Arriving back in Orlando, Florida from a nice Christmas break in Scotland and the Netherlands, it was so nice to feel the sun on our skin again as we arrived. My January dates were in Nolans Irish pub in Cocoa beach – I was looking forward to playing there, I was doing a special night on the Thursday (they didn’t have music on a Thursday and were just starting this up) and a Burns night on the Sunday, January 25th.
Nolans is a real Irish pub with great Guinness and a reputation for good music (and food) – so expectations were high from both sides. It was just perfect, a very nice crowd, very much into music willing to listen and join in when asked. The Guinness was flowing well and the night rounded off just great with everyone going home happy, me included. The Sunday would be a different sort of gig – a Burns night in a pub where there was no Scottish tradition and in most cases, no idea what a Burns night was. Well as you maybe know – a Burns night is a traditional Scottish dinner party, a celebration of Robert Burns (our national poet)’s birthday. It follows a set form and is celebrated around the world where Scottish groups have established the tradition.
Now the problem – a Burns night involves a meal of haggis (our national dish), a piper, whisky, Burns poetry… and people to read it – and I had only a few days to organise it. Right, well – there was no admission fee, so we couldn’t afford a dinner – but we should have a haggis – or something that looked like one. Our haggis bore a very close resemblance to a round Walmarts chocolate cake! Our piper, Eric was there on the Thursday – by the end of the evening between Mary Nolan and myself, he had been convinced to pipe in the Chocolate cake… er, sorry – haggis. Burns poems – no worries – there’s an app for that. It’s true – the full works of Robert Burns, format of a Burns night, his timeline and many other delights on your phone – who knows when you may need a wee bit Burns? Better load it up and be ready! I selected a good few poems and printed them out. I chose a few of his famous ones (my love is like a red, red, rose ; A mans a man for a that ; to a mouse … etc) and a few others which I chose for their ability to be understood by an English-speaking but non-Scots audience (as most of Burns works were written in auld Scots – they would be hard to understand if you’ve not been subjected to it before).
It was Sunday 25th January, the pub was busy, a few were wearing Tartan, Eric tuned his pipes outside (a note about Eric’s pipes – he was visiting Scotland when he went into a pipe makers shop and saw these red bagpipes on the wall – it was love at first sight. The Red-Hot Chilli Pipers (a Scottish bag-rock band) had ordered four sets of identical red bagpipes and had only taken three sets (as there are three pipers) – Eric bought that fourth set! He was just in the right place at the right time). The haggis was set out in all its delicious choclatey-haggissey-splendour on a silver platter with a deadly looking knife, Dorothy took the platter, Eric led off, Dorothy followed and I, dressed in my MacPherson kilt outfit, took up the rear.
Eric played us in nicely (without bursting into a red-hot chilli piper version of “smoke on the water”), I recited the “ode to a haggis” with full ceremony struggling to keep a straight face as my chocolatey-haggis looked up at me in all its “eat me” glory, John Nolan (the co-owner of Nolans) read “my love is like a red, red, rose, Dorothy read “to a mouse”, a Scottish lady who we became friendly with (Gillian from Bannockburn) read “his ain fair sel'” and Eric read another one. I sang a full Scottish set interspersed with these poems, Eric played more pipes, I played some more and we created a huge circle around the pub to end with “Auld Lang Syne” (Burns’s most well known song – ranked number three in the world’s most sung songs – after “Happy Birthday” and “for he’s a Jolly Good Fellow”). It was a magical night – people who just dropped in were mesmerized – everyone there was smitten with the “Burns” effect! What a great night… and there was no “haggis” left either!