks/Each hero bathed in sweat and steam rising off them
One fine young lad in red – your roe-buck couldn’t keep up with him
And another veteran landed a goal right in the teeth of the opposition
You’d be daft not to realize this is what they were raised with
Game over, they marched out again with the pipes to Hope Street
So have a seat, lads, let’s get a song and we’ll have the drams fixed up for you
The heroes headed off then as they had gathered, hearts full and on the best behavior
Horo Tha Mi Fo Smalan Dheth/Statues, A Goose and The Morning After
(J. MacFadyen, arr. M.A. Kennedy)
Horo, I feel terrible/I had a wee drop of whisky
That son-of-the-malt is a tricky one/He’s led many a man astray
I’ll tell you in this wee song about the wind/That blew in with the New Year
It hit me square in the back of the head/As I was coming down the Gallowgate
I met some old pals in George Street/And I went to spend some time in their company, because they’re decent sorts.
One of them had a pig of whisky and pulled the cork from it himself
I had more than a glassful – from Tobermory itself it was.
I had two or three of them/There was a Mull one, and an Islay
And with another with them for company/I wanted for nothing.
I took off then, amidst the uproar/But I’m very much afraid I was seeing things that weren’t there at all
I made for George Square to see the Queen for myself/Lord Clyde, Sir John, what fine folk – I wanted to pay my respects.
Prince Albert was strutting away/As Burns himself was singing the tunes
And who was there up on high but Walter Scott/Dancing away to them!
But next day, I fully regretted/Everything that had happened to me
My head was fit to burst/And I was sat there on the stool of repentance.
(Michael Marra, arr. M.A. Kennedy / F. Wells)
From the album notes:
I’ve always loved this song, and Michael loved Gaelic, so this seemed like a good fit. I wish he could have heard it. His wife Peggy and daughter Alice gave their blessing for mam [Mary Ann’s mother, Kenna Campbell] to make this translation [from the English lyrics]. I think it’s especially appropriate as Gaelic has its own relationship with the subject. In some respects we are better – our language is shared by Catholics and Protestants alike and not treated as a religious political football as in Ireland – but in others we are no better than the rest.
In the second city of the Empire/
Mother Glasgow nurses all her weans
And working hard to feed her little starlings/Unconsciously she clips their little wings
And Mother Glasgow’s succour is perpetual/Nestling the Billy and the Tim*
I dreamed I took a dander with St. Mungo/To try to catch a fish that couldnae swim
Among the silent bells and flightless birdies/Father Glasgow knows his starlings well
But he won’t make his own way up to heaven/By waltzing all his charges in to hell
And Mother Glasgow’s succour is perpetual/Nestling the Billy and the Tim
I dreamt I took a dander with St. Mungo/To try to catch a fish that couldnae swim
And the tree
And the fish
And the bird
And the bell**
Let Glasgow Flourish!
*fans of Glasgow’s rival football clubs, Celtic and Rangers
**all symbols appearing on the Glasgow city crest
Òran don ‘Clutha’ (Song for the ‘Clutha’)
(J. MacFadyen, J. MacLachlan, arr. M.A. Kennedy/The Wiyos)
From the album notes:
The 12-strong fleet of Clutha ferries plied their trade between the Broomielaw and Whiteinch over 20 years or so in the late 19th century. A trip to the city to see a girlfriend takes the hero past various wonders of the time: the Bonanza warehouse on Argyle Street; MacLeod’s waxworks at the Trongate; the horse-drawn tramway; and the ferries, the “Penny Liners” themselves. The couple jump aboard, and the river journey is elevated to a great mock-heroic voyage with a New Year party at the end, Gaels on board and an Irishwoman playing the pipes.
Since my sweetheart was down in the shopping city/I went to see her at New Year
Heading off from the village on the morning boat/Was I not champing at the bit to see my darling!
So many marvels and curiosities
The Bonanza emporium, MacLeod’s waxworks, and the Tramway spiriting me off to see the girls.
Trust me, lads, I was well chuffed.
I’d had enough of all the uproar, palatial living and music
So I took off down to the water’s edge and the flotilla to take a gander
At the river aboard a Penny Liner/And myself and my girlfriend went cheerily on board.
I was for’ard taking a look about me/When she reached the bridge crossing the Clyde
She dropped her funnel, so I doffed my cap/With the folk ahead of me staring down.
But then a great tremor went shuddering through her/And I caught my breath when I’d gathered myself together
I’ve yet to see more than a glimpse of the sky/With an iron-horse, sparks flying, rushing past above us.
The old biscuit-seller had plenty sweet things to eat/There were young lads with a flask in their pocket
There were Mull-folk, Canna-folk, Uist (Tiree) and Barra/Friends, what a cargo we had on board!
There were whoops of “Happy New Year” about the place/Bottles being drained on all sides
A regaling of songs in Gaelic and English/And the old piper-woman wheezing away at “Éirinn go Brágh.”