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OSSIAN "The Best of Ossian" IONA IRCD023

Planxty marked a very distinctive point in the folk revival. The Bothy Band recording in 1975 followed and people began to realise the power and potential of groups playing this kind of music.

Ossian was formed in 1976. George and Billy Jackson and John Martin were members of Contraband, an electric folk band and were joined by Billy Ross to form Ossian. The band was well thought out and right from the start achieved the highest standard. They had realised that it was possible to do in Scotland what Planxty and The Bothy Band had done in Ireland.

This is a long introduction to this review but it sets in context the importance of Ossian to the Scottish revival. The revival was in full swing with a tremendous breadth of music and song and the time was right for somebody to become a Scottish Planxty.

Ossian stepped onto centre stage and for many years carried the banner for Scottish music. Billy and George are of Irish extraction and although most of the material was Scottish, there was quite an Irish influence in some of the music, not at all strange when you appreciate the musical links between Scotland and Ireland. Billy is a fine uillean piper but on later albums, he concentrated more on harp which together with Iain MacDonald as highland pipes reinforced the strong Scottish sound.

This recording is a compilation from their recordings on the Iona label which was Ossian's own label now owned by Lismor. It spans the breadth of their recordings except for their first album which was on the Springthyme label. The tracks were selected by Ossian and I have no complaints at all with the choices. The sleeve notes do not say which albums the tracks came from and you are unlikely to be able to spot any musical progression over the years. Ossian started at the top and stayed there. Billy Ross left the group not long after Tony Cuffe joined and when they added a piper to the line-up, you couldn't get much better than Iain MacDonald from the famous piping family from Glen Uig in Skye.

If you are interested in Scottish music and you don't have an Ossian album, you simply must buy this one. If you have the odd Ossian album on vinyl then this is an ideal addition to the C.D. collection.

All the instruments are acoustic with Irish and Scottish pipes, fiddle, guitar and cittern and some classy singing. As well as playing sets of tunes, Ossian often combined a tune with a song. My favourite, of the album is the song "Will Ye Go to Flanders" which leads in the majestic "Lord Lovats Lament", but the "Road to Drumleman" and "Jamie Raeburn" are close contenders for first place.

There is nothing dated about this release even though it spans about fifteen years. If it had been recorded this year, it would still qualify for my choice as album of the year. They don't come any better than this, fifty-six minutes of sheer class.

Pete Heywood

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