Electrocution, Avian Excreta And Bagpiper’s Fungus: All In A Day’s Work For A Musician.

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Madonna’s onstage fall at the Brit Awards demonstrated, all too painfully, one of the occupational hazards awaiting the performing musician, but there are many more – even for those of us not cavorting around in capes and high heels, surrounded by troupes of dancers in intricately choreographed routines.

Last year I developed a debilitating condition in the achilles area of my left foot, which became not only swollen and sore, but as it got worse I found I couldn’t place my foot flat on the ground and so ended up walking with a limp. This led to me progressively over-compensating with my right leg, in turn leading to sore hips and back pain, leaving me hirpling around like a cailleach* and having to cling to the banister in order to manoeuvre downstairs sideways.

If this conjures up a particularly unflattering vision then, believe me, it was exactly that. And the cause of all this misery? Tapping my foot too hard on the floor when I play (and, I confess, at times stamping). I started out as a child with classical piano, where under no circumstances do you tap your foot in time to the music, but on moving into the much more relaxed folk world, I developed the ubiquitous foot-tapping habit. It became not only automatic but vigorous – to the point of injury.

Diagnosed by the phsyio as Tendinopathy, it was months of exercises and a pair of particularly unattractive, ‘old-wifey’ sandals later before I was cured (though my thickened achilles tendon never did fully recede), but I now consciously and constantly monitor those wayward feet of mine when I’m playing.

Were Health and Safety Inspectors to do risk assessments for musicians they might also highlight: Repetitive Strain Injury; Lock Jaw; Cubital, Carpal and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome; Tendinitis; Tendinosis; Tinnitus; Bursitis; Dermatitis; de Quervain’s Syndrome; Garrod’s Pads; Myofascial Pain Disorder; Ganglions (caused by tight straps – no, not S&M, but the accordion variety); Temporomandibular Joint Disorder and last, but by no means least, Trigger Thumb.

These medical textbook conditions, which for me conjure up something of the gothic and grotesque – visions perhaps of an archaic anatomy museum, glinting with ancient speciman jars of rubber-white, coiled and convoluted scraps of humanity – refer to the slightly less formal, but equally colourful, fiddler’s neck, bagpiper’s fungus (nothing to do with feet or genitalia, but is a lung disease caused by inhaling fungal spores from inside the pipe bag), flautist’s chin, horn player’s palsy, harpist’s cramp, cellist’s dermatitis, trumpeter’s lip, singer’s nodules, and a host of other afflictions, including shoulder, neck and back injuries, mashed and bleeding lips, burst eardrums etc.

Those are the basics but then there are all the random threats to life and limb lurking in the stage wings. When pigeon poo fell to earth from a bird enjoying (or maybe not?) a Kings Of Leon performance from its perch high up in the rafters, and landed in the mouth of the bassist, the St Louis concert was abandoned as “Too unsanitary to continue.” Whilst not pleasant, throwing in the towel three songs into their show might be regarded as lightweight by the hardy breed of rockers that includes Otto Schimmelpenninck – bassist (is it something about bass players?!) with Dutch metal band, Delain – whose testicle was ruptured by an onstage confetti cannon, but who soldiered on and finished the concert despite immense pain and discomfort.

The indestructible Keith Richards was electrocuted and knocked unconscious, Patti Smith broke her back tripping on a stage monitor and falling 14ft, Frank Zappa escaped death when a fan fired a flare gun at the ceiling during a Swiss show and burned the venue to the ground. However Zappa was not so lucky on another occasion when he sustained multiple injuries after an audience member sneaked onstage and pushed him into the concrete orchestra pit.

If you are Tom Jones then all you risk having flung at you is female underwear, but what are fans thinking when they chuck bottles, lollipops (one of these got lodged in David Bowie’s eye socket), urine bombs, deckchairs (50 Cent took the hint and ended his show at that point), coins, etc? Occasionally musicians suffer freak accidents and pay the ultimate price: when orchestral conductor Jean Baptiste Lully’s baton flew from his hand, it pierced his foot – bad enough, but he later developed gangrene and died.

