Link to Living Tradition Homepage





HUGH MacDIARMID'S HAIRCUT - Airs From Your Elbow

HUGH MacDIARMID'S HAIRCUT - Airs From Your Elbow
Brechin All Records CDBAR009

In a history that goes back over 700 years - or should that be weeks? - the Haircuts have delighted Edinburgh audiences and enjoyed more international success than the Scottish football team, but have wisely not given up their day jobs. They don't take themselves, or their icons, too seriously: but their music is another matter. Gary West on pipes, Marcos Watt on drums, Colin Matheson on keyboards and bass player Stan Wilson make up one of the finest ceilidh bands you are likely to hear. The front line is almost all piping, pre-dating the current fad for pipes-led folk bands by quite a few years, but following a successful recipe used from Bannockburn to the Butt of Lewis. Talking of butts, the album title apparently comes from an early marketing guide for Scottish musicians, penned by a direct descendant of Robert Burns who is now best remembered for his woven floor coverings.

Talking of weaving, the material here stretches right across the spectrum of Scottish dance music - or "Ceol beag" as it's known in the piping world. There are marches from the days of MacCrimmon, reels from great modern composers, schottisches and waltzes from the Gaelic tradition, and more Irish jigs than you can shake a shillelagh at. The standard half dozen ceilidh dances are included, to be repeated over and over again because the dancers are too far gone to notice. There's a first waltz and a last waltz, perfect for weddings and wakes, with Gary sensibly switching to the low whistle for the latter. Cognoscenti will note the radical approach taken to The Dashing White Sergeant: not only do these daredevil innovators eschew the original melody, they also shun the traditional reel-time rhythm, opting instead for a compound time signature and even including two tunes which have been borrowed by popular ballads. It's almost as if they want the dancers to break into song for Farewell To Sicily and Campbeltown Loch. Perish the thought.

A sure sign of a great ceilidh band is that they can play a good set for the Eightsome Reel - but don't. Well lads, you're half way there! Two Gordon Duncan classics combine with Terry Tully's Pumpkin's Fancy, Jim Sutherland's Easy Club Reel and Neil Dickie's Clumsy Lover to produce a cracking dance medley and a fitting reminder of 1990s Edinburgh bands. There are also a couple of non-standard additions to the ceilidh dance repertoire on this recording: Hoolichan's Jig and Cumberland Square Eight, the latter possibly among the things which the Haircuts picked up from me in the nineties. (I hope the ointment was effective, Colin!) Apart from that, Hugh MacDiarmid's Haircut stick to standard ceilidh band fare, cooked up with flair and garnished with great skill. Campbell's Farewell To Redcastle, Paddy's Leather Breeches, Hector The Hero, Dinkie Dorian's, Sleepy Maggie, Scarce O' Tatties: these are some of my favourite pipe tunes, played with a pulsing beat and enough lift to raise Hugh MacDiarmid himself. I have long been a fan of the Haircuts, and their debut album was overdue when I first encountered them, so I'm amazed and delighted that it has finally appeared! I've thoroughly enjoyed this CD, and I've distinguished my copy with a special place in my collection. I hope you distinguish your Airs From Your Elbow too.

Alex Monaghan

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.