Category Archives: Song Stories

The Story of the Inchkeith Hounds from Hell

The Story of the Inchkeith Hounds from Hell

During my police career I specialised in two areas. For the first five years I was a dog handler and also a dog baiter. For the last seventeen years of my police service I worked on police boats. Both these specialities would come into play when I encountered the Hounds from Hell on the Island of Inchkeith.

Patrolling the Forth

The Island of Inchkeith is located in the Firth of Forth between Leith on the southern shore and Kinghorn in Fife. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was used to quarantine victims of syphilis and the plague. But in times of war it’s strategic position at the mouth of the Forth saw it fortified to defend against would be invaders. In 1804 the building of the 19 metre tall lighthouse was completed to help shipping navigate the local waters safely. Despite this, the skipper of HMS Britannia (not the Royal one currently berthed in Leith docks) failed to take heed of Inchkeith’s majestic lighthouse and managed to run his battleship  aground on the rocky shores of the island.

The Island of Inchkeith

For me, the light played an important part in navigating the Forth whilst patrolling in the police launch during the hours of darkness. It’s light has 269,280 candlepower, with a range of 22 nautical miles.

Inchkeith Lighthouse

When I first started working on the police boats, our vessels were somewhat primitive, and we didn’t venture too far from the naval base at Rosyth. But as the years went by, we upgraded our boats and the equipment we carried onboard. The police officers who crewed the vessels had to complete courses in navigation and safety equipment. As a result we became a much more professional outfit and took on more of a wide ranging role.

My first visit to Inchkeith was a voyage of discovery. The island was uninhabited at that time, but owned by Tom Farmer of QuikFit fame. We berthed the police launch at the sheltered harbour on the western side of the island and went exploring. The lighthouse stands proudly on the highest point of Inchkeith and it drew us uphill to investigate. With me that day were the two constables who made up my crew, Brian and Gordon (better know as Smithy). We followed the track from the end of the harbour wall, up through a collection of old derelict redbrick military buildings. Above us hundreds of angry sea birds noisily protested the invasion of their home. Gulls, fulmars and terns swooped around us as we made our way up the steep incline.

View as you enter Inchkeith Harbour with the lighthouse high above

 

Just below the lighthouse, the track passes through a deep cleft in the rocks. Brian was in the process of informing me that the cleft was better know as the ‘Grand Canyon’, when the inevitable happened. A large gull suffering from some horrible gastric complaint dive bombed us and struck with precision aiming. The contents of its rear end went straight down the back Smithy’s neck. What was a source of great hilarity for Brian and myself was a cause for considerable concern for Smithy. He ripped his jacket off desperately trying to scoop the foul mess out from under the collar of his shirt. It looked like melted ice cream with mint and chocolate chips through it. Unlike ice cream, this substance was hot and and it smelt of rotten fish.

With the three of us now wearing our fluorescent orange Seasafe jackets over our heads for protection, we continued our island exploration. The lighthouse door was unlocked, so up we went for a look around. From a police perspective the insecurity of the building was a concern and would need to be rectified.

 

A plaque on the wall reads,

“For the direction of mariners, and for the benefit of commerce, this lighthouse was erected by orders of the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses. It was founded on the 18th day of May in the year 1803, and lighted on the 14th September 1804. Thomas Smith, Engineer”.

I wondered if Smithy’s namesake had fallen victim to the dive bombing gulls of Inchkeith in 1803.

The lighthouse keeper’s cottages were all locked and had been unoccupied since 1986 when the light was fully automated by the Northern Lighthouse Board. One of the older buildings had a paved rain catchment area outside to collect fresh water. Inside the house we discovered the first wooden sink I had ever seen.

The old Lighthouse Keeper’s houses in the centre of the image

We spent about an hour on the island before returning to our patrols. It wasn’t until we were back within the confines of the police launch’s wheelhouse that Brian and I became aware of just how badly Smithy was smelling.

