Scottish Artists Songs of Praise


Scottish Artists

Ahead of Burns Night, Sally Magnusson meets an expert on the bard and in Dunblane Cathedral introduces popular hymns and songs by Scottish writers.


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Hello and welcome to Songs of Praise.

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This week, we're meeting artists

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and writers from the south-west to the north-east of Scotland.

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The artist who risked all by giving up the day job.

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A writer who delves into the minds of murderers.

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How to make a business from hip hop.

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And hymns from Dunblane by Scottish hymn writers, past and present.

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We've chosen to celebrate Scottish artists

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because we are celebrating the anniversary of the birth

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of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.

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Burns lived in the 18th century in Ayrshire in the south-west of Scotland.

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In his late 20s, he set off on a tour of Scotland

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and he stopped here in Dunblane.

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He stayed in an inn within sight of the cathedral

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in which today's hymns are being sung.

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We begin with a traditional Scottish psalm.

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It's been sung on many a grand occasion,

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including the Queen's wedding.

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By Allan-side I chanc'd to rove,

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while Phebus sank beyond Ben Ledi.

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The winds were whispering thro' the grove,

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the yellow corn was waving ready.

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I listen'd to a lover's sang

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and thought on youthfu' pleasures mony.

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And ay the wild-wood echoes rang

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O dearly do I lo'e thee, Annie.

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That's Robert Burns' poem, Allan Water,

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and this is the Allan Water running past us here in Dunblane?

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Yes, indeed, Burns visited Perthshire on his first Highland tour in 1787

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and was basically enchanted with the scenery and the countryside.

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I wouldn't be surprised if he had a look

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in the cathedral while he was here.

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It's interesting because

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-people don't think that Burns was religious?

-It's a strange thing

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because it's there on the page,

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his belief in God, his interest in religion,

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and if you think about his own Presbyterianism,

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he is the man who, in the Cotter's Saturday Night,

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gives the Presbyterian community in Scotland a sense that it is cultured.

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He says it's OK to pray in a simple way,

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it's OK to concentrate on the Bible and when he does that,

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he's being absolutely sincere

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and paying tribute to his own upbringing.

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It's interesting that Burns is a Presbyterian.

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Is Burns taking that side of Scottish national life seriously?

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He takes that side seriously

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and we might say Burns is a great ecumenical poet.

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This is the man who writes sympathetically about the Covenanters,

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the man who writes sympathetically about Mary, Queen of Scots,

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that great Scottish Stewart Catholic icon, if you like.

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He's a man who knows there's more than one way to be Scottish.

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He's a man who knows that Scotland

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has had a number of different religions and different identities.

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So, a man who knows there are different ways to be religious?

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Absolutely, he is absolutely expansive in his humanity

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and he will write sympathetically about Islam on occasion,

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or about Jewish people.

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He is a man of the Enlightenment who believes

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we might have different creeds, different colours,

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different cultures, but by and large,

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human nature inside is pretty much the same wherever you go on the planet.

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What does Robert Burns mean to you, personally?

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Well, he's a great poet, he is perhaps an even greater songwriter.

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Ultimately, I suppose in the Christian context,

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we're talking about someone who has a strong sense of human weakness

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but, often overriding that, a sense of joy in the face of the world.

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And I think in many ways, those sort of perspectives

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come out of Burns' quite mainstream Christian point of view.

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You're a Catholic yourself, you have a Christian faith.

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Is there something in Burns that speaks to that core aspect of you?

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He is very good at looking into himself

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and seeing the cant and the hypocrisy.

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He is very good at seeing sinfulness but ultimately, to some extent,

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he can leave that behind,

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because he is a man who even sees

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dwelling in one's own sinfulness as a form of pride.

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So there are quite deep currents of Christianity going on there.

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And deep currents of human nature

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and that speaks to me very deeply from so much of Burns' work.

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I think you like this man?

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I love him!

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Robert Burns was brilliant,

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none better at putting new words to traditional Scottish tunes.

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Today, that is what John Bell and Graham Maule are doing

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to make new hymns.

