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Tracer Trails presents

Archive Trails

Aileen Campbell, Alasdair Roberts and Wounded Knee with Shane Connolly (Sokobauno)


Archive Trails Founded in 1951 to gather, document, and preserve the oral traditions of Scotland, the School of Scottish Studies played a key role in the Folk Revival of the 1950s and 60s. Fieldworkers including Hamish Henderson and Calum Maclean conducted landmark research at the School, and their recordings are now held — on open reels, cassettes, discs and even wax cylinders — as part of the School’s massive Archive of traditional songs, tales, oral history, ethnographic photography and video.

In Spring 2011, Tracer Trails invited three contemporary musicians to spend three months in residence in the Archive. Aileen Campbell, Alasdair Roberts and Drew Wright (Wounded Knee) were given an open remit to create new work drawing on this unique and fascinating collection. The artists came to the project from quite distinct musical backgrounds: Aileen Campbell an improviser and performance artist; Alasdair Roberts a folk singer, guitarist, songwriter and composer; Wounded Knee an experimental vocalist influenced as much by Detroit techno as by Scots song. This diversity of interests and approaches has resulted in three very different new works drawing out several important threads from the Archive.


“The sounds in the Archive still resonate today, and through creative practice they can and should be heard more widely.” In Conversations Around a Song, Aileen Campbell performs publicly the normally private act of learning to sing a song. Listening to recordings of women’s voices in the Archive, Aileen was struck by the reflections that had been captured alongside their performances: the story of a singer’s relationship with a song; the story of how it was learned. Referencing these conversations, Aileen’s work illuminates the mechanics of transmission. Her decision to learn a series of songs live on stage foregrounds a process normally hidden, yet universal among performers: a function essential to the survival of tradition. It highlights, too, the tenacity of the song as it travels, and its resistance to calcification — even within an Archive of recordings. Wounded Knee’s Archive Tales also addresses the notion of ‘living tradition’, illustrating the significance of personal repertoire as a repository for collective memory. Drew is interested in the figures that shaped the Archive: the characters of the fieldworker and the ‘informant’ and the dynamic of their relationship. He listened widely within the Archive and, like Aileen, found himself engrossed by the incidental conversations captured on the tapes. His performance invites us to play fieldworker to his informant, exploring his 21st century repertoire of songs and the tales behind them.

Photo: Dave Grinly

For both Drew and Aileen, the Archive Trails residency presented an opportunity for stravaiging — for exploration, for chance encounters. Alasdair Roberts alone came to the project with a predefined research objective: to rework and revive the folk play Galoshins, a custom that now pre-dates living memory. The play exists today as a few recordings of reminiscences and a handful of textual accounts. Alasdair’s Galoshins is an amalgamation of texts, a patchwork piece incorporating the elemental ‘script’ of the folk drama, the catechism of a diabolic initiation rite, a wonder tale and several Scots ballads and songs. In this programme, each of the artists situate their work in relation to the Archive, reflecting on their experiences of the residency. Their performances, however, stand alone — testament to the capacity of oral tradition, through transmission, recontextualisation and revival, to sustain and to survive. The sounds in the Archive still resonate today, and through creative practice they can and should be heard more widely. • — Emily Roff Tracer Trails Glasgow, 2011


Aileen Campbell / Conversations Around a Song


“The female voice seems to be the ‘other’ instrument that re-engages your listening.” Approaching the Archives for the first time will take you all the way back to those first visits you made to a library. I think we all have a fear of the perceived silence of libraries, but as a sound archive, this ‘library’ somehow promises not to have the same restriction. Although tapes are mute until played, I assumed there would be latent sounds on paper and tape all around. So although I carried a deep-rooted response of a certain trepidation, I was curious of awakening some sounds that may have been on those shelves unheard for a long time.

Once inside the School, you go through an ante chamber to the Sound Archive, to be confronted with drawers full of indexed sounds. There is a lot here and a lot of that is seductively interesting, so keeping on a track isn’t easy. But to be honest I liked the thought that I’d get distracted and listen in on something that had no obvious relation to my starting point. Things became clearer and my Archive search began by looking at private performance spaces and their ancillary sounds embedded in the recordings. I listened for relatives performing together or performing the same work on different occasions. When people sing together often in private, the sound is unique. You hear it the world over, the intonation is intuitive  — I wanted to find these recordings.

