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Kailyard Blues

Radio 4
1998 (four episodes)

A very unusual series by Scottish writer and musician Don Paterson.  The show was billed as a black comedy, which isn’t really the right description — but then, it wasn’t exactly easy to describe.  On the surface, Kailyard Blues is a comedy-drama about Homesick Ferguson (Bill Paterson), a jazz musician newly out of drug rehab and looking to re-form his once-legendary quartet.  Life on the road, tensions within the band, Homesick’s brushes with his former love and former habit, and the eventual blossoming of a new relationship were all chronicled with compassion, sardonic humour and an ear for dialogue.

At another level, however, Kailyard Blues had some distinctly strange features.  For a start, the series was set in a world (some of the trails described it explicitly as ‘a parallel universe’) in which the entire jazz tradition was native to Scotland, and the sound of jazz was defined not by the saxophone but by the accordion — the instrument which brought together Homesick and talented young female player Jessie Urquhart (Ashley Jensen), much to the disgust of the quartet’s egotistical piper JJ MacFadyean (Liam Brennan), whose bad behaviour threatened the fragile existence of the group.  Secondly, the series had an idiosyncratic take on contemporary politics.  The story began with an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote for Scottish independence, leading to the defection of newly oil-rich South Skye to become a new English county, and an increasingly dangerous political and military stand-off — which spelled trouble for the Homesick Ferguson Quartet, owing to drummer Lafayette Macnab’s involvement in the nonviolent bombing campaign of the Scottish Buddhist Liberation Army.  This subplot came to dominate the final episode of the story, which concluded surreally (if feasibly) with the ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Arbroath by President Sean Connery.

In addition to scripting the series, Don Paterson also wrote the music, which presumably constitutes some of the finest accordion jazz ever composed.  Macnab was played by Alexander Morton, with the quartet completed by Ralph Riach as comparatively tranquil bass-player Thaddeus Brougham.

© JB Sumner 1999. Uploaded 10/1/99