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VARIOUS ARTISTS -Voices In Scotland

VARIOUS ARTISTS -Voices In Scotland
Brechin All Records  CDBAR014

Voices In Scotland is the opposite of insular.  This mighty double CD brings together storytellers and musicians from around the world to explore common threads in folktales.  Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Belgium, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, the USA, Northern Ireland and England are in these United Nations.  Scotland’s northlands of Aberdeenshire, Orkney and Shetland are represented.  All the surviving artists now live in Scotland.

Marion Kenny, brought up in Birmingham’s Irish community, is the force behind the project as producer and arranger. She got the storytellers to contribute stories, chose the instrumentation, arranged the musical movements for each story, gave the musicians room to improvise within their various genres, then wove words and music together in the recording studio with help from Richard Werner. 

The results of this creative process are impressive and sometimes inspiring. Now and then, the ear strains to distinguish the words against the accompaniment. But the music works well in building mood, changing tempo, and bridging sections.  Sensibly, the music is sometimes allowed to stop to heighten the dramatic effect of the unaccompanied passages. 

I can mention only a few of the pleasures to be found in these 144 minutes. I loved the liveliness of Mara Menzies’ telling of The Baobab Tree, a creation myth from Western Kenya which she learned from her grandmother. Claire McNicol gives a beguiling telling of Finn And The Hero’s Children, one of the Fenian Cycle.  She acknowledges the inspiration of The High Deeds of Finn MacCool by Rosemary Sutcliff, one of my favourite children’s authors. Nanabush And The Butterflies, told by Chuck Warren, is an American Indian tale about how the first children were taught to walk. The Curious Girl, told by Michael Williams, was collected by the Brothers Grimm but its roots go back to ancient times. It reminds us that we are all our own story, never told before.

Most of the storytellers are within the precious, threatened oral tradition, having learned their art from family members or others close to them.  Stanley Robertson, the great Aberdeenshire storyteller from the Traveller community, was the nephew of Jeannie Robertson. He tells The Angel of Death and sings Robert Tannahill’s O Are Ye Sleeping Maggie unaccompanied.  These appear to have been his last recordings before his death in 2009, and the album is dedicated to him.

The project has been supported by Creative Scotland.  By chance, I’m writing this on the day that Voices In Scotland is to be performed at The Glasgow Arts Club as part of Celtic Connections.  If I had the wings of a swallow…..

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.