Photo: Dave Grinly

Eventually I came across Belle and Sheila Stewart and the sound I’d hoped to find was there, but on the way I’d found other songs and voices that were hard to forget. So now I had found songs and voices that I knew I would return to for my own performance. One day I was listening to a tape and the informant was talking about how recording makes something seem complete because its fixed. And of course she’s right: once you have a recording it can become the negative, the definitive recording, and I can see why she was concerned about it. No more variations of text because they might then be seen as the ‘wrong’ version, wrongly remembered or wrongly learned. There would be less room for improvising if there was now an original. This observation was made in 1977; recording was now part of the home and the domestic environment. So now this notion of learning from someone or even from a recording would be part of my performance, revisiting the simulation to use as my original to learn this song again. I didn’t mean to seek out only women in the Archive, but when you listen to many male voices, the female voice seems to be the ‘other’ instrument that re-engages your listening and sits (for me) as a vocal commentary within my own pitched voice.


Recommended listening— SA1973.155.A6 — Lizzie Ann Higgins sings for Ailie Edmunds Munro (Aberdeen, 1973) SA1954.121 — Sheila Stewart sings for Maurice Fleming (Blairgowrie, Perthshire, 1954) SA1977.181 — Margaret Bennet sings for Morag McLeod (Skye, 1977)

When you request a track from the Archive, via headphones you are now in someone else’s room in 1954, eavesdropping, for although the person has agreed to the recording there is so much more chat around the song than singing itself. So much is not of the sung performance, and this element of discussion would form part of my own work, Conversations Around a Song. Within the Archive there is a small section in the index cards which points to recordings discussing learning through an oral practice. Informants speak fondly not only of the songs, but of the circumstances through which they came to learn them. This legacy is as important as the song itself, for the closer you were to its origins, the closer you might claim to be to its author. But it’s not this question of authenticity which interests me, but the familiar task of trying to imprint something new into our memory. Some informants talk as much of the situation and environment when they were learning a song; as much of their ‘teacher’ as of the actions of cutting peat or washing dishes. This process of learning could somehow break the monotony of a task or add to the pleasure of being productive. Whichever it might be, it’s still a familiar process for anyone learning a song, story, script, language, although these tasks now may have a greater element of a written prompt.

This practice of learning songs and stories is where my final performance will take me. All musicians and performers at some point have to take on the task of committing something to memory. Without the practice of learning and transferral from one to another the Archive itself would be a lot slimmer, so it seems fitting to focus my Archive Trails performance around the arduous task of learning a new song. In Conversations Around a Song I will take songs from the Archive which are not already known to me (there are many) and undertake the task of learning them, including all the elements of repetition, flaw, error and interpretation. All this will be within a public performance platform. The audience will have access to a crucial part of the rehearsal and learning process, normally undertaken in private. The audience or viewer become the critics as they too will hear this process as it is presented in its fragmented state of learning and recall, just as those on archive recordings would comment on the accuracy of the melody, words, rendition. This real time performance will explore the hidden aspect of the oral tradition referred to throughout the fascinating conversations around the songs of the Sound Archive. •


Photo: Aileen Campbell


Alasdair Roberts / Galoshins


“A vast, sprawling, multi-faceted thing which touches upon just about every conceivable aspect of the sonic life of this country since the 1950s.” Many months ago, I was very happy to be approached by Emily Roff of Tracer Trails with a view to creating some new work to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the School of Scottish Studies. Happy and, I’ll admit, a little daunted.

The School is a venerable institution that in its time has been home to many esteemed scholars, artists and others with particular interest in the artistic, musical, literary, folkloric, political, social, geographical, archaeological, genealogical, architectural, and historical matter of Scotland. And the Sound Archive is a vast, sprawling, multi-faceted thing which touches upon just about every conceivable aspect of the sonic life of this country since the 1950s. There can be found the songs, ballads and tunes recorded from innumerable singers and instrumentalists which, as a musician, I find of particular interest and which I sense will continue to inform my own artistic practice in various ways. But there too are the stories, tales and reminiscences, the oral histories both personal and communal, the records of dying and now-defunct traditions, customs and lore. How does one individual begin to make sense of all of these strands, these possible avenues, this near-incomprehensible trove of sonic information, let alone figure out a way to draw out of it all one piece of new artistic work? The sheer wealth of material there is both exciting and overwhelming — one could spend a lifetime in the place and still leave without having explored everything one might want to explore.

