Category Archives: NEIL MACCORMICK




(Many of you will already have an audio and/or  transcribed copy of THE GREAT CONVERSATION, as I have named it.   I am indebted to Dr Alistair MacCormick for giving me the cd and transcribed versions.  You may wonder why I  have not earlier included this major piece.  I can only say that every time I read it,  I  had the strange sensation that I was somehow  intruding on  Neil and  Donald, some Celtic shadow –  or more probably Donald’s  interviewing skill and Neil’s undoubted capacity to convey information ) 

THE GREAT CONVERSATION took place in Edinburgh sometime in September, 2008, just seven months before  the untimely death of one of the two participants, Professor Sir Donald Neil MacCormick.  It was only fitting that the other was the highly regarded BBC Newsnight anchor, his cousin, Donald MacCormick.    It is a remarkable document.  I have been told that Neil had notes for the creation  of a family history.    This piece can only give you the tiniest insight into the breadth of his knowledge. 

Donald opens the discussion.

CHAPTER ONE of a conversation between Neil and his cousin Donald recorded in Edinburgh in September 2008.

Q: OK, Neil, the first MacCormicks in the Ross of Mull, who were they and where did they come from?

A: The first ancestor of whom we have a written record is Dugald MacCormick, who is in Iona in 1792 if I remember rightly – one of the earliest of the records of the post-Campbell establishment in Iona after the MacLeans of Duart had been thoroughly rooted out not long after the ’45, and Dugald MacCormick is at the West End of Iona. In those days, Iona was divided into two farms, two collective farms, and the MacCormicks were among the families on the West End farm –I think with MacInneses, Campbells and MacDonalds, that’s certainly the legends I have heard. And so the Mac Inneses, Campbells and MacDonalds and MacCormicks between them shared Culbhuirg, Cul an-t saimh (pronounced “Culdaff”), Machair and Sithean.started off on Iona itself, they didn’t come from somewhere else?

A: That’s what we don’t know, where did they turn up from?…Mairi MacArthur, who wrote a (major) book on Iona, has a theory that just possibly – MacCormick being a Mid-Argyll name as well as a Mull name – that branch of the MacCormicks came in with Campbell tenants…Campbell loyalists…at that period. We don’t know, but it’s certain that at that same time there were already other MacCormicks (or the same MacCormicks, it’s anyone’s guess) on the Ross of Mull itself. And some of the oldest Mull records in the Argyll papers record people like Murdoch MacCormick testifying to a boundary dispute away back in the mid 18th Century as well. (The theory of MacCormicks having come in from Mid-Argyll is perhaps contradicted by Gordon MacCormick, a kinsman of ours on Iona. He has a large and growing website of the MacCormicks, which suggests an ancestor – perhaps Dugald’s father – residing at Saorpheighinn (“Saorphin”) just above Bunessan earlier in the Eighteenth Century.) So there’s no certainty beyond that…Uncle Dugald claimed that…

Q: Just to interrupt for a moment, you’ve already talked about “at some time after the ’45” – Does that mean we’re not sure what part the family played in that matter?

A: I think we can be confident the MacCormick family played no part on either side of it, it was just not involved…Whereas the Glenurquhart MacDonalds were deeply involved, which we’ll come to…I think that Lochbuie kept himself and his people out of the ’45 and the MacCormicks of the Ross of Mull were certainly Lochbuie people…as we know (from the slogan) “Meat and drink to the MacCormicks”. So even if there was a second clan of MacCormicks moving in (from outside), we’ll never know – we just know that they start in Iona in 1792, maybe transported over from the Mull family. Interestingly, one of the MacCormicks at Bogilee (a croft on the Ross of Mull) was known to our fathers as “Uncle James” — though Uncle James was “not a relation”. So did that mean that in the modern sense they were not very close relations, or did that mean that in the most negative sense they were not any relations at all? (At any rate, they were great friends, and very good neighbours.) Wherever that goes, in your line the genealogy goes: Hamish, son of Donald, son of Donald, son of Donald, son of Donald, son of Neil, son of Iain (or John), son of Dugald…and that’s back to Dugald. So that’s, if I was counting rightly on my fingers, seven or eight generations. And of course in Gaelic it’s all (as follows)…s tu Seumas MacDhomnaill ’ic Dhomnaill ’ic Dhomnaill ’ic Dhomnaill ’ic Neill ’ic Iain ’ic Dhughaill.

Uncle Dugald specifically claimed that there were thirty-three generations in which the triplet Dugald, Iain and Neil was repeated. But of course his line was the only one in which it was repeated even twice in recorded history, because Uncle Dugald was son of Neil, son of John, son of Dugald – and his own son was Iain, and Iain’s own son was Neil, whom we’ve met; and I don’t know if they’ve got any further progeny down that line, or not.

Q: Is that the Neil from Canada?

A: No, that’s not the Neil from Canada, that’s the Neil from London, youngish Neil from London, Uncle Dugald’s grandson, who attended the family gathering in Glasgow in 1993. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, it was a big family, there were more than seven sons…eight, I think…and two daughters, in great grandfather Neil’s family. And Neil, great grandfather, is the person about whom we know most. His father, John, was born in Iona and lived for a while as a cottar and shoemaker on Iona – but then came across to the Ross of Mull, and not long after that became the Free Church schoolmaster, which suggests a remarkable level of educational attainment…although he can’t have had any high degree of scholarly training – though my father said that he he could read Homer in Greek while going about work on the croft. But a lot of the books about Mull, including Jo Currie’s recent one, say that the Ross is a bit of a separate territory, because it was never under MacLaine of Lochbuie – or Duart – ownership in the recent past, so that the papers to which the archivists have had access don’t include the Ross. Maybe the Dukes of Argyll directly supplanted the Abbots of Iona at the time of the Reformation. But, according to Currie, there were some interesting families in the Ross, and there was a particularly clever family of MacCormicks. I think the source of the reputation for cleverness is great grandfather Neil, who was the manager of the quarries, whose gravestone we all know on Iona. After all, he worked his way up from being a quarry labourer to become manager – a not very promising prospect, you would think, in the Mull of the mid-Nineteenth Century. He is depicted in one family picture which I’ve never seen, sitting on a wall in a group of young quarry-workers – which is essentially a photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson, who was visiting the quarries with his father in the course of the construction of Dubh Heartach light(house). But he rose to become the manager of the Mull quarries, and did some remarkable things in that capacity – including devising a safety grate for getting heavy loads of granite down nearly vertical inclines, practically cliff-faces. When you think of that in terms of the danger to the men working for him, it was an enormous…

Q: Engineering feat?

A: And piece of safety engineering of an extremely important kind. And he was involved in the good fortune to have very attractive stone that was used in monumental sculpture all round the world.

Q: So what relation was he to the schoolmaster?

A: Son of, yes; and grandson of the Dugald who turns up in Iona in 1792. And all the others are recorded in censuses, we’ve got census records from the whole of the Nineteenth Century, so none of these names have been lost and none of them depend on the Shennachies, or tradition-bearers, passing them down. And of course the great event in Neil MacCormick’s life was when he was asked to go out and visit the porphyry quarries in Egypt, and check if they were workable still – which he reported they were not. They had been worked out, in his opinion. But he was taken into the interior of the Egyptian desert to report on that, and this was a quite considerable thing for someone who’d not actually been outside Scotland before, and I think had not even been on the mainland of Scotland before! Though probably they would have gone to Ayr and places on marketing trips at some time or other. And this was still before the steamships had a regular service – (which wasn’t) until quite near the end of old Neil’s life. He lived to a prodigious age, he was ninety when he died, and his wife was nearly ninety-nine. I think two of the sons, Willie, uncle Willie, and uncle John were Bards of the Mod. Uncle John wrote the first ever Gaelic novel, Dun Allain, he was a very considerable amateur antiquarian, wrote lots of antiquarian literature, a lot of it is not really very long shelf-life stuff; but his book on the Island of Mull, published by MacLaren of Glasgow, is interesting and important. And I think Dun Allain will always be remembered as the first successful attempt to write a prose novel in Gaelic. It was originally reviewed quite unfavourably among the sort of smart, lefty reviewers of the 1960s, when it was re-discovered as part of the Gaelic revival of the 1970s.

Q: I thought you were going to say the smart lefty reviewers of the Oban Times!

A: Not they! But recently a lady whose name I forget has done a new review and discussion of his work and the novel, and gives a much more favourable treatment of it…It’s a book about the Clearances in Mull, in which he evinces really rather an antiquarian rather than a radical mindset – namely, as it were, “If only the good old chiefs would come back”, rather than “If only we got rid of the old system altogether”, which was the sort of Marxist line of Jim Hunter and people like that in the Sixties or Seventies, when this controversy first got under way with the new wave of highland historiography at that time, then quite Marx-influenced.

Our grandfather was a Ship’s Captain, a very good one as far as we’re aware, who ended his life as Marine Superintendent for the Robertson Line of the coastal trade out of Glasgow – freight tramp ships, really.

Q: These were the ones that all had jewels as their names?

A: That’s right, Topaz, Amethyst and all that…I once visited a site in Bilbao that reminded me of a story I was told by Uncle Dugald. My grandfather, he said, had once had a ship there loading iron ore, and the iron ore was being loaded through an automatic hopper, and when the ship was nearly full, the mate would blow one blast on the funnel and when it was to stop loading, he would blow the second blast. But for some reason no one above was paying any attention, so they hopelessly overloaded the ship, and they just had to clear as much of the ore off the deck and out of the hold as they could…And then they just set sail directly over the Bay of Biscay, hit a storm and were very severely damaged but made it, by the grace of God, into the Clyde, where naturally and correctly, grandfather was prosecuted for sailing an overloaded ship. That’s an offence of strict liability, so he was rightly convicted. But he was also congratulated by the Court on having got his ship home safely at all, in the circumstances in which the accident had happened. “Found guilty, without a stain on his character”, you might say.

But they were people of ability, certainly we were always led to believe that…And I suppose in our parents’ generation, the family at Stepps – a doctor, a musician and a teacher, a lawyer and politician – all involved in Scottish politics in one way or another – all able people. You know, it’s a not untypical West Highland family, making good…

Q: At what stage, just to remind us all, did the family move to Glasgow happen?

A: Our grandfather and Uncle John, moved to go to study first of all around 1880, then there was a period of turmoil in the quarrying industry and the quarry went into a period of non-production, and they abandoned night sailing (?)…Uncle John went on training to be a teacher, and did for a time teach in the Outer Hebrides, but I don’t think worked for any length of time as a teacher, and Grandfather went to sea. Then our grandparents got married in 1897 or 98, and Auntie Allie was born in 1900, yes, and your father was 1902 and my father was 1904…and Auntie Anna was 1907. I suppose our grandfather never had a permanent habitation in Glasgow until he got married. But he got married to Grandmother MacDonald after she’d been nursing for some years in the Ross of Mull, so just how long that courtship went on, I’ve never been sure. It must have been fifteen to twenty years!

Q: And presumably it was pursued from afar, to some extent?

A: Yes, at a distance, Grandfather would be home every so often when he got shore leave, I don’t quite know how that worked. But I have heard he would take the steamer to Salen then walk theough Glen Forsa and round the shoulder of Ben More, and so via Kinloch to Fionnphort. And of course Grandma was Queen’s Nurse in the Ross of Mull, at the beginning of that scheme for trying to improve medical facilities in the Highlands and Islands. So if we knew the date when the Queen’s Nursing Service started there, we’ve more or less got the date when she started there…She became very friendly with the old couple at Fionnphort House, and subsequently Achaban, when they moved to Achaban when the quarry finally closed.

Q: Is it true that she owned the first bicycle on Mull?

A: I believe so, well a bicycle was supplied with the job…and nobody could figure out how to get the tyres to inflate, and the Minister was called. Eventually, somebody discovered the bit about the wee tube that joined on the end of the pump to the tyres, and in due course all was well…Probably the doctor helped, though whether there was a resident doctor, I’m not quite certain. But it must have been a lonely and difficult life being a nurse out there.

Q: (Going back to what you said earlier about the Scottish politics side to the family), in your father’s book (Flag in the Wind) our grandmother is quoted as saying, “You should forget all that stuff …(about Home Rule)…that was all finished at Culloden”…

A: What I didn’t realise, when I first read that, was that she had a direct ancestor at Culloden…remarkable family…Do you remember we had a yacht? Dad made a red-painted yacht that he called the “Red Cavalier”…And the “Red Cavalier” was named after Alexander MacDonald, the Red Cavalier, who I believe – according to legend and history – took part in (the battle at) the Pass of Killicrankie, and he was a junior member of the Clanranald family from Castle Tioram in Moidart, who fell out with his family and, as they say, set off over the Strathglass Hills and settled in Glenurquhart, or thereabouts, where he became a cadet, or associate, of the Grant clan, the Grants of Glenmoriston, particularly the branch which was the Grants of Corrymony…And indeed, you can still visit Alexander MacDonald’s grave in Corrymony graveyard, quite close to the grave of the last of the Grants of Corrymony – a line that died out in the late Nineteenth Century, which has some significance for our family. Anyway the Alexander MacDonald of whom I speak was a descendant of the Red Cavalier. The Red Cavalier had two sons, at least, and a daughter, and I believe the Red Cavalier was one of those people who was young enough to have fought at Killiecrankie, and not too old to have fought at Sheriffmuir…His sons, or it may be his grandsons, I can’t just remember, Somerled and Iain, were recruited into Glengarry’s regiment in the ’45 and my brother Iain has a book I once gave him as a present which has a muster roll of Prince Charles’s army – and you’ll find the names of Iain MacDonald and Somerled MacDonald in that muster roll. They are just ordinary soldiers in the Glengarry Regiment. So either as sons or grandsons, these are direct descendants of the Red Cavalier, who himself was of Clanranald in a junior line. This is why both you and my brother Iain have Somerled in your names, because unquestionably if you have a descent from Clanranald you have a descent from Somerled the Great; that’s just one of these clear facts of West Highland genealogy.

Q: Somerled the Great being The Lord of the Isles?

A: The First Lord of the Isles, yes…or the progenitor of the First Lord of the Isles, actually. Yes, that’s of whom we speak…Now, Somerled and Iain MacDonald had a sister who married a man – I can’t remember his first name – a Grant who was also a great Jacobite, and a baby,Charles Grant, was born on the eve of the Forty-five who was baptised under the crossed swords of his uncles and was fed salt into his mouth to spit out the names of the Hanoverians at the time of his baptism, and then all went off to war. After Culloden, Iain and Somerled MacDonald succeeded apparently in making their way back into Glenurquhart, where they learned that the Duke of Cumberland had offered an amnesty to all those who would surrender, and would spare their lives. And Iain decided, according to the historical record which I’ve read, that he would take the Duke at his word and was sent as an indentured servant, in effect a kind of lifetime slave, to the West Indies. Whether this means that Trevor McDonald is a relation of ours, I don’t know! But Somerled decided he would not trust the Duke, and remained in hiding in the woods of Glenurquhart, and didn’t come out of the woods for about fifteen/twenty years, until the general amnesty was finally declared – I suppose around the time of the American War of Independence, when they were recruiting in the Highlands again. Then he came out of hiding and got married and had a family – and his grandson, I think, it might be his great-grandson , was our great grandfather Alexander: father of our grandmother, Marion MacDonald. So it is literally true that when she said something died at Culloden, she was not just thinking of something strange and alien, and that was because of the curious length of families. Her father was very old when he became her father, because it was a second marriage. He was first of all married to a Grant, and then to a Kennedy from Lochaber – Mary Kennedy, who is our great grandmother and a kinswoman of Charlie Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats.

Q: So the man who lived in the forest for fifteen years and then came out and got married, he must have been quite an age by then…

A: Yes, you’ve got long generations…Auntie Allie had, and it’s in my house somewhere, a MacDonald family tree which traced some of the generations – but there’s also a very interesting book called “The Life of the Reverend Kenneth MacDonald”… . He was a Free Church of Scotland missionary in India, who founded the Free Church of India College in Calcutta, which was a going concern in the days when we could afford to have two Presbyterian churches from Scotland conducting overseas missions. And there’s some good family history in that…There’s some also to be found in the life of Sir Charles Grant, who was the boy who was made to spit out the name of Hanover; he eventually became the MP for Inverness and Secretary of the East India Company.

Q: The salt-spitting didn’t really work, then?

A: Well, maybe it did – anyway, it was not a permanent prophylactic! After the death of Charles Edward Stuart, his brother, Henry Stuart, Cardinal of York, acknowledged the legitimacy of the Hanoverian line. This released the traditional Jacobite from what had become a pointless loyalty.

But the MacDonalds produced some pretty bright people in successive generations, and we do have quite a good family tree available somewhere, with all these names on it. And there’s my Mother’s family tree, involving Millers and Grieves and Watsons and Baillies – they were an interesting bunch as well…But for the MacCormicks we only have what is in the parish records and partly in my and other memories, and this is our line of it…and I thought it was all we had. But this turns out to be false, owing to very substantial work by our kinsman Gordon MacCormick of Sithean on Iona.

Of course there are all the other important people, and two were particularly important to me: namely Uncle Neil and Uncle Dugald. Because when I was learning to play the pipes I would go to visit them in Uncle Neil’s house in Elmbank Crescent in Glasgow and that was a kind of curious introduction to an imaginary landscape, because the tunes I was playing , quite a lot of them, were from my grandfather’s book of tunes and were tunes about places on Mull I’d never seen – though of course Neil and Dougie knew them intimately. No sooner would they read the name of the tune than they would start talking about the place, and then tell me some of the stories of the place as well. They were never done telling stories , the way old people do: they tell you more than once, many more than once – which means you remember it, to some extent. So I grew up in my teens with this imaginary landscape, which was only partly imaginary, because we’d been on holiday three times to Bunessan (Ross of Mull) and you knew the lie of the land in a broad sort of way, but little boys have a distorted vision of distance and landscape and so when I was a student in 1960 and working in the summer at the St Columba Hotel on Iona, and was allowed my Wednesday afternoons off to re-explore the Ross of Mull, it was a remarkable sort of re-visiting of a hitherto imaginary landscape and cladding it with thoughts, and people, and..

Q: “A local habitation and a name…”

A: Exactly, well said…So how are we doing, making progress?


Having listened to a playback of Chapter One, Neil felt some things should be added, most of them to do with the distaff side of the family. He observed that families tend to run in the male line because of the way we use surnames in our culture…

A: But both my great grandmother Annabel MacLachlan and my grandmother Marion MacDonald were enormously forceful people in the families they ran. And in the case of Annabel MacLachlan well, her significance is discoverable from the number of Annabels among her descent; she was clearly a very forceful, matriarchal figure in the family. Her family were an interesting family, they descended from the hereditary armourers of the MacLachlans of Strathlachlan in Argyll, and they’re yet another displaced aristocratic family from after the Forty-five. And what happened to the armourer of the MacLachlans after the dispossession of the MacLachlans from Strathlachlan, and the general disruption of the clan system in that part of the world, was that he took to being a smith, instead of being a sword-maker, for domestic equipment. And via smithing, he moved into quarrying and spent a period at least in the quarries round Ballachulish, which is how we created a clan connection with a family of Gillieses, who were also in that area and turned up subsequently in Tayvallich, in Argyll… But who were second or third cousins of ours through the MacLachlan line, just as a matter of chance. And as a further matter of chance it happened that these Gillieses intermarried with MacKellars, who were great friends of ours: John MacKellar and his father Jimmy. And Jimmy’s mother had been a MacCormick, but not a Mull MacCormick, a mid-Argyll MacCormick, and I just thought we would mention that not merely was it the case that, as Mairi MacArthur conjectured (see Chapter One), there were MacCormicks in mid-Argyll in the late Eighteenth Century, there had been MacCormicks there for a very long time. The best source of proof for that is the old churchyard at Kilmory Knap, where there are a lot of MacCormick graves, which are associated with the Campbells of Taynish, interestingly. And of course the church on the opposite point across Loch Sween from Kilmory Knap is the church of Kilcarmaig – i.e. St Cormac’s Church, so Cormac was a cult name in mid-Argyll and it wouldn’t be surprising if people used Cormac as a forename, and then in the way that families got named, and then cadet branches of families would take a sub-name, so that MacCormick would be an obvious and common name in that part of the world, too. Anyway, that was the MacLachlans.

Q: But Cormac being a cult name originally from an Irish input…?

A: Well, Irish, Scottish…it was one language…Yes, St Cormac and the MacCormick Islands (at the mouth of Loch Sween) are all part of the same package. Eilean Mor Mac Ui Charmaig is the Gaelic name of Eilean Mhor, and the MacCormick Islands is the given name in the Ordnance Survey of the little islands at the foot of Loch Sween. And Kilcarmaig (or Cille Mhic Ui Charmaig), or Church of MacCormick, or Cormac’s Church, is Keills Church, or Old Keills Church (on the North side of Loch Sween). So there we are, that’s a digression into the MacCormicks in Mid-Argyll, via the MacLachlans.

