As we get ready to welcome in the Words And Music bells in the usual creative but chaotic fashion these nights demand of us it’s time to look back on a Christmas Cracker which have all three E’s I would expect of these occasions it was eventful, enjoyable, and entertaining.
As is always the case I kicked off the night bang on 8 o’ clock and I started with a couple of newly written festive or should that be festival themed poems. I opened the night with a short Christmas poem titled Beneath The Tree in which I hope I captured the spirit of Christmas and the dreams, hopes, and expectations of the season. I followed this with a poem on the event which is without doubt my favourite musical highlight in the run up to Christmas and that and those who know me well will not surprised by this is the Scottish Traditional Music Awards also know as Na Trads. The poem titled Runrig For Milenials was inspired by my flatmate Janette who shall we say is not quite as well versed in the traditional music scene as I am and on seeing the bilingual band Tidelines said that they were the world’s first gaelic boyband. This gave me the idea for the poem and when I jokingly said they could be the new Runrig. I had no choice but to write it and Runrig For Milenials seemed like the only natural choice for the title.
Having debued two new poems and got the night started in the usual manner it was now time to hand over the night to the billed performers and first up was a long standing friend of both myself and Words And Music and Steve Allan. On this occasion Steve shared two of his classic pieces starting with his excellent and thought provoking poem Anti-Clockwise before moving on to his hilarious story Bear Necessities.
Steve was followed to the stage by debut girl Eileen Ellis whose excellent modern day take on the Christmas story Bridie And The Evil Warlock was a wonderfully heartwarming way to show her talent to a new and appreciative audience who I’m sure will see a lot more of her in the months and years to come.
Jim Ewing was next to take the stage and in a short but enjoyable set he read Four Weeks In Advent and a told a joke about the Christmas Grinch .
As Jim went back to his seat I was reminded that it is Christmas brings families together and that includes poetry families so it was a lovely surprise to welcome my prodigal fierce big sister Lesley Traynor back in to the fold. On taking the stage Lesley performed two poems Autumn Is A Good Month On Which To Float On Trees and Scones which she wrote on the Greenock poet W S Graham.
As the prodigal sister exited stage left it was time to welcome Susan McKinestry to her first ever Christmas Cracker. After a few months of persuasion Susan finally made her debut in March this year and has become a club regular in the last few months with her hard hitting style of social commentaries becoming her trademark style for a performer who says it as she sees it. Like many of the performers on the night Susan decided not to go down the seasonal route and instead performed two pieces Good News and Hey Listen which were more in keeping with her topical style.
At the end of a thought provoking set, one Susan was replaced by another and it was the turn of seasoned regular Susan Milligan to make her contribution to our cracker and she did it in the style she’s made her own with two poems a song. Susan started her set with In Ma Ain Wee Way and in it told the story of how she celebrates Christmas with her cats. This was followed by Tinsil in which she had a gentle dig at the commercialisation of the festive season before finishing with a song entitled I’d Rather Be A Pauper Than In Debt and you know now that we’ve reached January I’m sure there are many families thinking it would be nice Susan if only we’d the choice.
After Susan’s entertaining set I welcomed our very own Christmas Robin and the Robin in question was of course the maestro himself Robin Cairns. In this set Robin performed two poems the first of which Easy Tiger has the theme of compassion. This is a value which fits in to the Christmas story as in it he narrates the story a young lad who had one mistake and why he cut him some slack when others of a more judgemental ilk wouldn’t have done so. Robin followed this with Socks a light hearted poem on what every man gets for Christmas when people can’t think of what else to buy them and I have to admit it got more than a few laughs from the assembled gathering.
As Robin ended his contribution for the cracker and indeed the year it was time for Scotland’s best loved editor Alan MacGlas to take us to the bar break in his unique style and he did it by performing his enthralling piece Quarter Days in which he tells the story of people paying their debts to society. On that cheerful note it was time to conclude the events of an excellent first half of the night and look forward to fantastic featured acts. As I enjoyed catch up’s with old friends and new it was with anticipation I waited for the start of the second half
As I brought the break to an end it was time to reveal what message I had found in the first of my Christmas crackers and that message was the name of our featured writer. Honestly I was gobsmacked at this revelation especially since this year the crackers had been put together not by Santa but by his assistant Buddy The Elf and Buddy you did an excellent job when you found me Karen Jones to step in to Christmas and on to the stage as featured writer for the Christmas Cracker of 2017.
Karen for those of you who don’t know and have just arrived back from a parallel universe is a story teller of supreme quality and I was delighted to have a woman of her talents to lead us in to Christmas and beyond and eagerly anticipated a brilliant set which is exactly what I got from a performer of real star quality.
Karen (pictured below) started her set with Clairvoyant a story about a boy who is best pals with his cousin and there close bond leads them to think they can read each other’s minds. This is anyone who has had such close bond will know is often a recipe for chaos, calamity and confusion but hey that’s entertainment and this highly entertaining story got Karen’s set off to the perfect start.
Picture (1) Featured Writer Karen Jones leaves the audience spellbound with her storytelling magic at the Words And Music Christmas Cracker.
