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THE GUAGERS - The Fighting Scot SPRCD1031

Being a long-time fan of the Gaugers, I was delighted when our esteemed Editor gave me the job of reviewing their tape and accompanying booklet, "The Fighting Scot". My eager anticipation was not disappointed. Both book and tape are excellent.

There is a great variety in the songs. The bravery of ordinary man (and an occasional woman), the pain, sorrow, comedy, treachery, comradeship and (rarely) glory of war are all represented in the 16 songs of the tape (19 in the booklet) which illustrate the life of the Scottish soldier over six centuries. The songs are mainly traditional but include a few more recent ones like Hamish Henderson's "The Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily". Tam Spiers sings "List Bonnie Laddie" (which I know as the "Twa Recruiting Sergeants") to a tune which was new to me and fine tune it is too.

The Gaugers are Arthur Watson, Peter Hall and Tom Spiers. All learned their singing and songs in Aberdeen and sing with a rich North Eastern accent. Those unfamiliar with this area need not fear - the language is perfectly clear and understandable and anyway a glossary is included in the book. All three are also accomplished musicians: Arthur plays whistle. Tom plays fiddle and Peter plays English concertina. Their singing has a wonderful mellowness combined with liveliness and vigour and the instruments never compete with the voices. They tend not to sing together, but in traditional style each sings his song and the other two join in on the choruses. It makes for plenty of variety. At the risk of being accused of being a purist I would have like a few unaccompanied songs. However, this is not really a criticism.

The book is delightful. I specially like the front cover which shows a somewhat bemused looking piper, facing danger squarely face-on and eyes wide open, piping away while the battle (indicated by angry clouds of brown smoke) rages around him. I also liked the dedication: "This book is dedicated to the many traditional singers who have kept these songs alive" and the generous non-copyright statement (to coin an expression): "The Gaugers make no copyright claim in respect of traditional material included in this volume and other performers are welcome to learn and adapt any such songs from this cassette or book".

The book begins with very interesting historical introduction, followed by the songs. Both words and tunes are given (one of my pet hates is so-called song books which give only the words). Amusing line drawings by Charlie Hynes are freely dotted around the text.

Because of the attractive way it is presented, this collection, apart from being a good source of songs for anyone looking for new material, and its pure enjoyment value, would make an excellent introduction to traditional song for older children. It would be good to see it being used in schools. Any teachers out there take note!

"The Fighting Scot is the first of an intended series which sets our to explore the world of folk song and its strong connection with the society from which it sprang". (quoted from the book) The next volume will be "Awa Wi The Rovin Sailor" which will also be a cassette with accompanying book. Please Mr Editor, may I review that one too?

The Gaugers perform the material live in a presentation which they also call "The Fighting Scot". I missed it at the Bute Festival because it was on at an awkward time for me but heard from people who did get to it that they thoroughly enjoyed it. So that's something else to look out for.

Mary Dale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 2 of The Living Tradition magazine.