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THE WHISTLEBINKIES - "A Wanton Fling" - Greentrax - CDTRAX 095

The Whistlebinkies have been around for so long that they're in danger of becoming a tradition themselves. They are of the same vintage as Ossian and Battlefield, but while other groups have come and gone, split and regrouped, the Binkies have changed very little. The line-up is much the same as in the early days, with few concessions to modern instrumentation: bongos have crept in, but no electronics as yet.

One of the reasons for the Binkies' continuing success is their approach to the music. Nothing complicated, nothing trendy, just good Scottish tunes given simple but effective treatment. The phrase "simple but effective" really sums up the feel of a Whistlebinkies set. I remember seeing them live in a wee village hall, no PA to speak of, and Judith Peacock was singing an atmospheric Gaelic song about the sea, the sort of song which really needs waves in the background. Other bands might have reached straight for the synthesiser and rainmaker, but not the Whistlebinkies: Peter Anderson pulled out a handful of prime Aberdeenshire barley, which he happened to have about his person, placed it in his upturned bodhran, and started making waves. The effect was so natural and yet so straightforward.

This album has all the freshness of early Whistlebinkies recordings, although some of the rough edges have been worn down over time. The singing is much less brash than at one time, and this album shows a gentleness which belies the title. The combination of lowland pipes, clarsach, flute, concertina and fiddle has an air of chamber music about it on many tracks, and many of the tunes are taken at a more leisurely pace than is usual nowadays. This more relaxed style brings out aspects of the music which are seldom noticed in more upbeat performances. The slow version of "The Marquis of Huntly" and the set of Niel Gow tunes both show the benefits of a less racey treatment, as does the well-known song "Cam' Ye O'er Frae France?"

Judith Peacock gives us three fine Gaelic songs, all relatively unknown, and again the arrangements are simple but effective. Judith's lovely light voice is given plenty of room, and even the pipes avoid drowning the words of the songs. The clarsach playing from Judith and Eddie McGuire is crisp and imaginative without stepping outside the traditional domain of the instrument.

The piping of Rab Wallace brings out quite a different facet of this album. Rab's lowland pipes have a sound which is quite close to the highland pipes, and for the most part he sticks firmly to the traditional piping repertoire. He nails his colours to his drone with the opening set, two jigs by Donald MacLeod and a setting by Duncan Johnstone. Track ten reinforces this with a set of traditional pipe reels. In between, the pipes are used to good effect in arrangements of songs and slower instrumentals. Rab also gives us two fine retreat marches of his own composition and a pair of modern jigs, the ever-popular "Kenny Gillies" and a tribute from a fan "The Whistlebinkies Jig". The pipes definitely bring an element of excitement to the group, contrasting with the gentleness of other tracks and culminating in the title track.

Much has been made of the re-release of such classics as Jock Tamson's Bairns and the early Battlefield recordings, but here is a band which is still playing essentially the same music as all those groups in the seventies. The Whistlebinkies have had a successful formula for roughly twenty-five years, and their knowledge and experience of the music shows through in this recording. Give it a listen.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.