Monday, October 16, 2017

Halloween




Paganism

Paganism has its roots in the indigenous, pre-Christian religions of Europe. The majority of the population to inhabit Scotland in Pre-Christian times could trace their origins to Scandinavia, Northern Continental Europe and the Mediterranean. Some may even have emigrated from America around 7,600 BC. A mass immigration of people to mainland Europe and Ireland may also have occurred from North Africa around 650 A.D. Most historians agree Celtic culture can be definitively traced back to about 800 B.C. Judeo-Christian Benedictine monks in 750 AD found Ireland had a vibrant civilization, with many characteristics in common with Egypt and Libya; there was also a strong connection with South Central Europe. They considered the Celts must have reached Ireland about 400 BC., bringing with them civilization. Celts encompassed many different people and tribes and were loosely connected by language, art, culture and religion. The predominant faith was Druid and Priests played a major role in society, connecting people to other tribal communities, the gods and the dead as well as keeping an oral history of settlements. Celts did not have strict borders between the realms of the living and the dead. They believed a constant exchange of souls took place between the two worlds so that when someone died in the other world, it would bring a soul to this world. Rituals were largely based on both nature and the passage of time in nature such as the transition between day and night. This concept of natural change was also seen in the importance of transitions between the seasons, which also represented changes within the human life cycle. Spring represented birth, summer represented maturity, autumn represented decay and winter represented death and “re-birth into a new generation.” Druids gathered on 31st October to kindle a sacred fire (Hallowfire) and practice age old rituals. Christianity came to southern Scotland during the Roman occupation. It was mainly spread by missionaries from Ireland from the fifth century and is associated with St Ninian, St Kentigern and St Columba.

Halloween




Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Old Celtic Calendar, New Year began on the 1st November. The Celts were mainly pastoral people and dependent on cattle Samhain was the time of year when the cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and livestock were slaughtered for the winter. This was the time of harvest and the gathering of the clans. In Gaelic, Samhuinn or hallow tide (or season) is the feast of all-souls which is sometimes referred to as the Festival of the Dead. It is the transition between old and new year was believed to set free evil spirits which walked among the living. A liminal (transitional) time where the darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lugh the Sun God was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. A twilight zone where the spirits of the dead and those not yet born, walked freely among the living. The souls of the dead were believed to revisit their old homes and good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. During Samhain feasts were held and Hallowbonfires were lit while Druids practiced their rituals. The Hallowfires were supposed to scare away evil spirits. In modern times the celebration of Samhain was common along Scotland's Highland Line. Two bonfires sat adjacent and celebrants and livestock were walked or danced between them as a ritual of purification. In the late 18th century, in Ochtertyre, Perthshire, a ring of stones was laid round the fire to represent each person. Everyone then ran round it with a torch, "exulting". In the morning, the stones were examined and if any was mislaid it was said that the person for whom it was set would not live out the year. In Moray, the boys asked for bonfire fuel from each house in the village. When the fire was lit, one after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near to the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a position as to let the smoke roll over him. The others ran through the smoke and jumped over him. When the bonfire burnt down, they scattered the ashes, vying with each other who should scatter them most. People took the flames from the bonfire back to their homes in the belief it would bring them luck. In northeastern Scotland, they carried burning fir around their fields to protect them, and on South Uist they did the same with burning turf. In some places, hearth fires were doused on Samhain night. Each family solemnly took it in turn to re-light its hearth from the communal bonfire. This was thought to bond the families of the village together. In many parts of Scotland it was customary to leave an empty chair and a plate of food for invisible guests. A western-facing door or window was also opened and a candle left burning on the windowsill to guide the dead home. Eating and drinking was very much part of celebrations but the Witchcraft Act of 1735 contained a clause preventing the consumption of pork and pastry comestibles on Halloween; the act was eventually repealed in the 1950s.

All Hallow’s Eve




The Roman Catholic holy day of All Saints (or All Hallows) was introduced in the year 609 AD. This had been originally celebrated on 13 May. Louis the Pious in 835AD., switched it to 1 November in the Carolingian Empire, at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. The night of 31 October was known as All Hallows' Eve (or All Hallows' Even). Later the 2nd November became All Souls' Day and over time Samhain and All Saints'/All Souls' morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween. Fear of pagan ways by the Church, Samhain became associated with witches and broomsticks, black cats (familiars), bats (night creatures), ghosts and other spooky things. Once the The Gregorian calendar (Christian calendar) was accepted many of the observed customs of Samhain were absorbed into Hogmanay e.g first footing.

