Eilidh MacKenzie: Scotland – The Welcome Table

Eilidh MacKenzie

In March this year, Eilidh MacKenzie – a singer, songwriter and traditional music tutor from the Black Isle – came up with the brilliant idea to have a Reason Day. Those in favour of Independence would be invited to share their reasons for doing so on social media, or in a letter to their local paper. With a little help from National Collective and social media platform Aye Mac, the 24th March – two years to the day that Scotland could become independent – will go down in history as the day the #IndyReasons hahstag was born, trending UK-wide and reaching over 3 million people on twitter and Facebook.

The Independent newspaper couldn’t ignore the buzz, publishing an article that very day with a selection of #IndyReasons. Later, Nicola Sturgeon talked about the day in her speech for the SNP’s Spring Conference as an example of the surging support for independence and the positivity, breadth and diversity of the campaign.

Eilidh first shared her own reasons for Yes as part of the TradYES Voices for Yes project. Her inspiring words were shared just shy of 400 times, and in turn inspired others to join the project.

Inspired by Reason Day, Eilidh has written a song for Scotland: ‘Scotland – The Welcome Table.’ In this blog she tells us more about her Journey to Yes, and the layers of story behind the song.

“To be absolutely honest, when it came to the referendum, I spent quite a few months just floating along assuming I’d be ticking ‘Yes’, but not really engaging to any real degree. Dare I say it, I even felt a wee bit irritated by the constant barrage of indyref related posts that trickled into my newsfeed and nearly always by the same few friends battering away at the disengagement – I’d raise my eyes and skip down the feed as fast as the cursor would move.

Then with the New Year came the fairly sudden realisation that 2014 really was here and with the dawning of the New Year came something akin to a conversion, a lightning bulb moment, an epiphany….call it what you will. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any one particular post that did it for me (wouldn’t that be handy)….I just felt my interest in the referendum spark and I decide to take notice.

What came next was a brief spell of what I can only describe as fury. I was overcome with the injustice and ridiculousness of the status quo and as I read more and more I felt compelled to take notice of those “irritating news feeds”. This stuff was actually really interesting. Pid-ding…my political libido had been re-ignited!

Armed with a wee bit more information, I felt a little bit empowered. This led me to a few days of restlessness where the seed of the song – The Welcome Table – began to take shape. I struggled with the choice of language as over the years my output in Gaelic has been far greater than my output in English (or English with Scots references), and Calum and Eilidh who perform the song are more used to singing in Gaelic than English. But, I wanted this to be a song where everyone felt included.

When I came to write it, it was a total pleasure – it really did seem to just write itself – pretty much what the song became is how it began. There was very little (in fact I think no) editing.

I was conscious that I wanted to hark back to some of our landmark songs: the Proclaimers with their ‘500 miles’ (and 500 more); of course Rabbie Burns and especially his A Man’s a Man for A’ That; and from the Gaelic tradition, I was keen to reference MacMhaighstir Alasdair. It was only when the song – the text and then the melody (a day apart) – was complete that I thought to include one of my favourite poems. An excerpt of the Ruaraidh MacThòmais (the late Derick Thomson) poem Eadar Samhradh is Foghar (even the title seemed so appropriate – Between Summer and Autumn) opens the track. Derick had been my old Prof at University and nationalism was a favourite theme of his (!) so it felt absolutely right to weave his words into the final arrangement.

I sent a very rough demo of the song – recorded in my kitchen cupboard among the chick peas and the recycling – to my pal Brian McAlpine, and within hours he had got back to me with ideas for the arrangement. I love the fact that underneath, the skeleton of the song, now all shiny and polished, is actually me and my younger two kids with the mic propped up inside the shreddies box! Brian worked his magic and I looked around for someone to take the lead vocal. As the arrangement took shape I realised that the song would be strengthened by young singers.

They say the obvious answer is often right under your nose. My eldest son Calum (19) agreed to come home from uni for a day to lay down the male lead and our pal Eilidh Cormack (17) from Skye was the obvious choice for female lead. They pitched up and Marc Clement came out to our house with his mobile recording studio. A quick rearrangement of the furniture and we were good to go, vocals were recorded and sent back down to Brian in Glasgow who then worked with Jonny Hardie on the string arrangements.

I love the fact that we live in a country where The Scottish Tapestry is commissioned and displayed for all to see – the value of art and creativity is certainly something to sing about. As is tolerance and community. These threads are all stitched into the song. I think Christopher Brookmyre sums it up pretty nicely in his tweet from Reason Day when he says:

I want people in other countries, when they’re planning a better future, to one day say: “We ought to be more like Scotland.’”

A song for all the people of Scotland written by Eilidh Mackenzie. Vocals by Eilidh Cormack and Calum Barker, instrumental arrangement and performance by Brian McAlpine & Jonny Hardie.

“Scotland is an amazing country with enormous potential. This is a song for all her people.”

Verse 1
This autumn day inhales the spring
And looks around with pleasure
To times of then and times of now
Those two in equal measure
We’ve walked those thousand miles and more
Each step a tread to treasure
For Auld Lang Syne, we’ll seize this time
And listen to each other.

Let us woo you, lovely
All those miles and more
North to south, east to west
Shingled shore to shore
Let us woo you, lovely
Alba, Scotland still
A belly full of brotherhood
A heart, a head to fill.

Verse 2
Then listen to each single voice
Join in and sing our story
We folk of independent mind
Take Sense and Worth as glory
And weave a country’s tapestry
In language, love and labour
As Man to Man the warld o’er
Feels welcome at our table

Verse 3
Welcome to our table friends
And take a toast together
To kindle bonfires’ warmth and light
Spread far among our blethers
Our dear green place of rainbow hue
Baptized in wind and weather
The sweetest oor that e’er we spent
We’ll spend with you forever.

Gaelic text from Eadar Samhradh is Foghar by Ruaraidh MacThòmais (‘Between Summer and Autumn’ by Derick Thomson):

Bha am muir fodham….
teicheadh is dlùthadh,
aoibhneas is anail air mhùchadh
ag at ‘s a’ briseadh….

dath na grèine….
dath an fheòir….
dath an dòchais….
dath an adhair….
is dath na sìorraidheachd ‘s i ‘n sin na sìneadh

The sea lay below me….
receding and nearing
joy with its breath held,
swelling and breaking….

the colour of the sun….
the colour of the grass….
the colour of the hope….
the colour of the sky….
and the colour of eternity lying there