If I Ruled the World – How to run a pub….

I’ll start with pubs…and feel free to disagree with any of the following!..We all know that the state of the “british pub”, particularly the rural ones, is in freefall.They’ve been closing all around us for some years now. The reasons given are fairly obvious – the smoking ban [yes, it did seriously affect many people’s decision over whether to go out for the night], the availability of a huge range of much cheaper alcohol in shops, the growth of an insular culture where reality TV computers and iphones means less desire for face to face interactions.

Much of the above, however [with the possible exception of the smoking ban – although a large section of today’s young smoking folk have merely altered the ingredients!] applies to folks under 50 or 60….and the population is ageing. Old geezers like me are surviving much longer. Our parents would have been out of the game one way or another well before this. There is a large part of the population who looks to the pub as a pleasant socialising option – or at least they would if it wasnt for..

VERY LOUD MUSIC which is pretty obviously the favourite of the barista – and just as obviously hated by the the handful of ageing punters huddled over their pints and g and ts….That situation is incredibly common all over Scotland..as a “weekend awayer” when finances allow, to the exotic resorts of Fife, Pitlochry, Argyll, Edinburgh it is nearly impossible to find a quiet pub with subdued lighting, good beer – rather than the empty shiny metal horrors with ear bleeding techno or rap competing with a TV screen the size of  football pitch showing vacuous “celebrities” or failed politicians eating cockroaches in a jungle or grimly attempting some awful 1950s latin american dance routine in front of hundreds of baying hyenas.

Walking outside is a blessed relief. I remember the days when you had to be dragged out of a pub, they were such welcoming environments.

So..remember the bit above about an ageing but still healthy population?…They are what we call “a growing market”. The wild success of such as our local “all come in and join in on a musical instrument” night in one of our local pubs..the huge growth of ukulele clubs, slow session fiddle playing, the continued survival of folk clubs [against all the odds!] – all these are held in pubs with participants and audience in the 4o+ and often 60+ bracket. Pubs which would otherwise be empty – and these are pubs with no intrusive inappropriate piped music, gaming machines or TVs playing.

So..pub owners…rule number one – any music being played, live or recorded, should be for the patrons NOT THE STAFF! Rule number two -think about how to keep and attract your customers. Change is not always a good thing. Don’t rip out all the old wood fittings and tiles, they might be the main reason why people like your pub.Older customers may not drink expensive shots or 10 pints a night but they will keep coming back – WE ARE ALL LIVING MUCH LONGER.

 

On a related point of badly run pubs/venues – our band recently negotiated a gig in a small pub with no history of live music, in a local town. We are old hands, we dropped in on the place, talked to the owner sussed out the rooms, plug points etc…We sent him posters, put it on social media, all the usual. We played to one customer…there wasn’t a single poster up on the pub inside or out..they had done zero promoting. We got paid the agreed amount, the pub lost out. Their regulars didn’t know we were on, never mind any passers by. Its tempting to say “hell mend them!” but the fact is that sort of incompetence affects the performers too – it doesnt take a genius to put up a few posters [which have been provided to them!]……I actually don’t like taking money off venues/promoters when a gig doesn’t work out – but I do my job…why don’t they do theirs?

Dave’s Ideal Performing Place

Recent times have seen my spleen being vented on many occasions, usually related to my own personal live music wars. Now, with the ongoing state of the world – refugees, bombings, new diseases and the old ones coming back – some might say this is self-indulgent or even downright uncaring. Not at all, if anything, my internal strife has been exacerbated by the world’s struggles and pain, or more exactly by the filtered and selected examples of it that we either see on mainstream news or on the internet, which is increasingly the same thing. It may sound odd but Im finding it harder to keep my own small problems in proportion and under control, when I see a world on fire and with much of it under the jackboots of bigoted unfeeling zealots. Trump, Osborne, IS? take your pick.

All of the above is really a pathetic attempt to justify what Im about to write. A deliberately over-the-top fantasy involving unacceptable unpleasantness happening to groups of people who irritate me, almost beyond endurance.

