Two Highland councillors have gathered worldwide followings from their efforts to entertain people during the pandemic.
Wick councillor Willie Mackay dusted off his spoons, and is now joined by thousands on Saturday nights as he streams his Tune on the Spoons on Facebook, while Lochaber councillor and green badge guide Andrew Baxter regularly beguiles viewers with his virtual Scotland tours, including his Harry Potter’s Scotland trail.
Willie is a veteran of the spoons, having learned the art in 1968 when he was 20 and working for the agricultural college at Craibstone, Aberdeen.
Living in Blackburn Kinellar at the time, bothy nights were a huge feature of village life.
The couple accommodating Willie offered to show him how to play the spoons and the rest is fast becoming the stuff of legends.
Last May, Willie’s wife Glynis prompted him to dig out his spoons.
“She said, we’re clapping for the NHS every week, why don’t you do a tune on the spoons for the NHS key workers?
“Our daughters Samantha Law and Kirsten Mackay both work in hospitals, so I decided to give them a mention and play a tune.
“It took off from there.”
One of his early sessions, to the tune of Barnyards of Delgaty, ended up with 1,000 shares and 245,000 views and left listeners hungry for more.
Willie has carried on playing every Saturday to an enthusiastic fan base.
“They’re in Vietnam, the Gold Coast, Australia, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, USA.
“People are asking for shout outs now, and I do two or three a night.”
Willie now finds younger people asking for lessons.
“I wish I could hold classes, but I message them on how to hold the spoons, get the rhythm and keep going at it.
“It takes a wee bit of practice and you have to be prepared from some blisters.”
Willie intends to keep going with his Saturday nights.
“I’ve ever so many people saying thank you so much for entertaining during this difficult time.”
For Andrew Baxter, taking his guided tours online during the pandemic has been about his own mental health, as well as offering welcome escape for thousands.
He became a qualified green badge guide in 2017 and in normal summer months is kept busy with cruise ship passengers and driving guests from all over the world around the Highlands in bespoke trips.
But those days are over at present, and when the first lockdown saw all his tours cancelled within days, Andrew decided to take his offering online.
“For my own sanity as much as anything I decided to do a free weekly hour long tour every Friday evening.
“I’ve now done 12, with the Zoom sessions always packed with 80 or 90 people.
“I offer themes, like Hidden Loch Ness and Myths and Legends, and when Hallowe’en came round I did Bloody Edinburgh, Ghosts and Castles and the Harry Potter Scotland trail.”
Andrew started charging, and found all the sessions were selling out.
At this point, enquiries from Brownies and Scouts started coming in about the Harry Potter trail, and Andrew has now done dozens of tours for these groups.
He dons a wizard’s cap and calls himself Profession Baxter, head of potions, delivering his tour against an appropriate theatrical back drop with floating candles lending atmosphere.
The tours are interactive, with lots of enthusiastic shouting of spells as he takes the youngsters through Edinburgh to the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, Glen Nevis for quidditch, and Glencoe for Hagrid’s hut.
Andrew intends to keep on adding to his offerings with some new free ones coming, including Royal Scotland and a Hebridean Odyssey.
Andrew’s tours can be found at glen2glen.com.