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EWAN McVICAR - ABC, My Grannie Caught A Flea

EWAN McVICAR - ABC, My Grannie Caught A Flea
Birlinn  ISBN 978 1 84158 937 4

Ewan McVicar is a weel-kent face in many guises around the folk scene as a singer, songwriter and storyteller, and recently he has stravaiged around the country from his Linlithgow base in order to collect the rhymes, chants and songs of the playground and the street.  True, there may not seem to be quite so much of that in this era of electronic amusement, but the bairns are still “gien it laldy”, and Ewan has carried out considerable fieldwork research in this genre.

This is not just a listing of contemporary material, however, as it is rather a compendium and anthology which dips into the past couple of centuries, using as source material such gems as Robert Chambers’ 1842 Popular Rhymes Of Scotland and the magnificent Miscellanea Of The Rymour Club, which was progressively published between 1905 and 1927.Ewan adds just a few introductory lines to the various sections, leaving the reader to browse at will. Which is for the best, as this is a book for dipping into rather than reading from cover to cover (although you could quite easily while away a few hours doing so).

What becomes very evident is that, no matter how society changes, the subjects which fascinate and enthral bairns remain the same, as they try to make sense of the big world around them.  So the songs are gloriously non-PC, often nonsensical, often adapting popular songs of their time, but always expressing the liveliness and vigour of young minds.

There is, naturally, a lot of Scots used here, as well as Shetlandic, rather than English, so non-native readers might be advised to have a good dictionary handy for this very useful addition to the genre.  If you want some more, then seek out Ewan’s 2007 volume Doh, Ray, Me, When Ah Wis Wee.

Highly recommended.

Gordon Potter

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.