But in the days of the granite quarrying, the “Red Smith”, Donald MacLachlan the Red Smith, moved into the Ross of Mull and set up a smithy there and did work with quarrying. And that’s how the connection between great grandfather Neil and Annabel MacLachlan came about, that’s how there was an Annabel MacLachlan for Neil MacCormick to fall in love with and marry – which they did around 1853, I think, and all our ancestors come from that union…but an important line of people, and interesting people, and had a great family binding influence. Incidentally, for a while in her young days Annabel MacLachlan acted as I suppose a kind of housemaid and companion to old Colin MacLiver, who was the father of General Sir Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde, and was a kinsman, in some degree, of the MacLachlans. So there was a kindred between old General Campbell, who adopted the name Campbell on joining the Army, whose name was MacLiver, and when you think of it, the name MacLiver, which came from Islay, is actually the same name as Gulliver, mispronounced as “son of Ivar” (in Gaelic)…However these are little by-notes of history…

The second by-note I wanted to put in is about our own grandmother (Marion MacDonald), which is a particularly sad chapter of Scottish history…As we said, her father, Alexander MacDonald, was a tenant of the Grants of Corrimony and had a big croft or a small farm, I’m not sure, above the village of Balnain in Glenurquhart, which is where our grandmother went to school. The Grants of Corrimony died out, the last of the line died a bachelor and childless, and senior member of the faculty of advocates in Edinburgh – after which the estate fell into distant hands and was taken over by an agricultural improver, whereupon the MacDonalds were evicted from their croft, which, as was then done, was burnt on their leaving it, because in these fairly sparsely wooded parts of the world, not so much Glenurquhart as farther north, if you could take the roof tree off a house and burn it, there was no serious prospect of its being resumed as a habitation. ..Whereupon the MacDonalds moved down to Milton, in Glencoe, and worked at wool-milling – though the old man must have been very very old by this time. And eventually he died, and later, about the age of eight my grandmother and her mother, and some of the siblings of the second family, set off to emigrate to Canada. But they never got that far: the great port of migration at that time for that part of the Highlands was Campbeltown, because you could access it via the Caledonian Canal and the Crinan Canal – so small boats took people from Temple Pier on Loch Ness down through the canal and down into Campbeltown. However , in Campbeltown they found relations who were of the first family, who possibly had made the same trip at some earlier time, and the Watsons and other families who were relations in the half-blood, and still living in Campbeltown. So old Mary Kennedy/ MacDonald and Marion and others of the family set up in Campbeltown, and Grandmother attended secondary school there, from which she went to study as a nurse in Leith; why she went to Leith General Hospital I have no idea, but that is what she did. Well there are two stories about that…she was bilingual by this time in Gaelic and English – or Gaelic and broad Scots, because of course Campbeltown was much more broad Scots-spoken than standard-English-spoken – so when she was studying to be a nurse in an important place like Edinburgh, she had to try to forget her Gaelic and her Scots, and apparently on one occasion, or rather the great occasion when she left, she got on to the train to go up to Glasgow and then on to Edinburgh, and the gentleman sitting opposite her said, “Excuse me, miss, do you mind if I close the window?”. To which she is said to have replied, “No, I don’t remember”. There’s another story which my father told me which I think must be well grounded in truth, which is that when she was training to be a nurse the surgeon in the hospital decided he wanted to perform an appendistomy – which was a new operation at the time, and the first one he had performed. And he was actually a Gaelic-speaking Highlander himself, although well-masked. But in the course of the operation he became agitato and started requesting implements and things in Gaelic, and the only other person in the room who could help – who was the most junior person present – was my Grandmother, and instead of being congratulated afterwards she was subsequently treated as something of a black sheep, for knowing this rather impossible, barbarous language. Anyway, however that turned out, she turned out as a nurse and we pick up her story again as the first Queen’s Nurse in the Ross of Mull.

Q: Just to interrupt briefly, what sort of position was that of Queen’s Nurse…just a facet of the system at that time?

A: Yes, I don’t exactly know – it was Queen Victoria who was the patron of this scheme. I think it was a general scheme, for what became District Nurses country-wide. I believe there was a period in which the conditions of health and well-being in the Highlands and Islands became such a matter of concern that special schemes were set up to improve medical recruitment; but I think that probably came later, I think it was just a general…I don’t exactly know the detail, I just know she was the first (Queen’s) Nurse there – whether they started there or somewhere else, I don’t know. I think that covers all that early period of family history where I have anything special to impart. There is, as I said, a book about the history of Glenurquhart and Glenmoriston which has some little bits about the MacDonald history. And there’s the Life of Charles Grant, and the Life of the Rev Kenneth MacDonald. The other important document to put on the record at this point is the journal that my great-grandfather kept when he went to Egypt – it was transcribed and typed up by Uncle John. His daughter Annabel has the original typescript, she gave me copies of it and I copied it on to numbers of people, I’m not sure all to whom. I still have a copy myself, in the house in 19 Pentland Terrace somewhere, but I’m afraid my papers are not very well ordered at the moment, I hope I’ll still have time to order them a bit. But I think if that could be rescued and published, for example through Birlinn Books, it’s the kind of historical record that’s now of interest to people, about the Highlands of that period. It’s a travelogue, really, by an old man of totally Highland background going to Egypt in the late Nineteenth Century – not the most usual eventuality. I also wrote a little note at one point for a talk in Oban called “Memories of the Ross of Mull: Tales My Great-uncles Told Me”, so if I can ever put my hands on that manuscript, that would add a little bit to this, perhaps in itself not very important – but a wee bit of the imaginary landscape re-discovered.

CHAPTER THREE As Neil prepared to move forward and explore the modern history of the clan, it seemed appropriate to ask him first about the former family home of Achaban in the Ross of Mull. He has already referred to it in Chapter One, but more importantly, for present generations of MacCormicks taking the road from Bunessan to Fionnphort, Achaban is perhaps the first and most recognisable sign that you are in home territory…

A: Achaban is from the point of view of our family visiting Mull a very significant landmark, partly because when we were young our Great Aunt Bella – Annabel Harper-Nelson – was there, and her remarkable family of interesting people, too… But more because it was the retirement home to which Neil and Annabel MacCormick moved when they left the quarry-house – the old Fionnphort House, in actual Fionnphort village. So it’s a kind of landmark of arrival in our part of the Ross of Mull, and that leads over to Iona. There’s an interesting story which you probably know, or may have forgotten, that after the quarries closed Fionnphort House was taken over as the ferryman’s house. Then sometime in the mid-1950s, it burned down and became a ruin, just at the time when they were making rapid progress in restoring Iona Abbey. And the stones were in fact collected from the old Fionnphort House and taken over to be built into the Abbey buildings in Iona – whereupon various people, including Uncle Dugald, and I think Johnny Ruanaich, remarked that the old man had always predicted that he would be buried in Iona, and that the stones of his house would follow him there. So there we are…

Q: It came to pass!

A: Yes it came to pass…Anyway, that was the story of the moving of the stones to Iona. But everyone who goes to the Ross should, if they can possibly manage it, go and visit Old Tormor Pier down on the Bull Hole, and walk down that cliffway staircase, which was the old route of the quarry railway that transported the pink huge blocks of granite, which are no longer there to be seen but were until recently quite a landmark in themselves.

Q: And that was the cliff where Neil designed that system…(See Chapter One.)

A: Yes, that’s important…Of all the things that are monuments to the times the MacCormicks worked the quarries I think Tormor Pier is the most moving and impressive. The other interesting thing about that family is its musical prowess. Old Neil, Neil himself, was the choirmaster of a choir which combined – in an astonishingly ecumenical way for the period – a choir of the Established Church, the Free Church and the Baptist Church, each of which flourished in the Ross of Mull at the time. And he was presented at the end of it all with a clock, which is still in the possession, I think, of Fiona Eden-Bushell, because it went down through that line of the family. But I was given by Annabel this past summer – Annabel Macinnes Culbhuirg, Annabel MacCormick Macinnes Culbhuirg – our clan chief, I suppose! – a psalter which was owned by Neil MacCormick, which has got the old, you know, divided pages, with the sheet music on the top leaf and the words on the bottom, so you could combine different tunes with different words. So this was obviously a valued possession of his, and he was clearly a musician of some prowess, you know, he managed a choir, and of his sons at least four were more than competent pipers, very good pipers. Our Grandfather never played the full pipes, he only played the chanter, but he also played the fiddle with great accomplishment, I’m told, and you may remember there was a fiddle in the garden shed at Stepps when we were little which had been his fiddle, which we made various ineffectual attempts to make music with…

Q: Stockhausen-like noises!

A: Yes, the only musical talent the four of us revealed at that period of our lives was at the mouth organ…with that very interesting mouth organ band! Also, music then descended into the next generation, particularly though not only through Auntie Anna, and all our Sundays and all our family gatherings included recitations on the piano of Kishmul’s Galley and other Kennedy Fraser tunes, together with Chopin’s preludes and nocturnes and so on…So we lived in a musical environ, and other branches of Neil’s family were very much similar, I mean Uncle Neil’s family were hugely musical and Uncle Neil himself wrote many books of pipe music, and was a fine piper himself in his day. Uncle Lachie was a pipe-major in the First World War, Johnny Ruanaich was a pipe-corporal in the First World War, Neil – alias “Fili” – who is the father of Big Neil who lives in New York, conducted a church choir and was very engaged with music in his life, and was a piper in the First World War for a while, too. So there’s a great deal of piping and music and the old traditional music of the islands there. Uncle Dugald has got some of it recorded at the School of Scottish Studies, and I have a tape of some of the things he recorded in the house. I know that myself – and I think I’m probably the last person to have sung any of them – and I will try and make some of the written record of things…Our grandfather left three very good books of pipe tunes; unfortunately Auntie Anna lent two of them to a band in Helensburgh, which proceeded to lose them, which was a terrible shame and not Auntie Anna’s fault at all, but we’ve just got one of the books left, which contains all his best tunes – except the great tune, “The Lads that Will Return No More”, which was the tune played at the opening of the Glasgow Cenotaph. I think there was a competition to submit a tune for that and according to my Father, and I see no reason to doubt it, “The Lads that Will Return No More” was the, or one of the, tunes played to open that Cenotaph. It’s a very beautiful tune, I think, and if I don’t write it down soon, it will not exist in written form anywhere because it was lost; but I remember it, and only I can. (Since then, Neil has written the tune down, and in due course a copy will be made available.)

Q: And where did you first hear it, that particular tune?

A: Well I heard it by playing it off the sheet music, then played it to Uncle Neil and Uncle Dugald, who could then say, “Well this is how it really sounds…”, you know they would sing it back to me. It’s a very interactive thing, learning a pipe tune. And of course when we had Uncle Dugald staying with us for four years at Park Quadrant in Glasgow, often two or three nights a week I would go in with the chanter and we would play tunes and talk, so I learned an awful lot…It’s from there that all the notes from the imaginary landscape descend quite a bit.

Q: And now your nephew Kyle is shaping up as a possible piper…?

A: He, attending Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, will have a very good opportunity to learn them, if he can – if he chooses – which would be very nice. Otherwise I would be the last of the line, in the piping way. But people can be musical in all sorts of other ways. So I think that one of the things about our family, looking back at it, was that it was a family very much engaged with music and taken up in interesting ways with the traditional music, but not only the traditional music – also classical music: Auntie Anna and the other MacCormick girls at Elmbank Crescent.

And of course the other thing we were all inured to, and educated to, during these many family summer holidays, was the sea, was being competent boat people, which I think was terribly important. And we weren’t yachtsmen, we weren’t sailors of “Dragon” yachts (except when I crewed for Billy Mann and things like that) but we were handy people in a rowing boat, all of us, and we knew how to conduct ourselves well. And that was part of our inheritance from our grandfather, I suppose. And your father and my father…there are lots of pictures of them at Crinan and places rowing away…

They were also very busy in the National Party – I discovered some letters of father to my mother, when Marion and I were tidying papers… you have said you don’t have many personal memories of your father, but he was very involved in the SNP in its early days, the National Party of Scotland, and was convener of a thing called, I think, the Nationalist Graduates Association and sort of organised the ex-Glasgow and ex-Edinburgh University graduates who were in it. So they were very involved and worked together as a family…It was a shame that Uncle Donny, your father, died so young that we all have relatively slim memories of him, whereas my father was a very dominant figure, particularly in his high period in the late 1940s and early 50s, when the (Scottish) Covenant was at its full swing and he was the man in the news all over Scotland. But he was always also quite a family man and I remember enjoyable evenings – especially at Tayvallich in the evenings – sitting chatting, and he would be making jokes and keeping us thinking about the way the world was going. Also it must be remembered…

Q: I remember that he used to sit in that cottage in Tayvallich which your family used to occupy, and he was writing his book, The Flag in the Wind, in jotters – and in pencil!

A: Yes, I still have the pencil drafts, that’s right…and then he wrote it in ink, in other jotters, and we still have all these jotters with the original manuscript in them. But we were a matriarchal family, really. Your mother, and my mother, I now realise looking back, were women of extraordinary fortitude and intelligence, and wisdom, and they were backed up by our joint two aunts, Auntie Anna and Auntie Allie, who was the financial power-house of that family, I mean she kept us all going with subsidies that none of us really knew of until long after…

Q: A sort of Marshall Aid for the family…

A: Yes, here was this maiden lady, working a quite lonely life in an infectious diseases hospital in Derby, near Derby, Derwent Hospital, and living a very frugal personal life, making I suppose a consultant’s salary on the National Health and spending it, effectively, maintaining her nephews and nieces with their education and other help that she gave us all. Meanwhile Auntie Anna was a guide, philosopher and friend and permanent backup, because your mother and my mother were often in demand and busy for other reasons with their own work and things – and Auntie Anna was always somehow available to come and hold the fort or have us out to stay at the old family home in Stepps. And in our family Aunt Elizabeth, my mother’s sister, after she stopped running the huge garden at Westwood – which was my grandmother’s house in Bothwell, where we could all run wild, as the four of Iain, Marion and Elspeth and me spent Augusts there entirely, and you and Alistair came to visit us occasionally and we would smoke Woodbines up the trees furtively, and…

Q: With very little pleasure!

A: With no pleasure whatever – and we would pick plums and raspberries and strawberries and just lived the life of wild children, it was wonderful. And Auntie Libby maintained that garden until my grandmother died, and then she moved on and had several smallholdings of various kinds, ending up as schoolteacher in Kippen with a very big garden adjacent to Kippen School, which Iain and Marion and Elspeth and I used sometimes. I did my swotting for my Finals there, or part of it, and then my own daughters used to visit when they were little – although by that time Aunt Libby was getting old, and a bit wandered. So we lived a life which was very surrounded by very caring and devoted aunts, you know whom it’s easy to write out of scripts; somehow men are more glamorous figures in family history, but without these aunts our lives would have been totally different than they were, and they were enormously important figures. So I was very glad that we were able last year to put up a little memorial at the family grave at Bedlay, at Moodiesburn just outside a Stepps, where grandfather, grandmother and your father are all buried, and my Dad is there and my mother is now there also…her ashes…and there’s a plaque commemorating Auntie Anna and Auntie Allie, which is how it should be. We’ve still to do something for Aunt Elizabeth, but Marion has that in hand. So there we are, we think this was a family in which music was very significant, and in which the sea played a role in our collective legend – but of course above all it was also a terribly Scottish family, tied up with concern in Scottish history and Scottish politics, and I suppose we all had, in different forms, a kind of bias which runs through our whole way of looking at the world – which is not, I think, a merely parochial, narrow, little-Scotlandist view, but it’s a view of the world as a world that starts from, and as it were flows in concentric lines from Scotland, and that our engagement with the world is an engagement as very incurably Scottish people, and hence intensely interested in things like this family history and the more general history of our country…These would be the important features of it, and certainly ones that were transmitted very strongly by all the people we’ve mentioned – in particular by my father and by Auntie Anna but also, to an increasing extent, by my own mother; particularly in her retirement years, she took lots of courses in history and got more and more engaged with it. Also your mother did her very important, unsung work with educationally challenged children, in what were then called Special Schools; and my mother, before and after her marriage, spent about thirty years in all working with disadvantaged adults through the City of Glasgow Society of Social Service, and then finally in the Gorbals at the Guild of Aid – of which she was finally Warden, in the years between 1970 and 1974, when she retired, and there she did a lot of work with old people in the Gorbals at a time when the Gorbals was being taken to pieces, and the old way of life was difficult for elderly people to sustain…So I think she did much good there, but, again, these are unsung heroes who deserve a mention in any discussion of this kind.

Q: Just a further question about one of the “sung” heroes – your father, when his political career came to an end, he was actually a Liberal. So how did that come about, what does that say about his wider fame, still, now, as a Scottish Nationalist?

A: I tried to answer this in a way, though slightly obliquely, in the introduction I’ve just written to The Flag in the Wind (Second Edition) – which now contains a fascinating new appendix which includes something Marion and I discovered – a thesis written to Miss Margaret Isobel Miller in, it must be, 1928. In it, my father says why he thinks that the National Party of Scotland is the necessary vehicle for progress in Scotland. It’s very passionate, and he’s coming out of the Labour Party at the time, he’s coming out of the ILP, and he’s saying that although Labour believe good things, he doesn’t think they can actually achieve them – because parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster will always mean that when they’re in a position to do something (about Home Rule), they won’t do it because they would lose their UK majority through the removal of Scottish Labour MPs to a separate Scottish Parliament. And when they’re not in a position to do something, they’ll just say they’ll do it. This was really quite prescient, I think: it shows how the National Party was founded, but Dad was always a man with a sense of being in a hurry to get places. Another group of a more establishment kind, called the Scottish Party, formed in 1932, and some of the figures in it, were rather leading figures in Scottish Society, such as the Duke of Montrose and people. Dad thought it was very important to get back on track with people of that kind, who’d been involved in early discussions about the National Party; so the Scottish National Party was formed in 1934, in circumstances of some controversy because some of the “ultras” – the old NPS – refused to go along with it and were expelled in the process. So it was quite hard work, harsh work, establishing the SNP in 1934. And then they soldiered through the desperately difficult 1930s – including the 1935 General Election – and came to the beginning of the War. Partly because of the “War to end Wars” sentiment, and partly for constitutionalist reasons which I’ve never understood – in spite of being a constitutionalist myself – there was a body of opinion, led by Douglas Young, which said that the Westminster Parliament under the Treaty of Union had no power to conscript Scots to serve abroad, and Douglas Young went to jail rather than be enlisted for the War. And he was then elected Chairman of the SNP, which Father took to be a repudiation of all the efforts he had been making in a more moderate direction, which had seemed to bear fruit in the 1940 by-election in Argyll, where William Power came a very close second to the Government candidate. He might well have won, but the Phoney War had just come to an end. Interestingly, the next person to contest Argyll for the SNP was my brother Iain MacCormick, which he did in 1970. He was not elected but in 1974 he was elected twice, so the promise of 1940 in Argyll was finally redeemed thirty-four years later, at the beginning of the first big upswing in SNP fortunes…A very big upswing, though there had been the earlier moments at Hamilton and in the Western Isles with Winnie Ewing and Donald Stewart.

But the upshot of the split of 1942 over the War issue was that Father and his more moderate faction, if you would call it that, set up a thing called the Scottish Convention and proceeded to try to get going an idea which had already been mooted within the SNP before – namely a Covenant, an umbrella appeal to all Scots to commit themselves to the idea of a Parliament on the basis that the Covenant was an all-party and no-party organisation; it was not in the pocket of any party, but (in elections to Westminster) its members were free to support whichever party they thought was most appropriate to the purposes to which they were committed. So in that context my Father became a Liberal and fought the 1945 General Election as a Liberal in Inverness, which he had previously fought as an SNP candidate. Then he fought a by-election in Paisley in 1947 under the label “National Candidate”, which was a kind of all-party support other than Labour. So it was a kind of direct challenge to Labour in Paisley; he came quite a close second, but didn’t win. Then finally, in 1959, he had one last throw and fought Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles as Liberal candidate and came a good second – teeing up the ball for the young David Steel, who won a by-election there in the next succeeding Parliament. So he had an unsuccessful electoral political career and you could argue that he made a mistake in having left the SNP, founded the Covenant, had huge success in gathering signatures, and not himself remaining aloof from all parties, but he didn’t ever win a parliamentary election. However, I argue this, that in the end of the day both the strategies he pursued turned out to be complementary and necessary: without the Covenant tendency, as you might call it, there would not have been the Scottish Constitutional Convention – that whole bringing together of different parties to put up a scheme for devolution – which in point of fact replicated very much the same scheme for devolution which the Covenant had unveiled in the 1940s…Of course it improved it and made it more governmentally workable and all that, but essentially, that was history repeating itself.

