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EWAN MacCOLL - The Real MacColl TSCD463

If asked to name "the record company of the folk revival", the answer must surely be Topic. In the sixties and early seventies they had a steady output which a record buyer could just about keep up with. At a time when most people were unknown and we were all making new discoveries, Topic records could be relied on for quality output and I and countless others took the attitude that "if it's good enough for Topic, it's good enough for me". (Later on along came Leader and Trailer and the release rate exceeded my spending money so there are some gaps I can fill in now).

Now that so much material is being re-released in C.D. there are two main types of release, straight re-issues of L.P's and compilations. From listening to this selection from Topic it seems they intend to issue some compilations and I think they have chosen the right policy. I would like to replace some of my L.P's but in the end I usually buy something new. These releases offer tremendous value for money, 'The Iron Muse' has 26 tracks on it. Records in 1970 cost about o2.10s and I suspect this is more than the cost of a C.D. now. These compilations will be attractive.

I will not attempt any in depth review here, those recordings deserve more than that. This era of Topics output will be the subject of an article in the next issue and reviews will be incorporated within that. This "mini review" will meantime serve to bring these releases to people attention. The "vinyl renewers" will have no problem, they don't need a review as they will know what they are getting, the great potential is for a new generation to hear recordings, many long since deleted, and some of these releases will need a new introduction to a new audience.

I particularly enjoyed "The Iron Muse" where the High Level Ranters, Ewan MacColl and Louis Killen are particularly prominent. Nice to be reminded of Dave Brooks with "The Little Piecer" (Dave used to sing as a duo with Bernard Wrigley) and Bob Davenport.

"Blow the Man Down", a collection of sea songs and shanties also features Louis Killen and a host of others including Ian Campbell, Cyril Tawney, Bert Lloyd, Bob Davenport, Sam Larner, The Watersons and a track by Harry H Corbett of Steptoe and Son fame.

The earlier tracks from his 1962 album "The Jacobite Rebellions" on "The Real MacColl" are the one which sounds the most dated to me. Ewan MacColl introduced lots of songs to the revival but his Scottish accent sounds too deliberate and contrived. You would be surprised though how many Scottish singers learned versions from Ewan. The later tracks are vintage MacColl. This will be a very welcomed issue.

John Burgess "King of the Highland Pipers" is another difficult one. So much has happened in the piping world in the intervening years that it now sounds very straightforward. Great pipers like Burgess remain as great pipers but he is definitely one of "the old school". There is a current debate in the piping world, similar in some respects to the old traditional contemporary debate in the folk club, as to whether the introduction of influences from fiddle music, Irish music and the use of half notes is valid. There is certainly lots of very exciting music coming out of the piping world now. This recording will be highly valued by many from the piping world but for the average listener the compilation from 2 L.Ps may be an instance where more is not necessarily better. A difficult choice this one for Topic. A compilation with another artist may have suited a general audience but would not have pleased the piping enthusiasts.

With regard to the whole series, the problem with compilations is the tracks that are not included, there is always a favourite missing, but we can hopefully look forward to many more releases. I hope they don't overlook "The Irish Country Four" a record we had in our club record library which many people bought after hearing it.

Since reviewing these I have looked back through my collection and discovered another reason for buying re-issues - to replace all those records you "lent" people over the years. Topic have a goldmine on their hands.

Pete Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 1 of The Living Tradition magazine.