A visit from Alan and Rae Riach combined with mostly wet and windy weather - currently blowing draughts through the study and the fire is out - has been full of poetry and Scottish independence and New Zealand memories while dear Bar feeds the cows each morning, and then the humans.
I am working on composing a circular piece of music for the shells into bells project, and trying to tidy up Window to the West which Meg Bateman and I have been working on for eight years now and still get on well together! It is "towards a re-definition of the visual in the Gaelic-speaking world" and is crazily ambitious: it is a substantial joint-author book but we have loved doing it. It is holistic and it looks out at the world from here, rather than starting with the world looking in and telling us we are peripheral and remote and isolated and all that nonsense that comes from people living much more lonely lives in cities.
Work also on ogam - a paper to give to Rannsachadh nan Gaidheal in June about this fascinating "alphabet" - simple and phonetic in its basic form, but deliberately obscure in much of its usage. It is visually and structurally provoking and I am making an initial stab at interpreting a manuscript of spells and charms from the 19th-century written out entirely in ogam representing Irish Gaelic. It's a bit like the way doctors used to write prescriptions in illegible Latin so that only they and the pharmacist could actually read them. Trade secrets and so on. Put it this way, I am trying to hack into this manuscript and reveal to an expectant public what is the one and only cure for the evil eye or, if it comes to that, toothache. The truth is my sole qualification for pursuing this is curiosity and the fact that the manuscript has so far been ignored. I hope to annoy enough experts with my presumption into getting them to do something serious about it.
Spring would have y-sprungen, as Chaucer might have it, were it not for cold winds. The soil is not going to warm up in a hurry and if I can locate some Golden Wonder seed potatoes in time, they will still have a chance to chit before there is any point in planting them. We are in process of reforming the lazy beds into raised beds with gravel paths. Alarmingly suburban, but a lot less work for our elderly joints and muscles.
The Te Gheal - our 13 foot Orkney dinghy - needs her fiber-glass keel repaired: too many batterings getting onto the trailer at awkward tides.
As Alan likes to say, "There is still damage to be done!"
Over a year has gone by . . .memorable for the world premiere of Erik Chisholm's opera Simoon in Glasgow - a sensational event after years of struggle to get it done. Also memorable was a performance of his Violin Concerto. Both works will be available on CD in the next year or so. Check out www.erikchisholm.com
My own music got an outing in a presentation I gave at the Calary Church concerts in County Wicklow - many family in the audience - my grandparents are buried by the porch - and later in the year both my music and poetry got an airing at the Nairn Book Festival.
A string quartet commissioned long ago for Victor Rosenberg's quartet course was beautifully played by Mark Wilson's quartet at a concert in Moffat, and I am to talk about my music and landscape as part of the Jon Schueler Symposium at Sabhal Mor Ostaig in late May.
I gave lectures on music archaeology in Berlin and Vaxjo in Sweden - the latter at a conference in honour of the wonderful Cajsa Lund who was the initial inspiration for my own work in the field. A privilege to be there. Writing up the High Pasture Cave bridge with Dr. Graeme Lawson is on-going. He does his best to keep me on the straight and narrow, most memorably when collaborating over a beer in his boat on the River Nene.
Recently I have been acting as Scottish Music Advisor to the USA tv series Outlander. We had a great recording session for them at Watercolour studios in Ardgour for their composer Bear McCreary. Can't say what we did though as we all signed non-disclosure forms.
Over the last months I've been collaborating with Mhairi Killin and Hugh Watt on Re-Soundings (www.re-soundings.com). They have been turning WWI shell casings into bells and I am composing music for them and for an accompanying exhibition at An Lanntair on Lewis and in Iona. Below is a picture of my musical armoury at Ness Community Centre which appropriately had a WWI exhibition on. Somewhere in there is a box made from a shell casing and engraved with Arabic lettering. It was given to my grandfather who had treated many shell-shocked patients in Dublin. His RAMC buttons are inside it, so now it makes an evocative rattle. The cylindrical shell casings also make remarkably pleasant bells. Ironic or what?
The church above is St Moluag's where we recorded several members of the public who had come to the event, playing the bells as they entered the church. Now I have to make musical sense of it all. Mhairi and Hugh are opening my eyes and ears to new ways of creativity and I am discovering my inner minimalist. But the website will tell you much more.
On the poetry front I had poems published in Scotia Nova (Luath Press 2015) and also in The Hunterian Poems (Freight Books, Glasgow 2015). It's a lovely little publication with an intriguing variety of poetic responses to paintings in the Hunterian art gallery in Glasgow reproduced beside their accompanying poems. It's comfortable to be within the same covers as dear friends such as Alan Riach, Liz Lochhead, Stewart Conn, Aonghas Mac Neacail and Gerda Stevenson. My offering was for J.D.Fergusson's Spring in Glasgow painted in 1942, no distance from where I was born in February of that year. Lesley Duncan picked it for The Herald poem of the day. Is there another newspaper in this country which publishes a poem a day? It is a splendid thing to have and we should be broadcasting a poem a day as well, if only to show that life isn't wasted on us.