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Tommy Smith


Norman MacCaig

It was in June 1994 I had the great pleasure of meeting the legendary poet, Norman MacCaig, in his Edinburgh flat. I had heard him read his poems at the St. Magnus Festival in Orkney in 1993 in a small wooden floored room packed with people; I was giddy with excitement to experience the atmosphere of pins dropping. He was and still is, to this day, my favourite poet. No one surpasses MacCaig’s wit, simplicity, directness, and genius. Anyway, I arrived at his place with a young bottle of Bunnahabhain as a peace offering, as I had heard MacCaig could be difficult and ate people for breakfast, but I guess that frontagé must have been created for the acidic critics and wannabe writers. After being gently cross-examined by him about my favourite poems from his 1990 collected poems, which I brought upon myself, to change the subject, I asked if I could play him a lament on my saxophone, he politely gave the go-ahead. The sound of my tenor echoed through shadows in the corners of his high ceiling and off the smokey carpets dissipating across the tacky linoleum in the next room; the neighbours must have wondered what MacCaig was doing. Afterwards, we had a dram and agreed to collaborate on Misty Morning & No Time, inspired by 14 of his poems. Before I left Norman’s flat, he signed my book of his collected poems, “For Smith, for the great pleasure of your company and your saxophone – Norman”. Misty Morning & No Time was composed in the months following my encounter with MacCaig and recorded on 19th and 20th of December 1994 at Castle Sound Studios in Pentcaitland and released on Linn Records in 1995. The cover artwork taken by photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper, was of a waterfall in Iceland called Gullfoss, the Golden Falls. Although I had been to Iceland in 1993 and experienced some of its splendour, it wasn’t until 2019 that I would stand on the edge of these falls and witness the power of their gravity. During the 1995 UK tour of Misty Morning & No Time, we invited actor Adam McNaughtan to read the poems at our concert in the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow. His deep, gravelly voice gave Norman’s poems epic proportion.

When MacCaig passed away on January 23rd 1996, I was shocked. I attended his funeral along with everyone else from the esoteric artistic circles of Edinburgh’s creative conscience. It was the most extraordinary celebration of a fallen poet I had ever experienced; it was also my first; although, I was about to experience many more passings in 1996. While the priest was waffling some impersonal reverb around the dark church, his close friends were whispering that they could hear him knocking inside the coffin, which was placed in the middle of the aisle, because the service had a hint more religiousness than a Zen Calvinist could have wished for. However, as soon as some of the many poets, like Alastair Grey, Tom Leonard, and Liz Lochhead ascended the podium of grief, all joy broke loose with laughter, stories, and poetry; a hell of a funeral service for a hell of a poet, and everyone left smiling remembering a visionary of Scottish poetry.

Poems & Music

  • Intrusion
  • Estuary
  • Incident
  • Memorial
  • The root of it
  • You went away
  • Dipper
  • Rag and bone
  • Sounds of the day
  • Country dance
  • Misty morning and no time
  • Day break
  • Two friends
  • Trapped
Edwin Morgan

Edwin Morgan

The first Scots’ makar’, or national poet of Scotland, Edwin Morgan (b:1920) and I (b:1967) shared the same birthday, April 27th, and I never forgot to send him a card. Although we were many decades apart, we collaborated on 55 poems over a decade, encapsulating broad themes like the bestiary, Beasts of Scotland; the history of evolution, Planet Wave I & II; an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo into a third-stream concoction; Monte Cristo; a history of Scotland’s famous people, The Sons & Daughters of Alba; a song for the kids of Glasgow, Song for Glasgow; and a work for Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth, The Millennium Suite.

