My SF Part 2:  Space, SF and Music

by Duncan Lunan

In my review of Hugh Kolb’s Seven Stars, Ancient Astronomy and the English Public House, two Sundays ago, I mentioned that in 1966 to 1970 I ran a folk song club in the Sun Inn in Irvine – the most successful of the ones where I was organiser, co-organiser or committee member between 1965 and 1981.  In 2017 Pete Heywood, formerly of the Kilmarnock Traditional Club and of The Living Tradition magazine, asked me to write a history of the Club, whose early years overlapped with the present-day one.  He included part of it in ‘The Early Days:  Folk Music in Irvine and Ayrshire’, Marymass Folk Festival, 50 Years 1968-2017 Blog, WordPress, August 2017, and printed it in full in his book 50 Years of Marymass Folk Festival, an incomplete history  (Traditional Arts Development, Irvine, 2021).  Pete also asked me to write up the significance of music and particularly traditional music in my writing, and I did so, but he never got back to me for it.  The answer is that it’s been extensive, especially in fiction, so there’s a lot to talk about.. 

I didn’t have a lot of time to spare for classical music when I was at University, except for the summer Proms at the Kelvin Hall, but the first story that I sold, ‘Derelict’, was composed while watching Leonard Bernstein conduct The Rite of Spring in a 1966 BBC television series called The Twilight of the Symphony  (now available online as Symphonic Twilight).  The last line of dialogue in the story quotes the blues Solid Gone.  Most of my writing at University and immediately afterwards featured an interstellar space-line called Terran-Astral, the first novel featuring an interstellar ‘galleon’ called the Louis Armstrong.  The series was considerably influenced by the sea stories I’d read earlier, and eventually I was asked to write that aspect up for The Westerman Yarns No. 2, November 2013. 

Fig. 1. Kelly Freas, Proud Guns to the Sea illo Analog Jan 1973

The only Terran-Astral story to be published  (‘Proud Guns to the Sea’, Analog, January 1973, Fig. 1)  was based on the ballad Henry Martin, quoting it in the title, and included a planet called Hallway, lifted from the 8th century Irish Donal Óg, which Gerry Cairns was singing around the clubs at the time.  But my really ambitious idea was an episodic novel or 8-story series called ‘Timescale’, inspired by the ballads, in which my central character was moved up through time by various means, taking on the legendary rôle of heroes like the much-tougher-than-Hollywood’s version in Robin Hood and the Seven Foresters, and later the symbolic rôle of figures like the talking birds and ‘king’s harpers’ of the supernatural ballads like Binnorie.  Neither the Terran-Astral novels nor Timescale achieved publication, though I came very close with a spinoff from Timescale called The War Fleet, and did sell a follow-up series of ‘Interface’ stories which appeared in Galaxy and If, now reprinted in my books From the Moon to the Stars and The Other Side of the Interface  (see below).

Fig. 2. Man and the Stars cover by Gavin Roberts

While cut off from the US science fiction market by the 1971 UK postal strike, I moved on into nonfiction.  Back when I was nine, I’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s The Exploration of Space and been impressed by his use of quotations as chapter sub-headings – mostly from The Hunting of the Snark, but with other sources such as Tennyson.  In my first book Man and the Stars   (Souvenir Press, 1974 – Fig. 2)  I wanted to do likewise, and originally each chapter was prefaced with a carefully chosen quotation from Paint Your Wagon.  But the copyright holders wanted an impossible fee for that, so I had to replace them with an eclectic mix of quotations from Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser, Pope, Jabberwocky  (in tribute to Clarke), Robert Burton, Horatio Nelson, Tennyson and Burns.  In one of my first articles, for Marr College Magazine, I’d quoted Oliver Goldsmith, and in later books I went on quoting Shakespeare, Tennyson and Burns, other poets including Virgil, Juvenal, Shelley, Wordsworth, Gray, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Norman Nicholson, Edwin Morgan, Hugh MacDiarmid, Robin Williamson, Brian Finch, and dramatists from Marlowe to Glyn Maxwell, as well as many prose writers, from Pliny and the Venerable Bede to Umberto Eco and Jeff Torrington.  I remain lastingly grateful to Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan for the unlimited permission to quote them which they gave me, not just for my first book but for the rest of my career.      

