Black Watch Brodick

Essay Upon The Second Ballad Revival

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A poet sat in his antique room
His lamp the valley king’d
‘Neath dry crusts of dead tongues he found
Truth, fresh & golden-winged

Alexander Smith

All poetical revivals begin with a spark, from which a fire storm blows through the cobwebs of an age. For the Second Ballad Revival it begins with the island of Arran & of course an arrival of a literary-minded man – that man being me. Any writer worth his or her salt who comes to Arran for any sustain’d length of time, feel they should write a book about this glorious new island they have discovered. Its that inspirational a place. The thing is, everything that needs to be said about Arran has already been said by scores of times by some very excellent authors. What I needed was an angle.

It came at me like a pair of crab-like pincers, manifesting as a Great War Memorial & an old book. The former is in Brodick, the capital of Arran, while the latter concerns some of the names upon that memorial – Brodick-Arran & The Great War by James Inglis (1919). One day in idle mode I decided to match some of the names on the memorial to those in the book. I spent a few moments looking up at the monument, then down at the page, then back up again until & I was struck saddened & also excited as a Bardic storyteller to discover that three Black Watch soldiers who worked together at Brodick Castle, enlisted in the Black Watch on the same day, & died together on the same day at the Battle of Loos, September 25th 1914.

This materielle transcended even Shakespeare, a spark fit enough to begin a poetical revival, but in what form? A friend of mine was visiting Arran with a vernal interest in the art of poetry, so I ask’d him to read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner entire. A wonderful experience to listen to, my psyche began to overbrim with poesis & within a day or two THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK was straining for existence like an animal slouching ‘towards Bethlehem to be born.’ At this point I had my matter & my mould, & being an epic poet by trade, & the matter so elongated, I knew that only a grand ballad cycle would be sufficient to answer this particular call of the muse.

It can be fairly said that in this third decade of the third Millennium (AD), poets no longer write for Humanity, as has been their ancient wont, but compose only to please themselves & other poets. A clique has surrounded the art, upheld quasi-religiously by its proponents, encasing poetry in a dull concrete, from which parapets they observe uncommenting the decline of poetical appreciation among the general population. There can only be one possible remedy for this puritan assault on the art, & that is the reintroduction of the ballad form – the poetry of the people. Within its simple tuneful strains & anthrosociological narratives a poet may place the moral foundations of a people. “I knew a very wise man” reports Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655-1716), “who believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”

There is a beautiful truth in balladry which taps into the human pond of past lives & conduct. These simple looking structures resonate a complex record of the actions of humanity, detailing in narrative form events relating to society through individuality. Ballads are also those songs & rhymes which awaken the earliest poetical appreciations in all of us. As the poet thunders through four-line stanzas of distich & rhyme, the reader or hearer will instantly feel that they are in the presence of poetry, proper poetry, the same poetry which pentrated their psyches in their infant malleability, & nurtured through childhood. In utterance lyrical, sharp & decisive, they are the truest test of a poet, because ultimate raison d’etre is to please. To teach comes a close second, & thus a ballad done well can transcend even the most elite of educatory lecture halls in a language accessible to all.

Send in the artists, mystics and clowns. Their fertile imagination pours the new wine of the gospel into fresh wineskins. With fresh language, poetic vision and striking symbols they express God’s inexpressible word in artistic forms that are charged with the power of God, engaging our minds and stirring our hearts as they flare and flame.

Brennan Manning: Ruthless Trust

Thus, with BLACK WATCH BRODICK I would like to announce the arrival of the Second Ballad Revival. The ‘first’ took place during the Romantic Age, beginning with Thomas Percy’s ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’ (1765), evolving moderistically with the songs of William Blake & Rabbie Burns, a process that continued with the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth & Coleridge, La Belle Dame Sans Merci of Keats, & concluded with the assembling of the Scottish & Border ballads by Sir Walter Scott, publish’d & revised between 1802 & 1830. Scott was an immense & dedicated balladeer, & his Essay On The Imitations Of The Ancient Ballad (1830) contains interesting reflections on the form which contain the mantras of the First Ballad Revival. This short extract tells the story of the Ballad Form up until the dawn of the Romantic Age.

