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Words by Zack Gardner

It started with a hair cut for my hobbyhorse.

(Well, actually it started when I met NABS NW Committee member Jackie Anderson whilst exploring career options, but that’s not as good an opening line.)

I don’t know if any of you have ever asked your barber to mime their profession on a cherished childhood toy, but I found mine to be surprisingly amenable. My barber that is, not the horse.

The horse did what it was told.

Amenable too were NABS when I proposed the idea of doing something a wee bit different to introduce my performance of Tam O’ Shanter, which I had agreed to do at the first inaugural NABBIE Burns Supper.

As an aspiring (and somewhat frustrated) creative myself, I really wanted to bring a contemporary ‘Tam’ to the fore but also demonstrate the skills and creativity that would appeal to the many like-minded individuals that would be in attendance. As a result, I tried to put together a piece of video content that was unique, engaging and memorable.

This link will hopefully explain a few things.

Putting the above together is what dominated my preparation for NABBIE Burns. So much so that I had no idea as to the sheer volume of work that NABS had put into making sure the night would be a success. When I walked in on the day of and saw the fully decorated hall though, I was left in absolutely no doubt.

From the tartan bunting suspended between the two galleries and the immaculately set tables with tartan trims and floral centrepieces, right down to the bottles of drink adorning each table and spot-on slide show projected on to the walls of the atmospheric Augustine United Church – I couldn’t help but get the feeling that this was going to be a special evening.

After meeting my fellow top table guests, I was introduced to our distinguished host for the evening, Scott Hastings. When faced with meeting the rugby international star for the first time, I stayed exceptionally cool and blurted out within seconds that I may or may not have broken his school high jump record. I’d have only been subtler if I had spraypainted ‘what’s your PB Scott?’ on the neighbouring organ.

Icebreakers are my forte.

Once everyone had settled, having poured their opening beverage of either whisky, lager or Irn Bru (or all of the above), there were a few well-chosen words from the NABS’ Head of Regional Development, Kate Harris, before the haggis was unusually, but fantastically, sung in. Simon Watson and Kenneth McFarlane then proceeded to enthusiastically address the Haggis and the Mouse respectively. With more than adequate pressure piled on to yours truly to match the entertainment, the assembled guests got down to suppering in earnest.

I don’t usually eat much at Burns Suppers. When performing, the butterflies in my stomach enforce a touch of abstinence, however as the food was so good on this occasion, I was able to agonise over what I had to do with an abnormally full belly.

I left my seat just before coffee was served to get myself together.

I do have a confession to make though. Rather than the seamless transition from the ‘Tams Before Mams’ AV, to my live entrance, I actually found myself crouched, barely out of sight and by the door, desperately trying to gauge how the video landed.

I’m still not too sure!

When I did eventually enter the hall, it was to extremely welcoming applause. Thinking it was best to harness that momentum of good grace immediately, I launched into the first verse as soon as the claps died down.

As is the case with virtually every rendition I give of ‘Tam’, it passed by in a blur.

What little recollection I do have, is that of kind faces, lit by the atmospheric red of the venue’s halogen heaters and framed by the backdrop of the, once again, exceptionally decorated hall.

Upon toasting Meg and finishing the poem, I took my seat to rapturous applause… which is always nice!

What I did not expect was the standing ovation.

Or the second.

Or indeed the third; all instigated by Mr Hastings and partaken with great gusto by all those at the tables.

As a Scottish, male and artistically tempered individual, I wouldn’t usually mention this sort of thing on a public forum, but to not do so would do a great disservice to the generosity and energy of the audience and other guests. I hope it doesn’t sound too cheesy to say that it really was an honour to perform in their company.

Slightly bashful but more-than-slightly delighted, I raised my glass in thanks before turning my attention to more pressing matters – like having a few drams and butchering the ‘Dashing White Sergeant’ at the ceilidh to conclude the evening.

At the time of writing, a couple of weeks after the event, I have been able to look back fondly on the evening as a whole. I realise now that the values NABS strive to represent shone through every aspect of the evening.

An exceptional eye for aesthetics and detail was there for all to see, but also, it felt like an instant community. There was a kindness, warmth and genuine interest for each other among all attendees and speakers. It was a wonderfully relaxed environment that allowed and encouraged everyone to flourish.

I am extremely grateful that the invitation was extended to me to perform, and the kind words and offers of assistance for my own next move were as humbling as they were magnanimous.

Here’s to next year!


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