When I was eighteen, I left art college, disappointed with the world of abstract art and conceptual discussion, and went to live in Edinburgh. Swinging back to the other pole of a binary dance that had begun for me at the age of twelve (when I had to choose between doing art or being in the orchestra), I went back to music, picking up my violin for the first time in about six years. The gap between playing at twelve and starting again at eighteen seemed like a lifetime. I found I could hardly play a note. I used to stay behind in the cafe where I worked to practice, so I could play without worrying about the terrible noises I was making.
At that time, most of my friends were musicians. I can remember stealing into the Netherbow Theatre after two of them had had a concert there, finding a guitar, and singing in to the microphone - only able to do it because I was sure that no-one could hear me. I also remember countless evenings with groups of people who would sit around jamming until the early hours, while I sat on the sofa beside them, almost drowning in the longing to be doing it too. There was one time when we loaded up the cars with food and drink and instruments and drove off to some remote cottage on the West coast of Scotland somewhere. The playing went on day after day, night after night, while the wind and the rain lashed outside, and the wood burned in the grate.... As the years passed by, I forgot most of the things I had done. But for some reason I never forgot that weekend.
It seemed utterly impossible for me to even think about getting to a point where I could do such things. I had missed my boat; not continued to play through my teens, hadn't done my grades, and now had no chance of 'catching up'. I was convinced that to play the wild improvisational fiddle I could hear in my head, the only way had been to do my grades, all the way up to grade 8, by the age of eighteen. I had no idea how to go about studying something on my own, and within about eighteen months, I was off travelling with no violin, leaving all my tortuous music-playing dreams behind me.
There were strange moments, like the time I got a friend of mine, an Omani prince, to agree to go to my mother's house during a trip to Scotland, and collect my violin for me. Despite the impossibility of it all, it just didn't feel right not to have it with me. I've talked about my various attempts to start playing again here before. Things inched forward for a little while, but then everything stopped completely in my late twenties. Music was finished. Art was finished. Life was travel, working abroad, exploring, and getting out of various troubles.
I'm writing this post to celebrate two recent moments in my life. The first was in April, doing my improvisation workshop with Mairi Campbell on the island of Lismore. The Saturday night found me sitting on the edge of a big sofa, surrounded by musicians, in front of a huge coal fire, playing my socks off, in a lovely quite, relaxed way. It was dark and cold outside. And I was playing. Without any manic excitement or drama, I knew that I was sitting in the middle of what had once been an impossible dream.
The second moment was the yesterday, when my niece, Mairi Britton, came over to spend the day with me to play music. In the morning we explored all sorts of combinations of piano, clarsarch, viola, voice, harmony, violin and mandolin. And in the evening, we sat around the kitchen table, here, in my house, with my partner, the three of us playing our little socks off once again.
For those of you who had the sense/capacity to follow your lodestone, who've been sitting in kitchens and front rooms playing with friends all of your life, this will seem so normal as to hardly merit a mention. But me, I'm just quietly basking here in a sea of quiet satisfaction....