Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX271

This CD subtitled, ‘A Celebration Of The Clydesdale Horse In Song’, could equally be titled, ‘Requiem For Heavy Horses’. The New Makers Trust – who aim to promote song writing about life in communities in Scotland – in partnership with Robin Laing have put together this concept album. They are to be congratulated for producing such a varied and colourful portrayal of the Clydesdale Horse.

The opening track, ‘The Last Trip Home’, by Davy Steele – like the Clydesdales we miss him too – makes a poignant start to the CD. I can remember the Clydesdales ploughing the Angus fields next to where I write this. The three brothers who worked the land hung on to their horses until the last and when the horses finally left I saw them shed a tear.

Tam Reid tells of ‘Princie and Jean’ with an intimacy that could only come from someone directly involved with the horses. Equally you could imagine Jock Duncan attending the ‘Ploo’in Match’ (and many others too no doubt) that he portrays with such passion and sincerity.

Christine Kydd interprets Ishbel MacKenzie and Ewan McVicar’s song ‘Gone Are The Strong Ones’ with subtlety and feeling. Ishbel MacKenzie (Ewan McVicar’s mother–in–law) worked the land with Gentle Giants in Easter Ross. Robin Laing tells of ‘David and Goliath,’ the drayman and his horse, who brought the beer from Barlinnie to St. George’s Cross, with a humour that only Robin can.

‘Boxer’s Story’ is John Malcolm’s song written specially for the CD and based on Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is a well crafted song with a dark edge and ominous allegorical message, performed in a country and western style. Two other tracks are sung with a ‘country’ feel. Perhaps horses are the connection or is it cowboys/ploughboys?!

The pure unaccompanied voice of Isla St Clair tells of the ‘Dying Ploughboy’ portraying the harsh reality of working the land and reminding us that it wasn’t always as we thought, now looking at it some fifty years on.

The album ends with ‘The Clydesdale Horse’, a tune by Ewan McVicar, with words and vocals by Primary four pupils of Biggar Primary School . I have worked with Ewan and I’m still amazed how he can ask the class what they would like to sing about and before the forty-five minute period is over he has taken down the children’s words and rhymes and produced a song they can all sing. Here is an example of which I hope Primary four will be rightly proud.

Listening to this CD for the first time in the car with all the usual interruptions wasn’t ideal as it is not background music. Give careful listening to each track and you will hear the fun of the ‘ploo’in’ match, the plod of the Gentle Giants as they plough the land, haul the dray or feel the sadness of their passing. In today’s hectic life it has been a pleasure to sit back listening to this CD and remember times passed.

Andrew Webster

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This album was reviewed in Issue 65 of The Living Tradition magazine.