The invention of printing necessarily occasioned the downfall of the Order of Minstrels, already reduced to contempt by their own bad habits, by the disrepute attached to their profession, and by the laws calculated to repress their licence. When the Metrical Romances were very many of them in the hands of every one, the occupation of those who made their living by reciting them was in some degree abolished, and the minstrels either disappeared altogether, or sunk into mere musicians, whose utmost acquaintance with poetry was being able to sing a ballad.

The taste for popular poetry did not decay with the class of men by whom it had been for some generations practised and preserved. Not only did the simple old ballads retain their ground, though circulated by the new art of printing, instead of being preserved by recitation; but in the Garlands, and similar collections for general sale, the authors aimed at a more ornamental and regular style of poetry than had been attempted by the old minstrels, whose composition, if not extemporaneous, was seldom committed to writing,

In England, accordingly, the popular ballad fell into contempt during the seventeenth century; and although in remote counties its inspiration was occasionally the source of a few verses, it seems to have become almost entirely obsolete in the capital. Even the Civil Wars, which gave so much occasion for poetry, produced rather song and satire, than the ballad or popular epic.

In Scotland, on the contrary, the old minstrel ballad long continued to preserve its popularity. Even the last contests of Jacobitism were recited with great vigour in ballads of the time, the authors of some of which are known and remembered.

On the whole, however, the ancient Heroic ballad, as it was called, seemed to be fast declining among the more enlightened and literary part of both countries; and if retained by the lower classes in Scotland, it had in England ceased to exist, or degenerated into doggerel of the last degree of vileness.

The same can really be said about the ballad from in the 21st century. No performance poet would chaunt in the old style, no poetic publisher would stoop so low as a broadsheet, but I am feel in my very bones that society of the my day is ripe for a balladic renaissance. Perhaps there is something about living in Scotland that is inspiring me on a metaphysical level. As Scott says, while the ballad was dying in England, it still thriv’d in the Scottish hinterlands. In my 17 years domicile in Scotland, I have understood that the keeping of tradition has been woven with steel & deeply ingrain’d into the native fabric. Robert Burns records the animus & his personal connection with the Scottish balladeers.

There is a noble sublimity, a heart-melting tenderness, in some of our ancient ballads, which show them to be the work of a masterly hand: and it has often given me many a heart-ache to reflect that such glorious old bards—bards who very probably owed all their talents to native genius, yet have described the exploits of heroes, the pangs of disappointment, and the meltings of love, with such fine strokes of nature—that their very names (O how mortifying to a bard’s vanity!) are now “buried among the wreck of things which were.”

O ye illustrious names unknown! who could feel so strongly and describe so well: the last, the meanest of the muses’ train—one who, though far inferior to your flights, yet eyes your path, and with trembling wing would sometimes soar after you—a poor rustic bard unknown, pays this sympathetic pang to your memory! Some of you tell us, with all the charms of verse, that you have been unfortunate in the world—unfortunate in love: he, too, has felt the loss of his little fortune, the loss of friends, and, worse than all, the loss of the woman he adored. Like you, all his consolation was his muse: she taught him in rustic measures to complain. Happy could he have done it with your strength of imagination and flow of verse! May the turf lie lightly on your bones! and may you now enjoy that solace and rest which this world rarely gives to the heart tuned to all the feelings of poesy and love!

I shall finish my personal manifesto to a Second Balladic Revival with the essay of Scott previoulsy examined. Within its corpus there has been etch’d a wonderful passage which perfectly reflects the painted corner in which poetry has found itself in this our own age; ‘The realms of Parnassus, like many a kingdom at the period, seemed to lie open to the first bold invader, whether he should be a daring usurper, or could show a legitimate title of sovereignty.‘ It is daring to be a balladeer in the 21st century; it is sovereign to be an epic poet; & the realms of Parnassus have become pixels on an instagram post. It is time to bring poetry back to the masses, an enteprise worth composing for. For that I will need orators, rhapsodic singers if you will, in the tradition of the Homeric reciters of Pisistratan Athens. For them I leave the L’Amfiparnasso of my new poem.