The following year the island got a new resident by the name of Kathleen Allan. Tom Farmer had advertised for a caretaker to live on the island and had been inundated with applicants. Kathleen was the one he selected, having been impressed with her reasons for applying. She ran an animal sanctuary somewhere in the Lothians. The owner of the land was selling up and Kathleen needed a new home for her collection of animals. Inchkeith island would be the ideal place for her menagerie. There were lots of buildings that could house animals and she could live in one of the lighthouse keeper’s houses.

We received the news that she had moved out to the island and when the opportunity presented itself I set the police launch on a course for Inchkeith. The plan was to introduce ourselves, let her know that the police launch patrolled the waters around her new home and that if she had any problems she could contact us for assistance via VHF radio. That was the official reason for the visit. If I am being truthful, a large part of the reason for visiting was nosiness. It is not every woman who would choose to live alone on an isolated island with a collection of animal waifs and strays. I was intrigued and looked forward to meeting her.

Police launch berthed in Inchkeith Harbour

My crew on that day consisted of Smithy and a constable called Kenny Hunter. The sea was calm and the sky was blue as we headed east down the waters of the Forth. It is not until you make the final approach to the island that you realise just how high and how steep it actually is.  As I rounded the end of the harbour wall Kenny and Smithy made their way out onto the upper deck to prepare the berthing ropes. It was a beautiful warm day and the windows of the wheelhouse were wide open. As the launch glided gently along side the harbour wall Smithy jumped ashore with the bow rope and Kenny did likewise with the stern rope.

I had my head stuck out of the wheelhouse window to see exactly how the launch was coming alongside and to judge what correction I might need to make to the approach. It also made it easy to communicate with Kenny and Smithy.

It was just as they both jumped down onto the harbour wall that I first heard a noise I was not expecting to hear. It was the unmistakable sound of a large pack of dogs, howling, barking and snarling.  The other thing of note about this canine cacophony was that it was getting louder very quickly. I stepped away from the wheel and moved to the starboard side to see where these dogs were. It was hard to miss them. A pack of dozens of assorted dogs were coming down the track from the lighthouse heading straight for the harbour wall where Kenny and Smithy were both now standing rooted to the spot. There were greyhounds, German Shepherd dogs, collies, mongrels both large and small.

The angle of descent meant that the dogs were covering several metres with every stride and were closing on my crew at a most alarming rate. Like rabbits caught in the headlights, Kenny and Smithy looked on in horror as the baying hounds charged straight at them. I, on the other hand, was a trained police dog handler and baiter. I had been on a course learning how to be attacked by dogs. I had spent three years playing the part of the bad guy who runs away for Police dogs to chase and bring down. I knew what it was to be bitten.

So, using all my experience, I kept a cool head and slammed the wheelhouse doors firmly closed and shut the windows. Well, there was no point in all three of us getting mauled, was there?

The outcome of the encounter with the dogs is related in the song. What is not included is the encounter with Kathleen Allan. We introduced ourselves to her and she introduced us to her family. There was Porky the pig who was beyond enormous, and was in love with a pony. There were several sheep, the Inchkeith Hounds from Hell, countless cats and Valery and the kids (goats).

That was the first of many visits to Kathleen who lived on the island until 1991. On one occasion I was working an overtime shift with a crew who had never landed on the island. So we headed out to Inchkeith to meet Kathleen. We took out fresh milk and bread for her as she had very limited access to fresh produce. We were standing next to the goat house chatting about the animals when Porky the pig quietly sneaked up behind one of my crewmen. Without warning Porky put his head between the constables legs and lifted him completely off his feet. I can still picture the look of sheer terror on his face to this day.

Porky remains one of the biggest pigs I have ever  encountered. His love affair with the pony was proving a bit of a problem for Kathleen. Porky like to show his affection for the pony by biting it on the bum. No doubt from Porky’s perspective it was just an amorous nibble, but the pony was now developing sores on it’s rump. Kathleen had separated them to allow the sores to heal but Porky was having none of it. Gates and barricades were unceremoniously swept aside and destroyed by the lovesick pig who refused to be kept apart from the apple of his eye.

