Clay­more wield­ing 80s pop sen­sa­tion Jesse Rae on Borders life


Iwas born in Galashiels cot­tage hospi­tal in 1951 and brought up in New­town St Boswells un­til I was about seven. I went to the pri­mary school there where my dad was a teacher un­til he got the post of head­mas­ter at St Boswells pri­mary school. My mother was an aux­il­iary at the school for a time and I have one sis­ter Fiona who is five years younger than me.

My dad was very kind, he loved kids and he was a great teacher. But it was un­for­tu­nate be­ing a head­mas­ter’s son be­cause I think my fa­ther felt he had to make an ex­am­ple of me oth­er­wise I’d get a do­ing from the other lads for be­ing too soft. My mother, who is 91 now, gave me my dad’s old tawse. My fa­ther used to have it over his shoul­der un­der his jacket so I now un­der­stand the shock el­e­ment be­cause it would just ap­pear.

I re­mem­ber one day when I was in P6 or 7, we were mak­ing plas­ticine heads, cov­ered with papier-mâché, the size of a cricket ball. The phone rang so when my fa­ther was out of the room ev­ery­one started chuck­ing th­ese heads and some­body hit me on the face. I picked up a head and threw it. The boy ducked just as my fa­ther walked in the door and it hit him smack in the face. So it was ‘Rae! Get along to my room now’, and that was me get­ting six of the belt.

My child­hood was blessed be­cause my par­ents were great par­ents and sup­ported me in what I did. Fish­ing was my main thing when I was young, I was daft on the fish­ing and did a wee bit of poach­ing which came to an end when the bai­ley caught me. He nabbed me, when I was col­lect­ing a huge kelt I brought in on a four or five pound break­ing strength (cast), and took my rods away. My three sons are all into fish­ing. Cuillin, my old­est, re­cently won the Ben­nett Tro­phy, named after Jimmy Ben­nett, who used to live in New­town around the cor­ner from us, and who taught me how to fish. The Tweed is an im­por­tant part of my life and is one of the most beau­ti­ful rivers in Scot­land.

My back­ground was in art and I went to Dun­can of Jor­dan­stone Col­lege in Dundee in

1972 to study etch­ing and lithog­ra­phy. Dur­ing my last year I joined a band called Camel in Lon­don and they needed me right away so I had to leave the course. Then I went to Cleve­land in 1973 and two years later moved to Bos­ton where I lit­er­ally bumped into key­board player Bernie Wor­rell in the el­e­va­tor of the Hol­i­day Inn. Both of our cas­settes were fly­ing ev­ery­where and we im­me­di­ately hit it off. I went to the Sugar Shack club that night where I ex­pe­ri­enced his band Par­lia­ment Funkadelic live for the first time.

It was in New York, in 1979 when MTV came in, that I be­came more in­ter­ested in mu­sic and pictures as art rather than as a com­mer­cial thing. I’ve al­ways de­signed songs from sounds and mu­sic. I ini­tially got this thought of a clay­more fly­ing through the air from Bernie play­ing a sound on his key­board. It gave me the idea of throw­ing a clay­more from the Brook­lyn Bridge to Scot­land for the video

Over the Sea. If you look at the sky at night, the bot­tom half of Orion looks like a clay­more fly­ing through the sky over the hori­zon.

I filmed the whole thing in Scot­land then went to Amer­ica with a cam­era crew and he­li­copter, and laid over the footage of Bernie and I on top of Brook­lyn Bridge. It’s a bit like be­ing a painter us­ing an un­der­coat of colour then build­ing up the lay­ers. Com­bin­ing mov­ing im­ages and mu­sic to­gether is the most pow­er­ful thing of all and as a song­writer I al­ways write a vis­ual hook from the in­stru­men­tal.

I’m not very good as a mu­si­cian, I play bass and acous­tic gui­tar and a lit­tle bit of key­board and use in­stru­ments for writ­ing. When I was work­ing with the best peo­ple in the world, like the late Bernie, drum­mer Steve Jor­dan and the late gui­tarist Hi­ram Bul­lock, I con­cen­trated on singing and pro­duc­ing and left the play­ing up to th­ese guys.

I’ve al­ways worn the kilt to pro­mote Scot-

‘The Tweed is an im­por­tant part of my life and is one of the most beau­ti­ful rivers in Scot­land’

‘It’s im­por­tant for kids to recog­nise who Wal­lace was and to un­der­stand his his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance’

land in Funk but I re­alised the im­por­tance of MTV to young kids. MTV pre­sen­ter Nina Black­wood gifted me Jane Porter’s novel The Scot­tish

Chiefs which had a cover paint­ing of some­one who looked like me, but the men with him were wear­ing hel­mets with a feather. That book had a huge in­flu­ence on me, more so be­cause it was about Wil­liam Wal­lace, who I knew noth­ing about, since my early ed­u­ca­tion never cov­ered our own his­tory.

Wear­ing the hel­met kept me in full char­ac­ter and al­lowed me to cross all na­tion­al­i­ties of mu­sic by re­tain­ing my iden­tity. I had thought about re­mov­ing it for the Over The Sea video but when I was record­ing the al­bum in Day­ton, Ohio with Roger Trout­man, his wee neph­ews ap­peared at the studio door wear­ing 7/11 brown pa­per bags over their heads with a feather on top and holes cut for their eyes and mouths. I re­alised that I could never re­move the hel­met and that is how it has re­mained ever since.