Even if we manage to dodge projectiles, avoid injury, evade personal attack, and sidestep serious medical ailments, there are still a number of ‘biggies’ stalking the unsuspecting musician: alcoholism, stress-related depression, performance anxiety, substance abuse, penury and broken marriage – and not necessarily in that order.

So why, you may ask, do we do it? Well, personal safety, financial security, sanity and longevity may well be at risk for any gigging musician but what is definitely guaranteed is the most fun, creative satisfaction and joy imaginable. And, as the plucky Madonna so conclusively illustrated, the show must go on!

* Cailleach – old woman (Gaelic)

California Dreaming: Five Scottish Fiddlers Have Fun In A Trunk!

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There are rare folk musicians who achieve revered, almost iconic status for generations of players and music lovers; for many reasons, including virtuosity, style, interpretation, superb composition, personality, but usually also because in some way they have broken new ground, or opened fresh doors along the wide and cherished corridor of tradition. Seeing fiddle player and composer, Alasdair Fraser, again at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival reminded me of why he has been so admired and hugely influential over two decades. It also brought rollicking back the incredibly fun and crazy week spent at his fiddle school in the hills above Silicon Valley.

It was 1997, and Bruce and I had just seen Alasdair play in Inverness’s beautiful and now much-missed Balnain House. Bruce had introduced me to his music two years earlier and, as a fiddle novice, I was in awe of his infectious tunes and mastery of the instrument. We both came away from the concert enormously inspired, not just by the sheer beauty of his playing, his tonal quality and compositions, but by the man himself, his energy and the boundless musical possibilities he enthused about. His Californian fiddle camp sounded too good to miss!

We duly signed up, with Bruce undertaking to record material whilst there for a feature programme for Radio Scotland. The adventure grew ever-more appealing when we discovered three musician friends were also intending to go. However my Mum, who had been ill for some months, was by summer sadly fragile and weakening. As August unfurled and she had to move into the Hospice, it began to look like our departure might be ill-advised, but with the doctor’s assurances that Mum still had some time ahead of her and firm advice that we should go, we duly flew out.

Our little Scottish cohort of fiddlers was met at San Jose by a yellow school bus, and as we wound our way up through forested hills and into the redwood groves of Boulder Creek, the first sight and scent of the great trees was breathtaking. Arriving at camp to find our wooden lodges and cabins nestled around the ankles of these giants rendered us speechless – whilst appreciating the remnants of our own Caledonian Forest back home as pretty majestic, nothing had prepared us for this!

John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley, his 1961 journey of rediscovery across the United States, describes the titans of his native California as, “Ambassadors from another time.”. Emphasizing that no-one had yet managed to adequately portray the Sequoia Gigantea in words, art or photography, he goes on to observe, “There is a cathedral hush here…a remote and cloistered feeling. A stunning memory of what the world was like once, long ago.”

Perhaps the otherworldliness of these ancient trees rubbed off on us, or maybe we should have guessed from the camp name – Valley Of The Moon – that strange things might happen in this place? Either way, it was to be no ordinary week. Playing music in the quiet shade of the redwoods felt magical – almost as if those living, breathing beings were listening. A calming peace settled on all and, with wonder and respect, we offered up our weave of notes, dancing gently upwards to be lost in the high canopy, and in return were nourished by the presence of the mighty ones.

If this sounds a little hippy-dippy it’s because some of that rubbed off on us too – when in Rome etc! Of the two hundred students, the vast majority were American, some Canadian and then there was us. We did try to fit in but going with the Californian flow didn’t always come easily. On our second evening I was queueing for communal dinner in the main lodge when I suddenly felt someone’s hands rubbing my back. I instantly bristled and turned (probably scowling) to find a lean, greying, pony-tailed guy in flip-flops smiling at me.

