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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 

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

Gayle X

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Runrig For Millennials

This poem was inspired by a comment from my friend and flatmate Janette whilst we were watching at my insistence the Scottish Traditional Music Awards (aka #NaTrads) On  seeing the band Tidelines and being more impresed than she thought she would by them (It has to be said traditional music is not Janette’s usaul area) she claimed they were the world’s first Gaelic boyband. It has to be said that this set me thinking and I’ve written this poem which I’ve titled Runrig For Millennials. I came up with this title purely because of the enduring popularity of Runrig over the years and I can assure you it has nothing to with the looks in which Tidelines definitely have the edge I hope you enjoy the read. 

Runrig For Millennials 

I  saw them at Na Trads

my flatmate called them a gaelic boyband

they can sing in two languages

stardom beckons within the traditional music world

and if enough girls follow them

they could be Runrig for millennials 

shining a light on the future

with songs for the 21st century

with positive progressive lyrics

and an identity shaped for the modern age

they will help to make our ancient language

relevant for a new generation

multi culturalism isn’t just confined

to gaining knowledge of Polish or Arabic

sometimes it can be found closer to home

in the understanding of our own language, culture, and traditions

so often mocked by those who beg for privilege 

and call our culture feinian talk

the colonials who walk in the loyal marching season

give no reason for their misplaced allegiance

I question why they give their loyalty to another country

but ugly shouting as all they’ve got 

meanwhile a new band shows the way forward

promoting understanding through stories told in songs

they cannot change the wrongs

of a past written before they were born

but instead tell the stories of this time 

their time to shine

like the stars you see

shining on a hebrideen sunset 

© Gayle Smith 2017

The Day The Phoenix Rises 

This poem draws on the stories of my ancestors who told me about the importance of the phoenix in guarding the laws of Scotland and Ireland and the belief that our countries will finally be free of British rule on the day the phoenix rises. It is for that reason I have given it the title The Day The Phoenix Rises. I hope you enjoy the read. 
The Day The Phoenix Rises

Outsiders

we were scorned on arrival 

in a cold uncaring place 

 locals claimed we were not the same as them 

using language and religion as excuses to label us 

boasting of their achievements

as part of an empire

they were unaware their own culture was scorned 

Scots or Irish a Celt can never be 

reborn as a Brit

when they were told this 

the new order got angry 

they were beyond unhappy

when the Irish community formed a football club 

which would be open to those of  all faiths and none 

when trophies were won we were feared and hated 

the angry brigade felt threatened 

that their fragile identity had been questioned 

there were suggestions we should go home 

as those with blood on their hands

conveniently forgot  it was they 

who did the clearing 

which left us dispossessed 

the victims of cultural genocide

in the Celtic heartlands from which I am descended 

 I’ve always known my blood is the blood of twin tribes 

both of which were marginalised 

the Irish  and the Islanders share 

a history of oppression

with stolen lands taken from the people 

and given to those who would obey colonial orders

without questioning why 

in Culloden and Atherny 

the pain lives on  in the lyrics of our songs

and the hearts of those who know 

the history the oppressers tried to ban 

along with our culture and traditions 

that however was a big mistake to make

in their determination to break us 

they inspired a spirit of resistance

they will not quell 

hell will freeze over before we ever accept 

the label outsiders 

It is not who we are nor will it ever be 

our freedom will come on the day the phoenix rises 

to take us home from the ashes of a ruined estate 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

Active Citizens 

As a spoken word poet I am rightly proud of our tradition of activism on just about every topic you could name. From Apartheid to Women’s rights poets have opinions on everything and not afraid to voice them. This is something we share with all performers, but in this poem I take a look at musicians both folk and pop, and in particular the protest songs written over the years to express support of causes and campaigns to document an important part of social history . Whilst some of the songs, I’ve incorporated in to this poem may be very obviously political others may initially at least  strike you as slightly less so but when you look closely at the lyrics you’ll see they may be more radical than you think . I’ve given it the title Active Citizens as I have  long held the belief that the creative community are often a government’s more effective critics. I hope you enjoy the read. 
Active Citizens
My journey started with McGinn of The Calton 

who sang of  a may day for the ordinary people

and women pining for the pill .

Glen Daly told the story

of a wild colonial boy 

whose spirit will always live 

in the hearts of rebels with or without causes

the Corries took me over the sea to Skye 

while the hills of Donegal 

and the fields of Anthery 

showed the other side of my family tree 

both sides displaced in the name of the great white sheep 

and generations later the Proclaimers 

lamented the industrial clearances 

when they sent a letter from America

and narrated Scotland’s story 

as a  land of migrants 

throughout our history 

our so-called masters have ignored us 

attempted to silence our voices 

in the name of their false unity 

but our community remains strong

writing and  singing  the protest songs 

that expose them and their cruel deeds

carried out in the name of greed and personal gain 

meanwhile though she took a train to Leeds Central in 1989.  

we are still  looking for Linda 

and when we find her 

she will know she is one of  Jock Tamsons Bairns 

regardless of where she was born 

you see  where you are from can only be the first verse 

the starting point of the protest song

what follows is the journey about where your going to

and  how we help you get there 

by listening to the lyrics 

and the lessons they teach us for the future 

we can’t afford to be seduced and abandoned

by falling for lies and false promises 

or ignoring the 1 in 10 

we need to send the selfish homeward 

make them think again on the consequences of their behaviour 

their attitudes that make me a very angry girl 

I come from the generation who dared to feed the world 

and ask when there would be a harvest for it 

a harvest we could share 

with west end girls and smalltown boys 

we can’t let politicians create 100 000 Allentown’s 

or hold back the years in a vain attempt 

to keep us in what they think is our place 

in the rat trap they’ve created over years and centuries

to preserve what they see as the natural order 

with those McGinn sang of at the bottom 

with independence lies the hope of a better Scotland 

though we will still have our problems 

and protest songs to sing 

in the hope of the finding solutions 

as creatives we have always been political 

critical of our establishment regardless of party colours

and as our future governments will discover

we will always be active citizens

speaking out on the issues that matter. 

