Friday, May 22, 2015

The Edinburgh Ceilidh

Gaelic and Scots music and the song that solved the riddle

The overnight flight from Newark arrived in Edinburgh in the morning. We slept a couple of hours before visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia where we had afternoon tea. Getting there by taxi was simple. Getting back from the Ocean Terminal was another matter. When we couldn't get a taxi,* we decided to take a bus. We only had a general sense of where we were going and realized too late that we had passed a stop convenient to our hotel. 

It was a serendipitous mistake, and one I'm glad we made.

As we walked, we passed a notice posted on the iron railing outside St. John the Evangelist church on Princes Street. Advertised as "Gaelic and Scots music and song" and sponsored by the Edinburgh Argyll Association, it was far more than interesting. It was an event that sent shivers up my spine and made connections to a past I had never understood.

We had time before the ceilidh so we dined nearby 
at Kyloe, where the food was excellent. Oysters and trout from Loch Etive, near Oban, and scallops from the Isle of Skye.
We went to the ceilidh prepared to leave at the break, but that was not to be. As we entered the church hall, we felt the ghosts of people and a community we had known and loved so well at St. Mary's Primrose Hill in London. The hall looked and felt so similar. Some of the people, too. Even the raffle and the tea and baked goods being readied for the break.

The notice on the rail had invited us to "sit down and enjoy the friendly welcome." We did. And we didn't leave until the very end.

We were guests at the "ceilidh" (pronounced kay’lee), which Tom, the master of ceremonies, explained to the 50-odd present was a visit, a get-together more than a concert. It was a place to share Scottish songs, stories, and dance. The similarity of the ceilidh to the '50's-era community socials in the rural area of Ohio where I grew up was striking. Food, music, socializing and dancing--both round and square.

This ceilidh, which featured music for listening and dancing by Alexander Sime-Scott on the highland pipes (above); Linda Campbell on the accordion and Debbie Davidson on the fiddle (below); and Bob Murray singing Scots songs. Anybody could participate--and many did. And to accompany the tunes were tapping hands and feet, dancing and sing-alongs. The "Yellow on the Broom," in particular, had a strong, unified chorus.
The dancing, too, was a delight to watch. I particularly liked the last couple that joined in. Watch their feet. They've been married 62 years, he told me. 
The music swept over and through me, but Bob Murray's songs touched me deepest. His first song, a kind of ballad, reached out, unwrapped memories, and transported me back to the bedside of my grandfather McCormick. He and I were very close. When he had his first stroke I was 16 and he, 86. His mind was clear--at least for a short time--and during my visits with him, he recited long songs. Songs I had never heard. Songs that told stories. 

My grandfather's story songs were like those Bob Murray now sang. I had never understood what he was sharing with me. Now I know it was Scottish ballads.

This local ceilidh was a highlight that never would have been on a tour itinerary. In fact, a large tour group would probably overwhelm and spoil the personal nature of the event. But if you're in Edinburgh on July 26, September 6 or 27, and are interested in Scottish heritage and music, I highly recommend that you make plans to spend a Saturday evening (7:30 to 10 p.m.) with the Edinburgh Argyll Association at St. John's church on Princes Street. They will welcome you. 

And if you go, please give them my best regards.

*Strangely (to us), hailing cabs is not the order in the two Scottish cities we visited. Rather, taxis wait at a taxi stand for riders to find them OR you call them on your mobile. 

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