“Gee, are you always this tense?” he asked as he worked his seasoned fingers on my rigid shoulders. I wanted to say, No, only when a total stranger decides to give me a massage while I’m waiting for my tea and, by the way, I don’t recommend you try this in Glasgow. But I shrank under the accusation – I was indeed an uptight Scot – and managed only a pathetic, quavering whimper.

As the dinner queue edged all-too-slowly along, he gave it laldy, kneading and pummelling at my recalcitrant Highland back. My stiff embarrassment festered into panic as I wondered what the heck I should do, I mean what was the etiquette? Was I meant to return the favour? Should I turn round, flick his ponytail to one side, lift his t-shirt and start on him? Thankfully my masseur gave me up as a lost cause as the veggie lasagne hoved into view, but the first stop, post-dinner and in some haste, was the bar for several swift, healing beverages.

There are no two ways about it – an honesty bar can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The anonymous pay-as-you-go type is painless and to be welcomed, but at Valley Of The Moon there was a huge board on which, underneath your name, you noted down what drinks you’d taken, resulting in a kind of public shaming. It’s with some regret that I recall we did live up to several stereotypical behaviours, including the booze one; whilst most folk listed a dozen or so beers, by the end of the week us Scots had not only reached the bottom of the board but were halfway down a new column.

We stayed up latest, trailed last into class in the morning – most students were seated long before the tutor arrived, such was their zeal to get a spot in the front row – and partied the hardest. When it came to theme night, where cabins hosted each other in a sort of moveable, nocturnal ceilidh, we set up shop inside a vast remnant of tree trunk. The size of a small apartment, this ancient relic was hollow and burned out – perhaps hit by prehistoric lightning – and complete with fiddles, keyboard and amp, we kicked off our party.

As darkness fell, trad became trance, with a side-helping of funk, and with just a few torches and lanterns to light the hoose, more and more folk piled in until the redwood ruin was a heaving, howling mass of humanity and music. A deep primeval instinct was awakended in us as Chris pounded his keyboard bass, and tribal chants and shrieks shot forth as we pulsed new life into this ghostly great-grandfather of trees. Lubricated just a little by that honesty bar, we communed with the ancients, bonded with the universe and at last our Scots cringe was set free and let fly off into the night.

What a week: the classes were fabulous; tutors – including the incredible Martin Hayes, Bruce Molesky, Barbara Magone – phenomenal; the setting utterly awe-inspiring. Bruce captured the spirit of the school in his programme for BBC Scotland and I grew in confidence on the fiddle, as well as learning much about life. Whether in the company of a colossus of the fiddle like Alasdair Fraser, or giants of the natural world, it’s possible to feel very small, insignificant even, but depending on how you look at it, that can be both a comfort and a release. The cycle of life goes on and we are all standing on the shoulders of our forebears, musically or otherwise.

As for the Funk Trunk, I like to think music lingers yet among its blackened, primordial roots; come to think of it, I’m not sure some folk ever did make it out of there…

Music – Solace For The Soul In Times Of Trauma

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A little over five years ago my life was changed forever. In the space of a two-minute telephone call my world, and that of my seven year old son, was turned upside down, leaving me almost paralysed with shock and feeling like I had been run down by a ship. Devastated is a word so over-used in modern parlance as to render its meaning severely blunted, but in this case the sharp blade of destruction did indeed lay waste.

What was divulged that late November morning brought about the end of my marriage, and my natural hopes, dreams and expectations of our future as a family were, between sips of morning coffee, completely wiped out. So, how to claw your way back to some semblance of emotional and mental equilibrium, when the homely rug is whipped out from under you and everything changed in an instant? When you can’t eat or sleep, and that ship’s thick mooring rope remains stubbornly knotted in your stomach for months? How to cope with the demands of everyday life, work and children when you’re stumbling around in a daze, and wishing even for anger to surface and alleviate the numb emptiness of knowing nothing for certain any more.

