Nicky once had a wonderful opportunity to sing at the House of Dun near Montrose. It was many years ago and, at the time, Nicky didn't know much about the history of the house - only that the group she was singing with then, Oliverburn Singers, had been very fortunate to perform in such a gorgeous drawing room!
PlaidSong have performed in various lovely venues including Castle Menzies and Leith Hall but the House of Dun is still on our wish list of places to revisit not least because of one of our latest songs, The Gean Trees. This song is one we are really pleased with and has come out of our time in lockdown - so, we have been productive!
The House of Dun was the home of Violet Jacob who was born there in 1836. She became a writer and is known for her poetry, mostly, and a very fine Jacobite novel, Flemington. The area around Montrose and the House of Dun itself are the setting for this novel which was described by John Buchan as 'the best scots romance since The Master of Ballantrae..."
How did we come to know of her poetry? Well PlaidSong are rather keen on all things Jacobite as many of you will know! so the novel was one we had both read. However, it was singing another popular song and researching it that we found out more. The Wild Geese, one of Violet's poems, was set to music by Angus singer songwriter Jim Reid and is known as the Norlan' Wind. It is a melancholy conversation between the poet and the North Wind - she asks the wind, coming from the north, what saw ye on the way? and yearns for home. It's such a beautiful song we searched for more words.
Syd is always working on various melodies and small snatches of tune, ready to build it into something more and, back in 2017, Nicky found the words of a Violet Jacob poem fitted perfectly to a tune Syd had been working on. It's a lovely poem, all about a weary shepherd who is working hard to woo his lass! Its slightly comic and yet it shows Violet's ability to observe life and convey a character in love. We called the song The Shepherd to his Love and it's been well received when we have performed it.
Lockdown brought more music to mind and time to work on various sets and pieces. Being able to sing together has been something we are very grateful for as it has kept us going through such a difficult time for everyone. We know people miss live music, we do! We miss our gigs and our audiences but it's nice to work hard on getting the songs together for recording. Nicky was thinking about researching Violet's life and telling more of her story through songs and poems. So, we found more words in Violet's collection, Songs of Angus and one which struck us both was The Gean Trees. Beautiful words and a romantic sentiment, again one that recalls the past, perfect for PlaidSong!
Violet travelled after her marriage in 1894 as her husband's regiment was transferred to India, South Africa and also Egypt - she loved the freedom of life abroad and embraced the culture and spent her time exploring the countryside, learning the languages and painting flowers. She was also writing. She was quite an extraordinary woman and we hope to explore her life further. She lost her only son in the Great War in 1916, a tragedy which brought immense grief. Her son Harry was 20 and, as they wrote on his memorial, his love was their joy.
Nicky enjoys setting lyrics to Syd's music and carried an old edition of Songs of Angus on her wedding day instead of flowers. For us it's a special collection of poems and we hope you will find out more about Violet, and maybe read some of her poetry and please, enjoy The Gean Trees
click this link to listen Gean Trees and Norlan Wind