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Subtitled 'A Compilation From The First Three Decades' this is a long-overdue 'best of' although it can't be a truly comprehensive one since some material, in particular the Five Hand Reel years, Clan Alba and sterling early Boys Of The Lough stuff isn't represented. I'd venture that most readers will know the ' it's-my ball-and-you-can't-have-it ' reasons why Dick isn't able to access some of his master tapes - many other artists are similarly affected and the supposed rationale continues to be indefensible. That said, there is some rare material here from German label Wundertute Musik and it's a richly rewarding experience too, to reconnect with some phosphorescent instrumentals ("Strike The Gay Harp/Shores Of Loch Gowna") from 1977's Topic LP 'Coppers And Brass' - for long a giddy joy round this household.

Things really started in earnest though with the 1978 recording 'Gaughan' and included are "Willie O' Winsbury" and Ed Pickford's "Pound A Week Rise " no "Crooked Jack" though but hey, these are Dick's picks after all and are the tracks that he considers represent him best over a generation. It's the 'Handful Of Earth' album from 21 years ago that many still justifiably regard as a landmark - a shaft of light through some pretty turgid folk times and Gaughan's first full emergence as a premier league player. Thereafter his music has provided, in addition to its myriad musical pleasures, a coherent and evocative narrative of our times whether it be a deserved deflation of pretension ("Games People Play") or a stoicism born of experience ("Why Old Men Cry"). Make no mistake either, Gaughan is not only an increasingly prolific writer, he's a masterful interpreter of others' songs. When he chooses, he chooses well. Brian McNeill's exuberant "Muir And The Master Builder" from Greentrax album 'Redwood Cathedral' is an obvious one to make the cut and of course it was Allan Taylor who penned "Land Of The North Wind" from 'Sail On' and who gets fulsome credit in the liner notes.

Selecting 21 tracks (it's a double CD) from such a back catalogue can't have been easy and the impression is that Dick had to be gradually persuaded to assemble what is, by box-set standards a modest collection! The fact that he titles it as he does - a 'Prentice Piece' was an item of work for apprentices to submit, demonstrating what they had learned of their craft thus far, is typically self-effacing. There are bound to be omissions from anyone's perfect compilation - Edmund Burke once wrote " it is the nature of all greatness not to be exact." If, squirrel-like, one individual/company honours this principle by denying us tracks which the world should have liked to have seen included, they pay an unknowing compliment to Dick Gaughan's impact and influence! New listeners (if such exist?) begin here.


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This album was reviewed in Issue 54 of The Living Tradition magazine.