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Cork Folk Festival Archive
VARIOUS ARTISTS Real - Music from the Scottish Borders Produced for the Both Sides of the Tweed festival, 2000

Usually I can't stand reviews that go on about the cover of a CD. But in this case there's a danger that people who would like this album will flick past it. For some reason the insert booklet (which is beautifully produced with fine photos and informative notes) features a young group -apparently 'Windfarm Dogs' - on the front, and three young ladies holding Telecasters on the back, though neither are on the CD. And despite the sub-title the emphasis is very much on the traditional rather than the unexpected.

The heart of the album is a set of newly recorded songs connected with the Scottish Borders, mainly traditional, or written and performed in a traditional style, by well established artists such as Heather Heywood, Brian Miller and Alison McMorland, giving a virtual guarantee of quality, which is certainly fulfilled. Accompaniments are kept simple with the focus on the singing, and most songs chosen haven't been part of these artists usual repertoire, so any possibility of duplication is restricted to the minority of tracks taken from other recordings, including classics such as Archie Fisher's 'Broom of Cowdenknowes', John Watt's 'Eyemouth Disaster' and Rod Paterson's 'WillieWastle' - all worth hearing again.

I was particularly struck by three songs that were new to me: Alison McMorland's evocative 'Cloudberry Day' (written and accompanied by husband Geordie McIntyre); the poignant 'Scarborough Settler's Lament' from Carolyn Robson, an archetypal song of homesickness with words from an emigrant borderer's poem of 1864; and in total contrast Gavin Livingstone's jaunty version of Hogg's 'Love is a Dizziness', which nicely captures the song's quirky humour. But for me nothing on the CD surpasses Jackie Jennet's short but affecting version of the familiar 'Drooned in Yarrow' sung with a natural gentleness that brings out the full pathos of the song.

Phamie Gow and Matt Seattle each contribute nice atmospheric instrumental sets, though seeing Wattie Robson in the insert booklet took me back to some of the good old border fiddle sessions of over 20 years ago where he played with Bob Hopkirk and Tom Hughes - I'd like to have seen that tradition represented on the CD too.

The 'unexpected' is restricted to the last two tracks. For me, borders' rock band 'The Nat Kings' do a good job on their protest song against the closure of borders electronics plants but it's quite a contrast with what comes before. And I wasn't totally convinced by 'When the Railway Returns' which combines an instrumental suggesting the movement of the train with recordings of local people, talking about when the borders had a railway. But these are just minor quibbles about what is essentially a fine collection of Border songs which is well worth getting. Incidentally all profits go to Border charities - just in case you need another excuse for buying it.

Richard Brown

 

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This album was reviewed in Issue 41 of The Living Tradition magazine.