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JANE TURRIFF - "Singing Is Ma Life" - Springthyme SPRCD 1038
VARIOUS ARTISTS - "When The May Is All In Bloom" - Veteran Tapes VT131CD

Editing an album of traditional music sung or played by traditional performers presents a dilemma. How much of the traditional performer's repertoire should be included? Are only the palpably "old" songs worth including, or should the recording include a representative selection? It's not a new problem. The majority of the early collectors simply didn't worry; they felt that only the old songs were worth preserving, and in most cases, they didn't bother even to acknowledge that their sources had songs other than the "pure" folk music which they were seeking. In reality, of course, the repertoire of most traditional performers was, and is, much wider than is usually presented, even now, on commercial recordings. This is neatly illustrated by the two albums reviewed here.

Jane Turriff is a vivacious lady, a great singer, and a fine musician. Born into the Aberdeenshire Stewarts during 1915, she grew up in a travelling family with links on her mother's side to Ireland. First recorded by Hamish Henderson in 1955, she has now made over five hundred recordings, most recently on video. This CD is a compilation selected by Tom McKean, the Traditional Music Resident of Banff and Buchan District Council, "with Jane's approval and perceptive ear". In his introduction he says "I have tried to make this record representative of her huge range and include songs that are important to her". As far as this unashamed sassenach can tell, he succeeds! But, not only is this album important musically, it also manages, by means of an autobiography, transcribed from taped interviews, taking twelve pages of the accompanying thirty-six page booklet (which must in itself set some kind of record!), to set the performer firmly into context. The notes on the songs also reflect the Jane's feelings about the songs, but at the same time, manage to give enough information to enquire further. If I have a minor gripe, it's that the song references quoted don't cross-reference to non-Scottish collections.

The songs range from big ballads such as the "Dowie Dens o' Yarrow", a gripping version of "The Trumpeter of Fyvie" ("Mill o' Tifty's Annie") which Jane edits in performance from the fifty-two verses she knows, to seventeen), and a lovely "Barbary Allen" to the classic C&W song "Empty Saddles". There are sentimental songs. For reasons too complicated to relate in a record review, I was particularly pleased to find "Will the Angels Play Their Harps for Me?". Amongst the old songs, there's for me (and apparently, Hamish Henderson!) a favourite track, the stunning "Rigs o' Rye". I was also struck by her playing. Listen to the way she uses the harmonium on "A Tailor Lad". She's also a fine accordion player, with more than a little of her uncle Davie "Bogie's Bonnie Bell" Stewart in her playing.

Listening within a couple of hours of Jane Turriff's recordings to John Howson's compilation of English country singers raised questions. Both of the albums are very good indeed, but it would be very interesting indeed to know how the repertoire was chosen. The newest songs on this album come from about the turn of this century, and are hallowed by their association with the Copper Family. Not that I mean that in any negative sense, but where are songs like the "Volunteer Organist" or "Riding Along in A Freight Train" ("The Rambler's Warn") or "A Sailor Coming Home One Night"? These, in my experience, are currently at the heart of the repertoire of the older "country singers" in Southern England. It seems as though the songs have been selected to reflect the preconceptions of the folk scene as to what a "traditional" singer might sing! I was also surprised to discover that there was only a token woman singer.

I'm not disparaging the performances. There no duds and some are very good indeed. Louie Fuller's "Spotty Dick" will become a classic, and the performances of Gordon Hall are worth the cost of the CD alone. Ron Spicer's singing and playing also deserve much wider recognition. He has a quite essentially Southern English way of singing, and his piano accordion accompaniments have a character which comes only from complete familiarity with his songs. If I were to be forced to choose a single track on the album it would be Ron's "Lily White Hand". My Dad agrees with me.

These are both significant albums. They've also both benefitted from public funding in various forms. This should be a cause for celebration. In the case of Jane Turriff's album, both the Scottish Arts Council, and Banff and Buchan District Council deserve congratulations. If you are English, then you could direct your applause at South East Arts, but I wait with baited breath for the Vale of White Horse District Council to appoint a "Traditional Music Resident"! Perhaps it could happen if enough people bought these albums.

Chris Bartram

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.