Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Nazareth Stories a Decade Apart, and my Contribution to Rock History: The Long Black Veil

These Nazareth albums were a common sight in Greenhall High School corridors.

Two Nazareth Stories… in two separate continents… a decade apart…
Nazareth are a Scottish rock band from Dunfermline, usually associated with the worldwide hit Love Hurts, from their 1975 album, Hair of the Dog. I remember their albums as a teenager at Greenhall High School, just ten miles south of Edinburgh (maybe 25 miles from Dunfermline)… they were our real local band, no matter what Bay City Rollers fans said. Their version of Joni Mitchell's This Flight Tonight is still one of my favorite songs, and My White Bicycle is a superb rock song. I still remember the album covers, swapping bootleg cassette recordings… Razamanaz, Loud and Proud… man, those were the days.
Years later, in the early nineties, Nazareth played a Community Centre in Cowdenbeath, just ten miles from their home base, and I went along. I looked forward to hearing their hits, but I did have a hidden agenda… A few months earlier, BBC had done a cool local history series on various Scottish towns, and Nazareth had performed a version of The Long Black Veil in the closing credits… in the show they sang A-Capella, with only drums as their accompaniment, each band member beating some kind of rhythm, with a four or five part harmony. I waited through the first half of the concert, then they had a break… we all went to the makeshift bar. To our surprise, the band also joined the fans, drinking their beers, standing in a small circle, being ignored by most of the audience, most being far too star-struck to intrude into their circle.
Not me. “I’m going to ask them where I can get a recording of it…” I said to my first wife, who, to her credit, tried to hold me back. But it was too late; I was off, weaving through the groups, my target? The band.
Nazareth, Long Black Veil; A very bad still from the BBC credits

“Hey guys” I said quite nervously, I mean, they were Nazareth, but to my surprise I was welcomed into the circle with smiles and chinks of our glasses. “I have a question.”
“What’s up, man?” Dan McCafferty croaked at me.
“You guys sang on a BBC documentary.”
“Yes we did!” the band enthused. “Long Black Veil” they chorused.
I knew I was close to my goal. “So what album is it on?” I asked. Well… that threw the cat in with the pigeons… they couldn’t decide, they suggested various albums, then shook their heads, amicably arguing amongst themselves. McCafferty muttered to himself, scratching his chin. “I don’t think we’ve ever recorded it.” He finally said. “Do you want us to play it tonight?”
Well, what could I say? I nodded enthusiastically. They asked my name, and I shook their hands, gave my thanks, and left them to their beers. In their second half, after a heavy rock song, they all kinda drifted off their instruments, and shuffled to a line on the stage. One by one they picked up drums, some unscrewing them from the drummer’s kit.
“We’re going to do a request.” Dan said, “One we’ve never done on stage before.” The crowd cheered. I stood in awe, hoping that they’d go through with it. “This is The Long Black Veil.” They began a slow dirge beat, then as Dan McCaffrey stood to the microphone, he said… “This one’s for Ian.” I felt chuffed, and stood in the audience smiling throughout the performance.
The crowd loved it.
Nazareth; a more modern version of the band.

I next bumped into Nazareth in America early in the next millennium.
The local radio station in Topeka, Kansas, announced their concert in a kinda seedy part of Kansas City, and the race was on.
“Let’s go.” My second wife, Karla, said, looking to wind down after finishing a long day at work, “It’ll be fun. They’re your countrymen.” I have to be honest, I’d been drinking through the Saturday afternoon, so I couldn’t drive. I nodded my consent, although I didn’t relish the alcohol-free hour drive from Topeka to KC. But I nodded, and got in the car… I mean what else does a good husband do?
Well, we’d left it pretty late, and it was dark when we got into the area of the bar in question. Karla seemed to have an inherent idea of where she was going, and eventually, we pulled into a packed parking lot, just as the band got out of their large bus. “We’re going to be late!” I yelled, but no matter what we did, no matter what route we took, threading through the cars, we couldn’t beat the band to the door. I walked in right behind Dan McCaffrey, and the doorman put up his hand at my attempted entrance.
“There’s a cover charge!” he shouted.
“Thank God we’re not late.” I said, out of breath from our run across the parking lot. “I just traveled five thousand miles to see these guys!” I joked. “They’re from my home town!” To our surprise, the last man from the band turned round, hearing my accent.
“Where are you from?” he said in heavily accented Scots. I swear it was Dan McCaffrey, but like I said, I had been drinking. “Fife!” I shouted, laughing at the irony of the situation. “They’re with the band!” the musician said, waving us inside, challenging the doorman to take money from us. Heck, my accent had got me another freebie.
Well, they didn’t play Long Black Veil in the seedy bar in eastern Kansas City, but we had fun. We’d gotten in free, and my notoriety had increased a notch.
Today, as I wrote this story, I looked up Long Black Veil, and found Wikipedia’s listing…
“A version by Scottish rock band Nazareth was never released on an album, but is played at live concerts.”
My contribution to Rock History….