The first statue of Wil­liam Wal­lace in Scot­land was built by the Earl of Buchan in 1814 on the Be­mer­syde Es­tate on my doorstep. I’m a mem­ber of the Wal­lace Trust, that now owns the statue and the land around it; we helped raise the money to re­pair the 32ft high red sand­stone statue, es­pe­cially the bro­ken clay­more. It’s im­por­tant for kids to recog­nise who Wal­lace was and his his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

I came back from Amer­ica to get mar­ried to Au­drey, the drum­mer girl in Over the Sea, she’s a world cham­pion pipe band tenor drum­mer. I first saw her play­ing at the Kelso show but she didn’t want any­thing to do with me be­cause she thought any­one with a kilt and a sun­tan was Cana­dian. My youngest son Cairn is in Canada at the mo­ment, do­ing a golf pro course and Clin­ton my mid­dle lad is a joiner in St Boswells.

I was al­ways into funk mu­sic and if you had to ex­plain it to some­one, funk is re­ally the space be­tween the notes. Rhythm and tim­ing are im­por­tant in ev­ery­thing you do in life whether you’re play­ing mu­sic or rugby or any kind of sport.

In 1991, I worked with for­mer Scot­tish rugby player and coach Jim Telfer, who was then head­mas­ter at Haw­ick High School. I made a funk record with him for train­ing, Voice Com­mand, tak­ing his voice and putting it into the mu­sic so the play­ers could get used to the rhythm, but it was ahead of its time.

I love rugby, and the lo­cal team, St Boswells. To me it’s the num­ber one sport in Scot­land. To­gether with the Bor­der Reivers play­ers, Jim Telfer and Scot­tish cap Roy Laid­law, we devel­oped the ‘Reiver’ run­nin’ ruck, a new form of rugby in­volv­ing all 15 play­ers. I’ve seen too many wee strong lads who were elim­i­nated from the Sev­ens be­cause they weren’t the right shape and speed. What we came up with meant that there weren’t the di­vi­sions be­tween backs and for­wards, ev­ery player could play in ev­ery po­si­tion no mat­ter their size.

I’m writ­ing a cou­ple of film scripts now and

one of them is about the lo­cal team win­ning the World Cup us­ing the ‘Reiver’ run­nin’ ruck so it will have its mo­ment on the big screen, but not in re­al­ity.

The other film script I’m work­ing on, The Beast O’ Bam­burgh, in­volves Smail­holm Tower, which has an im­por­tant con­nec­tion to Sir Wal­ter Scott. As a boy re­cu­per­at­ing from ill­ness, he spent a lot of time vis­it­ing the ru­ins.

Mer­toun Kirk in Be­mer­syde, is also im­por­tant to me. This was my bat­tle place where I did all my fight­ing and came to pray for strength in 1991 when the Royal Bank of Scot­land (RBS) was try­ing to make me bank­rupt and take my home from my wife and chil­dren. At that time RBS was buy­ing up a lot of banks in Amer­ica and ba­si­cally raid­ing the piggy banks to buy them­selves out of trou­ble.

I be­lieve in God, but as the great spirit. So I went to war with them. They didn’t re­alise who they were deal­ing with be­cause I had the power of mu­sic and video. Grizedale Arts asked me to be one of their artists at the 2002 Bi­en­nale in Liver­pool so I pro­duced a 64 DVD ex­hi­bi­tion de­tail­ing what had hap­pened to me and the RBS ex­ec­u­tives came to view my work. Ap­par­ently they came out ashen faced and the next thing was they had dropped the whole thing.

I’m the only per­son in Scot­land to beat them and they were the fifth big­gest bank in the world then. This is one of the rea­sons I stood to be­come a MSP in 2007 as I re­alised what was com­ing. I learned so much when I worked on the floor of the New York Stock Ex­change in 1982 to earn money for my mu­sic videos.

Liv­ing in Afro-Amer­ica I saw the time­line be­tween my friends there who are like Borders folk; loud, rau­cous and noisy at the ta­ble, so it felt like home. After Bernie died, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment for­mally ac­knowl­edged the place he held in our mu­si­cal and cul­tural her­itage and I’m re­leas­ing WORAE, the funk al­bum we did to­gether, in July. I’m in­ter­ested in hav­ing more black fam­i­lies visit the Borders as I have a feel­ing it will open up a new door for tourism.

It shows how much Bernie has played an im­por­tant part in my work and the cul­ture and her­itage of Scot­land. When I was in Amer­ica in 1978 I went to the black churches and I was so ex­hil­a­rated by them. This staged and for­mal religion we have here is not very ex­cit­ing, but the strength that you get from the spirit is. It’s what keeps us go­ing.

‘In Afro-Amer­ica I saw the time­line be­tween my friends there who are like Borders folk: loud, rau­cous and noisy at the ta­ble’

Im­age: Smail­holm Tower ig­nited the imag­i­na­tions of both the young Sir Wal­ter Scott and Jesse Rae.

Above left: The young Jesse. Above right: Bridge over the River Tweed, a favourite fish­ing spot for Jesse. In­set: Bernie Wor­rell (left) and Jesse on Brook­lyn Bridge for the video for Over the Sea.

Above: The Wil­liam Wal­lace statue in Be­mer­syde which Jesse helped raise money to re­store.

Im­age: Jesse with dogs Bella and Jock at his shack.

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