Ye Zounds In Ye Groundes

31 08 2009

The ‘Sounds in the Grounds’ Festival in Stornoway has a long and distinguished history and has been responsible for bringing the finest musical talents to island audiences for centuries.

The first recorded evidence of Sounds In The Grounds dates back to Viking times, when the Stjornoway Gazette, the local news parchment, carried an article on the performance of local Norse minstrels ‘Our Longship Activities’ who had headlined the very first Festival.

The Norse influenced period of Sounds in the Grounds continued for several years until the organisers had to give up due to the huge expense involved in replacing burnt and pillaged tents each year. This followed the tradition of the headline act setting fire to the stage and setting it adrift in the harbour. The organiser, a shaggy Viking named Ijnnes The Tent Post, was however, instrumental in starting the movement to bring popular musical culture to the Hebrides.

Fast forwarding to the Georgian period saw an attempt by Lord Seaforth, the owner of Lewis, to try and raise the cultural profile of his subjects, by bringing a number of famous classical composers to play at ‘Ye Foundf in the Groundf’.

Johan Sebastian Bach was invited to headline in 1725 where he premiered his famous ‘Buntatta and Fugue in D minor’. His performance went down so well with the crowds that Lord Seaforth declared that the village of Boke, down in Broadbay, would be renamed Bach in his honour, Unfortunately, the Comhairle workmen took the name down wrong and the sign that went up was spelt ‘Back’ by mistake.

Ludwig van Beethoven was asked to perform at the 1800 festival, but unfortunately it was here that the famous composer went deaf after having his ear pecked by an angry guga.

In 1940 Glenn Millar was the main draw to the festival. To an audience made up of locals and servicemen, Millar and his jazz band performed his favourites ‘In The Moor’ and ‘Little Brown Trout’.

Another notable Sounds in the Grounds took place in 1968 during the heyday of ‘Hippydom’, when Jefferson Tractor and The Graap-full Dead (featuring Jerry Garsiarach) held a four day ‘Piece Festival’ where everyone exchanged recipes for sandwiches. (marag dubh and marmalade was a firm favourite with the festival crowds).

Rabbie Burns in Storn o’way

13 08 2009

Rabbie Burns

As many of you will be aware, Rabbie Burns worked as a Customs and Excise Man for several years before finding fame and fortune as a National Bard.

As part of his training for the Customs job, he was dispatched to various parts of Scotland, to gain experience of the varied and many types of smuggler he may come across.

The young Burns found himself posted to Stornoway in 1779 for a six month period, armed with only his quill and inkpot. He worked from the old Custom House on the pier (where the present day Custom House now stands) as part of a counter-smuggling squad. The squad would spend the day sailing up and down the Minch catching guga smugglers and ensuring that the excise Duty on Uig chessmen sets was being paid.

During his time off, Burns explored the island of Lewis and must have gained inspiration from the Hebrides (and from its womenfolk) for many of his most famous poems and songs. It is understood that Burns composed many of his early drafts whilst living in his digs on Kenneth Street, where his mews drew on the many characters and events that the town of Stornoway had to offer. These first drafts formed the basis for Burns more famous poems and songs which gradually saw the light of day as his fame grew.

His early drafts included:,

Address to a Marag

Tam O’Shader

A Coves a cove for a’that

The Rigs o’ Charlie Barley

The Twa Sheep Dogs

Tam O’Shader (Barvas)

When all the Siarochs leave the street
And go to Charlie Barleys for some meat
As all the shops are closing down
And maws begin to leave the town
While we sit boozing in the Star
And getting drunk after many’s a jar
We think not on the long Barvas Road
The moor and bog with heavy load
That lies between us and our home
Where sits our grumpy, frumpy, blone
Gathering her wool from her flocks
Busy knitting bobban socks