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Vulnerable Vampire... Lost in Tudor England

A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur's Court: Time Traveler by Misfortune, Lost in Olde England

Imagine you’re a vampire; a present-day vampire.
You are the pinnacle of human evolution, you are faster, stronger, and will outlive every human on the planet, as long as you keep your head on your shoulders, or stop people putting a wooden stake through your beating heart.
You do not fear a 'normal' human's death; you simply wake up a few hours later, usually still at the scene of your demise, or on the coroner’s stainless steel table. You rise, you escape, and you slip back into your vampire lifestyle, with nothing missed.
Wounds that would scar a human for life, heal in hours, leaving your skin flawless.
You are immune from bacteria and disease, incapable of prolonged pain, and have the hypnotic ability to elicit total control over normal humans.
And to make matters far better, you live in an age when people are reading about vampires all the time, while also not believing in them in real-life for a second.
You are virtually immortal.
Life is good.
Good, with a capital G.

Then imagine yourself the same cock-sure vampire thrown back in time 500 years.
Back to a time where every man in the land carried a weapon, usually of the thin sharp steel variety, or worse still, the sharp wood variety.
And to make matters worse, you've arrived at a time where, although the people are rabid church-goers, they're also fanatically suspicious, and are perfectly able to believe in demons, and monsters from hell.
You are suddenly rather nervous regarding the inviolability of your supposed immortality.
But it gets much, much worse…
Imagine, in this Tudor England, when you kill someone, a ‘shimmer’ happens around you, rendering you immobile and vulnerable for several seconds… a shimmer which only you feel… a shimmer which places you completely at the mercy of those sharp weapons.
Your supposed vampire imperviousness is stripped from you, leaving you to rely on other traits to survive.
Under these conditions enters Richard DeVere, present-day Connecticut born and bred. A vampire suddenly transported to a strange time of which he has little knowledge, his normal advantages stripped from him.
You have entered the world of “A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur’s Court”, the latest novel from Ian Hall.
Available as an eBook everywhere, and a paperback at www.Amazon.com
Get more information at www.ianhallauthor.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation Book 5: Druid's Work


I'd like to announce the imminent arrival of the fifth part of my Roman/Scottish saga, Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation.
The story so far… It is now the winter of 80AD, and the Romans have already invaded lowland Scotland, establishing a perimeter across the narrowest part of the country, an earthen wall between the Clyde and Forth rivers. (Sixty years later, this wall would be fortified again as the Antonine Wall). The Roman plan for the destruction of the Scottish (Pictish) people is simple; they will exterminate or bribe all who stand in their way. The Votadini clan in the eastern lowlands laid down their weapons, and received huge amounts of gold for doing so. The Selgovae on the borderlands were not so fortunate; determined to resist, they were crushed by the weight of two Roman legions.
Thus begins Caledonii, Book 5: Dhruid's Work.
Calach, the young Caledonii leader, has plans underway for the unification of the clans against the Romans, but needs time to bring his plan to fruition, and time is not on his side. The Roman commander, Julius Agricola, is under direct orders from Emperor Titus to quash the northern tribes not under Roman control, and planned a swift two year campaign to do so. With the first year safely running to plan, he winters his forces behind his earthen wall, ready to strike into the Scottish highlands and drive the Caledonii into the sea.
Uwan, Calach's younger brother, is a druid with knowledge and wisdom far beyond his years, and the druid hierarchy has plans of their own, using Uwan as the spearhead. He travels to the Irish kingdom of Dalrieda and confronts the Irish druids, enlisting the aid of the Scotti clans in a lowland rebellion against Agricola's forces. With the planned rebellion in place, their hope is to give Calach one more year to prepare.
But Uwan's eyes are on a far greater prize, not only has he work to do at home, he also has a life-changing journey to make; he must travel to the center of the empire, to Rome itself, and confront Titus.
Caledonii Part 5: Druid’s Work is the tale of Uwan’s mission and the second year of the Roman invasion of Scotland.
The words of a Scottish poet yet then unborn, the Roman’s would find out that “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”
Book 5 will be released in the Autumn of 2014, here are the other volumes.