Steve Sneyd, himself a poet, interviewed me in 1993 for the US journal Fantasy Commentator about the uses I’d made of poetry, but he wasn’t interested in those I’d made of traditional music. But the Spenser quotation in Man and the Stars, from Book 2 of The Faerie Queen, alludes to the folk-tale of ‘Mr. Fox’, which I heard, along with Bold Reynardine, from the late A.L. Lloyd at the Glasgow Folk Centre.  Martin Carthy’s recording of Bold Reynardine was the interval music in Roy Dotrice’s one-man show Brief Lives, based on the Elizabethan diarist John Aubrey, which I saw at the Criterion Theatre in London in 1968.  I had a villain based on the legend in one of the unpublished Terran-Astral novels, which seriously impressed the late Chris Boyce – “wholly convincing, a real smoothie”.  I’ve also mentioned Bold Reynardine in the Notes to ‘The Great Australian Vampyre’, in The Other Side of the Interface.       

In Man and the Stars there were also two quotations from The Penguin Book of Australian Folk Songs, and one each from The Balaena  (words supplied by Drew Goodwin), Tom o’ Bedlam  (words from Steeleye Span’s LP Please to See the King), The Lover’s Ghost  (from the shorter version sung by Gerry Cairns), The Eskimo Republic, and from a Glasgow street song, “We’re gaun tae the camp in the country, hurray, hurray”, which my French translator, the late Jean Sendy, rendered expertly as “On s’en va camper à la campagne, chouette, chouette  (chanson enfantine écossaise)”.

My Solar System books, New Worlds for Old  (David & Charles, 1979 – Fig. 3)  and Man and the Planets  (Ashgrove Press, 1983 – Fig. 4)  had mostly literary quotes, including John Masefield’s Sea Fever, but the late A.T. Lawton prefaced his guest chapter in New Worlds with a quotation from Beethoven, and the books did include one each from The Stations Further Out  (words learned from Martyn Wyndham-Reed), The Rocks of Bawn  (words from Kevin Mitchell)  and Owen Hand’s My Donald, as well as mentioning the Irish fiddle tune, The Frost Is All Gone.  Other such casual mentions  (e.g. Tom’s Gone to Hilo, South Australia, Red Sails in the Sunset), were deleted by the editor, and a few lines from Tolkien had to be dropped because the fee was far too expensive. 

Fig. 5. Children from the Sky, 2012, cover by Sydney Jordan

My fourth nonfiction book, Children from the Sky  (Mutus Liber, 2012 – Fig. 5)  has quotes from Sule Skerry, Richard Farina’s The Falcon, Hal an’ Toe  (words from Gus Russell), Carrickfergus  (words from Gus Langlands), Gower Wassail  (words from A.L. Lloyd’s Folk Song in England and Steeleye Span’s Ten Man Mop), Dave Goulder’s The Raven and the Crow, and One, Two, Three Four, What Are We Fighting For? by Joe and the Fish.   It also mentions The Cutty Wren, citing Folk Song in England, two versions with different titles by Steeleye Span, its use in Arnold Wesker’s Chips with Everything, a related Irish song, The Wren!  The Wren!  recorded by the Chieftains, and the orchestral version incorporated by George Butterworth into The Banks of Green Willow.  I first heard that as incidental music to a serial about canal boats on Children’s Hour, and was delighted to discover the traditional original at the Glasgow Folk Centre  (likewise Lovely Joan, which I knew as the middle part of the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves, and High Germany, sung by Evelyn Love, which I knew only from the orchestral arrangement in Vaughan Williams’s March:  Folk Songs from Somerset).   I’ve also included quotes or paraphrases from pop music  (It’s My Party, Always Take the Weather, Bridge over Troubled Water and Here Comes the Sun, below), and also Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Bo Dudley by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore,  but folk music dominated overall.  

