The Eigg Freedom Shlide
The Eigg Freedom Shlide
I was asked by the Eigg Residents' Association to write this piece of music in 1997 to celebrate the island gaining its independence from landlordism. An account of the piece, as well as alternative chords, is given at the foot of this page. For more on music, ecology and social change see Music Teacher article, A Sound Ecology.
Warm thanks to Taigh na Teud (Harpstring House), Isle of Skye, for typesetting this music.
Alternative Chords (thanks to Nick Wilding):
A part: Em D Em D Em D Em G C repeat then Em
B part: Em D Em C Em D G Em
C part: Em C Em C Em C D Em
D part: Em D Em C Em D G Em
Freedom Shlide - Its Story
I was asked to write this tune by members of the Residents' Association to celebrate the community's buyout after 169 years of landlordism. The preferred idea was to get Angus MacKinnon to write a pipe tune, but as Angus' state of health was in question I was asked to prepare a penny whistle piece as a fall-back measure.
The tune is a jig in 12/8 time such as is known as a “slide”. In Ireland this is often pronounced, later on in the evening, with a “sh”, which is appropriate to Eigg’s big celebration. The only trouble was that it's actually quite a difficult piece to play, and whilst I was able to compose it I found that I was not good enough at playing it to be able to render a competent performance of my own tune! However, at a dance on the third day of the celebrations everybody was so wasted that I was able to play it without folks noticing when I fell off the whistle. It was duly launched.
There is an interesting story as to how the tune came into being. I was on the island for a meeting when the suggestion about writing it was made by Maggie and Camille. By this time we knew that the island's purchase had been secured, and the actual launch day had been set for 12 June 1997. I was doubtful whether I'd be able to write something. However, as I was returning on the boat I was sitting in the cafe and in it was a group of very upper class English folks - just the sort that we would associate with landlordism.
In my mind, I have to admit, I prejudicially dismissed them. However, as I stood in a queue in the cafe I found I was 20 p short for what I was buying, and one of these men, standing behind, offered me the money. We then got talking and it turned out that they were thrilled at the changes taking place on Eigg.
A little later I started to doze off, feeling somewhat ashamed of this manifestation of my own prejudice. I was reflecting on how the success on Eigg had come about through many different types of people contributing, ranging from indigenous to incomers. I thought to myself that I must allow what had just happened to be a lesson about prejudice, and the need to stand up for inclusiveness around a common ideal.
I then fell into a light sleep and started dreaming. In the dream I saw waves lapping around the shore, and I heard the music that forms the A part of this tune (the first stanza). I woke up with it clearly in my mind, wrote it down, and later the B,C and D parts followed easily from this starting poing.
The A part, then, I have called “When Only the Waves were Free”. It represents the time of Eigg being firmly under landed power and only the elements were unconstrained. (It's nice to start off playing the A part in an octave lower than what is written, and on the repeat to raise it. I have consciously pitched it high so that when played in the Eigg hall at that time (which usually had no electricity), it could better be danced to without amplification).
B part with its intrepid spirit is called “The Eigg Trust”, meaning both the
original Isle of Eigg Trust founded in 1991 by Tom Forsyth which helped start
the vision of community empowerment, and the newer Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust,
which consolidated the necessary partnerships and provided the appropriate legal
structure to succeed.
C part, “The Flight of the Lairds,” starts with a sense of decline,
reminiscent of the effects of landlordism and also of the sinking experience
typically felt when people start to face up to the gravity of what they must
face up to if change is to be brought about. It then shifts to a sense of
stepped progress, representingthe community starting to find its unity,
organising ability and courage. It ends joyously, signifying the last two lairds
of Eigg, Keith Schellenberg and “Professor” Maruma, taking flight. There is
a deliberate resonance here with Ireland's "Flight of the Earls," only
this is the procedure in reverse, so to speak.
The D part is “The People’s Free Republic of Eigg”. It captures the spirit of the three-day long celebrations when we joked about “passport control”, and Fiona said, “Yesterday I had a house; today I have a home”. The sense of a resurgence from great depths in the second half of the first bar hints at the spirit behind the vision that motivated land reform on Eigg, and which will continue to be vital in the demanding but enriching task of building a community based on a profound respect for nature, self and others.
The piece is dedicated to the "Mystery Woman" who contacted Maggie Fyffe and gave £1 million to the appeal. The remainder of the £600,000 raised came from some 10,000 small donations from all over the world, but with about 70% of them coming from ... England.
Whenever we play this piece my good friend Nick Wilding, who produced a nice but simple version of the chords, insists that I tell this story first to whoever's listening. At first I thought that this was out of a genuine scholarly interest. I then realised that my telling this story had become a joke at my expense, since who else would try to analyse such music in such detail! Oh well, ho hum ... have a laugh and enjoy the tune.