However that would not itself have worked, I don’t think, if there hadn’t been pressure from the other side – and pressure from the other side was constantly coming from the SNP. And undoubtedly the Referendum in 1997 would not have achieved the massive majority that it effectively required, and actually got, but for the coming together of the SNP under Alex Salmond, the Liberal Democrats and Labour and all the civic organisations. So I think you can say that both the initiatives that he took in the end bore fruit, although of course they bore fruit through different hands than his, and I think it remains true that if you ask how Scotland has changed over the last half of the Twentieth Century, you couldn’t say it all changed because of what John MacCormick did – but you could say many of the changes would be less intelligible but for what John MacCormick did, and how that fed into subsequent developments. So he was a great man of his time and made a real impact on our country.

Q: And just a last word, maybe, for the time being, about your good self…the internationally eminent level of scholarship and distinction to which you have risen in your career…Where did all that come from? How did it come about? Who do you thank for all that?

A: When I went to university and started studying philosophy I realised this was what fascinated me most of all. Why did it fascinate me? Well Dad was always interested in philosophy and the talk round our fireplace was, in a kind of a way philosophical, and my mother was of course also very clever and although she didn’t go in for as much speculation as Dad did, the atmosphere in our house was clearly fertile for philosophical ideas, and also there was an interest in law, obviously…

Q: And disputation?

A: Disputation, yes…perpetual disputation…there was always an argument going on of some kind round the fireplace. Also I think my father always thought that to any question there was a reasonable answer, if you just worked away hard enough you would find out what it was. So it was an anti-dogmatic household, in which it was good to try out ideas…and of course Iain tried them to the limit by becoming a Catholic…And did, and was accepted, and was encouraged to pursue his line of belief if that was what it was…So I think that was very important – and then just the education I got at Glasgow University, and, following it, at Balliol, and then the good luck of being elected a Fellow at Balliol when I was twenty-seven – set me on a course which was both enormously enjoyable and, as all these things are at the time, sort of accidental…You know, one invitation leads to another, one task that you do leads on to another; and I gradually became involved in an international circus of legal philosophers which made me so many friendships – I’ve got friends in every continent and former students in every continent who keep in touch. That was a wonderfully lucky set of breaks in life, and yet I was also able to maintain my Scottish political involvement at the same time, and in a curious way it all came together when by a rather odd chapter of accidents I was elected to the European Parliament and turned up in Europe as already a sort of reputed expert – namely, a philosopher of law and a student of European constitutionalism – and then here I am in the Parliament and then at the Constitutional Convention. I must be one of the few people who have taken part in writing two constitutions which were not in force: the European Constitution and the Scottish Constitution. Maybe both will be; actually, the European Constitution is going to come into force under the main Treaty of Lisbon, which is just a fix…And as for the Scottish Constitution, well, there’s a lot of work going on via the “National Conversation”. But, actually, all the big ideas we had in 1977 (at the Scottish National Party Conference where Neil and Dr Robert McIntyre won acceptance for constitutional principles which have been the bedrock of SNP policy ever since) are already incorporated in the Scotland Act of 1998: proportional representation, an elected Cabinet, elected First Minister, and a Bill of Rights based on the European Convention. All these aspects of more democratic government that I think we have via Holyrood than we get via Westminster, are ideas that we put forward in 1977 and were gradually absorbed into the mainstream of general ideas about constitutionalism in Scotland.

So it was an exciting life – and curiously the bits of it fitted together better than you’d think they might have…

Q: Yes the story as it emerged was greater than the sum of its parts…But, stop me if this is wrong, you talked of the original Neil with his music and his skills, and how his father became a teacher apparently on the back of nothing, but is it right that your mother was more from the scientific side of the alleged “Two Cultures” in her own background? And if so, is it possible that that input blasted you off in a way that wouldn’t have happened if your background had been purely on the humanities side?

A: Yes, very interesting…My mother was one of these omni-competent people, her actual degree is M.A., BSc.(an MA and a BSc), and you were supposed to take five years if you wanted to do that, but for one reason or another she managed to get all the exams passed in four years, so she went and said, “I want to graduate now”, but they said, “No, you can’t, you must be matriculated for five years before you can graduate with two degrees”. So at that point she took a diploma in what we would now call Social Work, it was a Certificate of Social Administration, that’s what it was called, which took her on to social work in the East End of Glasgow at a very hard time. And she worked in the Calton district of Glasgow between 1931 and 1938, helping families in what must have been extreme states of destitution…So, yes, she had both science and maths and languages in her portfolio – but I think you’re right, I think that the major bent of her undergraduate education was into the life sciences and the natural sciences, so, yes , that kind of essential rigour must have made its own very particular contribution to us all.

Q: Just lastly, you’ve talked a lot about your academic career in terms of luck and having been in the right place at the right time, but underlying that must be the reality, surely, that you were very proud of you own accomplishments, and bloody competitive, too? Discuss!

A: Competitive in the sense that…if you think something is not true, or not deep, or not accurate, or not the whole story, what you read other people writing – that’s a challenge to write better, you know, to correct the record. But of course all philosophical work of that kind is therefore very dialectical, because presumably when I think I’ve said the last word on something, one of my colleagues says: “Aha!, MacCormick has left something else out!”, and so it goes on and on. There’s a big dialectic that takes place from generation to generation and of course…

Q: And competition is part of that?

A: Yes, but it’s not…sometimes academics deal with each other in a very bitter and vitriolic way, but I’ve never done that. I think I’ve always been an emollient person, you know seeing the good in other people’s writing rather than the bad in it, but casting it in a different light somewhat…But towards the end of my working career, I got the chance of this Leverhulme Fellowship and decided I would write four books that brought it all together – and I’ve just finished the fourth, which I think is quite good – so that I have had the chance, which not many people get, to put down the whole testament of my views, and on others which I focused on during my working life. But what’s still probably my most famous book is the first one I wrote, “Legal Reasoning and Legal Theory”, which was a young man’s book, brash and in a hurry, here’s how it really is, folks, and it made quite a stir in its time and it’s still in print. But I hope that my mature work will be remembered; one has to remember that in any generation very, very few of the books that get written survive beyond that generation. They’re read, they’re discussed, they’re looked at by students, and then they recede into the musty back areas of libraries – eventually to be rediscovered by historians of ideas, sometimes – so what will become of my work, I don’t know, nobody knows what will become of anybody’s work, but I would like to think that…In this latest book, I make a bold attempt to reconcile the thought of Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, in a way that abolishes a famous differentiation in moral philosophy between Sentimentalism and Rationalism – what stands to reason against what we feel about things – and I think there is a middle way – I always look for middle ways in my work – and I think I’ve found it in this book; so if that is received, it might be quite a landmark book. But if it’s not received, it will just be regarded as another interesting by-way – and we just have to wait and see…

Q: A middle by-way…

A: A middle by-way, a by-middle-way, yes…Nice!













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I feel rather awkward putting myself into this sequence.  I am  caught between my native   Scottish trait of modesty and the combined  MacCormick/American  general (for lack of a more accurate word) assertiveness.  Sobeit.

My own music life has been  threefold.  First as a singer,   pianist and then composer/improviser.  A paramount feature of my musical activity is that,  similar to my cousin Neil, the artist, I have never had a music lesson and to this day cannot ‘read’ music, just follow the lead notes up and down.  I have a very good ear which allows me to memorize music. That  merged  with years of experimenting on  keyboards from a very young age  enables me to find the right combination  of sounds.    I spent many hours listening on the radio to every type of music and attending concerts.   The MacCormick influence on my musical life is there but my mother’s family had in two cases ‘playing by ear’ skills – my Grandmother Janet Potter (who played entirely on the black keys!) and her daughter,  my  Aunt May Penman.  My Aunt MacCormick, the music teacher, of course would never countenance ‘playing by ear’ and indeed she found my early  childish one finger playing highly amusing.     In retrospect, I am happy that  my parents did not try and force me into  piano lessons.  I think it might have discouraged me from experimenting.  However, I do often consider the great advantage I would have  now if I could read music, and more important, be able to score my own compositionsI also thus deprived myself of proper fingering and dexterity.  A good article on my approach can be found in the next PART.

Turning first to my singing life, it was entirely choral – no solos, please.  My first venture was at age five singing with with  my school class at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition  in 1937. 

Next was in  the Woodside Senior Secondary School, Glasgow, Gaelic Choir under the guidance of Tom Crawford when we won the local Glasgow Gaelic Mod schools prize.

My third choral venture    was in Rochester, New York  in 1951-52, where, as a  new immigrant, I  joined my employer’s ensemble, the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company Choir.  (I am center rear light jacket.)

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Then in Japan, where I was serving in the US Army, I sang with the First Cavalry Division Glee Club which won second place in the US Far East Choral Competition in 1954.




From 1954 to 1958, I reached the pinnacle of my singing career when I performed with the Cornell University Glee Club.   I was also very proud to serve as President of  that group which was founded in 1868.




My piano ventures have been as accompanist, US Army ‘concert party’ type band member but mostly for my own pleasure.  Again, at the risk of boring readers, all this was done without the ability to read music – all ‘by ear.’    My first public  appearance was  quite amusing.  Some pals were preparing for an audition for the Carl Levis Show in the late 1940s.  This was a BBC radio talent hunt.   They asked me to be an accompanist for their singing group.  So I went on stage with them in he Grand Theatre in Glasgow, age 16.  The chosen piece was Jingle Bells and I launched into my usual attempt to reproduce the harmonies and sounds of an orchestra.  We had only been performing about a minute or so when a voice came out of the darkened theatre – ‘Hey you on the piano, quieten down – we’re not auditioning you.’ 

My other efforts on the piano are not worthy of display here.   Suffice it to say that whatever skills I enjoyed gave me much pleasure and were of great social benefit. One of my fondest memories is playing four hands, improvising  with another ‘ear’ pianist, fellow student Bill Barnes, in the lounge of International House at the University of Chicago.    We would feed off each other’s sounds and came up with several fine arrangements, the  best of which – ”  It’s All Right With Me”  I have rearranged for midi multi instruments reproduced on disk – not  alas available to me at this time. 

My activities as composer are difficult to set out here.  I will begin with the first public performance of one of my pieces.   The music of this  work is  the last movement of my seven part Cornell Sketches, more of which later..

That composition  [music and lyrics]  was ‘performed’ at Sage Chapel, Cornell University.

(An aside – I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hymn tune Bunessan was also to be sung at the service.  I recall trying to explain to the bemused organist the claimed MacCormick connection.)








alumni hymn0001.jpg



Only two of my other songs are in score.    The  lead sheet first  below was prepared by me while all full scores above and below were prepared by  organist/composer Brian Hoffman from my recordings. 


EPSON scanner image


A related piece languishes unscored.  “The Wedding-Cake-Walk.”

Last is a children’s hymn suggested by an old rhyme from childhood  –  ‘Look up, look down, you owe me half a crown.’





Note the optimism expressed in the latter page!











I turn now  to my own line, perhaps the only one among THE MACCORMICKS with a professional artist/painter.  My cousin, Neil, son of Iain and Nan and grandson of NEIL LAMONT  AND CLEMENTINE MACCORMICK, has made painting his life work.  I recall many years ago while visiting Uncle Iain and Aunt Nan in Toronto,  Neil being persuaded to show us his works of that early period.  They were very accomplished and attractive (forgive my unprofessional critic’s vocabulary).  He has carried forward a talent which was displayed by both his father and mine.  I believe that its source may been through Granny MacCormick’s  mother –  the Grant family.  .  In any event, his parents must be given great credit for encouraging and supporting his growth as an artist.  As you will read below, Neil is entirely self-taught – no art school can claim him as their product.

BORN 1958, Toronto, Ontario

RESIDES Toronto, Ontario

EDUCATION No formal art education

In 1993 I began using photos as source imagery for my paintings to apply a level of objectivity to an inherently subjective process. By adhering strictly to the information presented in a photograph, by restricting my palette (two reds, two blues, yellow and black), the size of the paintings (5.5 X 8″) and by using a single brush (an inexpensive #6 gold sable) I further eliminated many subjective decisions from my process.

I’ve spent decades sporadically roaming city streets with my camera, subconsciously searching for subjects that reflected my core feelings of invisibility. Whether trailers, decrepit neon signs or derelict commercial buildings, each had attained the kind of invisibility within its surroundings that often heralds transformation, renovation or destruction. I’m interested in the existential question of being: If it’s ‘invisible’ to everyone, does it exist?

I’ve begun to see my rigorous, rigid painting process as ‘performance ritual’. Monday to Friday I work at an old office desk from 9 am to 5 pm. I begin the day by removing the paints from a drawer on my left and placing them on the desk. I remove the painting from a box behind my desk. At noon I break for lunch and record my morning’s hours on an index card or ‘time sheet’ that I keep in a drawer on my right. At 12:30 pm I resume working until 5 pm when I record the afternoon’s hours on the sheet.

This ritual is an integral part of my practice and a necessary element in the production of a much fetishised image on board: the average 5.5 X 8″ painting requiring up to 300 hours or more to complete.

Through the restrictions I’ve imposed on my process, I’ve acheived a level of detachment from my subject and the physical object of the completed painting but I realise that in my attempts to eliminate the identifiable marks and gestures I made as an artist, I’ve somehow run headlong into myself through my work.

Neil MacCormick

January, 2013

BORN 1958, Toronto, Ontario

RESIDES Toronto, Ontario

EDUCATION No formal art education


2012 Winchester Galleries Modern, Victoria, B.C.
2008 O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York, N.Y.
2004 O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York, N.Y.
2003 Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Ont.
2001 Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Ont.
1999 Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Ont.
1998 Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.


2016 Size Matters, Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York, N.Y.
2016 A Historical Overview of Photorealist Cityscapes, Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York, N.Y.
2014 The Winter Exhibition, Winchester Galleries, Victoria, B.C.
2014 20/20 A Celebratory Exhibition, Winchester Galleries Modern, Victoria, B.C.
2014 Precision, Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, QC.
2012 Beyond Realism, Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, QC.
2012 Collector’s Choice, Winchester Galleries Modern, Victoria, B.C.
2012 Hyperrealism: A Moment in Time, Mark Gallery, Englewood, N.J.
2010 National Contemporary Realism 2010, M. A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, OK.
2005 Temple Arts Festival, Nashville, TN.
1999 Myth, City, Saga, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Mississauga, Ont.
1993 Christmas Show, Barton Leier Gallery, Victoria, B.C.
1992 Christmas Show, Barton Leier Gallery, Victoria, B.C.
1989 Neil MacCormick and Marty Hunt: Acrylic Paintings, K. Griffin Gallery, Toronto, Ont.


20/20 A Celebratory Exhibition, 2014, (ISBN 978-0-9781328-6-6) pgs. 15, 80.
Precision, Galerie de Bellefeuille, 2014 (ISBN 978-2-923814-61-2) pgs. 24, 25.
Au Delà Du Réel – Beyond Realism, Galerie de Bellefeuille, 2012 (ISBN 978-2-923814-40-7) p. 54.

Times-Colonist, ( Victoria, B.C.), ‘On Art’, Robert Amos, Jan. 27, 2005, p. D9.
Times-Colonist, ( Victoria, B.C.), “On Art: ‘Exacting Work Pays Off’”, Robert Amos, Dec. 16, 2004, p. D10.
Eye Weekly, ( Toronto, Ont.), “eye Candy: ‘Brush with Trickery’”, David Balzer, Apr. 03, 2003, p. 35.
Toronto Star, ‘Art by Numbers’, Judy Stoffman, Mar. 31, 2001, p.J20.
NOW Magazine, ( Toronto, Ont.), ‘Neon is Illuminating for Neil MacCormick’, Si Si Penalosa, Feb. 25, 1999, p. 75.

CityTv, ( Toronto, Ont.), CityPulse News, Mar. 10, 2001.
CityTv, ( Toronto, Ont.), CityPulse News, Feb. 27, 1999.
Bravo!, ( Canada), Bravo! News, week of Mar. 5, 1999.
CityTv, ( Toronto, Ont.), CityPulse News, Mar. 31, 1989.

CBC Radio One, ( Canada), ‘North by Northwest’, interview, David Grierson, Jun. 7, 1998.


Canada Council for the Arts, Visual Arts Section, Creation / Production Grant, 2004.
Canada Council for the Arts, Visual Arts Section, Travel Grant, 2001.


A. J. Diamond Associates, Toronto, ON
Aldo Group, Montreal, QC
Fleishman Hillard, San Francisco, CA
Mr. and Mrs. Ivan C. Karp, New York, NY
Marty Z. Margulies, Key Biscayne, FL
McCarthy Tetrault, Toronto, ON
SJM Partners, Potomac, MD
360 Networks, Toronto, ON

copyright 2007 Neil MacCormick

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Largely Insignificant Day

One Day at Rest, Untitled 19 (10:30 pm) 2015 5.5×8″ acrylic on board
I completed my project ‘One Day at Rest’ on December 31st, 2015. It began on July 2nd, 2011 when four GoPro cameras recorded more than 7200 digital image files of a day in our life. Twenty of those files were used to compose ten paintings and ten drawings, illustrating the events of that day.
I spent four and a half years immersed in the minutiae of a single, largely insignificant day while the tumult of the present pressed on. I wanted to confront and contain the impermanence of an average day of an average weekend at a particularly unremarkable time in our lives, to arrest the relentless trudging towards the unknowable future.
While I painted and drew, the planet we inhabit completed more than four revolutions of our sun. It rotated on its axis 1643 times. I broke my arm, I lost a tooth. My mother died, my dog died. I lost a gallery in New York and gained two in Canada. I participated in six group shows and had one solo show. I sold one painting. We moved 550 kilometres down the road from Montreal to Toronto, my sixth move in nine years. I began to make peace with the ghosts of my hometown after twenty six years away.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 17 (9:26 pm) 2014 5.5×8″ acrylic on board
With the project completed, I emerge from a kind of mental exile, reengaging with my art world brain, with what happens after the work is done. What to do with this body of work? Do I want to sell it off piecemeal? Do I want to sell it at all? Would anyone buy it? Do I even want to share it with anyone?
I’m conflicted about what I want from my life as an artist. More so after thirty years than at any time before. Perhaps it’s just the confident ignorance of youth petering away, diluted by the disillusioning realities of the art world or my own warring desires of notoriety and obscurity.
Working for so long in isolation, I alter between states of grandiosity: ‘This is the best work I’ve ever done, no one is doing work like this!’ and hopelessness: ‘I’ve wasted my life, no one will care about any of this, I don’t even care about it!’. In the end comes ambivalence: neither, nor. Any remnant desire I might have had for some unspecific personal transformation slowly evaporates with the completion of the project.
In times of stress, an image often floats into my mind of myself as a child. It feels like loss. I’m in the basement of our house in Toronto. It’s summer, and in the cool relief of that crudely appointed space I quietly assemble a model car. It’s an image from the seemingly endless solitude of an afternoon in July or August. I imagine that I’m aware neither of the past, nor of the future. I’m content to hide from the sun, from my peers, from the neighbours. I will always be in this moment and I will live forever.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 18 (9:06 pm) 3×3″ coloured pencil on board
I’ve spent much of my life trying not to participate. Trying not to be noticed, hoping to be left alone. So much of my childhood was spent trying to cope with the insidious, if intermittent turmoil of the family around me. I coped by retreating in to myself, by assembling models, by drawing, by watching television, by removing myself as much as possible from the physical world outside our doors.
I never wanted to leave the house. I created an unchanging landscape of days that made solid a ground that always seemed to be in threat of shifting, of altering for the worse in some irreparable way.
I’ve lived most of my life not far from this self-protective shell. I seek comfort in routine and greet change with reluctance and suspicion. Despite knowing that the only constant in life is the endless, shifting cycle of decay and renewal, and despite having the dark knowledge of my own inevitable demise, I subconsciously believe that my routines will make me immortal: If you can make one day much like the next, then surely this chain of days can push endlessly ahead, slowing time to a crawl.
In my late fifties, I’m more aware than ever of the ticking of the clock, of the pages flying from the calendar as in an old movie. I continue to impose routines on my life, sometimes to the detriment of my relationships and never to any great effect.
For the last four and a half years, the child in the basement stopped time. He made a day in 2011 last until the final hours of 2015. Whatever the outcome of my reengagement with the present, I can say at least in that regard, that the project was a success.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 20 (10:04 pm) 3×3″ coloured pencil on board

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Big Picture

Waiting eight hours in a packed emergency room with one’s swollen arm in a sling makes one reassess how life was before one’s elbow slammed into a sidewalk. I write this as I recuperate from surgery for a broken ulna which has left my arm looking and feeling like it was beaten with a mallet until the person beating it became bored with the project. 