The Stones and the Stars  (Springer, 2012 – Fig. 6)  quotes Sule Skerry, Gower Wassail and The Bleacher Lassie of Kelvinhaugh, in a version collected by Pete Shepheard, and includes a parody of Strawberry Fair by John Braithwaite and myself, as well as a mention of the music hall number The ‘ouses in Between.   Incoming Asteroid!  (Springer, 2013 – Fig. 7)  quotes The Burnin’ o’ Auchendoun  (words from Isla St. Clair), Eric Bogle’s The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, and The Liverpool Girls  (words from Jack Foley), with a comment by Stan Hugill, as well as Tom Lehrer’s We Will All Go Together When We Go, and the introduction to his anti-proliferation song Who’s Next?  There are references to Vaughan Williams, the New World symphony, and Samuel Hoffman’s Music Out of the Moon, as classical tapes carried into space – though otherwise the astronauts have stuck to a remorseless diet of Country & Western, and on Apollo 9, Dave Scott hid Rusty Schweickart’s Vaughan Williams tape.

Fig. 8. The Elements of Time Cover, by Sydney Jordan, 2016

In my collection of time-travel stories The Elements of Time  (Shoreline of Infinity, 2016 – Fig. 8), the first story ‘The Day and the Hour’ cites a number of regimental pipe tunes – Caber Feidh, Hielan’ Laddie, Bundle and Go, The March of the Cameron Men, and March, March, Ettrick and Teviotdale.  The first version, published by Jim Campbell in the 1976 fanzine Celtic Warrior, also included The Black Bear, aka ‘The Fast March Back to Barracks’  (a joke for connoisseurs in Daryl F. Zanuck’s The Longest Day), but reluctantly I had to leave it out of the updated one, first published by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr in Warrior!, Vol. 5 of their anthology series There Will Be War.  It paraphrases Scots Wha Ha’e in the title, quotes the relevant verse at the midpoint, and cites it in the Notes along with R.S. Hawker’s Trelawney, John Watt’s Fife’s Got Everything and Henry Newbolt’s Drake’s Drum, which also gave me ‘Quit the Port of Heaven’ as a chapter title for the first unpublished Terran-Astral novel   (see above), like the psalmist’s ‘Nor Yet the Sun by Day’ in the second.  The next Elements story, ‘In the Arctic, Out of Time’, quotes Farewell Nancy, and references Saint James’s Hospital, Short Jacket and White Trousers and The Handsome Cabin Boy, all drawing on Bert Lloyd’s Folk Song in England and his LP First Person.  The Notes on that story mention the later US counterpart Saint James’ Infirmary, and quote Lord Franklin, with comment by Martin Carthy.  ‘With Time Comes Concord’ mentions A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and She Loves You – quoting A.L. Lloyd, interestingly enough, who told me in conversation, at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, “The major influence on British folk music in the next twenty years is going to be the Beatles”.  Notes on that story throw in a mention of TATU for good measure.

Fig. 9. From the Moon to the Stars cover by Gerry Cassidy, vignettes by Sydney Jordan

The second of the Interface stories in my space-travel collection From the Moon to the Stars  (Fig. 9)  is ‘Here Comes the Sun’.  The ‘Preface to the Interface’ quotes The Mikado, and the Preface to the second set, in The Other Side of the Interface  (Fig. 10),cites Binnorie. 

In the foreground a very tall peak with snow on the top and in the distance in the darkness of space a big planet
Fig. 10. The Other Side of the Interface, cover by Linda Lunan, art by Sydney Jordan

