Beneath the Castle

beachcombers heckle fibres

of river, a warp and weft

of green, ochre and a touch of red.

Who would have thought old stones

had so much blood in the?
Rough wooings and Auld Alliances were here –

Marie de Guise watched on the far shore

but only the wind woos roughly now.

The tide returns to the Tay’s womb

to be born again another day.

White flowers and refugees aye welcome.
There’s driftwood shaped like a coelacanth.

Where were you hiding these million aeons?

Surviving evolution among grains

glistening from a sandy eternity

of life among the dead?

White flowers and refugees aye welcome.
Animated Lowry figures

 jog out of a pure horizon.

Children’s laughter scythes sadness –

Praise be the Weather Lord.

The city lies long and littoral.

White flowers and refugees aye welcome.

The Roar of the Greasepaint…the Smell of the Crowd


It’s not writing poetry which has made me perspire recently but rather writing a play…and producing it and acting in it and making the coffee and various other things. ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ by moi is a historical take on the City of Dundee and the Golden Fibre as Jute was sometimes known. It’s quite a story including characters as diverse as William Wallace, William McGonagall, James Bond, Winston Churchill, Mary Shelley, Mary Slessor, and even Mary Queen of Scots! And indeed the beautiful poetry of Dundonians Ellie MacDonald and Joe Lee the City’s ‘forgotten War Poet’. However it’s also a very modern tale in that it encompasses Globalisation, Immigration, the Status of Women, the Treatment of Children, Technology and the Environment does Jute.

Then when the original cast had to withdraw with a few weeks to go the director (alter ego my wife) and I had to get the band back together pronto in the shape of a theatre group we used to run years ago and which we’d thought was past it’s sell-by date. The group was called Shoestring on the basis of doing quirky productions on an er…shoestring budget! (Sorry can’t think of alternative less cliched image here). Hence all the extra perspiring over recent weeks.

But we did it in the beautiful setting of the High Mill at Scotland’s Jute Museum Verdant Works Dundee to very appreciative audiences. The show was enhanced by the beautiful music of the late Michael Marra sung by the Loadsaweeminsingin and Lochee Linties choirs directed by Michael’s daughter the one and only Alice Marra – aka female vocalist in Dundee Indie band the Hazey Janes. Who incidentally have recently worked with Scotland’s former maker (National Poet) Liz Lochead. Which brings us back to Poetry and the perspiring thereof to which I’m about to return. Though we are hoping to repeat ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ in Verdant Works next year. Watch this space!

UNBEAST* (Mary Shelley to Frankenstein)


Friend or foe? Who went hence?

Begotten of whaleback

in loins of fancy

by a silvery Tay,

prompted by happy night

and restless morning.

Quo Vadis my child,

my dissenting unbeast?
Speak to me if you would

out of friendly fire

with whaling industry

and of textile towns.

Anything, any thing,

any damn blessed thing?

There lay carved initials.

Friend or fiend? Who went hence?
*In Scots – monster



…Theatre Company are holding auditions for and will premiere ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ by er…John Quinn in the lovingly restored High Mill at Verdant Works Scotland’s Jute Museum in Dundee this June. To be precise the dates are 23rd 24th and 25th. That’s two evening performances and a matinee. The show is more than a couple of months away but I’m excited as all self respecting big bairns should be. I’m excited at seeing something I’ve worked long and hard on come to fruition of course but I’m also excited by the opportunity to work with ZeroThreeFifteen.

They’re young graduate actors out of Dundee and Angus College’s excellent Acting and Performance school – where my daughter was a student a few years ago – so we’re talking talent and skills in the craft and boundless energy and ideas. (That’s enough for now – Ed.) And you know ZeroThreeFifteen am was around the time I finished the first draft of the script one morning around a year ago. If you think about it three fifteen am is roughly where the early bird meets the night owl! Maybe some things are meant/written in the stars etc. You pay your money and pick your cliche.

Tickets are now on sale via Verdant Works’s Eventbrite Page or over the counter at the museum shop. Check it out! But whether or not you can manage – Lang Micht Yir Lum Reek as we say in Scots. It’s an idiomatic expression wishing good health on the listener. Literally it means may your chimney continue to smell and it’s an expression used in the play. But as to how it got from one meaning to the other – best not ask!

Great Tapestry Two


‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ by moi (or eh since we’re talking Dundee) will be performed by ZeroThreeFifteen Theatre Co. in the High Mill at Verdant Works Dundee this coming summer. But once the show is over we’ll need to strike the set etc (not difficult since we’re going minimalist) sharpish. The reason? The Great Tapestry of Scotland which played to around ten thousand people over a several week run there last year is set to return shortly afterwards. To sort of quote a spicy mix of General Douglas McArthur and the Governator Arnie Schwarzenegger ‘I shall return and be back!’ And if that qualifies as fake news I shall not retract.

Last time there wasn’t room for the whole Tapestry from the great forests of eight thousand years ago to the present pass whatever the hell that is. This time the plan is to exhibit those parts that didn’t reach us last time. And I further understand that the panel which was pinched in Kirkcaldy last time round has been re-embroidered and replaced for the Verdant Works gig. Therefore if any residents of the Kingdom of Fife ever read this you’ll need to understand me not recusing myself from reaching for a long spoon!

