Dunaber MusicFleshmarket Close (Glad It’s Not Trad)

March 31, 2010 on 6:55 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Stories | 7 Comments

Of all the tunes I have built the one that gives me the most copyright grief is “Fleshmarket Close”. This tune wasn’t two years old and it appeared on a recording, a vinyl recording, with the dreaded “public domain/traditional” note. I won’t bother mentioning the offending parties – but it was not a bagpipe group. It was a “folk” band. Anyway, the cool part – especially thinking about it today – was the vinyl record bit of the story.

To me, even today, there seems something extra-special about having your music on vinyl. Maybe others feel that way and that might account in part for the resurgence of vinyl – and, yes, apparently it’s resurging. The unaccredited ownership part? Not so cool. See, if your music misses fair credit it slips through the copyright filter. Instead of 37 cents in royalties you get a rollicking fuck-all. And cash aside, well, fair is fair.

Anyway, from that point on my tune “Fleshmarket Close” has been cursed with inaccurate publishing and just plain wrong compositional attribution (I can hear “Chewin’ the Fat” guys now: “Ooooh, compositional attribution”).

So. Fleshmarket Close. It’s a reel I wrote September 21, 1986. I can tell you exactly where I wrote this tune (and I can’t say that for many I’ve made). And its with great presumption I imagine you give a rat’s ass.

The tune was written in the flat of then Polkemmet Colliery piper, Ian Morris. Ian’s place was in the west end of Edinburgh, a place known as “South Gyle” or, an area, I think, generally known as, “the Gyle”. After university I was determined to stay in Scotland for a good bit of time to take lessons from Captain John MacLellan and, to be truthful, delay the inevitability of working life. I did stay for a while though not as long as originally imagined. Anyway, money was tight and thanks to knowing Andrew Berthoff – who himself was merrily crashing at Ian’s flat (a fellow Polkemmet bandmate) – I came to stay a very short while at Ian’s place (“Come and stay,” said Andrew, “he’s away, he won’t mind a bit” – [man, I hope Ian knows this story]). So, while sitting in front of Ian’s TV, while Ian was away and Andrew was busy making pies at “Mama’s Pizza” in the Grassmarket [still one of my favourite pizza places anywhere], I wrote Fleshmarket Close.

Andrew B was doing a recent office tidying-up and came across the following manuscript. He passed this score along. Note the careful penmanship, the near-architectural lines of the score. There’s next to nothing about this manuscript that is similar to my current scoring technique (read: scrawl) today. Unemployment and time-on-hands, I guess, have benefits in writing legible manuscript. So here is that score.

Original score of Michael Grey's reel "Fleshmarket Close"

I published my fifth book not so long ago and included a four-part version of Fleshmarket Close. Up until that point, for people who knew it, the tune had always been a two-parter. After publishing, Andrew reminded me of my original score and the original four-plus parts. I had completely forgotten.

For those that enjoy the trivial minutiae of bagpipes [and when it comes to pipers I say their numbers are freakishly legion], the score here has added interesting sidelights. For instance, Bill Livingstone’s handwriting is seen down the right hand side of the page: “CHANGE”, he writes. Who knows what he wanted changed in such a pristine and perfect score – but fun to see all the same. His band, and mine at the time, the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, did end up starting a medley with the tune – two parts only. Maybe I was obstinate and wouldn’t change the score. So unlike me.

Fleshmarket Close came the morning after a long session in the Old Town with Brian Lamond and Andrew. I remember Andrew and me toddling down Princes Street, collecting Brian Lamond, who was busking in front of Jenners’ department store, then heading to Milne’s Bar on Hanover Street. We’d have a pint while Brian packaged the spoils of his pipe box and off we went. Up to the Old Town with first stop Fleshmarket Close and Jinglin’ Geordie’s pub – the famous newspaperman’s hangout.

There you are: Fleshmarket Close – and Edinburgh. Still up there with my favourite places anywhere. But like the tune I made, both places not as traditional as people seem to think.

And “Fleshmarket Close”? Surely, the coolest name of any piece of art, as Ian Rankin also found years later.


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