Iain’s a Glasgow-based songwriter of nearly forty years’ standing, yet only now has he finally got round to producing a selection of his own songs on CD. Iain’s family have lived around Clydebank for over a century, and he still considers himself a “Bankie”, retaining strong ties with the area – not least in the acute sense of nostalgia and feeling for the past that permeates the best of his songs. Chances are the one song of Iain’s you’ll have heard is ‘Annie McKelvie’ – “Dae ye fancy a night at the dancing wi’ me…” – (the late and much-missed Allan Laing of Skipton Folk Club provided my own introduction to its delights), but as this fine CD demonstrates, there’s much more where that came from and although perhaps inevitably not quite every song reveals (at any rate on early acquaintance) the same degree of simple charm the CD’s seventeen tracks contain considerably more hits than misses.
On this evidence, Iain’s songs all communicate directly and potently, whether with deep and wistful passion or in bouncy, flippant mode. Iain has the knack for composing seriously beautiful tunes that could have come from the tradition – as on ‘The Braes O’ Appin’ and the title track, both inspired by reminiscences of early romantic encounters. Couched in sensitive and mildly fulsome musical settings, such songs as these (and to a lesser extent ‘Wild Days’, ‘Miss McGill’ and ‘Awa Frae Huntershill’) make a mighty impression – vivid, warm and comforting without sinking into cosy.
Iain’s subject matter embraces much more than unrequited love and what one might term straightforward first-person nostalgia, though – ‘ Mountains O’ The Sea’ is a powerful tribute to the men and women of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, ‘The Star’ is an affectionate tribute to Iain’s wife Moira, and ‘The Broons’ takes the form of a Scot’s proclamation of his national identity despite his Asian appearance. And let’s not forget the lighter-hearted contingent, with the childhood delights of street fitba’ (‘Keekin’ Over The Wa’’), the well-observed spectacle of ‘The Cowal Game’s, the antics of male bonding on ‘The Fishing Trip’ and the (I thought somewhat Bogle-esque) fun tale of ‘The Whistling Canary’. Iain sings most of the songs himself, and he has a clear, distinctive and attractive singing voice (although he sounds a mite strained when essaying a more strident delivery, as on ‘The First And Last’). He does, however, hand over the vocal duties on three tracks – Carolyn Ingram performs two songs including ‘Closing O’ The Day’ (portraying through a woman’s diary her observation of her husband’s health deteriorating through terminal illness), and bright young RSAMD star Seylan Baxter brings her strikingly clear diction to the poignant ‘Lunderston Bay’.
Which brings me to the musical settings – clean and largely uncluttered (tho’ maybe the evocation of the “band in the toon ha’” on ‘ Annie McKelvie’ is just a tad o’er-fulsome), featuring four friends on accordion, whistle, pipes, cello and keyboards in addition to Iain’s own guitar and harmonica. And excellently recorded too. Given that my only prior knowledge of Iain’s work (apart from Annie) had been the feature on his song ‘A Bankie Lad’ in this mag around four years ago, I was surprised not to find that song on this CD; that aside, this is a wonderful selection, and I really would like to hear more of Iain’s work (but I don’t want to wait forty years for him to get round to recording a second CD!).