With two decades of Samhuinn experience in performance and behind-the-scenes roles, Tom shares treasured memories and thoughts on the origin and evolution of the festival…
Hi, my name’s Tom and my background within this glorious Society of ours is wide and varied – from my first performance as a Redman at a Beltane celebration at Milestone house AIDS hospice in 1995, through becoming “Chief O’ the Redmen” in my second year, as well as joining the fledgling organisational committee as Chair (if memory serves) on through many years of Red and Committee, to coordinating Whites and Water Point, performing as Green Man and Horned God at two consecutive Samhuinns, a stint as Producer and one as Stage Manager, as well as lots of other bits and bobs.
I always associate Samhuinn with a good feeling relating to the change of season, as the air turns decidedly chilly, the evenings get dark, the last of the leaves fall and I get to wear nice comforting thick clothes.
My first Samhuinn was the first one, in 1995, with its procession down the Royal Mile and performance in Hunter Square. My main memory of that year was of my and the other Redman’s (Mad Mark) plan to make some sort of Red surprise (this was a new concept) and to that end we procured two out of date red emergency flairs which we strapped to our thighs as we capered and tumbled down the Royal Mile to finally light them behind the Cailleach as she unveiled, much to the surprise of all involved.
The festival has changed massively since that first year, primarily because although those first years were run by BFS, the fact that we used Beltane characters and storyline was secondary to it being a revival of Galoshan plays. Using the form of a Galoshan play with the Beltane characters overlaid, so the two opposing forces which could represent something like “church and state” or “communist and capitalist” were represented by the Green Man and Horned God and the doctor who resurrects the loser of the two is represented by the Cailleach. Over the years the elements of the Galoshan have all but disappeared as the Beltane storylines have taken over. Also (as with Beltane) the storylines and interactions have become much more convoluted.
Having just moved to Glasgow I won’t be taking part this year but am determined to come along as my own character. I take inspiration from an old Red Man who one year came along dressed as a priest to harass and harangue the performers cursing them all to hell for their blasphemies. I probably wont do the same character but maybe something similar.
VERY old photos of Tom as a Red Man from the BFS archives