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BANNAL - Bho Dhòrn gu Dòrn

BANNAL - Bho Dhòrn gu Dòrn
Macmeanmna SkyeCD32

Bannal are a group of Hebridean women who made an album of Gaelic waulking songs on the Greentrax label about ten years ago. That album helped the growth of interest in these intensely rhythmic songs, with young singers introducing them into their repertoires. This 58-minute CD will surely spread the interest further. It was produced by Mary Ann Kennedy for the highly respected Macmeanmna label. One of the singers is Glasgow-based Kenna Campbell, a longstanding champion of Gaelic language and music. And it's billed as the first-ever Gaelic DualDisc, because there's a 30-minute DVD on the other side.

The notes include full lyrics for the 19 songs in Gaelic and English. The subjects of the songs may surprise the uninitiated. Most are first-person expressions of sorrow and longing: sweethearts typically sail away or prove false. Many lines or phrases are beautiful even in translation.

The DVD is a television documentary made for BBC Scotland. It doesn't explain how these songs, with deep roots in the poetic culture of Gaeldom, evolved into work songs, but concentrates on a fascinating re-enactment of the waulking process, which was used to shrink tweed cloth until mill machines came along in the 1950s. The eight Bannal women sit around a table and rhythmically beat the dampened cloth against it. They are happy that a modern substitute has been found for stale urine. The beating dictates the rhythm of the songs, and the songs make the work easier. Each song has a lead singer, with the rest joining in on the chorus. They are helped by older women who have done it for real, there is much banter, and everyone has a great time.

Buy this album for education and pleasure. But also buy it to improve your performance of your household chores. I've listened to these songs for a week, and never were my shirts so well ironed, my kitchen surfaces so spotless, or my pans so well scrubbed. Waulking songs get the job done.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 71 of The Living Tradition magazine.