It started with myself and the lovely Eryl drinking coffee in a cafe/converted large shop floor on a busy street, right on the edge of Glasgow’s West End. Coffee can be a dangerous drug for me, my imagination tends to spiral off, leading to lengthy diatribes which only stop when I’ve bored myself. Poor Eryl, shes a saint, never interrupts….

A large open space but with reasonably low ceilings, at first glance it looked ideal for live performance. It even had a separate long narrow smaller room seen through a low arch. Small performing area away from the bar/serving area at the back of the room. My ideal performance cafe bar, I was thinking…Then my darker pessimistic experienced side kicked in.

 

Which brings me on to the main theme of today’s symposium [to quote the great Tom Lehrer]…Dave’s ideal performing place…called, “Dave’s Ideal Performing Place”. Now a wonderful name like that would attract and encourage those persons who inevitably clog up any live performance – that group who want to be seen at the trendy happening action, but then go on to wreck it by braying at each other about how wonderful it is and totally ignoring the act on stage.The musician/actor/poet can’t hear their own efforts and therefore put in a poor performance. If experienced, they wait for the well-timed applause as the trendsetting noise mongers become aware that there is a pause in the proceedings. To the inexperienced performer this comes as a shock and pleasant surprise, although the applause often drops off later in the evening, as the conversation gets juicier and the alcohol gets a grip. What the inexperienced performer doesn’t realise is, that these folk arent appaluding the skill of the performer, they are applauding the ambience of the place and their own superb taste in choosing to patronise it. Meanwhile the experienced, and therefore probably more skilfull, players are turning in a lacklustre night as they realise that they could be miming to a recording of a noisy night in a cafe, for all the attention that they are getting…and thus the cycle of mediocrity is perpetuated.

Now, some of you, if you’ve got this far, will be thinking…poor old Dave moaning again. Yes, he is..rage against the dying of live music, I say…and Im going to take that rage much further….Dave’s Ideal Performance Place would have punishments for those who chose to ignore the necessarily strict rules of conduct needed to guide audiences back to my idealised time, when there was an unspoken contract between audience and performer. That performer, be they lone musician, poet or actor didn’t have to beg for a listening – they seemed to get it by right. They had the courage/bottle/arrogance to stand in front of an audience and “do something”. I did see the undeservingly awful get basic respect…but I also saw the undeservingly awful get ignored or even heckled – no one had the right to be unrelentingly bad….but at least they got a listening…not in these modern times though…

So here’s how it will work…

There will be a bar at the back of the main room, with enough efficient bar staff to make sure no one has to wait more than two minutes for their drink. Anyone tempted to hang about the bar, chatting loudly during a performance will be approached by an efficient bar staffer, who will warn them to lower their voices. If they ignore this, the efficient bar staffer will spray ice cold water over the offender[s], moving onto spraying them with Mace [thank you, the late great Hunter S. Thompson] if they are large and aggressive. Meanwhile, in the main body of this larger room, similar rules will apply – I am not of course talking about normal low volume chat, which would be encouraged in the outer bar…we all know I’m talking about those cretins who move from a loud whisper to shouting, within two drinks..those guys..and gals…there will be full equality in “DIPP“.

Moving on to the smaller performing area with its slightly banked seating, gently raised stage, superb in-house PA with optional mic-ed up backline amps and foldback speakers, variable house lighting, stage lighting, superb acoustics..and all operated by a fully professional sound engineer, who actually likes the music being played and understands the routine stresses and strains of performing and has “ears”. The audience, while not all sycophants, are actually capable of enjoying intensely a well crafted and well presented performance. They notice mistakes but they also notice particularly good passages of play.

So far, so bloody great…but…any audience member who approaches a performer before the gig and says “you’d better be bloody good!”, even if he thinks its a joke..will be removed to the alley at the back of the premises and beaten to a pulp by our trained ex-military bouncers..and denied re-entry, for life.

