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JOCK DUNCAN - "Ye Shine Whar Ye Stan!" - Springthyme SPRCD1039

I though that I knew all of the Scottish traditional singers so I received this CD with some surprise. "Jock Duncan" I asked myself, "Who's he?". Now that I've heard it my question changes to "How is it I've never heard of him before?", and "Why doesn't the rest of the country know of him too?". Well, let all take note, Jock Duncan is a singer to rank with the best we've heard from within the Scottish tradition. The proof is in this album.

The excellent biographical notes enclosed tell me that Jock was born in Aberdeenshire in 1925, raised to the sound of music at family "splores" run by his pianist mother. With a singing sister and cousin, fiddler brother, and friends like John Strachan calling in, the young Jock imbibed an enviable repertoire of ballads and cornkisters, and what's more, some great examples of the singing style required. He picked up songs from old friend Jimmy MacBeath, and acknowledges the part played by Beltona Records in spreading the music when he recalls listening to 78s by the likes of George Morris, and Willie Kemp - "They were my pop idols," he says. These influences show in his strong and dramatic delivery of ballads like "The Cruel Mother" and "Glenlogie" and the way he swaggers into the bothy songs, but he is no mere imitator, he's genuine Jock Duncan. He is no ancient groaner either. His voice has plenty of muscle, and clarity too, a good thing given the richness of his accent!

There's plenty of accompaniment on the album. Brian McNeill (fiddle, bouzouki, concertina, guitar and electric bass), Peter Shepheard (melodeons), Jock's son Gordon Duncan (cauldwind pipes, highland pipes and whistles) plus vocal group Palaver lending occasional support on choruses. I had a few misgivings when I read these names on the sleeve. No disrespect to them but I've heard traditional singers being "helped" in this way before with less than satisfactory results. Such doubts disappeared as I played the album through. They do a good job, giving Jock a solid platform and never getting in the way. It's so good to see a star name like Brian McNeill getting involved in a project like this, all honour to him and his colleagues for doing it. Quite apart from the musical benefits I can see McNeill's name persuading a hesitant buyer into paying his money.

It will be money well spent, for this is an important album standing alongside the Jane Turriff release as an example of what traditional singing really means. Such singers can teach the rest of us so much but their chances to be heard are limited. I'm grateful to Springthyme for giving me the chance to hear Jock Duncan. You readers, Scots, Irish, Welsh, English, or whatever should take the same chance.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 19 of The Living Tradition magazine.