St Andrew's Day

A day of Scottish life and culture

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Presenters and officials gather beforehand. Left to right: John Swinney [Deputy First Minister], Joan Allan [chair], Jess Smith, James Grant, Ian Spring. Regular piper Martin Bristow missed out due to a bug circulating in his school.

Perth's main celebration of St Andrew's Day, the seventeenth Perth Burns Club's annual Day of Scottish Life and Culture, was held in the Soutar Theatre at the A. K. Bell Library, York Place, Perth on Saturday, December 3rd, 2022.

As ever, the event maintained its reputation for high quality, and the audience was treated to a thoroughly entertaining and diverse, programme.

joan allan

Joan Allan

john swinney

John Swinney

The audience was welcomed by president and chair for the day, Joan Allan, whose first job was to introduce John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, whose Perthshire North Constituency actually includes the A. K. Bell Library.

John praised the Perth Burns Club for continuing to foster Scots history, language and culture on this most Scottish of days.

Appropriately, 2022 has been designated Scotland's Year of Stories.

Principal Speakers

james grant

James Grant

Dr James Grant MBE has been a rural practitioner in Perthshire for many years, where he enjoyed a varied career in clinical practice, medical management and research. He has a doctorate in medicine from the University of Glasgow and is a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh and of Glasgow. Jim is also a man of letters, and his story of the Jacobite Perth Priest Robert Lyon was prompted by a letter he purchased thirty years ago in which a lady pleaded for intercession to prevent Lyon's execution.

Lyon's story is known to few and deserved to be told. It was the profile of an independent and difficult man who loved his Prince and was prepared to follow him no matter where the journey might lead. He was a brave man (though some would say foolhardy) but there was no doubting his loyalty both to his Prince and his religion. This loyalty was to cost him his life as he suffered the ultimate punishment, being one of the last martyrs for the doomed Jacobite cause.

Jim's delivery was graphic and colourful. Down the ages, if you are serious about retaining power, then there are no depths you will not plumb to do so - as witness the Hanoverian response to Jacobite effrontery. Massacres on the field were just a prelude to eliminating Highland culture via dispossession and transportation, plus persecuting the Episcopalian Church. A fascinating and gripping story!

jess smith

Jess Smith

Next up was the weel-kent and much-loved Jess Smith whose talk was entitled "Songs and Stories from around the Campfire". Jess entertained us in prose, poetry and song and put smiles on faces across the auditorium!

Early anecdotes featured Jock Stewart, piper to the 7th Duke of Atholl, some handed down by his grand-daughter Sheila. Jock had once been dancing energetically with a genteel lady at Blair Castle. At the close of the set, the lady suffered a windbreak, but the gallant Jock rescued her by claiming ownership of the indelicacy, and apologising to all around. Next day the lady rewarded him with a windfall of a tenner for his good manners!

Jess had the audience in hoots with the poem/song "Ma mither she killed me, ma faither he ate me", with a mass chorus startling the York Place pedestrians outside. Recognising singer Joss Cameron in the audience, Jess invited her on stage and we were treated to 'The Blackbird/What a Voice'- an accolade fit for both songbirds!

Jess then moved on to what was a highlight in the travellers' year - the berry-picking at Blairgowrie. Jess reminisced on Belle Stewart and her family, before singing "The Berry Fields o' Blair".

joss cameron

Joss Cameron

roy henderson

Roy Henderson

A member of the audience queried if the tune wasn't the same as the bothy ballad "Nicky Tams".

Common consent said yes it was, and to general delight, Roy Henderson gave an impromptu rendition from his seat in the audience!

All that was missing was the campfire! A great way to finish before we broke for tea and coffee.

ian spring

Ian Spring

Our final speaker was Ian Spring, a publisher and writer who has recently established Rymour Books in Perth - the second independent press in the city. He has been writing about Scottish cultural history and folk song for over forty years. He also writes fiction, detective fiction and poetry.

Ian's subject was "Scottish National & Cultural identity in a historical and contemporary context". An early quote was from Maurice Lindsay's poem Speaking of Scotland, which concludes with the line "Scotland's an attitude of mind". This was a handy thought to carry throughout a welter of viewpoints provided by Ian.

History and geography were two building blocks. Being plagued by noisy neighbours over the centuries was character-building, though there is plenty of evidence of internecine squabbling locally also. Geography is diverse, reflected in the growth of farming and fishing communities, and also the incidence of military and governing strongholds. The romanticism of Walter Scott helped to popularise the beauty of the landscape, assisted by the growth of a railway network and the fondness of the Victorian monarchy for the highlands. Early package tours encouraged the tourists.

Literature and theatre played their part, with Robert Burns to the fore. The Church of Scotland promoted literacy in all parts of the community. Hugh MacDiarmid helped to revive the Scots tongue and give credence to an independent Scotland. The 1930s renaissance also featured Edwin Muir, Sorley MacLean, Neil Gunn, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Naomi Mitchison, Josephine Tey (Elizabeth Mackintosh, who preferred to bank in England!) and William Soutar. However, we also gave birth to the kailyard school which portrayed Scotland as parochial and unrealistic.

Science and industry gave us Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Alexander Fleming, John Logie Baird, James Clerk Maxwell and numerous others who provided the world with their inventions, which still underpin international communications.

Yet all these achievements haven't brought about a single, constant, national identity. Maybe they can't: at any point in time we're the sum total of varying experiences related to wealth, opportunity, external factors, luck, individual personalities, etc. Diversity is ever-present, and though we may rally at sporting events (particularly at English football commentators!) and hogmanay for example, we kin aa gang oor ain gait at ither times.

Past president Jim Calderwood brought a fabulous afternoon to a close with a paean of praise for the efforts of the organisers, the excellent performances of all the presenters, and the very appreciative (and participative!) audience.

All photographs courtesy of Elliott Boyle, Perth Burns Club.
Email Elliott if you'd like a copy of a photograph.