I had the sense on my first visits of the great importance of the School and its Sound Archive both for me personally, as a musician and artist, and for Scotland. I felt somewhat ashamed that my first visit to the School of Scottish Studies happened so late: when I was already in my early thirties! This has probably a great deal to do with the tension between tradition and innovation that I believe is to be found within my musical work throughout the years — a sense of the importance of the old, of history, of the archive, of those who’ve gone before, but also the desire of the young and callow to reject the past, which represents authority, to discard the rules of our forebears and do something fresh and new. I believe that this is a dichotomy which is common to many people of my generation, musicians and otherwise. I had the sense that in my work for Archive Trails I should explore a practice quite different from my previous way of working, although not unrelated. A few years ago I had come across a reference to something called ‘Galoshins’, a folk play traditionally performed in various places around the central belt of Scotland. It’s akin to the English mummer’s plays — a similar plot and theme of combat, death and resurrection. It was customarily enacted by groups of young boys (and very occasionally girls) going house-to-house around Hallowe’en or Hogmanay. Brian Hayward’s book Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play sowed the seeds in my mind that this was perhaps something I’d want to tackle artistically in future.


“It gave me a deeper understanding of the play, its traditional performance context and the various levels of meaning at work within it.” I believed at the time — erroneously, as further research would reveal — that Galoshins had never been revived since it had died out at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, it has been subject to at least four revivals of which I’m aware: in Kippen, where it was traditionally performed, from the early eighties onwards; in Biggar from the early nineties; and more recently in Edinburgh, where it was revived for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and, finally, last year at the Forest Cafe by students at the School of Scottish Studies. My research turned up a surprise or two —  the first of which was the discovery that I am in fact distantly related to one Andrew Rennie, a blacksmith of Kippen, who had performed the play as a young boy in the early years of the twentieth century and in the early 1980s had initiated the play’s revival in that town by teaching it to local children. I was also fortunate to meet Stan Reeves, who had been involved in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe revival, and Geoff King, a sword-dancer and enthusiastic advocate of the folk arts who had been involved in the Biggar revival.

Photo on previous spread: Dave Grinly

And it was also good to meet Dr Emily Lyle of the School of Scottish Studies, who is an expert on Galoshins and has recently published a study of the play entitled A penny was a lot in those days: Galoshins remembered. Many of the recordings relating to Galoshins which can be found in the Sound Archive were made by Dr Lyle, and one of my first research tasks was to listen to all of these. This was a very important part of the research process — allowing the information to seep in, percolate through and coalesce in the mind. It gave me a deeper understanding of the play, its traditional performance context and the various levels of meaning at work within it, all of which would inform the creation of the composite script upon which the Archive Trails revival will be based. For the past few years I’ve been playing music on and off with Shane Connolly. I came to know him first of all as a drummer, although one area of his training and expertise is puppet theatre: his company is called Sokobauno. It was in keeping with my idea that the Archive Trails work should represent a departure from my previous practice; in keeping with a growing sense of my desire to create something physical, tangible, visual rather than the purely musical work I’d made before; and in keeping with my sense that the work should bring something entirely novel to the presentation of the Galoshins play which other recent revivals have not, that I approached Shane Connolly of Sokobauno with a view to turning Galoshins into a puppet show.


