STILL NOT GOOD ENOUGH

I suppose I was slightly jangled as I made my way to the End of Term Concert of the Lews Castle College Music Department last night (9 June). Anna Wendy Stevenson and Simon Bradley promoted this event. The venue was St. Mary’s RC Church Hall in Griminish and the place was stowed.

Right. What was bugging me? I was remembering a similar musical soiree in Nunton I attended and wrote about under the heading VOODOO about six weeks ago. I had a few critical remarks to make then about how the youngsters spoke onstage, and I hoped I wouldn’t have to don my teacher’s mortarboard again on this occasion.

Whence, you may ask, comes my authority for carping at anyone’s continuity? I’ll have you know I have a doctorate in rhetoric. Once at a school dance when I was about thirteen, the girl I secretly loved allowed me to escort her home. On the way I asked her why had she allowed me to be her lumber?

‘Because you’re the funniest at doing accents.’

My patter – the one thing I was any good at – had got me the girl!

This taught me a valuable lesson. You have to make the most of what you’re given in life, and while my choices for a career – cowboy or French Foreign Legionary – would have provided more excitement, a flair for spoken language (and, later, grammar) were what I had been given. Accordingly, my lifelong quest is to have other people speak better in public.

Okay, it’s doors open time at St Mary’s. Simon welcomes us. He starts off well, speaking clearly in Gaelic and English. He has obviously rehearsed his salutation. I think I’m in safe hands until a judgmental lapse worthy of Theresa May lands on my lap like a cannonball. Uh-oh, he’s now ‘luggin’ it. Simon subjects us to a barrage of ‘ums’, ‘ers’ and ‘likes’ as he tries to explain that there will be a formal element in the proceedings before we’ll be exposed to the musical part of the evening’s entertainment. Fair enough. He and Anna Wendy are going to present HNC certificates to a couple of this year’s students. His entire spiel however lasts for ages. I peg it at about three days. He seems to be lost in a tangle of announcement he simply has to express. But he hasn’t sorted them out beforehand and the result is information overload for members of the audience. I am aghast. Daingeadaidh! This man is a member not just of a group who work at the College but of some über group within the College.

Dear Simon, you’ll really have to jerk out a lot of fatuous prattle from your delivery. Do it like a dentist extracting rotten teeth. As a stopgap measure I suggest you write down what you wish to say – nothing like writing about something to fully understand it – memorize your notes, and deliver them in clear, honest English. Let’s face it: most public speakers in Uist favour a rambling, boring, tangential style of delivery. You’re not the worst offender. You are, however, a much-loved teacher and a pedigree composer. Don’t you want to turn the sow’s ear of your onstage chat into a passable imitation of a silk purse?

I want the members of the group Eabhal who also spoke, namely Jamie MacDonald and Hamish Hepburn, to take these injunctions to bed with them tonight as well.

What about the music? It made my old heart go pitter-patter with pleasure. Chloe Steele sang Sìne Bhàn, a terrific song from Islay. (By the way, in my not so humble opinion, the best Gaelic songs of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries were composed in Islay, Mull and Tiree.) In her desire to hit all the notes bang in the centre she perhaps sacrificed tempo. The most entertaining bagpipe playing of the night came from two young men who came from overseas: one from Austria and the other from Vermont.

After the raffle was drawn, the stage was left to the headliners: Jamie MacDonald (fiddle), Nicky Kirk (guitar), Megan MacDonald (accordion) and Hamish Hepburn (pipes flute and whistle). As expected, they sparkled. The guitar playing of Nicky particularly impressed me.

The billed singer songwriter Wilf Stone intrigued me. He adopted a shouty style of delivery, particularly in his upper register that I first found disconcerting. His forte was a genre which included suffering, injustice and protest songs,  and he didn’t spare himself. Rage is rare in the Gaelice canon, but the urban folk clubs where Wilf learned his trade must be full of highly educated Berghaus wearers with red faces and throbbing veins in their foreheads. They appreciate protest because a lot of features in their lives – I’m not getting into them – make them angry. Wilf’s covers, Waltzing Matilda and The lakes of Pontchartrain, were acceptable. As he went on, however, the intensity of emotion he displayed increased. He sang about a woman whose husband had been hanged for poaching deer. He made me want to get up and shout ‘INJUSTICE FOR THE POACHER’S WIFE!’

What I did, after a final stramash dominated by Nicky, was get up and trap for Grimsay.

I conclude with a freebie for Anna Wendy Stevenson and Simon. How about I conduct a workshop on presentational skills in the autumn?

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