Find out more at amazon.com or at www.ianhallauthor.com

http://www.amazon.com/Caledonii-Celtic-Nation-Gathering-Nation-ebook/dp/B005O1AVXG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404837990&sr=8-1&keywords=caledonii


Friday, August 1, 2014

The Aftermath of Bannockburn: The Long Journey Home

Photo by David Robertson Photography
To the rulers of the day, wars are little more than statistics-not so to the common man.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Bannockburn, King Edward’s only thought was to reach Dunbar Castle, and find some safety in this suddenly dangerous land. He fled with his personal bodyguard of mounted knights and came to no menace on the journey east. The rest of his army found the retreat a little more perilous.

For hundreds of years the Kings of Scotland had bowed to their southern cousins, and for much of that time English Barons held positions of power in Scotland. The Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, so recently cut to pieces at Bannockburn, had been “Warden of Scotland” and “Captain of Scotland and the Northern Marches” in 1308 and 1309. The Scottish people had already endured much suffering at English hands. But with the English army in such complete disarray, the statistics of war were now firmly on the Scottish side.

It is estimated that 10,000 Englishmen died or were captured at the field of Bannockburn, or in the immediate vicinity. That leaves a schism of another 10,000 men scattering all over lowland Scotland, leaderless and frightened, all trying vainly to reach the English border and escape this wild and vengeful land. In their eagerness to flee, some men would band together, taking refuge in large numbers, knowing that the lowly Scottish farmer could not attack such a force. Some would run in pairs or alone, seeking safety in guile and cunning to sneak southwards.

Historian Peter Reece has given us a very frightening statistic. After the battle of Bannockburn only one group of men is recorded to have reached England in safety; a bunch of Welsh spearmen under the command of Sir Maurice de Berkeley arrived at Carlisle Castle many days later. In Reece’s opinion, less than a third of the survivors from Bannockburn ever got home. Cutting the refugees down singly or in small groups, the people of Scotland wreaked their own bloody vengeance for centuries of English oppression. The name Bannockburn would be spoken of proudly for 700 years and more.

Ultimately, the events of these ‘border wars’ so long ago still undermine a curious relationship between  two countries now at peace and allies for many hundreds of years. While we Scots shake hands with our southern neighbors, it seems that even today we do so somewhat grudgingly. Scotland votes on independence this year, hoping to finally cutting the ties that the Union of the Crowns achieved in 1707. We live in historical times again.

I am a historian, writer and folk singer, so have sung and written about the cause of Scottish Freedom for many years. I was a member of the SNP and campaigned vigorously for the first bid for a Scottish Parliament years ago. I love my country and insults to her honor run deep, as illustrated vividly by this personal story:

On 15 June, 2012, England played Sweden in the group stages of the European Championship. I drove to a local "pub" in my new home town of Topeka, Kansas, where I knew I’d find huge screens to watch. Scotland hadn’t qualified, so I was here to support a Scot's next favorite team; “anyone who’s playing against England”.

In the huge bar, there were only four of us watching the game, and it became quickly clear that the two men at the next table were actually English, with the accompanying English accents. To be honest, they didn’t really converse with us much and we all watched the match with interest. Then Sweden scored, and I jumped out of my seat in exclamation. “Yes!” I punched the air. When the euphoria had died down, the nearest Englishman leaned over.

“’S’cuse me, mate?” he began in a very London accent. “You’re Scottish, aren’t you?”

“Yes!” I proudly declared, wishing I’d bought a Sweden shirt for the game.

“Then why are you supporting Sweden?” he asked.

“Seven hundred years of oppression, mate.” I crisply answered.

My wife cringed in her seat as I turned back to watch the television screen oblivious to her fears. Perhaps luckily for me England won, but when I was questioned later as to why I’d said such a cruel thing to my ‘fellow countryman’, I realized that I had not considered the snub for one second. The words had been so natural, so quickly out of my mouth, that I never gave it a second thought. Yes, to "the punters" wars are much more than mere statistics...

