Two finds… an opera and a boot

It’s funny the things you find while you are sorting things out in preparation for a move. Today I’m tackling the cupboard in the dining room that primarily houses most of our guitars (we have eight). I affectionately call it my ‘Guitarsenal‘.

Flyer for a concert called Whaup of the Rede.

First, amongst some old guitar magazines I found this A5 flyer for a concert that I was part of back in 1993 — part of the Borders Festival — called “Whaup of the Rede“. As I recall, the first half of the concert was a concert of Borders music sung by local Borders musical legends such as Lorraine Kemp, John Mitchell, Elspeth Smellie, and er… me. If you look closely on the left-hand side of the flyer you’ll make out my name. I’m Gareth Saunders, by the way.

The second half was a short opera called Whaup of the Rede, based on the ballad by Will Ogilvie about the life of the Borders Reiver Scott of Harden. Music was by Chris Achenbach, who incidentally also wrote the song that I sang in the first half; Libretto (that’s the words) were by Lady Judy Steel.

The lead role, Wat of Harden, was played by big Bill McCue who was very entertaining during the rehearsals. Every now and then he would say things like, “Would you like to see ma willy?” in his deep, booming voice. We politely declined his kind offer each time. But it did make for very amusing rehearsals, gathered around the piano and table in Sir David Steel’s house at Aikwood Tower, near Selkirk.

I remember one evening being there as Sir David arrived back from Parliament in London. He pulled up in his Jaguar as we were loitering outside in the warm autumnal evening on a tea break. He was of course well known to many of those singing in the chorus, but I was still young and he was a bit of a celebrity in my eyes. I said hello, and laughed at the appropriate places. Thankfully big BM never offered to show his willy to the Rt Hon. Member of Parliament for Tweeddale that evening.

What I remember most about that whole experience however was the laughter. As a male chorus, we bonded well, we sang well (for the most part), and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Illustration of a soldier's boot, painted with the Union Flag, red, white and blue across it.

A couple of days ago I’d been emailing my friend Max Hargreave (aka Max MacAndrews) and had said that I had a print of one of his sixth year art exhibition pictures, but I couldn’t remember where. Well, today I found it.

It’s of a WWI soldier’s boot, overlaid with the Union Flag, and beneath it words from Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est:

“Men marched asleep. Many
had lost their boots.
But limped on, blood-shod. All
went lame; all blind…”

I always loved the simplicity and peacefullness of the illustration, constrasted with the harshness of the words.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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