Lesson in mortality – January 23, 2015
In my seven years here, I’ve found Montreal’s winters to be a difficult, endless misery and this year’s version has been particularly challenging. As we prepare for a spring move to the slightly less ice-gripped and snow addled city of Toronto, this parting gift from Montreal’s icy sidewalks has given me pause to think over the dispiriting events of the last year and allowed me to place them into a larger life context.
Whenever I’m on the highway, and it cuts through a section of sedimentary rock, I wonder if anyone else imagines how our own bodies will one day be part of that same geological process. We seem to believe that all of the earths ancient systems, like the depositing of mineral or biological matter that comprise these sediments, have somehow paused for our benefit.
I’ve read that if the age of the planet we inhabit was expressed as a twenty four hour clock, human beings come into existence just over one minute to midnight. I remind myself of this every time I’m unnecessarily obsessing over some minute aspect or other of my life. Specifically, the kind of thoughts one has about legacy.
As a kind of balm, I used to think to myself that if no one cared about what I was making as an artist while I was alive, that perhaps when I was dead it would all make sense to someone and my work would achieve some measure of notoriety or at least become a footnote in the discussion of the art of my time.
It’s a pretty harmless way to maintain some momentum. It’s hard to convince yourself to produce work when you feel no one will ever care. Life is about fooling ourselves into believing something matters aside from our inevitable, out of control run down a hill that ends in the ultimate face-plant. Hence our devotion to religion, children, the perfect lawn, a new car, achieving representation at a blue chip gallery or having a painting find its way into a museum collection. 
One Day at Rest, Untitled 13 (6:48 pm) 8X5.5″ acrylic on board
Which is not to say that I find no meaning in life. Through my paintings, I find it in the expression of the feelings and thoughts that are the accumulation of my life. I find it in my involvement with my partner Hayley and her own creative work in her company, Birds of North America. I find it in the daily struggle to maintain some personal dignity in the face of the void.
The exhibition of my ‘One Day at Rest’ series has been derailed by the combined ambivalence of gallery and artist, and the final two pieces that need to be completed suddenly feel like an exercise in futility. Yet another period of reassessment begins.
Perhaps reassessment is a constant state that comes in and out of my conscious brain because I know that life is fluid and ever changing, but I also know that I sometimes beat this thought down in order to maintain some illusion of order amidst the chaos of the universe.
It’s hard to maintain the screw-you-I’ll-do-what-I-want attitude when you also have to deal with the realities and appetites of commercial gallery spaces, but I feel more strongly than ever that I need to be the one in charge. I don’t want to ‘paint to a deadline’ or waste my time on a commission in order to please someone else’s ego.
The whole point of withstanding the mental anguish of a life in the arts is to have some measure of control over one’s life and art. I refuse to relinquish that control to anyone. If this means that all of my life’s efforts in art amount only to a fraction of a layer of sediment on a planet orbiting a dying star, that’s okay. That’s all it will ever amount to anyway. In the big picture, that much is clear.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 15 (9:09 pm) 8X5.5″ acrylic on board

Monday, June 17, 2013



A  friend in Montreal,  Dahn D’Lion, produces a line of printed t-shirts as part of his inclusive initiative ‘We Live Here Too’, a kind of ‘best friends’ club for the disenfranchised of the world. In his own words: ‘Youth, Queers, Vegans, Punks, Artists, DJs, Ballerinas, folks with disabilities, folks with hyper-abilities, and any combination thereof’. I don’t buy many printed t-shirts but this spring, after seeing his inspiring and intelligent video about the meaning behind his shirt ‘Unemployable’, I was moved to make a purchase.

I saw images of the shirt some time before I saw the video and I had developed my own take on the ‘Unemployable’ reference. It seemed to mesh around thoughts I’d been having about the idea of ‘letting go’. Letting go of the stricture of expectations. Letting go of distant, hazy goals, of defining myself today by aiming my efforts at some imaginary, wonderful art-world future. Letting go of even wanting to understand the fickle art market, the often incomprehensible success of other contemporary artists.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 11 (4:34 pm) 2013
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on board

It’s difficult not to be lulled into the warm bath of a ‘thing’ that works. In my case, it was centred-subject portrait paintings of forlorn, forgotten industrial buildings and storefronts. I knew that I had to create a cohesive, identifiable body of work to get where I wanted to go (a particular gallery, O.K. Harris Works of Art in New York) and my enthusiasm for that pursuit sustained me for years. I even achieved my goal. 
Success is a drug. It feels good. People buying your paintings feels good. The money  feels good. The prestige of being represented in New York feels good. This is the warm bath: make a painting, send a jpeg, sell a painting, ship a painting, receive a cheque. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 
Pretend that you fit in. Stop thinking about why you paint. Stop wondering if what you paint is saying what you want it to say. Ignore that most people don’t seem to get what you’re trying to do. Ignore the pit of your stomach feeling that these building portraits no longer mean anything to you and that finding subjects for these paintings is becoming a pain in the ass. Forget that you used to tell yourself that being an artist wasn’t about making money.
Art world goals tend to involve someone or something outside of the artist. The goal tends to be some form of acceptance by peers or collectors or galleries or media or academia or granting organisations. I’ve decided, though not for the first time, that if I have a goal, it’s to produce work that I feel needs to be done, regardless of what anyone else thinks. 

One Day at Rest, Untitled 9 (3:42 pm) 2012

5.5 X 8″ acrylic on board

To me, art is a middle finger aimed at convention, not a cry for acceptance. Too often, the most financially successful artists play the old role of the ‘licensed fool’ in a Renaissance court, having been given bemused permission to behave badly by the reigning art world royalty of blue chip galleries and big city critics. 
My ‘unemployable’ is a statement. You will NOT employ me to further your needs as a curator, gallery owner or director, collector or arts organisation. You CANNOT employ me. I am unemployable.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 7 (1:06 pm) 2012
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on board


Monday, June 11, 2012

Fetishising the Negative


One Day at Rest, Untitled 5 (12:37 pm) 2012
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on board

Montreal has finally slipped the shackles of winter. Only the scars on boulevard trees and the bent iron railings of gates too near the sidewalk to avoid the reckless destruction of countless, clattering mini plows remind us of what has passed.

Winter lingers in my mind until the long days of daylight savings time drive out the darkness. I very easily slide into a dark place in those winter months. The space I reserve in my mind for negative thoughts becomes so easily accessed.

We often carry the effects of negative comments and actions that have been directed at us through our lives. Like a favoured collection I revisit them, as though opening a jewel case, sorting through the scars, running a finger along the edges of damaged tissue.

Of all the myriad unpleasant experiences I could mull over, one seemingly insignificant episode inexplicably rises to my consciousness with some frequency: the nine year old me, making my way home from school, uses a penetrating, newly learned whistle to call to friends a block ahead of me. A class mate, a girl whom I don’t know well, scolds me from across the street: ‘You think you’re so cool!’

The sense of deflation I felt from this remark was probably more extreme than warranted but it must have pierced a particularly sensitive part of my psyche. Was it wrong to stand out? Will people hate me if I do?

I was a precocious, confident child. In the sixties, precocious, confident children were placed in accelerated programs and completed three years of schooling in two years. I was one of six kids in my grade two class who were placed in this program.

By grade five, at age nine, I was already struggling to cope with the social displacement that comes from being younger than one’s group of peers. A late summer birthday meant that some of my classmates, with later birthdays, were almost two years older.

It didn’t take long to fall out of touch with my former classmates in the lower grade. A year with the older students in grade five made them seem impossibly young.

Anxieties always find a way out. The subconscious, internal battles we wage often manifest in debilitating thoughts or actions. The feeling of displacement I had at school, combined with the stress of familial complications made manifest in me mild versions of agoraphobia and body dysmorphia. 

The agoraphobia, from which I occasionally still suffer, is classic ‘fear of the marketplace’, a kind of discomfort or even panic when faced with the chaotic crowds one finds at malls or markets or simply the chaos of the urban environment. Body dysmorphia, simply put, is a condition wherein a person has a preoccupation with perceived shortcomings in their physical being. It’s one in an arsenal of psychological maladies brought about, in part, by depression, anxiety and social withdrawal.

The anxiety of these things can be so strong that I have sometimes developed a limp while walking alone in public. In my mind there are vestigial, critical voices commenting on how I stand, how I walk. My debilitating, self critical analysis interfering with the simplest mechanical systems of my body.

As an offshoot of this, I now have what I jokingly refer to as body-of-work dysmorphia. This is an inability to see one’s work objectively. I constantly struggle to understand where I fit in the art world, to see my work as having value. A finished painting is a new opportunity to question one’s career decisions, one’s worth to society. A chance to revisit the old wounds of rejection.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 6 (7:18 am) 2012
3 X 3″ coloured pencil on board

Society reveres iconoclasts, putting their faces on T-shirts and mugs, quoting them endlessly in print or on the web while simultaneously deriding unusual behaviour in individuals, discouraging any deviation from the norm with the kind of Victorian moralising that ensures we all just become cogs in society’s machine.

I’ve always had a conflicting desire to stand out from the crowd while being wholly fearful of drawing attention to myself. The precocious, confident child still exists in my psyche in remnant form. I’m trying to let it out a little more often now while knowing that anything I do that is unusual or challenging is an invitation to the world to pick it apart.

In that place which is more than just ‘the blues’ but also just shy of despair, I compulsively turn over the accumulation of rejection in my mind. In a strange way, the delicate box that contains my collection of negative thoughts acts as a way of grounding me. Prodding the source of pain is a way of remembering who I am.


Saturday, February 11, 2012



One Day at Rest, Untitled 3 (9:17 am) 2012
5.5 X 8″ acrylic on boardI spent the last month weaning myself off facebook. I went to my home page, checked for messages or notifications, looked at the first couple of posts and left. Do I really need to see what other artists are doing? Is it helpful?Most of my art life has involved selective ignorance. Long before home computers, in the hazy days of my youth, finding out about anything was a chore that involved leaving the house and I rarely left the house for anything but school or street hockey. The few art books that made their way to my consciousness came from my sister who worked at a bookstore. I had undeveloped interests and it pleased her to feed them: Diners, by John Baeder; New Techniques in Egg Tempera, by Robert Vickrey; Ken Danby, by Paul Duval; High Realism in Canada, also by Paul Duval. I didn’t buy or look at art magazines, didn’t know any artists and got most of my visual education through popular sources like newspapers, television and high-end greeting cards.I’ve always drawn or painted: at the kitchen table with the radio blaring while my mother cooked or baked; at the dining room table with my sister, copying the pictures she made for her homework assignments; at the coffee table in the living room with the television blaring. I drew what was at hand: a cigarette lighter; a newspaper masthead; the radio. I incessantly drew hot-rods and other vehicles. We were a car free family in North America and cars were an exotic ‘other’ for me.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 2 (8:15 am) 2011
3 X 3″ Coloured pencils on boardI also spent a lot of time looking out the window, watching planes on their descent to Toronto’s Malton airport or people and traffic going by on our quiet street. The world has always seemed to be something apart from me and I’ve always taken measures, mostly unconscious ones, to protect my mental and physical space in it.Partly in an effort to develop and protect my own system of thinking, I’ve never read artist’s biographies. In my early twenties I bought and began to read a book on Edward Hopper but I didn’t get far. Many of the things he was saying were already in my head and I didn’t want to associate those thoughts and ideas with Hopper, I wanted them to be my own.Although my life as an adult is a little more open to the world, my exposure to art continues to be guarded. What began as a way of protecting my embryonic thoughts from a barrage of challenges has become a kind of identity. In all my trips to New York City, I’ve never been to the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Whitney or the Frick. I’m still not exactly sure what or where the Frick is and I have no real desire to know. There have been no art school ‘crits’ and until facebook, no obsessing over other people’s work.

One Day at Rest, Untitled 4 (7:19 am) 2012
3 X 3″ Coloured pencils on boardThe internet should be a boon to someone who doesn’t like to leave the house but I find it a mixed blessing. My weekly coffee and conversation with artist Randall Anderson has convinced me that some art world discussion is a good thing and can fundamentally change how one perceives one’s own work but the internet’s unlimited access to thousands of other peoples’ career decisions can be confusing.Facebook is my new ‘peering from the window’. Only now, instead of a quiet suburban street, it’s the busiest possible downtown intersection. Logging out of facebook is the equivalent of closing the blinds, leaving me to the comfort of my own thoughts. Even if those same thoughts are in the minds of my peers and have been in the minds of generations of artists before me.A Note on the Drawings:I’ve used a limited palette of colours in the drawings, similar to that of my paintings. Two reds, two blues, yellow and, instead of the mars black of the paintings, a very dark brown.


Friday, October 28, 2011

One Day at Rest, Painting 1


One Day at Rest, Untitled 1 (7:51 am), 2011
8 X 5.5″ acrylic on illustration board

Now that the first painting for ‘One Day at Rest’ is finished, I’m pondering which images from that day will become drawings or etchings, figuring out a handmade book that I might make. I suddenly feel like an artist again instead of a machine for producing photorealist paintings.

I used all manner of materials when I was younger, the different media transforming the ideas I brought to them. What happened? Perhaps I was too eager to define myself. I’ve been so intently focused on producing a cohesive body of work in the last couple of decades, refining the definition of what I do, that I forgot to take time to experiment. The commercial gallery world, where I felt inclined to belong, likes to define things, needs to define things. The simpler the definition, the easier the sale.

Painting is exhausting. It consumes every ounce of concentration I can generate. For me, the end of the day means the end of thinking about art. I need to get away from my desk, blank out, go for a walk, watch television. Late in the evening I’ll think about the day of work I have ahead. In my mind, I go over the areas I’ll be tackling in the morning like a marathon runner crossing the country. Tomorrow, I’ll try to get to Calgary.

I’m excited enough about my new project that it’s dislodged decades of walls I’ve built around what it means for me to be an artist. During the several months that I work on a painting, I’m not sure I can do other things like drawings or prints, but the time between paintings, when I’m usually feeling unsettled, distracted, or guilty about not painting, suddenly seems like the perfect opportunity to experiment.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Way Forward


Digital photo ‘One Day at Rest’ (7:08 am) 02/07/2011.On July second, 2011, I took more than 7,200 photos of a typical summer Saturday in our condo studio in Montreal. Four cameras, covering virtually every square inch of living space, recorded our existence from our waking at 7 am to lights out at 10:30 pm. The digital cameras were mounted surveillance style from the ceiling and at an interval of seven or eight seconds, one of the four cameras would silently record an image. I also carried a voice activated digital sound recorder throughout the day and recorded over eight hours of audio.I plan to produce ten paintings, some drawings, etchings, an audio/video piece and anything else that strikes me as a necessary part of the project. I hope to present it all in the Jim Kempner Fine Art Underground space in New York while I finish off the last painting at my desk in the gallery, performing my daily painting ritual, for the entire run of the show. Any number of things could go wrong with this plan over the next couple of years but at least I have a way forward.‘One Day at Rest’ is an attempt to further explore my perception of honesty, its nature and role in my work, and a more direct attempt at portraying my physical and psychological existence without the distorting filter that results from turning the camera outwards.I’ve spent decades sporadically roaming the streets with my camera, subconsciously searching for subjects that reflected my mental state, my unease with the world. Every subject I painted spoke to me in this way, whether trailers, neon signs or derelict commercial buildings. It took several years to consciously understand that I was searching for a way to reflect my damaged self, except I’d found a way to expose myself to the world without truly giving anything away. I hadn’t intended to perform this psychological dance of the seven veils, I thought at the time I was being pretty direct. I certainly felt the anxiety of the exposed, but a growing awareness of how people perceived my paintings made me realise I was on the wrong track.In a gallery setting, my paintings look vaguely like photographs. Admittedly, like ink-jet photographs printed on cheap paper in fast draft mode. I’ve often explained to someone hustling past the images at an opening ‘By the way, these are paintings, not photographs!’ People would often do a double take and look a little closer but I began to feel that most were saying to themselves, ‘That could be a photo or it could possibly be a painting but I’m not interested enough to care.’ The current dogma of contemporary art appreciation doesn’t seem to allow for a small photo based painting. Ironic, given the preponderance and apparent popularity of rather dull photographs of abstract collages, photographs of paintings and photographs of photographs. I’m puzzled that people don’t seem to ‘get’ the work but I think they’ve been taught that there’s nothing to get.When what I do no longer works for me, it’s time for a change. Art is communication and I feel that my message could do with a little reworking. It’s just an old building, how can I expect anyone to get that it represents my tortured soul, that it speaks of impermanence, mortality, alienation, the nature of and value we place on the production of culture? I’ve been hiding behind a facade, sometimes a literal facade, strangely, and it’s time to change how I show myself to the world.Seventy two hundred photographs of me doing very personal things somehow didn’t make me feel any more exposed than my paintings of buildings or signs. For me, they are the same thing. I hope for the viewer they are something quite different.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sea Change


ABC United Trading Corp. 2011 5.5 X 8″ Acrylic on illustration board.ABC United Trading Corp. will likely be my last storefront for awhile. The changes I’ve made to get my paintings into a different realm in New York have had unexpected consequences. This ongoing process of recontextualisation has led me to a surprising revelation: It appears I’ve driven a car into the desert and run out of gas.I’m not sure when, exactly, I ran out of gas. It may well have been long before I made it to New York for my first show at O.K.Harris in 2004. The twenty year drive to show my work at a good gallery in New York City somehow kept me from knowing that I was no longer inspired by what I painted.The little ringing voices of truth that I imagine occupy a space just above and behind my head are most easily ignored when life is complicated. The more entanglements my life or career has, the more I ignore them. The blessed silence afforded by the odd confluence of a dying American economy, the strange weightlessness of an unsure venture with a new gallery, and my aching disinterest in my own work has finally allowed the voices to be heard above the din of self delusion.Art is self exploration. This fact doesn’t always mesh well with a world that prefers to see culture entwined with commerce. The artist’s understandable preoccupation with the financial insanity of this kind of pursuit and the accompanying deviation from the purity of one’s truth is no longer an option for me. The pressure we place on ourselves, or allow others to place on us, to proceed along a predetermined path to ‘success’ has the effect of eliminating from our lives the insignificant seeming non sequitur, the chance encounter which changes one’s entire direction. I think I know now that there isn’t a goal. Only a direction to take and reevaluate when necessary. This is a journey whose length is indeterminate and unknowable and ends only when we ourselves end.I can choose to find some gas and continue on or I can leave the car in the desert and find another road out. The immense relief I feel as I walk away in another direction is the answer to the question ‘Have I done the right thing?’


Monday, April 4, 2011

Living in Exile


Petemar Enterprises 2011, 5.5 X 8″ acrylic on illustration board.I’ve made two significant geographical moves in my life. The first, in 1989, from Toronto, Ontario to Victoria, B.C. (3397 kilometres). The second, in 2008, from Victoria back east to Montreal, Quebec (3733 km). Both moves gave me a sense of living in exile in one way or another. Both were largely financially driven but each also had an element of escape. The first, escape from the fold of family, old patterns of expectation, the ‘didn’t I know you in high school?’ encounter. The second, a licking of mid-life wounds, an almost random stab at the map for a new place to start again.Perhaps the urge to move on is an inherited trait. My parents became postwar, economic exiles of Scotland when they made the difficult decision to move to Canada in 1950. Canada was a place of employment opportunities and where one could buy a dozen eggs if one wanted. The latter was no small consideration for a young family living in postwar food-rationed Glasgow. My father never fully committed his heart to Canada despite spending a large majority of his life here. ‘Home’ for him was more than 5,000 kilometres from the house he shared with us. In a way, he never fully committed to the idea of a home with a wife and three children either. He once remarked to me as we stood looking at the backyard of the house I grew up in, ‘This would be good place to raise a family.’ I thought, ‘Actually, it was. Where the hell were you?’Sometimes the moving on comes before one is actually ready to leave. Over the last year or two I’ve struggled to understand my place in the art world and tried to sort out why I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the ‘photorealist’ label, despite the obvious connection my work has to the genre. I know that I’ve moved on but I’ve had trouble falling into step with my new surroundings. Exile is the removal of oneself from the realm of interest that so possesses the person in exile. The removal, which can heighten one’s desire to engage the mind with what was left behind can also, over time, allow for a dampening of the passions. So it is with my dying interest in photorealism.Montreal isn’t home yet but it probably will be before long. ‘Moving on’ is more of a psychological transformation than a change in one’s address. It’s easy to pack a truck and move oneself physically but the ties one has to a place aren’t so easy to shake from the mind.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Painting: ‘House on Marconi’


House on Marconi 2010, 5.5 X 8″ acrylic on illustration board.It’s an odd sensation painting something that one walks by everyday. The subject of ‘House on Marconi’ sits only a few yards from our front door. Over the last few months, during the daily dog walk, I’ve occasionally been tempted to check out details that were unclear in the source photograph but I mostly avoided looking too hard. There’s an awkward creepiness in paying so much furtive attention to someone else’s house. It’s not unlike developing an obsessive crush on the person who makes your soy latte every morning. Not that I would know anything about that.Being so deeply immersed in a subject, as one is when spending three months painting it, is an unusual experience. All the more unusual given the prosaic nature of the subject. No one in the ‘real’ world ever spends that much time considering such a quotidian scene. I have a complicated, subconscious response to my subjects that feels almost physical. It may be the sense of desolation or the inherent, sad beauty of the unremarkable facades but I get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when confronted by the scenes that become paintings. They act as clues to some long buried personal mystery, each one giving a sense of bringing me closer to resolution but never delivering a result.As I sort through my slides looking for the subject of my next painting, I have to constantly remind myself that it’s the pit-of-my-stomach, anxiety-disorder, existential aloneness that I’m painting, not old houses, storefronts, or my neighbourhood. Certain examples of these things can trigger in me the feeling I’m wanting to explore but aren’t, in and of themselves, a reason to paint.





