Thursday, January 10, 2013

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, I walk into Sandy Bell's

I went to Scotland this past summer.  I was going on a tour (Ed Miller's Folksong Tour of Scotland, which is fabulous--I've been four times), but before it started, I had three days in Edinburgh by myself.  By the way, if you've never taken a vacation completely by yourself, I highly recommend it, at least for a few days.  Ed's tour is fantastic, but there's not that much totally unscheduled time, so I was really looking forward to being in Edinburgh alone and being able to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it.  I had it all planned out--I was going to go to several museums, go to a comedy club, go to a play, and have afternoon tea.  One of the things I really hoped to do, if I wasn't dead from jet lag, was to go to Sandy Bell's pub.  Sandy Bell's was sort of the epicenter of the Scottish folk music revival.  It's this little hole-in-the-wall place, but apparently anybody who was anybody in the folk music scene (or who was destined to become somebody in the folk music scene) played there in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s.  I wanted to go to say I'd been there, and also to hear some live music--there are still sessions every night, I think.

So, I arrived in Edinburgh on a Thursday morning.  I dropped my luggage off at my hotel mid-morning, but wasn't able to actually check in and get into my room until after 3:00, so I wandered around Edinburgh for a few hours.  Due to a combination of jet lag and the fact that I'd only had about a combined total of 6 or 8 hours of sleep in the two days prior to leaving, I literally could barely stand up because I was so tired.  I finally got into my room and fell into bed--I honestly don't think I even took my shoes off.  I wanted to go to Sandy Bell's that night, so I set an alarm and figured I'd play it by ear.  If my nap rejuvenated me enough, I'd go; if not, I would just go back to sleep.  Luckily, a three-ish hour nap did wonders, and I set out towards the mecca of Scottish folk music. 

I have a notoriously terrible sense of direction, so despite looking at a map and asking a couple of people for directions, I realized pretty early into this adventure that I had no idea how to get there.  One of the people I asked for directions was a cab driver, so I ultimately decided to just have him take me, which was probably a good idea, since it seemed to be a little farther than I had originally thought.  Anyway, I finally got there.  I felt, walking in, the way I imagine die-hard Elvis fans feel when they visit Graceland or something.  However, unlike Graceland, Sandy Bell's is tiny.  It seriously could not have been much bigger than my living room.  I took a seat at the bar and ordered a coke (I had not yet discovered the wonder that is Appletiser--it's just carbonated apple juice but it's really surprisingly good) and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps (doesn't "a packet of crisps" sound much nicer than "a bag of chips"?) and just sort of wallowed in the fact that I was actually sitting in Sandy Bell's.  I chatted with a couple of people, and not too long after I got there the music started.  It was a trio, I think, two fiddlers and someone else.  One of the guys at the bar seemed to be a regular and knew them.  They were quite good, but honestly even if they hadn't been I was so excited to be in Sandy Bell's that it probably wouldn't have mattered.  One of the great disappointments of my life (OK, that's being of the relatively minor disappointments in my life) is that it didn't occur to me to take a picture or have someone take a picture of me.  Oh well.  A picture is worth a thousand words but a blog entry's got to be worth something, right?

Anyway, I stayed for a couple of hours, then caught a cab back to the hotel.  And seriously, had I not done any of the other stuff on my list, the trip to Edinburgh would have been worth it just for the Sandy Bell's excursion.  But I did do everything else I had planned, and had a tremendous time, and I saw a play about a bear who joined the Polish army, and...what's that?  Could I explain the bear in the Polish army thing?  Well, not now, but stay tuned...


  1. Damn, Alison... I'm green with envy. Wish I could have gone with you, that time. (You need me to be your living compass.) ~DJ

  2. Yay--my first comment! You up for 2014?


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