Extra Thread – Girrick Gardener 2

It’s been a few weeks and the view has changed. The cows are in the fields, the rape is flowering and the gorse is out around Smailholm Tower in the distance.

It’s taken ages. Digging such a small amount each time. In my head I’ve created a beautiful allotment but I’ve recently had shingles and, as is usual for me, I’m suffering from post viral fatigue. Along with the tiredness comes a low mood so I drag myself to dig and then I’m tired almost before I’ve begun. There’s an urgency because I need to get all of the potatoes in.

Girrick Allotment – 15th May 2020

Here you can see the potato beds finished at last. I was fortunate to have a little help.

The plants in the garden getting ready for the allotment. Those broad beans are nearly ready. I’ve dug a small plot for them and this time I got down on my knees and sifted the earth through my fingers.

It could be a piece of garden art. In reality it’s to stop those Girrick cats who love a nice bit of earth for their toilet!

As I knelt by that bed with the soil in my hands and the lovely smell of earth about me, I remembered a poem incorporated into a play I’m writing.

The play is written around a chorus who become a multiplicity of characters.

Oh no!!

The next day this is what had happened to the potatoes. It’s such a horrible feeling when you are all full of hope and then the plants that have only just begun, look as though they may end. All that work! What was happening? I thought about it a bit and wondered if they’d been caught by the frost. It’s been so cold this Spring as well as extremely dry. Frost in May!!! The white in the picture is fleece. I covered them for a few nights. Fingers crossed they recover.


Extra Thread – Girrick Gardener 1

We are now in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic but before it started spreading out from China I found myself wondering about food security. It was February, I was on a train headed south and using the opportunity to write a short story for a competition.

The remit was to imagine Scotland in 2030. I had three false starts before finding what I wanted to write. It is a serious story but written in a comic way. You can read it here:

Continue reading “Extra Thread – Girrick Gardener 1”

Song Wave 3 – How to write a song?

There must be so many ways and maybe not all of them as exhausting as I found mine. I was two weeks in and fully focused in the late afternoon when suddenly I felt the energy drain right out of me.

I knew then that I had to stop for that day and take things carefully. I do have problems with energy conservation but this had taken me by surprise.

Too many computers, I reckon

Fortunately, tune and harmonies were finished and I had just started recording the learning tracks. My friend Tom Sykes was doing this with me. I had planned for us to do it together but he suggested we try it remotely. This was fine except that it meant I needed to learn a new system and my brain wasn’t letting anything more in.

Some people call this tiredness Chronic Fatigue, others M.E. and yet others think it’s all made up. I don’t like the term M.E. because it sounds too much like an identification of oneself. Really, I don’t know what this tiredness is, I just experience it.

In order to carry on and be able to finish my task by the beginning of March, I had to have some time off and then go slowly. My tiredness was persistent and I could only do small amounts of work at a time. The other difficulty was that I couldn’t sing very well and I kept making mistakes in the recordings.

The process was, I’d record a track and send it to Tom. He would then learn it, record it and send his part back to me.

Working with audio files

We managed to complete them last weekend and I spent most of Monday doing some of mine again as my voice was a little better and then mixing them together. It’s the sort of thing that you could go on doing for ever. Eventually I had to tell myself that, although it wasn’t quite right, it was good enough.

Once I’d decided that, oh what sweet relief!!

This is the link to the learning tracks on this website.


Song Wave 1 – How to write a song?

Yesterday was both a new moon and two days after Candlemas (or Imbolc if you are thinking in terms of Celtic fire festivals – which I often am). So what better time to start writing a song?

This is a special song (I hope). I’m writing it in response to Frightened Rabbits’ “The Loneliness and the Scream” and it will be for people all over the Scottish Borders (an actual county for those who don’t know) to sing on 17th May. It will be inspired by this year’s festival theme “Connected”.

Why this date? Because it is in the middle of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. Song Wave is a project that wants to encourage people to sing. Singing is uplifting and community forming and very good for our mental health.

But how do you write a song? In this case I started with asking for contributions of words, musical phrases, thoughts. I actually received several whole songs, a video and some words.

The next step was to listen repeatedly to all the songs, watch the video many times and take down notes. Notes of some of the words and images that caught my attention. I wrote down everything inspired by each work separately then hung the words around my room.

I walked up and down looking at and repeating the words out loud. Then I sat down and started to write.

