Saturday, 13 October 2012

Carrying A Story to the End of The Land {part 2}

{continued from part 1 here}

The next morning calls for action: we have to prepare the barn at Elshieshields where we are to tell our story later that day. I hang an exhibition of my paintings around the whitewashed stone walls, we rig rudimentary stage curtains and  hang my silhouette backdrop which accompanies all the stories in front of the woodburner. Chairs are laid out. Rain hammers on the roof. Dougie is our right hand man - helping and organising and arranging beyond the call of duty. Em and their girls bake cakes for the audience meanwhile in the kitchen

Only one photo emerges from the actual event, which turns out to be a most excellent success. The fire flickers behind the silhouette forest, and Tom's voice and my accordion weave together artfully to tell the tale they had come here to tell. This time we are less anxious, but worry that that will mean we are not on the ball enough. The concerns of perfectionists never cease! The other photographs here of us being silly in front of the backdrop are taken after the performance by Dougie. We are glad and relieved and even more exhausted.

But there is a rare recording of this story, made by clamping our recording device to the beam above our heads. Here it is for those of you who think you might never get to one of our tellings. It's an hour and a half long, so save it for a rainy broth-bubbling firelit afternoon. Forgive our hiccups and enjoy the journey!

That evening we set a large table in the barn where the audience had sat and eat dinner with friends amid my candlelit paintings. 

And Dougie and Em's daughter Mara serenades us beautifully and shyly on her harp. 

Over the next few days we have a chance to rest and enjoy time with our friends. Ann Shukman, who owns Elshieshields tower and who was responsible for instigating our Russian-themed storytelling here, kindly shows us around the tower which houses her incredible collection of icons and other Russian art. Forgive the mediocre quality of my photos, but the tour was in low light, and fairly quick!


On these resting days, we sit with Em, Dougie, Fern and Mara in the grass and chat, we walk with Macha amongst trees, we sleep and read and laugh and eat food around a fire. We are even visited by a sparrowhawk who arrives injured and has to be taken away by the RSPCA to mend.

Then, all too soon, it is time to leave... We must head to Glasgow through yet more rain to our next stop: The Galgael Trust. An organisation with probably my favourite logo ever, and who cannot cheer for premises on an industrial estate stating established 9th Century?!

The Galgael Trust is situated in the heart of Govan, a notoriously deprived area of Glasgow on the south side of the river Clyde. Govan was once home to a world renowned shipbuilding industry which over the latter part of the twentieth century saw a massive decline. In place of shipyards today, there is widespread long term unemployment, social problems and severe poverty. The Galgael Trust was created to fight this by rebuilding a lost sense of community, craft and connection to the land. They seek to reform links with the ancient tribes of the Gael by building wooden sea going rowed longships - the Birlinn - and creating once more a heart, a warm hub to this community which has had its heart broken. Or as one person described it to us: "people here have been disenclanchised".
As their website says:

The very name GalGael is our way of re-rooting these notions of identity in nourishing ground and recognises that there is both a bit of the stranger and a bit of the native in us all. In history, Gal Gaidheal were a 9thC people; the Gal - the ‘strange or foreign’ Norse, embraced by the Gael - the 'heartland people'.

We are welcomed out of the rain into a cosy and beautiful reception room, full of carved wooden objects, and cheerful salty Glaswegians. 

We are brought tea and biscuits and water for Macha and sit there drying off and taking in the beauty and craft around us in this refuge-on-an-industrial-estate.
An old local woman has popped in to have a Victorian Whipping Top mended, and sits drinking tea there too whilst it is done. We feel at home.
A portrait on the wall celebrates Colin McLeod, beloved departed founder of the Galgael.

Beyond the reception room is a cavernous workshop. High ceilinged and bedecked all around with interesting carvings and boats and friendly folk.

People are already moving benches and old shipping paraphernalia, setting the scene for a cosy storytelling in an industrial workshop. How incongruous the venues we choose can be! We begin unloading my paintings from the van to put on display and almost instantly armies of helpful people rush to our aid with hammers and boards and ropes and nails and "where would you like that?"s. I've never had so much help setting up a show before!

