Traditions in Place: Perth and Kinross 14 November 2015


The day drew people with a wide range of experience and from different fields, including music, storytelling, local government and education.  Presentations were focused on oral and local history and local resources.

Erin Farley started the day with a practical outline, including hints on recording and transcription techniques, of how to access the experience of people that is not contained in archives and books but in people’s memories.  This can often be done using triggers such as photos, snatches of music and song.  She emphasised the importance of following up any interviews and of not ‘leaving people alone in the past’. Erin also gave

Jess Smith, a traveller who was born in a field by Aberfeldy, gave an insight into traveller history and traveller culture, from origins as the weaponers in the Roman armies which came to Britannia two thousand years ago to the campfire gatherings where ‘stories for us were livin’.  The travellers have lived through a history of persecution and marginalisation to become recognised as important tradition bearers, many of them based like her in Perthshire itself.

Kath Campbell in a fascinating presentation told the story of how an extensive and rich repertoire of ballads came to two daughters of the manse, Jane and Amelia Harris, from their nurse, Jannie Scott of Tibbermore near Perth. The sisters eventually did write the songs down but the manuscript was lost, only to reappear over a hundred years later.  They rewrote the manuscript some two and a half decades after the first, which allowed scholars the intriguing task of comparing the two.  Kath sang several examples from the collection, with an impressive degree of audience participation.

Nicola Cowmeadow, Perth and Kinross’s Local History Officer, gave a whistle-stop tour of the many objects, pictures and accounts in the Council’s collection, including the Mackintosh Library and the fabulous music within the Atholl Collection, emphasising how ephemera can often contain important markers with which to get bearings and plot a path back through the past. Interesting musical examples included photographs and articles about local music entrepreneur Bill Wilkie, and the much-travelled fiddler Ian Powrie, captured at different stages of their careers.

Ian Powrie also figured in Pete Clark’s presentation on the contribution of Perthshire to the Scottish fiddle tradition from Niel Gow and his sons, Robert Mackintosh through to more recent players like Ron Gonnella. Stories of misfortune from the loss of a second wife through business disasters and valuable fiddles smashed to matchwood were mixed in with examples of tunes and fiddling techniques.

Loretta Mordi of Museums and Galleries Scotland briefed the gathering on the concept of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ and its policy background before speaking about the website, which is now open for individuals and communities to contribute examples of their own local intangible cultural heritage.  The website will eventually form an inventory of ICH for Scotland, giving a comprehensive account of what local communities feel is valuable to them and should be safeguarded.

Finally, in his presentation, Steve Byrne of Local Voices noted that communities often lack the skills to identify what makes them unique, what is worth knowing and caring about. Framed in the context of Alan Lomax’s concept of cultural equity. Steve’s work raised the question of the extent to which interventionism is appropriate or necessary in communities, he described how Local Voices aims to train people in documenting and using local traditions – language, dialect, song, story, music and memory – in order to promote a sense of place, advocating the local as a window to the global.

The day ended with people working in groups to imagine projects that might use the resources they had heard about during the course of the day, and express something of the local territory and sensibility to the world at large. These ideas ranged from the very pragmatic need to bring coherence to the various projects, resources, archives and collections to more blue sky ideas, including a ‘story boat,’ with storytellers, musicians, dancers, teachers and artists travelling to various communities via the carrying stream, up river to the parish and down river towards the global ocean of cultures.