To all ye glorious storytellers
Who sing in the Saxon tongue
Bring the wine up from the cellars
Pass the clinking glass among

When claret good oerbrims the cups
& company comes keen
Mount up the Hippogriff that sups
From blissful Hippocrene

Then with a clear & poignant voice
Go sing my ballad cycle
Leaving your company no choice
But to finish the recital

There’s twenty-seven cantos worth
Of twenty-seven stanzas
Awaiting dutiful rebirth
In ring’d extravaganzas

All born in mine hybrid accent
A maze of burrs & measures
But structure in each consonant
& in the vowels treasures

There’s Edinburgh, there’s Bournemouth Beach
There’s Burnley & there’s Venice
There’s mood & meaning in my speech
There’s beauty & there’s menace

There’s murder, bloody murder, too,
There’s loving & there’s grieving
There’s scenes that set the eyes adew
When gentle goes thy weaving

For thou art Rhapsode, & thine art
Will stich auld songs together –
So choose which cantos to impart
Goose quilt or just a feather

BBWB 6: The Budapest Cup

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The Budapest Cup


Celtic FC 1 – Burnley FC 1

Ulloi Uti Stadion (Ferencvaros)
Attendance 10.000

Burnley: Dawson, Bamford, Taylor, Halley, Boyle, Watson, Nesbitt, Lindley, Freeman, Hodgson Grice.

Celtic: Shaw, McGregor, Dodds, Youngs, Johnstone, McMaster, McAtee, Gallagher, McColl, McMenemy, Browning.

O! to be a buzzy Burnley boy
Leaving the Crystal Palace
With loads of Scousers to annoy
As cocky as a phallus

For down the Royal Capital
Burnley’s beat Liverpool
A victory to catapult
Their statuses to cool

Stratospheric Olympians
Invited to renew
Tests of the best Hungarians
Austrians, Germans too

As have that famous football club
Supremely catalytic
Team colours daubing home & club
Ardent for Glasow Celtic

Platoon of hoop-green Bhoys & men
Ninth national title win
Up raise the cup, the league makes ten
The Double’s soak’d in gin

So off they went by train & port
To Europe’s heaving heart
The best of British to promote
With skill, with style, with art

As Burnley won the Berlin game
Celtic play’d Ferencvaros
& won two-one, the scoreline same
For Clarets, who now cross

The border into Hungary
Where they quickly caught the catch
They were not to play a friendly
Against Celtic, but a match!

Whose victors would be duly crown’d
Champions of the planet
A tall, gem-studded cup was found
& proper refs to man it

The day was hot, the Danube spun
A gust across the stands
Of Ulloi Uti Stadion
As players all shake hands

The anthem plays, the whistle blows
Firm tackles flew in thickly
McGregor gets a bloody nose
The needle sharpens prickly

The Celtic get the upperhand
The wind & sun behind ‘em
Thro’ Claret lines the forwards fann’d
Found passes meant to find ‘em

A penalty! Celtic shoot sweet,
Lancastrians retreated
Into a huddle, “Play to feet!”
Sweat urgently secreted

Saw battle surge on bare a blade
The pitch was baked unsodden
Like Stirling Bridge the Scot’s blockade
Like Flodden & Culloden

The Thistle & the Thorny Rose
Make war about a ball
When Saxon stridence for the cause
Bounc’d off a schiltron wall

The ball did swing from end to end
The crowd did cheer & yell
As reckless tackles fly, upend
Men crying as they fell

The Bhoys hung on until half-time
The crowd enthusiastic
The whistle blows, to cheers achime
The match renews fantastic

A handsome soldier in the crowd
Felt grim foreshadowings
Saw how each Briton fought full proud,
‘If ever,’ he thought, ‘fate brings

Our empires into open war
Pandora’s Box of pities
For tigers pace their island shore
& lions patrol their cities…’

A penalty, how Tommy Boyle
So slickly equalises
The temp’rature begins to boil
The heat of battle rises