PHOTO CREDIT: David Robertson Photography

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Road To Bannockburn: And Sent Him Homeward

The Weary Warriors

In the darkness of the night between 23rd and 24th of June 1314, the English army moved into position. Scotland's own mosquito-like insects from hell (midges) plagued the 20,000 men as they moved half a mile north-east to the far side of the waters of the Bannock Burn. The troops made ready to attack from the east instead of the south, where they’d had so little success the day before. Weeks of forced marching, followed by a dismal first day of battle had already sapped the English morale. Add the sleepless night and the ever-present midges bombardment and they were hardly at the top of their game. Most slept in position on the battlefield, hoping the Scots would rise late, giving them some much-needed rest.

Now aware of the English army’s low morale, the Scottish army emerged from Balquihidderock wood at the first light of dawn. Forming quickly into their hedgehog-like schiltrons, the closely packed spearmen marched onto the battlefield. Then as one ten thousand Scots fell to one knee and bowed their heads, praying to almighty God for a swift victory. To the English king and his troops it appeared that they were offering themselves for surrender. Edward's cry of victory quickly changed to dismay as the Scots rose and trumpeted their readiness to fight.


The Battle Rages

King Edward's nephew- Gilbert de Clare, 8th Earl of Gloucester- was just 23 years old and had been fighting in the Scottish wars since he was 15. He held the reigns of the biggest section of Edward's Cavalry, and ranked first amongst the nobles. He argued that they army needed rest, but King Edward would have nothing of it. Because of the rules of siege, Stirling Castle must be reached today if it were to be rescued. An argument ensued leading to Gloucester’s charge against the Scots.


It mattered little. The Scottish schiltrons had advanced far onto the field to stop the English cavalry from reaching any momentum in their charge. At the edge of the concentrated spears, Gloucester and his men died in their hundreds. Buoyed by their victory, the schiltrons closed on the English lines where they met the rest of the English knights with their cavalry. Trapped between the advancing spears and their own army behind them, the advantage of the knights on horseback was lost. In minutes, the English vanguard fell all along the front line, it became clear that the day was lost. Then the rest of the weary English army came under the Scot's determined assault. Trapped in boggy land, and unable to flee quickly because of the number of men and the river behind them, the men soon were cut to pieces.


Historic Defeat

The English army stood in chaos. King Edward was dragged from the field and rode eastward with his personal bodyguard for 65 miles until they reached Dunbar castle, where he boarded a ship to England. Leaving his ‘superior force’ to be cut to pieces in their thousands on the field of Bannockburn, his campaign was over, and Stirling Castle given to the Scots.



Victory belonged to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. Nine English knights, earls and barons met their end at Bannockburn, with another nine captured and held for ransom. With their leaders gone, the army splintered. For the first time in all the wars between Scotland and England, thousands of English were caught behind enemy lines in complete disorder. It would be a difficult journey home.

The words of our National Anthem, Flower of Scotland, written by Roy Williamson of the Corries, recounts this day with a passion that still stirs the hearts of Scots the world over...
O flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The hills are bare now
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
 And sent him homeward
 Tae think again

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
 But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again
Part 6 of 7 in my Road to Bannockburn series

Monday, June 23, 2014

Road to Bannockburn ~ Battle is Joined

It's June 23rd! Happy Birthday to me, a Scot born on the anniversary of the greatest battle in Scottish history. Here follows my account of day one of the Battle of Bannockburn, a story that has fired my imagination since I was a wee lad...


23 June 1314

This morning 700 years ago today brought close to 30,000 men together on the boggy land around the stream called the Bannock Burn. With dew thick and heavy on the grass, like chess pieces arriving on the board to start a new game, the two armies arrived on the chosen field and began to move into position. Across the few hundred yards between the armies, trumpets sounded, cheers roused, and tension built.

With their shining armor glinting in the morning sun, the English army under Edward II slowly moved into sight. They had marched for weeks to arrive just one day before the deadline to lift the Scottish siege of Stirling Castle. Edward had almost 20,000 men, which included almost 3000 mounted, heavily armored cavalry, easily sufficient to deal with the much smaller Scottish force before them.

Although 16,000 pikemen, archers and crossbowmen had marched hard to reach the castle in time, and were weary from the last march from Edinburgh, the English were in confident mood. But Edward’s scouts had disturbing news for their sovereign. In the weeks that they had moved north, King Robert Bruce of Scotland had carefully mined the battlefield. Deep pits covered with grass littered the area in front of the Scottish position, and the only clear routes for a charge had been left in marshy areas of deep, cloying mud. A straightforward cavalry charge would be fraught with danger.

