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RODDY CAMPBELL - "Tarruinn Anmoch - Late Cull" - Greentrax CDTRAX191

This extremely likeable disc is a varied collection of songs - all in Gaelic - interspersed with a handful of instrumental tracks. The recordings are clean and clear, and the production straightforwardly unfussy. The accompanying arrangements, from Marianne Campbell's ingenious fiddle on 'Fagail Bharraig' to the loping percussion of 'Domhnull an Dannsair', are generally transparent and supportive of the songs, which, there is no doubt, are what 'Late Cull' Is all about.

Roddy Campbell, a mature performer, comes from Barra, and is related to brother and sister Calum and Annie Johnston, who were much recorded by the School of Scottish Studies in the 1950s and 60s. Although none of the songs here are credited to the Johnstons, Campbell sings in the same emphatic, relatively plain style that makes those earlier recordings so invigorating. In the most effective performances he is a thrilling singer, far removed from the concert platform in his relishing of the diphthongs and the inherent rhythms of his native tongue; and it happens that those performances are unaccompanied. Foremost is 'Seonaid' (Janet) which. Like many of the songs here, is written in praise of a woman. As to the accompanied songs, I enjoy listening to them a lot, but the experience is generally the aural equivalent of watching exotic and, perhaps, threatened species in a zoo compound; safe and accessible, but hedged and confined. With the accompanied pieces, the cage door is opened and the music flies free. Released from the confines of strict tempo and European harmony the song spreads its wings and soars. A perfect example is 'Bhean Ud Thall', popularised by Calum Kennedy, and perpetuated by others, as a four-square foot stamper, here transformed into a sinuous, yearning thing by Campbell's deliberate emulation of a 1930s wire recording of Ruairidh MacKinnon.

This raises questions about what happens, and what could happen, when a music is transplanted from one milieu to another - in this case from Gaelic-speaking island communities to a potentially international and predominantly Anglophone listening audience. A wider audience than a specialist minority is surely hoped for. While the texts in the insert booklet are in Gaelic, the notes are in English. Those, like me, who have no Gaelic, can send for a translation, and they will be rewarded with delightfully idiomatic texts (by Roddy Campbell?). It will also become plain that, in spite of the notes to the translations (not by RC?), which imply that there is a distinct difference between 'traditional' and more recent compositions, the recording represents a continuum of songs, and a songmaking tradition which speaks of the personal, and of personal response to national events, stretching from times when the name of the composer/bard had been lost (or mislaid), well into the 20th century. This is exemplified by 'Oran na Cloiche', a gleeful satirical meditation on the reclaiming of the Stone of Destiny, composed, like the earlier mentioned 'Seonaid' by Donald MacIntyre, whose instincts, claims the Gaelic scholar Ronald Black, are nevertheless 'rooted in the seventeenth century'.

So it's a likeable record (not faint praise when so many releases of 'Celtic' music are intolerable in their arrogant disregard for the strengths of traditional practice), celebratory of an island culture, perhaps aspiring to broaden that culture's appeal by using mid to late 20th century popular musical idioms. At the core, though, is Roddy Campbell's skilfull, charismatic, ageless singing, guaranteed to charm the ducks off the water, the swans off the lake. Listen, and compose your own metaphor.

Bob Pegg

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This album was reviewed in Issue 38 of The Living Tradition magazine.