The Burnley lads were now on top
All out attack, no cautions
Their play restrain’d, a train sweatshop
Will’d on with loud exhortions

As Trojans held the Scaean gate
As Spartans guard the Hot Springs
Attacks push’d back without abate
Crosses stream in from both wings

Both sides began to argue more
While cool heads on the sidelines
Shouted “its football lads, not war!”
Glory ignores all guidelines

& from rough tackle resolute
Celtic explode in numbers
McMaster pass’d a ball to shoot
By tired defenders’ slumbers

But Jerry Dawson palms away
That shot by McAtee
Burt Freeman winces as his day
Saved from calamity

A whistle blows, the ninety done
“Another thirty!” Burnley cries
But Scots & European sun
Cattle rattl’d by gadfly

Nobody won, nobody lost,
Thro’ handshakes grappl’d firmly,
The replay call’d, the pengő toss’d,
The next one’s set for Burnley…

BBWB 1: A Game Of Shinty

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A Game Of Shinty

Hangovers rage on New Year’s Day
The air was ice & minty
As men & boys step out to play
The anycent game of shinty

They say King Fergus fetch’d the game,
At first, to Dalriada
That sets the Haelan brain aflame
Come on lads, hit it harder!’

Auld Scotia’s sport still grandstand mann’d
That thrill’d the Border Reiver
& on St Kilda’s rocky strand
They’ve play’d it with a fever

Down to the shore, from hill & dale
Roll players from the district
Descending on a sliding scale
The better twelves were pick’d

The captains were twa boyhood friends
Dol Homish & Laird Broon,
Who with a keen & convex lens
Their final teams fine tune

Jock Russel’s cheeks were red & ripe
The Dewar boys were freezing
& Sandy Fraser smok’d a pipe
Like whalesong was his wheezing

With ‘Bualomort’ & ‘Lecamlet’
The twenty-four were chosen
The rest slunk off, when pitchside set
They’ll spend the morning frozen

The goals erected on the plain
The level green beside
The bonnie sandsweep of Strabane
That kisses sea-green Clyde

It was the annual contest
Twyx Brodick north & south
McKay applauds the very best
While McBride’s potty mouth

Encurses scurrilous heckles
Whene’er a player flags
Cusses tosses at soft tackles
Play the game yer scallywags!’

& all the caileags roundabout
With wives & bairns & kinsfolk
Surround each cause with cheer & shout
Those roars all sports convoke

& Sarah Fullarton was there
Her daddy’d push’d the cycle
With shock of flaming scarlet hair
The darling of Kilmichael;

She wasn’t one for dolls & toys
Defining role & gender
Prefer’d instead to wrestle boys
Punch all who’d try defend her

The teams are set, the whistle blows,
The Lecamlet’s attack,
Like gallant tides the ebbs & flows
Of glorious Camanachd

The ball struck by the caman’s curl
As lads, shoulder-to-shoulder,
Do battle honour, heave & hurl,
& still the day swirls colder

The sky death-grey, the air snapp’d crisp
For heatbrief clapp’d the crowd
With each deep breath Will-o-the-Wisp
Did dance into a cloud

When from a slide of Arctic ice
The snow glides down in flurries
Soon slippy surface white as rice
Adds to the sweetheart’s worries

The keep display’d the shouts of men
The game sway’d to & fro
& up around Glen Rosa glen
The combatants would echo

Mecho-an-Laird’ the partisan
Cried, & ‘Mecho-Dol Homish’
Whene’er athletic artisan
A pauky move did finish

Somebody somewhere kept the score
But not a jot it matter’d
Tho’ on the pitch it felt like war
Each time the shins were shatter’d

But afterwards the teeming inn
All niggles would appease
By whiskey bottle & wineskin
A village at its ease

Where little John McAllister
Wee Wullie McIntyre
Pete Currie & the Minister
Were sitting by the fire

You’ll be as strong as them one day,
The Minister said smiling,
Not knowing an Appian way
Was wooden poles stockpiling

Awaiting them & countless more,
The zeitgeist lads alighting,
When first class empires go to war
Tis these who’ll do the fighting!