From the 2004 “All Over This Town” album. “…A brilliant and witty evocation of growing up in 1960s Edinburgh, listening to Radio Luxembourg and wanting to be like Bob Dylan…”

Mississippi MacDonald

In 2004, Nick asked me to play guitar on the All Over This Town record – I was honoured to have the opportunity to do this and delighted to be able to spend time with him in the Studio. I had a brand new and shiny Candy Apple Red Nashville Telecaster which I used on two tracks, “All Over This Town”, and “American Accent”.  Of the time that I spent with Nick in London and Scotland, one of my favourite memories was that session, and particularly standing at the mixing desk and hearing the extraordinary and beautiful harmonies on “The Heart”, on the same record.

Nick was someone who I admired hugely – his warmth, humour and world class musicianship. It was wonderful to be with him and to learn from him and I think of him and listen to his music often.

After Nick passed, I wanted to record “American Accent” with my band. We put together a new arrangement – part acoustic to start with, and then with as much “electric gospel” as we could for the outro – horns, hammond organ, backing singers and of course, a Candy Apple Red electric guitar. I remember standing in the studio at the mixing desk playing the outro, and wishing that he could be there to hear it.

American Accent

Crooked Smile was the opening track on Nick’s 2012 album, The Edge Of Night.  The song is based on based on a school friend, with whom he like to go stravaiging down the Royal Mile, but who met an untimely end.

To “stravaig” is to wander, or ramble, derived most probably from an 18th / 19th century term “extravage”.

 

Crooked Smile

Don’t know what it was today that made me think about him,

I was walking down Great Stewart Street, I thought I heard his voice

And I couldn’t say exactly when his singing turned to shouting

He swore he’d give up whisky, as if he had a choice

 

Maybe I’m the only one around who can remember

How we ran through the long grass laughing at the sky

And through our eighteenth summer seemed like everyone was leaving

And late September vanished in a cloud of pale goodbyes

 

But If I had a day I’d love to walk with him and talk with him,

And we would go stravaiging down the Royal Mile

But if you asked him a straight question he would never give an answer

He would always turn away and give a kind of crooked smile

He would always turn away and give a kind of crooked smile

 

Rumours came from far away of broken glass and fighting

Of lovers left and leaving, and broken lost weekends

And it seemed he climbed the highest hill just to chase the lightning

And stand shouting at the midnight just to rail against his friends

 

But If I had a day I’d love to walk with him and talk with him,

And we would go stravaiging down the Royal Mile

But if you asked him a straight question he would never give an answer

He would always turn away and give a kind of crooked smile

He would always turn away and give a kind of crooked smile

 

The autumn leaves they jewel the ground, we used to sing they jewel the ground

And leave behind some sort of sad whispered sound

 

Don’t know what it was today that made me think about him,

I was walking down Great Stewart Street, I thought I heard his voice

And I couldn’t say exactly when his singing turned to shouting

He swore he’d give up whisky, as if he had a choice

 

But If I had a day I’d love to walk with him and talk with him,

And we would go stravaiging down the Royal Mile

But if you asked him a straight question he would never give an answer

He would always turn away and give a kind of crooked smile

He would always turn away and give a kind of crooked smile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A fire ran through the Old Town in 2002 and made me think how much I love this place. I wrote this song after showing some friends round the town.”

Rob Hampton, a guitar teacher based in Seattle, USA, has very kindly allowed us to reproduce his detailed transcription of “Fires of Edinburgh”, from Nick’s “All Over This Town” album.

Rob’s guitar teaching can be found at www.heartwoodguitar.com. Its a fantastic site, full of material, lessons and guidance for guitar players.

Rob writes:

“Transcribing this song was a big task, but immensely rewarding. Almost always there are lyrics available for the songs I chart, but because this is an obscure tune, the lyric-deciphering was up to me. And because I knew nothing about Edinburgh before the project, getting the many place names right required that I dig deep into Wikipedia. I had become a musical archeologist for a day.

What I unearthed brought the song to life: The “trail of gunpowder,” for example, refers to the murder of Mary, Queen of Scots’ second husband, whose house, located near the catacomb-riddled Cowgate neighborhood pictured above, was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion but who appeared to have been strangled, his body unmarked by the explosion. Discovering these details was a thrilling treasure hunt.

The musicianship and songwriting is top-notch. Keir was a skilled flatpicker, playing fast, clean arpeggios at the beginning and ending of the song. The melody in this song is lovely, and his voice is clear and honest.”

Fires of Edinburgh – Audio Clip

Transcription

2017-03-27_15-55-09

Born Edinburgh 14 March 1953.
Died Edinburgh 2 June 2013, aged 60

A traditional folk singer’s farewell took place at the Queen’s Hall on 10 June following cremation and a memorial service at St Peter’s Episcopal Church. There was a large turnout from the folk music world for funeral of the former member of the McCalmans and unofficial songwriter laureate of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with the Fringe anthem ‘Festival Lights’.

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Nick Keir was born into an established Edinburgh family business, David Keir and Sons and was educated, as his father and elder brother had been, at the Edinburgh Academy. He was never cut out to be a businessman and resolutely pursued his life as a poet and dreamer. He never met the profile of the rugby playing sporting boy, but was delighted to have returned to the school in recent years as guest of honour at the Edinburgh Academy Burns Supper, where he delivered some heart-rending versions of Burns songs.

He was one of the first intake at the new University of Stirling in 1971 and it was there that he developed his performance as a folk singer. He formed the folk-rock band Finn McCuill in 1972 and was recently delighted to find that their two vinyl albums are nowadays rare valuable collectibles. With the Finn McCuill Folkshow he toured Scotland with the poet Norman McCaig and had many wry anecdotes of those times. He then joined the leftist theatre group 7:84.

In 1982, he was invited to join the McCalmans and remained with them for the next 30 years until the band dissolved, touring all over the world as one of the best known and most successful Scottish Traditional acts. In 2004 , together with the group, Nick was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame on the occasion of being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Prize at the Scottish Folk Awards, and in 2005 the group received the Danish Folk Music Prize at the Skagen Festival.

After the McCalmans, Nick performed across Europe with the acclaimed Tolkien Ensemble, presenting a musical spectacular with Sir Christopher Lee in The Lord of the Rings. He also played with the Holbaek Ensemble of Denmark playing an exciting mix of Scots and Irish Traditional music laced with the Baroque of Correlli and Vivaldi.

At the same time, he developed a solo career as a singer-songwriter, his tenor voice featuring beautifully on the collected works of Robert Tannahill and producing 4 CDs, Rumours of Snow, All Over this Town, Fishing Up the Moon and latterly in 2012, while already ill, The Edge of Night to considerable critical acclaim, being named the Album of the Week on Radio Scotland’s Iain Anderson Show. His Edinburgh Fringe shows were regular sell-outs, as he beguiled his audiences with captivating portraits of Edinburgh in song and tale, delivered with his irresistible twinkling charm.

In 2012 he was diagnosed with a serious illness and courageously battled on, delivering his final masterly performance in the Spring of this year at the Queens Hall, the McCalman’s home venue and within yards of where he had grown up and lived nearly all his life.

A modest and infinitely courteous man, his songs and music could capture the spirit of Edinburgh through the eyes of an unashamed romantic. That so many came to the funeral to bid him farewell and then sing together with laughter and tears bore testament to the passing of a gentle , kind soul, a true poet and devoted lover of Edinburgh.