Heading west after a visit to Inchkeith Island

One wild wintery night we were not venturing to far away from the shelter of the naval base at Rosyth, when we received a call over the radio. Someone had reported to Fife Constabulary that there was a fire burning at the top of Inchkeith Island. We battened down the hatches and headed down the dockyard channel towards the Forth bridges. It was going to be a rough journey out to Inchkeith. We picked up a couple of officers from Burntisland Harbour who had received the initial call and headed back out into the darkness and the heavy seas. Initially they were very excited to be going out on a police launch for the first time. But as the conditions worsened and the waves crashing over the bow grew larger, they became very quiet indeed.

There are rocky reefs close to the harbour entrance at Inchkeith and it is vital to avoid them as you make your approach. The waves were sufficiently rough that they were being picked up by the launch’s radar. As a result the rocks were lost amongst the clutter of echoes on my radar screen. It is on occasions like this that local knowledge proves invaluable. I took a wider than normal approach to make absolutely sure that I was well clear of the rocks and entered the comparative calm of the harbour. Unlike other occasions, there was no sound of howling from a pack of excited dogs to greet our arrival. Just the howling of the wind.

The two Fife police officers seemed mightily relieved to set foot back on terrafirma. We could see the glow of a fire coming from behind the lighthouse and I was sure that it was not from the lighthouse keeper’s cottage where Kathleen lived. The noise of the storm, I was sure, had masked the engine noise of the police launch entering the harbour and it was therefor reasonable to suspect that our arrival had gone unnoticed.

We made our way up the track by torchlight, through the Grand Canyon and arrived at the lighthouse. It was from here that we could see a the source of the flames. A large mound of hay and straw was smouldering away several yards down the slope that faces towards Kirkcaldy.

One of the Fife officers spotted a light on in one of the lighthouse keeper’s cottages and like a moth drawn to the flame he headed straight for it. At this moment in time, Kathleen was stretched out in her living room peacefully reading a book. All around her, and in some cases, on top of her, were cats and dogs. She, and the dozens of animals which surrounded her, were blissfully unaware that we had landed on the island. After all, who would be out and about on a wild night like this?  I arrived at the living room window just as the Fife officer banged loudly on the door. The scene that unfolded before me was one the likes of which, I will never see again.

As if a charge of T.N.T. had been detonated underneath them, every living creature in the room took off vertically and then formed a whirling chaos of fur, barking and screaming. As Kathleen’s book hit the ceiling, cats with eyes wide open in terror, leapt over dogs who in turn howled as the cats claws dug into them. The noise was deafening as twenty plus dogs did a canine version of the wall of death around the erstwhile tranquil room. The cats, who seemed to outnumber the dogs, tried desperately to avoid being bowled over by hysterical hounds by climbing up whatever they could, including poor Kathleen.

We may have established that she had come to no harm from the fire, but now the new risk of heart attack seemed a very real one.

Kathleen had had a hard day working in the animal sheds, cleaning out old bedding. She felt that the best way to dispose of it, and any parasites that may have been lurking in it, was to burn it. The straw and hay had generated a good going blaze which, from the mainland, gave the impression that the buildings around the lighthouse were on fire. From Kathleen’s perspective, the fire was a good distance away from everything else and had been blissfully unaware of the concerns for her well being.