Recommended listening— SA1977.205.A2 — Wat Ramage discusses Galoshins with Emily Lyle (Morebattle, Roxburghshire, 1977) SA1952.011.A7 — Willie Matheson discusses The Horseman’s Word with Hamish Henderson (Ellon, Aberdeenshire, 1952) SA1954.125.1 — Belle Stewart sings The Berryfields o’ Blair for Maurice Fleming (Blairgowrie, Perthshire, 1954)

Puppetry is a new area for me, and it’s been a great education for me to learn from Shane over the past few months. I have enjoyed engaging with the process of puppet-making physically — working with Shane in his studio to create the Galoshins characters — but also to learn something of the background and theory of puppetry. In this regard, my time spent at the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre in Glasgow has been invaluable — in addition to the workshop and puppet displays it houses a tremendous library. Another aspect of the work which I have created for the Archive Trails project touches upon the phenomenon of the Society of Horsemen. I first heard mention of this mysterious, quasi-Masonic secret society, whose membership consisted mainly of north-eastern ploughmen, while involved in an oral history project in Perthshire a few years ago. Some of the older people we interviewed spoke about the Horsemen and made mention of the secret ‘horseman’s word’, knowledge of which would give a man complete mastery over any horse. Of course, the Society being secret, the elderly men I met weren’t particularly willing to divulge a great deal of information about their involvement in it.

A couple of years after that project, I found a copy of a book all about the Society of Horsemen: The Quest for the Original Horse Whisperers by Russell Lyon. A good introductory text for anybody interested in this subject, it features a full text of a putative initiation ceremony, in which the initiate is interrogated at length by ‘the Devil’ and, if all the questions are answered correctly, enters into the brotherhood after ‘a shak o’ auld Hornie.’ In the course of my research at the School of Scottish Studies, I remembered my earlier encounters with those Horsemen in Perthshire and decided to delve into recordings in the School’s sound archive pertaining to the phenomenon. Eventually I decided that a dramatised re-enactment of its diabolic initiation ceremony might prove an interesting and engaging addition to the Archive Trails work, and it is this dialogue that forms the opening portion of my performance. At the time of writing, there is around a month to go before the Archive Trails tour begins. Shane and I are on the verge of finishing the making of the Galoshins characters and are looking forward to working the show up into a presentable form. On reflection, I feel it’s been great to have met so many interested, interesting and helpful people on the course of the research. I respect their work in relation to Galoshins highly and am hoping that the work that we create can measure up to it. •


Wounded Knee / Archive Tales


“I had heard but a tin can’s worth of the Niagara Falls.” When the idea of the Archive Trails residency was first mooted I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement at the prospect of getting access to the physical reality of the Archive, and trepidation at just what I would do once I was in there. Up until this point my encounters with the type of material contained in the Archive had been via the commercially released compilation recordings such as Alan Lomax’s World Library of Folk and Primitive Music or Heather and Glen. In other words, a tiny sliver of the wealth of material contained in the Archive — or, to borrow a metaphor from Hamish Henderson, I had heard but a tin can’s worth of the Niagara Falls.

A proposal from the Glasgow Short Film Festival helped to kick-start my residency and enabled me to get into the swing of this research thing. I was invited to do a live performance soundtracking film footage from the Scottish Screen Archive. The remit was totally open in terms of what type of films I wanted to use. At some point over the Christmas holidays last year I had an idea to look at the herring fishing industry and develop some music around the Ewan MacColl song Shoals Of Herring. I decided to transpose the narrator of the song from Great Yarmouth to the East Neuk fishing villages of Fife.

Photo: Dave Grinly

In the Archive are drawers full of index cards filed under various classifications. I was especially interested in sound recordings so I knew to go straight for any of the bright pink cards. I was able to search through the industry categories for fishing and then within that to look for anything in Fife. I found a number of useful recordings of fishermen and women talking about the herring fishing and through these I reworked the lyrics of MacColl’s song, substituting East Neuk fishing grounds, boats and terminology for Yarmouth ones. A wee snippet of speech from one fisherman about different types of fishing rope formed the basis of a rolling sea shanty. I went on to do a performance called Bonnie Shoals which utilised these songs along with some other Archive finds, including a recording of a pibroch called Scarce of Fishing which is publicly available on the Tobar an Dualchais website. I asked the Archive technician to record it to cassette for a real ‘archivey’ sound quality.


