ROBERT BURNS: TUNE UNKNOWN - Katherine Campbell

Review by George Monger

BurnsMany of the poems of Robert Burns are obviously written with a tune in mind, usually a traditional tune, and many Scottish artists, such as Dougie Maclean, Dick Gaughan and Nigel Denver, have recorded familiar Burns songs. Katherine Campbell, who comes from a family of traditional musicians, is well steeped in the tradition of Scots songs which she has brought to the study of Burns’ songs and poems (with Dr Emily Lyle of Edinburgh University – their work is being published in a book Robert Burns and the Discovery and Re-creation of Scottish Song).  

Katherine has taken ten Burns poems which have been identified as being originally written as songs, but for which the melody has been lost, and composed new melodies with a piano accompaniment. This is the reversal of Burns’ usual practice of writing words to extant melodies apart from one known example of Burns composing an air ‘in the old Scotch style’ for the poem O, Raging Fortune’s Withering Blast. However, he was unable to write the tune down properly so it was never performed and the imperfect notation lost; Burns apparently was not unhappy about the loss, writing in his journal “….and perhaps ‘tis no great matter, but the following were the verses I composed to suit it.”

Here we have a set of songs with new settings, performed beautifully and with obvious affection by Katherine Campbell with quite an understated and sympathetic piano accompaniment. Most of these poems will probably be unfamiliar to someone who is not a Burns aficionado and it may take a little time for non-Scots to understand the dialect words (although there is a good glossary in the accompanying booklet). I enjoyed this album and Katherine’s lovely performances, but I think it is one to dip into, there are few contrasting tempos and I did occasionally find my concentration mind wavering. One for the Burns enthusiast I think.

INNES WATSON’S GUITAR COLLOQUIUM

Review by George Monger

CollinsonIt was with some trepidation that I played this CD not knowing Innes Watson’s work let alone his guitarcolloquium project. I was concerned that I wouldn’t like it and I hate being negative about an artist's work. However, I need not have been concerned, from the very start the collaboration of Glasgow based musicians, led by Innes Watson, sound very tight; the quality, style and performance of the music is, to me, characteristic of musical collaborations I have heard in Scotland

The fourteen tracks are all original with all but two written by Innes; several have definite roots in traditional music but with a completely contemporary feel and attack.

The largely solo track Mando Endo shows off Innes’ sensitive solo playing but I loved the way he is joined towards the end of the track by Barry Reid using the electric guitar to provide a background sound-scape and the way the track seamlessly segues into an upbeat ensemble track Udon Noodle. Several of the tracks merge one to another contrasting tempos and feel but going together really well.

The Album is well put together with some surprises and quirky music but there is too a wonderful sense of fun and joy in the playing exemplified in the last track Glasgow Guitar Colloquium.

I’m not sure if this would be filed under folk music but I loved this album from the first few notes right to the end.

THE “HAVARD” TAPES DICK GAUGHAN: Definitive Gaughan concert from 1982.

Review by George Monger

GaughanDick Gaughan has been off the road for the last three or so years after an MRI scan in October 2016 showed that he had suffered a stroke several months earlier. Recently tapes of a Dick Gaughan in concert in Cambridge Massachusetts in 1982 have come to light. Hearing the tapes Ian Green and Ian McCalman of Greentrax Records, Edinburgh agreed that they were vintage Gaughan performances and decided to release the recordings on CD to help raise money to support Dick in his recovery.

 And what a great CD it is, it is indeed Dick on top form with a great setlist, beginning with Erin Go Bragh and finishing with a unique performance of Hamish Henderson’s classic The Freedom Come All Ye with fiddle accompaniment form the late great Johnny Cunningham – the first and, as far as I know, only time they shared a stage, making this a truly unique album.

The album is rounded off with two tracks recorded at Milingavie Folk Club in 2010/12 and a final track from the Greentrax archives.

Although recorded 37 years ago the tracks sound fresh and are a reminder of the characteristic passion and humour that Dick brought to any performance and still in evidence when he played at the John Peel Centre a few years ago, before news of his illness. Indeed the recordings from Milingavie Folk Club are proof that a Gaughan performance suffered no deterioration over the 28/30 years between the recordings.

This album is a great and fitting tribute to a unique and great man and if you’ve ever appreciated his work then buy the album to help support Dick and his family at this difficult time for them.

Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX406

Call to Mind by Finn Collinson

Review by Val Haines

FinnThis is the first full length album from East Anglian young musician Finn Collinson. An interesting and varied collection played by Finn on mainly alto and tenor recorders, also whistle, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and vocals. Other musicians called in to assist on the album are Emma Beach (oboe, cor anglais, vocals), Archie Churchill-Moss (diatonic button accordion, guitar), Josh Clark (percussion, electric bass), Ronan Collinson/Katriona Gilmore (fiddle), Jonno Gaze (drums, percussion) and Tom leader (double bass, guitars). However, this is not a huge band effort and the musicians are used as tastefully as possible enabling Finn to shine as the main musician. The album does make a blistering beginning with full band tune set January Walk, there are two trad songs, Hanging Johnny and Banks of the Nile, sung by Finn and Emma, and a lovely version of the Rankin Family’s Orangedale Whistle, which, as Finn explains in the notes, is a song accepting and embracing change, something we must all do. He has included his own composition Folkeast Waltz, dedicated to John and Becky Marshall-Potter who, by creating the annual Folkeast Festival, have done much to promote local and national folk music in East Anglia. My particular album favourites are Black Mountains, Finn’s own composition played simply on recorder and Emma’s cor anglais, and Tune for the Bullfinch, from the 1717 Bird Fancyer’s Delight, beautiful overdubbed alto and bass recorders to imitate birdsong, merging into real garden birdsong. There are echoes of Flook and 1990s Irish band Diesel in the album, but this is an album focusing, unusually, on the recorder, where Finn has developed his own style. Call to Mind is testament to Finn being rightly considered as one of our area’s foremost young folk performers.

The album is due for release on September 6th. See www.finncollinson.com for details and tour dates

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer CD

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer  “Twelve Months & A Day “

by Mike Rudge

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer blend traditional material with contemporary sounds. Their performances showcase new interpretations of old songs alongside original self-penned tunes and new contemporary songs that are entirely at home in the tradition.

Be entranced by the haunting nyckelharpa, amazed at the cow horn (one of the worlds earliest communication devices) and meet some of the bagpipes that didn’t come from Scotland.

Vicki studied at the Royal College of Music on the double bass. She also plays the various types of bagpipes, flute, recorder, piano and nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed-fiddle).  On leaving music college Vicki started down the long path of folk music and was only seen on rare glimpses back in classical orchestras.

Read more: Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer CD

Rogues & Rovers

Rogues & Rovers: Tyburn Road - Ian Giles and Dave Townsend

review by Bill Johnston

Tyburn Road is a project which unites two of Oxfordshire’s best known folk performers and has given rise to this CD of songs and tunes arranged in three sections, Rakes, Sailors,and Country Pursuits. Accompaniment is provided, where needed, with Ian playing melodeon and Dave playing an assortment of English style concertinas. A chorus is provided by The Eynsham Crew.

I first came across Dave when I bought his books of ‘English Dance Music’ in original, spiralbound format, and Ian as a member of Magpie Lane. Dave has also led workshops at Suffolk Folk Day. Their musical style has been serious and consistent. I have enjoyed listening, but generally with a feeling that the music is worked to a perfection which may be distracting in itself.

Read more: Rogues & Rovers

Alastair Savage

When Barley Reaches the Shore  (SAV005CD Woodland Records 2018)

by Bill Johnson

Alastair is a classically trained violinist who combines his seat in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with an active participation in the heritage music of Scotland. Alastair’s respect for the tunes within the Gow, Skinner and Marshall collections is showcased here together with some of his own compositions.

The CD comprises instrumental music of the highest quality throughout. Alastair is joined by long time colleagues, Iain Crawford, Co-Principal Bass of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and a player within the ‘tradition’, and Euan Drysdale on piano and guitar, a trained and experienced musician with a broad CV. The music is organised by reference to the source for the tunes presented, and expertly arranged in a disciplined Scottish style which may be distinct from the general approach to folk music in other British traditions, allowing for exceptions. Some of the tunes presented are familiar in a social and session context, for example, Farewell to Whisky and Hector the Hero. I discovered that a hitherto anonymous tune which I have played for many years is a Gow composition, Highland Whisky. Alastair’s own compositions sit easily with the older tunes. I thoroughly enjoyed his two sets of Islay Wedding Music, and The Soldier’s Prayer. My favourite piece on the CD is Chapel Keithack from the William Marshall collection.

Read more: Alastair Savage

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