.© Gayle Smith 2017 

The Danny Kyle Showcase Finalists. The Class Of 2017 

Hey Readers As many of you will be aware I am a huge fan of traditional music. This means that one of the highlights of my year comes as early as January, though sometimes as was the case this year it can stretch in to early February. I refer of course to the 17 days musical feast that is  Celtic connections where the traditional culture of Scotland and Ireland meet many other styles from all over the world and combine to give my city the best possible way to banish the winter blues. 

Featured Picture The Class Of 2017 Smile for the cameras on final night of the Danny Kyle Open Stage. 

Though I love the big ticket concerts and the chance to see top name stars such as Cherish The Ladies , The Chair , Dick Gaughan , and Treacherous Orchestra. There is one event above all others, which I hold close to my heart and that event is The Danny Kyle Open Stage.

This event is very much part of my personal Celtic Connections it runs every night of the festival  and has done for more years than I care to remember. It has been the launchpad for to  many a glittering career including  current  stars  such as Karine Polwart, The Chair , and Iona Marshall and will I’m sure be aware the starting place for many more in years to come.  It is to celebrate the traditional music I love and the January family it brought me that I share these photographs of The Class Of 2017 Danny Kyle Finalists. I hope you enjoy them. 

(Picture 1 ) Brighton based band An Dha were first to grace the showcase with a set which was heavily influenced by a visit to the Isle Of Skye and whose haunting melodies will leave you feeling that you’ve been taken a very enchanted and magical place.

Picture (2) Is of the only solo performer to grace the showcase this year. The brilliant  Marianne McGregor may live in Dennistoun, but this  Orcaedian singer was in my opinion the stand out performer of the year. With a voice of the quality of Rachel Sermanni and a quirky style of catchy folk / pop lyrics I haven’t heard the likes of since Anna Meldrum ,  Marianne joins many fellow islanders including the Chair and Broken Strings in taking her well deserved place in the Danny’s hall of fame. 

Picture (3) Features The Magpies This Glasgow band played a range of songs and tunes which ably demonstrated their wide repititoire of playing music from all corners of the British Isles. This eclectic trio have a real passion in their music and it shows in their professional polished playing style 

Picture (4) Shows Avocet  This trio combine blues, folk, and jazz in a way which is easy on the ear and pleasing to the audiences wherever they play 

Picture (5) The final performance of the Showcase was from Dopesickfly  This  band got the crowd smiling with a mix of Rock and Funk with edgy poetic lyrics. Surely proof if proof were needed that the open stage truly lives up to it’s name and is always willing to bring new ideas to the party 

Picture (6) The prizewinners with the exception of Whyte who couldn’t play on this occasion due to illness) pose for photographs as our compere Liz Clark offers her congratulations watched by the wee bust of the of the wee man in a bunnet in whose memory the event was named.  I am talking of course of a man I was proud to know the one and only Danny Kyle. 

Picture (7) One for the road as I miraculously managed to capture all award winners holding their awards in one picture. My congratulations goes to all as they now take the first steps on the road to bigger things and they do it as the class of 2017. 

Love And Best Wishes

Gayle X 

Quartet 

Hey Readers As I look back on the magic that was Celtic Connections one of my highlights from this year’s festival came on a cold and windswept Thursday night when I was lucky enough to get the chance to see Fara and Cherish The Ladies. This was the ultimate in what some in the media would call  Celtic girl power though to be honest I think woman power would be a far more accurate description. Being a big fan of both bands particularly Fara, this was must see show and I’m so glad I got a ticket for what was an amazing evening of entertainment. It is with this memory still firmly in my mind I decided to write a poem to a band who will always have a place in my heart that band are Fara. As there are four members in the band I have given it the title Quartet I hope you enjoy the read. 

Quartet 

On a cold January night

four Orcadians take to the stage 

warming the hearts of the audience 

daughters of tradition they compliment each other well 

 playing hornpipes, jigs, and reels 

to get feet stamping, toes tapping

and smiles on faces 

as they play the winter wind stops to listen 

and in doing so  calms for a while

then casting rivalries aside

they play tunes from a Shetland fiddler

this quartet who grew up together 

know each other well 

there is chat between sets 

though it has to be said 

one member, is the blether of the band 

Jeana has the crowd in the palm of her hand 

as they play tunes they composed 

with passion pride and power 

on listening I am taken to a faraway place 

I am in no hurry to leave 

I didn’t manage to get their CD 

but the memories created will last 

as  long as time endures 

in the cold of late winter 

I am warmed by daughters of tradition 

who claim their inheritance 

with passion, pride, and power 

all too soon they depart the stage 

leaving the night to others 

I return from my faraway place 

knowing I will visit again 

to see the band who made my heart dance

on a night I saw stars 

shine in the January sky 

@ Gayle Smith 2017