When A Mother Hen Is Visited By A Man Of Many Hats My Scotland Is Filled With Home Comforts.

Hey everyone Its hard to believe that its been three weeks since the first Words and Music of the new year and the next one will be hear before we know it. However this blog has been overtaken by events, well it happens occasionally. I have to say though the fact I misplaced my notes and couldn’t find them for a fortnight may not have helped matters either.

The new year Sammy’s has always been one of my favourite nights of the year and this one more than lived up to that tradition. It was if I say so myself in keeping with the best tradition of a new year Sammy’s night brilliantly chaotic and a wee bit more spontaneous than we sometimes get scope for because of the nature of the night.

With an attendance of 13 this was higher than some recent new year nights when we have dipped in to single figures. However with a top quality featured writer in Marc Sherland there was no danger of that being the case this year even if there were a number of late call offs due to that lethal combination of illness and seasonal weather. However as my granny always told me a night out is about those who made rather than those who did not as there will be plenty of time to catch up with them later when they once more find their place at the table.

On to events of the evening and as before I got the event under way I got everyone to raise their glasses and drink a toast to friendship, words, music and Sammy’s. The toast done I thought it was my job as the hostess of the event to kick off proceedings by reading the first poem of the evening which fittingly enough was a poem on new year resolutions titled Brand New You. Well it’s something we girls always promise ourselves every year, whether some of us like for example me can deliver on this promise is another matter entirely.

Having kicked off the year I made way for the first of the programmed readers and it was our very own Pamela Duncan who really got Words and Music 2014 by first footing us in style with two of her poems which illustrated two very different sides to her writing. Her first poem Alone On A New Year’s Eve, illustrated that while the festive season is for most of us the season to be jolly it is not the case for all of us and indeed for some people it can actually be the saddest time of year. Well when all they have memories and Auld Lang Syne who can blame them if they feel alone.

In her second poem Computer News Pamela delivered an excellent and thought provoking piece on the wonders of modern technology. This is something with which poets can readily identity as we are often wonder why the damn thing never works when we need it to. This is especially true when we have a new poem to print and suddenly just as we are about to print the computer decides to crash for no other reason than the fact it can.

After Pamela it was Catherine Walker who next to grace the stage with a set I can only describe as stunning. Though not making her debut at Words and Music, Catherine was making a welcome and in my opinion long overdue return. I have to say, I have been a long time admirer of Catherine’s work and her set of three poems showed exactly why with three poems on a diverse range of topics. In her first poem The Other Christmas told us all that this recession has even impacted on Santa who is now working on minimum wage. This poem though comic in tone brought home the power of the recession all too clearly and was proof if proof were needed of the power of satire to tell it like it is.

In her next two poems Wild Haggis and the beautiful Let Me Honour Your Country Catherine looked at two different aspects of Scottishness Firstly the idea of Haggis running about in the field a myth believed by many foreign tourists and in Let Me Honour Your Country Catherine uses the fact that she is an adopted Scot to good effect in as genuine and sincere a tribute poem as I have ever heard in the name of any nation. All in all this was a set of breathtaking quality from a voice I know well but which the performance deserves to know a whole lot better.

Normally, following a poet of Catherine’s calibre would be a very difficult ask, but this is Words and Music where things are never normal. So bearing that in mind John McGlade was the perfect man to take the stage. In what he described as a topical review of 2013 no target was safe from John’s lethal wit. Amongst those who should be flattered but probably won’t be are Johann Lamont, Gordon Ramsey, Nigel Farage,and David Cameron. Is it just me or does anyone notice a common theme here, namely dodgy right wingers who oppose our Independence. As I said maybe it’s just me but I think targeting that little lot did John no harm whatsoever.

After John it was the turn of another regular Jim Ewing whose story the Atomic Christ was highly enjoyable. Now I don’t know if it’s because I am a Christian but I always find that Jim can manage to get faith in to a story without in any way making non-christians feel uncomfortable about their particular position. I think it might be the fact that Jim has a gift to combine both humour and morality but whatever the reason I always enjoy the work of a man whom I genuinely like and respect.

After Jim it was time to welcome back Susan Milligan to the Sammy’s stage after her enforced absence for personal reasons. I don’t know why but I think the break may have done Susan some good as she delivered one of best ever sets in the wee back room. Starting with her personal tribute poem to the victims of the Clutha, Susan went on to deliver a set of four poems. She followed her tribute to the Clutha with something a wee bit lighter and Candlelit Supper was a take off on the social snobbery of keeping up appearances. The next topic to be tackled was one which has sometimes been a thorny issue for her in the past by reading her latest poem on relationships entitled Last Look. In this poem Susan experiments by using comedy in a poem which could have fallen flat its face but this tactic seemed to work. Then finally Susan decided to get us all in the mood for sunnier days she concluded with one of my favourites of hers I Don’t Think You Know What I Did This Summer. As I said I think the break may have done her some good because she certainly came back refreshed and I for one hope she keeps up the good work.

As Susan returned to her seat it was the turn of Linda Grant to entertain the company and entertain she certainly did with a set of three poems Close Encounters, Special Case, and Last Look I have to say my favourite from this lot was without doubt Special Case is it sums up perfectly the chaos which can happen when you are in one country and your case is in another one. Now I don’t know why but this poem does tend to remind me of a story by one of my favourite comedians. No I don’t mean Alasdair Darling and I certainly don’t mean David Cameron there second rate jokers and they are not very funny. I refer to a comedian who always knows how to tickle my funny bone the silver tongued Irish tottie magnet Ed Byrne. Not that Linda would have the faintest idea who I’m talking about,but her poem was good and so was her set and that is all that matters to a writer and performer who has improved greatly in the last year.