A week after Norman MacCaig’s funeral at the end of January 1996, I asked my friend Morvan Cameron, who had introduced me to MacCaig, if she knew any other great poets, and gladly, she knew plenty. Soon, I was sipping tea and nibbling scones in a luxurious Glasgow flat with another legend, Edwin Morgan, who we all studied in high school; remember ‘In The Snack Bar’? After getting to know each other’s backgrounds and intentions, with Morvan keeping a close eye, as it was her flat, Edwin decided to give it a shot with me. It was already Our next meeting was at the Gandolphi Café in Merchant City with Phil Hobbs from Linn Records and Derek Gorman from the Glasgow Jazz Festival. We were there to discuss my next Linn recording and festival concert premiere, but more importantly, the theme of our collaboration. We skirted around many ideas, then Edwin said, “how about a bestiary?” I knew he had already written many beast poems like the Loch Ness Monster Song, The Bear, The Blackbird, The Dolphin, and The Chinese Cat, but many beasts were still out there for us to depict. Together we decided on 10 beasts from our country, Scotland, that we could capture in words and music. The way we worked was fast a furious. Eddie would complete a poem on his archaic typewriter and send it to me via fax machine; I’d read it, reply and begin writing the music at my piano. This process lastest a few weeks until all 10 works were complete. In those days, all I had was music. My deadline was tight as I had the studio session booked in London on the 25th and 26th of February 1996 at Olympic Studios.

Poems & Music

1996 Beasts of Scotland – Toured the UK
Released on Linn Records

  • Red Deer
  • Salmon
  • Midge
  • Wild Cat
  • Wolf
  • Conger Eel
  • Seal
  • Spider
  • Golden Eagle
  • Gannet

1997 Planet Wave
Premiered at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Town Hall, Recorded on BBC Radio w/Edwin Morgan
Toured again with the SNJO in 2020 with actor Niall Grieg Fulton

  • The Beginning [20 Billion B.C.]
  • The Early Earth [3 Billion B.C.]
  • The End Of The Dinosaurs [65 Million B.C.]
  • In The Cave [30,000 B.C.]
  • The Great Flood [10,000 B.C.]
  • The Great Pyramid [2,500 B.C.]
  • On The Volga [922 A.D.]
  • The Mongols [1200-1300 A.D.]
  • Magellan [1521 A.D.]
  • Copernicus [1543 A.D.]

1998 Monte Cristo
Toured in Scotland with the Paragon Ensemble and actor/singer Jeff Leyton

  • The Dungeon
  • Mercedes
  • The Abbe
  • The Plot
  • Father & Son
  • Monte Cristo
  • Four Men
  • The Puppet Master
  • The Revenge

1999 Song For Glasgow
Written for the School Kids in Glasgow

  • Song For Glasgow [Song for a City]

1999 The Millennium Suite
Premiered in the Kennedy Centre by Cleo Laine and John Dankworth

  • The Millennium Suite

2000 The Sons and Daughters of ALBA
Premiered at Glasgow Jazz Festival w/Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, & Michael McGoldrick
Gilas Boclé, Tom Bancroft, Tom Skinner, and Baptiste Boclé

  • The Glen of Tranquility
  • Madeleine Smith [1835-1928]
  • Mary Queen of Scots [1542-1587]
  • St. Tenew [6th Century]
  • St Columba [c.521-597]
  • John Muir [1838-1914]
  • Robert Burns [1759-1796]
  • Burke & Hare [1792-1829; c.1790-1860]
  • Finella [995]
  • Janet Horne [d.1727]
  • Helen Adam [1909-1993]
  • John Knox [c.1518-1572]
  • Jenny Geddes [c.1600-c.1660]
  • William Wallace [c.1274-1305]

2002 Planet Wave [part 2]
Recording on Evolution, Spartacus Records 2003
Toured throughout the UK with John Taylor, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Bill Stewart, and John Patitucci

  • The Juggernaut [1600 A.D.]
  • Easter Island [1722 A.D.]
  • The Lisbon Earthquake [1755 A.D.]
  • Darwin In The Galapagos [1835 A.D.]
  • Rimbaud [1891 A.D.]
  • The Siege  of Lennigrad [1941-1944 A.D.]
  • The Sputik’s Tale [1957 A.D.]
  • Woodstock [1969 A.D.]
  • The Twin Towers [2001 A.D.]
  • On The Way To Barnard’s Star [2300 A.D.]

2009 Planet Wave [part 3]