An evening dedicated to songs and music inspired by Stevenson and his writings, this one-off performance of the critically acclaimed CD ‘From a Garden of Songs’ was a rare treat in a festival, bursting with a myriad of musical offerings. Folk artists Tom Clelland, Robin Laing, Wendy Weatherby, Norman Chalmers and Fiona Cuthill played the new musical arrangements of poems from Stevenson’s ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ with measured skill and modest flair, chatting cosily with the audience between songs and exuding warmth and passion. There was also a stirring performance of one of Stevenson’s own long-lost musical compositions, ‘Aberlady Links’.
The evening kicked off with ‘A Mile and a Bittock’, a relatively obscure piece of poetry by Stevenson set to music by Alan Reid of the Battlefield Band, with an added chorus by Reid in order to provide further clarity to the mysterious work. Time and time again, the music complements the rhythm and pace of the poetry perfectly; indeed, Clelland told us repeatedly that Stevenson’s poetry was easy to put to music due to this natural beat. Countless highlights follow, with both ‘The Swing’ and ‘The Shadow March’ showcasing a breathtaking approach to folk music and a deep understanding of the poems themselves. These might be mostly poems for children, but they still harbour a real depth of emotion that these compositions effortlessly bring to the fore.
At one point Clelland wonders aloud to the audience why it is that Scotland celebrates Burns by hosting Burns Suppers and gorging on haggis and whiskey, and yet the life and work of Robert Louis Stevenson, in comparison, is largely ignored. Surely, Clelland asks, Stevenson continues to touch just as many, if not more, lives in Scotland today? It’s a fair point, and one that this evening goes some way to addressing.
These musical compositions get right to the very heart of Stevenson’s words, capturing their essence in a way that only music can. If Stevenson were able to, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine him giving such a project his unequivocal blessing and support.