Any audience member aggressively heckling/chatting to their neighbour during “quiet bits”/answering a mobile phone/texting ostentatiously/falling asleep will discover that their seat is above a trap door. The floor manager spots the offender, presses a button and the seat and occupant plummet into darkness, the door springs back silently and the show goes on. We will never know where they have gone..and we do not care.

I should also mention that all performers get paid. An absolute rule. Anyone suggesting having ” an open mic, they’ll do it for the exposure” or the truly disgusting, “pay to play”  – will be hustled from the premises, at the end of a cattle prod [again, many thanks to HST].

 

The above of course, is a fantasy – “its only a joke!” [see Stewart Lee’s attack on Top Gear]….none of us would really want these things to happen?..would we???

 

 

 

Salmon Geese And Brambles…..Folk and Jazz….

Yes, its autumn again…what happened to summer??..Once again we watched the daily weather map, with its division of the country, mainly in a line from about Manchester to Durham..in a strange parallel to the political situation. Gritting our teeth as the weather person smiles and gives the good news about another roasting hot day. Well not up here..”and Scotland will have blustery winds and showers, heavy at times…” Great.

Well, we just get on with it. So..brambles [or”blackberries” as our southern cousins like to name them], went out today for my third picking expedition round the hedgerows of upper Annandale. To find only one good spot, which provided nearly two pounds weight of shiny black berries. Masses of green ones still – we need a couple of days of bright sun but will it come in time? As I’m sliding down through the jaggies, clutching a bulging polybag and causing Mrs McCullochs nearby piebald horses endless fascination, I hear a vaguely familiar sound, a bit like a cross between distant bells and dogs barking. Geese! It takes me a good thirty seconds to spot them, high up against a grey sky – three long wavery v-lines coming down from the north over Hartfell. I’m instantly taken back to my mother calling us out into the garden, to watch them fly high above my 1950’s childhood. A fresh, strong memory that years of working with geese by the tens of thousands on Hebridean islands hasn’t erased or made mundane. Along with whooper swans calling in the night, its the sound of nature that really gets through to me, every time.

Music Festivals – are wonderfully varied things with “personalities” that reflect both the type of music being celebrated and the type of people doing the celebrating. I say this as a lifelong performer, in my small way, who has seen music festivals large and small over the past 45 years, both as a punter and as a player. Recently, I played a small folk festival and a medium sized jazz festival, both relatively local to Moffat. On arriving at the folk festival, to open its first evening performance, I was amazed to see at least 10 large winnebagos/camper vans parked outside the venue with groups of middle-aged to elderly [these terms are becoming more fraught/important to me as each year passes!] men and women playing instruments and drinking beer and wine while sitting in little tabled enclaves next to their “covered wagons”. As clear an indication of the growing numbers of ageing retired, with money, in our society. These were the same folk who, when I were a lad, hitched-hiked with tents and sleeping bags, all over the UK, some of them playing cheap Yamaha acoustic guitars and broken down banjos and drinking cheap cider and red tins of canned heavy. Now they’re picking on top range Martins while sipping Pinot Grigio. Dont get me wrong, Im delighted for them…and I never forget, these are my audience!!..Still, its a reminder of the price you pay for working for a charity all your life…no winnebago and a constant diet of wine and festivals for me..on a tiny pension and dwindling savings. Rather more worrying for the folk scene though, was the lack of youngsters attending the concert, I would suggest. Those described above made up the bulk of the appreciative audience. ..Yes, I know there are hordes of talented well trained young players out there..but many of their pals probably cant afford to travel and get entry to concerts. Just a thought…

The next week and its a jazz festival – full of razzamatazz, bright posters and publicity material. The folk I talked to there were either locals or staying in hotels. Not a fair comparison perhaps, I wasn’t conducting a survey. What was much more obvious though was the presence of whole families at the sit down gig. I say “sit down”, but the biggest joy of playing there was the spontaneous dancing of a few adults and two pre-school tots. A wee girl smiling and dancing in front of you is always a treat, even if it is to Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes or Memphis Minnie. Little kids get it – “its all about rhythm”..as the great John Martyn once said to me. Now, I’ll put my cards on the table here, Im not the world’s greatest jazz fan – it very seldom moves me..and what jazzers call blues I certainly dont recognise as such….but that festival showed me that they will survive, by encouraging and enabling enough people of all ages to have a good time.