The third Interface story quotes Sic a Parcel o’ Rogues in a Nation, the fifth one quotes Blow the Wind Southerly, but the last one introduces two English scientists who use folk song to pass the time on long car journeys – much as John Braithwaite and I did on our trips to Somerset and Wester Ross in 1968-72.  The Lyke-Wake Dirge, Rounding the Horn  (words from Jack Foley), Hal an’ Toe, Ewan MacColl’s The Fidelistas, Bluey Brink  (words from the late Charlie Muir)  and Byker Hill  (words from the Young Tradition)  are all quoted, and The Wife of Usher’s Well is cited in the Notes.  The late Roy Dommett, one of the principal designers of Black Knight, Blue Streak and Black Arrow, would doubtless have approved, because he was also a major figure in the Morris Ring.  ‘The Great Australian Vampyre’  (Fig. 11)  cites Australian folk poetry, and The Lark in the Clear Air in the Notes, and in ‘Glasgow’s Forgotten Castles’ I’ve also quoted The Song of the Clyde, and the Notes to the flash fiction stories in the book parody Molly Malone, and quote Mary Don’t You Weep,and Well, Well, Well, by Peter, Paul and Mary, as well as Tam O’Shanter.  Elsewhere, my story ‘Last Days in the Nanotech War’  (Shoreline of Infinity, December 2015)  quotes Hush Hush by the Corries, and ‘Demon’  (40p Magazine, March 2016, reprinted in The Other Side Book of Ghosts, 2021)  is based on the ballad The Demon Lover.

Fig. 11. ‘The Great Australian Vampire’, New Moon Quarterly, September 1987

Since 2003, William Rudling of the Jeff Hawke Club has reprinted all 10,209 episodes and 114 stories of Sydney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke/Lance McLane comic strip, plus the story-lines of two unpublished ones, both mine.   It’s been my privilege to write critical notes on all the stories as they’ve been reprinted.  Most of the musical quotations in the strip are from older popular music:  Roamin’ in the Gloamin’, Someday I’ll Find You, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside, Love’s Old Sweet Song by J. Clifton Bingham, Quand l’Hirondelle Est de Retour, Thora by Fred. E. Weatherly, the 1918 music-hall song On the Good Ship Yacki-Hicki-Doo-La by Billy Mason, and ‘Sugar in the morning’ from the McGuire Sisters’ 1958 hit Sugartime.  But classical references and comparisons in the Notes include Holst’s Vedic Hymns and The Planets, also Les Oceanides, The Splendour Falls and The Lark Ascending.  Folk ones include The Day We Went to Rothesay-o, Thomas the Rhymer  (words from Adam McNaughtan), The Lyke-Wake Dirge, John Watt’s Fife’s Got Everything, The Ball-Shy Boy from Moscow  (sung by Iain MacIntosh), Sky-High Joe, Sydney Carter’s Lord of the Dance, The Barley Mow, Drunk Since Ever I Saw Your Face, The World Turned Upside-down, Captain Ward and the Reindeer  (sung by John Eaglesham of the Clutha, and alluded to by Nevil Shute in No Highway), Ding Dong Dollar, The Polis o’ Argyll, The Glesca Eskimos, Jack Foley’s Battle of the Buachaille, Dave Goulder’s These Dry Stone Walls, Adam McNaughtan’s The Street Artist, and The Lark in the Clear Air, played by the champion Irish piper Pat McNulty, which became ‘The Shark in the Clear Air’ as a story-title.  Other titles of mine taking liberties with songs included ‘I Talk to the Trees’, ‘Pharaoh’s Army Got Drownded’ and ‘Sails in the Red Sunset’  (sic). 

I didn’t leave Troon until I was nearly 30, and then I spent seven years in Irvine, so many of my writing ideas were thought out on the beach.  For the 18 months that I lived in Wishaw the artificial lake in Strathclyde Country Park provided a substitute, but after I moved to Glasgow, Hogganfield Loch didn’t cut it.  I did go hillwalking from my parents’ cottage near Sanquhar when I was down there, but otherwise I was stuck for inspiration until I discovered the Glasgow jazz scene in 1987.  (There may have been one in the 60s that I didn’t know about, but back then the jazz opportunities all seemed to be concerts and festivals, and as I prefer jazz live, I hadn’t heard much since.)  Soon afterwards, at a session with the Bobby Wishart Quartet at the Halt Bar on Woodlands Road, inspiration struck during a spirited rendering of Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring.  I composed ‘Ice-Needle’, the last story I wrote for Lance McLane.  Sydney bought the strip rights to it and it was scheduled to appear after a story by Marise Morland called ‘A Song for Methuselah’, at the point in May 1988 when a new strips page editor cancelled the series.  It remained on file till Chris Tubb published the story-line in four parts on the Jeff Hawke Club Blog in 2017-18, after which William Rudling included a shorter version in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos, The Epilogue  (2020).

