All kinds of Burns

Hey. How’s your week been? Mine has been interesting. I wrote a piece on An Lanntair and the way they’ve handled their Sunday opening trial — and I got dragged over the coals for it. I had expected reaction to what I wrote. Of course I did. And I can assure you it gave me many sleepless nights, before and after.

But I must admit that I didn’t expect the reaction to be quite so strong. And what left me feeling most bewildered was the abject refusal on the part of some of the people who are ‘pro’ Sunday opening to recognise the difficulties around the way the consultation had been handled and how it may be affecting An Lanntair’s connection with the artists in the community.

I had thought the backlash was dying down today — and it was nice to meet that friend in the swimming pool who said it was a “fair” piece and that he couldn’t understand the reaction. (That is the word I’ve heard most often, in fact, to describe my piece ‘An Lanntair must not be a beacon for the Secular Society‘.)

But then I got home and saw from my Facebook notifications that it was still being picked over by someone from the Western Isles Secular Society, who had been going through all the comments on my page, selecting the ones that accorded with his own views and asking if he could repost them.

In fairness, I should point out that some of the comments on the WISS page were model examples of respectful disagreement. And anyway, as I’ve said before, I’ve had a lot of messages of support — including “Don’t take any shit. You’re simply stating facts” from one musician — but it is strange to watch the reactions from those people who just will not get into the detail of the debate around An Lanntair.

“I find the vilification of WISS members to be something the blogger should be held accountable for,” said one today, asking whether there had made a suitable response from yours truly.

She was told: “None. Yet. But I expect a two to three day turnaround. I’ve suggested that an apology might be in order.”

Well, newsflash. There won’t be an apology. Not today. Not tomorrow. And not within two to three days either, wherever you happen to have got that timescale from.

The reason being that I didn’t vilify anyone. I looked at links and asked questions about influence. I didn’t vilify. Like my friend the musician said, I simply stated facts.


I don’t think they liked hearing this An Lanntair story from me, presumably because I had previously backed the Sunday swimming campaign.

But life is not always black and white, is it?

One of the main comments I’ve had this week was well done for “putting your head above the parapet”. However, I have realised there’s a much more dangerous place: No Man’s Land.

But where there has been stress there has been music too and right now, as it’s Burns Night, I’m listening to Eddi Reader singing the Songs of Burns.

I’ve written about these songs before, in a blog last year for An Lanntair (ooh, the irony) to promote their Alternative Burns Night. That was a superb night, actually, where the voices of Colin Macleod and Kathleen Macinnes worked beautifully together in a variety of arrangements.


Their version of Green Grow the Rashes, particularly, was amazing and when I saw someone link to Michael Marra’s version of it on Twitter earlier today, I was back there.

An Lanntair are doing Burns again this year and I expect it will be amazing. Burns on Strings, to be performed on Saturday, is a special commission featuring arrangements of some of his “most enchanting musical pieces” by cellist Neil Johnstone. Neil will be joined by wife Rhona on fiddle, by Jane Macmillan on viola, Andy Yearly on piano and vocalist Ceitlin Smith.

There are still some tickets left, so get yourself down there. I’d love to hear it myself but funnily enough I’m going to give it a miss this time…

Aaahh, Burns. Is there anything like a good Burns song? My absolute favourite is Ae Fond Kiss. Written about his love affair with Nancy McLehose, it has all the passion and pain that it should — and it breaks me down every time I hear it. God bless them for “throwing their hearts at one another and leaving Robert so bereft he wrote this”, Eddi Reader once said of it.


And thinking about Burns, I came across an interesting article in the Guardian today, arguing that we should be celebrating Virginia Woolf — writer, troubled soul and feminist icon — today instead.

She and Burns were both born on January 25. However, as the Guardian piece said, Woolf usually gets completely ignored on this date and it described Robert Burns as “a candidate for the #MeToo movement if ever there was one”.

Ahh, yes. He was, clearly, a terrible womaniser but that gave me pause for thought about my own feminism.

There’s a podcast I listen to, called The Guilty Feminist, and they have a running gag, where guest speakers confess to a very ‘unfeminist’ thought or behaviour by completing the sentence “I’m a feminist but…” in a way that is unique to them.

Burns gives me an “I’m an feminist but…” moment.

Like Byron, he would surely have been mad, bad and dangerous to know.

He would probably have been irresistible (if one was around in the 1800s and not married, of course…).

I want to toast you tonight, Robbie — and say thank you for all the songs. For your poetry and your passion. For the music of your heart.


Comments 3

  1. Have been trying to contact you but not having much success. Am attending the Holocaust Memorial Day Seminar at Lews Castle college this morning 10 – 1.00 . Key speakers include Kate Allen Director of Amnesty International UK and Bruce Adamson Children and Young People’s Commissioner. Thought that you might be interested. Also wanted to pass something else by you to see if you might be interested in doing an article. All the best Ken

  2. As a Unco Guid using your blog as a modern day Cutty stool, then the criticism you have received for naming and shaming individuals you did not interview and only interviewing those who supported your own opinion, is warranted.
    It is just complete nonsense that those of faith in the community are being alienated. The recent Stornoway Trust and CnES councillor elections demonstrate this. Despite unequivocal demand the Golf course, sports fields, swimming pool etc remain closed.
    If An Lanntair is a beacon – it is to some sort of meaningful Proportional Representation of the local community, where local faith in acknowledged, but not given undue privilege.

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