For the WILLIAM LINE PART TWO,  we focus  on  the same generation as Linda Towne but a different branch.  The line is WILLIAM > Ewen > Ewen/Sheila > and three great grandchildren. 

The first, Bill MacCormick, has been active in three principal roles –  musician, politician and author.  As you will find in the Web, there are many articles  on his and his brother’s musical careers.  I have chosen one for Bill which may provide details  of greater interest to   readers. .   (The piece on Bill’s  brother, Ian, who is cited in this article, will follow.)


© Copyright 2011

“Thank you very much for this interview. I would like to know what were some of your very first influences in music. In fact if you can tell me a few words about your childhood and teen years.

Born in London in April 1951.

Older brother Ian went on to become the Assistant Editor of the New Musical Express in c.1971.  He wrote under the name Ian MacDonald (that way he could review things I was on!) and later wrote ‘Revolution in the Head’ about the Beatles (4 editions), ‘The People’s Music’, ‘The New Shostakovich’ (2 editions).  He committed suicide in 2003.

Went to Dulwich College in 1963 (a ‘public school’ which, in England, is a private school) where I met Phil Targett-Adams (now Manzanera.  His mother was Colombian and that is her maiden name).  Ian also went to Dulwich (1961).

Grew up watching ‘Ready Steady Go’ on TV and other pop music programmes.  First records bought were singles and EPs by The Shadows then moved onto the Beatles, Beach Boys, Tamla, Soul, R&B, Folk music, etc.  My uncle played us a lot of classical music (Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc.,).  Ian got into things like Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis which I also listened to.

In 1966 my mother met Honor Wyatt.  They both were teaching assistants at Dulwich College Preparatory School.  Honor was Robert’s mother.  We were invited to a party in Kingston in August at a place owned by Idries Shah of the Sufis where we first heard Soft Machine (it was their first gig under this name).  Idries Shah was a friend of the poet Robert Graves who was a friend of Honor’s which was why they were asked to play.  I’d never seen a band live before and it was amazing.

The Softs were living at Honor’s house at 48, Dalmore Road, West Dulwich near to Dulwich College (and on my route to school).  Honor invited Ian and me and my parents round for dinner one day. An interesting culture clash for my very straight parents and the members of Soft Machine and their girlfriends.  Ian started writing Robert letters about music and he sent back postcards (still have them somewhere) and then I started calling in on the way back from school where I’d stare at their equipment (they used to rehearse in the front room much to the annoyance  of the neighbours) and then go upstairs and drink tea and chat to Robert and listen to music, mainly jazz.  Ian used to have long talks to Daevid Allen about all sorts of esoteric stuff.

As a result my musical education was radically and swiftly broadened.  We were lucky to have a very good record library nearby and soon Messiaen, Berg, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, etc., was being played at home along with Rubber Soul and other mainstream pop.

Meanwhile, Phil T-A (as he was known) had bought a red Hofner Galaxie electric guitar and was playing with some friends of his at school but, about this time, we started hanging out and the idea of our own group emerged.

In college you had a project that later became Quiet Sun. How did it all began?

The band Phil and I formed in late 1967 (I was the singer) was called (courtesy of my brother) Pooh and the Ostrich Feather.  We messed about a lot with various other guys until someone told us about a young man in the year below who had his own drum kit.  His name was Charles Hayward.  We invited him round to Phil’s mum’s house where he set up a huge, red glitter, double bass drum Premier kit.  He immediately became a member of the band.  Charles was already a great drummer having been given lessons for some time.  We found another guitarist and a series of bass players and rehearsed a variety of material: Somebody to Love by the Jefferson Airplane, Spoonful (Cream), Born in Chicago (Paul Butterfield), 7 and 7 is (Love), i.e. a range of songs from our favourite bands.  Two guys raided the science block at school and we soon had our own psychedelic light show.  We played our first public performance at a thing called the ‘Summer Miscellany’ which was a general arts show put on by the boys in the Great Hall at Dulwich.  We played three songs including, for the first time, an original called Marcel my Dada written by Charles and Phil.  We would regularly play around the school in various rooms and halls taking over the Swimming Baths Hall (drained during the winter) on several occasions and playing to several hundred kids from schools around the area.  We also played some church halls and at parties.

I left Dulwich in July 1969 having deliberately failed my final exams so I wouldn’t have to go to University as my parents hoped.  Ian was, by now, at Kings College, Cambridge where he last for a year before he came down to join the NME.

During this time I followed Soft Machine round every gig they played in and around London.  They had spent most of 68 in North America supporting Jimi Hendrix on an interminable tour and, when they got back, Kevin Ayers disappeared and Hugh Hopper (and, for a time, Andy Summers later of The Police) joined.  I generally spent most of my time and my little money buying albums, going to gigs and reading the Melody Maker.  Robert came back from the US with a list of bands we had to listen to: Spirit, Mothers of Invention, Velvet Underground, CTA (as they were then known, later Chicago) and we had already latched onto the Airplane, Quicksilvers, Dead, Love, Doors as well as being swept along by the Beatles, Pet Sounds and other stuff.

Phil left Dulwich in December 69 and we both got temporary jobs whilst working out what to do next.  Charles had another year at Dulwich.  I fancied being a drummer and bought a drum kit and, for a time, we carried on with Pooh with two drummers.  Then Charles left school and we concentrated on trying to get a proper band together.  We advertised for a keyboard player, bass player and sax player.  Dave Jarrett, who had also been to Dulwich but was several years older, answered the keyboard problem, a guy fresh out of the British Army briefly became the sax/flute player (he left because he needed to earn some serious money) and no-one answered the bass player ad.  We had a bass guitar lying around so, in order for us to be able to rehearse, I started to learn the bass lines.  The instrument seemed to suit me so I stuck with it and became the permanent bass player.

Richard Williams wrote a short piece about us in the Melody Maker after hearing a demo tape we recorded (one piece by Phil, another by my brother).  Warner Bros sent us off to a rehearsal studio in the country where we recorded some more demos but, ultimately (mid 71) we were running out of steam and options and money.  We had, however, played a gig at Portsmouth Polytechnic supporting Symbiosis in which Robert was playing.  At the end of the gig we were invited on stage to jam with them.  Robert had never heard me play but something caught his eye because, when he left Soft Machine and Quiet Sun broke up, he asked me to join the as yet unnamed Matching Mole.  Phil, in the meantime, had answered the famous Roxy Music small ad in the Melody Maker (and the rest of that is history).

In 1975 you released legendary Mainstream album. What are your strongest memories from the recording session and the production of the LP? What can you tell me about the cover artwork?

In September 1974 (Matching Mole broke up in September 72,  later that year I was briefly a member of Gong [for about a week] and then really did nothing apart from play on two tracks on Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets) I had decided to give up on music and I went back to college to get the exams I had failed deliberately in 1969.  The plan was to go to university to read politics and I had a place at the London School of Economics.  Half way through the first term Phil announced his plans for his first solo album (Diamond Head) but said he wanted to record a Quiet Sun album at the same time.  Basically, we would go into the studio at about 10 pm each night and work into the early hours.  We managed to get hold of Dave Jarrett and did a few rehearsals (which sounded remarkably good) before starting in Studio 2 at Basing Street Studios.  John Wetton very generously leant me his white Fender Precision for the duration.  Because of the time constraints most of the tracks were first or second takes.  Eno and my brother would hang around to make useful comments and Eno introduced Dave Jarrett to the joys of synths.  Most of the tracks were ones we had played as Quiet Sun back in 1970/71 but Wrong Rong was a piece Charles had written late on and we had never played this as a band.  We needed some more music so Charles played the piano track, did the singing and added some drums.  Other than that I was the only other person who played throughout the song and the solo in this song is probably my favourite piece of my own bass playing. (Link to a recording of this piece can be found at ) The whole time was hugely enjoyable and fuelled by nothing more than large quantities of rather stewed black coffee.  We were seriously indebted to the engineer Rhett Davies who did a fabulous job on both albums.

The cover was done from a Cambridge friend of my brother’s, Nigel Soper, who was a graphic artist (he designs high end art and photography books now).  Quiet Sun refers to an astronomical event Ian saw written about somewhere entitled ‘The International Year of the Quiet Sun’, i.e. a time when solar flares were rather restrained.  Nigel found the picture for the cover in an early 20th century French book and the picture was supposed to indicate the relative size of an asteroid or something like that to the city of Paris.  He hand coloured it and we all loved it.

You wrote the song Mummy was an asteroid, daddy was a small non-stick kitchen utensil. Writing and playing such music requires a fair amount of theoretical knowledge. Are you a self-thought bass player? And how did you choose the title for that song?

All of us taught ourselves to write our musical ideas down ‘properly’ but any knowledge we had was gained from music theory books.  Charles was the only member of the band who had lessons and who could read a music score (for percussion at least).  We did things like get the scores of classical music from the library and read those whilst listening to the music.  It helped give us a basic grounding in music theory (though my brother took this a lot further).  I ‘learned’ to play bass by playing the parts of the Quiet Sun tracks which required a reasonable amount of speed and dexterity (I used to sit and do scales for hours) but I rarely picked up on the basic rock and roll and blues bass parts that most people started out from.  I had to learn some these in a rush a bit later on.  There was no need for these in Matching Mole and I was happy just make up bass parts as I went along.  Hugh Hopper, when Mole did their last tour supporting Soft Machine in summer 72, helped me with some exercises he used but these really were aimed at either speed/accuracy or interesting scales rather than ‘the bass line for a three chord blues goes like this’.

‘Mummy’ was originally entitled ‘Dog’ (I still have the original handwritten score somewhere).  When we were in the control room at Basing Street the title ‘Mummy was a Maoist, Daddy was a running dog capitalist lackey of the bourgeoisie’ came into my head.  My brother shook his head and the next moment the final title was being scrawled on a piece of paper.  No idea where it came from except that I was reading a lot of Philp K Dick sci-fi at the time so we’ll blame him.

Matching Mole released debut in 1972 and soon after second album called Little Red Record. Can you tell me what were the circumstances behind this two releases. On the second one Robert Fripp was the producer, right?

Who did the cover artwork for albums?

When Robert invited me to join his new band the line-up was to be him, me, David Sinclair (who had recently left Caravan) and Phil Miller ex-Delivery.  We rehearsed in a small mews house off Portobello Road that Robert had bought.  We played all sorts of things:  some of David’s Caravan material, Moon in June, Beware of Darkness by George Harrison, Los Vegas Tango by Gil Evans and some parts written by Robert and Phil which eventually found their way on to Mole 1.  New Zealand born keyboard player Dave Macrae popped by on occasions.  We were offered some studio time by CBS in their old studio off Oxford Street and started recording at the end of December 71.  In the meantime, someone stole my lovingly restored Fender Precision and the only bass I could find in London was a Gibson EB3.  We recorded through January and February in a dreadfully cold studio where the multi-track kept going wrong.  We often had to move to another studio near Marble Arch to keep going.  In addition, there was a miners’ strike and there were regular power cuts.  We were still finishing off the album in early March because of all of these problems.

We started playing live on the 22nd February and soon found the money available in Europe was far better than in the UK, often ten times better.  We played in Holland, Belgium and France as much as possible and supported John Mayall on his UK and French tours.  Dave Macrae replaced David Sinclair early on (though we played a few gigs with both of them) and soon everyone (but, looking back, not Robert) was writing material for the band.  Robert asked Robert Fripp to produce the second album and he came down to see us rehearse a few times.  Unfortunately, at the time, Phil Miller seemed a bit in awe of Fripp and this affected the recording of at least one song.  We went into the new, heated CBS Studios for the first time on 14th August 72 and recorded the album in nine days breaking off to play the Bilzen Jazz Festival in the middle.  I asked Eno to do the synth effects on Gloria Gloom having met him when I went to see Roxy recording their first album at Command Studios.  He was happy to oblige and, I may be wrong as they had the same management company, but it seemed this was the first time Fripp and Eno had worked together.  We were helped out by the Mutter Korus on several tracks: actress Julie Christie (my teen heart throb and the Flora Fidgit of the title track), Alfreda Benje, ‘Alfie’, Robert’s then partner now wife (Gloria Gloom) and David Gayle a friend of Julie and Alfie’s.  [Alfie was Julie’s best friend and Julie came to see us play on several occasions which was quite disconcerting for me.  Gloria Gloom was Julie’s nickname for Alfie and Flora Fidget Alfie’s nickname for Julie].

Phil’s apparent issue with Fripp came to a head on the track Flora Fidgit where, with the technical wizard Fripp looking on, Phil found it difficult to play the guitar part (which is missing on the album).  Looking back I feel more could have been done to put Phil at his ease and, frankly, none of us really helped.  But there you go.  Anyway, the album was finished on 31st August, we played the Queen Elizabeth Hall to a sell out crowd, went to Europe and supported Soft Machine around Belgium and Holland and, on the morning after the last show in Groningen, Robert announced he was winding up the band.  To this day I don’t know why.  We had lots of dates booked in the UK and Europe, a good new album awaiting release, some good coverage in the press and were doing the business on stage.  Phil and I toyed with the idea of keeping something going but he eventually went off to join Hatfield and the North and I auditioned for and was accepted by Gong but not for long (see above).  After a week staying out in the middle of France at the end of October with only the clothes I stood up in and with no French to speak of I called it quits and came home.

I’ll have to check on the names for the artwork but Little Red Record’s design came from a People’s Republic of China postcard Robert had found somewhere which was entitled ‘We are determined to liberate Taiwan!’.

The style of Matching Mole could be described as decadent in music. Do you agree with that?

Decadent?  Never heard that description before.  Chaotic, on occasions, self-indulgent, on occasions, really quite good on other occasions but decadent?  Not that I can see.

I would like if you could share experience you had as in 801…

The 801 project was really just a way of filling in time in the summer of 76 pending the completion of Listen Now.  Everyone, except Lloyd Watson, was involved on that album and when Phil said ‘why don’t we do some gigs?’ it seemed like a good idea.  We rehearsed at a studio in Island’s offices in Hammersmith but, prior to that, Phil, Eno, my brother and I went down and stayed in a small house near Ludlow in Shropshire and we kicked around ideas for songs.  We put together a short list of material from Phil’s, Quiet Sun and Eno’s albums and then I suggested Tomorrow Never Knows when we were trying to come up with something different.  EG Management, Roxy’s managers, put together appearances at a series of festivals in France together with three in the UK.  France, though, was where the serous money was.  Then there was a riot at a festival in Orange and all the other festivals were banned.  Because of this, and to make financial sense of the project, Phil got the Island Mobile down to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.  We recorded the concert and basically mixed it in about a week and it was released about six weeks later.  It still sells surprisingly well and the recent double CD boxed set seems to have gone down well.

I would like to hear if you could share some interesting stories from the time when you were touring with Matching Mole and Quiet Sun? Where was your touring territory?

As they say about Vegas, what goes on tour, stays on tour.  Every band had its good and its bad moments (except the 801 when it was all good).  Mole did great gigs at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Olympia in Paris, Greens Playhouse in Glasgow and the QEH in London.  Our appearance at the Reading Festival was pretty poor.  I got catastrophically drunk in Amsterdam once (that was enough), resisted the efforts of the road crew to get me stoned (again in Amsterdam) and had my hand held before the gig at the QEH by Julie Christie which made me more nervous than going on stage.  Other things happened at other gigs.  But we won’t go into that.

What happened after the 801?

After the 801 I continued working with Phil and Eno.  I played on some tracks on Before and After Science and some other stuff which appeared on Music for Films.  I also did a session with Eno and several members of Can at Basing Street Studios but I have no idea what happened to that.  We basically jammed for a couple of hours.

When we finished Listen Now, on which I played throughout and co-wrote several songs, in 1977 we toured with another version of the 801 with Phil, me, Paul Thompson from Roxy, Dave Skinner on keyboards and another ex-Dulwich boy, Simon Ainley on guitar and vocals.  He had been the singer we plucked from nowhere to sing on Listen Now.  We did a month’s worth of touring round the UK, recording the gig at Manchester University where Andy Mackay and Kevin Godley and Lol Crème (10cc) guested.  Eddie Jobson appeared when we played at Hull and did ‘Out of the Blue’.  Then I wrote and played on Phil’s album K-Scope but, just as we were finishing that the word came that Roxy Music were reforming and the album was finished in a bit of a rush.

In the meantime, Simon Ainley had gone off to join a band made up of yet more ex-Dulwich musicians.  The band was called Random Hold and it had been formed by David Rhodes (who went on to work extensively with Peter Gabriel) and David Ferguson.  I knew all of them and was eventually persuaded to join the band and pay for all of the expenses.  We struggled to get any interest until a friend, Alan Jones from the Melody Maker, came to see us rehearse and two weeks later he printed an enormous article, both centre pages going onto a third, which changed everything.  Suddenly everyone wanted to be our friend and I negotiated a recording contract with Polydor with a large advance.  A few days after we signed we played a place called the Rock Garden in London and Peter Gabriel, his manager Gail Colson and the manager of Genesis, Tony Smith, turned up.  Gail became our manager and we signed a publishing deal with Tony Smith.  Peter wanted to produce our album but we needed to record his own album (Games without frontiers, Biko) and though we spent a week with him playing some of his new material we were eventually produced by Peter Hammill (Van der Graff Generator) who was also managed by Gail Colson.  We spent two weeks at Startling Studios (owned by Ringo Starr and previously owned by John Lennon. It was where the video for Imagine was filmed) and then moved to another place to mix the album.  Peter Hammill took too much control of this process, in my opinion, and I left him to it.  The album was not as good as we hoped and, after touring supporting XTC we were dropped by Polydor.  A small label in the US picked up on us though and we supported Gabriel in the UK and North America on his 1980 tour.  He introduced us every night and was very good to us but, when we got back, the two Davids sacked me which was not a clever move as I was still owed a lot of money.  I cleaned out the bank account (with Gail and Tony’s approval) and the band folded.

A double album was later released on vinyl and in 2001 I organised the release of a double and single CD which comprised the studio recordings, all of our demos and stuff recorded live in Ottawa and Philadelphia.  2,000 of each were pressed and they sold out.  They are no longer available.

Although the two Davids had sacked me it wasn’t personal and I helped produce some demos for David Rhodes before he went off to join Gabriel and I managed a new version of Random Hold after being asked by David Ferguson, but I had lost interest and, in 1981, I left the music business and went into politics.  I was employed by the Liberal Party until 1989, then became a director of a market research company which did all of the Liberal Democrats research.  In 1988, after contracting pneumonia, I was diagnosed with a blood condition called haemochromatosis which has caused me several other problems and I was forced to retire.  Since then I have self-published two books about the First World War, a subject I have been interested in for the past 25 years.  I also helped Phil Manzanera with his web site on occasions.

You’ve known Robert Wyatt almost your entire life. What was it like working with him? What exactly happened after the accident?

Robert, along with my brother, were the two most important musical influences on me.  I can never thank him enough for having sufficient faith in me to be a member of Matching Mole.  I would have left the music business in 1971 except for him.  Working with Robert was always fun and funny.  Lots of laughs off stage and fantastic enjoyment on stage.  We see one another every now and then but it’s like we’ve been in touch regularly whenever we meet.  Last time I saw him was after he’d been given a Gold Badge by the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers.  We sat outside his hotel overlooking Green Park and talked for a couple of hours.  As ever, fun and funny.

After Mole broke up Robert did some one-off gigs with people like Kevin Ayers, Hatfield and the North and Francis Monkman (ex-Curved Air).  Alfie then got a job in Venice working on the Nick Roeg film Don’t Look Now (starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) and Robert went with her.  He took a small portable keyboard on which he wrote several of the songs that would later appear on Rock Bottom.  We exchanged postcards and I pestered him a bit about reforming Matching Mole which he eventually agreed to.  By the end of May, the new line-up, Robert, me, Gary Windo on saxes and Francis Monkman got together to hear Robert’s new material.  We also had a meeting with Richard Branson about signing to the new Virgin Records.  A few days later, Saturday, 1st June, Robert went off to a party in Maida Vale for Lady June and Gilli Smyth.  I was invited but didn’t go.  I was called the following morning to be told Robert had fallen out of a window.  My first instinct was he must be dead because I thought he fallen out of a window in Alfie’s flat.  She lived on the 22nd floor of a building called Hermes Point north of Notting Hill. Then I remembered the party and discovered he’d fallen three floors into a basement, narrowly missing a set of iron spiked railings.  He was so drunk he was very relaxed when he hit the ground otherwise he’d probably have died.  His spine was severed quite low down.  He was taken to a specialist spinal hospital at a place called Stoke Manderville in Buckinghamshire,  I visited as often as possible but I couldn’t drive and it was three train journeys and a long walk.  On the other hand, I had nothing else to do.  I stopped playing, got some dead end jobs and, the following year decided to resume my education until rescued by Phil Manzanera.

