The tale of James MacPherson is true. I have however taken some liberties in this adaptation, but it follows his story from his birth in 1675 the illegitimate son of a local Laird, through his run ins with Laird Alexander Duff of Braco, to the day of his hanging on market day, Friday 16th November 1700. He was 25.
The romance with Bess is fictional, but he was a renowned ladies’ man and when I hosted the Clan MacPherson at the World Premiere of the show in Edinburgh in 2009, the Clan chief spoke to me afterwards and stated that he would not have been in the least surprised to hear that James troubles were more to do with a jealous husband than any criminal exploits.
If you visit Banff, the scene of his execution and gaze across the River Deveron, you will see the impressive Doune Kirk overlooking the Moray Firth. Observe the clock tower and you will see it shows the time only on three sides. The side overlooking Banff is blank. Local legend has it that this is a deliberate slight by the residents of Macduff against their Banff neighbours for the townsfolks complicity in James’s death.
As well as a passion for the ladies, James was a skilled swordsman and a fine fiddle player. He was said to have played the tune to MacPhersons Rant on the gallows before he was hung. He then smashed the fiddle on the tree.
According to folklore MacPhersons friends had secured a pardon for James. Duff hearing of it ordered the town clock to be put forward 15 minutes to ensure the 2pm execution proceeded before the messenger arrived. For many years after the town clock was kept 15 minutes fast.
Robert Burns wrote the words to the tune composed by James and the eponymous title song was born. The show features both traditional and new songs and music. Aly Bally Bee is based on the children’s nursery rhyme Coulters Candy which every Scottish kid will have had sung to them as babies. It has a much more sinister tone in the musical.
The Clan Museum in Newtonmore hosts artifacts from the clock and the broken fiddle. The Clan brought them to the Church Hill Theatre and put them on display during the show’s final performance in Edinburgh. http://www.clanmacphersonmuseum.org.uk/
I was fortunate enough to have lunch with and keep in touch with Sir William Cluny Macpherson, the Clan chief. Who I later discovered was Sir William Macpherson, the Judge who exposed institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police when he chaired the Stephen Lawrence enquiry.
Please do watch the trailer and excerpts from some of the recent productions. Listen to the cast recordings and enjoy. It’s a brilliant show and something I’m very proud to have been part of.
John Ward – Writer
“Its subtle under-scoring is a thing of quiet beauty.”
Neil Cooper – Glasgow Herald