I laughed; although I like all this stuff I can understand in this era that many would not. But he isn't done, it seems.
"... Aye, torture is someone putting on a Jimmy Shand record and tying your feet down, so you can't tap them. Do you remember that joke? I remember people used to say that one."
On the counter between us is a large stack of vinyl, all old Scottish records. Although at £1.99 each they were more expensive than I might normally pay for such items in a charity shop, I was subsequently informed that today was buy one get one free on all items in the shop, which brought the total back down to a little over £13. I left a lot on the shelf that I could just as easily have bought. It's always a difficult balancing act between not overspending and taking the opportunity to get hold of this stuff before it's gone forever.
There was a time, from the 1950s until certainly the 1970s, and in many cases on into the 1980s, when Scottish traditional music was extremely popular. The White Heather Club was on television, folks down in England would watch it and fall in love with the romantic image of Scotland, then they would come up to the Highlands and islands on their holidays. In between trips they would be watching more episodes and buying up records. A quick read of the back of any random selection of such LPs is enough to confirm that this was the audience being targeted. Plenty of records would be sold to Scots too, of course. Edinburgh and Glasgow were target markets, Glasgow especially in the days when Glaswegians took their holidays to Bute in their thousands. 'Rothesay Bay' is a popular tune you will find repeated often.
There are a few different genres to these Scottish records. The most proliferated was the 'country dance' band records, primarily instrumental and led by the accordion, with Jimmy Shand the undisputed master. There were easy listening-style records, soft crooners with gentle orchestral backings. There were the tenors like Kenneth McKellar, and these often bled over into the easy listening selection. There were bagpipe records, military pipe bands being dominant. Less common for whatever reason were fiddle records. Then there was the folk revival records from the 60s onwards, based around the acoustic guitar. These are part of 'the tradition' while at the same time not. This type of music is what most people think of when they hear the word 'folk', thus you are less likely to find this type of record in piles in charity shops, and they were more likely to have been reproduced on cd at some point.
By the 70s and 80s these holiday habits were changing. Cheap holidays to sunny Spain were now affordable to the average family, and weeks spent in the rain and biting midges north of the border no longer appeared desirable. Records were still produced and sold, but the target demographic was ageing, and then eventually it was gone. In this globalised world where everybody knows names like Harlem but might not know the name of the village down the road, it's fascinating to find records like Alastair McDonald's 'White Wings', recorded in the village of Pencaitland. It's hard to believe that anything could ever have been recorded in Pencaitland, let alone seen commercial release, but there it is. Jimmy Shand's 1967 'Gateway To The Forth' record shows the Bass Rock taken from Tantallon Castle and features tunes like Berwick Johnny, Haddington Assembly, and Lassies O' Dunse; Dunse being an archaic spelling of Duns. This is my world, this is where I live, these are my places. That world was once being put out on vinyl and sent to the wider world, who were found interested and receptive. Those days are gone and that time is forgotten. How forgotten?
Very forgotten. I travelled down to the community recycling centre at Duns to dispose of another car load of garden waste. My dad, who was out helping me for the day, had already made a trip on his own and this was the next load. We piled it all into the garden waste skip which seems permanently full and thus always making you lift above your head. I had a bag of non-recyclables to put into the waste compactor, but had to wait a minute or so as it was just crushing a load. When it opened I threw in my bag and turned away, then snapped back around. Was that... records? It was. Jammed into the corner were a handful of LPs, Scottish records at that. I climbed into the waste compactor (always a good idea) and plucked them out. There were four, in a pretty good state of preservation too.
When I reached the car I showed my dad who said that indeed, there had been a huge bundle of records in there when he'd been down earlier. My heart sunk. All of those were now crushed, destroyed forever. These four had escaped only by absolute fluke; the crusher had pushed them up and they'd got stuck on a little ledge between the crusher and the door, which is where I picked them out of. How many more were destroyed and what they were, we'll never know.
I can understand how it comes to this. Large collections like this tend to appear when someone has died, and generally speaking nobody wants records these days. The natural thing is to take them to a charity shop, but an increasing number of those are no longer taking records. When you literally can't give something away, and it's something that means nothing to you except old obsolete technology, then what is there left to do? Throw it out, get rid of it. And so a large bundle of unknown size and content comes to be inside a waste compactor in Duns. Of the four I rescued, three are safe in my collection, and also converted into MP3 format so I can carry them anywhere on my ipod. The ipod also comes in handy at charity shops sometimes in checking which records I already have. The fourth had unfortunately had a piece of the vinyl broken off and was useless; I put the broken pieces in the fireplace and watched the vinyl disc bend and melt away to nothing.
Gone that record, then. The problem here is that this vast array of records were produced on vinyl but were never re-released on cd. By the time cd came around, the audience still listening to those old Scottish records was too old to be adopting new technology, so there was no demand. Some new albums were still being released, but into the 80s and 90s these tend to be on cassette. I will grab these if I happen to see any too as I can convert these to MP3 also, but while some charity shops will still take records, almost none will take cassettes.
