Monday, January 18, 2016

Doon the watter (fur the ferr)

The Firth of Clyde encloses the largest and deepest coastal waters in the British Isles. It is sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the Kintyre peninsula which encloses the outer firth in Argyll and Ayrshire, Scotland. The Kilbrannan Sound is a large arm of the Firth of Clyde, separating the Kintyre Peninsula from the Isle of Arran. Within the Firth of Clyde is another major island, the Isle of Bute. The Firth's climate enjoys the benefit of the Gulf Stream from America and no visit to Glasgow would be complete without a trip ‘doon the watter’

The Clyde formed an important sea route and from the 16th century onwards, the Clyde became the conduit for commerce and industry, including herring, timber, wine, sugar, tobacco, textiles, iron and steel, coal, oil, chemicals, distilling and brewing, ships, locomotives, vehicles and other manufactured products. Industrialization brought wealth to the middle classes and yachting became popular on the Clyde.

The Working Class enjoyed day trips on the Clyde and from 1812 the first commercial steamboat service in Europe started and Henry Bell's Comet ran a passenger service between Glasgow and Greenock. It later expanded from Glasgow’s Broomielaw Wharves on the north bank or from Clyde Place Quay on the south bank to Campbeltown and Inveraray.

Year after year thousands of Glaswegians boarded steamers to go 'doon the watter' for a day trip or seaside holiday from the Broomielaw. After the opening of the George V Bridge in 1928, the river steamers moved to the south bank. On board people clambered to watch the engines cranking below deck and down the river to observe a succession of Victorian resorts along the shore. Initially the wealthy lived in sandstone villas like Kilcreggan, Blairmore and Innellan and commuted daily to the city then during the summer months local residents let out rooms, and boarding houses developed in Gourock, Helensburgh, Dunoon, Rothesay, Largs and Ayr. Holiday makers flocked to the Clyde coast.

Within ten years there were nearly fifty steamers on the Firth of Clyde, sailing as far as Largs, Campbeltown and Inveraray. Competition was fierce and local laws were introduced to prevent improper competition and rivalry. By 1900 there were over 300 Clyde Steamers operating. The Clyde fleet of paddle-steamers included the Duchess of Hamilton, the Glen Sannox, the Mercury the Marmion and PS Waverley. Most were made by Clyde shipbuilders which stood testimony to the great Clyde ship-building culture.

Doon the watter trips remained popular with Glasgow folks until the early 1960s when new forms of travel and package holidays almost brought the era of Clyde steamboats to a close.

By far the best know steamer from the fleet was The PS Waverley, built in 1946. She sailed from Craigendoran on the Firth of Clyde to Arrochar on Loch Long until 1973. The PS Waverley remains the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world and regularly makes passenger excursions from various British ports.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Iain (Stewart) Macmillan (1938 – 2006)

Iain Stewart Macmillan was born in 1938 in Dundee, Scotland. He attended the Dundee High School, graduated in 1954 before taking his first job as a trainee manager at a jute mill. In 1958 Ian moved to London to study photography at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster). His first work was as a cruise photographer but he also went home to photograph street scenes, and tenement of old Dundee.

His moving portrayal of the disappearing sights of a city in regeneration are memorable and in the same spirit as Oscar Marzarolli’s Shades of Grey Glasgow 1956 -1987. Macmillan captured boys playing football in the back streets to a “scramble” (or scrammie) at a local church wedding where children scrabble for thrown coins.

He graduated in the early 1960s and his talent was soon recognised by magazines and publishers including the Sunday Times, the Illustrated London News, Tatler and Harpers & Queen. This brought the quiet Scotsman into the world of London’s Swinging 60s.

He took photographs for a book, The sculpture of David Wynne 1949-1967, and for Wynne's exhibition catalogue.

In 1966, The Book of London was published and Macmillan had been commissioned to take a series of photographs of life in the city. The photographer was introduced to Yoko Ono and photographed the avant-garde artist presenting a demonstration of "Handkerchief Piece". The photo shows Yoko and three others wearing handkerchiefs tied over their mouths. Yoko was sufficiently impressed by his work, she invited him to photograph her new exhibition at the Indica gallery, in St James’s. It was there that Yoko met John Lennon.

