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Like the river

by Alex MacDonald

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The Fall of Tam Moncrieff He was out on the hill when the news came through of the death of his daughter’s son; He was old and grey, but tall and lean, coming down in the setting sun. A heroin overdose, they said, had taken his life away; He’d gone to the city to look for gold, but all he found was clay. The old man bent as he leaned on his stick, but never a word he said; His heart turned cold, cold as a stone, as he turned and walked to the shed. He took his precious Purdies down and cut the barrels off; In the grey of the dawn his old Transit van started up with a purr and a cough. He took the long road south from there by mountain and by strath, But no one in Auld Reekie then could feel his approaching wrath. The first place that he made a call was a pawn shop down in Fife, Where a man he knew gave a thousand pounds for the jewels of his long dead wife. The Forth Road Bridge was clear going south, and he found a place to stay— An old hotel in the centre of town, with his van parked some streets away. That night he went out to find his man and it didn’t take him long; Big Tam was his man if he wanted a deal for something hard and strong. In a suit and tie and a long brown coat, the old man limped down the street; In the back of a pub in the New Town was where they’d arranged to meet. The old man looked Tam in the eye and explained what was his need; The case he opened looked full of tens; he was aware of Big Tam’s greed. He said he wanted to open up a new market in the north; A hundred times what was in the case was what the deal was worth. Big Tam’s eyes narrowed and he asked, “Do I know that you’re for real?” The names the old man mentioned then were enough to clinch the deal. After midnight the following day was when the deal went down, In an antique shop in Montague Street on the other side of town. Big Tam he opened up his case—it looked as pure as snow. The old man laid his brief case down and opened it kind of slow. You could hear every breath as they gazed upon the rows of hundred pound notes; What they didn’t see until too late was the old man reach in his coat. When they all looked up, they were looking down four barrels short and cold, And the man who held them was tall and straight—now he didn’t look so old. No one moved a muscle, but the colour drained from Big Tam’s face, When the old man said, “I’m Dan Mackay—I’ve come in judgement not in grace.” Then he told them all the story of his daughter’s only son, And cold sweat ran down Big Tam’s brow, before his tale was done. “There’s many a beast I’ve killed,” said Dan, “Nobler far than you. But you’re going to wish you never were born by the time that I am through” With a case and a gun in both his hands from the table he went back; He walked out of there with £1,000 and a million pounds in smack. His old transit van was parked outside and the engine roared and growled, While back inside Big Tam went nuts—going out the door he howled, “We’ll take the BMW and catch this Dan Mackay. He’ll never leave this town alive, tonight he’s gonna die”. But they never did catch the old transit van by the bypass or the bridge; On the motorway and the A9 north, it always had the edge. Big Tam and his henchmen didn’t know that at the heart of the battered van Was a Cosworth engine, six speed gears and a driver who was the man. Many a time, with a stag in the back, that race he’d always win, But now he played Big Tam like a fish, and he steadily reeled him in. He went through Drumochter and the Slochd like the wind on the mountainside; By Inverness and the Kessock Bridge they couldn’t catch him though they tried. By Contin, Garve and wild Braemore, he took the long road west; Some call it the Destitution Road; it’s a road that he knew best. He let them see him take the turn that heads down to Little Loch Broom, But then he pulled away again, just to give himself some room. At Corrie Hallie he finally stopped and put on his mountain gear; In the clear still morning air he heard the BMW getting near. In his rucksack went the heroin; he took a long stick and a gun. He pocketed the thousand pounds just at the rising of the sun. The BMW screamed to a halt, and Tam said, “There’s the van. There’s empty cases across the road, so now we’ve got our man!” The three of them ran up the path, but young Jake got far ahead; He never saw the snare wire, he went down and cracked his head. But when the other two came up, there was nothing there to see, So they kept on going up the hill and thought they were still three. At last they caught a glimpse of Dan as he disappeared into the mist; Big Tam got off three hurried shots from the handgun in his fist. On up An Teallach’s mighty slopes, Big Tam was left behind; Red Billy was a wee hard man, but he was running blind, So he never saw the hazel stick that sent him down the rocks; The old grey man that hunted them was as cunning as the fox. When Big Tam came gasping up at last, he could hear poor Billy scream; He saw that Billy couldn’t move, it was like a nightmare dream. He swore that he would bring Dan down—it would only take one hit. If he had been a wiser man, that was the time to quit. On the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles was where they finally met; It was there drug baron Tam Moncrieff would settle his final debt. On the edge of the abyss they stood as the sun came shining through; “You’ve got something there”, said Tam, “that doesn’t belong to you.” In one hand Dan held the rucksack, in the other he held his gun; Big Tam’s eyes glittered when he saw the smack shine in the sun. “You’re right”, said Dan, “but it’ll be no good for the journey you’re going to take. Why don’t you leave it and change your ways?” But Big Tam made his last mistake. He raised his gun to bring Dan down, but his shots went echoing wide; A million pounds of heroin hit him on the side. He could have let his old life go and caught the hand held out, But instead he clutched his drugs and gave a great triumphant shout. He balanced on that bitter edge for an eternity of time, But the day had come at last when he would pay for every crime. Down from that fearful peak he fell a thousand feet or more, But Dan looked up to the heavens above, where he saw an eagle soar. And all around there blew like snow the price of a grandson’s life; It was scattered on that jagged cliff, where each rock shone like a knife. And long they looked in Edinburgh town for the return of Tam Moncrieff, But never he came, for he’d paid the price, the price of an old man’s grief. © Alex J MacDonald
