I stumbled into commentating at vintage rallies like many other commentators with the words from one of the committee “ were stuck and we know you can speak”. To that came the Doric response of dinna be silly I ken nithing aboot auld things Im nae a collector. Sixteen years and over 80 rallies later the season starts all over again.
A commentator brings more than descriptions and stories about Scotland’s past to a rally he or she brings a bit of their personality also. However, they are not the main event in the ring but must try to present the exhibits content, owner and context in as best a way as possible to represent the authentic culture of Scotland. Most rallies today have developed their offer to cover many aspects of Scottish heritage including vintage steam engines in all categories from ploughing engines to miniature steamers, tractors, stationary engines, classic cars, commercials, models, tools and artefacts of a past Scottish life in various forms. These can be working exhibits like the farmers threshing mill, the Clydesdale horse ploughing, wood cutting and many more collectables. Adding to the day there are the stall holders with their own brand of entry which brings exposure for them and offers opportunity to buy for the visitor. The children are not forgotten about with many activities for them to enjoy also. All this is supported with the traders who supply food, drinks and all sorts of products and produce showcasing our rich culture and heritage. All of these contributors to a rally need to be introduced to the visitors. Visitors may be local day trippers or people visiting our region. They could be people in search of their Scottish routes and their Scottish ancestors or those interested in their own past identity.
Over the years I have been a commentator each rally has its own identity and style created by the chairman and his/her committee and the theme/ programme they wish to portray either purposefully or by chance. Today we see many more young people being part of the rally scene both as exhibitors, committee members and as a visitor. I am also pleased to see more ladies being part of the scene. This is essential since ladies have made a huge contribution to Scotland’s rich past. The skills, talents and personality they bring to an event adds to its success. Of course, no event would be without its fare share of children getting involved as exhibitors or helping dad/mum or grandad/grandma. The popularity of these rallies reflects the desire for people to find out about their own ancestors past way of life and by doing so feel a closer connection to how they lived their past lives in Aberdeenshire and Scotland.
As many of the exhibits are over 50 years old and many are over 100 years old the engineering featured within these Scottish artefacts and exhibits is far removed from todays approach to throw out the old and fit a new one. Much of the repair and maintenance is done either by the owners themselves or by specialist suppliers. All this adding to what rallies provide for various people in Scottish society. Our past and present have very strong links to how we live our lives today. Rallies and the work of the commentator helps to bring the past alive and connects the past with today’s society.
Visitor appeal for these rallies has not declined over the years but seems to rejuvenate itself over and over again. It has moved from the older generation to a healthy spread of age groups coming to enjoy the spectacle. Spectacle is the correct word as each year I am amazed at the new old exhibits that emerge. In order to bring the past to a rally the exhibitor must have a desire to bring the past to life by believing that to do so is helping to educate people about their own Scottish identity. Some exhibits are in their working cloths and some are in showroom condition. Part of my job as commentator is to try to describe the working conditions these exhibits and the Scottish people who worked them would have been like during the exhibits working life. That information is gathered and built up over the years through online and written resource research and importantly for me speaking to the owners of the exhibit who have fantastic stories which relate specifically to their exhibit. Some commentators specialise in one topic ie Steam traction engines, tractors, or commercials. I have built up information and expertise in most of the categories of exhibits which represents a past Scottish time window, and I like to be capable of speaking about all aspects of Scotland’s past built heritage, social heritage and cultural heritage. The knowledge and enthusiasm of each exhibitor is part of the entertainment rallies offer. I soon found out in my commentating career that it was impossible to be an expert on tractors, steam engines, stationary engines, models, commercials etc without involving the exhibitor within my commentating style speaking to me on the “mike”. This took me several years to get these folk to participate but today much of my input to commentating is a mix of my own knowledge and speaking with the exhibitors. They now know that they will be speaking on the mike to me about their exhibit and this motivates them to come up with some more interesting aspects of our past culture and Scottish identity.
The rally scene is very much an entertainment scene. All rallies have static stances and show rings where a programme of events take place from 10 am to 4 pm. When a show ring is part of the rally it is essential that a programme of inputs is scheduled throughout that time for the seated visitors to enjoy. A great asset for the commentator is to have strong links with the committee members and rely on the ring master to bring different exhibits into the ring to entertain the crowds of thousands of people who are fascinated by Scotland’s rich past and what helped to make Britain Great Britain.
Scottish education today looks back to our recent past way of life as mainstream inputs for the Curriculum for Excellence. As a Scottish educational and heritage film maker much of my footage captures aspects of what vintage rallies aspire to present to the general public. Both rallies and Scottish education help present and future generations to understand and enjoy finding out about their past and for a while enables them to walk in the footsteps of their own ancestors.
So ladies and gentlemen boys and girls if you have not visited a vintage rally to date you should give it a try. It is more than just a day out it is a day visiting YOUR Scottish past and provides you with the opportunity to meet your ancestors and see their way of life both physically and emotionally. The rally commentator will help you on that exciting journey.
See you there over the summer.
Carney Heritage Productions Ltd