As his reputation grew the photographer was commissioned by many of the leading newspapers and magazines such as Tatler, the Sunday Times, Harpers & Queen to take portraits of celebrities from the worlds of sport, art, politics, acting and pop music. Examples include Pete Townshend of The Who, Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Twiggy, Floyd Paterson, Bridget Riley, Maggie Smith and Donald Sutherland to name but a few. Some of these photographs were used to illustrate the 1967 book ‘The Young Meteors: An Inside Report on the Rising Stars of London in Fashion, Entertainment, Modeling, Art, Politics, Journalism’ by Jonathan Aitken. In 1970, he took the cover photograph of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition’s album Something’s burning.

In 1969 John Lennon invited Macmillan to be the photographer for the cover of the new album, Abbey Road. The Beatles decided to name their last album after the road where Abbey Road recording studio stood.

On 8th August 1969, around 11:30am, Iain Macmillan climbed a stepladder about 10 feet in the air in the middle of Abbey Road and took six pictures of the Beatles walking on a zebra crossing near the EMI Studios. Police were hired to control the traffic and any stray fans. In total the photoshoot took ten minutes and produced arguably the most iconic photograph of the Fab Four.

In the first photograph John leads the group from left to right followed by Ringo, Paul and George. They kept this order throughout all the photos. There is a Mercedes pulling out of the studio behind them. John is looking away from the camera and Paul and George are in mid step. Paul is wearing sandals. Inthw second photograph they walk back in the same order. Good spacing but only John has a full step. The third shot captures them left to right again, full steps but they are all too far left. The traffic is beginning to build up with a taxi, two vans and a double decker bus waiting to come forward. Paul is now barefoot. In the fourth shot they are walking right to left again with Paul Ringo and George all in mid step. The traffic has gone through but the bus has stopped to watch. The fifth shot became the cover of the album and is the only photo where Paul smoking and with their legs in perfect formation. In the sixth photograph Ringo is slightly too far behind John and the bus has turned around to leave.

After the Beatles broke up Iain continued to work for John and Yoko on several projects. Macmillan took the picture of the wedding cake which featured on John and Yoko's Wedding Album (1969). He also designed the cover for Give Peace a Chance.

He later photographed the clouds on Live Peace In Toronto (1969), by John and Yoko.

Yoko asked Iain to morph the faces of John and herself for the back cover of a cover of the exhibition catalogue for her career retrospective, This Is Not Here, in 1971. Apple Records used the same images on the 7"transparent green vinyl pressing of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and "Listen, the Snow Is Falling" released in December 1971.

The same sequence of five images showing Lennon's face transforming into Ono's was used on the pressing of the album Sometime in New York City (1972). Macmillan was also involved in taking pictures for the cover, after living with them for a month the previous September.

Iain also collaborated on the film Erection, an animation of shots of a London hotel under construction with a soundtrack by John and Yoko.

In New York, he photographed much of Yoko’s avant-garde work, including the promotional film for her second album, Flies (1971). It proved a technical nightmare.

He also took the cover photo on Yoko's later editions of Grapefruit.

By the mid - 70s, Macmillan had returned to England and was teaching part-time photography at a college in Stoke-on-Trent. Then in 1980, Iain took the cover photo for the album Hinge and Bracket at Abbey Road which was a parody of the Beatles photo.

An exhibition of his works toured the US, Britain and Europe and the BBC used some of his photos in the series The Rock 'n' Roll Years. He moved back to Carnoustie, after his parents died in the 80s and with his beloved collie dog, Mac by his side took photographs of Scottish landscapes, his friends and families.

In 1993, Paul McCartney invited Macmillan to take another picture on the famous zebra crossing near the EMI studios in St John’s Wood for the album cover of Paul is Live. This time McCartney had for company an Old English sheepdog. Macmillan contrasted the simplicity of the earlier picture by including a team of policemen, press photographers and a lively crowd.

