Private View - February 26th, 6pm to 8.30pm
If you would like an invitation to the private view, please send me your mailing details through the website contact page.
Private View - February 26th, 6pm to 8.30pm
If you would like an invitation to the private view, please send me your mailing details through the website contact page.
Following on from my recent post Fishing Lines, I thought this excellent article about Shona’s award-winning project would be of interest to my blog readers.
14.01.10 PEOPLE & SONGS OF THE SEA PROJECT WINS INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM
BERWICKSHIRE NEWS: Feature by reporter Simon Duke (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After becoming famous locally across 2009 for her ‘People and Songs of the Sea’ project, there was an unexpected start to 2010 for Shona McMillan when she received a call from America on Hogmanay to say her compilation album had just scooped a top international award. The CD was just one part of Shona’s multi-media project which also saw her tour Scotland with an exhibition of photographs of the country’s close knit fishing communities.
‘People and Songs of the Sea’ originally started as a small poignant tribute to Shona’s mum Jean who passed away in 2006. Before Jean died, Shona promised to do ’something’ to continue the family’s fishing legacy through a celebration of fishing community heritage. From the Thorburn family of Fisherrow, many of Shona’s relatives both past and present, played an active part in the fishing community and served in the Navy during WW2. Shona’s great-grandfather Archie and grandfather Billy were Fisherrow Harbour Masters and Archie was one of the fortunate survivors of the great storms of October 14, 1881 when 189 men lost their lives off the East Lothian and Berwickshire coast. Today, one of Shona’s relatives, Alex Thorburn carries on the family’s working connections to the sea, as the current Assistant Harbour Master in Eyemouth.
The ‘People and Songs of the Sea’ album was released last summer and includes contributions from well known artists such as The Corries, Davey Steele, Cathy Ann MacPhee, Gerry O’Connor and local east coast group Harbour Lights. As well as resonating with people in fishing ports across Scotland, news of the release has spread much further. And now, is making an impact internationally through Liveireland. From studios in Chicago and Dublin, broadcasting across America, Canada, Ireland and all around the world through the internet, Liveireland has named it their Compendium Album of the Year. Liveireland DJ Bill Margeson decided it best to warn Shona of the breaking news ahead of a series of programmes throughout January playing to over 1 million listeners a month across the world.
Snowed in on Hogmanay, Shona was at home to receive the trans-Atlantic call. She said: “Hearing an unfamiliar voice I assumed they had the wrong number. When he said he was from Liveireland, the station with the most Celtic music listeners in the world and said I had won, at first I couldn’t understand. He went on to explain “Your People and Songs of the Sea album, we’ve awarded you Liveireland’s Compendium Album of the Year!” To say it was all a tremendous shock is an understatement.” Just as the news that she was an award-winner was sinking in, some days later, he called again. “When I picked up the phone he asked was I near a computer and told me to get listening quick as he had to go. I didn’t put the phone down and kept listening and it dawned on me he was broadcasting live and they were talking all about the fishing communities here. “In complete shock, thankfully, I managed to recover myself sufficiently to record at least part of the show on an old recorder. “But then, I had the idea to do a link to the broadcast via my Facebook page. In my excitement that was difficult but fortunately, my on-line friends realised what I was trying to do and posted the live link so everyone could hear.
“As the programme broadcast, over that hour, I received 270 incoming e-mails from people listening all around the world and wanting to pass on their congratulations - it took me hours to get through them all.” Explaining just why ‘People and Songs of the Sea’- which the station dubbed “a masterpiece from Scotland”- beat off competition from other releases to win ‘Compendium Album of the Year,’ Liveireland talked listeners through some of the 21 tracks, and one in particular merited a special mention. That track was ‘Will Your Anchor Hold’ where Shona had brought together 100 local fisher folk to record at Cockenzie and Port Seton’s Church of Scotland in March last year, featuring the local voices of representatives from east coast fishing communities. Among these was Johnny Johnston, former Eyemouth Harbour Master, George Power, former Superintendent of Eyemouth Fishermen’s Mission, Alasdair Hutton, Convenor of Scottish Borders Council and Alex Thorburn. Shona said: “Hearing that song being played from Chicago was amazing. It was very emotional to hear them talk about the people I had detailed in the album’s accompanying photo and story booklet. For Fisherrow, Port Seton and Eyemouth to be named and to hear back our local fishing history being broadcast to me from America - it was an incredible experience! “And, I had especially wanted to bring the Eyemouth people in to my recording - in tribute to the huge number of fishermen lost in the Fishing Disaster. It is amazing, not just to have lifted the profile of Eyemouth’s historic loss at home in Scotland but now - people around the world are learning about Eyemouth and Scotland’s rich fishing heritage.”
