TONY MCMANUS: AN INSPIRING EDUCATIONALIST,
WRITER AND MUSICIAN 1953 - 2002
Born the second youngest of six children in Edinburgh in 1953 to teacher parents from a second generation Irish background, Tony learned to play the piano at an early age, took up guitar some years later, and in his twenties experienced the rich musical, poetic and radical mix that was Sandy Bell’s pub, frequented in those days by the likes of Hamish Henderson, Norman MacCaig and the Boys of the Lough.
It was here too that he met Nanon Fourcade, who was then working as a French assistant in Edinburgh. They later married and spent many summers in France where Tony was introduced to and inspired by French musicians and writers.
In the 1970s and 80s, he and his friend John Greig took their traditional music and poems out to other Edinburgh pubs creating a series of ‘come all ye’ platforms long before performance poetry and Celtic culture became fashionable.
In 1989, some of his own songs and poems as well as some of his translations of songs by Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel were recorded in a cassette ‘To Paint The Green Hill Brown’ produced by John Greig. He joined in 1997 the group, The Birlinn Ensemble, with Johnny Cradden, John Greig and Robert Pemberton. He later took part in the Ringnet project with his friends Michel Byrne, John Greig, Margaret Nicolson, Gerda Stevenson and the late Graeme Craig-Smith and recorded musical arrangements of some of George Campbell Hay’s poems.
He also wrote a series of reviews and articles on Scottish music for Cencrastus, and from 1989 onwards began reviewing drama, opera and dance for the Edinburgh Evening News. These formed the basis for a book on music which would make most interesting and revealing reading were it to be published.
Some of Tony’s many fine poems have been published in reviews, magazines and in an anthology, Scottish Literature in the Twentieth Century, edited by David McCordick. Some have been translated and published in France. Others like ‘Observations from a new territory’, his deep meditation on life and death, deserve a wider public.
Tony McManus was the most committed and inspirational of classroom teachers. For him no job in education was more important than that of teaching students to the highest standard possible.
Because he recognised the crucial importance of education, founded on the Scottish democratic intellect tradition of a broad-based and rigorous curriculum, to the future of Scotland, he was determined not to let the Higher Still reform programme undermine the quality of that education. He and others initiated a petition signed by over 1300 teachers of English calling for the removal of internal assessment in Higher Still English. This led to the formation of the Scottish Association of Teachers of Language and Literature (SATOLL) in February 1999 of which he became the driving force and leading spokesman. In its pamphlet ‘Sense and Worth’, Tony wrote:
“Our call in this pamphlet is for the restoration of genuine educational values traditionally associated with Scotland – intellectualism, generalism and breadth; knowledge, critical and imaginative thought; clear and strong expression; and fairness grounded upon the knowledge that no-one, whether through class, caste, colour or creed is incapable of educational achievement, but, equally, that everyone is responsible for achieving it for themselves with the aid of properly resourced institutions.”
By June that year, the AGM of the Educational Institute of Scotland had adopted the SATOLL position of removing compulsory internal assessment procedures. In this hardfought, and long-running campaign Tony drew on all his previous experience as a participant in the anti-poll tax, anti-apartheid, Troops Out of Ireland and other movements, and wrote cogently argued letters to the press, as a result of which he was invited to become a regular columnist in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland.
Tony’s papers, which include many unpublished writings on a variety of subjects, are kept in the National Library of Scotland and are an invaluable resource for those wishing to research the development of geopoetics in Scotland, the work of Kenneth White, and other significant cultural and educational matters; among those, his essays suitably titled ‘Philistinism and Cultural Renewal: Essays on Education’.
In all that he did Tony was the most modest of men, to such an extent that even his close friends knew only a fraction of the breadth and depth of his many-sided talents and activities. Yet in the way he lived his life, all of these were indivisible and were informed by and imbued with his theoretical work on geopoetics as a theory-practice for radical cultural renewal.
In an article in the Scottish Book Collector Tony explained geopoetics in these terms:
“So, from diverse disciplines the forward thinkers see the need for the philosophical mind ‘to unite their perceptions’, ‘to see life whole’ and to give expression to that complete vision. (…) Poetry, here, is the expression of the human mind which has reached a perception of the world which it must express. In other words it is the natural and, potentially, universal expression of what White calls the ‘sense of world’.”
Tony worked closely with Kenneth White over many years to raise awareness in Scotland of geopoetics and his work. He wrote articles about them for magazines such as Chapman, The Edinburgh Review and Cencrastus.
In 1995, he took the lead in establishing the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics and in 1996, he organised The Radical Ground, a major international conference on geopoetics, and curated the White World exhibition for the National Library of Scotland. Informed by his researches in French and English, he became widely recognised as the foremost authority in the English language on geopoetics and the work of Kenneth White.
All of this work was crucial in spreading knowledge and understanding of the importance of geopoetics for renewing and revitalising the cultures of Scotland and other lands, but it was Tony’s thorough grounding in music, literature and education which superbly equipped him to do so and to speak with such real authority on these questions.
Before his death in 2002, he completed ‘The Radical Field’ which was published by Sandstone Press in August 2007. This study of the work of Kenneth White and geopoetics provides a comprehensive and indispensable handbook for realising the bold vision to which he devoted the latter part of his most productive life.
“Tony was one of those rare people who can see beyond their own persons. It’s by living with and working at the things and themes his mind was filled with that we can best prolong his presence among us.” — Kenneth White
— Tony lived in Edinburgh with his wife, Nanon and their two children, Anna and Dominic.