Perhaps reticent to launch a full attack, the English cavalry advanced and in the face of the Scottish chiltrons, they could not press to sufficient advantage. As the English cavalry withdrew and regrouped, the most celebrated single combat in Scottish history took pace.

The Solitary Charge

Henry de Bohun was the nephew of the Earl of Hereford, an English knight in full heavy plate armor, armed with a long lance. With an armored heavy horse under him, the partnership weighed more than a ton. Perhaps frustrated at the ineffectiveness of the first English charge, he lingered on the battlefield. Then he spotted an opportunity far too good to pass up.

King Robert Bruce had no such protection. Mounted on a light horse, he rode in front of the Scottish lines in light armor, rousing his troops. Armed with only an axe, he wore his golden crown on top of his helmet to identify him in the midst of battle. His tabard would have shown the single red rampant lion against a shining yellow background.

With the crown of Scotland for his prize, Henry de Bohun spurred his horse into a canter, heading straight for the Scottish king. There was little time to act, and although shouts of warning reached the king’s ears, he held his position facing the Englishman, and slipped the axe into his hand, ready for the strike.

This was all or nothing.

As the thundering of the charge neared, de Bohun’s lance lowered, ready to skewer Bruce and win the day in a single action. Behind him, Bruce heard the cheer fade, every eye on the battlefield on the two men, one charging, one standing ready. The only sound under the afternoon sun - the heavy hooves of de Bohun’s horse.

Silence.

As it seemed that victory could only fall to the charge of sinew and steel, as Henry de Bohun  reached King Robert, the scot spurred his horse a few steps to one side. At such speed, and such momentum, you cannot change the direction of charge quickly. As Henry de Bohun tried in vain to alter his aim, the lance passed uselessly along King Robert Bruce’s side. The scot stood high in the stirrups of the light horse, and as Henry rode past, he swung his axe at the knight’s helmet.

The sound rang around the battlefield like a bell.

Bruce’s axe clove the helmet in two, and also the head of Henry de Bohun. The man was dead before his body fell from his horse. And as the scots cheered their king, Edward of England knew the day’s fighting was over. Battle would begin again tomorrow, on the last day to lift the siege...



Friday, June 20, 2014

Road to Bannockburn - King Edward leaves Edinburgh


Edinburgh Castle, an imposing structure in any age
Seven hundred years ago on this very day, June 20th, 1314, King Edward of England’s trumpeters roused the weary English army. They had crossed the Scottish border at Wark on the old Roman road called Dere Street, just three days ago, fording the river Tweed, and marched at breakneck speed to reach Edinburgh, Scotland’s magnificent walled city.
 

For a medieval army to march ninety miles in three days is a particularly arduous task. The daily structure for an army on the move was regimented and disciplined. Around 5 a.m. in the first rays of the morning sun the men must first be roused from sleep, and prepare and eat breakfast. They then strike camp; tents are collapsed, horses groomed and fed, and knights carefully armored. Coals from the campfires would be carefully preserved in iron pots for easy lighting the next evening, then the army would form up in columns, ready to march. Scouts would be sent north, both to look for possible ambushes and new sources of food. Trumpets would sound, and the long caterpillar of men would commence their march. Sometime around midday the army would stop and feed again, eating cold meats and dry bread, before returning to the march, where they trudged onward. Even at a walking speed of three miles per hour, the English army would still have needed to march ten hours per day to accomplish the task. King Edward was determined to reach Stirling Castle by the 24th June, and lift the Scottish siege.

Earliest known illustration of Battle of Bannockburn


On the morning of 20th June, 1314, after marching north for many weeks, the English Army turned abruptly to their left, and departed from the outskirts of Edinburgh, with its castle high on the grey volcanic rock, and headed eastwards for Stirling. The Lothians, the land surrounding Edinburgh, is an area of good arable farming land, and after pushing through rough moors for many days, the English army would have eaten well, finding easy pickings of sheep, poultry and cattle. The populace would have either fled into the hills, into the walled city of Edinburgh, or just hid as well as they could, as an army of 20,000 men rampaged through their lands.


Leaving an angry populace at their backs, the army marched away regardless. It would be a mistake many would rue to their dying day.

Part 4 of my Road To Bannockburn series
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