Carving the Runes

Here I am, sitting in my room, writing away with classical music in the background, and the announcer says that a guitar quartet will be playing (Sir) Peter Maxwell Davies’s “A Farewell to Stromness” — so I stop writing and start listening.  Originally written as a piano piece, it translates very well to the guitar. After the piece is finished, the announcer relates that Davies wrote it as a piano interlude in his “Yellow Cake Review”—which was written in protest to a planned uranium mine that was to open in the Stromness area in 1980.

Thankfully, due to complete opposition by the local community and the Orkney Islands Council, and the recommendation to reject the mining proposals, the plans for the uranium mine were scrapped and Stromness remains safe from the effects. (At least so far.)

Davies first performed this piece at the Stromness Hotel on the Summer Solstice as part of the St Magnus Festival. The Review was done as a cabaret-type performance with music and spoken pieces. It refers to the “yellowcake” powder that is part of the processing of uranium ore.

The Yellow Cake Review,                                          Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

  1. Tourist Board Song: O come to sunny Warbeth
  2. Patriotic Song: You’ve heard of the man with the pace-maker
  3. Piano Interlude: Farewell to Stromness
  4. Recitation – Nuclear Job Interview 1: The Security Guard
  5. Uranium’s Daughters’ Dance: They said, when they’d extracted the uranium from the ore
  6. Recitation – Nuclear Job Interview 2:     The Truck Driver
  7. Atlantic Breezes
  8. Recitation – Nuclear Job Interview 3:      The Mental Healthworker
  9. Piano Interlude: Yesnaby Ground
  10. The Tourist Song: Have you heard of the terrorist suicide squad?
  11. The Triumph of the Cockroach: As earthquakes subsided

I’ve mentioned the very narrow main street of Stromness in a previous blog, Northern Links, and what fun I had driving through the little town.

Stromness, Strummis in Scots and Sròimnis in Gàidhlig, comes from the Norse (or perhaps the Norn) Straumsnes (“headland protruding into the tidal stream “).  The Vikings named the area where the town now stands, Hamnavoe (“peaceful” or “safe harbour”).

Stromness became a major port during the later part of the 17th century when England was at war with France. To avoid the English Channel, major shipping routes came through Stromness from the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Whaling ships also sought harbor in Stromness, which explains the many whale bones that hang from the walls of buildings in the town.

The St Magnus Festival, where “Farewell to Stromness” premiered, is an annual midsummer arts festival that began in 1977.  Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who is a resident of Orkney, was a founding member of the group along with George Mackay Brown, one of the great 20th century Scottish writers.  A poet, novelist, playwright, and writer of short stories reflecting life on Orkney, Mackay Brown was a native of Stromness and lived his entire life there (with the exception of attending the University of Edinburgh). His best-known poem, “Hamnavoe” was written in memory of his father and pays tribute to the people and places on his father’s postal route.

When MacKay Brown died in April of 1996, Maxwell Davies played “Farewell to Stromness” at his funeral.  Mackay Brown’s reverence for his work and his native land is reflected on his gravestone with the last two lines of his poem, “A work for poets”:

Carve the runes
Then be content with silence.

I think that these two artists, and the many locals who were active in stopping the mine must feel very content that they carved the runes of protest. Silent they may now be, the beauty of Stromness stands in witness to their work.

About Kate Cowie Riley

Kate writes two blogs currently: "Weaving the Magic Thread ~ the texture of my life", a collection of auto-biographical essays; and "Scottish Heart", where she shares her love of Scotland and the trips through Scotland that she both plans and guides. She is also Copy Editor and Lead Contributor Emerita for "Celtic Family Magazine". Kate retired in 2013 from nearly 40 years in Private Practice as a Somatic Psychotherapist & Bodyworker, Massage Therapy Instructor, Sivananda Yoga Teacher, Spa Director, and Consultant, who also wrote & taught about Eco-sustainability and WellBalance. Her professional blog, "The Riley School of Integrated Somatic Bodywork" is also retired. All of Kate's blogs are copyright by Kate Cowie Riley; all photos are copyright Kate Cowie Riley, unless otherwise stated. All photos and text or part thereof are not to be used for commercial purposes or without written permission from the author. All photos must be used in their original form, no addition or alteration are allowed. Any advertisements that are seen on the Wordpress sites are in no way supported by Kate Riley.
This entry was posted in Ancestry, Eco-travel, Ecology, Highland Titles, Land trust, Scotland, Scottish ancestry, Travel, Uncategorized, Women Writers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Carving the Runes

  1. Pingback: Symphonic Scotland | Scottish Heart

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