Guising




From the 16th century guising (or mumming) became part of Halloween, and involved young people going door-to-door in costume (in disguise), often reciting verses in exchange for food (souling). In the Middle Ages poor people travelled from door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). A common belief was during Samhain the deceased would visit their old home and the purpose of disguise was to impersonate the dead and demand reward in exchange for good fortune. It is also thought guisers were able to ward off evil spirits. Playing pranks at Samhain is recorded in the Scottish Highlands as far back as 1736 and was also common in Ireland, which led to Samhain being nicknamed "Mischief Night" in some parts. In some parts of Scotland young men went house-to-house with masked, veiled, painted or blackened faces (using the village bonfire ashes ) often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. This may be the origin of todays ‘trick or treat.’ Adults also took special care not to offend the little people(aos sí) and sought to ward-off any who were out to cause mischief. They stayed near to home or, if forced to walk in the darkness, turned their clothing inside-out or carried iron or salt to keep them at bay. Up until the early 19th century, locals in Lewis, the Outer Hebrides gathered on the shore on 31 October. One man walked into the water up to his waist, before emptying a cup of ale into the sea. He then called on the Celtic water spirit (Seonaidh - Shoney), to bestow blessings on the local fishermen.

Jack–o-lanterns




The traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lantern. These often had grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins. Traditionally the flame from the village bonfire was carried in the turnip lantern. Villages doused their home fires so they could be rekindled it with the new flame. By this means not only would it bring good luck the household, it also joined the communities together by sharing the flame from the village bonfire. Candles in hollowed-out turnips produce flickering flames. The old belief was candle flames which flickered on Samhain night were being touched by the spirits of dead ancestors, or "ghosts." They may have also been used to protect oneself from harmful spirits. The mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish immigration to North America popularized the Halloween traditions. "Jack of the Lantern” was an old Irish tale and Jack was a man who could enter neither heaven nor hell and was condemned to wander through the night with only a candle in a turnip for light. The term Jack-o’- lantern became associated with Halloween lanterns in the 20th century along with wearing costumes. In the US trick-or-treating became popular from the late 1940s.



By the 19th century children masqueraders in disguise and carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips to visit homes and be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money was well established. Children were only supposed to receive treats if they performed a party trick for the household. This normally took the form of singing a song or reciting a poem or telling a funny joke which the child memorized before setting out. Occasionally more talented children might do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or something even more impressive. More often than not today they do not even need have to perform to gain reward.

Seasonal foods




Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were traditionally used to reward guisers. Later money, chocolate and other candies replaced them. In preparation for Halloween festivities, apples were ritualistically peeled by the young girls of the house. A long strip of peel was passed thrice, sunwise; around the head before the young girl throw it over her shoulder. If it fell to the ground in the shape of the initial letter this was a clear indication of the first letter of a future spouse's name. In the preparation of Halloween cake, egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children.



Holloween cakes also contained tokens for luck.

Party Games




Today childrens’ parties are still an important element of Halloween. The games played traditionally had their origins in divination for the coming year.

Dooking (or bobbing) for apples




One of the most popular games in Scotland is dookin' for apples, where bairns (children) have their hands tied behind their backs and try to grab apples from a basin full of water with their teeth. The apples being less dense than water floated to the surface and just to make it more difficult sometime flour was sprinkled on the water. A modified form of the game was to allow the child to kneel on a chair and hold a fork handle between their teeth. Taking aim they would release the fork, prongs side down into the basin and retrieve and keep any apple they skewered.



A variation on the game is "snap apple" where the fruit is hung from the ceiling on strings.



The origin of the game dates back to Roman Times, the Romans introduced the apple tree to Britain. When an apple is sliced in half, the seeds form a pentagram-shape. The apple was taken as a symbol of fertility and used to determine marriage. During the annual celebration, young unmarried people try to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string; the first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to be allowed to marry. Girls who place the apple they bobbed under their pillows are said to dream of their future lover.



Because Pomona was a fertility goddess and because the Celts believed that the pentagram was a fertility symbol and when an apple is sliced in half the seeds form a pentagram it is natural that they believed the apple could be used to determine marriages during this magical time of year. From this belief comes the game bobbing for apples. During the annual celebration young unmarried people try to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string. The first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to marry.

Treacle Scones




Another game played at parties is the game of treacle scones. With hands tied behind the back and sometimes blindfolded the participants are invited to bite a scone, covered in treacle, hanging from a string.



