From Marshall to Alexander in Fochabers
A shower and a Scottish breakfast to start the day. Janet was unsure whether or not to include the haggis on the first morning but promised to get some from the local co-op as I didn’t object. The Fochabers Folk Museum and Heritage Centre is located just across the road from her house but unfortunately there was a sign on the door indicating that their opening for the season had to be delayed due to the problems with the heating. However when a lady entered ahead of me I took my chance. Despite my apologetic entrance, I was welcomed by a group of local ladies who tried to help me despite the difficulties, providing me with leaflets and guides. There was a hint of recognition when I asked about William Marshall and one lady wondered if I had been at Speyfest the previous year.
I began my early morning walk down the village towards the castle listening to the fiddle playing of Lauren MacColl and reading the nice heritage guide to the buildings around me. I got to the Old Spey Bridge, built in 1804, for which Marshall named a Strathspey and listened to the reflective soundscape of MacColl’s ‘Honesty’ from Strewn With Ribbons (2011). I stood on the riverbank near a man fishing. From the top of the bridge, now used for pedestrians, I could see the Baxter’s factory behind the new bridge, built in 1972. There was so much of Fochabers’ identity captured in a moment. MacColl’s ‘Happy Hour’ put a spring back in my step.
Following the Marshall trail guide, I walked past the Baxter’s village where Adèle and I had facilitated workshops with the DkIT students at Speyfest 2016. The carpark was full with workers rather than visitors. A car pulled alongside me and Ashleigh MacGregor rolled down the window to say hello, on her way to work in the Baxter’s centre. Founded in 1883, the Baxter’s Group not only employ a large number of people but also fund many local projects and amenities. While their logo and that of the George and Ena Baxter Foundation could be seen on various leaflets and markers, there was little information about the company in the tourist literature. I would meet Ashleigh for a session later and so continued on my way.
Following my path rather than the map, I found myself in the village of Mosstodloch where I followed the woodland walk of the Webster Way. My journey through the woods and back in time was aided by the sounds of Ron Gonella’s Fiddler’s Fancy (1987), a collection of tunes from Marshall, Scott-Skinner and others of that tradition. Recorded on fiddle with a simple but effective piano vamp, it was a contrast with the preceding albums, all of which had explored the potential of instrumentation and studio production to a greater extent.
My return to Fochabers brought me to the entrance to Gordon Castle and I walked to the walled gardens. Neat but not in any way as colourful as experienced the previous July, I enjoyed a Gordon’s Peppermint, Rosemary and Sage Tea made from the garden’s produce. The garden stands where the village of Fochabers was located until 1776 and is a reminder of the extent of potential change and power.
Back at the Fochabers Institute for midday, I met John Mehigan and James Alexander and was introduced to Mhairi Marwick, James Smedley, Adam Sutherland and Lauren MacColl. I had an opportunity to explain myself a little to the tutors over a sandwich and cup of soup kindly given to me by Mhairi’s mother. It was great to meet the musicians that I had been listening to over the past two days as I immersed myself in their soundscape. After quick introductions, I travelled with John to James’ house where I stopped for a cup of coffee. We chatted about James' life and watched The Road to Speyfest.
Back to Fochabers
James drove me to Bellie Parish Churchyard where I could find the grave of William Marshall. James recognises that Marshall is not a significant part of the musicscape today – his tunes being for solo fiddles in contrast with the ensemble approach of today. There is a Marshall society but numbers are low and James’ recent request for funding to renovate the Marshall gravestone was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, it is clear that Marshall is an important figure for local identity. I found the gravestone in the old part of the cemetery and paid my respects before following the woodland trail back to Fochabers, this time listening to Murmichan (2009) by the band Shooglenifty as I walked.
That evening I followed the crowd into the Public Institute. Jim came over to welcome me. A group of fiddlers were on stage under the direction of Mhairi Marwick. I got chatting to a retired doctor. Like a lady in one of the antique shops in the village earlier in the day, once he heard of my interest in music, he asked if I knew James Alexander and spoke highly of him. We chatted about music and politics for a while until Lauren and Adam joined me for a chat. There was a great community atmosphere in the hall and the thank yous, read out by Chairman Gordon Christie, highlighted the contribution of many to the refurbishment of the hall.
After the speech, we went with Jack Smedley and Fiona Dunn to the Grant Arms for a drink, where Mairhi and James Alexander joined us. It was great to chat about our various ideas on music, what I had been listening to and what I thought of Fochabers. I learned a little more about their backgrounds and influences. They were curious about my visit to William Marshall’s grave, a place that they had not been to. An adventure for another day!