Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Perthshire Amber 4

Blair Castle.

Big gig this one. Very posh castle. We’re warned not to take photos of the pictures as they’re worth over £5 million. There are guys here that talk into their sleeves and are probably packing collapsable claymores that shoot killer bees. We have our walkie-talkies with ear pieces, so whenever we see them, we put our hands on our ears and whisper conspiratorially just to freak them out.

Neil Gow's portrait and fiddle -still playable!

The main hall is large, and covered from wall to wall with items ranging from Scottish legend Neil Gow’s fiddle to rifles, sabres, shields, the aforementioned paintings, and racks of antlers.

Lots of antlers.

In fact, there are so many antlers the room looks a little to me like the inside of one of Clive Barker’s better nightmares. There’s just so much pointness. Hundreds. I’m not kidding. Even the corridor to the green rooms is lined with them. Every time we walk down a corridor we put our spread hands up on our head and gallop. Some even have little plaques like:

Wee Huge George.
Duke of Cornwall

I’m assuming that’s the stag’s name, the shooter and the year. Unless I’ve really got it wrong and that was the Duke of Cornwall's nickname! It’s quite amazing, and the rest of the castle is incredible. I tuned a guitar next to a case containing Bonnie Prince Charlie’s riding gloves (he had small hands) and one door down is a room containing hundreds of pikes, sheilds and swords.

So, onto the gig.

We found out earlier that guitarist Boo Hewerdine won’t be acompanying Heidi Talbot and John McCusker tonight, which is a real shame as we bought his album and have been playing it to death.


Replacing him are Ewan Vernal on bass and none other than guitarist Ian Carr. Two stalwarts of the Kate Rusby band (three if you reminisce and include McCusker). So we’re in for a treat. Tempurature is dropping though. By 4pm it’s already hovering around freezing, and up here, freezing really means freezing. Cloudy breath, stampy feet, and even the locals are muttering about the first frost.

The gig was fantastic. Heidi Talbot is very funny, and her thick Kildare accent is quite a standout amoung all the Scottish ones (and Ian Carr’s Welsh). The band are a tad rusty, having really been thrown together for tonight, but it’s a great show. McCusker is just a force of nature. There’s little that man can’t do, including write amazing songs and tunes (we play a couple of his tunes ourselves) and play fiddle, cittern, low whistles and piano. He's also very funny. Ewan Vernal is like a slightly ‘morning after’-looking Alan Rickman while Ian Carr is simply brilliant. He has such a unique, almost ‘accidental’ way of accompanying tunes and songs on his guitar. Best thing of all, they were all a really good laugh! Heidi is quite pregnant too (along with Julie Fowlis, and, we just found out, Cara Dillion. Add to that list Kathryn Roberts who’s just had bubs, Kate Rusby and Nancy Kerr, and I think I can see a bit of a conspiracy here. Looks like everyone decided now is a good time to get preggers so there’s always other kids around at festival. Just a theory).

Bridget and Heidi

Dougie’s show was great too. It was just him and Ross, playing his flutes and warpipes. Dougie’s ear has been troubling him a fair bit today, bit it’s amazing to watch him go from pacing and fretting in the dressing room to being an utter showman the moment his feet touch the stage. Ross has to run off the stage to tune the pipes in another part of the castle as they’re so fecking loud. Even so, while he’s tuning and Doog is tuning the guitar to him, there’s this incredible ghostly wail. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of warpipes (he also plays small pipes and Uilleann) but feck… to hear that noise sent my hair right up! The highlight was Dougie's version of the Neil Gow song, Gloomy Winter, which Michael Nyman used as the 'base' for the music for the Piano. I put 'base' in quotes there as to me they're identical, and there are a lot of Scots pissed about the appropriation (and Oscar I think)!

That's John McCusker and Heidi Talbot in the foreground, watching Dougie's show

By the time we’re packing up it’s ‘Fooking Baltic’ to quote a local singer/songwriter. Even Mick Jaguar is flashing warning lights about black ice, and indeed, the drive back had a few hairy moments. But Fat Mick and his traction control and heated seats saw us through.

By the time we got back to Atholl Palace, it’s -4c.

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