The Hell Hounds of Inchkeith

When I was out a’sailing just of the coast from Leith

I chanced intae the harbour at the Island of Inchkeith

And as my crew were tying the boat up I heard these awful sounds

Aye coming down the hill side was a pack of forty hounds

 

They were barkin’ they were snarlin’ they were bearin’ all their teeth

And it looked just like the Hounds from Hell had landed on Inchkeith

But I know all about dogs Sir, ‘cause I’ve been bit before

So as quick as I could move myself I shut the cabin door

 

Now Kenny and young Smithy they had faces filled with fear

As I looked out of my cabin at them out on the pier

There was nowhere they could run to – for them it was too late

The Hounds from Hell were closing at a most alarming rate

 

A rabid looking greyhound he was leading out the pack

While a corgi with three legs it was chasing at the back

I couldn’t bring myself tae watch as my crewmen met their fate

‘Cause if I see the sight of blood I’m guaranteed to faint

 

So I cowered in my cabin and I wished them both “Adieu”

And I wondered how I’d sail my boat with out my trusty crew

But the Hounds were nearly on them – They made a dreadful din

And I listened as the Hounds from Hell ripped them limb from limb

 

Well I was shaking I was petrified I was just a nervous wreck

And then I heard the Hounds from Hell – they were on the upper deck

The cabin door flew open and the Hounds from Hell leapt in

Followed by Kenny and Smithy not missing a single limb

 

“As skippers go” young Smithy said “you’re just a dammed disgrace”

“The worst thing that these dogs’ll do is lick ye on the face”

“Aye, on yer feet” said Kenny “and explain the big idea”

“O’ shuttin’ yersel’ inside the boat leaving us oot in the pier”

 

Now Kenny went tae the starboard door and opened it quite wide

They grabbed me by the arms and legs and they flung me o’er the side

I was thrown intae the harbour by an angry mutinous crew

And then the Hounds from Hell decided they’d go swiming too

 

Well like a droon’t rat I waded from the sea

While the Hounds from Hell they swam aroon’ and barked and yelp’d wi’ glee

And as I struggled back onboard the boat wi’ my skin all turning blue

Kenny said “Dinnae settle yet – You’ve the Dog Watch yet tae do!”

 

So if you’re ever sailing just of the coast from Leith

And ye chance intae the harbour at the Island of Inchkeith

Be sure tae take along yer Pal – aye and yer Pedigree Chum as well

And you’re guaranteed tae make good friends with the Inchkeith Hounds from Hell

The story of The Spring o’ Twenty Eight

The Spring o’ Twenty Eight

Having made a good job of the lambing at the Dubh Choirein Farm at the tender age of fourteen, my father was sent on another lambing expedition the following year, in the spring of 1928.

At the foot of Glen Lochay, just out side Killin, a crofter called Tom Proctor broke his leg in a motor bike accident. Tom ran a small croft called Moirlanich and was a long standing friend of my grandfather, Peter McNab. With the lambing season just about to start, a broken leg was a major problem for him. So, Tom sent a message to Glen Artney asking Peter if he thought his 15 year old son, Pat, could help him out by doing the lambing for him. Having been given the responsibility of his first lambing season at the age of 14, Pat had proved his worth and was considered more than capable of the task.

Tom Proctor

As the crow flies it is only 14 miles from the head of Glen Artney to Moirlanich. The road journey however is over 30 miles long and at that time there was no public transport. So young Pat set out on his adventure, carrying his bag, walking the 8 miles down the twisting glen road to the village of Comrie. From there he got a lift with a bakers van, along the shores of Loch Earn, up through Glen Ogle to Lix Toll near Killin. This left him with a four and a half mile stroll, over the Falls o’ Dochart, through the village of Killin, and on to the small croft that would become his home for the next three months.

The Falls o’ Dochart, Killin

The croft house at Moirlanich still stands and is open to the public since being bought by the National Trust for Scotland (in 1992) as an excellent example of a cruck frame longhouse. In 1928 the croft was not only home to Tom, but also to his older aunt and two uncles.