One custom in the Western Isles was for engaged couples to put two large nutshells on the grate of the fire. Each shell was named after the couple. If the heated nuts make a lot of noise like spitting and hissing etc., and flew off the hearth, this foretold it would be a stormy marriage. If the nuts burnt slowly and quietly, then the marriage would be a happy one. If the nuts jumped together this was deemed a good omen for the couple.



Another fortune telling game for adults is "Pull a Stock." Young men and women are blindfolded and walk toward a field of kale stocks (a form of cabbage). They must stop at the first one they come to and pull it from the ground. The shape of the stock indicates the shape of their future husband or wife; for example, thick, thin, tall, short, straight or crooked. Furthermore, if soil is stuck to the stock, this indicates a wealthy future.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A brief history of the Glasgow Fair




The Glasgow Fair dates to the 12th century, and is one of the oldest pubic holidays and was granted by William the Lion, King of Scotland (1165 to 1214), after Bishop Jocelin asked for permission to hold festivities within the boundaries of Glasgow Cathedral in 1190. By the 1800s, the fair moved to Glasgow Green.



Glasgow Green was established in the 15th century and is the oldest park in the city. It sits on the north bank of the River Clyde on the city’s east end. King James II granted the land to Bishop William Turnbull and the people of Glasgow in 1450. Originally it was an uneven swampy area composed of the High and Low Greens, the Calton Green and the Gallowgate Green, divided by the Camlachie and Molendinar Burns. Initially it was a grazing area with the banks of the Clyde used for drying fish nets and communal washing. Over the years, the burns were drained and the green levelled and extended. After the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Town Council of Glasgow employed 324 jobless as workers to remodel Glasgow Green. Throughout the 19th century, the green was used for political meetings, demonstrations and public executions.



At first, the fair was associated with the sale of horses and cattle. As time passed the gathering became a focal point for traveling showmen, who took advantage of the large audiences. More recently the fair become associated with amusements, with circus and theatre shows as centrepieces. As was the custom most local businesses closed on 'Fair Friday' to allow workers and their families to attend. The community of travelling show people grew in the city towards the end of the 19th century. In anticipation of the fairs around the city, showground families acquired, or leased patches of land. By 1912, the fair incorporated penny gaffs, these were make shift theatres, which cost one penny entrance fee. Originally a gaff was the name given to a cock fighting pit. Cock fighting was banned in the 19th century and the penny gaff featured clowning, dancing, singing and short melodrama. The Glasgow Fair in 1912 featured a scenic railway to visitors on a simulated ride through Japan and back to Scotland. Green’s Carnival at Whitevale. Gallowgate attracted large audiences eager to see films on a silver screen of Trench War. As the years passed, Glasgow Green became the site for amusements, circus animals, shows and ride simulations.



Prior to the Industrial revolution in the 19th century, fairs, markets and the like were patronised by the gentry as part of a paternalistic ethos. Both cultural, and structural changes came with industrialisation and the spread of factory work and unprecedented regularity and intensity of working hours produced a new formation of leisure activity. Most workers had the Sunday off, but apart from that the only other time off was during the religious holidays of Christmas and Good Friday. In 1871, the Bank Holiday Act gave workers a few paid holidays each year and four new public holidays were introduced in England and Wales, and 3 in Scotland. Opportunities for leisure activities increased dramatically as real wages continued to grow and hours of work continued to decline. In urban areas, the nine-hour workday became increasingly the norm; the 1874 Factory Act limited the workweek to 56.5 hours, encouraging the movement toward an eventual eight-hour workday. Moreover, a system of routine annual vacations came into play, starting with white-collar workers and moving into the working-class. By the late Victorian era, the leisure industry had emerged in all cities. This provided scheduled entertainment of suitable length at convenient locales at inexpensive prices. These included sporting events, music halls, and popular theatre. Glasgow was well served with railways with inexpensive railway fares; the Clyde steamers allowed working class people access to the seaside resorts and cheap hotels along the Firth of Clyde, Rothesay and the Ayrshire coast.



It soon became a common practice for local industries to close during the second half of July, to allow the majority of their employees a holiday on the Trade Fare. Literally everything would have stopped production, shipyards, retail (for the most part), and Glasgow ground to a halt. Being paid holiday pay in hand meant it was not out of character to see wives of workers waiting patiently outside the docks or depots, to ensure their husbands did not spend their fair fortnight wages, in the pub.