In 1975 I was very fortunate that, after the Quiet Sun/Diamond Head sessions, Robert, who appeared on Diamond Head, invited me to play on Ruth is Stranger than Richard soon afterwards.  We had a great week up at the Manor in Oxfordshire with Laurie Allen, Gary Windo, George Khan and Eno and that confirmed to me I should give music another try.  Soon afterwards I started working with Phil Manzanera and my brother on the songs that would form Listen Now.  I last played with Robert in about 1978 when I played on a single he did for Rough Trade: Caimenera/Arauco.  It was basically just Robert, me and Harry Beckett on trumpet.

Since you played in bands that were more or less avantgarde at the time, do you think music is devolving since the progressive era?

Although, for reasons not entirely clear to me, some of the stuff I have been done has been tagged as ‘progressive’ I have never really been into that sort of music.  Indeed, I didn’t really listen to much rock music throughout the 70s when I was active.  Lots of other stuff: jazz, classical, world music.  As time has passed I have found less and less to interest me in current music.  Stuff like Radiohead and Coldplay I enjoy but not a great deal else. What saddens me beyond belief though is the decline in American black music.  After the stellar wonders of Stax and Tamla and the rest, the recent dreadful sexist, misogynistic crap that stands to represent Black music is a terrible let down.  I am sure there is certainly some good and interesting music being made out there somewhere but now, in the main, I prefer to read and write.

All your life you’ve been working with music. Was there a moment in your life when you realized music is what you want to do in your life?

Seeing Soft Machine for the first time at the Idries Shah party was one of those moments as was attending the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace in 1967.  But what made me determined to be a professional musician rather than to play about at it was attending the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in June 1970. Jefferson Airplane played and dozens of other groups but it was so bloody uncomfortable and the conditions so bad I vowed that if I ever went to another music festival I would be on stage and not in the audience.

You had been working with several other well known Canterbury musicians. Is there a particular project or person you liked working with the most?

Every project I’ve been involved in was special in some way and brought its different rewards.  I’ve been fortunate to play with some fantastic drummers – Robert, Charlie Hayward, Simon Phillips, Paul Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Bill Bruford amongst others – and enjoyed every minute of it.  Matching Mole was fantastically liberating.  801 started taking me into rather more ‘normal’ bass playing territory.  Overall, Robert and Phil Manzanera are the two musicians I have worked with most and, I suppose, there must be reason for that.  Perhaps they just couldn’t get rid of me.

Thank you again for your time and effort, Bill. Would you like to share anything else that I didn’t ask?

I think I’ve probably written way too much already.”


Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011

© Copyright 2011


As to Bill’s political activities, he worked  for the Liberal Democrats and for the developers of the Polly, a then rival in the Liberal Democrats to EARS Electoral software and then in market research. He later was elected a Liberal Democrat  councillor for the Anerley ward of the London Borough of Bromley.


The third role is one in  which  Bill MacCormick  is  still fully engaged – that of researcher and author of books examining  a most  tragic period of the tragedy that was World War One.  Note that like his brother. Bill has chosen to write under a pen name, Alan MacDonald. 

Here is Bill’s own description of the first of his published books including   an explanation   of the family sources of his keen interest in the subject.

Pro Patria Mori - Revised Edition

Pro Patria Mori - Revised Edition



1. Planning the ‘Big Push’ (read excerpt)
2. “A Small Modern Fortress”
3. “The Very Devil”
4. May 1916
5. June 1st to June 23rd *
6. The Artillery Programme (read excerpt)
7. The Bombardment: U Day to Y2 Day (read excerpt)
8. Z Day: 0500 – 0730
9. Z Day: 0730 – 0830
10. Z Day: 0830 – 1200 (read excerpt) *
11. Z Day: 1200 – 1430
12. Z Day: 1430 – 1630
13. Z Day: 1630 – 1930
14. Z Day: The Evening and Beyond *
15. Prisoners of War *
16. Casualties (read excerpt) *
17. The Aftermath (read excerpt)
18. Postscript
19. Fallen at Gommecourt *
Appendix 1: British Order of Battle
Appendix 2: German Order of Battle
Appendix 3: 56th Division casualties
Appendix 4: The Battlefield now
Appendix 5: Contemporary Newspaper Reports of the Attack
Appendix 6: Roll of Honour of the 56th (1st London) Division
Appendix 7: Prisoners of War *
Appendix 8: Roll of Honour of the 2nd Guard Reserve Division 

Appendix 9: Details of Cemeteries & Memorials mentioned

Chapters and Appendices marked * are new to the revised edition of ‘Pro Patria Mori’ or have been greatly expanded.

About ‘Pro Patria Mori’

A significantly revised and expanded edition of ‘Pro Patria Mori’ was published in August 2008.

The main changes to the book are:

  1. An entirely new chapter on the appalling treatment and experiences of British Prisoners of War and an additional appendix listing all known PoWs
  2. A Roll of Honour of the German defenders of the 2nd Guard Reserve Division
  3. A vastly expanded ‘Fallen at Gommecourt’ section which now contains nearly 200 photographs of men who died at Gommecourt
  4. A significant number of additional stories drawn from personal memoires of the battle
  5. In all, the book is now 180 pages longer (at 716 pages) and now has over 300 photographs, maps and plans

I have been actively interested in the Great War since we discovered the diary my grandfather kept during 1915 and 1916 when he was in the 1/20th London Regt (Blackheath and Woolwich). During this time he fought at Loos, was promoted Sergeant and was eventually commissioned into the 1/4th London Regiment to replace casualties suffered during the attack on Gommecourt on 1st July 1916. This was my first link with this action.

Missing at Gommecourt

Later, I discovered a second and more personal link – an uncle of my mother had been killed at Gommecourt. 4540 Rfm Charles Robert Tompson from Watford joined the 1/9th London Regt (Queen Victoria’s Rifles) on the outbreak of war. At 7.30 a.m. on Saturday, 1st July 1916 he climbed out of the British trenches opposite the village of Gommecourt and trudged forward with the rest of the battalion towards the German barbed wire. Charles Tompson was never seen again. He is one of the ‘Missing of the Somme’ whose name is recorded on the massive Thiepval Memorial that sits glowering over the battlefield from the heights above the River Ancre.

The First Day on the Somme

Inspired by Martin Middlebrook’s seminal work ‘The First Day on the Somme’ I had been a regular visitor to the Somme battlefields but Gommecourt was one village I had always passed by, thinking it a ‘sideshow’ to the big battles further south. But, determined to find out more about Charles Tompson and his mates, I started to research the battle. As a result, I became increasingly obsessed with the tragic sacrifice of so many men in what was a mere diversionary attack designed to deflect attention away from the main Somme offensive.

Six year’s work

‘Pro Patria Mori’ is the result of over six year’s research into the 56th Division’s attack on Gommecourt. It is based on nearly 90 War Diaries and other official documents held at the National Archives; over 60 personal recollections, collections of letters and other material held variously at the Imperial War Museum, Liddle Collection (Leeds University) and the National Army Museum; and over 50 published books including several German unit histories.

Fully indexed and with more than twenty maps and photographs the book covers in detail everything that happened in the Spring and early Summer of 1916. From the initial planning by Haig and Rawlinson, through the preparation of the artillery programme, to the attack itself, everything is comprehensively covered. In addition, the treatment of the thousands of wounded is described in detail along with the fall-out from the battle as senior officers attempted to justify the sacrifice of nearly 7,000 men in action which was designed, but failed, to serve no other purpose than to divert guns and men away from the main Somme offensive.

Privately printed

‘Pro Patria Mori’ is privately printed. You can believe this or not, but two publishers were interested in publishing the book but only if it were cut by nearly 50%. I am not interested in editing on this scale and have decided that I would rather risk the cost of printing myself than see the book effectively neutered. You can see some short excerpts by clicking on the chapter links in the Contents box.

The revised edition of the book is now over 700 pages long with over 300 maps, plans and photographs.   You can buy ‘Pro Patria Mori’ by following this link .

Alan MacDonald

© Alan MacDonald 2006/7/8. All rights reserved. No publication without permission.


Here follows a review of the second in the series.

A Lack of Offensive Spirit

The 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt 1st July 1916Alan MacDonaldPublished by Iona Books February 2008ISBN 978-0-9558119-0-6Reviewed by Wayne Young“A Lack of Offensive Spirit” comes as a welcome companion to “Pro Patria Mori” published in 2006 by the same author (and WFA member) Bill MacCormick (writing under the family pseudonym Alan MacDonald). It records the actions of the 56th London Division at Gommecourt on the 1st July 1916. The current book completes the story by describing the actions of the 46th North Midland Division, and their part in that tragic diversion.The book begins with the pre war origin and social make up of this North Midland territorial Division, and goes on to describe their old volunteer beginnings and links to communities throughout the black country, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. The early chapters complete the formation of the division and its embarkation to France, and early trench experience, culminating in its baptism of fire at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, at the end of the battle of Loos in October 1915. The move to the Somme comes soon after an unpleasant spell relieving the French on Vimy Ridge.The narrative now concentrates in detail on the division’s experiences in the line at Gommecourt. The story is followed in diary form throughout May and June, use of the various unit war diaries emphasising the huge efforts made to prepare the sector for the coming offensive. Outstanding use of the Field Ambulance records are made to reveal the high levels of sickness suffered throughout the division, further hampering the preparation required. The role of the artillery comes under the same spotlight with extensive research revealing delayed battery position preparation and ammunition firing returns falling short of planned expenditure. Frequent gun failure is also revealed, all explaining the short comings of the preliminary bombardment.The heart of the book covers the assault by the infantry, this is arranged by brigade. Ample use is made of IGN present day maps overlaid with the trenches, coupled with present day photographs of the ground, help to keep the reader orientated. The text is vivid and detailed, with the emphasis firmly on the fighting men. I particularly liked the foot note biographies of the officers and men featured in the text. Equally useful and illuminating are the extended biographies of the senior generals. Rather like his original book, this is a similar passionate labour of love, and unfettered by publishing constraints, it pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in views and opinions expressed on the conduct of the commanders and their decisions taken during that fateful day.Following the fighting the story moves to the aftermath, and subsequent enquiry into the Division’s failure at Gommecourt. The author unveils a rich seam of survivors’ accounts, and concludes with the bitter personal post war efforts of the divisional commander Stuart Wortley to restore his reputation. The closing chapters deal with the casualties, with exhaustive battalion rolls of officers and men. To conclude the book there are numerous appendices including a fascinating account of the post battlefield clearance and resulting re-burials. Also there is a very useful battlefield and cemetery guide, as well as an excellent order of battle, a bibliography and last but by no means least, a comprehensive index.This book deserves to be widely read for a number of reasons; it completes the story of an often neglected part of the first day on the Somme history, and it is extremely well researched providing deep insights into all aspects of the planning and execution of the assault. The 46th division erected several battlefield memorials after the war, indeed a new memorial has been placed near the Hohenzollern redoubt, on the old Loos battlefield, this book will help to increase knowledge, appreciation and remembrance of the first territorial division to join the BEF in France and Belgium.—————————————————————————–A few months ago, Bill sent me an email with a report on his current   research and writings.

“For information, I had another book published back in 2014: Z Day, 1st July 1916 – the Attack of the VIII Corps at Beaumont Hamel and Serre (  Same day, just a bit further south J   This one contains something of interest to Canadian (if not American) readers as it contains an account of the infamous destruction of the 1st Newfoundland Regt., on 1st July 1916.

“Being a sucker for punishment I currently have four different books on the go – broadly all on the same subject. Nothing if not focussed. Two should be out later this year and they cover the planning of the Somme from both the British and French perspectives as well as another volume which attempts to explain why and how the British and French found themselves there and the variations in tactics, equipment and results. Goes all the way back to the Franco-Prussian War! I plan to cover the rest of the Somme front, including the French, in 4-5 more books as per the Gommecourt ones over the next 4-5 years. Two are partially written and 90% of the research done. It keeps me off the streets.”

The second great grandchild of the WILLIAM LINE in this segment is Ian MacCormick, Bill’s elder brother.  You will find him on the Web under his pen name of Ian MacDonald.    Tragically Ian died in 2003.  Here I follow my practice of  using  the obituary as the means of describing his career as author and musician.  In his case however, I present two obituaries because they have sufficiently different emphases and content. 

“This obituary was first published in the Independent on 25 August 2003. It is here by permission of Ian’s family.

What has been labelled “the Shostakovich debate” began in 1979, with the publication of Testimony, the memoirs of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, dictated to the musicologist Solomon Volkov shortly before Shostakovich’s death in 1975. Testimony, a bitter and brave book, revealed to a largely unsuspecting west that the Soviet Union’s most vaunted composer, far from being a hapless stooge of the regime, was in truth a passionate and courageous anti-Stalinist. But Testimony walked straight into the guns of the cold war. The KGB organised denunciations by Shostakovich’s relatives and colleagues, and the campaign of disinformation persuade several prominent musicologists, chiefly in the USA, that Volkov was a fabricator, that he had exploited his association with Shostakovich to pass off a money-earning fake. Writers on the right seized on Testimony with told-you-so glee; the left insisted it was a falsehood, one commentator even asserting it was the fruit of a CIA plot. The lines were drawn for musicology’s most passionate debate in decades, with the soul of the composer as the prize.

Into this febrile atmosphere stepped MacDonald’s The New Shostakovich, published in 1990, which demonstrated close parallels between the Shostakovich of Testimony and the music itself and thus called the composer to the support of the memoirist. The book also revealed MacDonald’s profound and detailed knowledge of the Soviet background against which, he argued, it was impossible to understand the music correctly.

The impact of The New Shostakovich was instantaneous. Norman Lebrecht described it as a “tour de force of musical and social analysis”. The composer’s son recommended it as “one of the best biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich I have read”. Vladimir Ashkenazy wrote a letter of appreciation, and Semyon Bychkov felt it “gets under the skin of Shostakovich and understands
the perversity of the Soviet system and what it has inflicted on humanity”. For Richard Dyer, writing in the Boston Sunday Globe, it was “most thorough study of this enigmatic figure yet undertaken in English (or Russian, for that matter)”. MacDonald changed the nature of Shostakovich studies for ever.

But it was his sometimes over-literal interpretations of the music, occasionally ascribing a film-music specificity to particular gestures, that aroused most excitement. Many of his admirers found in The New Shostakovich a Rosetta stone to “explain” the music, and his critics condemned him for reducing the universal message of the music to detailed specifics. MacDonald later [contended] that some of his images had been over-precise, and considered a revised edition to tone them down – but he stuck to his guns over the thrust of his argument, contending that it was the specific nature of Shostakovich’s inspiration that gave his music universal strength. Yet he never claimed to be an authority on the composer: I consider there are no experts on Shostakovich. The subject is too vast, our present knowledge too partial, and the requisite state of sympathetic insight into his life and work too underdeveloped for anyone to claim to be, or be regarded as, an expert on him …. I certainly wouldn’t, being at best an ephemeral agitator in the cause of truth….

Indeed, MacDonald had never been a conventional academic. He spent only a year (1968–69) at Cambridge University, of which he later wrote: “The stately air was fragrant with marijuana and no one seemed to be doing a stroke of work”. Nor MacDonald, either: he enjoyed the drugs culture, changed courses three times, largely to avoid exams, and left.
Having developed an enthusiasm both for popular and classical music while he was still a schoolboy at Dulwich College, he now began writing about music, and in 1972 was appointed Assistant Editor of The New Musical Express, then being heavily outsold by Melody Maker. In his three years with the magazine, he and the editor, Nick Logan, improved the sales by some 160%, from 90,000 to 220,000, comfortably overtaking their rival.

Ian MacDonald also wrote lyrics and songs. His younger brother, Bill, had played with Phil Manzanera (later of Roxy Music) in a group called Quiet Sun, and when Manzanera recorded some solo albums, Ian provided some of the material for them, and worked with Brian Eno, too. Sub Rosa, an album of his own songs – reflecting his fondness for groups like Steeley Dan – was released in 1990.

The book which brought MacDonald the widest acclaim was his Revolution in the Head, subtitled The Beatles’ Records and the 1960s and first published by Fourth Estate in 1994 (a second, enlarged edition appeared in 1997 and a paperback from Pimlico in 1998). In it he details every single Beatles’ track recorded, describing the instrumentation (and who played what), the details of the recording and first release, analysing the music and relating it to the text. It was the most thorough examination the songs had ever received, and the press showered it with thoroughly deserved praise.

“One of the most convincing cultural analyses of recent British musical history which you could ever hope to read”, reported Peter Aspden in The Financial Times. “A pinnacle of popular music criticism”, said The Independent; “In Ian MacDonald, The Beatles at last have a critic worthy of their oeuvre.” The Observer esteemed it “a dazzling piece of scholarship” – “Best of all, the book drives you back to the music itself with fresh ears and understanding”. Stuart Maconie, writing in Q, rated it “the most sustainedly brilliant piece of pop criticism and scholarship for years. An astonishing achievement”. The reviews must have exceeded his publisher’s wildest hopes and yet MacDonald, with typical modesty, inscribed the copy he sent me: “I suspect this may go under your head. (No need to read it, of course!)”.

Until the final depression began to sap his energy, it was always on call to serve his enthusiasms. When OUP published a study of Shostakovich by the American musicologist Laurel Fay which he felt was shamefully inadequate, his detailed and devastating review – posted at “Music under Soviet Rule”, the website he maintained ( – ran to over 50,000 words. And he corresponded regularly with scholars of Soviet music all around the world, usually giving generously of his time. He leaves unfinished a study of David Bowie and a book called Birds, Beasts & Fishes: A Guide to Animal Lore and Symbolism – he empathised deeply with animals and felt a direct line of communication with cats in particular.

MacDonald believed – passionately, of course – in an after-life, and the spur to write The New Shostakovich came one night when he felt a prod in the back and heard an instruction from Shostakovich to write the book. That belief must have helped reconcile him to the decision to commit suicide. He had suffered from acute depression from around 1976 and attempted suicide twice in 1978 and 1979 (mentioning the fact openly in his writings), and had spent the last three years in an ever-blacker depression from which death eventually seemed the only solution. Praise for his most recent book, The People’s Music, a collection of his writings on pop and rocks published six weeks ago, was not enough to revive his spirits. He was found dead at his Gloucestershire home on Thursday morning, having posted a note on the door to call the police.

Ian MacDonald (MacCormick), writer; born London, 3 October 1948; died Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire, 20 or 21 August 2003.

Ian MacDonald      c.The Guardian

An outstanding writer on the music of the Beatles – and a scrupulous defender of Shostakovich

Probably no other critic – not even the late William Mann of the Times, with his famous mention of pandiatonic clusters – contributed more to an enlightened enjoyment of the work of the Beatles than Ian MacDonald, who has died aged 54. In his book Revolution In The Head, first published in 1994, MacDonald carefully anatomised every record the Beatles made, drawing attention to broad themes, particular examples of inspiration and moments of human frailty alike.What could have been a dry task instead produced a volume so engagingly readable, so fresh in its perceptions and so enjoyable to argue with that, in an already overcrowded field, it became an immediate hit. Without a hint of sycophancy, MacDonald had managed to describe the magic created by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in such a way as to reacquaint those who were around at the time with their own original enthusiasm, while alerting listeners of later generations to the precise qualities that had made the Beatles so exceptional. Its introduction alone provides something close to a definitive evocation of the factors that turned the 1960s into “the sixties”.

It came out of the blue, in the sense that MacDonald had been virtually silent on the subject of popular music for several years before its publication. But its clarity and conviction were wholly characteristic of his critical approach, which had been formed in the mid-1970s while he was a member of the collection of talented writers and editors whose weekly outpourings made the New Musical Express the most compelling music paper of its era.

Four years before the appearance of Revolution In The Head he had attracted similar levels of acclaim from a very different quarter when he published The New Shostakovich, a biographical re-evaluation in which he attacked the KGB’s attempts to discredit the composer’s own memoirs. MacDonald’s scrupulous analysis was illuminated as much by his own deep study of the Soviet system as by his ability to immerse himself totally in whatever music he was thinking about at the time.

At King’s College, Cambridge, where he switched from English literature to archaeology and anthropology, he fell among kindred spirits. There may never be a better concise description of that evidently charmed time and place than MacDonald’s wry paragraph, with its gathering rhythm and subtle alliteration: “During the academic year of 1968-69, Cambridge University felt an alien influence from beyond its sober curtain walls. Solemn flagstones frowned up at kaftans, wooden beads and waist-length hair. Staid courtyards winced to the sounds of Beggars Banquet, The White Album, Big Pink and Dr John The Night Tripper drifting through leaded windows. The stately air was fragrant with marijuana and no one seemed to be doing a stroke of work.”