Since the programme went out on Liveireland, Shona has been contacted by people across the world, including a Thorburn whose family left Fisherrow 50 years ago to build a new life in Canada and a family from Dunbar who settled in America. Her new found fame has even put her in contact with an ambassador from Canada and many other useful contacts, some of these people having upwards of 6,000 fans each on Facebook. And, all of this excitement came as the ‘People and Songs of the Sea’ exhibition was drawing to a close in the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, at the end of its tour of 14 venues along the Firth of Forth. Shona had thought that the end of the tour and Homecoming 2009 would be the beginning of a wind down for her project. However, as 2010 gets underway, people around the world are talking on the internet about her project. Indeed, Shona has received invites to take the ‘People and Songs of the Sea’ exhibition to Ireland, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Plus, in recognition of all her hard work with the project and in her promotion of Scottish culture, Shona has just been installed as an Honorary Member of an International Robert Burns Club celebrating all things Scottish. Shona added: “People have asked me if any TV or film companies have been in touch with me and in fact they have. A Scottish team contacted me at the end of 2009 and an American/Canadian group has just expressed their interest so, watch this space! “The funniest thing is, with it being New Year, people being away and all the snow we’ve been having, I haven’t yet been able to tell everyone who I invited in to the project and the album’ award is not just my success. “My original tribute to mum and local fisher folk has grown to be of value to the people of the sea from all around the world and I want to share this success with everyone!
Frae the beginnin
the watters rise
named bi nameless fowk
the words prize
oot o peat bog an rock faw
the firths size
in twistin burns tirnin
the coorse lies
letters lie waitin
an the picter cries
I was very sad to hear the news today of the sudden death of my old friend, Scots poet Harvey Holton.
This is a great loss not only to his wife Anne, family and friends, but to the literary community of Scotland.
I had the pleasure of working on several poetry and art collaborations with Harvey, spending many happy times walking, talking and sharing the beauty of the landscape around Corbiehill, his home in North Fife. Collaborating with him not only enriched my art work, but also gave me an understanding of my landscape, and my sense of place .
I have included below ‘Herrin Daith’, one of the collaboration pieces we produced for the River Spirits exhibition which toured around Scotland in the late 90’s.
He will be sadly missed.
Hert an tide, oot rush an in rush,
the sauch an the swow o the shoal,
the ae harnpan the current rinnin,
reek in still air gently floatin,
thoosans o bodies soomin an tirnin,
free frae rig shans in derk sea hush,
wie whale crack auld an licht as coal.
Afore the ring net afore the trawls bindin,
the harpoon the grenades bluidy spootin,
siller the darlins wild athoot mindin.
Dauncein amin the wild waves crush,
takan the sichtin frae the north pole,
ooers oan deck yer guts fair churnin,
wife an bairns waitin yer returnin.
Are we fish frae the ocean freein?
Lagan - Mixed Media Assemblage
Over the years, I have created many pieces of work related to our fishing industry, both in relation to its place in the historical and cultural life of the east coast of Scotland, and with its part in my own families history through stories of my Grandfather’s people.
Many of these works have been exhibited in galleries with strong fishing links, such as the Timespan Heritage Centre in the Sutherland village of Helmsdale, an area made famous in the novels of Neil Gunn, and at The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, a small fishing port on the East Neuk of Fife.
As well as influencing the art of novelists and poets such as Neil Gunn and Christopher Rush, the subject of the lives and traditions of our fisherfolk has been a rich source of stories, images and songs for many artists, musicians, and dramatists.