Moirlanich

At the southern end of the building was the ‘Best Room’ which contained the two box beds where the uncles slept. It was a room that was forbidden territory for Dad. Through a small lobby lay the kitchen. An impressive hingin’ lum jutted out into the room over the open fire. Legs of ham hung on hooks from the dark rafters while hens scratched around for scraps on the kitchen floor. In one corner was another box bed where Tom’s aunt slept. A tiny box room with two bunk beds lead off from the kitchen and this is where Dad shared with the injured Tom.

The box bed in the kitchen

Next to the aunt’s box bed in the kitchen, a door leads through into the byre. As well as housing some of the croft’s livestock, the byre doubled up as the only toilet. As Dad put it, “You just went ben intae the byre and squatted by the coo’s”

When I heard my father use that phrase I instinctively knew there was a song in this story.

Over the years I have written many songs based on my own experience of growing up on the farm, but this song was going to be very much about Dad. So I sat him down, poured him a dram,  and got him to elaborate on life at Moirlanich in the Spring o’ 28. Although I wrote the song, I used Dad’s words and expressions wherever possible and in a very short period of time I had the bones of several verses and the all important chorus whirring around in my head.

A Harry Sutton Palmer painting of Moirlanich and Glen Lochay

One feature of the story was a young Clydesdale mare which Dad took a great shine to. He had always enjoyed working with horses and despite his youth, he was a very experienced horseman. He had been involved in ‘breaking’ the wild ponies gathered in from the hills of Glen Artney before they were sent of by train from Comrie Station to all the main shooting estates around Scotland.

As well as working at the lambing he did the ploughing, working with that bonnie mare. He also got into trouble from Tom for being soft and giving her too much feed. One Sunday Tom and his family left Dad in charge while they went to church. Young Pat took the opportunity to try hitching the mare to a cart. This was a new experience for the big horse but she responded well as Pat walked her up the narrow glen road towards Daldravaig. To minimise the noise from the cart and reduce the risk of spooking the mare, he kept one wheel of the cart on the grass verge. The horse took to towing the cart as if she had been doing it all her days. So at Daldravaig Pat turned her around and climbed up onto the cart. Feeling pleased with himself he enjoyed the trip back down the glen to Moirlanich. But as he arrived back at the croft he was met with a furious Tom Proctor. It may have been Sunday, and Tom may have just returned from church, but Dad recalled getting the biggest swearing of his entire stay. The horse could have reacted badly, bolted, damaged the cart or broken a leg, raged Tom. Dad took his telling off, but secretly he was really pleased with himself and the bond he had established with the Clydesdale mare.

Despite getting into bother with the cart incident, Pat was non the less trusted to do the ploughing. Having ploughed the ‘haugh ablaw the hoose’ he went on to do the sowing using a fiddle sower to scatter the seeds.

“The haugh ablaw the hoose”

“He fiddled and he bowed. The seeds they flew frae side tae side until they aw were sowed.”

Tom was a hard task master and Dad worked from dawn till dusk every day fuelled by a breakfast cooked by Tom’s aunt. She would take a few slices from one of the hams hanging from the rafters and throw it into the biggest frying pan Dad had ever seen. That would cook over the fire and then some eggs from the nest boxes in the kitchen would be added. Fresh milk was available just through the byre door for his porridge.

In 2002 I was dispatched to carry out armed night shift patrols at a top secret military installation in England. The night shifts were 12 hours long and mostly very quiet. To kill the time I started to run through my ideas of how to put the song together relating Dad’s time at Moirlanich. By the end of my two week detachment I had composed the song in my head, rehearsed  singing it as I drove around in my police patrol vehicle, but I had never written any of it down. Back home in Scotland, I typed the lyric out and entered the song into the Edinburgh Folk Club annual Song Writing Competition. To the delight of both my Dad and myself, it won the competition. The song brought me more success at the Killin Folk Festival the following year.

Ewan Sutherland presenting me with the Traditional Singing Trophy at the Killin Folk Festival 2003

It was rather special to win the festival’s singing competition performing the song no more than half a mile from Moirlanich itself.