There are no quick fixes, and trauma on any scale produces fall-out of shock and stress that may even require medical or psychological intervention. We hear of horror and tragedy so great that we are left wondering how on earth those involved can ever recover from such unimaginable grief. Whether in distant lands or the tragic events of recent weeks closer to home, we realise that, as a Chaplain supporting victims in the Glasgow bin lorry accident concluded, sometimes there are no words of comfort – there is simply nothing that can be said to ease the pain.

My experience of course does not compare with the tragic death of loved ones in horrific circumstances, but no matter how seemingly small a personal crisis, it can still have profound and overwhelming impact. I was fortunate to have the love and support of many good friends; at my side on long winter walks and talking over endless cups of tea at my kitchen table. Their wise words assured me that time, the great healer, would gradually bring some ease and also helped me find ways through those interminable early days. And of course I tried music.

To my dismay, I found that I couldn’t play. Going to the piano, nothing would come. Desolation had robbed me of inclination, interior joy, the creative spark….or whatever it is that drives musicians to play. Singing was also impossible – not only did my vocal cords feel melded together in a solid throaty lump but the urge to sing was stone dead.

As for listening to music, I only needed to hear in passing a fragment of fiddle music on the radio – and not necessarily my husband’s – for tears to well. Of course it is the emotional resonance of music which makes it the art-form that touches people probably more than any other – in troubled times it allows us to wallow in our loss or heartbreak, to cry, feel sadness and nostalgia to our core, to reflect, be comforted.

Singing and playing music takes that emotional outlet to an even higher level. For the thousands on the streets of Paris commemorating those who died in the Charlie Hebdo killings, the singing of La Marseillaise was not only symbolic but would also have brought a measure of solace; a remembered resilience, a shared balm soothing the pain. Although I knew my inability to play would be temporary, I felt bereft – something I had always taken for granted had just evaporated.

Then one night, around six months later, something happened. With my son in bed, I sat noodling half-heartedly at the piano; suddenly a little chord progression presented itself, triggering some words, a phrase, a melody, and before I knew it, a song was tumbling out. On The Road was thankfully not a diatribe of self-indulgent resentment but a gentle, contemplative reflection on what life can throw at us. The floodgates had opened and if my mojo wasn’t quite back and cartwheeling its delight, at least it was in the vicinity!

In his Reith Lectures on art, Grayson Perry likens artistic creation to a personal shed; a private place into which he can withdraw, hide and immerse himself. Music is the same. Playing and writing allows you to lose yourself, become simply a conduit for the strange, mercurial phenomenon that is music; it is utterly absorbing, therapeutic and wonderfully satisfying.

As months lurched by, more songs unravelled themselves to me and gradually the sheer joy and love of a good tune kicked in, much to my relief. I knew considerable progress had been made when I found myself and my son belting out ‘Price Tag’ along with Jessie J, as we drove to school. There’s nothing like unself-conscious, full-volume car-singing to lift the spirits on a Monday morning!

When our band, Dorec-a-belle, formed, another great musical adventure began – one which has brought ever-increasing satisfaction and delight, not to mention fun and fraternity. Building on the essentials – good strong songs – the musical textures, colours and harmonies that have come to characterise our sound, are a joy to be part of. A cracking song written by Maryann Frew’s father called Don’t Give Up, resonates with me to such a degree that each time we perform it I am lost in its words, its melody – a bit like an out-of-body experience without the use of drugs!

The ability of music to take you outside of yourself is like the touch of a healing hand. David Byrne of Talking Heads, states in his book ‘How Music Works’, “Music can get us through difficult patches in our lives by changing not only how we feel about ourselves but also how we feel about everything outside ourselves. It’s powerful stuff.” How right he is.

Harmony Heaven Plus A Bucket Of Seaweed: Trosg Gig Nets Nautical Delights!

