I think it was in The Wire Magazine where I first noticed the Archive Trails project. It seemed to interest me from the first moment I saw it, perhaps because I knew of the work of Tracer Trails, Alasdair Roberts or simply due to my own interest in Scottish history and especially its music and folk traditions. Whatever it was that interested me, I wanted to do something with this project which was based in the Edinburgh School of Scottish Studies whether it was to have the group present the work in an informal setting to raise awareness of it or even just attend one of the concerts as part of the tour.
It seemed difficult to manage a date for the presentation due to holidays, tour dates and simply people being very busy (however i hope this event can still happen). I managed to get along to the Glasgow in the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) date of the tour after a friend of our family had been to the show in Aviemore.
Conversations around a song
The spectacle began with Aileen Campbell bravely attempting to learn an old Scottish folk song in a similar way as these songs were learned in the past (except not from an iphone 4 with white earbuds) using oral practice and repetition. She chose a song at random from her listening device and spent the next thirty or so minutes uncomfortably learning the song (containing parts of an extinct language) in front of our very eyes. For me I found this to be slightly awkward and difficult to watch, I can’t really explain fully why, it was just quite odd. Aileen managed to sing through all twelve or thirteen verses and where she struggled, the audience helped out shouting the odd word that would give her enough to carry on.
Our next performer / researcher was Drew Wright aka Wounded Knee. He brought some humour and a emotive and completely compelling voice and singing style accompanied only by drones from his shruti box. Asking the audience “Who wants a rummage in ma baw bag, who wants a scrimmage in ma sack” in his broad scottish burr it was laughter from the very beginning. He had numbered table-tennis balls and would sing songs (some from the archive and some of his own) in his unique and interesting style. His version of “The Green Fields of France” had the audience choking back their tears and you could almost reach out and touch the emotion in the room as he spoke about the dead soilders.
In closing the show, we had the very strange and wonderful tale / folk play of Galoshins: A story of the horse-whispering verging on freemasonry. It was very odd indeed. Using puppets, guitars, masked horses and timpani, the story unfolded as Galoshins was killed and brought back to life by an alcoholic doctor. . the whole thing was quite compelling as Alasdair Roberts narrated and performed the soundtrack using acoustic guitar and vocals whilst Shane Connolly (Sokobauno) acted out the entire tale using puppetry. In end all was well and the story made sense, a mixture of humour and sublime surreal storytelling but it all seemed to work.
For me, as I was leaving with my father (singing along with the odd soundtrack combining the songs from Alasdair Roberts and tune about the “rummaging in the baw bag) I had mistakenly thought the entire night would be musical performances with introductions and findings – I did not expect a puppet show, extinct language in song and so many laughs. It was clear from the project that the School of Scottish Studies covers more than just music. It truly was a snapshot of Scottish life from many many years ago.