Nevertheless the inspiration continued, and I haunted the jazz scene for it from then on:  the Bobby Wishart sessions at the Halt Bar, Bobby Deans and Michael Deans at the Curlers, Ricky Fernandez and friends at the Lansdowne Restaurant, Iain Copeland at the Brewery Tap, the George Penman Band, Jeannie Maxwell’s, and many more, particularly Bill Kyle’s Atlantic Bridge with Joe Locke, at the Glasgow Jazz Festival for several years.  I had followed Bill’s band when it was called Head, playing at the Granville Bar in the mid-70s.    

As a source of inspiration jazz wasn’t as healthy as the beach or hillwalking, especially with the amount of smoking there was in jazz sessions of those days, but it did mean that I was sitting down with pen and paper and could write then and there.  As Ed Buckley, who co-illustrated my first three books, was fond of saying, “First ideas are always best”.  One good thing about it was that I made friends in all the bands, because somebody would be told off to buy me a drink and find out who I was working for:  was I with the Herald or the New Musical Express, or by any horrible chance with the Inland Revenue or the DHSS?  I was working on a novel, using my stories for Lance McLane with my own characters and setting, and of course everybody wanted to be in it, preferably as a villain.  To please Bobby Deans and his fellow-sax player Bobby Thomson I introduced two super-CIA men with their surnames, because they were a pair of bobbies.  Ricky Fernandez and Ivan Henderson, the clarinettist with the Penman band, merged into Hernandez, the part-Spanish captain of a starship.  But the novel never achieved publication, so almost all my jazz-inspired published work from that period was nonfiction, particularly Children from the Sky  (see ON June 19th and 26th, 2022).

In addition to all the above, since 1958 I’ve had 1870 articles published, and I haven’t attempted to list all the music citations in them.  It’s not surprising that my first semi-professional article, ‘Folk Song Today’  (Glasgow University Magazine, June 1965), cited Johnny, I Hardly Knew You.  But for just one recent example, I quoted The False Bride, aka I Once Loved a Lass, along with Fame and Price’s Rosetta, Are You Better?, in writing up the end of Europe’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67-P in 2017.  There must be many more instances.  

After I remarried in 2010, Linda and I moved back to Troon in 2012, and the opportunities to hear live music here have been more limited.  There are folk song clubs in Irvine and Ayr, which also has a jazz club, but for a pensioner those are expensive nights out.  It wasn’t until I compiled the list of citations above, and wrote the notes for the stories in From the Moon to the Stars and The Other Side of the Interface, that I realised how little fiction I’d written in the same period – just three stories, all of them short.  Dreams, which supplied some of my best ones, have also dried up.  I don’t think those losses are coincidences, and as we intend to move to Arran, I’m hoping that we can connect with the live music scene over there, and maybe it will stimulate more fiction when we do. 

Duncan’s fiction books The Elements of Time and Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers  (edited)  are both available from the publishers Shoreline of Infinity, from bookshops or through Amazon.  From the Moon to the Stars, The Other Side of the Interface and The Other Side Book of Ghosts are all available through Amazon.  For more details see Duncan;s website,

The entire canon of Sydney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke/Lance McLane strip, including the Junior Express/Express Weekly version drawn by Chick Jack and Ferdinando Tacconi, have been reprinted by the Jeff Hawke Club in the books The Martian Quartet, The Lunar 10, Jeff Hawke Jnr., Earthspace and Jeff Hawke, The Epilogue, plus 30 issues of the magazine Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos and a Supplement, all edited by William Rudling.  All are available from the Club through their website, and proceeds go to the RAF Benevolent Fund.  The Jeff Hawke title is copyright by The Daily Express, 1954.

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