THE BELLS of Barga’s duomo are echoed by the pipes on a new CD celebrating the life and work of the internationally renowned Scottish painter John Bellany, who spent much time living and working in the city. A Tribute in Music and Song to John Bellany is a compilation album released in October by the Scottish folk label Greentrax, which is based at Cockenzie, just along the road from Bellany’s native Port Seton in East Lothian.
Bellany, who died in August 2013, loved Barga. He also loved Scottish music, played accordion and piano and at one time led his own Scottish dance band, the Blue Bonnets. The new album features some of his favourite music as well as specially written tribute songs and others from the East Lothian fishing community in which he grew up and which so powerfully informed his creative imagination throughout his life. Many of his vivid canvases portrayed the fishermen and boats of Port Seton, while its teaming harbour life providing the iconography of his often darkly surreal paintings.
Two tracks on the album feature the playing of the piper and pipemaker Hamish Moore, who was artist-in-residence in Barga in 2008 and has visited the city many times since. It was in Barga that Hamish got to know Bellany, who had a house there and painted and exhibited in the town. It was during his time as musician-in-residence, when he could often be heard playing in the unofficial cultural centre of Aristo’s, that Hamish organised a concert in the town’s 17th-century theatre, combining local singers with visiting performers from Scotland.
For the concert, he wrote a piece of music, Le Campagne di Barga, in which his bellows-blown small pipes echoed the familiar pealing of the town bells, with choirs from both Barga and Edinburgh taking up the theme. A live recording of the performance appears on the album, which also features Hamish playing his own tribute to the painter, an air titled John Bellany of Port Seton.
Quite apart from Moore’s piping, the album contains an intriguing assortment of music, from the fiddle and accordion of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, of whom John was a big fan, to Siobhan Miller singing Moon River, a favourite song of the artist and his wife Helen. Another track was composed and played for the album by Stuart Eydmann and Eddie McGuire of the Whistlebinkies, a Scottish folk band which used Bellany paintings on several of their album covers.
Other tracks are closely associated with the East Lothian fishing community, particularly The Boatie Rows, sung by local singer Alex Hodgson with a chorus from the clients of the local John Bellany Day Centre – named after Port Seton’s illustrious son. Other songs have been specially composed as tributes, including Hodgson’s The Reel John Bellany and His Brush Across the Canvas, the latter written by Ian McCalman, formerly of the McCalmans folk group, and performed by Simon Kempston.
The album ends with the hymn Will Your Anchor Hold, so redolent of the community which shaped the painter. In her sleeve notes, John’s wife, Helen, describes the album as a “magnificent and affectionate tribute” and points out that, “The centre of all that [John] had become by the end of his life was essentially the same as that of the small boy who had walked down the harbour holding his father’s hand … sometimes concealed, many times buried under the detritus of a damaged life but always there as it had been formed in the beginning, steadfast and indomitable in his love and admiration for his place of birth, its way of life and the warmth of its people.”
Helen concludes: “He was enormously proud of his roots and proclaimed them to the world. He found poetry and grace and joie de vivre and every reason under the sun to celebrate the gift his heritage was to give him. Surely all of this is the inherent meaning and underlying traditional music – the pride and celebration of the dignity and beauty in community life?” – By Jim Gilchrist
For details of the album A Tribute in Music and Song to John Bellany, see www.greentrax.com
The late John Bellany was born and brought up in Port Seton, East Lothian, Scotland, and went on to become an artist of international renown.
His father was a boat builder in Port Seton and many of John’s paintings reflect his connection with fishing and the sea. John also had a great love of music and in fact had a ceilidh band named The Blue Bonnets in his early years.
This collection of music and songs is released as a tribute to the great man and many were John’s favourites, chosen by his wife Helen and other family members. Some items were specially written for the album in honour of John Bellany.
The front cover is Port Seton Harbour and a fine example of the artist’s work. The album royalty will go to The John Bellany Day Centre, Port Seton, which cares for the elderly in the community on a daily basis.
19 tracks: Moon River (Siobhan Miller) * His Brush Across The Canvas (Simon Kempston) * Bonaparte’s Retreat (Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham) * Farewell Tae The Haven (Davy Steele with Ceolbeg) * The Road and The Miles to Dundee (The Corries) * John Bellany of Port Seton (Hamish Moore) * Aberlady Bay (The McCalmans) * The Boatie Rows (The John Bellany Day Centre Folk and Alex Hodgson) * Blue Bonnets Over The Border (GiveWay) * Ae Fond Kiss (Gill Bowman) * Hazard Yet Forward (The Harbour Lights Plus The Boatie Blest Folk) * Puirt Seton / Bellany’s Brush (Stuart Eydmann & Eddie McGuire) * The Reel John Bellany (Alex Hodgson) * Wha’ll Dreg a Buckie (Davy Steele with Drinker’s Drouth) * Le Campane di Barga (The Bells o’ Barga) (Hamish Moore and The Choirs of Barga and Sangstreem) * Dark Lochnagar (Calum Kennedy) * Shoals of Herring (Rod Paterson) * Rage Against The Dying of The Light (Paul Bellany). Bonus track: Will Your Anchor Hold (The Fisher Folk Choir).
Included on the CD are two tracks from Hamish Moore. During 2008-2009 he was artist-in-residence in Barga. His residency proved a great success and he staged a sell-out concert (article here) involving Scottish and local musicians which included a composition of his own for pipes, choir and other musicians based around the bell chimes of the town’s Duomo.
The pealing bells of the medieval town’s duomo will mell with the strains of Scots and Italian choirs to introduce a line-up of visiting singers and players, including singer and piper Ken Campbell, pipes and fiddle duo Fin Moore and Sarah Hoy, The Cast (Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis, who found themselves unexpectedly in the limelight when the Sex and the City film featured their beautiful rendition of Auld Lang Syne), traditional singers Scott Gardiner and Loreen Merman, fiddler and pianist Fiona Moore and the “folk choir” Sangstream.
The event, which may well become an annual event in the town’s 17th-century theatre, has been organised by Hamish Moore, the Dunkeld pipemaker and piper (and father of Fin and Fiona), who has been Barga’s musician-in-residence since the beginning of the year.
He first visited the place in May last year, having heard the Scottish painter John Bellany, who now lives there, extolling its merits on a radio show. “Barga is full of artists and musicians and creative people of all sorts,” says Moore. “One of the local bars, Aristo’s, is the unofficial cultural centre (site here), and I got involved with music sessions there with my small pipes.”