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Alex Gray is a writer.

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Her books are crime novels, grim stories of murders.

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I've got a passion to authenticate the things that I write.

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Partly I'm driven by fear because I don't know an awful lot.

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I don't have a criminal background

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and I don't have a police background so I really have to go

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and find out the facts from the experts who know them.

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What's up here?

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This is the Justice of the Peace court, then it was made into...

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Generally, the ideas for my novels come from real situations.

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Sometimes these are quite dark situations.

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I remember going to sleep one night at a crime writers' festival

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and having this "what if" moment

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and it was, what if somebody decided

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that they wanted to commit murder.

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How would they go about it?

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I thought, somebody with that kind of idea has to be really evil.

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So this book, Five Ways To Kill A Man,

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was an exploration of the nature of evil in a person.

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It was a very, very hard book to write.

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I think crime novels are very moral novels.

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They have a very good outcome.

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There's not a lot we can do about the world around us.

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We have a vote every five years, for example.

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But as a writer, I can create a pseudo world,

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a fictional world, where I make things happen

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and I can also resolve the things that happen

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and have a positive outcome.

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I think all crime writers have this sense

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of being able to control their world and have a good moral outcome.

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I like that, I like doing that.

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I'm fascinated by what makes people tick.

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I'm fascinated by what makes people do the bad and the good things they do,

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the psychology behind it.

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But beyond all of that, there is a loving God.

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I've found in my lifetime, no matter what situation you're up against,

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even if you don't have answers, there's always a certainty

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that there is a much, much greater, powerful force and that is God.

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A force for good.

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A force that will always be there.

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Underneath are the everlasting arms, I totally believe that,

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in any kind of situation.

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Also, I totally believe in redemption.

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No matter how bad an act that you've committed,

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it can always be forgiven by a loving God.

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Our next hymn is by another Scottish writer,

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the 19th century Edinburgh minister, Horatius Bonar.

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FUNK MUSIC PLAYS

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5,6,7,8.

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Dance has always been part of my life.

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Myself and my brother,

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we had been inspired by Michael Jackson...

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And one, two, three and four.

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'..and the Jackson Five, so we were copying him.'

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Consol Efomi is a dancer,

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but he's much more than that, he's the son of a Congolese diplomat

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and the great-grandson of a tribal chief.

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I had a very privileged life in Congo.

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So, even queueing, it was not something I was doing back home.

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You were always at the front of the queue back home!

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At the front or you had people from the protocol who was queuing for you.

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Ending up in Glasgow, at the back of the queue,

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meant Consol had to learn a very different way of living.

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I started working as a cleaner, working in the warehouse.

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I didn't know even how to mop.

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So they teach me how to mop, how I should stand straight and, you know?

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So it was a very difficult time.

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Two jobs of eight hours, so I had to work extremely hard.

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But then things began to look up.

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At a church in Glasgow, Consol met Kate who was to become his wife.

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I knew him as a dancer and that was about it.

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He was in the Christmas shows doing this hip-hop dance

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which I didn't know anything about

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and wasn't really interested in at the time.

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-What did you two have in common?

-It's our faith.

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We made it clear that Christianity is a culture

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and we built everything around that.

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We had nothing in common apart from our faith, absolutely nothing.

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At the same time as he was building a new relationship,

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Consol was also forging a new career.

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I went through university doing entrepreneurship.

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And this is time that I had that idea

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of creating a dance-video-sharing platform, just like YouTube.

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I've been working hard on that for the last year.

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You must be rather proud of him now.

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Consol jokes about the fact that he pursued me for two or three years.

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I think because we didn't have much in common apart from our faith,

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I was nervous about getting involved with this guy,

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but I think the main thing that really attracted me to him

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was his sense of dignity,

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his sense of drive, his sense of tenacity.

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And that faith that brought you together in the first place,

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that...still what drives you forward?

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That's what we agreed when we were dating really.

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Let's forget about the fact that you carve a turkey

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by chopping it into four quarters at Christmas

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and I carve it with an electric knife.