A monstrous industrial burner (that big green thing on the left below) is lit to serve as firelight for my backdrop. Normally this pumps hot air around this cavernous space to warm the workers in winter. I mentioned that I needed a chair to sit on to play the accordion and they brought me a hand carved throne!

Soon enough the scene is becoming cosier and seats are laid out. As the nerves make their unwelcome yet unavoidable appearance, Gehan and Ian show us the boats.

And I practise my tunes in possibly the most apocalyptic setting yet.

This performance is the best of the tour. All the seats are filled, and the audience is vociferous. Our performance is well rehearsed but never the same twice. Tom notoriously tries to invent new and increasingly outlandish dishes for the giants to prepare, and in between the tunes I've planned, the colour and sound effects I provide with my accordion are spur of the moment responses to the atmosphere being conjured. Throughout the hour and a half, my senses are hooked utterly into Tom's words, so that my playing mirrors the mood exactly. Perhaps 5% of my attention is in the room at large when I'm actually playing. This kind of attention is very exhausting, but seems to be the only way we know how to embody a story. The recording up there will only give you a glimpse of a sense of actually taking part in that story-journey in the way you do when you're a member of the audience. Each time I miss a note or realise Tom has forgotten a tiny detail, my heart leaps out of my belly, but I must control it or else I'll lose the spell altogether. 

In this Galgael audience sits a small boy who puts his fingers in his ears whenever Baba Yaga appears. He can't bear to listen, he says: it is too frightening. At the front of the crowd in a wheelchair sits a large lady with a strong Glaswegian accent, a long time supporter of the Galgael, who is apparently a fiercely honest critic of performances held there. She hollers and whoops at intervals throughout the whole tale, cheering on the hero, booing the witch, and commenting out loud again and again how much she is enjoying this! The rest of the crowd, uncomfortable at first with such vocal audience participation, begin slowly to enjoy her comments as part of the whole experience, and we do too. In the moments when I stop playing I am able to smile to myself and reflect how large a part in any performance the audience plays: they are the other half of the circle. Without their energetic input and support and participation in the magic, the spell just cannot be cast. At the end, they all stand and cheer, and we grin to ourselves. It has gone well.
Linda, this most notable member of the audience, thanks us from the bottom of her heart for bringing the spirit of the Galgael alive that evening, and we know she really means it. 
After our story, some stunning Bulgarian singing and original music is performed by Viara Ivanova. There is food, and there are friends, and our third storytelling, which this time raises money for this wonderful, inspiring, real and uplifting place, is over! We must pack up the whole exhibition in a handful of minutes and wend our way through the now dark streets of Glasgow to the home of Svenja Meyerricks and Luke Devlin who kindly put us up for the night and feed us breakfast the next morning before our long drive north. By now, Macha is thoroughly bemused by the whole escapade and rolls her eyes at us visibly, as we take her for a wee in a little patch of urban green so very far away from her moor.


{part 3 continued here!}

{this post has been divided into separate episodes on account of its excessive length and the inability of google reader to cope! If you'd like to read it all in one go, please go here}


Wayward Harper said...

What an inspiring place! Ah I so very much wish i could have been there... well done you guys, you are bringing magic back into the world!

Laura Morrigan said...

Does the barn belong to your friends?

Is your dog a wolfhound? I always wanted one. I don't think we really have them in Australia, though. I will probably just get something furry and mixbreed one day.

The Galgael foundation sounds wonderful! I think it's great to bring people together in a community and bring back their old cultures. I have never really had a community like that, but recently, I have become involved in the steampunk communities both on and offline, and I love the sense of community in them, and the idea that I might be able to be a part of that, once I get to know everyone!It's an amazing feeling!

That feeling of acceptance and shared interests is so great!

I love Celtic heritage, and the old style crafts! I think they are beautiful! The European side of my background is mostly scottish and welsh, I think, but I am drawn to all of it! I would love to visit one day and see all this!

Rachel said...

The Galgael Trust sounds amazing, what a wonderful setting for your stories.

Anonymous said...

que hermoso,quisiera ser parte de esta hermosa aventura, desde Colombia, suramerica.