This is the ideas phase and anything goes at this stage. In fact it is important to reject nothing that comes up because it is all a necessary part of the process. Bits of tunes slip into my head and I go to my trusty zoom R8 to record what comes.

After a while I felt the need to move so decided to go for a walk before the light went. Yes, walking is also part of my process. The sun was streaming over the valley and everything was looking gorgeous. I was walking back up the hill thinking about rhythm and the heart. I started clapping a heartbeat. I was breathing heavily as I got to the top of the slope. That sounds interesting, I thought, and rushed to get home to record it. As I said, this is the phase of anything goes.


Singing at the Brotherstones

I always like to do something “different” with the Smailholm Singing Group in the summer. Last year we had a meet up in my garden. One time we sang to Giant Heads (sculptures, I hasten to add) in Glentress Forest. This year we sang at the Brotherstones at midsummer, a suggestion from one of the group, which I was very happy to take up.

brotherstones 4

There are two Brotherstones and they stand on the top of a hill a short drive from Smailholm Village Hall, our usual meeting place. It was good to walk up the hill and also get a chance to talk to many of the group individually. One of them told me a story that he had found about the stones.

Brothersontes singing 1

There were two brothers who grew up in the area but moved away as young adults. During their years away one became a catholic and the other a protestant. Many years later they returned. They met up the hill by chance and failed to recognise each other. On discovering that they adhered to different faiths they began a fight which ended in both of their deaths. The stones were erected in memory of them.”

brotherstones 7

We got to the top and it was windy. Well of course it was. That’s how it often is around here. AND what a view!  I thoroughly recommend going up that hill.

We sang some songs in our usual circle, sang in front of the stones and then went to stand on the ridge looking out into the view. A skylark was fluttering above and singing too. The cows in the field below were delighted with the impromptu concert and gathered together against the fence as near to us as they could get.

brotherstones view

Surprising things to accompany you when you are doing an activity in the countryside.




Mists & mellow fruitfulness

Mmmm yes.

The Artist in Studio Hundy

September is well underway.  Harvested golden fields shine out across the landscape.  Early morning mists and dew fall on cobwebs like glistening jewels.

Bird song has changed – the robin and the blue-tit seem to sing a different tone; or perhaps I’m just noticing them more?  An occasional skein of geese fly over our house, with their evocative calls, echoing in the still cool air.   And the fruiting process in our garden abounds.

The abundance of summer is gradually drawing to a close – so wonderfully depicted in Keats’ poem:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees, And fill all fruits with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With sweet kernel; to set…

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Song Wave – Rehearsals

It’ s now only one and a half weeks until 17th May – Song Wave day! I have been rehearsing with my two singing groups. Just Singing is very small, there are about six of us singing “Stay” so we are doing the tune with two of us on the top part attempting to sound ethereal. We are going to meet at 10.40 at the Natural Crafs shop in Melrose. My friend, the owner, Catherine Bauer, says we are very welcome to go through the song while, Sandra (who manages the shop) is having her coffee. So that will be our warm up then it’s across the road to Marmions for 11 o’clock which, I hope will be packed, to sing and be filmed by my friend Sue Scowcroft. After that, if we feel up to it, we may go and sing outside the Co-op.

Smailholm Village Hall on a grey and damp evening. Often it is all shiny and covered in sunshine but not the day I took my camera!

My other group is The Smailholm Singing Group and I’m absolutely delighted that so many of them are going to sing “Stay”. It was twenty-one at the last count.

Ian and Fin helping with the chairs (thank you both). Fin has got distracted by the books and I think I surprised Ian!


It’s been interesting to see how easy (or otherwise) the groups have found learning the song. It appears that the chorus is very catchy and people pick it up quickly. There has been a bit of a struggle with the top part and also difficulties with the rhythm of the tune.

Here we are going through some of the bottom part.

They are enjoying themselves already and we haven’t even started singing.


Last week during our rehearsal in Smailholm, I got the”tune” people walking out the beat and it really improved thier understanding of the rhythm.

Here is a recording of Smailholm Singing Group trying out the the last bit of the song. Probably only for the second time. The top part haven’t quite got all the right notes at this point.

There are more people than this, the others are standing, inconveniently, in the shadows. (Or possibly on purpose?)


