Tuesday, 20 March 2012


the lovely folk of Greenock Writers Club
We had the pleasure of visiting the Greenock Writer's Club the other night to give a talk on the nicely broad theme of "Fantastic Fiction".

We have always tried to use local history and heritage as a jumping off point for fantastic stories; our original grandiose plan when we started collecting 13 years ago was to help create a mythology for the area, starting the story of Inverclyde hundreds of years before the arrival of the industries that we continue to mourn. 

It was a great opportunity for us to showcase some of the papers and stories of questionable local antiquarian Sir Douglas Rhodes, an avid collector of curios and "unusual" news items and stories. We have printed a few pieces on the blog over the last year, some directly quoted from his papers, others written by us, inspired by something from his collection

We read a few of Sir Glen's pieces out on the night, including this wee fragment which has actually just been adapted for a graphic novel being produced as part of the Heritage Lottery Scotland funded Identity project.

Visiting the club reminded us as well just how many interesting and creative groups and people there are in the area, just getting on with doing what they enjoy. For lovers of old photos, there's the Inverclyde Old and New Blog or Greenock in Old Photos Facebook Page. If you like your old places even more ancient, check out Inverclyde Visual Archaeology Project. We hear there's a number of very interesting arts projects potentially lined up for Greenock Sugar Sheds, Absent Voices is one of them. Arts for Inverclyde gives a real flavour of just how many artists there are working in all fields across our community.

Sometimes groups are quite happy working the way they work, and that's great, but it's always worth remembering that there are support and funding opportunities out there if you are part of a group who would like to develop new ideas or involve even more people. CVS Inverclyde ran a funders fayre in Port Glasgow last week with funders along from a whole range of organisations including The Robertson TrustBig LotteryHeritage Lottery Scotland and Lloyds TSB Foundation, all keen to invest locally.

These funders don't just fund Inverclyde of course, there's opportunities for all, provided you can meet the criteria set by the funder, it's always really important to check out what funders will consider; however, in Inverclyde we do get less than our per-capita share of Lottery funding; that is, proportionately, we spend more on the gambling aspect of the Lottery than we get back in good cause funding. 

Maybe you've got an idea that could even up those odds...

arctic rope, yesterday

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Old Greenock Characters - Scutcher Dan

Here is another of John Donald’s Old Greenock Characters, from the first volume of his collection, the story of Scutcher Dan…

His is a sad tale, the story of a young man gifted by nature with a fine physical appearance and endowed with gifts which, properly cultivated and directed, should have achieved popularity and success; but whose weak will, further weakened by self-indulgence; dram drinking (even in its earlier and not immoderate stages) and the flattery of his associates unfitted him to withstand a reversal of fortune, so that he fell an easy victim to the insidious imp which lurks within the cup of false cheer and inebriation.

Daniel McKinnon was a cooper to trade and reputed to be an excellent craftsman duly appreciated by his employers, Abram Lyle and Sons, Nicolson Street; Thorne and Curtis, manse Lane; and others. He had receieved a fair education and possessed musical ability both vocal and instrumental, so that being a violinist of parts, able to sing a good song, good looking, good natured, and rather gay, his appearance was welcomed whether on the concert hall platform at the “Free and Easies” or in more select private gatherings.

Such a young man, handsome and open handed, was sure to find favour with the fair sex, and Dan set his affections upon a prepossessing young domestic, employed in the west end of the town. His love was apparently returned and the pair were betrothed,
“Oh, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun
And by and by a cloud takes all away.”
The lady changed her mind and discarded the fervent lover for a richer suitor. From that day Daniel McKinnon was a broken man.

He sought forgetfulness, or at least relief, in an excess of careless pleasure and dram-drinking, neglected his work (to the sorrow of John Watters, his foreman at Thorne & Curtis’s, whose good advice fell on deaf ears), became the associate of degenerate companions and sank lower and lower in the social scale, until we find him as “Scutcher Dan”, a labelled waif, homeless and harmless, the butt of street gamins and fools barely wiser than himself, and an object of pity – generously tempered with sympathy, however, by people to whom his story was known.

