Today we are traveling to Bogbairn farm just south of Inverness. We’re playing a boutique festival called Northern Roots, run by my old friend from Blazing Fiddles, Bruce McGregor. Bruce has his fiddly fingers in a gamut of tasty pies. He hosts an excellent radio show called Travelin’ Folk on Radio Scotland, gigs with the Blazers and has been running a little annual event on his farm for a few years now. I believe he is also an apprentice milliner. But I have seen his hats and that way lies lunacy.
High winds and scattered clouds, bursts of sun and sprays of rain decorate this three or four hour journey. The sun sits very high this time of year so the afternoon gets flattened out with scant shadows lending the greenery a uniform dullness. It’s the sideways light that makes this country ring and glow like god. Ben Lomond stands proud and gloomy off to the left as we cross Stirling’s plain. I follow the ridge line to the further rises of the Arrochar Alps, hills I know well. It’s not quite the height of tourist season and the road is flowing freely. Not every tree in full leaf, the fecundity of July waits around the corner.
The gig is a little mysterious. We are confused as to whether we are to perform in a tent or appear outdoors. We expect to be surprised by everything for good or for bad.
I make the calamitous discovery I have forgotten my newspaper, a publication rarely stocked in the highlands. Having neglected to bring a book I am now officially bored stiff. I try to snooze. I gaze at fields of black cattle and distant mountains. A vast chasm of blue sky opens to the northwest and I fall into its heavenly depths.
The road keeps coming and the van swallows it dutifully. The low grind of the engine lulls the cabin into torpor. Heads nod gently on seats, tall pines line up on either side making a green canyon. The north envelops us. We pass through the pretty tree-covered crags around Dunkeld, the slow-flowing Tay away to our right somewhere. The light is lashing through and the trees are swaying as if in celebration. The river swings round under the road, broad and brown and shining. We haul uphill, climbing into the beyond. Dense folds of cloud – steel, lead, pewter – fill the upper windscreen. A crack of eggshell blue like a crooked grin quickly gets smothered.
We arrive on site an hour ahead of our expected arrival. Oh no. Five hours to kill. I go searching for a cuppa but the only kettle has been commandeered by the first aid tent, presumably to boil bandages for the trench foot victims. The farm is on top of a hill overlooking the Moray Firth and a moist wind is whipping around us like a mocking tongue. The laid-on fare looks a little dubious so I buy a pizza from a burnt-out looking hippy at a stall at the edge of the habitable zone. I sit on a tiny fold-up stool at a plastic table and immediately a gust of wind flips my paper plate over. I scrape the mess into a bin and head back for the sanctuary of the van. O, mothership, place of perpetual shelter.
Bands appear, music happens. Everything is cool. Except the weather. The exceptional Lau take the stage before us and I go watching. They are extraordinary: they modulate effortlessly between straight folk, electronic experimentation and lyrical melodiousness. I am cheered by them and am in fine spirits taking to the stage.
These hardy punters take the dampness in their stride and we draw a modest little crowd, none of whom break for the warmth of indoors for the duration which counts as some sort of victory. While the crew pack and load I watch some of the Elephant Sessions – lively traditional stuff, strident and sensitively played, they go down a storm in the Saturday night drizzle. I scoop some Happy Chappy, a hoppy local ale and revel in the pleasantness of these friendly climes. We horse home at eleven, stopping countless times to despoil nature with our liquid waste, the air clammy with pollen and Atlantic perfume.
The following Thursday we are at the BBC in Glasgow for a radio broadcast done from the foyer of Pacific Quay, the corporation’s Scottish flagship. It’s a superb design, beautifully proportioned on the outside while the interior is hollowed out by an enormous red sandstone staircase, resembling a local waterfall. The building reminds me of Australia – a vast expanse of brown sand with all the activity strung around its outer shell.
We load in early and sit around watching Saint Etienne soundcheck. The pop vibes are good but the skies beyond the glass are deeply somber, annihilating summer. I have some scran on the top floor café and stare out over the grey of Glasgow’s “armadillo” auditorium to the trees of Kelvingrove beyond. The Dear Green Place cowers under the lead-lined lid of low pressure piss.
A squeal of feedback at soundcheck takes out my top end for a bit. The sound guy is profusely apologetic but shit happens and I don’t blame him. It’s nothing I’ve not done myself, pushing buttons, hitting red hot nerves, taking someone’s head off.
The BBC is the most middle class of British institutions. Everyone is well-spoken and effortlessly polite without the sort of obsequiousness and arrogance that comes with the privately owned media. But there’s an ethos that informs their attitude that’s hard to pin down. It’s not smugness or superiority, exactly. It’s a pride and efficiency mixed with a sort of Christian zeal.
Someone, downstairs after the gig says – hey, we all pay for it. It’s true. If only health and education could be similarly valued. The BBC is clinging on but it’s rife with capitalist revolutionaries, Thatcher inspired, now Trump fuelled. Funded from the outside but destroyed from the top – the inside.
Isn’t it about time that, we as owners, seized control? Besides: an owner without control is merely a slave of circumstance.
The ticket carriers are alacritous in their selfie-work – the biggest lie that ever happened. You and me in a photo must mean we’ve met. My arm around yours, your body with mine. I allow the lie to be told: “I’ve met Justin Currie and he’s a nice guy”.
The crew get my machinery home, in storage and ready. There may be war.
I attempt to drink more than a man has ever drunk and I succeed. I spend three days cowering. At last I rise. Not much looks any better. Shit. I might have to go on tour again.