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One Direction may have swept the boards at the MTV Awards in Glasgow, but for us in the Highlands (those of us out of our teens, at least!) there is only one vocal-harmony ‘boy band’ on our musical radar. Winning hearts and plaudits alike, our very own Inverness-based Trosg are rapidly forging a strong profile and loyal following at regular venue and festival gigs, where they not only produce harmonies to die for and sing bluegrass classics in Gaelic, but do it with utterly inimitable style, craic and panache.

The lads – and I’m sure they won’t mind me pointing out that I use that word somewhat loosely – are all stalwarts of Inverness Gaelic Choir and include among their number, Angus Macleod, whose beguiling and melifluous voice recently won him the National Mod’s Men’s Gold Medal. However, steeped to the gills as they are in the world of competitive singing, they have now branched out to take their considerable talents and love of harmony to a wider audience – and are we glad they did!

When they invited us girls (and I indulge in this appellation equally loosely!) in Dorec-a-belle to join them at a gig in Hootananny’s, we pounced at the chance. Harmony singing is one of the pivotal passions in our band and we love nothing more than getting some tasty four-parters on the go – six, if Derek and Robin are with us on drums and double bass – so the thought of hooking up with a ready-made, male-voice ensemble had us drooling at the thought.

I had bumped into Iain, an old friend and founding member of Trosg, at Belladrum Festival, and was keen to find out the meaning of the band name; despite many childhood summers spent with grandparents on the Hebridean island of Lewis, I hadn’t heard the Gaelic word trosg before.

“It means cod,” he explained. “We only sing songs about fish!”

That’s pretty cool, I thought; Gaels are very partial to fish, so that’s a sizeable niche market they’ve got sewn up there. Neat. The fact they were playing the Walled Garden’s Free Range Stage, which this year was redesigned as an upturned boat, was not simply perfectly appropriate but surely a PR dream!

When the invitation to collaborate came in, the logistics of there being lots of them and quite a few of us, meant we did not manage a proper rehearsal, but just a quick get-together of some of us to run a couple of songs by each other and try a few wee harmony possibilities. We learned that the boys had cast their net wider since Belladrum, to include songs of the sea and indeed other subject matter, and as they launched into I’ll Fly Away – a 1929 hymn that later became a gospel and bluegrass standard – we sat in stunned silence as their rich bassy sound filled the room. Smiles spread across our faces – we knew this was going to be good.

Whilst the show itself is possibly best described as more craic than slick, it was without doubt the most fun I’ve had at a gig. The joint songs went surprisingly well, given the lack of rehearsal, and it was awesome, in the true sense of the word, to hear Trosg’s deep, treacle tones fill out the bottom end, as we say in the trade, of Don’t Give Up and Antonia. From warm, clear tenors down to a Robeson-like bass, their wall of sound was like the thrumming hum of an orchestra and had our spines utterly tingling. Their Gaelic reworking of Delilah – Dolina – was sheer genius; Tom Jones, eat your heart out!

What came next, however, perfectly rounded off this musical treat. Like all self-respecting Highland events, there was a raffle, and the array of wonderful prizes hinted strongly at the island lineage of Trosg members, not to say some would-be mariners among them; a half bottle of Navy Rum, a whole mackeral, a home-grown parsnip, copies of two staples of my grandparents’ house, The People’s Friend and The Stornoway Gazette, the front page headline reading: “Lewisman sails to ends of earth to break world record”.

As I was musing on the Flat-Earth Society being yet alive and twitching, I realised my ticket was drawn and got handed my prize – a bucket of dried seaweed. I instantly recognised this as the best prize of the night; on our childhood holidays our mother identified for my siblings and I the edible dulaisg on the shore, expounding on its nutritional value, and we never left Lewis without a pail of seaweed for use in her bath, its miraculous properties being equally beneficial to skin.