The song had the ring and feel of a bothy ballad so I entered it at a bothy ballad competition at Auchtermuchty Folk Festival in 2005. The song came up trumps again as the judge, and well known bothy ballad singer Jock Duncan, placed it first. Unbeknown to me, by winning this competition I would be invited to take part in the most prestigious event in the world of bothy ballads, the annual Battle of the Champions at Elgin.

In February 2006, in front of a capacity audience in Elgin Town Hall, I won the Macallan’s Porridge Bowl and Spoon and became Champion of the Bothy Balladeers for that year, all thanks to a wee song about a 15 year old shepherd who went to Moirlanich in the Spring o’ Twenty Eight. It is hard to say who was the prouder that night, myself, or a certain 93 year old retired shepherd who could still picture that bonnie Clydesdale mare as if it were yesterday.

The Macallan’s Porridge Bowl  and Spoon Champion of the Bothy Balladeers 2006

Some years later, I sang the song in Blair Atholl for a group of American tourists. They were on a musical tour of Scotland organised by Ed Miller. When I finished the song, an American lady commented that they had driven up through Fife that day and had seen some Clydesdale horses there. When I enquired where about in Fife, Ed told me the horses were at Collessie. I smiled, and explained to the group that the Clydesdale horse in the song was sold at the end of 1928 to ‘Blacks’ of Newton of Collessie for one hundred guineas as a breeding mare. It was therefor more than likely that some of the horses they had seen in the morning, were direct descendants of the horse they had just heard about in the song. The Americans were amazed and thought that this had all been deliberately organised for their benefit.

Ronnie Black of Newton of Collessie with one of his Clydesdale stallions.

I have my own memories of Tom Proctor. When I was about 6 years old my Aunt Mary and Uncle Davy were going to take my grandfather up to Glen Lochay to visit his old friend Tom, and I got to tag along.

Tom could see my fascination with the hingin’ lum in the kitchen. He asked me if I wanted to know how he swept the chimney. I shyly nodded.

“Well the first thing I do,” he said, “is I light the fire. Then I get my double barrel shotgun and look up the chimney to the sky. Then I wait for a pheasant to fly over the house and I fire both barrels up the chimney. That blows all the soot out, it kills the pheasant and the pheasant drops down the clean chimney and lands on the fire and cooks for my tea.”

At six years old I never doubted a single word.

The hingin’ lum in the kitchen

Click the link below to hear the song.

The Spring o’ Twenty Eight sung at Glenfarg Folk Club

“The Spring o’ Twenty Eight”

 When Tom Procter fell and broke his leg, his ewes were all in lamb

So he sent up tae Glen Artney for tae hire me as his man

For Tom well kent that ewes in lamb just weren’y goin’ tae wait

And that’s why I went tae Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 Noo the first eight miles I walk’t, then I caught the baker’s van

I piled inside amongst the bread, the broon, the plain, the pan

And he dropped me of ootside Killin wi’ a half loaf and a cake

And I walked oot tae Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 Chorus:

Where the hams hung frae the rafters, the swee was over the fire

The hens were in the kitchen and the coos were ben the byre

And the bonniest mare that ever ye saw was standing by the gate

When I landed in at Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 

Well I was just a laddie, only fifteen years of age

But I could dae a day’s hard graft for a pittance o’ a wage

I’d lamb the ewes and twin the lambs from dawn richt through tae late

When I landed in at Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 Well my days were a’ways busy, my days were a’ways fu’

And how I loved tae work the mare when I hitched her tae the ploo

We blackit the haugh abla’ the hoose and man those dreels were straight

When I landed in at Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 Chorus:

 Well I walked up and doon the haugh and I fiddled and I bowed

The seeds they flew frae side tae side until they a’ were sowed

And every nicht I’d groom the mare nae matter how I ached

When I landed in at Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 If ye felt the call o’ nature there weren’y ony loos

