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BONNIE RIDEOUT - Harlaw – Scotland 1411

BONNIE RIDEOUT - Harlaw – Scotland 1411
Private Label  TM505

This grim clan battle, of contentious outcome, has given birth to a musical and vocal “kist o` riches". This ancient conflict in Aberdeenshire is commemorated in song, story, march and pibroch. We are presented with vivid illustrations of compositions directly inspired by the battle or closely related to it.

Bonnie Ridout has assembled a stellar cast of friends old and new in this mighty venture, with the able assistance of musicologist John Purser. John is also the producer. The cast includes such talents as: piper and singer Allan McDonald, and clarsach / harp exponents William Jackson and Bill Taylor.

Disc 1, The Story of Harlaw is a lucid exposition narrated by John Purser with inputs from Professor Alan Riach and a most valuable interview with singer and tradition bearer, Elizabeth Stewart who was born, raised and is firmly rooted in the area of "Reid Harlaw".  There are also, where appropriate, musical and vocal items, eg an evocative Battel Harloe played by Al Pettaway on solo guitar. This background disc provides an indispensable preliminary. To quote Bonnie Ridout, "an extra dimension".

Disc 2, the music disc, consists of 16 tracks in a cascade of virtuoso performances. It opens with a confident (pre battle!) march with Bonnie on viola and Mathew Bell on bodhran. The album concludes with the fine pibroch Cath Nan Eun (The Battle Of The Birds) with Barnaby Brown on triple pipes and Bonnie on fiddle. In between we have two distinct versions of the ballad Harlaw: the older from Andy Hunter and the more recent and familiar from Elizabeth Stewart. Both singers give superb renditions. Given the nature and sustained high quality of all the performances it is near impossible to talk of personal highlights. That said, Bonnie of the magic bow and flying fingers does a magnificent job on the pibroch The Battle Of Harlaw playing viola.

The liner notes by John Purser are models of their kind, as is the design and layout of this handsome package.  This is a listening experience to be savoured. It is a most impressive and moving remembrance, to quote John Purser, "of the age old battle between war and peace". This is a landmark recording.

Geordie McIntyre

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.