ALL THE NIGHT IS EMPTY All the night is empty as she walks from the room That is framed in the colour of her hair She leaves her mind bleeding on each step of the stair And the stones mock the movement of her heels The cold wind clutches at her shadows on the wall She feels that it's reaching to her soul The orange light makes dry leaves alive round her feet And the rustle reaches back into her dreams She sees these dead leaves as they were six months ago With the drizzle of the sky going through her hair Her tangled web of life becomes the falling of the leaves Her happiness a destiny of dust If there was anyone to hear her she'd cry till he heard But her wisdom tells her no one's really there Her anguish and the hunger of a million children's eyes Prove to her that no one really cares But away behind the vision of her eyes and of her head There's a picture that she never can erase It's the awful sight of one who was broken by this hell His mind and body torn against the sky Her footsteps clatter from the dark wet cobble-stones To run her mind away from what she sees But his hands of love reach out down the arches of the years His cry of desolation fills her ears The ancient stony walls close in around her steps She sees that she's got nowhere else to run His loneliness is hers he took it for his own His love has broken through this hell. (c) Alex J MacDonald
BIG MAN BIG HEART On the last of the land a young man stands Where the sun sinks low Between darkness and light, the daylight and the night Torn in his soul Shepherd by day, the night-time for play In the summer or winter frost Music in his hands, dancing to the bands This is the shepherd that was lost He drives home late, comes in through the gate And he stands with his hand on the door His dying mother's song proves that he was wrong He turns to the hills, his heart is sore As he stands by her grave he tries to look brave But her words shake him to the core “Will you meet me there?” was her question and her prayer But he turns away once more He can wrestle and fight and drink through the night He can make the hammer fly from his hands But one night at a dance a girl asks him by chance If he's heard the preacher who understands Curious to know, he decides to go And settle this thing in his mind But much to his surprise, the preacher sees through his disguise He's empty, he's aching and he's blind As he drives by the shore, he meets him once more And confesses he wants to be changed And down on his knees he feels the coldness unfreeze His priorities all rearranged The darkness of night is dispelled by the light Of the shepherd who's given his life He sees him stand in the preacher's hand The one whose love cuts like a knife He sets out on that road where he'll bear a heavy load Of caring for everyone that's lost His voice reaches out, he'll whisper and he'll shout This love doesn't care about cost To seek and to save before he reaches the grave His ambition right from the start Through laughter or tear he will draw you near This preacher with the shepherd's heart He will not spare himself nor dare To turn away until we all know That the love that changed him doesn't come from within It comes from the high to the low But as the years roll this work takes its toll On a heart that wanted to win The great voice is stilled but the place now is filled Prepared by the shepherd for him Chorus Big man with a big heart He was a heavy with the light touch He was a shepherd who knew his sheep Big man with a big heart He was a heavy with the light touch He was a shepherd who knew his sheep (c) Alex J MacDonald
The glory 03:32
THE GLORY People of the islands, of the hills and of the sea On the deep green water the long ships were sailing Harvests of the land, harvests of the sea Provide for our children without failing They came for us in the daylight, their hearts as dark as night Our warriors abroad, betrayed in the fight They took our land and language, left us nowhere to hide But they couldn't take the glory away from our side I've seen the glory in the light upon the land In a dark-haired beauty and in banners unfurled But I've seen it most on the pages of the book Where I've seen the glory of the face beyond the world But they came for me in schools and on a TV screen In science and in slyness and where they would not be seen They took away my innocence, my wonder and my pride But they couldn't take the glory away from my side Created in the glory of the union of love A tapestry of wonder, woven in the womb Growing to a pattern reflected from above She lay enfolded in the shelter of her room But they came for her with arguments about a right to choose In a battle for her sisters to win she had to lose They took away her body, they broke it and they lied But they couldn't take the glory away from her side They came for the foreigners whose faces didn't fit For the handicapped and helpless, the worthless and the weak But you were none of these and you never said a word So when they came for you, there was no one left to speak They take away your freedom, they take away your right They take away your conscience and your will to fight Till you're broken by the burden and in the dark you've died And then they'll take the glory away from your side But will they take the glory away from your side? (c) Alex J MacDonald