Harvested, dried and milled in Uist, my bucket of seaweed meal is top-notch stuff; Iain explained it is sold as a mineral garden fertiliser and livestock feed supplement, and so highly regarded that Arab sheikhs import it for their thoroughbred racehorses. Levering off the lid, the evocative and unmistakable tang of the sea had me at once back in the village of Calbost, beachcombing my way across the endless slippery rocks of the cladach. A fitting end to a hugely enjoyable evening.

We took our leave with promises to sing together again, and bowled over as we were by Trosg’s heavenly harmonies, we are certain that these boys have not only the smell of the sea in their nostrils but also the scent of success. Now, where did I put that bucket? If it’s good for racehorses, then how better to turn back the tide of the years…..I’m off to sprinkle some on my cereal!

‘Reel Yes’ Rocks Inverness.

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Post-Referendum St. Andrew’s Night Notes.

Several posts on facebook this week have left me stunned and bemused, and whilst this is not necessarily unusual and I know I probably shouldn’t ponder too deeply what are often simply ill-considered, throwaway remarks on social media, nonetheless one particular comment has stayed with me. The posts about connections between culture and the independence movement have caused me, as a musician and song-writer, to reflect on the value of the arts for society and also the nature of our participation.

In his departing speech as First Minister, Alex Salmond underlined how Scotland has been energised by the Independence Referendum and the superb engagement with which Scots have embraced debate and discussion. One area particularly enlivened by this vigour and passion has been the arts, with what has felt like a cultural renaissance over the last two years. Imaginations have been fired, from the Borders up to Shetland, with writers, artists, thespians, musicians and craftsfolk – as well as promoters, artistic directors, festivals and commissioners – reflecting these exciting times with an outpouring of creativity, comment, collaboration and vitality, that has been not only heart-warming but at times heart-stopping in its emotional resonance.

There have been songs composed, books written, visual art and crafts blossoming everywhere, thoughtful and beautifully-written prose penned, reflecting on the nature of identity, class, Northern-ness, democracy; so many wonderfully imaginative projects big and small, from beautiful ‘wish trees’ to weird and wonderful customised vehicles, to highly individual films created for YouTube, and, most importantly, much of it at a grassroots level where everyone has been welcome to contribute.

The Highland capital has been something of a microcosm of this bigger picture, with its flourishing artistic community involved, inspired and innovative. One strand has been rightly prominent and influential, namely a series of cultural events which have punctuated the last eighteen months at timely intervals, the latest of which takes place in the Waterfront on Friday 28th November in celebration of St Andrew’s Night.

For this we must thank two Invernessian imagineers – Kenny Muir and Ron MacWilliam – who had the foresight, way back in early 2013, to start planning an event which would kick off their Rock Yes ‘brand’. This dynamic duo saw the need to highlight the importance of the arts to the independence debate, and in doing so lit a touch-paper. What followed has been a series of hugely enjoyable and inspiring events – Rock Yes, Reel Yes and family-orientated Yes Cafes – celebrating music, song, dance, literature, poetry, spoken word, enabled fruitful collaborations between artistes and also premiered new work. Our band, Dorec-a-belle, was privileged to take part in several of those Rock and Reel Yes events, delighting in the diversity of talent being showcased.

Thanks to social media, word soon spread and before you could say sovereignty there were similar Rock, Reel and Trad Yes events popping up all over the country, National Collective was up and galloping, and Yestival toured throughout the summer of hope – a veritable caravan cavalcade of love and creativity.

Every day seemed to bring new creative thinking; Inverness’s own Eilidh Mackenzie suggested Reasons Day – the idea that all of us intending to vote Yes should state our reasons on facebook and Twitter on the same day, as a way of focussing our personal thoughts, sharing something of our hopes and dreams, underlining priorities and trying to reach out to those undecided, or even No, voters. National Collective ran with the idea and within a day it had gone viral and reached over a million people!