Recommended listening— SA1952.28.B2 — Jimmy MacBeath sings The Dowie Dens of Yarrow for Hamish Henderson (Elgin, Moray, 1952) SA1955.123.1 — Angus MacPherson plays Spìocaireachd Iasgaich (Scarce of Fishing) for Calum Maclean (1955) SA1960.200 — Jeannie Robertson sings The Deadly Wars for Hamish Henderson (1960)

Something I enjoy about the Archive is that it invites drift, derive and chance encounters as well as focused, specific research like the herring trawl described above. A lot of the material has now been digitised and once you find something that you want to hear it can be streamed to a computer. Because the original recordings are often on ¼ inch tape you don’t just get the snippet you’re interested in, you get the whole reel. You can scan through to find where your snippet is but chances are you’ll hear other great things along the way. Thus I’ve encountered songs I didn’t know before such as The Deadly Wars, a recording of which stopped me in my tracks while on the hunt for something else entirely. Intriguingly the singer is unidentified — he’s listed only as Anon Man. We’re hoping to identify him and have made enquiries with people who might be able to trace him. For me a key part of Archive Trails were the monthly meetings we had as a group: myself, Ali and Aileen along with Cathlin Macaulay, the Archive Curator, and Emily Roff who conceived the project. These get-togethers were really rewarding and gave us an opportunity to share our ideas and contribute to discussions about the myriad issues we were grappling with. Speaking personally it enabled me to see the residency in a more holistic way and I’m grateful to Emily for making the group meetings a part of Archive Trails.

During our inaugural Archive Trails meeting I scrawled in my notebook: ‘45 minutes of something’. This was to illustrate the anticipated outcome of the project at the end of it all: a piece, a performance, a response. However it is also clear to me that the residency has been a beginning and that through my ongoing contact with the School of Scottish Studies there will be multifarious outcomes and responses. For example I thought a lot about the sort of thing that might be an interesting contribution to the Sound Archive today and I have commenced a project called Song Migrations where I plan to record migrants in Scotland singing songs from their homeland. Back to that ‘45 minutes of something’ — the material for the Archive Trails tour. I took great inspiration from some writing by Ben Sidran in his book Black Talk which examines the continuity of oral culture in Afro-American music. It is worth quoting a particular extract: ‘The musician is the document. He is the information itself. The impact of stored information is transmitted not through records or archives, but through the human response to life.’


It struck me that many of the inspirational recordings in the School of Scottish Studies archive embody Sidran’s idea. It also made me think about my own personal repertoire of songs. This too is an archive and each song in there has a story behind it, a story I can transmit to an audience. Sidran also talks about speech as an ‘improvisational and spontaneous act’ and I want to celebrate this on tour, so I have incorporated the element of chance into proceedings when selecting the songs each night so that each date will be different and, in its own way, a new performance. •

Photo: Matt Lloyd / Glasgow Short Film Festival


Tracer Trails was established in 2006 to set up DIY shows for touring bands and artists in Edinburgh. Since 2008 we have produced Retreat!, an annual festival celebrating local grassroots music-making, which in 2010 was recognised with a Herald Angel Award. In 2011 came the first instalment of Music is the Music Language, a new festival of underground and experimental music in Glasgow. Archive Trails will be the first in a new series of long-term, interdisciplinary projects curated and produced by Tracer Trails. We also continue to present a packed programme of live music events in Glasgow and Edinburgh. — The School of Scottish Studies Archives are a public resource and anybody is welcome to visit by appointment. A great place to begin your research is the website of Tobar an Dualchais  — www.TobarAnDualchais.co.uk — an ongoing digitisation project giving free online access to recordings from the School of Scottish Studies as well as the archives of the BBC and the Canna Collection. — www.ArchiveTrails.com www.TracerTrails.co.uk www.CeltScot.ed.ac.uk www.AlasdairRoberts.com www.Sokobauno.com — With thanks to — Dr Cathlin Macaulay, Dr Gary West, Stuart Robinson, Caroline Milligan, Dr Emily Lyle, Stan Reeves, Geoff King, John Carberry, The Scottish Mask & Puppet Centre, Kinning Park Complex, Clare Hewitt, Anne Sofie Laegran, Kirsten Lloyd, Neil Cooper, Claire Sawers, Jez Burrows, Ryan R Thompson, The National Trust for Scotland, Alex Woodward and David Grinly.

Cover image: Margaret Fay Shaw and the National Trust for Scotland

Archive Trails programme  

Programme for the Archive Trails tour. With text by Aileen Campbell, Alasdair Roberts and Drew Wright.

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