Ye just went ben intae the byre and squatted by the coos

But man those days were happy and of that make no mistake

When I landed in at Moirlanich in the spring o’ twenty-eight

 Chorus:

 Well Tom Procter’s leg it mended, and the summer it had come

The crops they a’ were planted and the lambing it was done

So a clapped the heid o’ the bonnie mare as she stood there by the gate

And I bid fareweel tae Moirlanich and the spring o’ twenty-eight

 Chorus:

 Sung to the tune…“If you’ve never been tae Kirrie”

The Story of Falling in Love with a Helen

The Story of Falling in Love With a Helen

(aka The Axes of Evil)

Axes of Evil

This song emerged not so much from a disaster with a woman, it was more to do with a strange coincidence involving the name Helen.

When I was eighteen, I was working as a forester for the Earl of Ancaster on the Drummond & Ancaster Estates. I lived in the bothy at Drummond Castle between Muthill and Crieff. I didn’t get paid much and I couldn’t drive, so it was difficult for me to get to hear much in the way of folk music. It occurred to me one day, in an A.D.D. moment, that if I started a folk club in Crieff I could get all my favourite performers to come to me and I, as the club organiser, would get to see them for free. It seemed like a brilliant, effective and simple solution.

Drummond Castle

I had a chat with the owners of my regular drinking haunt, the Royal Stewart Hotel in Crieff and struck a deal with them. They would give me free use of their downstairs function room on Wednesday and Friday nights for a trial period. My plan was simple. On Friday nights I hired a mobile disco from Dunfermline called “Explosion Disco” which cost about £15 for the night, and the hotel put on an alcohol-free bar. We charged the youngsters of Crieff 50p entry and we packed the place out. There was little else for the kids in Crieff in the way of entertainment and the Friday night disco was not only a massive success but a profitable success. With the help of some friends we formed a committee and the Royal Stewart Folk Club was born.

The Royal Stewart Hotel (now The Meadow Inn)

With the money we made from the disco we were able to supplement the folk club and book some of Scotland’s top folk acts to perform on a Wednesday night. My brother Peter, or Snab as he was better known, had been involved as a singer in the Edinburgh folk scene for many years and through him I had got to know lots of performers. I would phone them up and say, “This is Snab’s wee brother and I’ve just opened a new folk club in Crieff. Is there any chance you could do a gig for us at a reasonable rate to help us get established?” The response was tremendous and soon the club was packed out every week. We had folk like Big Bill Barclay, Tich Frier, Archie Fisher, The Tannahills, Danny Kyle and we also gave Cilla and Artie Tresese one of their first ever gigs.

Tich Frier

Danny Kyle

The Tannahill Weavers

Archie Fisher

Big Bill Barclay

I was having a ball. The club was so successful that we started doing chicken in a basket as part of the entry fee and that allowed us to run a late licence at the bar. We were packed out every week.

While this was going on I met a girl called Helen at one of the discos. There was an instant spark between us and a torrid relationship erupted. Unbeknown to me, she had recently split up with a local chap who was built like a prop forward. He drove a mini and word got back to me one night that he was cruising the streets of Crieff, in his mini, with an axe, looking for me.

Now working as a forester at this time I was only too well aware of what damage an axe could do. Helen heard what he was up to and she tracked him down and read his horoscope for him in no uncertain terms. Despite the fact that, being a professional, my axe was probably bigger and sharper than his, I’m delighted to say that we never crossed paths.

All of this was going on without the knowledge of my parents, but the owners of the Royal Stewart took me aside and in a caring, parental sort of way advised me that Helen was trouble with a capital ‘T’ and I would much better off without her. Well, a bit of potential danger just added spice to the relationship as far as I was concerned, and Helen and I became more and more embroiled with one another as the weeks passed by.

It was a volatile relationship, but all the more intense for that. She was quite unlike any girl I had ever been involved with. She was so unpredictable and her moods swung from being hostile towards me to being outrageously sexually demanding. Life was never dull with Helen.

