REVIEW FROM www.livingtradition.co.uk
STEWART Binnorie: Songs, Ballads and Tunes Elphinstone
This is the first
in a series of recordings of "The Traveller traditions of North East Scotland"
planned by the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen. It's great value, featuring
31 items of songs and piano music performed by Elizabeth Stewart - a fine
musician in her own right, but what comes across clearly from these CDs
is also her role as representative of a significant family tradition within
the community of North East travellers. There's a biographical introduction
by Alison McMorland, who has assisted Elizabeth in making the recording,
and comments from Tom McKean of the Elphinstone Institute, who provides
scholarly notes on the repertoire.
There's an apt start, then, with the opening line of 'The Butcher's Boy':
"O ma parents gave tae me good learnin...". Listeners will find some familiar
songs here including 'Come A' Ye Fisher Lassies' which Elizabeth and her
sister recorded for the "Radio Ballads" series in 1960. A fine version
of The Jolly Beggar, has a refrain with an effective harmony line, apparently
sung by Elizabeth herself. Amongst the other feast of songs I enjoyed
Elizabeth's own 'Lord Gordon's Bonnie Boys', in the style of a traditional
ballad, and her singing of 'Two Pretty Boys' whose expansive performance
should be compared with that of the same song by her aunt, Lucy Stewart.
There are also curiosities like 'The Russian Jew', apparently based on
a macaronic music hall song including the Gaelic line "Ciamar a tha sibh
an diugh" (here comes a Russian Jew)!
Elizabeth's piano playing which she got from her mother, is given a platform
here. I particularly liked the set of her own tunes: 'Auld Betty's Cairty/Jean
Stewart's Tune/Big Hamish', the last being named for Hamish Henderson
who was well known to the Stewart family. It's great to hear such stylishly
played dance tunes (with interesting decorations) representing the largely
unsung tradition of Scottish traditional piano music. The last item on
disc 1 reminds us of a tradition of variation making which was very popular
earlier in the 20th century, judging from the number of tunes published
in collections in this form. Here, Elizabeth's rendition of 'The Blue
Bells o Scotland' displays this beautifully with its positively virtuosic
While recommending this recording wholeheartedly I should declare a personal
interest, as I am involved in the preparation of a book about Elizabeth
Stewart's family traditions, being written by Elizabeth, and Alison McMorland.
Together with these CDs, we will have a fine record of an important strand
of traveller traditions in Scotland.