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St John’s Church Hall, 6th August 2012

Along with his wife, Helen, and their son, Ben, cousin Steve came to my first ticketed concert – quite unannounced and at the last minute. It was a lovely surprise. He recorded the concert and took photos too.

He caught me lighting up outside afterwards.

Two fellow-poets I’d never met before also came along – Jayne Osborn, who’d travelled up specially from England the day before, and Nigel Mace, who was in Edinburgh for Karen’s Way, a play his partner, Vanessa Rosenthal, had written and was performing in. We made our way to the first pub in Rose Street: 1780.

From left, anti-clockwise round the table: Ben, Helen, Jayne, Vanessa, Nigel, me


Steve, Helen, Ben and I then ambled around town. It rained quite a bit. We had some supper here:

Half an hour later one of the Red Arrows almost touched the roof. As Ben said: “I thought I was going to die!”

The reflection of the lights on the glistening cobbles of Cockburn Street inspired Steve to pull out his camera again:


I’m sure I took a couple of Steve and Helen, but I must have made a hash of it.

I went up to the church the next day to do some promotion and heard Rich Batsford at FoSP. Then in the evening I met up with Steve & co. again. We weren’t allowed in any restaurants because of Ben being only 12 years old,

so we had a carry-out on Princes Street. My newly-acquired road manager, Tamzin Walker, a friend from schooldays, was with us. The fireworks started just after we’d finished our meal. I intended to have an early night but instead was hauled in to an Open Mic at Brass Monkey on Leith Walk just forty yards from the flat I was staying in. It was a wild but mellow experience.

Steve burst in at the start of my second concert on the 8th, took a couple of photos, and I haven’t seen him since.

After the second ticketed concert I took the train to Dunkeld and spent two nights with my dad. My sister, Amanda, came the next day, and in the evening my sister, Julia, her husband, Douglas, and their two boys, Harry and Jack, turned up. Then it was back to Edinburgh on the Friday for the third ticketed concert. My younger sister, Barbie, had travelled up from London for this one, so at one point I played Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, the only cover number I do. At the age of 19 I was enchanted by a version of it when Barbie and I found ourselves on the beach of a Greek island. Five years were to pass before I actually put my hand in my pocket, but that is what inspired me to take up the guitar. We had a good evening together along with her partner, Jeremy Hall, and two old friends from uni days, Colin Campbell and Jane Nicoll.

I was staying with my schoolmate, Mark Noonan, and Saturdays with him are all about a wee visit into town for something to eat, with the evening tending to revolve around a visit from another schoolmate, Alistair Baines, where chilling out and fun are the order of the day. Mark and Al both came to my final ticketed concert on the Sunday, as did another schoolmate, Rod Mitchell. Attendance averaged at ten, which is about par for the course.

My last performance the next day was a replication of my first one – an unticketed lunchtime “Sacred Space” in the church itself. The PA had broken down, but it didn’t matter that much. It’s a wonderful venue, a church, for acoustic guitar, song and mouth organ. This time I started with Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”. Astrid Gorrie, the mother of my schoolmate, Euan, had made the trip into town to hear me, which was a pleasant surprise.

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Ireland with a third-year class I’d bought a ticket for Colm Tóibín at the Book Festival. It was lucky I did as it was sold out. It wasn’t what I was expecting as he was promoting his newly published collection of essays, New Ways to Kill Your Mother, but it was interesting all the same, and at least I can pronounce his name right now.

*                                                       *                                                    *

1780 became my regular watering-hole, not only for that week but also when, hatless and clean-shaven, I was back in Edinburgh later in the month for a course at the Danish Cultural Institute in conjunction with the Book Festival. Charlotte Square is but a stone-throw away, and the Danish Cultural Institute is but a five-minute walk from there.

This photo was taken by my old school pal, Rod Mitchell.

The highlight of my course was a three-part presentation of (and by) Ben Okri. First we saw an adaptation of his piece, “The Comic Destiny”, written by David WW Johnstone, who was also one of the three actors. All three were also part of Ben Okri’s gig the next day at the Book Festival, where he also read from both his very recent poetry collection, Wild, and his recent collection of essays, A Time for New Dreams. I was very taken by both his presence and his performance. He put me in mind of Denzel Washington playing Steve Biko in Cry Freedom! Softly-spoken and generous, but with a vision of steel. In short, he has a very winning personality. Before that we’d been given a lecture on post-colonial Nigerian literature by David Richards, where Ben Okri was one of the three main writers discussed. Upon my return to Denmark, I determined to teach him to my second-year students. In this connection I found some good material on the Internet:

Video highlights of A Time for New Dreams at the RSA, 2011
Full audio podcast of A Time for New Dreams at the RSA, 2011
Ben Okri – International Authors Stage – The Black Diamond – The Royal Libary – Copenhagen
Ben Okri discusses his approach to writing
Ben Okri in Conversation with Vanity Fair’s Anderson Tepper

I had also added Karen’s Way to my programme as well as performances by Don Paterson and Carol Ann Duffy at the Book Festival. And there were other delights in the evenings, as I met some very accomplished folk musicians playing at two folk pubs close to my hotel – Captain’s Bar and The Royal Oak. Mike Breen and Shona Moonie, Eddie and Bobby from Rantum Scantum, Kevin Gore, Azzizzi, to name but a few. I had a rare time.

I also gave a seventh performance at St. John’s on the 23rd. I came to hear Mairi Campbell give a “Sacred Space” performance, but she hadn’t been able to make it. The sound technician, Alec, asked me if I’d be willing to do it. The only guitar I’d played in ten days was five minutes in Captain’s Bar, but I consented, and a guitar was promptly found. The PA was working this time, so a strong “Suzanne” rang round that sacred space.

My last evening, the 24th, was spent in the company of Euan Gorrie, who’d come up from London just to see me. We were at school together from the age of eight onwards (Ardvreck and Glenalmond) and matched each other both as athletes and scholars. We were the two centres in the rugby team by the end (me on the inside, being somewhat bulkier, him on the outside, being somewhat faster), and we both won awards to New College, Oxford. I’d chosen to eat with him at Café Rouge, a serendipitous choice it transpired as he revealed to me that he’d been involved in setting up their business. He’s a financial lawyer in London. We went to hear Kevin Gore et al. at The Fiddler’s Elbow and had a splendid evening. I bought the last round, which came to £11 exactly. I had only coins left in my purse, and as I counted them out I assured the barmaid that I had a back-up. We were both amazed to discover that the contents of my purse amounted to £11 exactly. Arriving at Mark’s at 1am, I failed to rouse him and subsequently spent five hours on the landing before heading off to the airport. Four hours of sleep sitting on a suitcase is better than none of course.

My dad rang me three days later to say he’d seen an obituary for Euan’s dad in the paper. I sent my condolences to Euan and asked him if he’d managed to see his dad before he died. He told me that the care home where his dad had been since suffering a stroke had rung half an hour after he’d got to his mother’s flat.

RIP, Donald Gorrie.

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