..and then it was back to autumn and nature…the sun has arrived and with it some warmth, the chilli plants on our windowsills are fruiting, some belated green tomatoes have appeared in the polytunnel…too late for a rather poor bramble harvest..and the river is down to a trickle. No self respecting salmon is going to get to the upper Beat through that. They’re catching a few at the mouth but the last few years have been pitiful. I see and applaud those who are trying to save the hen harrier in England, down to a pathetic handful of nest attempts due to the criminal conspiracy known as “managed” grouse moors…we need a similar awareness campaign over the desperate plight of the atlantic salmon. It is clear now, with these fish disappearing from rivers all round the North Atlantic that the biggest problem is industrial scale trawling and offshore netting on their wintering grounds off Greenland and the Faeroes, not helped by the abomination that is salmon cages, polluting some our most beautiful sea lochs and infecting passing salmon and sea trout with life-sapping parasites.Where is the outcry over that? Salmon are not just ” a rich man’s hobby” in our rivers, they are an essential wild creature component of a complex ecosystem. No salmon in our rivers will be every bit as disastrous as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” – the cry against foul chemical pollutants like DDT and Dieldrin poisoning wild birds that got this conservationist started, as a 12 year old boy. We need someone to step up, like Mark Avery has with the Hen Harrier…there have been many within the angling world, Bruce Sandison springs to mind, who have railed against the recent loss of sea trout and salmon but what is needed now is a similar online blast against those in our government and beyond, who have brought the wild salmon to the brink of extinction.

 

TOO MUCH REALITY?

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I could just leave these two photos as my Post….look at them for a moment. The black and white photo was taken in Vietnam on June 8th 1972..the naked girl is called Kim Phuc and has just been hit by napalm, sticky burning petrol, from a bomb dropped by mistake on a group of civilians by a South Vietnamese pilot – “friendly fire”. Scarred for life. It became an iconic photo showing the real cost of war and helping the anti-war movements in the US and Europe. I remember it well. The photo on the right you will all recognise, its been on the media and in newspapers in the last few days..it shows a 3 year old boy drowned and washed up on a beach near Bodrum, SW Turkey. His name was Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian Kurd. His family were fleeing from the war in Syria.

In June 1972, I had just completed my degree course at Strathclyde University, I was 20 years old. Long hair, guitar player, planning my trip East on the hippie trail. Vietnam was a news item on TV every other night. “They were burning babies, burning flags, the hawks against the doves” [Richard Thompson – “Beeswing”]…I wasn’t “political”, I didnt go on anti-war protests but I sang the songs and if asked would have been strongly anti-war…as would all of my friends…but it didnt really touch us..it was on the other side of the world..none of us were getting conscripted.

Now its Sepember 2015 – 43 years later – Im 63, I have a grand-daughter 2 years old…not much younger than the wee boy in the photo, who lies in a grotesque parody of a child’s summer outing to the sea-side. This is real to me. This hurts. I care.

Last night two of my friends were complaining on Facebook about having too many photos of “dead people” sent to them…

I have absolutely no sympathy with that point of view…one comment actually said the photos were “in bad taste”. Bad taste!!..Wake up and smell the napalm. War is getting closer.

 

OUT OF HYUCK

The Hyuck

Last week I had to turn back on the banks of the Kinnel. I grew up in the scottish countryside, crashing about through bracken, nettles and long grass from pre-school boyhood, Ive seen more rough and overgrown ground than most..but this riverbank was choked with an impenetrable mass of comfrey, “sticky willy” and nettles which got to my knackered knees. It takes a lot to keep me from the fishing, particularly in summer, when a ring of ripples drifting downstream sets off an adrenalin rush only previously experienced, by my adult self, on hearing the alarm call of a nesting peregrine crashing off its cliff ledge.

