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When the Song Dies: Scottish folklore is on the brink of being lost


I remember it was a beautiful, sun shine day,
really nice day. And I was just sitting there, just ideally
wandering around with a old mind, you know, it was going like places and drifted
back homeward. All of a sudden I was sitting there and this
damned cold shiver came. But before the shiver came along, was the
panoramic view of the village itself. I thought, oh hell what’s going on here? Because, being a superstitious person I thought, ‘oh this has to be
a warning of some kind’, you know? – There’s a special song within my family that we kept. Kept the song secret. So we worship this song, my family did, and it’s the main song within my family’s culture. [Singing] Near as I rove down to one summer’s
morn, a man lofty hell as a moor (?) land and mountain, it was there I spied a lovely maid, wildest eye
(?) with fathers was out a hunting, no shoes nor stockings did she wear, neither had she hat
not a hat she feathers, but her golden locks I am a ringless fell – If it’s been walked over by
all sorts of peoples in it’s times, probably the little remains of
Venetian gullies lying outside there on the greens. As well as Roman ships, Viking ships, quite
a lot of (?). So we left to the top off where the garden was and underneath about a foot underground
we found bodies, about three or four bodies in the ground, you know. At the end of the day we left at about 700
bodies, dead bodies before got right down (?) And on the way down we met up with a poor
old Viking, deaf and dying, on the way down. -There’s certainly presences even in an old
house like this. Not threatening or not materializing but presences
you’re aware of them. Well there are some places where you get a
feeling, but there is a bit of haunting. There’s no one in the world who’d take me
down that harbor in the dark or wee- you know, at midnight. -I was with my grand uncle and we stopped
at a house on the glen called Coons and I went into the buyer because a bitch watching-dog had had puppies and
I wanted to see the the puppies. All of a sudden there was a shadow cast over
the doorway and I looked up and there on the rafters in a spot there was a strange creature,
I could not make out, was it a human being or was it some kind of animal? My vision cleared a wee bit and I saw the
gnarled face of an old person sitting on this rafter and speaking to me in a language I
didn’t understand. Strangely enough, the bitch put her ears back and the hairs on her back of her stood up
but I felt no fear. What draws me back is intonations of mortality. I get comfort from these old old things that
I had when I was a wee boy because they, for a short while at least, they remove me from the futility of existence if you like. There are certain names we won’t say in the
morning before 12 o’clock because it’s unlucky and we don’t say them. But we’ve got made up other names for them. Like… [inaudible] I said it,
but I said after 12 o’clock didn’t I? ‘Pig’, will not say ‘Pig’ in the mornings,
we say ‘Graffy’, we’ll not say ‘Snake’ in the morning, we say a ‘Wriggly’, we’ll no say ‘Monkey’ in the morning, and we’ll no say… [indecipherable] in the morning Can’t sing some bird about, we call
things by different names, rats were long tails, cats scratchers, and what they call
the revenue of something else entirely. Because we have such a large population of newcomers, so much of this has just been lost. There are thousands of songs in my background
that have died and I don’t know about, you know it’s like the millions of dead souls that
are floating around as we speak just now, they just don’t exist anymore. The song dies. [Singing Gaelic] – Seen the best of this world. I said that I had seen the best of this world. The resolute of things, it changed in my life. – My older sister died at 48, My other sister
died at 56, my brother died at 70. So… I’ve lived lonely. I have nay ache nor pain. My legs are no gone the way I want them. So, finish my days out. [laughs] -As far as the old folk, they’re
nearly all gone now, the old people that I knew and grew up with. This is God’s waiting room as far as I’m concerned,
you know? [laughs] For all the old people that’s nice. It was said to be the gift that nobody wanted because you would have a experience or a vision, an
encounter of something that hadn’t yet happened. But you never really given to see it in the
actual way that it was going to happen. It could be a sound or a snail, it could be
something. And it was usually a premonition of death. Accourding to my own mother, her father Norman,
he had second sights certainly, I mean he foresaw his own death. He saw himself going down with the ship. And he got out after an afternoon’s rest and
said to his wife, my granny, “Well, I’m not going to return this trip.” “Oh shit what are you talking about?” “No, no” he said “I’m going down with the
ship.” Really quite cool blooded about the whole thing. And it came to pass, a German U-Boat shot
the ship and he went down with it. -It’s my life. It’s my life completely and utterly and I’m so… so afraid that when I go, well I know when I go, my culture is gone. [Singing in Gaelic] It expresses just such
a depth of feeling and sense of loss for something that was exquisitely wonderful. In this case, a sweetheart. But it could also be a sense of loss of something
else. In that sense of loss, when words fail, only
a song can express it. I wouldn’t want to think that it was all lament,
I think there’s still fight in there, and there’s still optimism in there. – And everybody sees a ghost in a different way. I see a ghost as a helper, you know, because
my folk comes to me and they help me because I’m singing their songs and telling my father’s
stories and I believe that when I’m telling the stories my father’s there. -They would think about it and maybe think
about all of the things that that person meant to them in life, including the values that
that person had and held, realizing that wasn’t a complete several, soft words. What that something did continue, not just
the values but the traditions as well.

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