Newfoundland 04:01
THE BANKS OF NEWFOUNDLAND On St Patrick's Day the seventeenth from New York we set sail, Kind fortune did favour us with a fine and pleasant gale. We bore away from Americay, the wind being off the land And with courage brave we ploughed the wave Bound down for Newfoundland. Our captain's name was Nelson, just twenty years of age, As true and brave a sailor lad as ever ploughed the wave. The Evelyn our brig was called belonging to MacLean, And with courage brave we ploughed the wave Bound down for Newfoundland. Just three days out, to our surprise, the captain he fell sick, And shortly was not able to take his turn on deck. The fever raged, which made us think that death was near at hand, So we bore away from Halifax Bound down for Newfoundland. At three o'clock we sighted a light which we were glad to see, The smallpox had been raging (that's what it proved to be), At four o'clock in the afternoon as sure as God's command, He passed away in Arichat Bound down for Newfoundland. All that night long we did lament for our departed friend, And we were praying unto God for what had been his end. We prayed the God would guide us and keep us by his hand And send us fair wind while at sea Bound down for Newfoundland. Traditional
TAY BOAT SONG When I've done my work of day and I row my boat away Down the waters of Loch Tay when the evening light is falling And I look upon Ben Lawers where the after-glories glow I dream of two bright eyes and a melting mouth below She's my beauteous Nighean Ruagh she's my joy and sorrow too For I doubt she is not true but I cannot live without her And my heart's a boat in tow and I'd give the world to know If she means to let me go, as I sing heree horo Nighean Ruagh your lovely hair has more glamour I declare Than all the tresses fair from Killin to Aberfeldy Be they lint-white, gold or brown, be they blacker than the sloe They are no more worth to me than the melting flake of snow Her glance is like the gleam of the sunlight on the stream Like the songs the fairies sing like the songs they sing at milking But my heart is full of woe for this night she bade me go And the tears begin to flow as I sing heree horo Traditional
Tears 02:58
Tears Did I ever dream in those first bright days When I promised you that there was One Who could wipe away every tear from your eyes That now I would cause those tears to flow? Thank God I cannot wipe away your tears Because if I possessed that power How could I know that when you needed me I could love you enough to forget my pride? And now I watch you weep bitter tears For the pain and the loneliness that I have given you And I walk again the old roads of agony And I look into walled gardens and I weep too But still I know that the same Lord is the same As He was yesterday when our love was young And He is still able to wipe away our tears And in His love we can again sing our song (c) Alex J MacDonald
He stands a beggar at your door The preacher came from the western wilds To the wealthy town by the sea They looked askance at his homespun clothes His hair was shaggy and long They smiled as he climbed the pulpit steps But his voice was clear and strong Every eye was turned and a stillness fell And this is what he said Chorus He stands a beggar at your door Will you open and let him in? Or will you turn him away my friend? It's your heart he wants to win. A great clan chief had a daughter dear It was time that she should wed To a feast in the castle he did call All the finest in the land O daughter dear, today's the day To choose the best young man O Father dear, I'll choose today I'll choose the best young man But in the early morning mist Before the guests arrived A beggar came an asked to see The daughter of the chief She was much too busy, the servants said To see the likes of him They shut the door right in his face And told him to be gone The beggar lifted up his crutch And laid it to the door At this the dogs began to bark And they made such a roar That high above in her castled room The daughter asked the cause It was only a beggar, her servants said Though he asked for her by name The chief's daughter came down the stair With her servants all around "What can I do for you, my man?" She asked as her servants frowned The beggar looked her in the eye And this is what he said "I come to ask for your hand in mine, "For you and I will wed." The lady then held out her hand And the beggar held it firm "Here is my hand", the lady said "For you and I will wed. And when will you return for me?" "I'll come in a year and a day." And the servants laughed at the lady's wit As the beggar he went away. But the smiles were soon all turned to frowns When the guests they did arrive. To the fine young men who courted her She gave the same reply: She said, "O that can never be, For my hand I gave today To a fine young man who will be mine. We'll be wed in a year and a day." Her father then was sore dismayed At what the lady said. "O daughter, that can never be That a beggar you should wed." "But Father dear, I gave my word And to him I shall be wed." And this she said for a year and a day No matter what was said. The year passed round, a year and a day And winter turned to spring The lady she dressed herself so fine But for her no bells did ring Then over the hill came the sound of pipes And many a voice did sing And in front of them all on a great white horse There rode the son of the King. The preacher paused in the deathly hush That had fallen on all around He looked at them and then did say In a voice that would raise the dead: "Christ Jesus stands at your door tonight As a beggar he stands there Do you recognise the King of Kings? Will you open and let him in? (c) Alex J MacDonald
