5/6 People & Songs of the Sea Shona McMillan

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Article 5 of 6 artist John Bellany's 'home' connection to Port Seton



    The brightly coloured painting byacclaimed artist John BellanyCBE, RA shows fishing boats atanchor in Port Seton. His mother

    from Eyemouth, in 1942, John was bornin Port Seton and worked from there as afisherman before going to EdinburghCollege of Art in the sixties. EastLothians first Freeman, his work hangsthroughout the county, in UK NationalGalleries, the Tate Britain, New YorksMetropolitan Museum and Museum ofModern Art. Influential on his work havebeen his connections to fishing and theEyemouth disaster, when 189 fishermendied. Today, with houses around theworld, John has never forgotten his Port Seton home.

    Home a position on a mapor an intangible place helddeep in the heart?

    Descended from the Thorburn fishingfamily of Fisherrow, I worked here andabroad before moving to Inverness to setup the cultural initiative Highland 2007.In a house with stunning views of theMoray Firth and Inverness, in my heart Imissed the East Lothian coastline I hadseen from my Edinburgh home. Then, ona journey back to see my mum, I had anoverpowering urge to return. Fisherrowseemed too great a pull for objectivethought so, I drove to Port Seton. Fromthe area in Bellanys painting I watchedthe boats, like a rainbow of colour.

    As I had known before I left, my nexttrip to the harbour was a local one.Chatting to some fishermen I told them,on my mums 80th birthday, Id given apromise to do a project to celebrate thefishing and they could be my firstmodels! Amidst great banter, I took theirphotos. A year later, how much hadchanged. Again by the harbour, mythoughts were interrupted Suranne,come back! Running towards me atoddler gushed out a stream of questions:Who are you? Why are you here? Areyou sad? Catching up, grandfatherBobo, retired skipper Robert Johnston,recognised me as the lass who took thephotos. He had seen East Lothian Life,Port Seton on the cover and read myPeople of the Sea article on the 1881Eyemouth disaster and my mums fishingfamily. Sparked by my cover photo, I toldhim how Id heard of my parents firstdate to see the boats and watch thesunset at the harbour. A relationship ofover 50 years but my mumhaving justlost a fight against cancer. Taking amoment, Suranne asked If yourmummys gone to heaven, could we befriends?. Before I left, I promised Id beback and take her photo. Hundreds offishing photos later, at the invitation ofthe local library, my first exhibition waslaunched, 60 displays to coincide withthe 60th Gala of Port Seton andCockenzie. But, as Suranne pointed outthere was no photo of her and Shona!The next day my Exhibition, became 61!

    Local fishermen attended my launchbut Port Seton is a tidal harbour so, theyhad to leave for sea before the nightended with songs, pipes, guitar andfiddle tunes. 800 visited over the nextthree weeks and so many talked of thephotos and music. My idea for Peopleand Songs of the Sea grew. With fishingin decline, at my age, I wanted Suranneto be able to say my community waspart of this album, there are our photosand the booklet tells the story ofScotlands fishing. I wanted to create anarchive of music and songs to reflectmany aspects of the culture: fishermen,fishwives, herring, whaling, trawling andthe fisher folk community.

    People andSongs of the Sea a homecomingShona McMillan continues her story.

    Left to right: Port Seton harbour at sunset, Bobo and Drifter the Reaper, Postcard showing Fisherrow fishwives, Tern enters Port Seton, Picking prawns on the Janreen.


    So it began, my one-woman goal totake photos and present 14 exhibitionsalong the coast. And, together, withGreentrax Recordings, I wanted toproduce a compilation album. Ademanding schedule for a May 2009launch but, the date driven by thebirthday promise I had given to my mumthat I would do something to celebratethe fishing. In Cockenzie and Port Seton,Church of Scotland hall, the launch was amost memorable evening. Fishermensgroup the Podlies joined us fromEyemouth and I played the fiddle.Harbour Lights sang the Boattie Rows.Boys of the Lough Cathal McConnellplayed flute, Davy Robertson and Deirdre McManahon sang and RonnieBrowne of the Corries delighted everyonewith a tremendously funny song. And, entering into that community spiritof it all, Greentrax gave a free CD toevery fisher person involved.

    For all my work and costs, I had nogrant. Over 5 council boundaries, myexhibitions did not meet funding criteria.

    A compilation CD financed byGreentrax, sales revenue is not mine. Inaddition, inviting 100 fisher folk to singWill Your Anchor Hold, these royaltiesreturn to fishing charities. The costs Ihave incurred and the work I haveproduced I did for free. From generationsof fisher folk, I felt driven to create alasting legacy project. In October 2009,when I put up my exhibition in Eyemouth(coinciding with the fishing disaster, theone my great-grandfather had survived) itwas an emotional moment to learn thatover 10,000 had visited my exhibitions.Then, winning 2010 Album of the Year,hearing my fisher folk in Cockenziesinging from Chicago over Liveirelandradio, these are my rewards! Heritagefrom our fishing communities, nowcelebrated so very far from our shores.And, from all that world wide publicity,unforeseen events for myself. Contactedby Eileen Ailman, who had emigrated toCanada, discovering we are cousins.Meeting more Thorburns, seeing ourhuge Fisherrow family Bible with manygenerations of names written in it.

    Most amazing of all, scholar BobWalser sending me recordings fromWashington Library of Congress.