As I stumbled back to the car my thoughts turned to my childhood garden in Uplawmoor – amusingly and presciently described by my mother, in 1975, when selling the family home on the death of my father – as an “ecological garden”.What this actually meant was, apart from the manicured lawn areas, a tangle of bushes, trees, grass and weeds. The horrible chores of grass and hedge cutting [“Summertime Blues” was always a very real song to me] were occasionally lightened by the strange delight I used to take in wielding the “family hyuck”against the edges of those jungly bits of the garden. The romantic part of me likes to speculate on some scottish peasant forebear, rhythmically swinging his hyuck on a soft summer evening as he cut a swathe through the meadow behind his cottage, collecting fodder for some long ago, long deceased livestock.

So..a hyuck..whats that then? A word from my childhood that I may not have heard since. Intrigued by that I looked it up ..and got..”.a stupid slack-jawed yokel kind of laugh, or goofy, that dog from disney.” – the urban dictionary…I had to go to an Ulster-Scots site to get..”.hook1 ~ n. a sickle (also hyuck). thra-hook an implement for twisting grass rope.” Thus do we lose our own language.

Its a sickle. As in hammer and sickle.

I go looking for a sickle. Nothing in Moffat – at the Garden Centre and splendid new ironmongers. Although they did have a replacement blade. Off to Dumfries and three garden centres later, all of which had replacement blades and no sickle – after an extended moan at the hapless manager of No 3, Im eventually told that the sickle making company has gone bust…but I should try the Tools for Trade place across town.

This place is hidden down the end of a suburban street. It has a couple of 4 x 4s parked outside – the real mccoy, covered in dirt and scratches, none of your chelsea tractors round here. Inside there’s two folk serving at the counter. One is in deep conversation with an elderly gent, the other is listening patiently to a clean shaven balding man, clad in green who is pontificating on many subjects, including the weather and the delights of standing about chatting instead of working! I walk past and after a quick search find a splendid Spear and Jackson hyuck…sorry, sickle. Back to the counter.

The green man is still blethering, the gent is being sorted out by number two salesperson.The man in green appears to be staring at me then looking away, twice. Funny, I thought..”Are you Dave Dick?”..choking back the instinctive “whos asking?” I reply – “Yes I am, have we met?” “No, never..but I read your book”.I perk up a bit at that, his next line however, ruins the moment. “you never caught me”, delivered in a cold impersonal tone, that makes me wish fervently, that I had….I pay for my hyuck and leave the store with nothing more said.

As I walked across the yard to my car it started raining, heavily. The keeper climbed into his spotlamped pick-up and drove off.

 

[http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wildlife-Crime-Dave-Dick/dp/1849950369]

JOHN MARTYN AND THE INVISIBILITY OF LIVE MUSIC

Warning!!..a rant of biblical proportions coming up, its been simmering for over 40 years……

http://www.johnmartyn.com/biography

One Thursday night in early 1981 I wandered along to the Star Folk Club in the centre of Glasgow. In addition to hosting one of the best attended folk clubs in Scotland it was the headquarters of the Scottish Communist Party – not exactly a mainstream establishment venue! You could still hear arguments between Stalinists and Trotskyites there in the 1970s..

The head of the bill was one Hamish Imlach, in the 1960s and early 70s he was a giant of the folk scene..a big jolly, balding, bearded folkie who wore stripey t-shirts and who’s act consisted of telling stories and jokes, while playing deceptively simple repetitive little bluesy riffs and picks on an acoustic guitar. By 1981 he was distinctly “old hat” to my crowd of guitar pickers, brought up on the likes of Bert Jansch and Ry Cooder, with more than a dash of Robert Johsnon and Blind Will McTell. But I was savvy enough to know that here was a man who had paid his dues..a living legend.

The evening followed the usual format..Big Arthur Johnstone the MC sang a powerful, socially uplifting ballad then introduced a series of “floorspot singers”, including myself – who proceeded to play and sing a couple of numbers each, of distinctly variable quality!…I had just returned from my five minutes of fame/terror in front of the couple of hundred assorted folkies when a familiar looking man dressed all in denim walked in amongst us wannabees, standing at the back of the room.”Jesus Christ its John Martyn!”..loud whispers spreading into the seated crowd. By this time Hamish is being introduced to loud applause covering up the agitation of the floorspotters…John looks around and spots my handmade Fylde guitar [I usually brought my “Sunday best” guitar to the Star] and asks if he can borrow it to get up and play with his pal, Hamish.