If you search for Jimmy Shand on cd, you can find 10 cds, all 'best of' type compilations. If you search on Discogs, you can find a list of 31 albums, plus 117 singles and EPs. And he was just the biggest and most popular name in the business. The vast majority of names released on vinyl you will not find on cd at all. They exist only as vinyl, and that vinyl is growing scarce. With each collection that goes to the waste compactor, chalk up one less existing copy of each title. For Jimmy Shand that's not such a problem as there was such a large volume of these going around that it's not difficult to find, even the 7" EPs, one of which from 1957 is in my Galashiels charity shop haul, along with a 10" album and a double album compilation. But what about the Hamnavoe Scottish Dance Band, who released albums on Grampian Records based in Wick? According to Discogs, their excellent 'Memories Of Hamnavoe' LP is their only release. But it's not; in that charity shop haul was another of their LPs, 'Going To An Orkney Barn Dance'. So this stuff isn't even being catalogued, never mind re-released. We're losing a part of our own heritage, and we're not even taking note of what it is that we're losing.
"I grew up with all of this", I tell him.
"I think everybody did in the Borders". And that's true; that's why the place to find this stuff is still Galashiels. The charity shops of Galashiels, sitting in the half-deserted shopping streets among closed-down shops for let, the biggest shopping town in the Borders trying to frantically cling on in a world that no longer goes to shops. Even the charity shops are going now, British Heart Foundation have shut their shop and the poster asks that you take your donations to their shop in Kelso or Hawick.
"I wouldn't have been seen dead with it in my teens of course", I say honestly. "But it's funny how you come back to it."
"It's the same for me. I went off and discovered a lot of other things. A lot of heavy metal, actually".
People find my ipod a strange and contradictory place. Starting up shuffle might find you alternating screaming black metal, an instrumental accordion tune, a bit of jump blues from the 40s, some thundering stoner doom metal, folk music, a classical piece, and then the Pet Shop Boys. In fact, let's press shuffle now and see the first 10 things it brings up.
OK, let's see now... Shuffle Songs.
1 of 9479 - Angel Interceptor by Ash, from their album '1977'. A good album of the britpop era.
2. Strychnine by The Cramps, inventors of psychobilly. Amazing tune, actually.
3. Soul Leach by Will Haven. Not a man called Will, but a band. What would you call them? Wikipedia offers 'noise rock / sludge metal / experimental rock / metalcore'.
4. Supply And Demand by The Hives. From that brief period of the early 21st century when it seemed like rock music was going to last after all.
5. Slowboat by Sparks. This one is all down to song_of_copper.
6. From This Day by Machine Head, from a Metal Hammer cover cd.
7. I Got Your Boogie by Sarah Dean. This is a bit of jump blues from 1951. I got it on a pretty remarkable cd compilation put out by a German company called 'Sex & Drugs & Alcohol', which contains 200 songs over 10 cds, covering the seedy side of jump, R&B, swing etc, mostly covering the 40s and 50s, the latest track is from 1960.
8. Rose For The Crows by Turbowolf. Another Metal Hammer cover cd; this is a good track though.
9. Out Ta Get Me by Guns N Roses, a live version from the German bootleg 'Live USA' double cd.
10. Lonely Boy by The Charmers, from a triple cd 'Blue Beat' compilation. This was the soul and doo-wop inspired sound of Jamaica just before it went into ska and reggae.
Not actually as jarring as some of the running orders thrown up by shuffle. How many do I have to press before I get to a Scottish tune?
Bizarrely none turn up until #50, a track from Jim McLeod And His Band's 'Scottish Dance Party' LP of 1965. But I suppose it's easy to get lost in there when there's nearly 10,000 tracks to choose from.
The point is that people find it strange that I should have all this different stuff on there. They want a quick and simple answer to the question "what sort of music do you like?". I find it strange that anyone would have a quick and simple answer to that question. You like only one type of music? Doesn't that get boring? The truth is that you can like heavy metal and Scottish accordion music. And that's not just me, this person serving me says the same thing. So it must be true!
Jimmy Shand died in December 2000, at the age of 92. The many facts of his strange life are each as fascinating as the last; He played Carnegie Hall, he had a top 20 UK hit with The Bluebell Polka in 1955, the producer of which was George Martin, he was given an MBE in 1962 and a Knighthood in 1999, he semi-retired in 1972 and would accept only reduced appearance fees to play out-of-the-way places, he had a British Rail locomotive named after him, he designed his own button accordion which was produced by Hohner as the Shand Morino - the only Hohner instrument model ever to be named for an individual. There's a statue of him in Auchtermuchty in Fife where he grew up. Auchtermuchty is not much a place, one of many struggling ex-mining towns in Scotland, and Craig and I one day stumbled upon this statue by accident. We were driving around in Fife and decided to go to Auchtermuchty just because of the name, chanting "Auchter... Auchter... Auchter-fuckin-muchty" in the car as we went. Then we saw a road sign for 'Jimmy Shand statue'. We drove along a nondescript residential street full of council houses and there sure enough was the statue.
Nowadays places like Auchtermuchty are looked down upon, joked about, avoided. Their history and traditions are dead or dying. But they were there, and sometimes they were remarkable. It would be more than a shame if they were to be lost forever, but that is what is happening right now. I don't have the money or time to grab all of this stuff before it disappears forever, but I'll do what I can do.