Wednesday, 12 January 2011


A blog about one of my all time most favourite songs which so beautifully expresses my thoughts on friendship. Hence, why I have combined with the Waterboys music, a selection of my photos from special places in Scotland which I greatly enjoy, places of happy memories for me, family and friends. Places in the future that'll know many happy times to come.

My video - my way of saying a thank you to all my friends.

In 1989, I got to know the music of the Waterboys through their album Fisherman's Blues. From a fishing family it was my mum who first told me "you have to hear this group and their song." She'd heard them on the radio "a band from Scotland and Ireland playing their own amazing combination of rock and traditional music" - her description reflected them well. A band whose music I loved the first time I heard them play and, over the years, their music and that of Sharon Shannon's has become somewhat of a musical soundtrack to my life. In 2010, twenty one years on from Fisherman's Blues, my year started with "Saints and Angels" - a most magical song played by them and Sharon Shannon. That song, so often in my mind since. Now in 2011, I have worked to produce a video which reflects for me the words of their song in a combination of special photos.

Growing up in Edinburgh, on its border with East Lothian, visiting family there and similarly in Sutherland - I really identify these 3 areas as my 'home' in Scotland. And special memories of a place are formed over time through the special people who we benefit from having in our lives - people who are always in our hearts so that, when we are apart from them, that bond of love still continues and never dies. This song expresses for me that bond, a sentiment we may not always even express out loud, the feelings we know for those we care for, that they be safe and well until we meet again: "May the Saints and Angels watch over you." There are songs which seem able to make the world a better place. Here, the music and the way it is played is beautiful but oh, what truly magical, powerful  lyrics.

My story behind Saints and Angels begins on 31st December 2009. At home in Scotland, I was telephoned by a DJ from Liveireland Radio and told that my People and Songs of the Sea project CD had won 2010 Compendium Album of the Year. Featured in Liveireland's radio programme, broadcast from Chicago and Dublin, I listened over the internet to the album's recording (the track of 100 fisher folk recorded in the Auld Kirk in Cockenzie and Port Seton with local people from Newhaven, East Lothian and Eyemouth).

Having been prompted to “celebrate the fishing community” by my mum in 2006, three years on, it was very emotional to hear that the album had won this award and to hear her name "Jean Thorburn" as they talked about the project’s music and 2009 exhibitions being visited by 12,000 people. In producing this album, a compilation of Celtic artists, local fisher folk and two songs from myself - my goal (with Greentrax Recordings) was to produce an archive collection of music reflecting the story of Scotland’s fishing. An industry which in the past, was also contributed to by Irish workers, both at sea and on the land. Irish fishermen sailed after the Herring (the silver darlings) and along the coast, teams of hardy fisher girls followed to gut the fish (a woman able to gut up to 1,000 fish in a day). Coming from Ireland, joining the Scots Herring girls here, these women worked from Scotland down to England as the huge catches of fish were landed. A multi-cultural workforce, Scots and Irish earning their living together, sharing culture, music and song.

Descended from a Scottish fishing family (which I think Irish fisher women married in to), I was motivated throughout the years of my project to see my work produce a legacy for the fishing community and industry, now so sadly in decline and surely undergoing the greatest period of change in its history. In addition as a singer and musician, who has learnt to play through musical sessions with many others, having enjoyed so much happiness through my music there's a desire in me to similarly 'give something back' through music. And on my personal musical journey, although many musicians have inspired, influenced and encouraged me - surely none more so than the music of the Waterboys and Sharon Shannon (who in 1989, all played together). Through the Waterboys I travelled to Ireland and through Sharon, a short visit to Galway became extended with me finally living there for many months. Such strong musical influences and memories of happy times weave a rich tapestry which intertwines with time so that finally, all these experiences become your life - a personal musical soundtrack to revisit and relive memories of many, many great and special times.

In January 2010, at the end of the Liveireland radio programme, still listening to the broadcast from America - as one programme went on in to the next, a wonderful song came on. I could not believe how beautifully the words and music reflected the emotions and sentiments that I so often feel for my many friends who are scattered around the world. In addition, 'may the Saints and Angels watch over you' - how well these words reflect the unspoken emotion I so often feel when I watch a boat put out to sea. And in stormy weather, that intense relief that fisher folk experience when they stand and watch a boat come safely back in to port...

I had never knowingly heard this song before, such well chosen lyrics and music. It wasn't the best connection to America and I strained to hear who the artist was - "the Waterboys and Sharon Shannon" And I smiled at the musical combination of talented friends playing a song I consider to be one of absolute 'perfection'.