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Let's forget all that and put the kingdom at the centre

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and everything else falls into place.

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We were trying to put something in our ring, wedding ring,

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and then we were trying to find all these romantic things.

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But then we say, by the way, we are together because of our faith

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and what we put in our ring, it is a verse that says,

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"For me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

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One of the new hymns that has recently become popular

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on Songs of Praise is We Cannot Measure How You Heal.

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It's set to the tune of a Robert Burns song, Ye Banks And Braes.

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If you want to make a living as a landscape artist,

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you could hardly find a better place to live

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than this remote peninsula of south Argyll.

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One of Scotland's most popular artists, John Lowrie Morrison,

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better known by his signature "Jolomo",

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came to live here 30 years ago.

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We came here to Argyll

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because my love of the west coast brought me here as a painter.

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Over 21 years, I worked in the local high school,

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I was Head of Art at one stage, and then latterly, in education,

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I was involved in the education development service

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as an art adviser, going around schools in Strathclyde.

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I was session clerk here in the local church for a long time,

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and that took me into doing ad hoc pulpit supply

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for ministers that were unwell or whatever.

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I was about to lead worship in the Bellanoch church,

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not far from here, as I usually do.

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I was praying for the service, that the service would go well,

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and as I was praying, I heard this voice saying,

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"I want you to do two things, preaching and painting." Two Ps.

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That was the exact words I heard...inside.

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What do you mean about hearing a voice?

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It wasn't a booming voice in the church or anything like that,

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nothing physical. But it was a still, small voice you hear within yourself.

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John works for hours each day in his studio

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surrounded by decades of discarded tubes and unused oils.

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So, to what extent is painting for you a sort of act...?

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It's a spiritual act.

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I start off each day, just spending a few minutes in prayer

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and reading a bit of scripture, and then I paint.

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It's like I'm praying when I'm painting.

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And quite a lot of artists have said that,

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people who are not religious at all.

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Not Christian, not religious in any way, Buddhist or Muslim or whatever.

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They'll say that their painting feels like a form of prayer.

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What I'm trying to do is show, not only the beauty of God's creation,

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but the beauty that's in creation that man has...

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We think man's destroyed creation, and in many ways he has,

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but there's lots of things that man has built over the years

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that can look absolutely beautiful.

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Like an old dry-stone dyke, or an old bit of a farm building,

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or an old gate. That's all grist to the mill for me.

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At the end of the day, beauty is the most important thing

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and you can relate to people through that beauty.

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The test in all of it is that I went into training as a lay reader

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with the Church of Scotland over five years.

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I then gave up education which was a big thing, good salary.

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We had a mortgage, three boys at the time,

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it wasn't a clever thing to do really.

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What happened when you went home and said to your wife,

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"Hello, dear, I've heard a voice, I'm giving up my job.

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"I don't know how we'll pay the mortgage."

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Maureen was a psychiatric nurse

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and I think she'd thought I'd gone off my head, cos she knew the signs.

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No, she was totally stunned.

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It was not the kind of thing you do every day.

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But we prayed about it,

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and prayed about it with friends and we felt it was the right thing to do.

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When I'm dead and gone, the main thing I hope you'll say to me is,

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"You've been a faithful servant,"

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and I've always felt duty to God is very, very important.

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-ALEX:

-We give you thanks for your redeeming love.

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The source of strength in our weakness.

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CONSOL: We give you thanks for your faithfulness,

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bringing hope out of our most difficult moments.

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-JOHN:

-We give you thanks for infusing life with your presence,

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bringing light and colour out of darkness.

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And so, to our final hymn,

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from the wonderful setting of Dunblane Cathedral.

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Next week, Russell Watson discovers how his native Salford

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has changed since artist LS Lowry painted the town.

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He performs the classic hymn, Jerusalem,

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and introduces some wonderful congregational singing

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from St Peter's Church in Swinton.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Ahead of Burns Night, Sally Magnusson meets an expert on the bard, as well as a writer, a painter and a hip hop dancer, and introduces popular hymns and songs by Scottish writers, sung in Dunblane cathedral.


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