After the Second World War, tens of thousands of Glaswegians made their annual exodus from the city either travelling by rail to exotic locations such as Blackpool or "doon the watter" on the Clyde steamers. Huge queues of holiday-makers formed at Glasgow's Central Station or the Steamer Terminal at the Broomielaw with families eager to start their holiday. A regular call was “Taps aff, we’re going doon the watter for the fair.” (Shirts off boys, we are going to the seaside). Blackpool became a Mecca for thousands.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Middle of the Road (Sally Carr)



The Electrons were formed in 1964 and consisted of brothers Ian and Eric McCredie (formerly of The Dominos) and drummer, Ken Andrew (former The Talismen Beat Unit). They later changed their name to the Douglas Boys and backed Glasgow singer, Jan Douglas. In 1967 Sadie Carr (stage name Sally Carr) joined the group as a replacement lead singer when they were Part Three, Sally stayed and the group became Part Four. Latin American numbers featured heavily in their live act and their management encouraged them to reflect this in their name, Part Four became Las Caracas in 1967. For the next three years, the group toured the UK and in 1968 they appeared in ATVs talent show, Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green.



The band did very well winning many of the heats but despite their popular appeal no interest was shown from recording companies. Sally, Ken and Eric turned professional in 1969 and Ian joined them a year later. The band had plans to move to Argentina, but delayed their decision to play on a cruise ship to the Caribbean. A new name was necessary and Ken thought of Middle of the Road, all agreed and the band was launched. On route to South America the band hit a hitch whilst in transit in Italy. Left stranded and penniless they worked the local restaurants. The group was heard by an RCA, A & R executive, who invited them to Rome for a recording test. Things went well and they recorded three songs Yellow River, I can't tell the bottom from the top and Jesus Christ Superstar. The company liked them so much, they included these recordings later on their first album.



At first MoR were used to back Italian pop singers including Sophia Loren.



The record did well in Italy and was the first of many film themes to be recorded by the group. RCA Italiana teamed the group with Italian producer, Giacomo Tosti in 1970 who found Chirpy cheep cheep which was written and recorded by Lally Stott. When the band heard it at first, they expressed reserve but Sally soon convinced them it was a good idea. Copious supplies of Bourbon were available in the studio when the song was recorded but on its release it went to Number one in many countries including the UK.



C4 stayed in the UK hit parade for 35 weeks and sold 8 million records world-wide elevating Middle of the Road to the third most popular recording artists in the Billboard Charts in 1971. Writers, Mario and Giosy Capuano joined the production team who produced a string of International hits. “Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum," their second single was used in a Fiat promotion for the launch of the Fiat 127. Car and single did very well.



"Soley Soley," was produced by Giacomo Tosti and penned by Spanish songwriter, Fernando Arbex, with lyrics co-written by Sally. The song was recorded in Madrid and got to Number 2 in the UK charts.



Despite their fame on the Continent and obvious commercial success, Middle of the Road was not promoted in the UK. The band toured nonstop around the world for the next two years and visited Brazil, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The next single Sacramento, reached the top ten charts in most of Europe, including many of the East European countries like East Germany, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland.



Together Samson and Delilah, Yellow Boomerang and Talk of all the USA, sold over 2 million copies in Europe alone.











Neil Henderson (former Bay City Rollers) joined the group but by the mid seventies, the band was beginning to lose their mojo, and tastes in popular music were changing. Abba who once were the warm up band at MoR gigs, were now in the ascendancy. MoR changed labels but despite serious attempts to reconfigure their musical style, the band had no further success. A marketing war between Ariola and the giant RCA Corporation ensued and old recordings not previously released prevented their new works from impacting. Eventually Sally left to the band in 1977 to follow a solo career. A year later Ken left while Ian and Eric continued to exploit what was left of the Middle of the Road’s reputation. In 1981 Sally and Ken returned to MoR for a short time to re- record and perform their old hits. In 1991 they were back together again for a German TV gig and enjoyed a renaissance on the European nostalgia circuit. The band is still together as, Middle of the Road featuring Sally Carr, with originals, Ken Andrew and Neil Henderson. Shug Devlin (keyboards) and Phil Anderson (guitar and vocals) complete the lineup.





Worth a listen:
Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971)
Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum (1971)
Soley Soley (1971)
Sacramento (1972)
Samson and Delilah (1972)
Talk of all the USA (1972)
Yellow Boomerang (1973)
Kailakee Kailako (1973)