Saints and Angels was written by Mike Scott and Steve Wickham and on this track they are joined again by Sharon Shannon. Such wonderful music it has greatly inspired and moved me with its sentiment. So, one year on, I have looked through the photos I have taken since 2006 and chosen from these the images those which best reflect what I see in my mind when I listen to this song. Photos from the Firth of Forth coast, from East Lothian, from Edinburgh to Eyemouth. And from my very special 'home' up north in Sutherland - photos from the North West Highland villages that I have frequented all my life with my family and my closest friends. Finally, I wish to say to all my friends, (past, present and future), the lyrics of this song say it all: "May the Saints and Angels watch over you."

For more great music from the Waterboys and Sharon Shannon, please visit their respective websites:

To learn more about my People and Songs of the Sea project visit: other postings in this blog, also and visit my Youtube Channel


It is a wide world we travel
and our paths rarely cross
and we do a whole lot of living in between

So come we'll share more than time
We'll put our cares far behind
while we sail the ship that never goes to sea (friendship)

It could be months, and it could be years
until we find one another once more standing here
until then my beautiful friend I have a wish for you

Many hearts to keep you warm
Many guides to speed you through the storm
and may the saints and angels watch over you

Thursday, 6 January 2011


Further to the Press stories out today in the East Lothian Courier and the Berwickshire News, this blog, photos and video from my 'People and Songs of the Sea' project further highlights the sad and challenging times currently facing Scotland's fishing industry.

Unable to make a living, with high fuel prices, an economic downturn and amidst strict and controversial government legislation - Scottish fishing boats are being sold off or decommissioned at a rate which will see them all but disappear from our harbours. Through the current European legislation, it looks like fishing in Scotland's waters will end up being left to foreign boats (who can receive subsidies from the governments of their origin).

From a personal viewpoint - it can be seen as arguable that the strict legislation applied in Scottish and UK waters is all for environmental reasons (instead of more political ones). For example - it is NOT an environmentally sustainable procedure to dump dead fish back in to the sea but if a fisherman exceeds his catching quota then that is what he is legally forced to do. Once caught in a net, fish dumped or 'discarded' back in to the sea will not live so WHY are fishermen forced to by law to comply with legislation which actually does more harm to the sea than good?

Many fishermen are disgusted at the extent of fish they are forced to dump and believe that this could be more than 50% of what they catch. Before a net is pulled in a fisherman can not tell what the catch will be... Personally, I would rather an advance harbour landing quota was set for each boat and when that was reached, if exceeded, the additional fish would still be landed but sold off and the money put in to a mutual financial pot - the money from which could go towards fishermen, who nearing their quota limit, would then be subsidised NOT to go out to sea with the immediate risk of surpassing their landing quota. This would spread fishing across an entire year (not govern it by a quota of days so fishermen did not risk going out in bad weather to fish) giving fishermen the whole year to manage the landing of their agreed quota (and not polluting the sea with dead fish). I DO THINK the industry needs to be governed BUT current legislation is not just lacking in substance but misinformed and detrimental to industry and environment.

People outwith the industry may assume that ALL the problems experienced within the industry are caused by over fishing but to assume this is not to see the bigger picture as the current government legislation is NOT environmentally friendly. In addition, at a sickening rate, the fishing boats are disappearing from around Scotland's coast and with the boats goes the industry, the local economies the industry supports and the communities which have been built up through the fishing which has sustained these coastal communities for many hundreds of years. Suddenly all this is changing, almost overnight.

To look at the future of the industry - consider the fact that the people who do go out to sea are most likely to follow their family tradition to work in the industry. Accordingly, when fisher folk are finally forced out of fishing - it is very unlikely that non fishing people are going to enter the industry either (an industry which needs young people to survive and build it for the future). Once the fishing skills of today are lost for the industry's tomorrow, the industry can not survive and then the community is also lost.

More needs to be done to to help fishing communities with the extent of socio-economic problems they are currently experiencing in the rapid decline of the fishing and the demise of the community which once bound them together. For a young person to learn to fish, to purchase a boat and go to sea - the significant costs to enter the industry are impossible. Amidst such problems legisaltion IS required but IS ENOUGH BEING done to help?

Descended from a fishing family, my photos and videos are part of my self-financed People and Songs of the Sea project, winner of the Livireland and Irish American News "Creative Project of the Decade" (2000-2010) and the compilation CD (available from ) winner of "2010 Compendium Album of the Year." In 2009, my photo exhibitions were visited by 12,000 people and I am now focussed on a new body of work for exhibition in 2014, Homecoming II.


For more info please join our People and Songs of the Sea group  and visit my website