One of the most fascinating projects on this theme is the People And Songs Of The Sea, an exhibition and recordings, conceived, collected and produced by Edinburgh based musician, photo journalist and broadcaster Shona McMillan. Through her photographic exhibition and the recording of songs celebrating the lives of the fisherfolk, Shona has created a window of opportunity for people not only to view the past lives of these communities, but to see how time and tides have changed the lives of the inhabitants of the east coasts fishing villages.
The project provides a valuable record through songs and photographs, of how life has changed, and is still changing, for the Scottish fishing industry. But it is not only a historical reference to this way of life, but is a living growing event that will continue to evolve and be enhanced with the life experiences and struggles of these proud and hard working communities. The full story of the project, which I couldn’t expect to justice to here, can be found on the People Of The Sea MySpace site.
When chatting with Shona recently, I found it fascinating that the stories and experiences of the fisherfolk and our families were, through their histories, intertwined. Shona’s people like many, followed the Herring fleets around the British coastline. Their voyage would take them from Highland ports such as Wick and Helmsdale, down the east coast via Lowestoft, to the southern harbours of towns such as Folkstone. My own family, originally from the inshore Herring fishing communities of the sea-lochs of Argyll, had followed a similar route, but had settled and continued to fish from Folkstone.
The assemblage illustrated above ‘Lagan’, tells the story of my Grandfather’s upbringing in the fishing communities of Kent. Due to the untimely death of his mother, and my great- grandfathers commitment to his boat and crew, my grandfather and his siblings were placed in a home for the children of fishermen. Despite providing for his children, my great-grandfather never returned to see his children. The word ‘lagan’ is a term used for goods or objects that are to placed overboard on a voyage, but marked with a buoy or similar marker, to enable you to come back and collect them later. I used this term to describe the children, set adrift on their upturned boat, waiting for the return of their father.
In the image the family group is incomplete, the four children, the imprint of fishing nets on their bodies, stand in front of the ‘missing’ father figure. The two shores in the background represent my grandfathers own journey, from the white chalk cliffs of southern England on the left side, to the banks of the Tay on the right, where my grandfather settled after his own voyages at sea and at war.
I am continuing on my own journey, and will be creating more works that will not only be celebrating my own families connection to the fishing heritage of Scotland, but also the memory and bravery of the much missed fishing communities of my native east coast.
The CD of the the People And Songs Of The Sea can be purchased by clicking on cover artwork above.
New version of my website is now available online.
I am pleased to let you know that the new version of my website is now available to view online.
I always look forward to revamping the web pages, and with the effort, support, skill and expertise of my website designer John Keiller, I think outcome is superb. John’s design is both highly practical and aesthetically pleasing, with excellent new features such as the archive section, and the link to my studio weblog, The Net Mender .
I would like to thank John for all the time, effort and superb technical skill he has generously given in creating such a wonderful site. I hope you enjoy browsing around the new pages, and if you are interested in creating your own website, or redesigning and upgrading your existing web pages, you can contact John at :
One of the highlights of 2009 for me was being involved in the cover design for Donald S. Murray’s new book, Small Expectations’. The book is now available for pre-order from the Two Ravens Press website. Copies ordered from the purchase link below (at a discounted price of £7.99) will be sent out from the 1st of February. Click on the book cover below to order your copy.
‘Small Expectations is a collection of linked short prose pieces and poetry. Digressively and figuratively, it tells the story of a character born on the Outer Hebrides, steeped in myth, history and Gaelic, who is then educated for work on the mainland. The character’s life thereafter has two poles, and Murray cleverly juxtaposes these strange attractors, bringing the power of ancient myth into the modern world with imagination and great humour.’
Praise for Small Expectations
This is an edgy, unsettling, fragmented collection of poems and prose – satires, twisted myths, darkly humorous fictions, poignant reflections on language loss – through which Donald S. Murray explores the uneasy space between Gaelic and English, between the strengths of an island community and its limitations, between the lives we have and the possible lives that escape us. It’s fine, assured writing, full of contradictions, dichotomies and ironies, and we should cherish its courage and honesty.’
