St Andrew's Day

A day of Scottish life and culture

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Presenters, officials and piper gather beforehand. Left to right: Willie Shand, Jim Calderwood [president], Provost Dennis Melloy, Martin Bristow [piper], Magnus Linklater, Dr Gerry Hassan.

Perth's main celebration of St Andrew's Day, the fourteenth Perth Burns Club's annual Day of Scottish Life and Culture, was held in the Soutar Theatre at the A. K. Bell Library, York Place, Perth on Saturday, December 2nd, 2017.

Once again the event lived up to its reputation for top quality, and a well-engaged audience of 40 left in good spirits after an entertaining, provocative and uplifting afternoon programme. All the presenters were in fine fettle and their contrasting styles were all well received.

Principal Speakers

provost dennis melloy

Provost Dennis Melloy

After being piped in by Martin Bristow, the audience was welcomed by club president and chairman for the day, Jim Calderwood, who intimated good wishes from the Vancouver Burns Club president Donald Paton, then invited Provost Dennis Melloy to give the opening address.

The new Provost expressed his thanks to Perth Burns Club for organising the day, and paid tribute to the long-running success of the event in Perth's St Andrew's Day celebrations.

Dennis planned to stay until the interval before taking part in the Perth Christmas Lantern Parade and Nativity Scene which would start in St Ninian's Cathedral and finish in St John's Kirk.

willlie shand

Willlie Shand

The first speaker was Willie Shand who presented "In Argyll", a simply beautiful account of his journeys through the county. Willie was responsible for all the photography and video scenes, finely edited and crafted together with Mark Knopfler's Going Home (the theme from Local Hero) to create a stunning backdrop.

Willie began with a humorous selection of boat names he'd encountered, then began his journey at Loch Awe. His commentary covered myth and legend; historical accounts of battles fought (e.g. Bruce at the Pass of Brander); castles built and ruined; religious settlements and carved stones; the glorious landscape and the farming, mining and fishing which provided livelihoods; the pre-eminent clans (particularly the MacDougalls and the ever-conniving Campbells); plus wide-ranging flora (including botanical gardens) and fauna.

Willie stravaiged along the Crinan Canal (and we heard another snatch of John Grieve singing The Crinan Canal's for me), Knapdale, the slate islands of Scarba, Luing and the Clachan Bridge over the Atlantic to Seil. The trail finished at Oban and Kerrera where McCaig and MacBrayne featured.

Willie's anecdotal delivery style was laced with wry humour and we couldn't have had a better opening session.

dr gerry hassan

Dr Gerry Hassan

Dr Gerry Hassan then took the stage to explore “Why Scotland is about more than politics”. Gerry hit the ground running and immediately engaged his audience with thought-provoking questions like What defines a nation? What makes a distinctive national culture? What do you think has been the most important event/development in Scotland in the last 5 years? His audience responded with equal enthusiasm, kindling a lively debate.

Gerry channelled the ideas of place, family, history, language, story-telling and shared values as many of the elements of a distinctive culture, but warned against the slavish adoption of stereotypes and conventions. We live in an age of cacophony (the community of commentators), and we need to listen for the silence behind the babble to evaluate what is really worthwhile. The narrow soundbites of politics and media deflect from this. Not everybody will agree on the essential elements of culture, but independent thought will usually identify the most durable. But it isn't sufficient to persevere with the durable; there is a constant need to challenge, innovate and look for new light in the darkness (the unspace). Gerry's two most important factors in (re-)energising a culture are:

  1. A playful, fun, brash, cheeky sense to set a new direction - 'I know where I’m going'.
  2. A magical, mystical element breaking new ground - e.g. Brigadoon, Gregory’s Girl, Trainspotting.

Gerry examined various political administrations in Scotland and the UK. All can claim some successes, with their extent determined by events, timing, and the concentration of talents available to them. All final terms end unhappily. In the current Brexit saga, heroes are hard to find anywhere.

Gerry's grasp of multiple subjects was immense, and his ability to maintain a balanced view during fast and lively debate was exemplary. If anyone attended this talk looking for pat answers, they'd have been disappointed. However, the level of audience interaction demonstrated that the vast majority enjoyed the stimulation of thinking on their feet (or backsides!) and exploring alternative arguments.

magnus linklater

Magnus Linklater

The final presentation of the day was given by Magnus Linklater, the chairman of Horsecross Arts, who spoke on "How culture is transforming our cities". Magnus began by looking at the Arts in the UK - a £12bn industry, employing 0.3m people. Significant investment in the Arts is now seen as an indicator of the vitality, confidence and forward-looking strength of a city - witness the V&A building in Dundee, which has helped investment in hi-tech industries. The DCA centre had previously blazed a trail, and Dundee's recent entry to the European City of Culture competition has continued the philosophy.

Here in Perth, the bid for UK City of Culture ended at the first stage, with the selected cities all being post-industrial with various levels of deprivation. The Perth bid was well constructed, but the emphasis on a small, non-industrial centre with a large rural hinterland wasn't in vogue. However, the £16.6m restoration of Perth Theatre's historic category 'B' listed Edwardian auditorium is now complete. The building was constructed in 1900 but it is part of a much longer history of theatre in Perth dating back to 1589. Richard Murphy Architects ran the project.

Magnus illustrated the refurbishment work with slides showing the new foyer linking the High Street and Mill Street and containing the bar, restaurant, box office and all social facilities. The auditorium has been faithfully restored using experts in decorative gold leaf; the old third level has been re-opened and the 550 seats have increased leg room. A new studio theatre and three new workshop rooms have been added. The pantomime Aladdin, directed by Lu Kemp (the new Artistic Director) opens on December 9th, and a varied programme runs thereafter until April 22nd.

Perth City Hall is to be converted to a visitor centre for art & history, ending a 25-year period of uncertainty. The Museum & Art Gallery will be re-vamped and used, along with the Fergusson Gallery, to complement the collections in the City Hall. We are still hopeful of siting the Stone of Destiny in the new museum, reuniting it with its Scone and Perth history. Three Legal Commissioners will decide.

These ventures represent considerable investment in the Arts and Cultural Tourism, and Horsecross management are likely to be challenged by the prospect of cuts in the national Scottish Arts budget. They face also local competition from Dundee Rep and Pitlochry Festival Theatre. The best way to support the cause is to get along to as many productions as possible!

Club vice-president Stewart MacDougall brought a superb afternoon to a close with a well-rounded vote of thanks for the efforts of the organisers, the contrasting and excellent performances of all the presenters, and the most appreciative and participative audience.

All photographs courtesy of Elliott Boyle, Perth Burns Club.
Email Elliott if you'd like a copy of a photograph.