Our relationship was one of convenience rather than romance, and there were spells were we never saw one another. After a period away from Crieff I returned to find that Helen had not only teamed up with someone else, but she had actually got married. But inevitably, when we met up again, the magnetic attraction we had for each other resulted in a clandestine affair.

One night she tracked me down and we went back to her house knowing that her husband was out drinking at a pub in the town and would not be home until much later. Lost in our passion for each other, time had crept well past closing time without us noticing. Suddenly there was loud, violent banging on the front door.

Helen had locked the front door and it was only by virtue that she had left the key in the lock that her husband couldn’t gain access. The locked door was the only door to the property and the ever increasing noise level coming from that door was a cause of huge concern. Hubby was screaming and shouting and threatening to break the door down with an axe!

Sweeping up my clothes and flinging them at me, a semi-naked Helen rushed to the bedroom window and opened it as far as she could. Thankfully, I was a lot leaner back then and with all the speed I could muster, I squirmed, partially dressed, through the narrow gap and landed in an undignified heap in the front garden. The remainder of my clothes were hurled after me and the window slammed shut.

This was the second time I had been under threat from an axe as a result of this woman. The advice I had been given about Helen being trouble with a capital ‘T’ was turning out to be well founded. But life was never dull with her and at times it was downright exhilarating.

The last time I saw her was when I was about to join the navy. I had to travel up to Arbroath for a medical to ensure that I had all the correct body parts required by a sailor and that they were all in good working order. The night prior to my medical was spent in the arms of Helen. In the darkness of the early morning I got dressed and slipped away before her husband got home from the night shift.

At HMS Condor I sat in a room with several other naval candidates. My name was called and I went into the examination room where I as invited to undress for my medical. It was only as I removed my shirt that I discovered to my horror, and enormous embarrassment, that during the night dear Helen had covered me in love bites. As I stood there, doing a passable impersonation of a Dalmatian, the doc looked me up and down.

“Okay”, he said, “What’s been going on here?”

“Ehhh… it was my girlfriend” I sheepishly replied.

He peered at me over his glasses and as a rye smile spread over his face he inquired, “Have you ever thought of feeding her?”

To this day I have never seen Helen again and that is maybe no bad thing. But as time crept on I found myself dating several other girls who were all called Helen. It seemed I couldn’t escape them. When I eventually married my first wife she was not called Helen. However, she was adopted as a baby and many years after we were married we traced her adoptive history. Despite being in her forties, my wife had never seen her birth certificate. All she had ever had was an adoption certificate. When we applied for it we discovered that her birth mother had originally called her… what else, but Helen.

I’ve Fallen in Love Wi’ a Helen (sung to the tune of Dick Darby – The Cobbler)

 Chorus:   I’ve fallen in love with a Helen

But that’s no surprise tae me

Wi’ a’ of the Helens that I’ve loved and lost

This one makes twenty-three

I’d quite like an Ann or a Sally

Or maybe a Natalie

But I’ve fallen in love with a Helen

It’s just how its meant tae be.

 

I was born in the depths o’ the winter

It was the January  fifty-five

The midwife she skelpt my wee bum

And my scream told her I was alive

Noo the midwife – her name it was Helen

And undoubtedly she was the first

She gave me a smacker – said that I was a cracker

Before I’d even been nursed

 

When I was five I started the school

There were two Helens in Primary One

And when we played doctors and nurses

The Helens were always good fun

And when I went up tae the high school

I got in tow wi’ Helen McBride

And the things that that lassie taught me

Gave me a smile that was half a mile wide

 

 My favourite singer was Helen Shapiero

She was the one wi’ a voice like a boy

If I’d lived a few centuries earlier

I’d have been courtin’ wi’ Helen of Troy

But what aboot that Helen Mirren

She makes the blood rush tae ma head

And if the Lord knew just what I was thinking

I’d get Hell ‘n damnation instead.