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VARIOUS ARTISTS - "If It Wisnae for the Union" - Greentrax CDTRAX5005

There has always been a very close link between trade unionism and traditional music and it's good to see the relationship being recognised in this compilation album created to mark the Centenary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

Released on Greentrax, it's a real compilation album too, for there are contributions from other labels on both sides of the Irish Sea and beyond.

While the concept is admirable, there must have been a lot of head-scratching about how best to present it, and this is no potted history of the Scottish Trade Union movement. What it is, however, is a nicely balanced selection of tracks on appropriate themes.

The View from Beyond is represented by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners with a fine Freedom Come All Ye and Christy Moore sings a specially recorded track on James Connolly. There is an excellent contribution from Mara Louw with a South African gold-mining song, Judy Small represents the Antipodes with her classic Mothers, Daughters, Wives and the great Chilean singer and writer Victor Jara is heard on Te Recuerdo Amanda.

The home contingent go back in time with welcome contributions from Old Labour - Hamish Imlach, Matt McGinn and Ewan MacColl - and there are fine songs and performances from Arthur Johnstone, the Battlefield Band, The McCalmans, Dick Gaughan and Ceolbeg.

In his foreword to the very comprehensive sleeve notes, STUC General Secretary Campbell Christie emphasises how the new faces to Scottish trade unionism will draw inspiration from the song and music of the past and contribute to the song and music of the future.

There can be no better illustration of this than the variety of new songs on the album with original work from Capercaillie, Runrig, Eric Bogle and Brian McNeill. Mention should be made, too, of a particularly effective version by Gordeanna McCulloch of Bawbee Birlin, a joint writing effort by Rod Paterson and Michael Marra.

This album is a fine way to celebrate the STUC Centenary and will be an enjoyable - and educational - experience for all who hear it.

Alan Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 21 of The Living Tradition magazine.