Niteworks concert, Fringe
A friendly woman on the Aviemore to Edinburgh bus recommended techno-trad fusion band Niteworks to me. Being the day after an old pal's wedding, and feeling somewhat worse for wear, there was every chance I'd promptly forget the name and that would be that. But thankfully something stuck, and I'm now foisting their music onto ceilidh-shy London friends with all the zeal of a convert.
Originally from Skye, the four-piece effortlessly blend traditional Scottish instrumentation and melodies with electronica that is by turns contemplative and euphoric. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the combination works so well: the undulating lines of pipe music are not really that far removed from the gradually evolving arpeggiations in techno.
Samples of old audio recordings are used to haunting effect. The track 'Somhairle' is particularly powerful, setting lines spoken by poet Sorley MacLean in a 1978 documentary to swelling synthesisers. 'Our culture is vitiated by the sentimentality of those who have gone away […] We have a history of resistance, but now mainly in the songs we sing. Our children are bred for emigration,' laments MacLean.
I have often heard stories of how, in the early 1960s, my grandfather would exhort his seven children to leave Scotland as soon as possible – something I have now done myself. MacLean's words have stayed with me for days now as I wonder whether I'm a guilty party, or a victim, of the malaise he diagnosed.
Niteworks will perform a set during the Fringe
on 9 August at Edinburgh's cultural hub, Summerhall.
We are all travelling too much. Is flying halfway around the world to sit on a sunny beach worth the resulting damage we are doing to the environment? Have you noticed that the success here at home of the of the North Coast 500 tourist route is turning out to mean that even more of the beautiful Scottish countryside is being overwhelmed by convoys of cars, caravans, and speeding motorbikes?
So my first answer is this. Those of us living in or around Glasgow should travel the world while staying at home. How? By sitting at tables of the world's cuisine which are available all around us. For years now Glasgow has enjoyed an excellent reputation for its Indian, Chinese and Italian food. Friends in London often tell me that Glasgow curries are better than theirs. But Indian, Chinese and Italian are far from being all we have to offer. Menus that are Spanish, French, Greek, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Mexican, Cuban, Brazilian, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Korean are readily available – and there may be other countries to seek out.
A Korean restaurant I recently sampled offers something completely different: sitting around your table, you cook your own dinner. In its centre there is a powered deep dish in which two kinds of brodo (broth) – mild or spicy – readies noodles and you choose whatever range of vegetables or sliced meats you wish to add. Within minutes self-serving can begin!
So there it is. This summer let the dinner table be your way of travelling the world. Every week a different country. Your children could study their atlases in preparation. And why not end by coming back home? Dining, that is, in one of Glasgow's restaurants where the menu is exclusively Scottish.
La P'tite Folie, Randolph Place, Edinburgh (with Le Di-Vin in the back)
If my memory is correct, the establishment behind this faux Tudor frontage was once an antiquarian bookshop. Today though, it is a charmingly unpretentious, French-themed restaurant, with a fine wine bar in the back. We ate there early one evening in mid-May. We were in a bit of a rush, with a train to catch at Haymarket some 90 minutes after we sat down. Without any apparent haste we were both served glasses of wine from an excellent wine list (mine was a superb Viognier).
Suitably relaxed, we asked if we could have the Shetland mussels as a main course, with a green salad on the side. It was done, and these mussels in a garlic, shallot and white wine sauce, were quite probably the best mussels either of us has ever had. They came in ample proportion as well, with crusty bread (gluten free for my companion). I forage mussels from time to time on the wild Pacific coast of southern Vancouver Island, so my assessment of the Shetland cousins, and their preparation and presentation is not given lightly. The quality of the food, drink and service we had at La P'tite Folie was excellent on all counts; the whole experience pleasant, relaxing and very good value – in short, a real treat.
Food and booze
There are almost too many things to do in summertime across the Highlands and Islands. Some are well known, others less so. The question is, what to choose, how to narrow the search, how to spend an interesting and enriching holiday? One means of narrowing the field is to follow a particular passion or interest. This might launch you on the food trail from Loch Fyne's oysters to Stornoway's black pudding and far beyond. You may go home with a pleasant layer of insulation to tide you through the winter.
The choice of drink can be overwhelming. Start perhaps on Islay and work your way all the way up to the Valhalla Brewery on Unst. This may not insulate you from the current paroxysms of politics but it will at least leave you in a peaceful daze. Or perhaps your particular penchant is for literature. Enter Argyll at the gateway of Inveraray and discover Neil Munro, one of the great guides to Gaeldom; discover why Jura helped deliver Orwell's '1984'. Travel to Taynuilt, home for a spell, it is rumoured of a Mr Burnes, the great poet's faither and latterly of that tortured sage, Iain Crichton Smith.
Stop for a bit near Kentallen and look for the spot of the Appin Murder; find the grave of puir James of the Glen and the place at Ballachullish bridge where he was hung. Inspired by this story, buy a copy of R L Stevenson's book, 'Kidnapped', and venture into Glencoe, site of the awful massacre, devouring Prebble's book on that subject. Head for Raasay, home of Sorley MacLean. Search for Hallaig and pick up Calum's Road on the way.
Head north again into the territory of MacCaig and yet again north and across the sea seeking Orkney's Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown. Top it all off with Shetlandic poets new and old. As for the built heritage; that's another story of its own.
This summer I am re-visiting Aubigny-sur Nere, in the Loire. It is a small town twinned with Haddington, where I live. Two years ago I went there with our excellent local pipe band for the Fete Ecossaise. Going for the first time I had no idea of what to expect. But I love France, especially small town France. I wasn't disappointed; Aubigny ticked all the boxes. The town centre has half-timbered buildings, a gothic church, a chateau, and a red UK telephone box. All the indispensible small French shops are here. There is a good hotel, many restaurants and cafes, and a pub called Le Cutty Sark. The local dry white wine, Sancerre, is superb.
But what, you might ask, is a Fete Ecossaise doing in the heart of rural France? It is a celebration, unique apparently, of the Auld Alliance. The Stuarts were gifted the town in the 14th century and held on to it for some 200 years. Extraordinarily, they are revered and remembered all these years on.
The fete itself is exuberant, full on and totally disarming. The welcome is warm, especially to Scots. Tartan is everywhere; with pipe bands from far and wide and parades galore. There is lots of dressing up, which the French love. Medieval costume abounds but kilts, bunnets, brogues and hairy socks are also much in evidence. The crowds, colour and cacophony are all a bit overwhelming, but hugely enjoyable. There is also the biggest civic picnic I have ever seen. Hundreds of people from all walks of life sit down together in a huge marquee to eat, drink and socialise. It is a sight to behold and the work the locals put in is truly amazing.
This year's fete runs from 12-14 July. Visit Fete Franco Ecossaise on Facebook for the programme.
The last entry was technically not in Scotland, but sounds good nonetheless! - Ed
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