Heady days indeed! So, what about the facebook posts? Well, in poking barbed fun at SNP’s Hydro spectacular last weekend, an acquaintance stated how much he disliked the song, ‘Caledonia’, and went on to declare that “Nat-art will be the death of us.” Whether he likes Dougie MacLean’s fine song is neither here nor there, but his latter remark irked me. To belittle any work as Nat-art is, at best, patronising cynicism and, at worst, Philistinism. Is everything I described above mere Nat-art? No, of course not!

In imagining a better Scotland, people of all ages and walks of life have felt inspired to express themselves artistically, many for the first time, and for any civilised society this is surely a wonderful and precious phenomenon? The range and quality of both professional and amateur work has been astonishing, lives have been enriched, self-esteem boosted, artistic creation valued and horizons lifted. Best of all, none of it, as Robin McAlpine so succintly put it when he launched his Commonweal book in Inverness in August, will fit back in the box.

What will be the death of us is not Nat-art (or one No-campaigner’s crude construct of what that might be) but small-minds and vested interests, who wish to squash aspiration and keep everything just the way it is. So be warned, my Caledonia-loathing facebook chum: when people start discussing poetry it’s a sign that something really big is happening!

To Twerk Or Not To Twerk!

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Between us girls in Dorec-a-belle we have seven children aged one to eighteen, which can, as you might imagine, pose considerable and diverse challenges at times. Simply doing the things that every band must do – practising, writing, gigging, business meetings, travelling – can become operations on a near-military scale. Spending several days in Glasgow last summer, recording our album, involved highly detailed plans and intricate, logistical manoevres, pulling down troop movements and support back-up that would gladden the heart of any regiment commander It also maybe explains why we don’t find too many thirty and forty-something women playing in bands!

However, we have now at least nailed the art of rehearsing. Bev and husband Donnie have the biggest living room so we pile round there, kids in tow, who then take themselves off to the nearby park or disappear upstairs to spend quality time with their mobile phones. With a new baby joining our small cohort of offspring last year, feed and nappy breaks immediately became a novel feature of band rehearsals. We happily took this in our stride though, along with the convenient opportunity for lots of extra tea and biscuit breaks for ourselves; if there’s one thing you learn through motherhood, it’s compromise.

Whilst still requiring battalion-style preparations, festivals are manageable because we can take our entourage with us. As several of the kids are now hitting their teens, being taken to fantastic family-friendly events like Belladrum, Loopallu and Jocktoberfest, has turned acute embarrassment at mum playing in a band into something approaching, but not quite, kudos! We had a significant breakthrough moment last summer at Belladrum when one of our son’s friends – we had lots of them camping with us (not precisely sure how many as the head-count kept changing!) – said of our performance on the Grassroots Stage “Dorec-a-belle are actually quite good!” I could have sworn something approaching a hint of a smile twitched at the edges of our boys’ mouths!

Youngsters can certainly be trusted to help keep feet on the ground and this was thoroughly driven home for me at a concert support slot we did a while back in the Inverness Ironworks. With no babysitter available, I had to take my son with me and, demonstrating how interested he was in our music, proceeded to get his jotters out and do his maths homework in the front row. Try as I might to ignore this, parental instinct kicked in and drew my eye towards him; somewhat distracting whilst playing, if not to say tricky, trying to check his algebra upside down from the stage. Incidentally not made any easier by the fact the band we were supporting was The Magic Numbers!

For my soon-to-be-teenage son however, there is a line in the sand over which mum must not step under any circumstances. Chatting recently about Dorec-a-belle, my lad said, “But Mum, you’ve got to promise something.”

” Sure. What is it?” I enquired.

“When you’re onstage, promise me you’ll never, ever…..EVER…. “

“What?!”

“Twerk!”

When I’d picked myself up off the floor and my hilarity had subsided to a gleeful chuckle, I couldn’t resist teasing, “Hey, why not? Mum…..twerking (wiggle)…..with an accordion! What’s not to like?!”

