Alasdair Roberts is a musician – primarily a guitarist, singer, writer of songs and interpreter of traditional ballads – based in Glasgow, Scotland. He has a long-standing relationship with Drag City Records of Chicago, Illinois, who released three albums by his former band, the avant-folk ensemble Appendix Out, between 1997 and 2001, and have put out several albums under his own name since then. The most recent full-length record on Drag City is entitled A Wonder Working Stone; it was released in January 2013 and is credited to Alasdair Roberts and Friends.
Ivor Kallin (b. Strathbungo, Glasgow, 1957) plays violin and viola in the improvisation string trio Barrel, viola in the London Improvisers Orchestra and Jerico Orchestra, and bass with Ya Basta and the Headless Horsemen. He writes and performs poetry as Ambrosia Rasputin and was the presenter of a show on Radio Resonance FM under the same name, as well as being half of 213TV, John Bisset being the other. He previously played bass with the London Electric Guitar Orchestra and Gorilla Pyke, the Glasgow improvisation rock band from the 70s.
St Colombas Oxter Packet
Below are a few words from Alasdair telling the history behind The Legend of Saint Colomba’s Oxter Packet…
The sixth-century abbot of Iona, Adomnán, is well-known for his Vita Columbae (‘Life of Columba’), a hagiography of the fifth-century Irish saint and founder of the early Celtic Christian monastic community on the Isle of Iona. The Vita chronicles many miraculous events in the life of Columba; however, it omits one happening in particular ‘The Legend of Saint Columba’s Oxter Packet.’
Achlasan Chalium Chille (‘armpit package of Columba’) is the Scottish Gaelic name for St John’s Wort, a plant which has been prized across cultures for millennia due to its medicinal properties. This strange appellation is attributable to an apocryphal tale in which Saint Columba instructs a shepherd boy, cowering in fear of a storm one dark night, to place the plant under his oxter (the Scots word for ‘armpit’) to relieve his fear. In a contemporary retelling by Ivor Kallin and Alasdair Roberts, the shepherd boy suffers not from fear of the storm but from that more modern malady, depression, manifesting as a broken heart.
The School of Scottish Studies was founded in 1951 to preserve, document and study the various traditions, customs, lore, songs and stories of Scotland. In the School’s sound archive can be found many tales about Saint Columba and his exploits. For example, there is a story explaining why the flounder, to this day, has a crooked mouth (the flounder said that Columba had crooked legs, to which the saint responded: ‘if I have crooked legs, may you have a crooked mouth’); there is an anecdote about the saint ordering his brother, St Oran, to be buried alive because he was telling people about the next world; and finally one can find a tale about Columba rising from his deathbed to hasten to the church, outrunning another priest, who eventually arrived at the church to find him on his knees at the altar, dead. It seemed fitting, then, for Ivor and Alasdair to record their modern take on ‘The Legend of Saint Columba’s Oxter Packet’ in the sound archive search room of the School of Scottish Studies.
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Read the Quietus’s review of Alasdair’s fantastic new album A Wonder Working Stone