Burns 2016. Gie her a haggis!

I started this year’s Burns season with a Tam O’Shanter rendition at the Johnstone Pipe Band Burns Night that included some wonderful singing from the incredibly talented Ainsley Hamill. I had to leave that one early to get to a private party in Cathcart to play a few tunes and again recite Tam, this time for the entire cast of hit BBC show Eggheads. The programme is made in Glasgow, at Pacific Quay, and the cast were celebrating 1500 episodes. Host Jeremy Vine was heard to comment that he couldn’t believe how much attention they were all paying to my words just in case he asked them about ‘cutty sark’ or ‘chapman billies’ during the next week’s filming.

On Burns Day itself I played at a lunch at my mum’s Sheltered Housing complex, and again delivered Tam O’Shanter to a wonderfully appreciative audience. Amazingly we found two neighbours of my mum’s who each had close relatives who played the pipes. And I knew them both. It’s a small world.

One of the first Burns Suppers I played at was the Rostrum Club in Cumbernauld and I was so young that they had to pour out a glass of Irn Bru in the afternoon to give it time to go flat and pretend it was the real stuff when I drank it after piping in the haggis. Tom Myles,the then Chairman of that club, and a real Burns stalwart in Cumbernauld and beyond, died in January this year at the grand old age of 90. And by some strange coincidence, although many of us think he planned it, he was buried at lunchtime on Burns Day, just as I struck up my pipes to pipe in the haggis for my mum. Real irony or what!

Thursday 28th and it was an early flight to Barcelona and a long drive to La Liviniere just outside Carcassonne with Frazer McLellan. A small Burns night there, organised by tourist supremo Guy Crawford for his neighbours in the village began with a few tunes in the village square followed by aperitifs in Guy’s Wine Cave and a relaxed march across to the local café for some great cock-a-leekie soup followed by haggis and the trimmings and some cranachan. As a non-dairy-eater, I passed on the cranachan but had a wonderful invention from Guy’s daughter Rachel that she christened a ‘bananachan’.

Another outing for Tam, which the locals actually said they understood, at least in outline, and then it was time for a traditional Scottish Ceilidh. I left Frazer to play the music for this one and I spent the evening teaching the locals the intricacies of a Dashing White Sergeant, Strip The Willow et al. Unfortunately the landlord was missing for the latter part of the evening. He hadn’t realised that you can’t drink whisky in the same quantities as you can take red wine, so it was an early bath for him.

A late night was followed by an early morning drive down to Figueres to catch the amazingly fast and efficient train back to Barcelona for the now traditional Burns Night at the Centro Galego in Las Ramblas. We had almost one hundred people there this year, in two venues for a change. Great work from Flaherty’s Irish Bar in providing the meal for us meant that we avoided the disaster than we would have faced since the Centro Galego had a problem with its kitchen.

After the meal, during which Tam raised his head, and his bottle, once again, it was off to the Centro Galego for the ceilidh, and this time Frazer and I were joined by Watchdog Presenter and wonderful guitarist Matt Allwright and Corporate Lawyer and fiddler (one and the same perhaps!) Donald Stewart who had both travelled over from London for the evening. The floor was full from the first Gay Gordon to the last Orcadian Strip the Willow and we all tripped home to sleep at around 2am.

Many thanks to both Glenfiddich and Tennents for supplying the liquid refreshments for the evening, and to Friendly Rentals for helping with the accommodation.

Sunday afternoon saw us visiting Kitty’s Irish Bar in Calle Numancia for a relaxing five hour session that saw one set of tunes start with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, continue with When The Saints Go Marching In before seguing into Una Paloma Blanca, a few Scottish Reels (Lexy McKaskill, Ale is Dear and Dancing Feet for the purists among you) and ending with a bit of The Who when Matt realised that Pinball Wizard was roughly the same time signature and in the same key (almost) as the reels.

We were also blessed with contributions from Scottish singer/songwriter Jerry Burns and her dad Joe who had come over for the weekend, as well as Charlie Johstone who regaled us with a couple of his own songs and poems. All in all a wonderful afternoon.

Matt and Donald flew back to London on Monday morning leaving Frazer and I to go and perform for thirty Russian businesswomen in Barcelona that evening. Some cava, more haggis and a touch of Talisker made for a diverse end to a wonderful trip and even although the only words I understood of Oxana Rogvert’s talk were ‘sporran’ and ‘kilt’, I’m told she did say some very complimentary things about the Scots!

So that’s it. Burns season over for another year. Oh, apart from a charity night at an East Kilbride pub towards the end of February, where I might even give Holy Willie his first outing!