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FLORA MACNEILL - "Craobh Nan Ubhal" - Temple Records COMD1002

Flora MacNeil is a native of Barra in the Outer Hebrides - an island renowned for its wealth of traditional song and fine singers. Her mother's people were significant bearers of this tradition and it is no surprise that Flora inherited a wealth of material at an early age.

However, Flora is not only heiress to a great tradition - she is also a superb interpreter and performer of Gaelic song, and has been a great ambassador for the music in her many tours outwith Scotland. The promotional leaflet which accompanied this album describes Flora as "The Queen of Gaelic singers". The ultimate accolade, but one with which few people with a knowledge of the tradition would disagree.

This album is a re-release of the fifteen original tracks from Flora's 1976 album plus three new recordings made in November 1993. It is interesting to hear that the intervening years have had no adverse effect on her mastery of the material and the power of her performance.

The songs are all unaccompanied, with the exception of a chorus on some of the waulking songs and two tracks on which Alison Kinnaird provides clarsach accompaniment. However, no-one should assume that this album in any way lacks variety. There are ancient laments such as "Cha B'e Direadh A' Bhruthaich (it was not climbing the hillside)" composed by the 17th century Kintail poet Farquhar MacRae during his seven years living as a fugitive, and "Chan E Caoidh Mhic Shiridh (it is not lamenting MacSheerie)" a particularly fine version of a sister's lament for her drowned brother. There are wonderful love songs such as "Iain Ghlinn Cuaich (John of Glen Cuaich)", "Craobh Nan Ubhal (The Apple Tree)", and "A Mhairead Og (Young Margaret)" which relates the international tale of a girl shot accidentally by her lover who has been sent by his evil mother to shoot wild duck in a pool where the girl was bathing. Of course, there are exile songs such as "Seinn O Ho Ro Seinn (Sing O Ho Ro Sing)" and "Gur Muladach Sgith Mi (I Am Weary and Desolate)". There are waulking songs such as "Mile Marbh-Phaisg Air A' Ghaol (A Thousand Shrouds on Love)" and "Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasda (Alasdair, Son of Gallant Coll)" in praise of Alasdair MacDonald, leader of the Gaels under the Marquis of Montrose, who was killed at the battle of Knockinoss in Ireland in 1647, and which has recently been popularised by Capercaillie. There is a verse contest or "flyting" song between a Barra woman and a Uist woman - "A Bhradag Dhubh (You Black Besom)".

There is a Cape Breton song, long forgotten in its native land - "Dh' Fhalbh Mo Run, Dh' Fhag E'n Cala (My Love has Left the Harbour)". And there are magnificent but contrasting Jacobite songs - the dynamic and optimistic "An Fhideag Airgid (The Silver Whistle)" composed at the commencement of the 1745 rebellion, and the tragic "Mo Run Geal Og (My Fair Young Love)" composed by the widow of one of the Jacobite Gaels who fell with the cause at the battle of Culloden on 16th April 1746.

It would be fair to say that on this one album, Flora has presented examples from a large part of the traditional Gaelic song repertoire.

This is an invaluable re-release by Temple Records - an album of majestic songs performed by a magnificent traditional singer. For those with an interest in Celtic/Scottish traditional music, it is an album which should not be missing from your collection. A booklet is provided with translations and background information.


Malcolm MacInnes

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This album was reviewed in Issue 5 of The Living Tradition magazine.