The Banff and Buchan Collection

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Tape 1993.008 transcription

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[JW] .. with whom he collaborated. And apparently he used to go out to the front green in the schoolhouse at Whitehill, play his fiddle and encourage the kids to go round with pots and sticks or spoons to keep time to his music. So there, are a rare insight to that great man.

My grandmother remembered the day that Gavin Greig left the schoolhouse at Whitehill to go to Bruckley station on his way to Edinburgh. He was going to hear a piano recital by his distant cousin, Edvard Greig, whose family of course had emigrated from oor way, to Norway, where Edvard--who'd just have been Eddie Greig if he'd bidden Buchan [laughs]--became the national composer of Norway. That family by the way, who changed their name from Greig to Grieg over there, they kept coming back for generations after that. Twice a year coming across on a wee boat from Bergen to the Broch, just to attend communion in the auld kirk in the Broch. I can't see them doing that today. So, so the memories came back and my granny told me about the premiere of Mains's Wooin, here in this hall 95 years ago. The stage by the way was at the other end of the hall then. They've turned it round even since the last time I was here. Her sister, one of her sisters, Mary Jane, was the Harvest Queen then and she was a big, big strapping girl, the Greigs tended to be. And she had to take part in the procession of the seasons around the platform at that end. And one of the early performances here, she'd gone round and she was due to sit down on the throne at the back of the stage in all her regal splendour. Somebody had put the chair just a wee bit too near the back, and the last the audience saw was Mary Jane disappearing through the curtain, wi her legs in the air! [Laughs.] She was absolutely black-affronted--which was the phrase in those days [laughs] and took years, took years to live it down. Well, the leading lady in this hall that night was the Buchan beauty of her day of course, Nelly Metcalfe, who's the daughter of the farmer at ?? and she married Archie Campbell, who you've heard mentioned tonight already. And they of course became the parents of Flo Campbell who is better known as Flora Garry, who just two, three weeks ago by the way entered her ninetieth year. She's still going strong. I had the pleasure of knowing her of course and also had the pleasure of knowing her mother as she got a bit older.

Well as Gavin Greig's children grew up and began to scatter, my granny met Arthur Barron, a boy of this parish, and they settled in at Mains of Whitehill at New Deer. Tonight four of her children are in the front row in fact, they are all here bar my mother. Her sister Maggie married Tom Roger, who was game keeper at Crimond, and she no sooner did that than she contracted TB, of course which was the great scourge of the time. Granny and Grandpa Greig decided to send twelve year old Nellie down to look after her big sister. But Nellie contracted the galloping consumption and came home to die at the schoolhouse at Whitehill. In those days there were German bands used to come around and play for pennies at your door. There was a German band appeared outside the schoolhouse at Whitehill and Granny Greig went out and asked if they would kindly move on because there was a death in the house. The German clicked his heels, saluted and they all marched off. A few weeks later the same band came back, began to play again and again Granny Greig came out and asked if they would kindly move on because there was a death in the house. She didn't think that they believed her the second time, but it was all too true, because Maggie who had smitten Nellie that was now home to die at the Schoolhouse at Whitehill. And if you see the gravestone up there at Culsh, you'll see that both Maggie and Nellie are in the same grave as Gavin Greig and his wife. And they were just two of four of the Greig children to die early on. Four out of nine, and I suppose that was just about par for the course at the time.

Well through hearing all about this about Gavin Greig, I used to look at the pictures of him, this tall, lean man with a slight stoop. I'm told I'm not unlike the general shape of him myself, especially the stoop [laughs], with his smoking cap and his droopy moustache. And he seemed to be from the pictures to be rather an old man. Well I've got to face the fact that I am now exactly the age that Gavin Greig was when he died, so all those pictures were younger than I am now. So I must claim that he died in the prime of life [laughs] and eh, and I can only marvel at the fact that he did so much as he did. Because as you've heard he was a delicate man, although he'd been an athlete in his earlier days. He was chesty, and he'd heart trouble in the end. You'd have thought it was enough to do all that he'd done at school, he was a brilliant headmaster, a brilliant teacher, he took a great interest in the kids o this parish. It would have been enough to have done all that without the poetry and the novels and everything else. But to go home to his nine kids and to try and get some peace in the house to do all these things, as I say the poetry, the plays, the novels, and of course in the end most of all the folksongs for which he became so famous.

