Barga – Sailing up the Clyde: The Scottish Connection

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Barga - Sailing up the Clyde: The Scottish Connection

Barga Scottish connections are renowned and legendary but I have to say – it's true. (Just before I get into this I have relate a story visa a vie last weeks rant about supermarkets. It was last Wednesday – forgot it was half day in Barga so took a turn into the wee, local and as it turns out useful supermarket. The young fresh faced check out lad keen to practise and possible show off a bit with his English was having none of my pigeon Italian and as a parting shot said those dreaded words " Have  A Nice Day" : I suppose the old exception to prove the rule – or is this just a bit more globalisation !  

There's Bellany for a start and as you enter Barga there is the well known East Lothian sign of the sea bird ; I think its a gannet . Its kind of strange seeing such a familiar symbol of home here in the high hills of Tuscany. The radio Scotland interview with this fabulous artist was the catalyst which finally sealed it for me. After hearing his wonderful words describing Barga, I had to make the journey to experience this mystical and magical place. There are boat loads of Scots Italians here either visiting their family or holiday homes or working and or living in the town. I can think of five prominent local businesses owned and run by Italian/Scots. These are people who were born and brought up in Scotland (but have now returned to Barga) to Italian parents who had made the journey to Scotland to set up businesses, mainly ice cream or fish and chip shops in the west of Scotland.

Every week that passes and as the spring approaches, the arrival of new scots voices seems to increase. I have to say it is comforting in a strange way.   But: why Scotland – why Barga.   It could be serendipity. A few chose the west of Scotland to make a new life, a new home for themselves, and as we Scots took to the best ice cream and fish and chips in the world, more and more help in the form of family members and friends made their way to aid in satisfying the ever increasing demand.  Glasgow, Paisley , Largs, Saltcoats, Falkirk :- These are the place names quoted time and time again.

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Last summer on my trip here I turned a corner in Barga and strolling down the street with a group of friends was a typical example of an Italian in every way – looks, style, language, everything ;bellafigura. There was just one thing which made him stand out amongst his peer group : he was proudly wearing a kilt which was predominantly blue and black in  colour. Of course we got into conversation and it turned out that his Mum and Dad, originally from Barga, have the fish and chip shop in Falkirk and he himself had designed the tartan. He's had it officially registered and is now – The official Italian tartan. (article about Michael Lemetti here)

These sort of stories are cropping up with increasing regularity.   The other explanation of – why Scotland : why Barga comes in a truly legendary form and brings to mind an old 78 rpm record which my Mum and Dad had in the house when I was a child. The old Pye radiogramme was a great source of important information to me.  Of course  – It provided entertainment value for Mum and Dad in the form of  mainly Roger's and Hammerstein musicals such as The King and I , Oklahoma , South Pacific and – well – you get the drift !! ; but it also provided me with a frame work for identity. I was born (of Scottish parents) and brought up until the age of eleven in The West Indies and as such carried and flitted quite happily between three separate identities. I was a local wee boy playing and going to school in a multi racial society with everything that that entailed. I was, when I stepped through the door of my home, a small colonial white boy and then,  when taken back to my working class family in Glasgow, as I was regularly, a Scot with cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles (and very many of whom were of the great variety) in a truly wonderful extended family in Springburn and Bishopbriggs.

These experiences made me acutely aware of culture and cultural differences in general but of Scottish culture in particular. Having  a father who was a piper and regularly practiced and got his pipes in order to play for The St. Andrew's Balls and Burn's Suppers in Trinidad provided the inspiration for me. It didn't take much for me, with great enthusiasm, to  take to the practice chanter ate the age of 8 with my Dad as my first teacher. That half sized chanter was made for me by Jim Pettigrew who at the time worked for R.G. Hardies in Bishopbriggs just a few yards away from my maternal grandmother's front door.  I remember well watching with awe as Jim turned the blackwood in that old workshop producing some of the best pipes and in particular pipe chanters of their day. 

As well as the old R &H ,  I heard my first piping LP in Trinidad on that old Pye. I think Dad procured it by mail order as I seem to remember it arriving in the post  – "Scottish Pipes" which included as well as some military bands, solos from Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay and a few highly significant tracks from The City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band. I still refer to these Police tracks in a lecture I give on old rhythms in piping as it provides a perfect example of how strathspeys and reels were played. The pipe major of the day, Seanie MacDonald took the tempos and rhythms from his native South Uist and set these as standard for the band.  There were countless, and I have to say, priceless Jimmy Shand LP's. The man was a genius ; a master of rhythm and provided music which  is perfect to dance to. I knew his piano player when I was at university in Edinburgh and to illustrate Jimmie's dry and acerbic wit, he recounted a story of their touring days in the north of England. On these lengthy and grueling tours, the band would be accommodated in various  B&B's along the route and at breakfast one morning Jimmy asked for some honey to go on his toast. The land lady brought one of these plastic wrapped individual portions of honey – quick as a flash and with precision timing, Jimmy was heard to say " I see you keep a bee ! " They have erected a statue of him ( and not before time )&nbsp
; in his home town of Auchtermuchty.

