Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rationalising my Social Media Presence

I'm very enthusiastic about social media, and I author several other blogs.  However, they're not all equally active.  At the same time, though, they all represent different aspects of me. blog is going to be my main personal blog from now on.  Anything relating to my Scottish music research, or continuing professional development, will have its own place there, so, and will become dormant.

The successful performing arts blog,, which I author for the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will, of course, be unaffected.  You'll recognise my blogging "voice", but it's done in my daytime professional capacity.

I'll maintain my page - it's not a blog, and I think it's worthwhile - but I intend to do a radical pruning of my LinkedIn pages.  They are beginning to look cluttered
I can also be found tweeting @Karenmca. However, I generally use Facebook only for family and close friends. That's my personal choice.

Monday, 10 March 2014

More Piracy? Not this time, sadly.

I borrowed a book from Glasgow University Library, intrigued by mention of piracy amongst Scottish and Irish book 'publishers' and booksellers.  At first glance, it didn't have much relevance for my musical interests, but a couple of names popped out at me, in the final chapter.  A man whom I thought sold music in Glasgow, popping up as schoolmaster and handler of pirated goods, in Saltcoats?  Can this be?  

So I read the chapter.  My hopes were dashed.  'My' Glasgow music seller was dead a year before the last mention of the Saltcoats teacher-turned-bookseller who handled pirated books brought over from Ireland.  Bang goes a theory!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

22 February 1764 - Song Collector Alexander Campbell's 250th Birthday!


born 22.2.1764 

I've written and talked and blogged about Alexander Campbell so much over the past eight or nine years that I hardly need to go over his biography again today.  However, it would be shabby not to mention his 250th birthday on Saturday 22nd February.  His was a fascinating life. He dabbled in many things, and didn't achieve particular greatness, but he left a pile of published writings and Scottish music.  

To celebrate his birthday, he surely merits a cake. And perhaps a cognac, since I know he appreciated good cognac!

You can read about Campbell at length in my book, Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era.  You'll also find further writing on my pages.

I arranged some of his songs from Albyn's Anthology for my book-launch, and I have since been fortunate enough to get some good recordings of the pieces by a Cambridge saxophone ensemble called Saxual Healing:-
Jo Currie's book, Mull: the Island and its People, contains a big chunk from Campbell's Hebridean song-collecting diary (the time he spent on Mull, specifically) - I warmly commend it to you.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Thirty Favourite Scots Songs untainted by the Caledonian Muse

Peter Thompson was a London publisher whose family business continued in St Paul's Church Yard for a number of decades in the latter part of the eighteenth century.  Around 1790, his sons Charles, Samuel and  Peter, and Ann - his very elderly widow or a daughter in law -  published two tunebooks, the Caledonian Muse and the Hibernian Muse - but never apparently did a Cambrian one.  (A shame, in my opinion, but it's a bit late to moan about that now!)

Nonetheless, I discovered they published Thirty Favourite Scots Songs in two volumes, as much as a decade before the Muses appeared.  A Thompsons catalogue listed Scots Songs, circa 1781; and for a while I wondered if these books were actually published by the Thompsons, or were just Bremner's Thirty Scots Songs, included in the Thompson's listing because they were selling copies of the Scotsman's works.  However, there are still a couple of copies of Thompson's Thirty Favourite Scots Songs extant, so I went to see the set at the British Library in London, armed with a print-out from the Eighteenth Century Collections Online of Bremner's more famous collection for comparison. 

Why call a train a "sleeper", if you don't get a good night's sleep in it? Something of a misnomer in my opinion!  Still, I arrived in time to head for St Paul's Churchyard for my breakfast - St Paul's looked gorgeous at daybreak and then clothed in golden sunlight - probably better than the view enjoyed by the Thompsons, for James Raven (p.55, 'Constructing Bookscapes', in Mappa Mundi,ed. Jacqueline Murray, 2001) reports that in 1785, as William West looked back from Blackfriar's Bridge, he 'could only just perceive St Paul's with its dome towering amid the smoke and fog that surrounded it'.  The Churchyard was nice, too, but completely different to how it would have looked then, since the Blitz totally obliterated the buildings around St Paul's.  And as for Cheapside - if you'd brought the Thompsons by Tardis into the early 21st century, and dropped them off with their backs to St Paul's, then I doubt they'd have known where they were at all!  I had a bacon roll in Starbucks, looking appreciatively at St Paul's, then made my way back to St. Pancras.

