Many moons have risen and set since my last blog, some of them beautiful, some of them sad. Three dear friends and colleagues died recently - John Geddes and Martin Dalby, and now Tom Leonard. All three outstanding voices and personalities in the Scottish arts.
John and I were students together at the RSAMD and fellow composers, never rivals - and the same holds true for Martin who was my producer for BBC Radio Scotland's first series of Scotland's Music. I wrote their obituaries for The Herald - a strange responsibility when what one remembers above all is simply the fun and the companionship. And Tom, who became my friend through our mutual love of the music of Carl Nielsen and whose deeply sensitive and incisive honesty lived alongside a wicked wit. What a writer!
It was at the end of 2017 that I lost one of my oldest and deepest friends - the American sculptor Charles Wells. We met in Pietrasanta in 1974 and he taught me a little stone carving. His work was stunningly beautiful and his etchings were searching and strange. I stayed with him and his lovely wife, Diana, in New Mexico and Pennsylvania and they came often to join Bar and myself on Nashawena Island. I will never forget his first arrival on Skye and on the summit plateau of Ben Meabost, with low grey scudding clouds and he dancing away from me, loose-limbed, and turning round to exclaim with joy "Gee, John I just wanna disperse!"
This ageing business finds me included in Autumn Voices (edited by Robin Lloyd-Jones) as an interviewee and interviewer, alongside other old friends, mercifully still alive and including Alasdair Gray, Stewart Conn, Sheena Blackhall and Carl MacDougall: so we are now approaching that stage when we become pickled specimens to be placed on shelves beside scorpions in bottles and the like. All of which obliges one to further creative output in order to upset the assessors.
On that front, I have recently been commissioned to write a new piece for a new instrument - Donald Lindsay's Lindsay System chanter which has extended the range of the small pipes chanter at both ends. We have decided that my piece is to be called An Grianan, the sunny place, because it is happy. Not a cloud in its sky. Donald is going to play it when he presents an original pipe next week to the Piping Centre.
I've also been writing essays for The National - centre-page spreads with no ads and plenty of images. You won't find anything like it in any other daily newspaper anywhere. The first eight were re-published alongside Alan Riach and Alexander Moffat's essays in Arts and the Nation, Edinburgh 2017. The image is of the cover illustration - William Crosbie's drawing of Frederick Lamond playing with the Scottish Orchestra in 1942, the year I was born and no distance from Bill's studio. He was a close family friend.
Since then I have written a good few more essays, the latest being on Scottish artists associated with the Celtic Revival. You can access them on-line on The National's website, under Culture. They have been coming out on Mondays. The 7th of January will be the last for a while.
I've been publishing an occasional poem and was honoured to be invited to give the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Annual Memorial Lecture in The Scottish Parliament in February of 2018. I called it From the Hebrides to Hindustan: cultural self-perception and the music of Erik Chisholm. Linda Fabiani, the MSP to whom we are indebted for the lecture series, told me afterwards that her husband had regarded the title with the greatest misgiving, but she, I am happy to say, was all enthusiasm about the outcome! I was also asked to give the Alan Bruford Annual Memorial Lecture in October at The Scottish Story Telling Centre. This one was called Scotland and the Fenian Lays - a more accessible version of a paper I gave at the Ulidia/Finn conference at Sabhal Mor Ostaig back in May.
Perhaps nicest of all compliments were the ones paid to me by Ellen Beard who asked me to write a Foreword to her splendid 100 Òran le Rob Donn MacAoidh, published on the Isle of Skye in 2018; and then, at the very end of the year, to find myself joint dedicatee of Elizabeth Ford's equally ground-breaking publication of William McGibbon Complete Sonatas, published by A-R Editions in Wisconsin. It is quite wonderful that such good work is still finding the light of day and excellent productions and from such different corners of the world, though, be it noted, both authors are citizens of the USA. But I am not going to stray into the world of visas and the xenophobic racist agenda of the Home Office and the Government in general. The year is young and who knows what spring may bring. The whirligig of time will surely bring in its revenges.
John Purser is widely known as a composer, musicologist, poet, playwright, and broadcaster.