Expressive Operations


Joanne Middleton has been busy during lockdown. Every week there has been a new “art challenge” to meet, thanks to a facebook group set up by a crafty islander from neighbouring Jura. She’s painted eggs, made collages, created a tiny island out of flowers, turned junk into rainbows to show support of our key workers, and run around in a onesie (this was “wearable art”) among other things. She says, when pushed to talk about her “inspiration”, that she is drawn to bright colours and gets ideas from whatever is around her. 

Next month sees twelve years since she joined the Laddie team. Starting as Systems Administrator to Bulk and Private Cask Administrator and now Head of Warehouse Operations, she’s seen it all and more in those warehouses. Happiest behind the scenes in WH12, out of work she is somewhat of a social butterfly. If she isn’t off the island at rugby matches or gigs or travelling the world for both, you might find her championing pub quizzes. Though when time comes for a bit of calm she will be at home getting stuck into the next creative idea. “With no socials or rugby the art moves up a place and fills the weekends where I’d normally be partying, socialising, going to festivals or gigs or the rugby, travelling, oh and partying again.”

easter eggs, collage, found objects, paint

Not only is she incredibly analytically and mathematically minded (ideal in cask management), there’s a musical side in there too, “I will have a bash on any instrument. My mum, Deirdre MacLugash, plays box and fiddle. I’m starting a tribal drumming group as soon as l am able, I already have some donated drums to play with and some enthusiastic victims to play them! HR’s Emma Crawford has unearthed a magic drum in her cupboard.”

Joanne comes from a long line of talented and tuneful Ileachs. “My late Granny, Lena McKeurtan, worked in the Port Charlotte warehouses during the war handling munitions – they were unloaded off boats and stored there. She was very artistic –  dress-making, crochet, and crafting very intricate cake decorations from icing, and good at languages. She had a penpal in Japan who she wrote to in Gaelic, helping to teach him.  My Papa, John McKeurtan, was an excise officer in Islay the 70’s after he retired from the police in Maryhill [Glasgow]. This included visits to, I think, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila & Bruichladdich, possibly others.”

In the Skerryvore and friends music video

“Granny’s sister, Lily MacDougall -“Lily Fish” – worked as a clerk in Caol Ila distillery (cask admin included). She was well known for her piping all over the world, she could play any instrument, accordion, jews harp… She also painted beautiful landscapes, did embroidery with birds on, and made fantastic artificial paper flowers. Her daughter is the famous Christine Logan, Lady of the Isles, whose whole career has been whisky.

“She began along with my Mum working on the peat banks behind Ardnahoe in the 60’s fitting and throwing up peats for Caol Ila Distillery, then unloading and stacking those into the peat shed. £5 a week if they turned up every day, more depending on how many perches they fitted! Their first pay-packets, Lily used to collect Christine’s and bought LPs with it. Luckily Christine also loves music as much as the rest of us!

“Mum’s partner Gibson Campbell worked at Bruichladdich for a short time in the 70’s driving the lorry, cask handling. My uncle Angus MacLugash worked in the warehouses too in the 70’s.”

She recently dusted off her flute to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition to be in a music video not only once, but twice. Scottish bands Tidelines and Skerryvore, both previous headliners at our festival day, called upon fans to appear in music videos during lockdown. The first with family photos the latter as musical accompaniment to their number one NHS charity single, Everyday Heroes.

Certainly, whatever you can do in these straightened times to uplift yourself, your friends, or perfect strangers, does have something of the heroic in it. And hopefully this sort of display of people’s hidden talents will not get lost in the detail of spreadsheets and the darkness of warehouses, after we go back to “normal”.

Stick at it Joanne.


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