“It would be an honour!” mumbles the starstruck Dave..John looks me in the eye and slowly shakes his head..”Right, you can’t f..ing have it!” “that’s better” and he takes it off me. A fine Glasgow moment there. We’re all Jock Tamsons Bairns in this place. He throws the strap over his head and proceeds to torture the strings into one of his unusual tunings.

A couple of hours later and I’m chatting to my new buddy, Big John, my new confidence helped by a couple of pints of Maclays and the fact that he’s apologising profusely after breaking a string on my “box”. Surreal. I’m so relaxed in fact, that ask him if he’s free tomorrow night, as I’ve got a gig at Hallibees Café in the West End..it would great if he could drop by. Sounds good he says, I’m in between tours. He wanders off to talk to Hamish and a host of hangers-on.

 

We now move on to the next night..my “gig” is a weekly one, playing on a small stage in front of maybe 15 tables of punters chomping away on vegetarian food. I’ve been playing there for a few years, solo at first then with the Kelvin Delta Blues Band and now with my good friend Jim Gilbert. Acoustic blues and folk..and John Martyn songs. Jim is late, Jim was always late. Once again, the familiar tall figure of John Martyn walks in..this time no one notices.”Ive got a couple of things to do..then I’ll come back and jam with you”. Fantastic!..He leaves, I carry on solo, Jim walks in with guitar ten minutes later.

I let him tune up and play a number together. “Oh, by the way, Big John will be joining us later”..”Big John?” “Aye, y’know John Martyn, I invited him down to play a few tunes” “Bollocks!” Fine, don’t believe me…

Maybe three songs later John walks in and Jim falls off his guitar!!

What follows is the highlight of my musical life…he plays several songs on his own, he then asks us to play along, he then asks to play along with us “I never get to do this..”..followed by another solo spell where he asks us what songs we’d like to hear.”I don’t suppose you’d play May You Never? Oh yes!..My favourite line of the night..”give me more of that slide..”

 

So..why is this a rant?..Well, despite that fact that the room is full of punters chomping on their veggie grub, most are also chatting away ten to the dozen, while only feet way Glasgow’s finest guitarist singer/songwriter and a musician of international standing, who could fill halls from here to Australia, is playing superbly..for free…!!!

“Even if John Martyn was playing to them they’d still ignore us” became a standard soothing line whenever Jim or I got frustrated with the racket being sent up by the half-drunk face-filling higorant hordes in front of us in pubs, clubs, cafes and bars. In 2007 I came back to the regular performing life after a long break, working round the clock in the very sharp front line of bird conservation in Scotland [see http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Wildlife_Crime]

at first I was appalled by the rudeness and general ignorance of some audiences [but not when they’ve paid to get in, I notice!], actually shouting at each other when you’re trying to sing.[why is it always the table nearest you that does this?..when you can see folk at the back, grim-faced and trying to hear??Why!!]

I thought it was some malevolent change in society  – the loss of attention span, by generations brought up on instant internet song access and fed garbage music on savagely competitive “talent shows” more akin to bear-baiting than music making, where the bear can barely dance…and the crowd bays for blood…..

But no..as the above story shows, there’s always been folk who couldn’t recognise well played music if it got up and bit them.

The Big Question in 1981[and I’m still asking it]…how would the crowd have reacted if some MC had got up and announced “Ladies and Gentlemen..a very, very special treat..for tonight only, in between tours of Australia and America..Glasgow’s own..the one and only legend that is ..John Martyn!”..Would they have shut up and listened?

 

[the one notable exception that night was the owner, Pat Halliburton..she came in when John was up on his own..she walked over to me..”isn’t that John Martyn ??” “Yes, hes a pal he said he’d come along and play a few tunes”..”do you think he’d sign a couple of his albums for me”..”Well..you can only ask” He did. That got me several more years of gigs in there!