Once in the Music and Rare Books reading room, I looked at a set of English, Irish, 'Scotch' and 'Welch' piano duets, copying out a few incipits for future reference.  And then I devoured those Scots songs.  But there was something interesting about them - lots of songs were about "Jockey", or were described as "Scotch" - two clear indications that these were pseudo-Scottish songs written for an English market.  Furthermore more, many of them were 'as sung' by popular named performers in eighteenth century pleasure gardens - primarily Vauxhall Gardens*, or Ranelagh in Chelsea.  The nineteenth century William Chappell called such repertoire 'Anglo-Scottish' - a fair description.  There weren't many songs in common with the Scotsman Bremner's collection, and only a small handful had been borrowed in their entirety from Bremner, in the same key or slightly transposed.  Often there was a separate part printed at the bottom of the page for 'German Flute' or 'Guittar', in a transposition that would allow the tune to sit better under the hands of the instrumentalist.

At the very foot of the page, some of the songs had the intials of the family partners at the time when individual songs would have been published.  With the aid of two trusty music bibliographies by Frank Kidson, and later William C. Smith with Charles Humphries,I established that the whole collection, dated as approximately 1790 by the British Library, couldn't possibly have been compiled before the latest partners' dates - circa 1779.  This does suggest that the  catalogue circa 1781 most likely was alluding to the Thompsons' Thirty Favourite Scots Songs, and not to Bremner's set, although it would take a bit more detailed detective work to see if I could establish a later date for any of the Thompson's Thirty Favourite contents.

Suddenly, four and half hours had vanished.  My new ghostly London friends accompanied me down to the Georgians exhibition, where I and a Twitter acquaintance pleasurably occupied a couple of hours poring over a fascinating selection of documents, maps, pictures and other artefacts.  I swear the Thompsons, Robert Bremner and James Hook stood and had a good look at the material relating to popular dance and its musical accompaniment!

There's a newish book (2011) about Vauxhall Gardens by David E Coke and Alan Borg, which I rather fancy reading.  In a sense it's a bit off-topic for someone studying Scottish fiddle tune accompaniments - and yet, at the same time, it's about one of the most important places where middle- and upper-class Londoners would have sought their entertainment, for music, dancing and sheer spectacle.  (Who knows?  I might get hold of a copy yet!)  When I returned to Glasgow, I was telling my husband about the frequent references to Vauxhall Gardens in the Thompson's Thirty Scots Songs, when I remembered something else which is a truly bizarre coincidence.

We lived in North Shields on Tyneside, for a couple of years.  My husband was the organist at Christ Church Parish Church.  On odd Sunday nights, I deputised for him there.  We can thus both claim the rather rare distinction of having played the instrument that Georg Frideric Handel once played - because  the basis of the Christ Church organ is none other than the one from ... Vauxhall Gardens!  It was brought to Tyneside around 1820, we think.

Don't you think the ghosts of the Thompsons, and John Walsh, the publisher of much of Handel's operatic material, would at least have treated me to a coffee in St Paul's Coffee House if they'd known that?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

London Ghosts

Identifying Mr Wright and Mr Walsh's Scottish tunes proved to be merely the start of an extended visit to 18th century London.  Having tracked down Daniel and John to my satisfaction, I decided that the Thompson family were worthy of further attention.  Not to mention John Johnson and Joseph Johnson (one published music, the other primarily words, religion and radical politics); and then there was Bremner, one of the music publishing giants of his time.  And a few others who slipped into my net briefly!

If you see a small, 21st century musicologist snooping round St Paul's Church Yard next week, it'll be me wondering what it was all like before the 2nd World War!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Landed Gentry and Scottish Musical Dilettantes

I've just encountered a fascinating, useful and authoritative blog about the Landed Families of Britain and Ireland. It's by Nicholas Kingsley, who is (to quote his Twitter profile), 'Head of Archives Sector Development @UkNatArchives. Historian of the country house, peerage and gentry; FSA; and a member of the National Trust Arts Panel'.  He tweets as @NicholasKingsle

Now, you know my fascination with old eighteenth century Scottish dilettanti!  Kingsley's blog is clearly a resource I shall be returning to.

While I'm here, I don't know if I mentioned two recent papers I've had published about some of 'my' eighteenth century Scots, so I'll post the links now:-

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Happiness is a Hunch Proved Right

You know, it doesn't take much to make a scholar librarian happy!  Remember Pirates Daniel Wright and John Walsh?  The book which never WAS published by Wright, but was compiled by Walsh from two of his own existing publications?

Before I had worked out what the 'mystery volume' in Dundee's Wighton Collection actually was, I divided the two sets of irregularly interleaved pages into what I thought were two volumes.  One was, I thought, more Scottish in flavour than the other one.

I identified the two source volumes, and felt rather proud of myself.  This week, I received the scans of both source volumes from the British Library.  Now I'm even happier: I've just discovered the title of the second volume - the one I thought was more Scottish - has a little, tiny subtitle:-

'Consisting of Irish, Welsh and Scotch Tunes'