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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Psychedelic Druids vs Galloway Levellers


Found a new (old) Pink Floyd cd in Woolies -same store I bought Anarchy in the UK 30 years ago. Its an impressively excellent 17 minute version of Interstellar Overdrive and Nick’s Boogie -12 minutes worth (later reworked as Saucerful of Secrets and which sounds like krautrockers Amon Duul) both from January 1967.

It really is good- as good as west coast USA psychedelic classic’s like the Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxters or Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Happy Trails (Who Do You Love). Which is interesting - the UK scene was supposed to be the poor relation, but on the strength of these tracks I’d say London was on the cutting edge.

There is also a film clip - but haven’t managed to get it to play on this Mac yet.

Bit of a culture shock today - young woman with dreadlocks on the street today - part of a whole crew in a clapped out green camper van-ish truck. Time /space travellers who jumped 20 years into the future and 350 miles north after escaping from the Beanfield?

Could go off on a whole riff on a counterculture theme, but got to get to the Galloway Levellers... although... there is a Druid link. But how to explain?

Go back to about 1889. On an outcrop of rock above High Banks farm steading near Kirkcudbright a set of ‘cup and ring’ rock carvings were found. Local (and Galsgow) artist Edward Hornel went to see them and then visited an old man called Sinclair who knew where more of the markings could be found:

Sinclair took from a shelf a small china bowl in which was a small bluish stone. Holding this in his hand, in a few minutes he seemed to go off in a sort of trance, and then began to describe, like a wireless announcer today [i.e. 1939], a vision of a procession of priests with sacred instruments and cattle which somehow were connected with the cup-and ring markings... [from A.S. Hattrick: A Painter’s Pilgrimage Through Fifty Years :1939: 60/61 in Bill Smith: Hornel: 1997: 59]

This inspired E.A. Hornel & George Henry to piant The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe - now in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow. See pic at


for High Banks see


Hornel lived (until his death in 1933) at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright. Here he built up a library of 25 000 local interest books (inc. a huge section on Burns). He also had a cast made of the High Banks cup and ring markings for the Stewartry Museum, also in Kirkcudbright - can still be seen there.

Amongst the Hornel archive is John Nicholson’s research material on the Galloway Levellers- pencil written in a big note book. Nicholson was a Kirkcudbright publisher and author. Last week I sat in Broughton House and read through Nicholson’s material...wow!

The first section is based on folk history - grandparent and parents tales of the Levellers jotted down around 1830, but also John Martin’s recollections. John (born 1710, died 1801, grave in St. Cuthbert’s kirkyard KBT, not far from Billy Marshall’s grave - Billy died aged 120 in 1792, was ‘king of the Galloway gypsies and a leader of the Levellers).

In 1724, aged 14, John was a Leveller. He came from Halmyre farm in Kelton parish (close to Kelton Hill- see solstice blog below) and first armed himself with a flail and then, after the stand-off between the Levellers and the landowners at the Steps of Tarff, picked up a gun dropped by a more nervous Leveller and adopted it.

There is a lot more - including a 3 act play ‘The Levellers of Galloway’ written by Nicholson. His brother William wrote a poem ‘The Brownie of Blednoch’ [which inspired another of Hornel’s paintings] - William’s ‘brownie’ is the ancestor of Harry Potter’s house-elves - he works faithfully until give clothes to cover his nakedness by a modest housewife, after which he leaves.

So there you are - from a lost bit of full on psychedelic / acid house by Pink Floyd in 1967 to ‘hippy travellers’ here in 2006, from Bronze Age rock carvings to painted visions of Druids in 1890 and back to the Galloway Levellers.


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