My granny would explain to me how he collected them. How he would start out after tea-time on his bicycle and the old gas lamp. And he would scour the countryside, farms, crofts, and cotter houses and speak to old people, as old as he could find to get songs as far back as he could. So the people he was talking to were born back in the beginning of the 1800's and they were remembering the songs passed down to them from their parents and grandparents, which stretches right back through the 1700's. So there's a tremendous span of time which the songs had not been written down and he got down to this tremendous job, which he made the task of his last ten years.

So that was how it was done. He would go around just ask them, and they would remember a verse, and maybe as he was being convoyed, it was always 'convoyed to the road end' in those days, by the man of the house on say a stormy night, the man would remember another verse. Down they'd get in the lee of the dyke and by the storm lantern he'd get out his book and jot down one more verse. So it was an onerous task indeed. And it's now as you've heard being put into book form. Well, as I say he was a delicate man, he sapped his strength too far. And eh, he was deeply depressed at the start of the first World War. He thought this was going to be the great divide, as indeed it proved to be. He didn't have long to suffer that, because he died on the last day of August in the month in fact that the first war started. So he was a man of intellect and wit and oratory. He loved his native dialect and expressed it the way we've seen tonight. And caused laughter around Buchan, and still does as we've still seen tonight. Em. He always loved the great English language in fact, and he taught it very well. A great English scholar himself. He taught the grammar, but he could get a little impatient with people who got too pedantic about it. And if he heard people pulling somebody up for bad grammar, he would tend to say 'well, really the prime purpose of language is to convey meaning and if you knew what the person meant, did it really matter all that much?'. So he'd great understanding and compassion for people.

As you've heard too, there are people still alive who do remember him. My aunt Nan, who is sitting there, right beside her sister Betty, and brothers Gavin and Arthur. Nan I think is the only one probably who actually remembers him, and she just remembers him. And I think her only unfortunate memory of him is being rapped over the knuckles. Is that right? Because by then angina pectoris had set in to the heart, and he was becoming irritable and he could be ill-tempered. But that wasn't the real man. The real man is the one who has come through tonight in this living memorial to him.

It's splendid to know that there are still people around who can perform this kind of work. That with all the marvellous skills and talents that we've heard and seen here tonight, and marvellous to know that there are people like you out in the audience who can receive it and appreciate it. And long may it be so. And may you in your time pass on your heritage to your children. Because it is their heritage too.


[RS] Thank you Jack, and thank you for putting into perspective, because we all get carried away I'm sure. In fact listening to one of the phrases that Jack used tonight. We get carried away thinkin that this lad had been Robbie Burns was born 200 years ago and Gavin Greig was born years ago, put it right into perspective to think that lad of this pairsh wis dead before he could probably give the full fruition to everything that he hoped to achieve, but it took a relative to bring it home specially to me on that. And once again please to Jack Webster. Well done. [Applause.]. Can I also tell ye that that marvellous series that Jack did on the roup--the fairm roup in the boys feet wis gan up and doon lik is min at the roup. Well a new, a special programme coming out, next one tonight I think it is, speaking to Jack at the back there, and that is one he's done specially for Mary Webb, the composer of 'The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen', who died just eh, just a matter of wee months ago, and Jack has put together a programme coming out next Monday night, and if it's onything like the roup, well we know that Jack will do that lady justice, as he has done to Gavin Greig tonight. Thanks indeed Jack. Thank you. [Applause.]. Only thing--tongue in cheek he spoke aboot Edward Greig as could be Eddie Greig. Eh! God forbid of Eddie Greig was ony relation o that gentleman as spiks aboot Rangers Fitba Club every saiturday nicht, I'll hae nihin tae dae wi him, because Jack and I are seasoned campaigners for Aiberdeen and we dinna even ken at mannie Greig at spiks aboot fitba. He's nae relation o yours? Is he? Is he yours than? I'm nae spikkin tae you ever again if he is, no I winna.

Well we're coming very near to the end of, well nae quite, we've got one special act to come and then our finale. And I tellt ye, is yer bums getting dottled? Eh? Aye. Cushions will be supplied afore we get finished here the night. But once again I would like to introduce this lad, that I said at the start finished off our first half, nae quite finishing off our second half but coming on to entertain you again, by the special good graces through the Gavin Greig strand if ye like, being special friends of the family, and of course special friends of the lot of us. If I say ony mair, he'll bomb me oot, so he can tell ye fit he's playin himsel. From Lerwick! Aly Bain! [Applause.].

[AB] A lovely man Robbie. You canna follow Robbie at all.