Despite the obvious attractions of such a world, he dropped out at the end of his first year and for a time involved himself in producing lyrics for Quiet Sun, an experimental rock band which included his brother, Bill MacCormick, and the future guitarist of Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera. In 1972 he joined the staff of the NME, where he remained for several years as an assistant editor. While not as widely celebrated as Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Mick Farren, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill, MacDonald was nevertheless one of the most significant figures in the NME’s revival under the editorship of Nick Logan.

His own editing skills were a vital element of the formula. This was a time when an NME headline could enter the lexicon, and “Sten Guns in Knightsbridge”, attached to a famous early piece on the Clash, was his. So, in a different register, was the decision to hire the brilliant stylist Brian Case to write about jazz.

MacDonald’s own byline was a guarantee of a thoughtful, usually provocative piece; his interests ranged from Laura Nyro and Neil Young through Miles Davis and Steely Dan to Terry Riley and John Tavener. By the time he left the paper, its circulation had more than doubled, overtaking its chief rival, the Melody Maker, on the way to selling 220,000 copies a week.

As he lamented in his later writings, in those days music and the values it represented mattered to audience and commentators alike in a way that might seem preposterous to a generation raised amid a marketing-led culture. He and I once met for lunch in a Holland Park bistro for the sole purpose of continuing an argument, begun in print, over the authenticity of Barry White’s music.

By 1975 the success of Roxy Music had enabled Phil Manzanera to undertake solo projects, including an occasional band known as the 801. He and MacDonald resumed their collaboration, the latter contributing Orwellian lyrics to a fine album titled Listen. Twenty-five years later, Brian Eno, another member of the original Roxy Music, would help MacDonald produce a solo album of his own songs, Sub Rosa, released on Manzanera’s label.

Revolution In The Head was the product of a lengthy period spent living away from London, and its success encouraged him to write for a new generation of music magazines. His exacting, trenchant and sometimes very funny essays appeared first in Mojo and then in Uncut; a collection of them was published earlier this year under the title The People’s Music.

The climax of the     anthol ogy is a lengthy meditation on the life and work of Nick Drake, the precociously gifted singer-songwriter whom MacDonald had encountered at Cambridge and who committed suicide in 1974, when still in his mid-twenties. Written with an intensity that at times overwhelms its ostensible subject, it can now be seen to have provided clues to MacDonald’s own lengthy struggle with profound depression. “Can it be,” he asks, apropos of Drake’s preoccupation with spiritual transcendence, “that the materialist worldview, in which there is no intrinsic meaning, is slowly murdering our souls?” The decision to commit suicide, at his home in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, indicates that he had drawn his own conclusion.

· Ian MacDonald (MacCormick), author and critic, born October 3 1948; died August 20 2003 


In this the last piece on three   great grandchildren of the WILLIAM LINE we turn to the son of Sheila (MacCormick) and Mickey Stewart  

Alec Stewart  performed as batsman, wicketkeeper and captain of the England cricket team in addition to his long service with Surrey County Cricket Club which  continues today.     

Alec Stewar. t

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Personal information
Full name Alec James Stewart
Born (1963-04-08) 8 April 1963 (age 54)
Merton Park, England
Nickname The Gaffer
Height 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Batting style Right-handed
Bowling style Occasional right-arm medium
Role Wicket-keeper
Relations MJ Stewart (father)
International information
National side
Test debut (cap 543) 24 February 1990 v West Indies
Last Test 8 September 2003 v South Africa
ODI debut (cap 104) 15 October 1989 v Sri Lanka
Last ODI 2 March 2003 v Australia
ODI shirt no. 4
Domestic team information
Years Team
1981–2003 Surrey
Career statistics
Competition Test ODI FC LA
Matches 133 170 447 504
Runs scored 8463 4677 26165 14771
Batting average 39.54 31.60 40.06 35.08
100s/50s 15/45 4/28 48/148 19/94
Top score 190 116 271* 167*
Balls bowled 20 0 502 4
Wickets 0 3 0
Bowling average 148.66
5 wickets in innings 0
10 wickets in match n/a 0 n/a
Best bowling 1/7
Catches/stumpings 263/14 159/15 721/32 442/48
Source: Cricinfo, 14 October 2007


The younger son of former English Test cricketer Micky Stewart, Stewart was educated at Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames.[2] He made his debut for Surrey in 1981, earning a reputation as an aggressive opening batsman and occasional wicketkeeper. He made his England debut in the first Test of the 1989/90 tour of the West Indies, along with Nasser Hussain, who would eventually replace him as England captain.

At the start of his career, Stewart was a specialist opening batsman for England, with wicketkeeping duties being retained by Jack Russell, who was generally recognised as the superior gloveman and who batted down the order. However, Russell, the inferior batsman, would often be dropped to improve the balance of the side (i.e. to accommodate an extra bowler or batsman), in which case Stewart would don the gloves. After enduring years of selection and deselection, Russell retired from international cricket in 1998, leaving Stewart unrivalled as England’s keeper-batsman until his own retirement in 2003.

His highest Test score, 190, was against Pakistan in the drawn first Edgbaston Test on 4 June 1992; it was his fourth century in five Tests. In 1994 at the Kensington Oval he became only the seventh Englishman to score centuries in both innings of a Test match, scoring 118 and 143 as the West Indies were beaten at their Bridgetown “fortress” for the first time since 1935.[3]

Stewart was groomed for the England captaincy under Graham Gooch, deputising for him in four tests in India and Sri Lanka in 1993, but when Gooch retired from the captaincy later that year Mike Atherton was chosen to succeed him.

Always more of an establishment figure than any sort of rebel, it was no surprise when Stewart was asked to captain England in 1998 when Mike Atherton resigned. Despite being the age of 35 at the time, Stewart’s level of fitness was impeccable, especially bearing in mind that most players do not continue beyond 37. As it was Stewart went on to play for England beyond his 40th birthday – but as events were to transpire – his captaincy of England barely lasted 12 months.

In his first series as captain, against South Africa, Stewart scored an outstanding 164 in the third Test at Old Trafford to salvage a draw, a result which eventually enabled England to overturn a 1–0 deficit to win the series 2–1. Nonetheless, failures against Australia and in the 1999 cricket World Cup saw him sacked from the captaincy to be replaced by Hussain. During his captaincy, he had the unusual distinction of simultaneously captaining the side, opening the batting and keeping wicket. He continued to deputise occasionally as captain of England’s one-day side, and became the second international captain to concede a match in 2001, after a pitch invasion during a One Day International against Pakistan rendered the continuation of play impossible.[4] He continued as an England player for five more seasons, and became only the fourth player to score a century in his 100th Test, scoring 105 against the West Indies at Old Trafford in 2000.

Stewart’s batting average (39.54) is the lowest of any player to have scored 8000 or more runs in Test cricket: he is the only player to have scored over 8000 runs despite an average of under 40.[5] However, when played as a specialist batsman in Test cricket, Stewart averaged 46.90 in 51 games with 9 centuries. Since World War II, only Len Hutton, Geoff Boycott, Dennis Amiss and Alastair Cook have bettered Stewart’s average of 46 as a specialist opening batsman for England.[6] As wicketkeeper-batsman he averaged 34.92 from 82 tests, higher than many of his contemporaries and many of the current batch of international wicketkeepers. He was unlucky enough to be on the losing side in a record 54 Test Matches.

Stewart is a well-known supporter of Surrey County Cricket Club and Chelsea F.C. When shirt numbers were introduced for One Day International cricket, Stewart chose the number 4 shirt in honour of his favourite Chelsea player when growing up, John Hollins, and kept that shirt number throughout his career.[7]

Alec Stewart holds the record for scoring most test runs without a career double century in test history(8463)[8]

Alec Stewart also set a record for playing most number of ODI matches as captain who has kept the wicket as well as went onto open the batting with 28 times in his career.[9]

Post-playing career[edit]

In 2004, Stewart became a founding director of Arundel Promotions with specific responsibility for player management and representation. Cricket playing clients include Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Ashley Giles and Matt Prior.[10]

In 2009, Stewart rejoined Surrey as a part-time consultant to the coaching staff specialising in batting, wicket keeping and mentoring.[11]

Since retiring from playing Stewart has taken on the role as the Club Ambassador for Surrey CCC and was made an executive director in 2011.

On 17 June 2013, it was announced by Surrey County Cricket Club that Stewart would take charge of first team affairs following the sacking of Chris Adams, until a long term successor is found. In October 2013 the club announced that Graham Ford would become head coach in February 2014, with Stewart becoming Director of Cricket, a new position.[12]



WILLIAM MACCORMICK  was born in 1868 on the Isle of Iona, the seventh-born of the  family of Annabel and Neil MacCormick.He died in 1915 in an accident on board HMS Hannibal while serving as  Chief Engine Room Artificer 1st Class in the Royal Navy.

In addition to his professional engineering life, William expressed his feelings  in verse, perhaps inspired by his brother John’s literary activities.  Here is his powerful view of the 1854 Battle of Balaclava,  which I  think has relevance in today’s  crazed world.  I assume he was inspired by a visit to the site of that battle while serving in the Royal Navy.  He must have despaired when World War One broke out.

“A Mull Man in the Crimea

On Balaclava field I soul-moving thought!
Those are the very hills and these the very plains;
Twas here that nations for the mastery fought –
And that same golden orb that silent reigns
Shed not its light on peaceful labouring swains,
And laughing in the fruitful harvest’s gains –
His beams lit up no scene of peace or joy,
But marshalled serried armies panting to destroy.

And now the mighty cannons roar and flash,
And vomit forth their flame and shrieking shell;
Deep columns move and mounted squadrons dash,
The walkin vibrates with the battle’s knell.
The earth resembles now a smoking hell,
A reeking shambles; blood and murder rife;
A comrade closes where a comrade fell-
Blaspheming as he renders up his life-
The battle moves in fierce untiring strife.

The peaceful valley smiles neath God’s glad sun;
The autumn breezes whisper soft and low.
Among the rustling leaves. Sweet streamlets run
Their wimpling courses, singing as they flow,
In haste to join the rippling bay below.
The voice of labour wakes in cheerful strain
the slumb’ring echoes. Nature’s all aglow;
The sheen spreads o’er the wooded hills and plains
A happy, joyous scene where peace transcendent reigns.

Reign gentle peace, though blessed angel reign!
Long may the nations know thy hallowed sway.
Soothe thou to sleep those passions fierce and vain
Which make deluded man his brother slay.
Oh! light within our hearts a kindlier ray,
Let reason take the place of bloodly steel.
Our darkness then will change to gladsome day.
And outraged God will smile, His hand will heal
The deep and rankling wounds which mar the nations’ weal.”


In the normal scheme of things, I try to keep some chronological order.  Here, I choose to continue  with a salute to the work of a contemporary member of the William Line –

Linda Towne, a great granddaughter of William, has for many years labored in the parish records and other genealogical sources to bring calm to our attempts to make sense of the challenging network created by NEIL AND ANNABEL MACCORMICK’S  ten surviving children.   And Linda has managed to accomplish this while raising her own family.

I doubt that there are any readers of this series who have not gratefully referred to Linda’s body of work.  But for the record, the results of her toil can be found principally  at:



Moving back a generation but staying with Linda’s paternal line, the  role of the military in the William line is seen in her father’s  biography prepared by  Linda.  It is an account of great bravery and remarkable military skill, not to mention good fortune.

Neil MacCormick was born on 10 March 1925 at Floriana, Malta. He was baptized on 1 April 1925 at Malta.11 He began military service on 11 January 1943 at Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, in the Infantry Corps.  He was assigned to the GSC at home from 18 February 1943 to 30 Mar 1943. This was probably his basic training assignment.  He was assigned to the Highland Regiment from 31 March 1943 to 9 Jun 1943.  He was assigned to Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders-from 10 June 1943 to 20 July 1943.  He was assigned to the Gordon Highlanders at home and in Europe from 21 July 1943 to 4 July 1949.     With the First Battalion Gordon Highlanders he landed on Sword beach during the D-Day invasions as part of the British 2nd Army, I Corps, 1st Infantry Division, Gordon Highlanders on 6 June 1944

Neil rarely spoke of his experiences during World War II but he did consent to an interview by his daughter, Linda, for a school assignment. The following essay was the result.

“He was only nineteen and a private in the Royal Army. On D-Day he landed with the Gordon Highlanders.   In the months following the invasion, he was lucky enough to survive. At one town, the German troops had completely surrounded the regiment. Their supplies were cut off. He, with two machine gunners, drove a Bren gun carrier through German roadblocks and barricades to get food and other needed supplies. On their way back in, they crashed though the same roadblocks.
Over one thousand British soldiers were either wounded or killed while capturing the town of Liseux. Five hundred and fifty men fought the first day. Seven were alive and unharmed at the end. The next day, reinforcements arrived to bring the group up to full strength; only nine weren’t wounded that day. Only three people who had been there at the start survived unharmed to see victory.

“Having survived the battle at Liseux, he moved on. At one place there was a minefield separating the front line from the supplies. The soldiers were running out of ammunition, so they sent a Bren gun carrier across the field with more. The carrier hit a mine and blew up. The next five did the same. He drove the seventh and by some stroke of luck, made it across safely. Six more carriers were sent across with orders to follow his tracks exactly. None made it. Obviously he had driven across mines without them exploding.
“He went onto Holland where they were destroying dikes. Sent to evacuate supplies, he made several trips through rising water before the carrier drowned. He had to swim four miles to safety.
“Antwerp, Belgium had been liberated for some time and was used as a rest area for soldiers. He was sent there for two to three days to rest while a new Bren gun carrier was found for him.

“The first day he was there, he decided to go to the cinema to see a film. While he was there, the cinema was bombed! Out of over one thousand people inside, less than two hundred survived.  He suffered a skull fracture, several broken ribs and a shattered knee. The blast also burned his eyes leaving him blind.

“He was taken to a Canadian hospital where he was treated. While he was there, a Canadian surgeon was posted there. This surgeon was one of only about a half dozen in the world who was qualified to do corneal transplants. The surgeon performed a corneal transplant on him. It didn’t take. He would have died quite happily. The surgeon didn’t give up and performed a second operation.  When the bandages came off, he could see only shadows. He didn’t realise that the room had been darkened as not to shock the eyes after weeks of darkness. His eyes were back to normal and still were, over forty years later.

“He will never forget the night that his best friend died. He had known Dick since they had been in school together. They were dug into foxholes and Dick had come over to his foxhole and sat on the edge with his feet dangling into the hole. After talking to him for a while, Dick said that he’d have to say goodbye now and left. The strange thing was that Dick had been killed a half-hour before and it was his ghost that had gone over to say goodbye.

“Who was this soldier? He is my father, Neil MacCormick, and these are only some of the experiences that he had during World War II. Others include liberating a Nazi concentration camp and serving in the British Occupation troops in Germany.”
He was also one of only two people who landed on D-Day with the Gordon Highlanders who survived the rest of the war..12

“Neil MacCormick drove a bren gun carrier. It was a small, tracked weapons carrier which carried a .303 inch Bren light machine gun (modified and manufactured by Enfield), plus some other small arms..1

“For his service during World War II, Neil received the 1939-1945 Star; the France and Germany Star; the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945.  He was transferred to the Royal Army Supply Corps in July 1949. He served in England until March 1952 when he was sent to Korea until November 1953. He then served in England again until being sent to Germany in february 1954 where he stayed until September 1957 when he returned to England. In November 1957, he went to Hong Kong and served there until October 1960. He once again returned to England until February 1964 when he was transfered to Cyprus.8 For his service in Korea, Neil was awarded the British Korea Medal and the U N Medal and Clasp Korea.13 Neil received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953.

“Neil’s friend, Bill Spooner, wrote: “One other incident, which I relate only because it resulted in one of the few occasions that I saw [Neil] disconcerted. He was doing a rather strong line with a rather pretty air hostess at the same time as he was friendly with a lady who owned a bar in Varosha. It rather upset his apple cart when he found out that the air hostess was the daughter of the bar lady!”.
He celebrated his 40th birthday, in March 1965, with friends including Lillian Spooner. While he was stationed in Cyprus, he transfered to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) in July 1965. He returned to England in April 1967.

“Neil’s best friend, Bill Spooner, wrote ‘One event which could have ended both our careers was the result of a stupid decision by politician to invite a member of the Cyprus Government to the opening of the new water distillation plant, followed by a tour of the Garrison Headquarters. The person selected was the minister of the interior, one Polycarpos Giorgades. I had made something of a hobby of collecting posters of the EOKA period, so I was able to meet a request of [Neil’s] resulting in the offical party being confronted, on entering the H.Q. building with a 3 feet by 2 feet poster proclaiming ‘Wanted for murder, POLYCARPOS GIORGADES £10,000 reward’.,

“Another memory of Neil shared by his friend, Bill Spooner: ,Another, less hazardous, example of [Neil’s] sense of humour was at the expense of the two rather dim young 2nd Lieutenants who shared his office. They knew he had access to their confidential reports. And did their best to get a preview, with total lack of success. Tired of their clumsy efforts, Neil prepared two dummy reports and left them where his two young men were sure to find them. One said ‘works well under supervision, can ride a bicycle’ and the other, ‘sets very low standard, which he consistently fails to maintain.'”

“In July 1967, Neil MacCormick was described as being 6′ tall with a fresh complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He had a scar over his eye and a scar on his left hand..  On July 20, 1967, Neil was discharged from service for the purpose of being appointed to a commission. His rank at discharge was Warrent Officer 1 (SSM 1st Class). He had spent 24 years and 154 days on active duty and an additional 37 days in the reserve.

“Neil MacCormick was commissioned on July 21 1967. His first posting was to SHAPE in Belgium. On July 26, 1967, he received an assessment of military conduct as exemplary which was the highest possible rating. His commanding officer wrote: ‘Neil MacCormick is a smart upstanding individual of good appearance and presence. He has a quiet manner and obvious authority. He has been employed as a chief clerk for most of his army service but has not become desk-bound and would do well in a travelling executive position. He has a good organising ability and can express himself coherantly both verbally and in writing.’

“He was a Captain in the RAOC between 1969 and 1974.In June 1969, Neil MacCormick lived at Adamson Road, N.W. 3, London, England.

“His car almost got towed during his wedding ceremony. They were in the Registry Office , partway through the ceremony, when a man came in and asked if anyone owned the Rover parked in front because it was about to be towed. Neil said “I’ll be right back” and ran outside. He came back in, said he had explained what was going on and the tow-truck driver gave him a couple more minutes
“In February 1970, he was transferred to Shornecliffe England where he was the A/OIC BKS.  In April 1971, he was transfered to Osnabruck, Germany to be the A/OIC BKS there. In April 1973, Neil was transferred to Munster, Germany as the OIC Barrack Office. Two months later, he was reassigned as OIC BKS Munster BK SVCS.1In 1974, Neil MacCormick lived at Winterbourne Barrack Services, Munster, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

“Neil was promoted to Major on May 31st 1975.

“Neil was posted to Shorncliffe, Folkestone, England as the OIC Barracks BK SVCS. He had anticipated remaining there until retirement but he swapped assignments with another officer in April 1977 and went to Cyprus as the OIC Barracks BK SVCS so that officer could return to England with his ill wife.

“Neil received The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. He was one of the only people to receive both the Coronation and Jubilee medals during military service.  In June 1978, Neil was reassigned to OC ASU Cyprus.  He ended military service in 1980.”

He then immigrated to the USA in March 1980 . He arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport. He was employed by Free Heat Insulation Company in the early 1980’s.4 He was was later employed by Williams and Manchester Shipyards. at Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA.  He was a front office worker for the Treadway hotel in 1986.  He joined the Newport Artillery’s B Company in the late 1980’s.
In August 1988, Neil moved with his wife and children to 52 Allston Avenue, Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA.He was employed as a desk clerk at the Bay Voyage Inn in Jamestown, RI until his death.

Neil MacCormick died on 16 September 1989 at Newport Hospital, Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA, at age 64.

His obituary reads:
“Retired British Army Maj. Neil MacCormick, 64, of 52 Allston Ave., died Saturday, Sept. 16, 1989, at Newport Hospital. He was the husband of Jean Maguire MacCormick.
He was born March 10, 1925, in Floriana, Malta, a son of Daisy Taylor MacCormick of Wallingford, England and the late Neil MacCormick.
Mr MacCormick came to the United States in 1980 after retiring from the British Army.
He worked as a desk clerk at the Bay Voyage Inn in Jamestown and also had worked for the Free Heat Insulation Co., the Williams and Manchester Shipyard, and the Treadway Inn.
“He was a World War II British army veteran, having landed with the First Battalion Gordon Highlander at Normandy on D-Day. He also served in the Korean War and later with the Royal Army Service Corps and Ordnance Corps. He served in Germany, Hong Kong, Cyprus and with SHAPE in Belgium.
Mr MacCormick was mentioned twice in dispatches while serving in Korea and was awarded the Coronation and Jubilee Medal.
“He was a member of the Newport Artillery’s B Company.
“In addition to his wife and his mother, he leaves three daughters, Barbara Grimm of Shiplake, England and Linda MacCormick and Jodi MacCormick, both of Newport; a brother, William MacCormick of Didcot, England; a sister, Annabelle Shillitto of Malvern, England; and two granddaughters.
His funeral will be Tuesday at 11.30 a.m. from the Memorial Funeral Home. Burial will be private.