The woman who jilted Dan became the wife of the then proprietor of an old-established and well known tavern in the east end (the Eagle Tavern, established 1815), and acquaintances of Scutcher, meeting him near the place, would, in a spirit of mischief, press him to have a drink therein. Fond as he was of liquor, that was an invitation which Dan stoutly declined.
“No, no!” he would cry “not there, not there;’Push-up’s’ or any place but there. She jilted me, she jilted me. Anything I would drink in there wid pizen me. She jilted me, she jilted me.”
On one occasion two or three thoughtless young men actually dragged Scutcher within the premises and right up to the bar. His old sweetheart stood smiling behind the counter.
“Come away, Dan, come away,” she said, persuasively.
But Dan continued to struggle with his captors.
As soon as he was free, he threw his arms aloft and glared at his former fiancé.
“Curse ye, curse ye, you’re the cause o’ this,” he hissed, and fled from the shop.

 For years before his death, Scutcher did little or no work; indeed he was said to have become heart-lazy, and would not even wash his face, while his garments were so torn and tattered that his skin showed here and there through the rents. The fact, too, that he, a jorneyman cooper of acknowledged ability, visited cooperages in which he worked, and there, in the sight of former fellow workmen, humbly gathered up spales to sell as firewood, showed only too plainly his complete loss of self-respect.

His musical taste and ability, however, enabled him to convert a corned beef tin into a crude kind of fiddle, from which he extracted weird music – strains from another sphere. In the lower streets of the town, where most he played, his queer instrument and strange sounds attracted many people and drew many coppers.

There are two accounts of his death – one, that he was drowned by falling between logs floating in the East India Harbour; the other, and probably correct version being that, after “dossing” on board of a tug-boat, which he often did, he was coming ashore in the darkness of an early morning when he missed his footing and fell from the gang-plank into the harbour. He died in, I believe, the late (eighteen) sixties.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Get Folked

Horrible and terrifying news for all those British parents who apparently don't like reading fairy stories for children...over 500 new fairy tales have been discovered in an archive in Regensburg, Germany, collected by a local historian Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm. Celebrate this momentous find by reading The Turnip Princess right now.

It's been a while since Disney tackled myths and legends from Britain, and no one was that fussed about The Black Cauldron. (I think it's pretty good though, and even better, it's connected with the former Welsh Kingdom of Strathclyde) However, Disney / Pixar are apparently pulling out all the stops for the release of Brave, set in the Highlands, including teaming up with VisitScotland to promote tourism.

Last month, the Association for Cultural Equity started making the field recordings of prolific American folklorist Alan Lomax available to listen to online. It's a remarkable project, and you can literally lose yourself for hours in the collections. Lomax travelled the world collecting and recording, and this week, there's a particular treat for Scottish folk; Alan Lomax recorded hours of ancient ballads, childrens songs and Gaelic work songs from all over Scotland, these are now available to stream online.

As the American election continues its interminable warm up with various "super" days of the week, why not momentarily forget about separating out the fact and fiction of Romney's taxes or Obama's broken promises, and check out the truth behind some George Washington folklore...did he really have wooden teeth?

It is easy to sneer in disbelief at the fact that witchcraft is still considered a very real blight in some parts of the world, but in recent weeks there have been several horrifying stories in the news...superstition should never be taken lightly when the human consequences are all too real. Of all the stories however, the Ghana football team apparently casting spells on each other is the least disturbing.

At the other end of the witchcraft spectrum, everyone's favourite slavonic witch who lives in a house with chicken legs, Baba Yaga, makes her Blu-Ray debut this month. I have yet to see this slice of 70s surrealism, but based on the reviews, Im not sure they focussed too much on the folklore elements of the character and went instead for what we now like to call a "reboot" into the world of fashion photography. Ehm...yeah...let's stick to classic Baba Yaga action for our folk tale this week...

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

This Is My Home

The final track from our Downriver CD, is also the only original piece written for the album. Shelagh McKay recorded The Mermaid for the project, but also wrote this quietly celebratory song about her hometown; a wee momentary shelter from the storm of negativity that seems to so often wear us all down round here. Enjoy.