[Plays violin]
I'll play a tune from Shetland, because when I was young most of the music I heard was Skinner music, all the old fiddle players around where I lived played, had all old Scott Skinner records. And eh, so the music I suppose we write in Shetland is very closely related to the music from Aberdeenshire. This tune's by Tom Anderson, who's written maybe four or five hundred tunes, and now of his time the greatest composer alive today. This one he wrote for Prophet Smith, who was eh, had the distinction of running for parliament against Joe Grimmond when he first ran for parliament. And only failed to get into parliament by 1100 votes [Laughs.] This meant we had to put up with Joe Grimmond ever after that. But Prophet came from the island of Bressay and then went on to work for the HIDB, and was a very good worker there, did a lot for the fishing industry and so on. And he was a great friend of Tom's, so when he died not too many years ago Tom wrote this air for him and called it 'The Lament for Prophet'. And then another couple of tunes by Tom, one for Jimmie Mann who was a great fiddle player, and the other one he wrote for myself and he called it 'Aly's Sound' whatever that means, I've no idea. They're three nice tunes anyway.

[Plays. Applause.]

[AB] Well, when I was young and living up in Shetland there which is a lovely place to be brought up in, I met a piper from Scotland who, they were very rare, and he was building them, he was an engineer for the harbour, the new harbour in Lerwick. And he was a great piper and I got to know his daughter very well, who's a singer called Margaret Bennett, and now Margaret has a son who is also a great piper. But anywey, I learned this tune from Margaret's father, the engineer. It's called 'Crossing the Minch'. I always had this romantic ideas about the Minch and the West coast of Scotland, and I always loved the tune because it's kind of a pipe, hornpipe I suppose. And then a Strathspey from Shetland called 'The Sands of Morness', written by Frankie Jamieson, who's written many nice tunes like 'Margaret Ann Robinson' and lovely slow airs. And then, em, 'The Fairy Dance' with some variations. I learned from Hector McAndrew and some from Ronald Cooper and from various people who I met along the way and some of my own that I've kind of muddled in to the whole thing. [Laughs.] None of it's kosher I can tell you all--it's a mongrel 'Fairy Dance'. [Laughs.] That's the way it should be as well.


Okay Esma?

[Plays, accompanied by piano. Applause.]

[AB] Well to finish off with I'm going to play a slow air from around these parts. It's a tune from 'The Harp and Claymore' which maybe even Gavin Greig did the arrangement for the accompaniment, I'm not sure. I think he did. It's called 'Herr Roloff's Farewell' and it's a tune by Scott Skinner. And I always had this vision of Herr Roloff being a German violinist who visited Scotland or something, and Skinner was seeing him off on the boat from Aberdeen. I could imagine this German with his tweed suit that he'd bought here, and a packet of oatcakes under his arm [laughs]. With a monocle too. But I really loved the tune, if I can manage to play it, I play it too much, but. And this tune of course I would dedicate to my friends here in the front row, and my very special friends. And this son Arthur was my best friend, he was the best man at my wedding when I was married. More than a best friend, he was a wonderful human being. And this would be for him.

[Plays. Applause.]

[RS] In all the times I've been on stage, and I've been on stage wi this mannie many a time, anyone else I could never tell him tae leave the stage in a middle o a story, should at tell ye something lively, and get the crowd with you. Aly Bain, thank you very much indeed.


[RS] And I know the first half, although Jim Duncan is not so well these days, Jim has been with us. I was taking a look down there, Jim left just after half time, but I'm sure that Jim and Ivory would have been so proud of Ali again, of Ali used to think the world of James F Dickie of New Deer that not so many years ago that James died. So once again our thoughts are with the Duncans and the Dickies surely as well listen to that fiddle music. Thank you. [Applause.].

Let us now introduce our fiddlers on stage. I have never been able to shut up Aly Bain in a my life! I still dinna believe it. Can I ask in the Junior Fiddles of Banchory please. Come in here the Junior Fiddlers of Banchory please--thank you! [Applause.].

[End of Side A.]

[RS] …Shankers, Bill Bryan, John Gerrard and Aly's come back there. Starting off with the Banks Hornpipe. Evelyn, is it the Banks Hornpipe?

[Evelyn] Yes.

[RS] Well if it's nae, we're in a heap o trouble. Right, you start it. OK.

[Fiddlers play. Applause.]

[RS] Have tae sort a this lot oot tae let you get hame in time, cause I've just phoned the BBC at Aberdeen to say, get somebody else for the programme in the morn at twelve o'clock [Laughs.] Time I get my bicycle oot and trunk in there, it might be Friday afore I get hame! As lang as you are happy, I am happy, lets have a selection of reels and this time, in there, where's John--there's John Gerrard, and I've known John, a fine fiddle player--well done [Applause.], thank you sir. There's John, and there's Bill and there's you eens, and there's abody, and you're playin a selection o reels--ta ta, good bye.

