Why the Birds Sing

I was delighted this year to work creatively with my Dad, poet Ian McFadyen, on a wee show called 'Why The Birds Sing' as part of Edinburgh's TradFest Dùn Èideann The performance was developed from an earlier show which took place in Neidpath Castle as part of Peebles Arts Festival 2006, 'As Long As We Both Have Wings' (then performed with friends from Tweed Theatre).

Because they have song
Not because they have answers
Is why the birds sing

'Why the Birds Sing' is a collection of Ian's writings - prose, poems, owersettins, stories, music and song in Scots and English - which celebrate the magical world of birds. The script material is divided into two halves and four quarters. Mythical Wings reflects on birds in myth and folktale; Down the Tweed takes us on a bird-watching journey down this silver river; Lovebirds considers how birds are reflected in our love stories; and finally, we head Up the West Coast and out to the Islands. 

Nichtingale, robin, peacock, cockerel, hoolit, kingfisher, raven, swallow, deuks, chooks, curlew, peewit, swans, blaikies, seagulls, wee starlin, corncrake, sparra, dunnock, twite, puffin, corbie, geese...


“Many of my poems emerge as a response to the landscapes, soundscapes, creatures and features in the natural world. Many were written long before I encountered the term ‘geopoetic,’ but I think many of them may belong under that umbrella, in so far as I understand it. They divide, superficially, into those that arise from the green hills of the Borders - a land of trees and shining rivers, especially the Tweed; and those that arise from the West Coast and its Glamour of Islands, especially Mull and Iona, and our retreat in North West Sutherland - an entirely different land with ocean, mountains and vast open spaces. My poetry is simply a response to being alive in these places. Many poems derive from encounters which stick in the mind and insist on being written about.”

— Ian McFadyen

With huge thanks to talented friends Chris Wright, Zarya Rathe, Ella Leith and David Francis who helped the birds come to life - perhaps we'll do it again one day!



The year the islands opened to us that first day,
west all along the Pilgrim Way.
Loch Don shone mother-of-pearl,
with thin pinks and blues,
but before we reached Bunessan,
Loch Scridian and everything beyond it
was a blaze of burnished gold.
“We’re going there,” we told the children.
The headlands of Ardmeanach opposite
lay layer upon layer in that light
like the leaves of some
great green book of the Earth.
“Set fair till Friday,” they said at the ferry -
and it did last the week. Across the sound,
Iona crouched like a green cat,
a sphinx on shining water that turned
turquoise over white sand in Saint Ronan’s Bay.
Baile Mor was horse-lanes hedged with fuchsia.
On the straight way to the Hill of the Angels,
the breeze smelled of yellow bedstraw.
This time we could afford
to let the last ferry go,
and to take sole possession
of the White Strand of the Monks
in a slanting sun.
We looked west from the Hill of the Seat,
to where the sea becomes an ocean -
watched that glamour of green islands
as they sharpened into silhouettes
before a sun that burned
on an immensity of copper, pewter, gold.
And then, by Ardionra,
in soft light and an air sweet with hay,
a voice that we had only ever read about,
but knew at once, as surely as you’d
recognise a unicorn if one stood in your path
and stamped at you. That such a furtive beast
should advertise so stridently!
A corncrake - northern nightingale,
and bird it surely was, for we flushed it
from an uncut rocky patch
and glimpsed the stomping, hunchbacked sprint
for cover at the field’s rough edge.
A brief indignity,
for it soon resumed its calling
in the dusk through which we strolled away
reflecting, “This is only the first day.”