SCOTLAND'S STORY The northern Lion lies asleeping In the darkness before the dawn Across the sea the light is shining From Iona the isle of dreams Creates a kingdom from painted warriors Celtic bards and Saxon lords Scotland's glory, Scotland's story, Scotland's glory, the light has come Viking longboats swiftly sailing Mail-clad Normans claim the land Across the border swings a hammer Creates a desert and calls it peace A great sword rises to fight for freedom Through blood and fire there comes a king Scotland's glory, Scotland's story, Scotland's glory, for freedom stands The flower falls on Flodden's field Priests and nobles oppress the land The message comes that heaven's open They insist that you have to pay But one man with God's the winner With open book feared no man's face Scotland's glory, Scotland's story, Scotland's glory, the law is king Now the hunted becomes the hunter From dark Glencoe to Culloden moor From Strath Naver to France and Belgium No great mischief if they fall But from the Kingdom a great voice wakens To call the nation to faith and love Scotland's glory, Scotland's story, Scotland's glory, is born again Through war and ruin and hopes of empire A land for heroes they promise you The straths are empty, the yards are silent Confusion reigns, our sorrows drowned But on our banners the cross and lion Tell a story of love and power Scotland's glory, Scotland's story, Scotland's glory, may come again (c) Alex J MacDonald
The Runner 07:54
THE RUNNER You ran through the fields where the wild flowers grew As a child in the meadows with laughter in your eyes You ran through the woods with the moss beneath your feet A boy in the shadows with the hope that never dies You ran on the hills with your face to the sky Like the hare on the mountain, like the eagle on the wind You ran like the river running to the sea The river you would follow to the world's end Chorus And you'll fly like the eagle And you'll run like the wind You'll run and not be weary You'll walk and you will never fall You ran on the grass in lanes around the track The length of the mile and the strength of your heart You ran up the mountain with the cold stone lord But you left him for dead, you won the race from the start You ran with the hares and you ran with the hounds But in the east wind of the city you started the big race You ran on the strength of the one who gave his life Running for freedom, for glory and for grace You ran for understanding of sickness and of pain Of healing and of mending what was broken and maimed You ran for the people who could not run themselves The cripple and the helpless, the hurting and ashamed You ran to the country where beauty wears a skull Where good blends with evil and all the gods are one You ran to the blind to give them their sight To the leper and the outcaste and the ones nearly gone You ran to the poor man who had the bite of death The kiss of life for him, the kiss of death for you You ran the second mile for him, you gave him your own breath Now the legs that ran for others will no longer run for you You can't run in the fields and you can't run in the woods On the track and on the hill your running days are done But you'll run in the city where the river flows You'll fly on the mountain when the day comes (c) Alex J MacDonald
Bon Accord 05:41
BON ACCORD I came to this city about ten years ago And I didn't know how strong the east wind could blow It's blown away my cobwebs, it's blown into my soul Makes me long to be clean, to be alive and to be whole Chorus Happy I was to meet you Sorry I am to part Happy I'll be to meet again Where we will never part Bon Accord This city's built of granite on the land and on the sea Between Highland and Lowland, between the Don and Dee Now granite's strong and lasting, against the wind and rain Formed in earth's furnace, like a people's pain You came here from the north, from the south and from the west From the hills and from the islands, the brightest and the best You were drawn to this city, its learning and its oil You helped to build its glory with your skill and with your toil But there is within this city another one of love Its not built from the earth, it comes down from above But we've helped to build its walls, every stone to us is dear It's built upon the rock, with blood and sweat and tears Been with you through the high times, been with you through the low But now's the time for parting and I just want you to know That I never will forget you and what you did for me And how God did something special when he set us free (c) Alex J MacDonald
The Shepherd's Song I have come from the north country The land of loch and hill Where the curlew's cry fills the sky On an evening damp and still Chorus When the shepherd sang for his lost sheep On his knees beside the bed And a mother filled the house with light And made sure that all were fed The crofter's son came across the hills To the place where the rivers meet In the winter chill he trapped the hill In the summer he fished the beat In the prime of life he wed a lass From the strath where he belonged They made a home which was not their own But they filled that house with song He worked the sheep and he worked the land A land that was his by right But a different country he could see That he dreamed of every night Now some demand the earth and land In the end they'll get six feet But the shepherd loved the land above Where the Good Shepherd he will meet (c) Alex J MacDonald


released October 4, 2008


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Alex MacDonald Edinburgh, UK

Grew up in Kildonan Strath, Sutherland, where I loved the psalms and hymns and the old folk songs my father had learned from his drover grand uncle.Went on to Cash, the Clancys and Corries, Tom Paxton and Dylan. Started playing guitar and writing songs in my teens, but only started recording this century with my rock band sons! Either solo or with my band, I've played all over Scotland. ... more

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