    Hearing my great-grandfather singing athome in Fisherrow in 1928 to anAmerican folklorist visiting Scotland. Asmall country, our influence on maritimehistory has been enormous. The 189 whoperished at Eyemouth how would theyand their children have shaped theworld? But for my great-grandfathersurviving that terrible storm, mygrandfather, my mother and myselfwould never have been born. Across theyears, miles and world wide web today the fishing community is still embracingthe people and children of the sea. AChicago newspaper wrote: People andSongs of the Sea not just a Scottishalbum but an album of the worlds seasand the brave men and women who liveby it and on it, a masterpiece. LikeBellanys painting, inspired by his home,People and Songs of the Sea is ahomecoming. Not to geographical places identified with a name but it is an inward homecoming journey that ismade to the intangible places in the heart, mind and soul. Those places thatwe visit when we think of home andreflect on memories and cherishedconnections between family, friends and community.

    Eileen Ailmans grandmother Marion Craig (nee Hamilton) second from the left.

    Port Seton by John Bellany.

    All photographs Shona McMillan.


    The first 11 of the albums 21 tracks:

    Farewell Tae The Haven written bylocal man and family friend Davy Steele,performed by him with Ceolbeg. Mygranda often walking to MorrisonsHaven to watch the sunset behindFisherrow. The harbour eventually siltingup with muddy water from local pits.Coal fields mined by my granda whenforced to find employment other thanfishing (fishing stock problemsexacerbated by coal pit pollution?) Fishermans Wife Heather Heywoodreflecting the womans worry for thesafety of those out at sea. Keepers - The McCalmans sing of themen in the incredible works ofengineering constructed by the father ofRobert Louis Stevenson who wrote:

    When lights come out at sundown,along the shores of Scotland, I am proudto think they burn more brightly for thegenius of my father.Song For Cove written and performedby The Cast, marking the 125anniversary of a hurricane hittingScotlands east coast. The rocky coast atCove and Eyemouth, preventingfishermen getting boats to safety.The Final Trawl Archie Fisher MBEcapturing the fishermans pain andsadness for a lost way of life.Bada na Scadn Gerry and DonalOConnor in a Donegal fathers lamentfor his sons on a lost Herring boat. ManyIrish followed the Herring to Scotland. Aberlady Bay Local fisher folk HarbourLights singing about East Lothians coastfrom the sea.

    PlayChess by Craig Pritchett

    a b c d e f g h









    Scotlands Schach-Oldies inDresdenI first played for a Scottish national team, at junior level, in the 1960s.Nine full chess Olympiads on, over the years, and I find myself luckyenough now to play for Scotland, at a third international level, in theseniors game.

    Last February, I joined Gullanes Alastair White, in Scotlands fourplayer team at the 2010 Open European Seniors Team Championship,held in Dresden. It was very cold and snowy, but that only enhancedthe splendid baroque architectural and cultural setting.

    Suitably inspired by the backdrop, Scotland played well. All four boardsin our team scored above their nominal international ratings to secure ashare of 6th 12th places (10th on a tie-break) out of 78 teams. Russiatook first place, followed by Switzerland, led by Viktor Korchnoi, second,and Finland, third.

    East Lothians contingent in the Scottish team scored 10.5/18 towards atotal 21.5 board points. Here is my explosive win against the secondRussian team in the event, played on the top board.

    White: C Pritchett (Scotland) Black: N Mishuchkov (St Petersburg)

    Euro Seniors Teams, Dresden 2010, Rd 2 Reti Opening

    1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 c5 4.Bxc4 Nc6 5.00 e6 6.Re1 Nf6 7.e5 Nd78.Nc3 Be7 9.Qe2 a6 10.Qe4 Qc7 11.Bb3 g6?!

    Whites 9th and 10th moves aimed to shift his queen into early, softening-up, kingside action. This risky response loses time and raises theprospect of a dangerous gambit-based attack on Blacks weakenedkingside dark squares. Black had to try 11...b5.

    12.d3 b5 13.Bg5 Bb7!?

    I thought Black probably couldnt survive after 13...Bxg5 14.Nxg5 Ndxe515.f4, but it may not be entirely clear after 15...Ng4, although 16.Nd5probably still causes some difficult problems.

    14.Qh4 Bxg5 15.Nxg5!

    Now White threatens 16.Nxh7, followed by 17.Nf6+, revealing an attackon Blacks rook on h8, and Black may be lost. Blacks reply allows awinning sacrifice, catching Blacks king in the centre. But 15...Ncxe516.f4 also looks strong, or if 15...Ndxe5 16.Nxh7 Qd8 17.Nf6+ Ke718.Ng8+.

    15...h6?! 16.Bxe6! fxe6 17.Nxe6 Qc8

    Now White gets both knights crushingly to the sixth rank. But 17...Qb818.Nd5 Kf7 19.Nec7 was no better. Blacks king simply has too fewdefenders.

    18.Ne4 Qb8 19.Nd6+ Black resigns (See Diagram)

    Fisherrow myself singing a song sung atthe launch of my first ever exhibition.Isle of May Cilla Fisher delivers a songby Matt Armour from the Fife side of theForth. Matt, a friend of my mums, oftenasked to sing his song about the largeIsland in the Firth of Forth.Shoals of Herring My great-grandfatherfollowed the Herring. Here, one of thefirst songs I learnt from The Corries.Written by Ewan MacColl for a sixtiesradio series Singing the Fishing.Bonnie Ship The Diamond sung byBlackeyed Biddy Fishermen from Leith,Cockenzie, Port Seton and Eyemouthwent to the whaling and, for a period inthe 18th century, Dunbar was Scotlandssecond whaling port.


    Shonas great-grandfather Watson, RNLI collecting. Shona McMillan.

    Looking over Portobello to East Lothians coast. Shona McMillan.

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