There was no hotter ticket in town than last Thursday’s Colour-Bussing, and those lucky enough to attend the spectacle savoured an extra-special start to an extra-special Common-Riding.
The much-loved annual ceremony once again brought Hawick’s history and pride to life, as townsfolk dressed in their finery filled the town hall with great chatter and colour, while the Cornet’s supporters sang from the crammed Lads’ gallery.
But this was not just any Nicht Afore the Morn, this was the Nicht Afore the Morn of the anniversary of Hornshole. And with expectations and emotions running high, some of Hawick’s finest performers and a sterling chief guest speaker in Henry Douglas, Ex-Acting Father, Ex-official song singer, farmer and gentleman, ensured it was a Colour-Bussing that was truly blessed.
And for the first time ever, it was screened live to a sell-out crowd in the auditorium at Tower Mill.
The Drums and Fifes began proceedings by leading Provost Stuart Marshall and the robed magistrates to the stage. But then all eyes fell to the back of the hall where Cornet’s Lass Michelle Paxton appeared with the Flag, and carried it to the front for her most important duty of the Common-Riding – whilst wowing in a stunning red dress and hat with huge bow. Accompanied by the Maids of Honour and assisted by the Right-Hand and Left-Hand Lasses, all looking equally resplendent, Michelle took centre stage as she flawlessly tied the blue and yellow ribbons to the staff, before confidently, and clearly, informing Provost Marshall that he would find it well and truly bussed.
The Cornet’s Lass says she was delighted with how her big moment had gone, stating: “I was surprisingly calm until I held the Flag in my hand, then my heart started going and the nerves started. But I was really pleased with how it went. It hasn’t sunk in yet that I’ve done it.”
But the Cornet’s Lass had fulfiled her duty and received her badge, and in time-honoured tradition, three cheers gave way to silence as Cornet Ross Gibson, dressed in his green tail coat, arrived at the front of the stage with his Right and Left, and climbed the stairs to receive his crimson sash.
Once the Cornet had promised that he would carry out his duty to “ride the meiths and marches of the commonty of Hawick according to ancient custom”, and having done so returning the Flag “unsullied and unstained”, it was time for official Common-Riding song singer Michael Aitken to lead a rousing rendition of ‘Up Wi’ the Banner’, which got the historic occasion off to the perfect start.
And with Provost Stuart Marshall chairing the evening in superb fashion, which he revealed was a “wonderful privilege”, as well as thanking the many exiles who had returned to be back amongst their “ain folk”, proceedings continued in fine style with Sally Thomas’s haunting ‘Wail O’ Flodden’. But then the stage belonged to eagerly anticipated chief guest Henry Douglas – a man who needs little introduction in Hawick, a choice Provost Marshall described as “the easiest decision I’ve ever come to”.
Mr Douglas – whose links to the Common-Riding also include his Ex-Cornet son John, as well as being an ex-president of the Callants Club, 1514 Club and Mosstroopers, and his daughter Jill who has also been a chief guest – revealed he was struggling to find the words to describe the pride he felt to be standing there.
But Mr Douglas, Acting Father in 1978, certainly used the right words to deliver an outstanding address which was heartfelt and stirring, outlining not only his love for the Common-Riding, but the town he’s called home since his family moved from the Yarrow Valley to the Borthwick in 1946, as well as a deep understanding of Hawick’s heritage.
“I say I’m an adopted Teri because that is after all what I am, but my God ladies and gentlemen, am I pleased to be one,” Mr Douglas stated. “There’s no doubt to me Hawick Common-Riding has aye been the best, but I’ve also got great memories and made some wonderful friends at other Common-Ridings.”
And portraying a down-to-earth nature which endeared him to all, he added: “I say great memories, well I have to admit some are a bit blurred and reduced to what Aileen, my wife, has told me.”
Mr Douglas also praised the town’s commemoration of 2014, especially the Big Return battle re-enactment at Hornshole. He stated: “I began to imagine what it must have been like 500 years ago for those young men. Then you realise, had it not been for them, the peace we enjoy today, and the freedom that enables us to celebrate our Common-Riding every year, might never have been.”
And Mr Douglas further proved his credentials when he revealed that he was a decendent of the Douglas’ of Cavers, a banner many fought under at Flodden in 1513, and continued to captivate with a tale of how those bloody events led to Hornshole and the annual remembrance of those young men’s brave deed, adding: “Cornet Gibson, this year you are the chosen one.”
At the end of his address, Mr Douglas received huge applause, and Provost Marshall spoke for everyone when he said Mr Douglas had been the “right man, in the right place, at the right time”.
The baton was then passed to Iain M. Scott, making an impressive Colour-Bussing debut with a note-perfect ‘Hawick’, before Joyce Tinlin and Debbie Lyons effortlessly harmonised ‘Auld Hawick My Dreams’. Bernie Armstrong set the hall in motion with ‘Up Wi Auld Hawick’, before Royal Opera singer Elliot Goldie lent his skills to his home town and delivered a powerful rendition of ‘The Banner Blue’.
Mr Marshall also paid tribute to those close to the Common-Riding who have passed away, acknowledging Ex-Provost Zandra Elliot; Ex-Cornet’s Lass and Ex-Acting Mother Christine Dickey; Ex-Cornet’s Lass Myra McLeod (nee Elliot); Ian Seeley, official pianist; and Nellie Hinton, mother of 1976 Cornet Haig Hinton.
Other business of the night included telegrams of well-wishes, including those from Scotland internationalist Stuart Hogg currently on tour in America, and Hamish, Kerry and Fergus Neish in Australia. Presentations were also made to Silver Jubilee Ex-Cornet and Lass John and Gaye Douglas, and their Acting Father and Mother Robert and Anna Pringle, pianist Ann Witherington, 60-year Cornet Bruce Mactaggart, as well as 1946 Cornet’s Lass Greta Reid. And Golden Jubilee Cornet Rob Brydon received a huge cheer after a short but emotional speech.
All that remained was for Michael Aitken to bring an exceptional evening to a close with his inimitable ‘Teribus’. And with hearts bursting with pride and all things Hawick, as the town hall crowd spilled onto the street to merge with excited townspeople ahead of the Tying of the Ribbons, there was no doubt a Common-Riding to remember was in full swing.