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MERLIN MUSIC "Session Book One"

Merlin Music have published the first in what they say will be a series of books containing tunes they have collected over the years. The book contains a selection of one hundred of what are described as 'favourite session tunes from the musical traditions of the British Isles', and indeed what they are presenting is a good cross section of well-known tunes, mostly of Irish and Scottish origin. The book also includes some tunes by contemporary tunesmiths such as Andy Hornby and Willie Johnstone, and Merlin have included a couple of their own compositions.

The layout is well thought-out and innovative: it is in A5 landscape format, spiral bound along the top edge, with one tune per page printed on one side of the paper only. For ease of reading, the book can be freestanding on a table or whatever, so there's no need for a music stand or something to prop the book upon - you just simply flip back the front cover, turn to your chosen tune, stand the book upright and play. This is nice feature which is definitely a selling point.

Session Book One' has a well laid-out index, with the tunes divided into sections such as 'Jigs', 'Reels', 'Hornpipes' etc. The music is clear and easy to read, though the return repeat marks have been omitted throughout. The usual format is to have a repeat mark at the start of each section in a tune as well as at the end of the section, so that it is easy to see where to repeat back to. However, it is not too much of a problem to figure out the repeat points in Merlin's book because the tunes have been laid out so that each repeat begins at the start of a stave.

As to the tunes themselves, if you are looking for 'standard versions' of the tunes, then you will not always find these here. What are given are versions of well-known tunes which the editors have collected from various musicians in trad sessions. Any transcription of a trad tune is but a snap-shot of an evolving story; tunes change over time, and some would argue that holding onto the notion of a 'standard version' serves to fossilise the music and prevent it from growing. So these transcriptions of the tunes, each recorded at a particular time and place, have a 'played' feel, often with some degree of ornamentation written into the version. It is a pity that the provenance of each tune is not given in the book, because it is important to know the source of a tune when it deviates from the 'standard version'.

Merlin also plan to publish half-size 'pocket' editions of the series, which will be a nice variation upon what is already an attractive package.

COLIN BLAKEY

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This album was reviewed in Issue 51 of The Living Tradition magazine.