Neil Gow of Dunkeld who gave Scotland and the world some of its finest fiddle music hasn't quite achieved that status yet. He lived in the Perthshire village of Dunkeld in the 18th century – no sign of one yet to him but I believe there is a fund raising project going on. Beatrix Potter who has only a fleeting and spurious link with Dunkeld seems to have done better with a whole garden dedicated to her and a permanent exhibition mounted in her honour. She used to spend her summer holidays in Dunkeld from The Lake District in The North of England. —————————–
There was Kenneth Mackellar and Robert Wilson LP's representing the fashion of trained and classical  tenor voices of Scottish singing.
The music hall was also present in the collection in the form of Harry Lauder and Will Fyfe. I quite liked the latter as there was an honesty about the man and I found his monologues quite amusing when I was listening a the tender age that I was—— " The Ruins O' Pompei" – repeat 3 times – I nearly married one o' them ! This was a sentimentalist song about being away at sea and the adventures of what he had seen and experienced in the far and distant lands and using the eternally popular theme of "Coming Home and there not being any place like home "
Thank the good Lord though for the genius of Hamish Henderson, and everyone else who has played their part however small in the folk revival and everything that has gone with that in all of its many guises and forms ;  to redress that mighty imbalance and finally  to  allow us to identify with and even be proud of ( and instead of cringing at ) our own wonderful and rich culture. I know of many people who left because of that cringe factor.
Not so now. Our young people can grow up with an air of confidence in themselves , their country and culture. We are no longer physically beaten or ridiculed at school for speaking our own languages : Gaelic and Scots. There's even a degree course in Piping and Traditional Music . Some say when this course was being established that it was an act of sedition. A degree course in Piping : something  in my young days I could not have  conceived of , even in the wildest of dreams.

There's more : much more but Will Fyfe and the Clyde is calling :-  

"Sailing up the Clyde
Sailing up the Clyde
Back to Bonnie Scotland and yer ain fireside
There's a lump comes in yer throat
And a tear ye canny hide
When yer rolling back tae Scotland    
And yer ain fireside"

And this is where I return (and some may say thankfully) to Barga. Here's the legend and I can find no one to confirm or deny.

A ship sets sail bound for New York , say about the turn of the 19th / 20th century , full of people from Barga and surrounding district ; there's trouble with the ship, possible engine trouble and it comes "Sailing up the Clyde " , disgorges its human cargo  who settle all along the Clyde Coast, Paisley and Glasgow.
Who knows – the things of legend fascinate – I don't think it really matters.

Barga is a magical place . There is a different order here.

I'm down in Isernia this extended weekend at The Italian Spring Scottish Piping School as a guest. The school is run by the amazing and dynamic Duilio Viglioti. I am helping  a bit with the teaching and took part in a fabulous sell out concert last night ; young lads playing Zampogna, degree students from The RSAMD course in Glasgow,course tutors, Simon McKerrell and Margaret Houlihan and wonderful professional bands which include Zampogna, oboe, bass clarinet, dance, percussion and concert harp. I had met one of The Zampogna players in 1992 while in Burgundy doing a concert tour with Dick Lee. When the concert was over we (about a hundred of us) were treated to a wonderful meal after which I made my way over to talk to a table of Scots Italians. I got chatting to one woman in particular, was loving her Glasgow accent , and when I asked where she was from her reply was – Oh – I'm not from here ; ( can you here that comforting Glasgow lilt ) – I'm here because my husband and his family are from this district . I'm actually from Tuscany – a wee town – you won't probably have heard of it —  
BARGA !!!!!!
Hamish Moore 8th March 2008 – The fifth article from Hamish Moore – the premier small pipes bagpipe maker in Scotland now working in Barga as artist in residence 2008 – all of his articles can be read here

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12 years ago

Ar Seamus!

Great stuff, and glad to hear you are back.
The Scottish connections are, as you say, renowned and legendary, however there is the New Scottish (Nova Scotia) connection to explore are well! This will prove interesting and fun!

all the best,