His body was cremated in September 1989 at East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA.5 He was buried at Old Saints Church, Didcot, Oxfordshire, England, in the same plot as his maternal grandparents, Percival and Charlotte Taylor.

[A personal note.  I met Linda’s father and grandfather, as mentioned in the first of the series, when I sat at our dinner table in Glasgow along with my own father and grandfather,  a grand total of five Neil  MacCormicks!  And  while I was stationed with the U.S. Army in  northern Japan, my father wrote me to say my cousin had been wounded while fighting with UN forces in Korea.  I attempted to get leave to see him in hospital in Tokyo but alas was turned down.  I bring up  that passing encounter   only to take the opportunity to point out that there were very few times when I met the grandaunts and granduncles and their families during my youth in Glasgow which I  left at age 17 in 1949.  The disruption of World War Two of course partly explains the lack of contact.]



On looking over this MACCORMICK FAMILY series, I found that I produced the first segment  back in January 2015.    At that time, I recall I was more anxious to get material on the screen than to spend time developing  a clear plan as to structure and content – my medical issues partly explain the haste.  It began and has continued as ‘a work in progress’ – in other words, I pretty much let my as always free-wheeling mind run where it wanted. 

As a result, I noted in that first part:

“…two figures are prominent in the MacCorm

ick family collection:  John MacDonald MacCormick and his son, Professor Sir Donald Neil MacCormick.  Because of the huge amount of data on the two available on the internet, I have chosen to give more space here to other family members whose activities may be less familiar.”

In retrospect, I now realise  I erred in that decision particularly because in choosing that path, I inadvertently overlooked  two other prominent family members of the DONALD LINE.   

It  saddens me to contemplate that all four, even the younger members, are no longer with us.  And so I present here  a Wikipedia article and three obituaries in order of death, of what most will agree is this leading group in the MACCORMICK pantheon – a son and three grandsons of DONALD MACCORMICK. 

John M.  MacCormick

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Early life

MacCormick was born in Pollokshields, Glasgow, in 1904. His father was Donald MacCormick, a sea captain who was from the Isle of Mull. His mother was the first district nurse in the Western Isles.[2] McCormick was educated at Woodside School, and studied law at the University of Glasgow (1923–1928). He became involved in politics while at university, and joined the Glasgow University Labour Club and the Independent Labour Party in 1923.[3] In September 1927 MacCormick left the ILP and formed the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association (GUSNA), which was designed to promote Scottish culture and nationalism and self-government. The association was sufficiently neutral to act as the honest broker between the various nationalist organisations which would merge to form the National Party of Scotland (NPS) in April 1928. MacCormick was a talented speaker and organiser, and served as the national secretary of the NPS.[4] MacCormick was often known by his nickname “King John”, which he said came from a heckle during a debate he was participating in when upon a question from the floor whether a devolved Scotland would retain the monarchy, or would be a republic, someone interjected and said: “no, it will be a kingdom and John MacCormick will be our king.”[3]

The failure of the NPS to make an electoral breakthrough led him to question current tactics and he concluded that the party’s fundamentalist wing was frightening away potential support because of its support for republicanism and independence. In consequence, MacCormick initiated a campaign to redefine the policy of the NPS, to make it more moderate and to tone down demands for independence. He first stood for Parliament as an NPS candidate at the 1929 general election, when he came third in Glasgow Camlachie, with 1,646 votes.[3] He also stood at Inverness at the 1931 general election.


In 1932, MacCormick began to make overtures to the right-wing Scottish Party, believing that, as the Scottish Party included a number of members of the Scottish ‘establishment‘, their conversion to the cause of home rule would enhance the credibility of the nationalists. To secure an accommodation, MacCormick purged the NPS of radical elements, and moved the policy of the NPS towards that of the Scottish Party. His endeavours paid dividends, and in 1934 the two parties merged to form the Scottish National Party (SNP).[3]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-SLR-4”[4] MacCormick himself was not a dogmatic politician, and described himself as a radical, by which he meant a form of centrist liberal. His response to the failure of the SNP to make an electoral impact in the mid-1930s was to search for alternative strategies. He considered the basic problem to be that, although many people in Scotland favoured home rule, they were not, on the whole, willing to put the issue above conventional party loyalties.[3] The solution, MacCormick argued, was to make the other parties take home rule seriously, and to demonstrate widespread support for the cause. In 1939 he launched the idea of a Scottish national convention, which would bring together all sections of Scottish society and all shades of Scottish political opinion in favour of home rule. He had made contact with both the Labour and Liberal parties, and although the first meeting, scheduled for September 1939, was cancelled because of the outbreak of World War II, MacCormick pushed negotiations throughout the war.[3]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-SLR-4”[4]

As a leading figure in the SNP, MacCormick came under increasing attack from the rank and file members for his failure to maintain party structure and organisation. He considered that his preferred strategy of co-operation with other organisations meant that there was little need for the SNP to function as a mainstream political party.[3] He endeavoured to present an acceptable face of Scottish nationalism, and did much to reverse the party’s official anti-conscription policy following the outbreak of the Second World War.[3]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-SLR-4”[4] MacCormick stood as an SNP candidate for Inverness at the 1935 general election and at the 1937 Glasgow Hillhead by-election.[3]

He resigned from the party in 1942 following his failure to persuade the party to adopt a devolutionist stance rather than supporting all out Scottish independence and due to the victory of Douglas Young over his favoured candidate, William Power, for the leadership of the SNP.[3] Along with a number of dissatisfied delegates to that year’s SNP conference, he established the Scottish Convention to campaign for home rule for Scotland and later formed the Scottish Covenant Association.[1]

Scottish Convention, Scottish Covenant and later years

MacCormick took the decision to join the Liberal Party as he viewed them as being the party most closely allied to his devolutionist ambitions for Scotland. He stood as the Liberal candidate for Inverness at the 1945 general election.[3]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-SLR-4”[4]

The Scottish Convention succeeded in 1947 in setting up an assembly along the lines planned in 1939.[5] In 1951, MacCormick formed the Scottish Covenant Association, a non-partisan political organisation which campaigned to secure the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly.[1] This covenant was hugely successful in securing support from across the political spectrum, as well as in capturing the Scottish public’s imagination (over 2 million signed a petition demanding the convocation of an Assembly, although a number of them were shown to be bogus). In 1948, he stood as an independent candidate at the Paisley by-election, with what he erroneously believed to be Liberal and Conservative support, and lost.[1]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-dnb-3”[3] His failure discredited claims as to the popularity of home rule, and further served to reinforce notions that the Scottish Convention was an anti-Labour organisation. MacCormick’s failure left the SNP with a monopoly of the cause of home rule.[3]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-SLR-4”[4]

MacCormick was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow in 1950 as GUSNA’s candidate, serving until 1953. He was also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by the university in 1951.[6] This association with GUSNA also saw the formation of a political friendship with a then young law student at Glasgow University, Ian Hamilton, who had run his campaign to be elected rector. MacCormick was involved, along with Hamilton, in the removal of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950 and its return to Arbroath Abbey. He also mounted a legal challenge, MacCormick v. Lord Advocate, over the right of Queen Elizabeth using the title Queen Elizabeth II, on grounds that there had been no previous Scottish Queen Elizabeth.[3]HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-SLR-4”[4]

In 1955 MacCormick had a book detailing his activities in the home rule movement published, entitled The Flag in the Wind. His last attempt to enter parliament came at the 1959 General Election, when he stood for the Liberal Party at Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, again finishing second.[3]

In the film Stone of Destiny MacCormick is played by Robert Carlyle.

Personal life[

MacCormick married Margaret Isobel Miller in 1939, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. Their elder son, Iain (1939–2014), served as SNP Member of Parliament for Argyll from 1974 till 1979 (and was a founder member of the Social Democratic Party. Their second son, Neil (1941–2009) was regius professor of Public Law and Vice-Principal of the University of Edinburgh, and served as an SNP Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004. He was also the uncle of the journalist and broadcaster Donald MacCormick.

MacCormick died on 13 October 1961. His funeral was held in the chapel of the University of Glasgow.[7]

Party political offices

Preceded by
New position
National Secretary of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Robert McIntyre

Academic offices

Preceded by
Walter Elliot
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Tom Honeyman

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Professor Sir Donald  Neil MacCormick, Legal academic and politician 20:25 20:38 Monday 06 April 2009

Born: 27 May, 1941, in Glasgow. Died 5 April, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 67. HE WAS of impeccable Nationalist pedigree, but there was nevertheless always a whiff of the Establishment about Professor Sir Neil MacCormick. The son of “King John” MacCormick, the Glasgow lawyer and leading Scottish Nationalist, Sir Neil followed him with distinction in both professions, although his geniality and generosity of spirit earned him friends across the political spectrum

Donald Neil MacCormick (he used Neil to differentiate him from a cousin called Donald) was the younger of two sons of John MacCormick and Margaret Miller, whom Sir Neil recalled as “a tower of strength” in a happy family life which also included two sisters. Despite juggling a large legal and political workload, John remained a “very engaged dad”, he said.
He was undoubtedly a major influence on Sir Neil. Growing up in a large flat overlooking Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow, he was surrounded by talk of Scotland and politics. “If you were a small boy or young teenager interested in political affairs,” Sir Neil later recalled, “simply assuming the role of an unobtrusive listener gave a great political education in a very particular kind of politics.” At first, however, Sir Neil chose a legal education, reading for an MA in philosophy and English literature at the University of Glasgow, before benefiting from a Snell Exhibition to take a BA in jurisprudence at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating from both with first-class honours. Few other students could point to a famous legal battle – in Sir Neil’s case McCormick v Lord Advocate (regarding the designation of Queen Elizabeth in Scotland) – bearing the family name. Sir Neil started his academic career as a lecturer in jurisprudence at St Andrews University from 1965-67. He then moved to Balliol College, Oxford, as a fellow and tutor in jurisprudence from 1968-72. Thereafter, he held the Regius chair of public law and the law of nature and nations at Edinburgh University, appointed at the unusually young age of 31. His major contribution to academic thought was in the field of the philosophy and theory of law. Greatly influenced by the writings of the late Professor H L A Hart of Oxford University, about whom he published a critical biography in 1981 (a second edition was published last year), Sir Neil could be described an “ethical positivist”. For him it was an ethical presupposition that law be treated to a large extent as detached from morality.

This approach bore fruit in a collection of essays published in 1982 entitled Legal Right and Social Democracy, and his interest in law as an institution of human society in such internationally recognised works as The Institutional Theory of Law (1986) and the more recent Institutions of Law: An Essay in Legal Theory (2007). Other important works included Questioning Sovereignty: Law, State and Nation in the European Commonwealth (1999) and Rhetoric and the Rule of Law (2005). He was a compelling lecturer and brilliant tutor, and political involvement overlapped naturally with Sir Neil’s academic career. He joined the SNP (which his father had left in 1942) in 1967, eventually became one of its vice-presidents and unsuccessfully contested seats in Edinburgh and Argyll (where his brother Iain had been MP from 1974-79) from 1979-97. He finally won an election in 1999, having been ranked second on the SNP’s list for the European parliamentary elections.Sir Neil’s belief in Scottish independence was pragmatic rather than romantic. He refused to see it “as an end in itself”, as he explained in a collection of essays he edited in 1970 – The Scottish Debate – but saw rather a “utilitarian nationalism” which proposed independence as “the best means to the well-being of Scottish people”. Keenly interested in constitutions, whether Scottish, British or European, Sir Neil argued strongly that Scotland would automatically remain a member of the European Union if it became independent, while defending the concept of Scotland becoming a “partner region” of the EU, something he was honest enough to admit fell short of his party’s preferred aim of “independence in Europe”. A member of the Convention on the Future of Europe from 2002-03, which drafted the EU’s proposed Constitutional Treaty, Sir Neil published Who’s Afraid of a European Constitution? in 2005.

Three times voted Scottish Euro MP of the Year at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, Sir Neil retired as an MEP in 2004 to complete his Leverhulme Research professorship at Edinburgh. In 1999 he was appointed Queen’s counsel honoris causa, while his knighthood in 2001 for services to scholarship in law furrowed some Nationalist brows. The then SNP leader, John Swinney, defended it as “a recognition of Neil MacCormick’s tremendous academic achievements”.In 2004 Sir Neil received the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Royal Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement, and in 2008 retired from the Regius chair at Edinburgh after 36 years as a professor. Accorded the honour of a series of lectures in his name, as well as an honorary degree, he found retirement provided more time for hill-walking, bagpiping and sailing. In May 2007 Sir Neil was appointed a special adviser on Europe to Alex Salmond’s minority Scottish Government, the election of which gave him much satisfaction. One of his last tasks was to pen a short introduction for a new edition of his father’s book, The Flag in the Wind, although he was too ill to attend its launch at Bute House. He also took much pleasure from a special screening of the film Stone of Destiny, featuring his father, at his home last year. His final book, Practical Reason in Law and Morality, was published just before Christmas. Like his father, Sir Neil was a man of rare courage in illness and pain. He died from stomach cancer and is survived by three daughters from his first marriage to Caroline Barr, his second wife, Flora, and three step-children.

(copyright The Scotsman)

Donald MacCormick

Veteran Scottish broadcaster who presented Newsnight

MacCormick’s father was a Glasgow teacher who died when Donald was six. This resulted in him being extremely close to the family of his lawyer uncle, John, a partner in the firm of MacCormick and Neil. Coincidentally, this partnership, in name at least, would be revived in later years by Donald as Newsnight presenter and Ron Neil, whose father had been the other lawyer in the firm, as his editor in the early 1980s.

Aside from his legal work, “King John” MacCormick, Donald’s uncle, was a Liberal and devolutionist who was also arguably the father of popular Scottish Nationalism through the Scottish Covenant, a petition for devolved home rule which gained widespread support in the early 1950s. Donald was therefore steeped in Scottish politics from an early age.

Educated at King’s Park secondary school in Glasgow, he then became part of a famous generation of gifted and political Glasgow University students, which included John Smith, Donald Dewar, Derry Irvine and Menzies Campbell. MacCormick was chairman of the Labour Club. However, while he retained a lifelong fascination with politics, his interests were diverse and he never sought a political career. Having edited the university’s literary magazine, he taught English at the High School of Glasgow for five years, but broadcasting was his natural calling. He started by presenting a books programme for STV and then, in 1967, moved to Grampian in Aberdeen as a news reporter.

His next step was to join BBC Scotland in Glasgow as a current affairs presenter. The early 1970s was something of a golden age for BBC Scotland, which made serious programmes on which MacCormick worked alongside Magnus Magnusson, the fine industrial journalist Hugh Cochrane and latterly Andrew Neil, who became a close friend. MacCormick’s role was not restricted to politics and he probably came to London’s attention by presenting programmes from the Edinburgh festival.

When Michael Bunce was in the process of reviving the Tonight programme in a late-night slot, he selected a Scotsman, an Irishman and an Englishwoman as his presenters: MacCormick, Denis Tuohy and Sue Lawley. Non-Oxbridge accents were not common in the mid-70s. However, even the most fastidious defender of received pronunciation could scarcely object to Donald’s gentle west of Scotland cadence. When Tonight evolved into Newsnight, MacCormick became one of the regular presenters, along with Peter Snow and John Tusa. He was liked and admired by all who worked with him.

His Newsnight role lasted throughout the Thatcher years, but by the end of it, MacCormick was ready for another challenge and welcomed an approach from LWT. One of his great supporters within the Corporation had been Robin Day, who saw an interviewer in the same mould as himself – non-confrontational but a skilful cross-examiner.

Donald was devoted to the cousins with whom he and his brother had grown up in Glasgow: Iain, who was first a Scottish Nationalist MP and then a founder member of the SDP, and Sir Neil MacCormick, the regius professor of law at Edinburgh University and former Nationalist MEP who died earlier this year; an event that affected Donald deeply.

Married first to Lis MacKinlay, a Glasgow University contemporary with whom he had three children, Donald married the BBC producer Liz Elton in 1978 and they had two children. They all survive him.

• Donald MacCormick, broadcaster, born 16 April 1939; died 12 July 2009

(copyright The Guardian)

Obituary: Iain Somerled MacDonald MacCormick,

Iain MacCormick: SNP politician who was committed to serving his Argyll constituents. Born: 28 September, 1939, in Glasgow. Died: 19 September, 2014, in Oban, aged 74 Although children of political families sometimes make surprising choices – for example the communist writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s daughter became a Tory councillor in Welwyn Garden City – there was never any doubt that Iain MacCormick, son of “King John” MacCormick, one of the founders of the SNP, would, like his brother Neil, who became an SNP MEP, do anything other than undertake a nationalist political journey. Indeed, the very last political act that Iain undertook was to walk, unaided, into the polling station in Oban last Thursday, carrying the oxygen cylinder he needed to keep breathing following his recent operation for lung cancer, and cast his Yes vote for independence. Scarcely more than 24 hours later he was dead, leaving Riona, his widow and third wife, his five children from his first marriage and a very wide circle of friends and admirers to deeply mourn his passing.

Iain Somerled MacDonald MacCormick was born in Glasgow on 28 September, 1939, just after the start of the Second World War. He was brought up in the city in a household which rejoiced in political debate. His father John had only two years earlier been the SNP candidate in a by-election in Hillhead but he subsequently left the SNP, believing that the party should adopt a more devolutionist stance. John MacCormick later stood as a Liberal candidate, believing that at that time the Liberals were the party most committed to home rule, and perhaps that was also in Iain’s mind when he became a founding member of the SDP in 1981; though he returned to the SNP in the first decade of the 21st century. Iain studied history and English at the University of Glasgow and became a teacher, eventually coming to work in Oban, within sight of the Island of Mull where the family had ancestral roots. He first contested Argyll for the SNP in 1970 but failed to unseat the Tory Michael Noble who had been secretary of state for Scotland. In February 1974 Iain stood once more and had an unexpected victory, the more so since Argyll had been represented by a Conservative for 50 years. Noble accepted a peerage in May 1974 and in October that year Iain increased his majority against a new Tory candidate.Argyll was and remains a huge constituency. At that time it also included Ardnamurchan so the problems of adequately serving so many small, remote communities, many of them on islands or at the end of poor roads, was even greater than it is now.Iain, however, was undaunted and travelled the length and breadth of “his” area, often at considerable inconvenience in order to ensure that every constituent got the chance to speak to and make use of their elected representative in order to alleviate their problems and improve their lives. I continue to meet people right across Argyll who remember things he had done for them when he was their MP and who speak of him with great fondness for he was a very human man, entertaining, sociable and always interesting and interested. Many of Iain’s former pupils also remember “Humph”, as he was known in Oban High School, with respect and have been contributing in recent days to some of the Oban Facebook pages to say so.

The five years during which Iain was in the House of Commons were hard ones. Winnie Ewing, another of those who served as an MP from 1974 to 1979, has described in her autobiography what the pressure was like and how their constant struggle to hold Labour to account and get devolution delivered told on all of them. At times they were treated abominably, for something akin to panic had swept through Labour and Tory ranks after the 1974 elections. The imposition of the 40 per cent rule by Labour in the 1979 referendum was the last straw and although the Tories promised “better devolution”, in reality their election ended the matter for a generation. Iain suffered like the rest and the experience of losing his seat compounded the problem. He was exhausted, suddenly without employment and unsure of his future prospects. Those are hard things to bear, especially together. That may have lead to the decision to accept an invitation to join another party but he did not pursue a political career and instead worked for BT in public affairs, spending much of his time in London. However, he remained a member of the Glasgow Art Club and when he returned to Glasgow to work in PR he served on its committee, eventually becoming lay Vice President. It was there that he re-met an old friend from Oban, Riona MacInnes, and they held their wedding reception in the club in September 2009, at which time he returned to Oban to live, having also spent some time in France during his second marriage. I shared a Yes platform in Oban with Iain at the end of April and I was impressed as ever with his clear thinking about what Scotland – and Argyll – needed. But most of all I was struck, as were all those present, with Iain’s absolute commitment to a better and fairer future for our country and its people. His courage on polling day confirmed his determination to see that achieved. Without doubt, his spirit, his memory and his cause will live on. Iain MacCormack’s funeral will take place at 10am on Thursday, 25 September at St Columba’s Cathedral in Oban.

(copyright The Scotsman)