In her next story Karen takes us back to her teenage years and the world before the days of the social media. In those days which were also my teenage years we had to resort to the magic art of letter writing and Karen captures this beautifully in her story The Truth About Snow where she recalls her distant relationship with her Japanese pen pal as she had wanted to write to someone from a more as she thought glamourous nation. I confess here and now that had I been in Karen’s shoes I would have had exactly the same reaction. Disapointed that her pen pal only wanted to learn the truth about snow Karen longed for what she might have considered a proper pen pal with whom she could share teenage talk on music, boys and sex. Well it was and is perfectly natural to want to talk about these things I remember having these interests myself and if you substitute boys for men I still do. However there is a moral to this story which is to be careful what you wish for , as when Karen finally got a Swedish pen pal she discovered more about real boys and real sex than she did when our 1970’s school teachers tried to give us that embarrassing facts of life chat that the school insisted they must and looking back at the end of a lovely trip down Karen concluded that she wished had made more of an effort to be kinder to her pen friend and wished she had told her the truth about snow.
In typical Scottish style our storytelling sensation moved us with effortless ease from friendship to sectarianism when she detailed the challenges of working in her grandparents shop in the largely Celtic supporting Gorbals area of Glasgow during the orange marching season. The story titled How Smiles Shine In Darkness which has since been published in The Nottingham Review shows the lengths people including me will go to in order to avoid this annual scar on a Glasgow summer. I loved the idea of the narrator’s grandparents bringing down the jukebox to drown out the tunes of hate.
From sectarianism we journey to feminism and in Flipped, Karen relates the story of a woman who decides to stop domestic duties and fulfil her duty to herself and that was to be happy. This is a story which for very personal reasons I can strongly identify with and I have to admit listening to it was an empowering and liberating experience for me.
Karen then went on to Grief For Beginners which is about a mine at a funeral and The Girl She Never Was which relates the story of a homeless girl in the railway station and the way society reacts to both her and her problems before finishing a wonderful 20 minutes with the heartwrenching story When Nobody’s Looking. This story narrated from the point of view of a child tells of an old woman who the child believes is dying but nobody listens to her believing that the child is exaggerating and the old woman should be left alone to enjoy her privacy. Unfortunately for the adults the child was proven right and the old woman slipped away when no-one was looking. To me this story sums up the cultural attutude both in Scotland and the UK in this current climate. We have as the child in this story moved away from caring for others to being a nation of individuals where everyone looks after number one and shuts the door on the rest of the world. As this well told tale clearly illustrates we’ve created a country where nobody talks to anybody anymore. This is bourne out by the fact in a recent survey 1 in 10 older people speak to someone less than once a week. This was a brilliant story on a really challenging topic and the perfect way to end an enjoyable and thought provoking set.
As our fetured writer departed the stage it was time for our featured musican to entertain us and as I opened the second Christmas cracker this morning I knew that Buddy had been a very wise elf when he selected Bernadette Collier to perform this task.
Needless to say Bernadette rose to the ocassion as I knew she would and performed six songs which not only showed the range of her repertoire but also won many new fans including some of the snooker players who stopped playing just to give her a listen.
Bernadette (pictured below) started her set with A Proper Gardiner before moving on to the more up tempo Asking Us To Dance. This was followed by Travelling Soldier, and My Old Friend The Blues, before concluding a fantastic set with what 80’s comedian turned author Ben Elton would describe as a little bit of comedy with The Quine Who Did The Strip At Invarary and finishing up a real feel good 20 minutes with The Yorkshire Couple about a more mature couple who were at it like rabbits but not with each other. This was a brilliant way to end our featured slots for the year and I know we’ll get more great featured acts throughout 2018 and beyond.
Picture (2) Our featured musican Bernadette Collier won a number of new fans with a wonderful set at the Words And Music Christmas Cracker.
Having had both our headline acts show exactly why I booked them and with nobody else left to perform it was left to me bring both the night and the year to a close and send us all in to what I hoped would be a funfilled Christmas poetry season with my final set of the year. I started with two new Christmas poems before finishing up the year with an old familiar favourite which hints at a wee bit of mischief which may have taken place. In my first poem Christmas Cheer which was inspired by the positive faith led actions of my friend Samantha Naidoo I relate the tale of how the homeless are or at least appear to be locked out of our homes and our hearts on Christmas Day as we comfort ourselves with that seasonal combination of a turkey dinner and the Strictly Christmas Special.
Moving on to my next poem A Good Result I show my faith at a more personal level by taking a light hearted look at the Christmas Fayre which was held at my local church. This being my penultimate poem of the year I wanted to show a personal side to my work and how proud I am of a church which is rooted in our local community and I hope I did so with a touch of both reverance and humour.
For my final poem I reverted to one of my Christmas classic and performed Stocking Thrillers. This poem tells the tragic tale of what happened when a girl sought the chance to spice up her love life by the misseltoe in a very unusual location. The result was chaos confusion and calamity at the end of which her boyfriend claims that this year’s present will be of a very different nature.
And so it was over and another year of Words And Music goes in to the history books and becomes part of the folklore of the event. As I look back on the last 12 months I see a year in which we have settled in to our new surroubdings and the made the Tin Hut home in the same way Sammy’s was for so many of us. It is with that thought that we head in 2018 in optimistic heart remembering that It’s Not The Gifts Beneath The Tree Which Bring You Christmas Cheer It’s Moments Of Mistletoe Madness When We Learn The Truth About Snow
Till next time