A Free Annual Pass means that one ticket purchased covers as many visits as the purchaser wishes over a twelve month period, one ticket covering entry to both the Tapestry and the Museum. If you are in Dundee over the summer check out these and a cornucopia of other things happening.

Songs in the Key of Dundee


Now I have a condition called OCWD or Obsessive Compulsive Writing Disorder. Most commonly this manifests itself in perspiring poetry but I have written a novel – hasn’t everyone – and more recently the play ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ which I might just possibly have mentioned on this blog. This is of course on the grounds that it is being ‘premiered’ in the High Mill at Verdant Works Museum this June. (I may have mentioned that detail too). However I’ve just crossed for me a Rubicon of a writing line so to speak in that I’ve been co-writing with my wife Marion writer musician and (That’s enough -Ed!) three er…songs for the play!

I’m sorry I’ll write that again – tone deaf Tony here is writing song lyrics. Though come to think of it Ludo Van B to give him his rap handle wasn’t just tone deaf so there’s inspiration there! Two of the songs are based on poems of mine ‘Mother of All the Peoples’ about Mary Slessor and that £10 note and ‘No Pasaran’ which concerns men from Dundee who fell in the Spanish Civil War while fighting with the International Brigades. The third is a reworking of ‘The Piper O’Dundee’ to become ‘The People O’Dundee’. No copyright issues will be harmed therein!

And even if the musician has to rescue the lyricist on this one so to speak I’m getting a bungee jump level of buzz (fear attached) out of giving it a go. Think I’ll try putting some more words to music after the play. I fancy trying a rap song. After all one of the most famous Dundonians of all – Will T – was the godfather of rap I’m told.

Alice Marra in Broughty Ferry


Saturday afternoon was one of those where it outdid its billing. Assai Records in Broughty Ferry or ‘the’ Ferry as native Dundonians tend to call it were hosting singer musician and choir director Alice Marra performing a short acoustic set from her new album ‘Chain Up the Swings’ Alice is the daughter of the late Michael Marra one of the great bards Dundee has produced. She is too chanteuse with The Hazy Janes and Choir Director with Loadsaweeminsingin now Choir in residence at the McManus Galleries Dundee. Hence she’s both talented and busy!

It was variously funny emotive and poignant music sung in a beautiful voice backed by some members of the Gaels Blue Orchestra. ‘Frieda Kahlo’s Visit to The Tay Bridge Bar’ ‘Australia Instead of the Stars’ ‘Mother Glasgow’ and ‘Taking the Next Train Home’ from ‘Chain Up the Swings’ were all movingly performed. ‘The Lass Wi the Flax in Her Hair’ another beautiful song of Alice’s father’s from the album was not performed on this occasion but.. it’s one of the songs she and Loadsaweeminsingin are going to perform as part of yours truly’s ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’ at the High Mill Verdant Works this June.

It might perhaps be germane to point out that after listening to such fine music in the heart of Dundee’s favourite urban village and seaside resort I was persuaded by a wild woman of my acquaintance to retire to one (ok three) of Broughty’s excellent hostelries to consume some libations into the afternoon. A very good day in ‘the Ferry’!

Who Were Those Masked Men?


This is a reblog from 2014. The central character will not be  appearing in the play ‘O Halflins and Hecklers and Weavers and Weemin’ at Verdant Works in June but I am seriously thinking he should be in another play.

The man in the pic hanging in the air is an out of work Portuguese actor performing Street Theatre in Dundee. Just yards from where the pic was taken between Reform Street and City Square another man was seen hanging in the air almost two hundred years previously in rather different circumstances. He was an Irishman named Mark Devlin and unlike the Portuguese actor in the picture he had attracted a huge crowd. For he was about to be hanged as a member of the Black Band Criminal Gang.

But there was a problem. In that Dundee had been experiencing difficulty recruiting Executioners because the citizenry still objected to the hanging of popular Jacobites some 90 years after the 1745 rebellion!! So the City Fathers outsourced to Edinburgh. But the Edinburgh hangman seemingly didn’t fancy the Dundee gig and City Hall had to find a replacement. An hour before the scheduled hanging on May 30th 1835 they found a volunteer executioner with the deal being he had to wear a mask to hide his id from the crowd who loved executions but hated executioners!

Soon word went round the stand-in was James Livingstone a Travelling Fairground Salesman from Forfar. He despatched Mark Devlin to meet his maker and melted back into the crowd. Meanwhile the er….. real James Livingstone was operating a merry-go-round in er…….Forfar! The executioner incredibly was just some random Dundonian from the crowd!! James Livingstone had to get an affidavit that witnesses had seen him in Forfar at the appointed time.

Around a hundred and twenty years later and a few hundred yards to the West of all this I was in a huge crowd surrounding another masked man – the Lone Ranger. As a then five year old he was my great hero and he came to Dundee. To Green’s Playhouse the second biggest cinema in Europe then. Small boys have difficulty seeing in large crowds and he never took his mask off that I could see. It was probably just as well – because if he had done and turned out to be another impostor instead of Clayton Moore who played the Lone Ranger there would have been another fine riot I can tell you!

Green’s Playhouse is now Mecca Bingo and not nearly as grand as it was in its heyday. But I still go back and gaze from the outside and wonder about those masked men.