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Scotland – The Music and the Song

Scotland - The Music and the Song (3 CDs)
Greentrax CDTRAX8606

1986: Huv ye heard the one about the big polisman that retired and spent all his lump sum on settin' up a folk music record company? What a hoot! What an eedjit . that'll never work. He disnae ken whit he's daein' - ah gie it six months, nae mair. He'll be back sellin' cheap records oot o' cardboard boxes to pay for the Cornflakes in nae time at a'.

2006: Honorary Dr. Ian Green of Greentrax receives the Hamish Henderson Award For Services To Traditional Music . Greentrax records now dominate the Scottish Folk scene in wonderfully benign manner, rivalled only by Topic and Fellside in England, with over 350 CDs on its books. The label has repatriated the Scottish Tradition series of "source" recordings that contains some of the most important links to our musical and folkloric past. Greentrax offers regular showcase concerts either independently or at major events in Scotland. Ian Green is arguably the most trusted figure in the business. Almost anyone who is anyone has released music on Greentrax and now Ian has indulged himself in this 3-CD boxed set (good value at c£16 too). No bad for a big daft polisman, eh?

This is by its very nature a collection that will move, entertain, enthral, inspire and annoy! Where, for example, is Dick G's recording of Geronimo's Cadillac? What happened to Jim Reid's 'Norlan Winds'? Tony McManus's 'Roslin Castle'? Why didn't 'Jock Tamson's Bairns Gude Claret' make the cut? Brian McNeill's 'Strong Women'? (So to speak). In a funny way, Greentrax's achievement over the past twenty years is illustrated more dramatically by what was left out, rather than by Ian's excellent personal choices. It's a bit like Tom Paxton singing Last Thing on my Mind half way through a gig - he doesn't need to hold it back as an encore! Like Greentrax, he has an embarrassment of riches.

This landmark recording does a number of things. It marks the achievements outlined above in terms of recording, presenting, stimulating and influencing the Scottish musical tradition. Through initiatives like the "Gaelic Women" concert and CD, Greentrax has gone beyond the normal call of duty for a record label and has actually lent a firm, gentle and entirely principled guiding hand. The CD also, clearly, offers a mammoth "sampler" to enthusiasts unfamiliar with the Greentrax stable of musicians. It is, with its sensibly tourist-friendly packaging, a very affordable souvenir of real Scottish music. It's a fine alternative to the (expletive deleted) shortbread-tin sentimentality or bastardised country-and-western in tartan trews that generally graces the stalls at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and has damaged the international view of Scottish culture for decades . grrrr! Glad I got that out . I feel better now.

It's true that tourists may find Jeannie Robertson a little stark for their tastes, but there's bags of easy-to-listen-to, REAL Scottish music here. I suspect that this will join Allie Fraser and Tony McManus's 'Return to Kintail' as one of my favourite "presents for a non-folkie"! I reckon I've bought fifteen -twenty copies of Kintail and it's good to have an alternative. The set clearly celebrates some great artistes - live and otherwise. It brought a lump to my throat to hear Davy Steele's impassioned Fareweel to the Haven . good grief, I miss Davy for his music, fun, sense and nonsense. Martyn Bennet is here, another hugely important and musical figure taken from us far too soon. Gordon Duncan... why, oh why . what was God thinking about that day? Here he is, in all his wayward glory, playing the tune he wrote for Ian Green. More tears in the eye and lumps in the throat. It's invidious to pick out personal favourites from this but I will anyway. Davy's Fareweel . is an obvious one - what a singer. Heather Heywood's 'Some Kind of Love' - that crystal-clear, unaffected voice at its best. Jeannie Robertson's 'Harlaw' - a style much copied, but never bettered. 'The Easy Club Reel' - guaranteed smile on the face there . a really funny tune. The Wrigley's 'Ba' Rag' - more musically induced smiling. Isla St Clair's 'Shian Road' - an under-rated and forgotten voice . 'til recently. Welcome back. Oh, and of course, Sheena Wellington's heart-stopping parliament-opening 'Man's a Man' - with the MSPs singing along to demonstrate that they're not numpties all of the time. They don't often get things right on these occasions and I'd expected either (naming no names) tartan nonsense or some ephemerally popular Scot-pop. I was delighted to be proved very wrong.

The music is arranged as "the first ten years" (CD 1), "the last ten years" (CD3) and "risks, breakthroughs and innovation" (CD2 . my description, not Greentrax's).

I make no apologies for the purple prose and no, I have not abandoned the 2005 Bechofer rules of fair, critical and reasonable reviewing! This set really is that good, Greentrax's achievement really is that important Ian Green really is one of the nicest, most honourable men you're ever likely to meet, whose influence on Scottish music will outlive him and all the rest of us.

Happy Anniversary, Ian, June and all at Greentrax. We owe you a drink or many.

Alan Murray
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This album was reviewed in Issue 69 of The Living Tradition magazine.