Iain sadly died in 2006 from lung cancer. Macmillan was always modest about his own achievements and retained a lasting affection for Paul and Linda McCartney.

Further reading
Abbey Road Crossing Cam Live Feed
From Dundee to Abbey Road
Paul is Dead

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Something old , something blue: Malcolm the Third (1058-93) and Queen Margaret

The rhyme "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." is often slavishly followed but few people know the last line to the rhyme "and a lucky sixpence in her shoe."

The origins of the rhyme are unknown but it did appear for the first time in print during the 19th century and was ascribed to "some Lancashire friends". It is believed the practice predates the publication by at least a century. There is some historic evidence to support this.

From the seventeenth century "something old" was thought to protect a baby. Bearing in mind many brides were with child when they went to the alter, so the association is not that odd. The something old could be the bride's garter, her slippers or a handkerchief but a pair of shoes belonging to someone special in the bride's life was also common. Grooms too were known to wear something old and in Biblical times old boots were worn at the ceremony.

There are no citations for "something new" albeit brides would normally wear their best dress to the ceremony. From early Saxon days through to the 18th century the poor bride came to the wedding dressed in a plain white robe. The significance of which had little to do with virginity but instead was a public declaration that she brought nothing with her to the marriage and had no debt for her new husband to honour. By the 19th century the colour white was associated with a virgin marriage.

It was widely accepted wearing something burrowed was lucky. In times past and in many cultures brides were taken by force hence borrowing clothes was a necessity. The widely held superstition was wearing something borrowed (or stolen) was lucky and bridal shoes offered the bride the same luck as the previous owner. Even by the 19th century, shoes were still expensive items and being gifted a pair for the ceremony would be precious for most ordinary folks. This custom of borrowing shoes for weddings may account why today the bride’s shoes are often kept as a keep sake.

Wearing something blue was an expression of faithfulness and was cited in Chaucer's' Squire's Tale (1390). A long standing bridal superstition stated no harm could befall a bride wearing blue, so very often a bride selected either a heaven's blue garter or one coordinated with her bridal colours.

Carrying a coin at the wedding symbolically came to represent future wealth for the bride but the origins of a ‘sixpence under the shoe’ may relate to the ancient custom of "Jus Prima Noctis", where the king, lord, or priest of the parish could claim access to the virgin bride on her first night of marriage. This was common to many cultures including Scotland.

During the reign of Malcolm, the Third (1058-93), Queen Margaret (later Saint Margaret) demanded and secured the abolition of the law and the mark of silver was substituted as the price of redemption of the girl's chastity. This is thought to be the purpose of the silver coin under her shoe. The silver sixpence was first minted in 1551 and by 1774 it was reported in Scotland a Scottish groom used the silver coin in his shoe to ward off evil from revival suitors. By 1814 silver sixpences were commonly used as lucky talisman and the practice remains prevalent today. Traditionally the father of the bride places the sixpence in her shoe as a gesture of love and well wishes. Regional variations included: in Canada, brides wore a silver 25 cent piece in their shoes; and US brides from North Carolina carried a silver dollar in their shoes. In Sweden, the father of the bride placed a silver coin in the left shoe of the bride and the mother put a gold coin in the right shoe. This meant the bride would never lack luxuries.

The choice of precious metal i.e. silver was particularly significant since silver was considered magically neutral which neither contained nor allowed contamination from the spirit world. Occultists believed it protected against evil spirits and because it was connected to the Moon and all Lunar Goddesses it was also worn to attract love. Scottish bridegrooms were particular about their wedding footwear and equally keen not to fall at the alter which was considered a very bad omen. Grooms wore their left shoe without buckle or lacing latchets* (tippets), to prevent witches from interfering with their male prowess on the night of nuptials. In some parts grooms would loosen their laces at the church door before standing on the silver latchets (for luck) during the ceremony. No rational explanation can be found to explain these quaint customs.

*The Oxford shoe (lacing shoe) first appeared in 1640 and only became popular 100 years later.