[Fiddlers play]


[RS] Thank you. They will get their own individual recognition. All I can say is if I bequeath anything to New Deer, it'll be new seats for yer dowps, next time you come back here [Laughs.] [Applause.]. But right now I'd ask Robert Lovie to come forward, Robert and you'll lead us I'm sure if you go to the tail end of Mains's Wooin, or is Mains Again? It is Mains's Wooin, I'm sure. When Gavin Greig penned these words aboot it's hame and guid nacht. And at's far we're gaun richt noo.

[RL] [Sings, with piano--audience joins in.]

For a yon't Bennachie, see the red skies a gloamin,
Ey bla'n like the rose and they're fadin awa,
The day it is daen and the evenin is comin,
It's hame and guid nicht noo, for een and for a'.

It's hame and guid nicht, it's hame and guid nicht,
It's hame and guid nicht noo, for een and for a',
It's hame and guid nicht, it's hame and guid nicht,
It's hame and guid nicht noo, for een and for a'.

Though our joys like the hours be aye fadin and fleetin,
Yet aften the memory, the vision reca',
And hope dreams o mony and never blithe meetin,
It's hame and guid nicht noo, for een and for a'.

It's hame and guid nicht, it's hame and guid nicht,
It's hame and guid nicht noo, for een and for a',
It's hame and guid nicht, it's hame and guid nicht,
It's hame and guid nicht noo, for een and for a'.


[RS] Thank you. And if ye thocht it wis hame and guid nicht, well ye're in for a, weel it's nae quite yet! I'd ask the Chairman of the Buchan Heritage Society, Ian Rankin to say the final word for us. Ian, thank you [Applause.].

[IR] Thank you very much Robbie. Mr President sir, members of the family, Directors, guests, ladies and gentlemen. It's been a guid nicht, but we've still got to say thank you to everyone who has made it that fine evening for us all. First and foremost I would like to thank all members of the Hall Committee in New Deer, and in particular to Arthur Pirie, the Hall Convenor, for making the arrangements for us tonight, and although there have been some comments about the chairs, and I also have a place with chairs like that too, [laughs], I sympathise with you. But we've had a real fine company behind us. I hope I've got them all right, if not I'll get lynched at the end of the night, but never mind. There's Evelyn Strachan and her Young Fiddlers, all the way from Banchory; Elizabeth Stewart; Lesley Cruikshank, Joe Aitken, John Gerrard, Keith Anderson, Robert Lovie, Grace Taylor, the Strichen Church Drama Group, Dr Ian Olssen, Reverend Charlie Birnie, Jack Webster, Esma Shepherd. And now two very special guests tonight--Bill Bryan, great friend of the society and of course Aly Bain who has come down to join us tonight. And last but by no means least, Robbie Shepherd himself. Robbie has over the years been a real and staunch friend of the Buchan Heritage Society. He never fails to come when we ask and he always supports and gives his time to the Society, and lets other people know what we are doing. Indeed Robbie you are really part, in every sense, of the Buchan Heritage Society, and all of us here thank you for the work that you have done for us [Applause.]. But ladies and gentlemen, thanks are also due to yourselves for coming along and paying this tribute to Gavin Greig. The man who came into the Buchan area, who came to know it so well, and who left what a heritage. How can we describe what he has left for us. A heritage which we have been proud of, we are proud of, and I know everyone who lives in Buchan will be proud of in the years to come. We all say tonight, thank you, to Gavin Greig.

Ladies and gentlemen would you join me finally in giving a very warm vote of thanks to Robbie Shepherd and everyone who has contributed to this evening.


[RS] Thank you Ian, thank you Ian. All I can say is not to hinder you goin up there when Ian mentioned when I came intae Buchan. I came intae Buchan today somewey atween, oh far aboot wis, afore I reached Ellon and Auchnagatt wi Aly Bain as ma passenger, and my wife there. And I'm tryin tae tell Ali far I'm comin till. I says, comin in tae Buchan, and the quicker I get hame for the programme the morn a the better Ali. I'll never ask you where we're goin now--have you a tune to go? Oh ye hinna! Fa's gan tae start aff a reel? Naebody. A right, please yersel! I'll dae it masel (diddles). [Laughs.] [Applause.]. Good night! Good bye!

[Piano music plays out.]


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