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The term ‘Gu Deas’ has many meanings both in Irish and Scottish Gaelic – the Scottish phrase means ‘southern’ or ‘southerly’ in geographical terms, while artistically it translates as ‘accomplished’. Its Irish cousin means ‘good’ or ‘nice’ and this record manages to cover all aspects of the multifarious uses of the phrase. It is an album of Scots Gaelic songs, many from the Island of Uist, sung by Mairi MacMillan, an accomplished singer and interpreter of Gaelic songs.

The album is also a travelogue of sorts, for the native of Milton, South Uist is now domiciled in Glasgow. With the hindsight of distance, both emotional and geographical, it works as both a collection of songs and a record of a song tradition that is very much alive and yet unfamiliar to many ears outside Scotland.

Màiri’s singing is gentle and supple, with that distinctive Scots Gaelic vocal style and sound. Her pure voice benefits from some understated backing arrangements in a production which is mercifully short on commercial experiments. It is honest, natural sounding and real, and it creates a warm, familiar atmosphere. The opening Mairead Nan Cuiread moves along nicely with Ali Hutton, Megan Henderson and Rachel Newton adding strong yet unobtrusive backing on guitar, fiddle and harp, complete with call/response vocals and a sample of vintage waulking singing courtesy of the Scottish National Trust.

The slower O Phiuthrag Olc O Phiuthar, with harp accompaniment, is suitably dramatic yet low key, and Cailleach Mhòr Stadhlaigh provides a stirring combination of rippling vocals and supportive arrangements, also present in An t-Òg Uasal. Her voice cruises over the melodic backing like Cornish cream and makes for a subtle yet stunning delight. Gu Deas succeeds due to the strength of its source material and the sensitivity of its delivery. It’s a powerfully strong yet immensely gentle record highlighting the rich song repertoire of the Island of Uist by one of its best exponents.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 140 of The Living Tradition magazine