Andrew Greig

Andrew Greig has published over twenty books of poetry, non-fiction and novels, mostly about being alive. A full time writer, married to novelist Lesley Glaister, he lives in Edinburgh and Orkney. His most recent collection, Later That Day, appeared with Birlinn in 2020. He is given to banjo playing.

Andrew Greig


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Jimmy Shand
(The Albert Halls, Stirling 1960)

Yon was music making Scottish style,
A serious business and damn hard work.
The accordion bulged like a chest expander
across the hidden muscle of his heart.
His Polkas were gales trapped in a box.
Kilted to the gills, horn specs black as coal
from the mines he went down at fourteen,
Shand gave it laldy, staring straight ahead,
unsmiling, fingers blurred, only movement
his left heel tapping, right on the button.        
There's nothing free about expression.                           
He learned that well from earliest days.
Whatever joy there was in it for him
laboured as his father had, deep down.

Banned from the pits for playing strikers' benefits,
Jimmy busked moothie and fiddle, switched to melodeon,
his father's instrument, then full chromatic accordion.
Was it the weight? The volume? The precision?
He had a passion for motorbikes:
wonder-box strapped across his back,
he throttled over Slocht, Black Mount, Shap,
to barn dances and weddings, then cash in sporran,
burned his Norton back to Auchtermuchty.
What did he dream of, barrelling through the dark?
Back in our kitchen, stout Mrs Keay
lowered the needle on his new release, pulled
her silent husband Willie from his chair
and shook it like a chorus girl.

Jimmy Shand was very dry. At a Brechin B&B
he requested honey with his toast.
The dour landlady brought a tiny pot.
He inspected it: I see you keep a bee.
He lived for his work and his work was music.
Carnegie Hall Dunfermline or New York, no odds:
he named tune, time signature, then played it.
His audience sat as though at prayer,
heads bowed, sucking sweeties, silently
nodding along to their music-maker.
That hall was crammed with joy, minutely expressed.
The compression of his mouth set off
the hoot of his reels, jigs, strathspeys.
They rightly named a locomotive after him.

The unrestrained applause of the night came when
he announced his biggest hit, produced by George Martin
before taking on a provincial harmony rhythm group
who wore their laughter, horniness and rebellion
on the outside, with their leather jackets -
my kind, my time, my music, that would soon condemn
tweed and dignity to the Museum of Embarrassments,
along with kilts, Brylcreem and self-restraint.
Yet when Jimmy counted in The Bluebell Polka,
glee blew through our stolid hall, and bells
shook numberless blue clappers below the miles of trees
that line the taut and narrow road from Tarbert,
flashed on by the biker impassive at the throttle,
connecting high lands to low in one marvellous gale.

Andrew Greig

From Later That Day (Birlinn, 2020)