Jules was the last of the day’s speakers, bringing new light (and sound) to Border Traditions

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I was delighted to be invited by fellow Borders musician Matt Seattle to come to Old Gala House and meet LBPS members – especially given the chance to hear the original Teribus Common Riding song from my home town of Hawick. What a beautiful sound! Lovely also to hear it in a building whose hidden core is a border towerhouse once occupied by the Hoppringles. The upstairs towerhouse room with its painted oak ceiling and cleft oak carved furniture still gives some flavour of life in the days when the laird’s private piper entertained the family there.
It was interesting to hear from Jamie and John and also realise that as well as having Scots language and culture in common, we all have a connection with theatre. I write for theatre and radio and perform my Scots writing and storytelling with video and music looping. The genres are blurred and it’s either ‘spoken word with film’ or ‘expanded cinema’, depending on who you talk to. Mainly it’s because I live in a rural area and mostly work on my own. My partner Michael Scott (no relation to the Borders alchemist, allegedly) helped with video playout.

First up to set the scene was a Borders Morning Walk – a dawn panorama filmed from the hills south of Kelso, stretching from Bowmont forest and panning across the Eildons to Smailholm. This was accompanied by a Kraftwerk cover with 4 looped recorders playing birdsong and G low whistle playing a strathspey. The Kraftwerk number, Morgenspaziergang, was inspired by a blackbird motif and the word ‘recorder’ was originally used for repeating birdsong – I liked the idea of looping the natural and cultural worlds and their histories together.

Next up were two of Three Border Songs - song lyrics inspired by border houses and set to music by composer Suzanne Parry. These were written for Scottish Chamber Orchestra musicians, as part of Borders Heritage Festival. We visited Abbotsford, Aikwood and Bowhill and were inspired to write women’s viewpoint songs, imagining the under-recorded lives of women who lived there. The Reiver Wife was inspired by the Dish of Spurs tale of a feisty border wife. With an empty food cupboard and her husband not pulling his weight, it’s said she plonked a ‘dish of spurs’ on the table. She clearly had a sense of drama, but we also wondered about the violence of reiving and the cycle of revenge perpetuated by this gesture. The Kist Bride was inspired by the oak chest at Abbotsford, said by Sir Walter Scott to have a grisly story involving a bride playing hide-and-seek on her wedding night. I wrote this song from the point of view of the bride, and obviously couldn’t leave her stuck there, as Scott did. So like the reiver wife, she has a new ending.

It was Halloween and a Borders gothic theme was emerging, watched over by the sculpture of Sir Walter on the Old Gala House mantelpiece. So the mysterious collapse of my music stand seemed hardly surprising. And also a fitting introduction to The Stane Bairn, a dialogue between an expectant mother and her stone offspring. This was written for Uncanny Bodies, an Edinburgh University anthology to celebrate the anniversary of Freud’s Uncanny essay. It was great to meet a group of writers interested in the uncanny and to know that the Scottish tradition is alive and well.

For the next spoken word film, we went to Sainsbury’s for some edible props. 14 Ways of Looking at a Bean is about the phrase ‘aye been’, which is often used about and by Borderers, and feels to me like a way to beat ourselves up. So this Scots poem includes ruminations on ‘I, bean’, ‘peer pressure frae deid folk’ and ‘the pernicious echo-chamber of the bean’, as a counterweight. The final film was Unconformity, about the famous geological formation at Jedburgh and Siccar Point, Borders farmer James Hutton and the epic discovery of deep time. For this, I was able to get some epic drone footage from British Geological Survey of the Eddleston Remeandering – an amazing Borders project where a stretch of the Tweed river catchment has been shifted to help mitigate flooding. While this is being written, COP26 international visitors are down in the Borders visiting the project. There are lots of amazing things going on here which tend to get overlooked from the city perspective. So it’s great the LBPS members were able to come down and visit.

Three Border Songs recordings online: https://www.juleshorne.com/scottish-chamber-orchestra-song-cycle-commission/
Films and audio: https://www.juleshorne.com/