 

 

Thanks John..thanks for everything..particularly your fine music and lyrics. I’ve met people who only saw the violent drunk..well I saw a real gent…friendly, kind, courteous and generous to a fault, to two unknown guitarists..but most of all a man who was driven by a deep love for the music. I miss him.

Our Beautiful Scottish Countryside – Time for a real debate on game shooting.

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Managed grouse moor with recent burning

Managed grouse moor with recent burning

The slaughter of predators continues in Scotland, particularly on our upland “managed” grouse moors.

If you doubt that statement in any way, take a look at the excellent blog – raptorpersecutionscotland….a litany of manmade wildlife disasters.

In 2011 I had my autobiography published – “Wildlife Crime” – by Whittles publishing. Much of it describes my close up and personal experiences of witnessing this illegal killing and my attempts to work within the scottish justice system and at least slow things down. An often frustrating and fruitless task – as I often said, this wasnt a job it was a vocation.

[http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wildlife-Crime-Dave-Dick/dp/1849950369/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328026136&sr=1-1http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Wildlife_Crimehttp://www.nhbs.com/title.php?bkfno=191681&ad_id=562http://www.guardianbookshop.co.uk/BerteShopWeb/viewProduct.do?ISBN=9781849950367http://www.booksfromscotland.com/Books/Wildlife-Crime-9781849950367]…..

The following paragraphs are some thoughts on this fraught area which were written at the time but not included in the book. Enjoy?

“The Scottish Countryside – my intention here is not to destroy people’s romantic view of our beautiful countryside, it will remain, no matter how men go about their work and hobbies. Even the near total forest destruction, introduction of sheep and encouragement of red deer onto the hills followed by vast planting of non native conifers, are cosmetic changes to the underlying geomorphology. There will always be hill and mountain spaces. The wildlife which will survive if we let it, has no need of man, in any truly natural system. Problems occur because of our alterations to these natural systems.

It offends me however, that the worst excesses of destruction to wildlife [and on occasion to whole ecosystems], are carried out without the knowledge and certainly without the consent, of the Scottish people. The mere act of questioning anything to do with the shooting industry, results in a hugely disproportionate response – often full of vitriol and accusations of ignorance and prejudice. If there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of, then why not let “the public” see what actually goes on, in the name of game shooting, in Scotland?

Let them see the dark cages in cold damp conifer plantations full of young pheasants, subject to disease and feather pecking when overcrowded – surrounded by snares and snap traps, to kill the natural predators of the area, attracted by this totally artificial and apparently, “easy pickings”, food supply.

Let them see the lines of beaters waiving flags, to drive flocks of artificially boosted numbers of red grouse across an artificially produced [by repeated burning], heather moor “ecosystem”. To the shooters hiding in the butts, where they fire a spray of lead shot in the direction of one of our fastest flying birds – leaving many crippled, to either be caught up and clubbed or to crawl away and die.

Let them see the snaring, trapping and shooting, which routinely takes place year after year on these artificial moors, as natural predators are sucked in from all around, by this artificial superabundance of prey.

After that, a real debate can take place – not just this repeated mantra of , “you townies know nothing”, which is used as an explanation or more often an excuse, for what many see as cruel and unnecessary destruction.”

Scottish Independence Referendum – The view from Moffat..

Its been a while!…Desire to go into print again was brought on by the Moffat Show yesterday..our annual agricultural/tents in a field/cattle sheep and pig exhibitors. Rosettes, wellies, tweed jackets, shepherds crook competitions..and a YES [for Independence] stall just down the row from the NO Thanks one.

Kids with YES and NO balloons..handing out leaflets and stickers to passers by, the odd conversation with undecided or just plain argumentative folk, going on in little groups around our stall.