Needless to say he was not amused by even the faintest suggestion I might be serious but on reflection I realise there could be mileage in this. If there’s something – along with compromise – I’ve learned over the last twelve years, it’s that bribery is a very handy wee addition to the essential parenting tool-kit. The gist of it goes something like this, “You know that gig I’ve got on Saturday?  See that untidy room of yours…?”…wiggle!

The Album Launch

Hi-res Album cover Listen (16 Oct 14)

What is it about a launch? You invariably spend months carefully planning every detail – choosing exactly the right wording for invitations, deliberating over food and drink options, briefing the venue manager on what you want, scheduling the running-order for the most entertaining, smooth-running and unforgettable event ever, contemplating crowd management issues – all that before you even present your product, which itself will be the culmination of years of study, application, creativity, investment of energy and resources, and of course those thousands of hours of practice.

You strive to create that conducive ambience in which your audience will feel relaxed, comfortable and therefore receptive to your presentation, for not only is it a celebration but you do actually hope to sell a bit too! Although it’s a given that you be reasonably competent in your craft before you foist your work on the public, it seems you must also be something of a psychologist to get it all right!

Perhaps unsurprising then, with so much to remember, that something invariably gets forgotten on the night. Or is it just me? I am, after all, someone who has spent hours labouring over a hot stove for a party, rustling up pots of thick, nourishing soup or chilli – comfort food to revive the most ardent imbiber in the early hours – only to quaff a couple of glasses of wine and completely forget to even take the stuff out of the fridge, let alone heat it up for the revellers!

At my wedding in 1999, I arranged for our cake to be decorated with the music of a lovely slow air written by my husband-to-be. The baker’s handiwork was nothing short of stunning, with the musical notation so beautifully rendered it seemed criminal to cut into it. However, it turned out no crime was committed because cutting the cake was exactly what we forgot to do! The more I have to remember, the more likely I am to forget something fairly crucial!

Recent weeks saw the girls of Dorec-a-belle and I up to the ears in preparations for the launch of our debut album. With our Inverness impresario, Mr R, at our side, we were like a well-oiled machine, drawing everything together for the big night; the culmination of three years of writing, rehearsing, gigging, not to mention endless hours of those two integral pillars of a musician’s life – lugging heavy instruments around and hanging about at sound-checks. With a hunch that my tendency to forgetfulness might let me down, I was leaving nothing to chance, and so ten minutes before doors opened the girls found me feverishly scribbling amidst a flurry of bits of paper.

“What on earth are you doing?” they laughed.

“Just in case I forget what to say,” I explained as I accidentally brushed half my notes to the floor with my elbow. Scrabbling to gather them up and put them back in the right order, I realised I couldn’t read my own scrawling handwriting without my glasses, so back on with said spectacles and was just sifting through the fiddly scraps of paper when the first folk began drifting into the function room. Early. A panic button pinged in my brain; ‘But I’ve still got stuff to write – they can’t be here yet!’ With so much to remember…..

It was a fantastic night: friends, family and supporters packed the Glen Mhor Hotel’s function room; the bubbly slipped down a treat; we remembered to cut the specially-made cake with the cover photo of our album iced on top; waved to the National Mod’s magical, torchlight procession as it weaved its way along the opposite bank of the Ness; folk had a chuckle at the slide-show of the Dorec-a-belle story with our many memorable, if not always flattering, moments; we played a selection of songs from the album and sold a load of cds.

And, yes, of course I forgot to thank three of the most crucial people there! Robin, our double bass player, and Derek on drums, have over the last year, with their immense talent and sympathetic, intuitive musicianship, brought yet more richly-textured layers and a wonderfully driving, meaty power to the Dorec-a-belle sound. John, on the desk, did his usual amazing job, giving us a warm, clear mix on-stage and making us sound great out front! So, guys, please don’t take it personally – you know we love you! Miss Forgetful strikes again!

You can check out the Dorec-a-belle album at www.dorec-a-belle.com