Connect … Linking Asheville, North Carolina, USA and Dunkeld & Birnam
Mums + Daughters Tour to Scotland by Molly Rose Reed
On a cold Friday in Asheville, the frost clung to the grass. The blue Appalachian mountain tops were shocked with white after an overnight snow. It was January, with typical temperatures around -9 Celsius/15 Fahrenheit. My mother and I could see our breath as we loaded our luggage and my guitar into the the car. My bag was heavy with CDs and boots, and hers was full of carefully planned warm and elegant outfits. Mums and Daughters tour was ready to begin!
A few days later, Mom and I had done our best to overcome jet lag with chilly walks through Edinburgh’s old town, perusing vintage shops and Harry Potter curios, and sharing the delight of luxurious Scottish-made wool sweaters. We sat by fires in cozy pubs, sipping drams of Cragganmore while listening to musicians singing folk and blues songs to captive audiences. After those experiences, I was ready and inspired for the next leg of the journey: touring and performing with my band, Underhill Rose.
On 24 January, Mom and I picked up my bandmate Eleanor Underhill and her mother Jane at the airport and headed to our first performance location in Scotland: The Weem Inn. “Mums and Daughters Tour” had officially begun! Driving on the opposite side of the road was a fearful challenge for me, but the worst part of it was having two moms as backseat drivers. It didn’t help that everyone kept exclaiming how beautiful the scenery was with "Oh the snow studded hills!" and "Ah, the glassy lochs!" But finally it was time for a break, and Dunkeld seemed the perfect place to stop for lunch.
My first impression of Dunkeld was that it is beautifully situated along the River Tay, which sparkled in the rare afternoon sun. We found a hearty, delicious and colorful lunch at The Scottish Deli. My grandfather, Robert Means, was a descendant of the Menzies Clan. Painted on the external wall of The Scottish Deli was the name “Robert Menzies” which made my mother and I feel right at home. The kind young woman behind the counter gave a “Hiya” when we walked in and patiently helped us wade through the gluten free options on the menu.
After sundry purchases of locally made oatcakes and toffee, we set out for The Weem Inn. When we arrived, we were met with open arms, and found the accommodations quaint and restful. Inside their pub, a hearth fire was glowing to warm the room ahead of our show that night. Eclectic paintings and instruments hung on the wood paneled walls, and fresh flowers adorned the tables to welcome guests.
A short nap later, we checked our sound levels and listeners starting coming through the door. Among them were Sister Cities representatives Fiona Ritchie and Alasdair Wylie, whom I met at the proclamation signing in Asheville last August. I remember rushing in from a gig to catch the last 15 minutes of the event, but Fiona and Alasdair were very kind and understanding. Over the following weeks, we became friends on Facebook and I became a member of Asheville Sister Cities. Perhaps it’s what we could call a modern friendship.
After two hours of plucking the banjo and strumming the guitar, Eleanor and I wrapped up our set and talked with many of the guests until well after midnight. We had the pleasure of meeting so many lovely folks, and one of them, Simon, turned out to be the owner of the deli where we had eaten lunch in Dunkeld!
The next morning, my mother and I bundled up and headed a half mile west to our ancestral Castle Menzies. David, the Castle caretaker was kind enough to open the doors for a chilly tour and thorough history of the Castle. We learned that our family name “Means” probably meant that our ancestors never spent time in the castle, but rather the surrounding fields doing farmwork. That sounds about right, because although my grandfather was restless in vocation, he always kept a garden.
With cold hands and warmed hearts, we scooped up Eleanor and Jane from the Weem and traveled south to Glasgow’s West End neighborhood. We were thrilled because we were going to perform at Celtic Connections, our first festival appearance in Scotland. The venue, Oran Mor, was gorgeous and we were received with kindness and gracious hospitality just like at the Weem. Does this happen everywhere in Scotland? I would like to think so. The reinvented church building has a music stage, a beautiful bar, and a top-floor venue with repainted ceilings depicting the astrological signs and pagan ideologies.
Our performance was short, but we were able to bring our Mums onstage for one song, “Trouble in Mind”, to feature their beautiful harmonies. We had many repeat fans at the show, and one couple, who has seen us more than four times, traveled an astounding distance to see us from England. My mother designated them our honorary UK parents! After a final dram of Scotch, we headed to the hotel and gathered our suitcases for the flight to Ireland then next morning, all the while wishing we had more time in Scotland.
Many years ago, Eleanor and I needed to create a brief description of our music. We thought about our country instrumentation of guitar and banjo, the heartfelt nature of our lyricism, and our soulful, R&B-leaning vocal inflection and came up with “Heartfelt Country Soul”. Yet it wasn't until I experienced Scotland and all it has to offer that I saw the correlation to what we do: Scotland is heartfelt. Scotland is country. Scotland is soul.
I hope to come back later this year, but until then, ya’ll are welcome in Asheville anytime. Like in Scotland, I hope that our city offers you kind hospitality, beautiful natural views, soulful art and music, and Sister City friendships to last a lifetime.
Dunkeld and Birnam Friends of Asheville, NC
A very appreciative audience of over 50 enjoyed a wonderful concert by Asheville fiddler Andrew Finn Magill with guitarist/singer Sean Gray from Ayrshire at the Royal Dunkeld Hotel on 2nd February, with special support from Pete Clark, Dave Amos and Jamie Jauncey. We’re grateful also to June Mitchell for poster design, to Birnam CD for printing them and for raffle prize CDs, to Fiddle Tree for lending the lights, to the Deli for feeding Finn and Sean and to the Community Council for microgrant support.
That day Finn and Sean also gave performances at the Royal School of Dunkeld, where the children loved the music connecting us with Asheville, and at Rivendell care home, both sponsored by the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust. We’re beginning to think about some twinning possibilities for the school and perhaps the care sector as well.
All in all a marvellous day and we’re looking forward to more musical connections! As it happens, the previous week a few of us were able to hear more Asheville visitors, Molly Rose Reed and Eleanor Underhill, give a lovely concert at the Weem Hotel by Aberfeldy.
At the last meeting of the Friends on 16th January we also discussed an expected visit by an alumni group from the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) – now to take place in 2019 - and the identification of focal persons here for topics such as Arts and Crafts, Education, Outdoor Adventure, the Environment, Tourism, Business, Music, Gardens, Churches and Golf – all of which the Asheville Sister Cities (ASC) Dunkeld and Birnam subcommittee has noted as possibilities for linking up. There are undoubtedly others! We also discussed publicity matters including having a logo or symbol which local businesses might be willing to show, and the management of a photo archive; and we welcomed Megan Munro, a student doing a twinning case study dissertation.
If anyone is interested, or knows someone who might be, in taking meeting minutes (a one task position, usually every 3 months plus AGM), do let us know.
The next Friends of Asheville, NC meeting will be on Tues 15th May, 730pm at The Chanonry in Cathedral St. All welcome!
If there’s more you’d like to know meanwhile, or you have a special interest in one of the topic areas mentioned above, please contact Fiona Ritchie on: firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or see our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DunkeldBirnamAsheville/