After Linda I decided to take us to the break by reading a poem which was a million miles away from the Christmas and the season of goodwill. Home comforts is a poem with a very misleading title focusing as it does on those society rejects. It talks about groups on the margins who would have found very little good cheer during the festive season. It is I hope a poem which is grounded in the real world which can be a very gray and unpleasant place for those denied access to the green and pleasant land some of us sing when we attend church on Sunday mornings. Having cheered the audience up to exalted heights of euphoria I decided now might be the perfect time to take our much needed and well deserved bar break.

During the break I got the chance to socialise with my friend Heather Caldwell along with her friend Maureen and John McGlade’s other half Neema is rapidly becoming Sammy’s regular attendance. As we chatted Heather said how much she enjoyed the nights which were now a regular part of her social diary and the fact that it was a slightly smaller attendance than she’s been used to gave me more time to chat to a quality friend.

After the break it was time for our featured writer and as recent tradition dictates the featured writer is an adopted Scot who has made this country home. This year it was turn of a Kent born adopted Greenock boy Marc Sherland. A close friend of mine Marc has contributed much to the Scottish writers scene over the years, being a former founding member of the Federation of Writers Scotland and indeed its first ever chair. Mark is a many of hats, or perhaps I should say waistcoats such is his fondness for colourful attire. Amongst his many other ventures he is facilitator of Larkfield Writers and Glasgow Writers Group at the Gallery of Modern Art and he is also a key member of the Scottish Association Writers, and the Workers Education Association, so with a pedigree like that I knew we would be for a quality featured writers slot and I was right.

Marc started his set by taking us on a tour of his childhood as he read Unrefined in which he talked with warmth about the old Greenock and the James Watt dock where he watched the sugar boats come to his town seeing the sugar unrefined before it made its way to the town’s Tate and Lyle refinery. He follow this great start by continuing the Greenock theme with poems titled Refined and Banana Boat. However being a man who is equally at home with prose as he is with poetry Marc showed his prosaic talents with the story of the trial of Maggie Laing an enthralling story about a woman who was tried as a witch. Trust me Marc is a master storyteller and a damn fine prose writer and this shows a man who devotes time and energy to his craft.

In the penultimate poem of his set, Marc paid homage to one of his favourite poets by reading Strawberries by Edwin Morgan. I have to say this poem is a particular favourite of mine and I really enjoyed the way Marc brought the words to life providing a depth and meaning to the imagery which shows to me at least why poetry must be read and not just left on the page. Marc concluded his set with an excellent poem Vagabond Highway which was as enjoyable as it was thought provoking and as Pamela pointed out Marc being the consummate performer timed his set to exactly 20 minutes and wasn’t even a second over time. I wish everyone was that organised but then if they were it may take away some of the madness for which our event is famous.

Normally the featured writer is followed by the featured musician but not on this occasion as due to crossed lines of communication I couldn’t get a featured musician. This was because I had tried to get Eryn Strachen who is a close friend of Marc but couldn’t manage but maybe I relaxed too much when Marc said he may persuade Catherine Walker to take the featured music slot but Catherine politely declined so I ended with no musician I did attempt to ask Marc if he fancied taking it on but he said no on the ground he’s a music lover and did not to wish to inflict his singing voice on the company.

That being the case it was time to move on to the traditional Words and Music raffle. Since there were only a few of us in attendance everyone managed I managed to win a prize this year and I made sure I selected mince pies are they are usually reserved for Andy Fleming. However I’m sure that Andy won’t mind especially since he couldn’t make it up and I feel it is important for him to know that they went to a good home.

Anyway after good stories from Eric Wylie And Harry MacDonald it was time for me to bring the curtain down on the first Words and Music of 2014.
I started my set which was slightly longer than usual with Can’t Get In. This poem about the social exclusion of disabled people was written for my friend and former colleague Pamela Duncan who is a prominent disability equality campaigner and a member of the Labour Party. Yes there is another Pamela Duncan in my life though I call her Pam to avoid confusion and just like our Pamela she is a very good friend of mine who fights for a better world.

With January being the month of Celtic Connections I was I think only natural that I followed this up by reading the Multi Linguist about a talented young musician I know. It may have the shortest poem in my set but it was no less powerful in it’s impact. Staying on the Celtic theme I then made the difficult choice to read Descendant. I say this was difficult for a very particular reason. You see the poem was written as a tribute to my maternal grandmother Jessie MacDonald Robertson Russell who was a woman of culture and substance. I say it was difficult to read this poem because the performance took place on the 6th of January 32 years to the day since the day she was taken from us to go to her final rest. However I think my gran would be proud of the fact that her granddaughter held it together even if it was a close call.

If I am completely honest it was the next poem which actually got me even more emotional. Mother Hen has always been a favourite of mine since the moment I wrote it, but the fact it is also a favourite of Laura Wilkie is probably why it’s so difficult to perform. Well Laura has always been a close and valued friend and if anyone can reduce me to a quivering wreck it’s definitely her. As she fine well knows she and a certain Rachel Sermanni can always bring out the inner mammy in me and that gives this poem even more of a personal meaning to me.

After composing myself I decided to finish the evening with My Scotland. This poem which was inspired by my friend and fellow poet Laura Hainey, is a look at some of the things which make me proud of my country but it also acknowledges a couple of faults we have which may lead to the misty eye syndrome which tends to hold my country back from being all she can be.

So with all the performers having graced the stage to welcome in another year it was time not to think of the past for Auld Lang Syne but to look to the future and the promise of many good nights of words and music both in our wee back room and in many other places the length and breadth of our country and beyond. However I have to say that when a .mother hen is visited a by a man of many hats my Scotland is filled with home comforts

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X

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