– James Robertson
‘This is a very fine collection of stories and poems full of imagination and humour – the humour ranging from the hilarious to the sardonic. There is a finesse and craft to the prose and poetry which rings true to many an islander’s experience. This is a writer who has been and seen. The collection is a tour de force, a distillation, arising from a living imagination of Hebrideans’ experience at home and as émigré. The reader will never look at porridge or mackerel in quite the same way again!’
– Maoilios Caimbeul
Short extract from ‘Small Expectations’
Scenes from a Hebridean Boyhood
My parents fed me with so many fish that, when I was around eight, I began to grow gills. These first revealed themselves in the shape of miniature double chins forming on either side of my throat. They were the same shade of silver as much of the rest of my skin, the tiny fins that had appeared one morning to replace my hands, and the oddly shaped head with eyes peering out from the forehead that formed above my neck and shoulders. Later, I began to have trouble walking, tumbling each day under the weight of scales. Mum and Dad grew alarmed at this and decided to starve me, in an attempt to restore me to my normal size and shape. However, their diet went too far. I became a sprat, a sliver of fish, not much larger than plankton. My parents looked at me with dejection and dismay. Eventually, they decided that there was nothing for it but to use me as bait. They thrust a tiny steel hook down my throat and cast a long, nylon line far and deep into the ocean, hoping that I might bring more worthwhile spawn to shore.
It was when I reached the age of ten that my parents decided I was such an embarrassment to them that there was little alternative but to hide me in a peatbank. I remember watching them as they stripped away a patch of turf from the moorland, digging through heather with the sharp blade of a spade. Later, they both grinned as they cut deep into moist, dark peat, working till they laid bare the layer of rock and stone hidden by its depths. They lifted me then, lowering me into the great and empty hollow they had made. ‘You’ll be alright,’ they kept saying as they packed me in its chill and black decay, burying me below its surface. ‘You’ll be alright.’ I lay there till the following summer when they took me out again, drying the peat which had crusted around my flesh. After they had turned me round a few times, ensuring that every inch of my body had been burnished brown by the sun, they hoisted me on their shoulders and carried me home. It was there that they performed the final act of my existence – tossing me on the household fire.
I realised how much my parents cared the day they kept urging me to rest instead of helping them, sparing me from all the hard effort of trying to scratch some pathetic excuse for life from the thin soil on our croft. ‘Go and lie on the beach,’ they said, shaking their heads when I suggested I should join them. I was still resting there some four hours later when the tide rolled in, washing all around me a vast counterpane of kelp that wrapped around my flesh and bones, binding me to the foreshore. Later, the sea began to rumble, pounding my skull, cracking my limbs, transforming my long curly hair into fronds of dabblelock, my arms and hands into oarweed, my legs into brown stipes of cuvie. A jewel of anemone became fixed to my chest where my heart had been; bladderwrack trailed around my groin. And when all that happened, my mother and father gathered their broken son on their backs and carried me to the field that had defeated all their strength and labour, casting all that remained of my once strong and youthful body onto the field they had ploughed and dug over, preparing my corpse to fertilise their land.
My parents were delighted the morning I began to possess hooves. They took me down to the village blacksmith, providing me with the first gift I ever received from them: a pair of golden horseshoes. ‘Run,’ they told me. ‘Show me how quickly you can race.’ And they boasted of my speed to their neighbours, sent me on errands across the moor to warn the people who lived there of thunderstorms or strong tides that had affected our side of the island. Eventually I grew tired of this, and headed in the direction of a sea-loch a mile or two away. I concealed myself in its depths, allowing the water to roll over my mane, waves to tumble across my flanks. I hid there for years, only emerging when the local miller came to the loch-shore, asking for help to turn the mill-wheel that he owned. It might have been his loose talk that brought my parents to the loch. They called my name aloud as they stood on its banks. After a while, I decided to answer them, stirring the dust of the earth as I towered above their heads. ‘How handsome you are,’ they declared. ‘Will you give us a ride on your back?’ I did as I was told, going faster when they urged me to do so, slowing down, too, when their heels dug into my flesh. And so I went on for hours, racing across the moor like they had asked me to do in my youth, my hooves thundering, tail flashing back and forth. Eventually, I decided I had done it long enough. I turned in the direction of the loch and drowned my parents in its depths.
Extract published by kind permission of Two Ravens Press