We had a wonderful afternoon at Innerpeffray Library opening their spring exhibition and performing for a lovely audience. For those who may not know, the Library of Innerpeffray is Scotland's oldest lending library, established in 1680. It has a fantastic history and their website has some wonderful information, especially a brilliant film which tells you the history of the library while giving you the broader context of Scottish history too - The Living Library
As songwriting, story telling folk we rely, as you might imagine, on a mighty number of books and book related research. People will try to tell you that everything is on the internet these days but believe me, this is not true! We know that online resources are fabulous and reams of amazing books and maps, images and information can be found - we are especially excited by the online offer from our very own National Library of Scotland The Map pages alone are a fantastic resource but see also their digital section and e-resources with journals, biographies, articles and so much more. But, stepping into libraries and archives is still the best thing, to browse and touch the books, to read little excerpts, to sit a while and pore over things and, if you are lucky, to share what you find with likeminded folk!
Innerpeffray is such a library and we were delighted to put together a programme of songs which were inspired by books and authors. the Scots Gard'ner was one of the books we chose and it's a splendid volume written in 1683 by John Reid. The importance of Reid’s book cannot be overstated, it was a seminal work and a key text for landowners who wanted to advance their knowledge and improve their Scottish estates, many of them are laid out in ways suggested by Reid. “make all the Buildings and Plantings ly so about the House, as that the House may be the Centre: all the Walks, trees and hedges running to the House’.
We discovered that Reid had worked at Lawers House, not far from Innerpeffray, and that after he published his book he took his family to settle in New Jersey. The ever- enterprising Scots! Educated, hard working and well travelled! The song we sang to accompany this book and its author was the Gard'ner wi his Paidle by Robert Burns. Burns's father was also gardener and this song evokes the work, the seasons and the joys of the garden.
We also sang the Lass o Patie's Mill which is a poem by Allan Ramsay and Innerpeffray hold his volumes of poetry. Its a beautiful song with a charming story of how Ramsay was walking with the Earl of Loudon by Patie's Mill on the banks of the Irvine river. His lordship and Allan passed a 'sweet romantic spot where a bonnie lassie was tedding hay bare-headed on the green'. The lord observed to Allan that it would be a fine theme for a song. Ramsay took the hint, and lingering behind he composed the first sketch for it, which he produced later for the earl at dinner.
We were also surprised to find a brilliant connection at the library as its founder, Lord Maderty, had a very famous brother-in-law, the great Marquis of Montrose. The story of Montrose is included in the film, The Living Library but Montrose wrote an inspiring poem before he was executed in 1650. My Dear and Only Love was quoted to troops prior in 1944 by Field Marshall Montgomery - '...he either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small, that dares not put it to the touch, to gain or lose it all....'.
We featured songs by Lady Nairne of course, as well as as a couple of our own songs to compliment the books written about the adventurer Admiral Thomas Cochrane Earl of Dundonald1775-1860. Hero of the Royal Navy; inspiration behind countless novels and films; disgraced MP, revolutionary hero of Peru, Chile, Brazil & Greece. What a life, Fighting with Cochrane! and the books about the Scottish Botanists & Plant Collectors, David Douglas and Archibald Menzies. Their adventures in the Pacific North West of America are incredible in terms of places visited and plants collected.
This is us, mid song! Doing a session on Songs, Books and Authors was something we had long thought about as really, the possibilities are endless and books are so inspiring. We think this theme works well for book festivals and author events so get in touch if you think your exhibition, book signing or festival of words could use a little book inspired music!
Also if you can visit Innerpeffray we highly recommend you do but also, please use your own local library, wherever that might be. These public spaces, with all their resources, continue to come under threat so do what you can to support them! The books are waiting.....