After that we all sang together and it sounded gorgeous with so many of us. I was very pleased. I’m also happy that people like it because you can never know when you are creating something how it will be received. So what a relief!

Two more rehearsals and then we will be singing in Keslo Square on Friday 17th May at 1.30. After that we will move around. Others places suggested by the group are the War Memorial, outside the Fishmongers and outside Lidl.

Do come and see us in Melrose or Kelso and even join in if you wish.

Song Wave – Connected

I mentioned in an earlier post The Scottish Mental Health and Arts Festival’s theme for this year is “Connected” and I would like to relate a couple of stories.

Jake Scott is one of the contributors towards “Stay”. He sings his own blues songs as Stoney Broke. I went to see him at The Barrels in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Tom Sykes, who recorded “Stay” with me came along too. We enjoyed his music. He has a lovely voice.

The basement room at The Barrels is like being in the belly of Berwick. The picture is me with Stoney Broke. Yes, it was a bit dark down there.

It was good to meet Stoney Broke and it will be great if he works on a blues version of “Stay”. That is the first CONNECTION. The other is of a more coincidental nature (if you believe in coincidence, which, actually, I don’t).

Both Tom and I were paid for our work on “Stay” and Tom was keen to plough the money back into music. He came across a guitar that was exactly the amount he had earned. It was privately owned so he went to pick it up from the musician who’d put it up for sale. They got chatting and Tom mentioned Song Wave. It turned out that friends of the musician had known Scott Hutchison very well and were, understandably, very upset about his suicide last year. I hope and expect there to be more Song Wave CONNECTIONS. I also hope that lots of people will sing “Stay” on 17th May and think about how poor mental health impacts on people’s lives. But also reflect on the joy that comes from singing and CONNECTING through song.

Song Wave 2 – How to write a song?

What a week it’s been and oh the ups and downs of song writing. It’s not just song writing, of course. Any creation has waves going in and out and often long periods of feeling all washed up or washed away. So there I was on day two, surrounded by words and feeling hopeful. I read through everything and got myself a piece of A3 paper and a nice chunky pen. I walked along the line of hanging papers, picking up phrases and splurging it onto the A3.

Some hanging papers
Part of the A3 splurge

I wrote it again in a way that started to make sense. And again, several times. My phone made it’s little ting-a-ling. It was a message from Rachel Hunter saying she had just emailed me her contribution. As I read and wrote down her words a tune popped into my head. (I don’t know how this happens. I just know that it will if I give myself time). I then surprised myself by suddenly singing “Open your eyes, open your heart wide”. Catchy, I thought, let’s follow it through and see where it goes.

My trusty Zoom R8

By the end of day two I had part of a tune for a verse and the beginning of a chorus. I recorded everything that came into my head with my trusty Zoom R8. I didn’t want to lose any of the work. I had been singing without reference to any instruments until late afternoon when I decided to check which key I’d been singing in. It turned out to be Db!! If you don’t know anything about music that’s all the black notes on the piano, a little awkward when written out. If I see a piece of music with that many flats I tend to want to run away. So I put it down to C.

Trying out the chorus

And then came day three. I got up feeling pretty ill so not a good start. Unlike the day before where I was able to focus for hours, I found myself drifting away constantly. I went through all the previous days recordings. What a mixture! I’d started with the fairly avant garde and gradually moved on to what sounded like 70’s pop. (Well, I like 70’s pop). I treated myself by getting out the keyboard. It didn’t help much. Dragging myself miserably through that day I ended up with several lines that were pure Disney and had me in hysterics! It was nice to be able to laugh at myself like that. I hasten to say that Disney has now disappeared.

My work station

The trick is to know that there are going to be days when you think that what you’ve created is really not any good. It always happens and when you accept this you can stand back and say “here we go”. Of course it may well be rubbish but if you stick with it and keep on working at honing and transforming something will come of it. This work of creation is exciting joyful and painful and wonderful to do.

Last Night in Hawick

Singing in Hawick. The last night.

What a long winter! Are we emerging from it at last? Today is April at its most cheery. All sunshine, daffodils, warmth and smiles. Is this only for today? This picture says it all, perhaps. No it isn’t Hawick but the isle of Rumm at sunset several years ago.

Yesterday evening I was in Hawick at the Cornucopia room, the last night of my little singing group. We sang through most of the songs I’d taught this year. Follow the clyp link below to listen to the two songs I recorded.