Our first involvement with the YES campaign was exactly a year ago with Eryl handing out leaflets at the gate. What has changed since then?..a definite air of suppressed aggression from the NO people seeing my badge…at last the whole community seems to realise there’s a momentous decision coming up. Months of tramping round the town delivering information, holding street stalls and helping with public meetings -not to mention hundreds of Facebook comments and posts – have at least achieved that….my one comment on that…it reinforces my view that many NO supporters thought so little of their country [whether thats Scotland or the UK] they didnt bother to listen to what was happening…a jaundiced view perhaps..

What really stirred me up though was the conversation I had with a YES supporter who happens to be a farmers wife. She told me that the reason many YES supporting tenant farmers were afraid to put up YES signs in their fields, on their vehicles or house windows was that they knew the landowner/landlord was an ardent NO.They couldnt risk his disfavour. Great …21st century rural Scotland – not much has changed out here in the last few centuries then…Same old, same old – took me straight back to the many calls I got from those same estate tenants, when I worked for the RSPB – “Ive found a poison bait/illegal trap/dead eagle, peregrine, harrier, buzzard – please dont tell the police I told you, if it gets back to the landowner he’ll make life difficult.” Made me furious then, still does now.Criminals making decent folk frightened.

The above is real life in the countryside – no mention of any of that in the campaign and still completely unknown to our majority urban population..or even many villagers.The NO tent at the show had more than a sprinkling of tweed jackets and of course our local MP, the only Tory MP in Scotland. In the country it seems that we have a class divide in the referendum.

Enough politics for the moment..back to music and fishing…Great night in the Annandale Arms last night – with my Moffat Music Live pals playing at the request of a group of bikers who enjoyed our playing a year ago and asked the management to get us back for them.Much appreciated pints of Merlin Ales, Cider and Guinness helping produce our bizarre mix of americana, blues, country and trad folk – not for the musically nervous!

After a summer dogged by long periods of “drought” with the River Annan “down to its bones”, we had a welcome downpour on friday with another expected tonight…looking forward to a few days of good fishing…

Wing and a Prayer play at the Spring Fling fringe in Kirkcudbright…

One of our best ever gigs last friday [24th May 2013]! Titled “Spring it On”, we were the opening concert of the new music fringe festival of Dumfries and Galloway’s hugely successful “Spring Fling” Arts Festival.

Organised by Ian Cameron Smith, the concert was held in the Kirkcudbright Parish Church Hall in St Mary’s Street. Ian and his wife Claire are mainstream contributors to Spring Fling and half the hall is taken up with a display of their superb hand-made wooden furniture and ornaments and prints. Ian had built a stage and provided his own designed “performers chairs”, an innovative A-shape design with adjustable seats. Audience seating was “cafe style” with candles on tables.

We knew this was going to be a good night when we heard a week before that all 60 tickets were sold – on the night Ian managed to fit in several latecomers – a Full House.

The support act were three very talented young local guitarists and singers in their first public performance, calling them selves “No Alastair” – a reference to the absence of their percussionist! They got a well deserved delighted reception.

After a short break it was our turn – with the luxury [all too often we have to play short sets in folk clubs] of a full hour and a half in front of us. Our own PA, subtle lighting a raised stage and both acoustic and electric guitars – we had a ball..and by the reception we got, so did the audience. We played a full mix of Country Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Swing, Folk and our own blends of all these styles.

All too soon it was over, followed by chatting to members of the audience and the very welcome sales of several of our CDs [“Making Hay” and “The Blue Album”]. I have always enjoyed best, gigs where the whole audience are strangers but you feel you’ve made some friends by the end of the night – this was one of those night.

..and so back to Ian and Claire’s lovely home on the Solway Coast and a night of playing music round the stove and copious glasses of wine..even the return to Kirkcudbright to load up our equipment the next morning was a joy…brilliant sunshine, wild flowers in bloom and trees fully leafed at last, breakfast in a cafe near the harbour..and a slow drive home to Moffat.

I hope the rest of the Fling Fringe was as enjoyable for the other performers and audiences as this one was for us….

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-Hay-Wing-Prayer/dp/B005Q7U4IA/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1317246574&sr=1-1Spring it On postersfc OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA