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

Na–Mara - Sisters & Brothers

Review by Colin Hynson

Na MaraSisters & Brothers is the fifth album from this guitar and mandolin duo - with occasional guest musicians. They have established a strong reputation within traditional music circles for their interpretations of both British folk songs but also from the French and Spanish–speaking world.

The first piece of music on this album is the title track. It follows the tradition of British folk songs highlighting the exploitation of workers whether in the field or in the factory. The song acknowledges a globalised economic system in which the exploitation sung about in the past has now been exported to the developing world. ‘Sisters and Brothers’ remembers the over 1000 workers who died in Bangladesh in 2013 when the garment factory they were working in collapsed.

‘The Sirens Call’ is another self–penned piece. This time dealing with the issue of addiction. Many folk and rock/pop artists have covered drug and alcohol addiction. In the former there are songs by Spirit of the West and the Levellers. For the latter there’s Ed Sheeran, Any Whitehouse and Nine Inch Nails amongst many others. This is the first time that I’ve heard a heartfelt song about a man’s gambling addiction and the support gets from his wife.

For track number three we are in the familiar territory of a soldier returning home and unsure how  his sweetheart will greet him. It’s a translation of a Québécois song performed by an electrofolk band called Mélisande. So a traditional song made electronic and then translated and turned back into an acoustic piece. It’s worth listening to and, on top of that, it meant that I’d discovered an electrofolk band I’d never heard of.

We stay with a French theme with medley made up of a Breton folk tune to which has been added a self–penned Bourrée (a kind of French dance music) and an arrangement of a Galician Muiñeira (a kind of Spanish dance music that has a faster tempo than a Bourrée).

Up North of the border for with a beautiful arrangement of an old Scottish song ‘Times Wears’ Awa’’. It tells of an old man looking back wistfully but with no regret on his youthful years. It’s also recently been covered by Jean Leslie and Siobhan Miller.

Read more: Na–Mara - Sisters & Brothers

Proper English - A Little Cup of Tea


Review by Les Ray

I must start with a small confession: I’m not a huge fan of traditional folk, as I’m more passionate about singer-songwriters, being a songwriter myself. Having said that, I have no hesitation in saying that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this CD.A Little Cup of Tea

Based in Suffolk, Proper English are Ed Caines, Rob Neal and Derek Simpson, who play a number of instruments and all sing, taking lead in turns and providing nice harmonies. Their website calls the album “a mix of songs and tunes we have performed over the last 40 years”, while the liner notes say the band “have always been more interested in performing live”. Listening to the CD, both statements make complete sense: the huge scope and depth of the material included (no less than 21 tracks) make it clear that the band have truly immersed themselves in local folk music over the last 40 years, and the recording itself has a real live feel, taking the listener through a range of emotions as a live gig would, with performances that are entertaining and enthusiastic, if occasionally a bit rough around the edges.

There are songs gleaned from the tradition, such as Out in the Green Fields with its very join-in-able chorus and The Lincolnshire Wedding Song, which is clearly and unreconstructedly from another age. There are skilfully executed sets of tunes interspersed throughout the album, but there is also space for some delightful music hall-style pieces, such a Don’t ‘ang my ‘arry, with its mock melodrama (which reminded me of Cream’s A Mother’s Lament), The Old Armchair, or Father went to Yarmouth, a rollicking one-man holiday trip spoiled by many mishaps and too much beer. Other songs express more downbeat moods, such as the sadness of Sam Larner’s The Drowned Sailor or the pathos of Last Long Mile - And When I Die. Two thoroughly enjoyable songs I recognised from elsewhere were As I Came Home, a version of which I know as Seven Drunken Nights, and The Man Who Waters the Workers’ Beer, which appeared on the first ever Topic recording.

The presentation and artwork of the CD are rather understated, as you’d expect from an album entitled “A Little Cup of Tea”, but the liner notes are very informative as regards the originals of the songs and tunes.

To sum up, having listened to “A Little Cup of Tea”, I’m looking forward to being able to catch Proper English live, as is quite proper.

https://properenglishdotdance.wordpress.com/

Facebook: @Cainesnealsimpson

Twitter: @Properenglish3

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

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