Tea-chest plea in aid of sound cause

Share this article

Those who know my musical capabilities – and even more so my lack of ability – will realise I have no aspirations to fame on the great scale that is music.

In fact I know very little about scales. I gave up standing on them long ago, and the move to kilos and grammes from pounds and ounces meant years ago I simply used my eyes when buying mince or anything else that had to be purchased by weight.

Hospital visits also confuse when I am given my weight in metric. My height I can understand at just on the six-foot mark. Unlike my poundage (or kiloage), it hasn’t varied since I was about 17. But time to move from weights and measures to matters musical.

I had a great uncle called Bob who lived by my lovely great aunt Lizzie up the Fifth Ward in Galashiels opposite Bristol Mill – right across from that great silver boiler-like thing that dominated that wee bit of Gala.

Uncle Bob liked his music. He’d played the side drum in the local Ex-Servicemen’s Pipe Band and he could also rattle the ivories.

New Year in our house was a brilliant sing-along with Uncle Bob at the piano and other family members providing vocals. The vocals were pretty bad, but the ivories were brilliant. And Uncle Bob had never trained. He was one of those people who could listen to a tune and simply transfer it as if by magic to the piano.

Now Bob wasn’t alone in his love of music. Few people will not have heard of Jimmy Rae, the piper who piped at the first Braw Lads’ Gathering in 1930, round umpteen mill chimneys before they were demolished, along the Great Wall of China and at the first Burns supper to be held in Moscow.

He also played with Uncle Bob on a stairhead during a flitting that I believe lasted two days because of the musical interludes that punctuated the shifting of tea chest, wardrobes, china cabinets and iron beds. Can you imagine Pickfords men pausing to belt out the Green Hills of Tyrone on bagpipes and piano?

I mentioned tea chests because we need one – we being Selkirk’s skifling sensation, the six-piece Bogie’s Close Stompers. It includes a tea chest bass played by my pal Digger who can wring incredible sound from it using a besom shank and some parachute cord. Anyway, this chest has seen better days and has so many repairs that all that this is left of the original is the fresh air that’s inside it.

So the Stompers are on the lookout for a new one – or at least a replacement, because ones will be pretty difficult to come by now that tea comes mostly in perforated bags.

My instrument in this motley outfit is a well-based washboard, a semi-punctured bicycle horn and a cow bell.

Well, the bell is a bit of an exaggeration because it fell off and is now lost. The losing fall was slightly safer than the first time it took a tumble. On that occasion it narrowly missed the resident of an old folks’ home where we were performing. And I mean narrowly.

The Stompers were formed in 2000 – and thanks to Lottery funding, we enjoyed a four-month, world-wide tour of the Borders.

We’re still around.