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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Hamish Henderson Tribute Vol 2: Ballad Of The Banffies 

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Hamish Henderson Tribute Vol 2: Ballad Of The Banffies 
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX410 

This is the long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s Hamish Henderson Tribute Album: A’ The Bairns O Adam and is, as with that release, produced and compiled by Hamish’s friend and collaborator Dr. Fred Freeman. Unlike its predecessor, this volume features mainly newly recorded songs and poems, along with a few rescued gems, conversational and sung, by Hamish himself. There is also a version (specially licensed from Claddagh Records) of his anti-apartheid song, Rivonia, performed by South African vocal group, Atte. In addition to Hamish’s own works, there are songs collected by him, and two by his friend Stuart Macgregor: Blossom In The Spring and a new recording of his poem, The Presence, set to music by Archie Fisher many years ago.

Most of the pieces are performed by well-established singers, Fiona Hunter (Malinky) and John Morran (Deaf Shepherd), while Fred Freeman handles the poems. Young Aberdonian vocalist Cameron Nixon’s lilting vocals grace the remaining tracks, as does his sweet tone on the fiddle. The production is stripped down to the acoustic basics that Hamish would have appreciated, with backing supplied by Scottish trad stalwarts Marc Duff (whistles), Frank MacLaughlin (guitar), Euan MacLaughlin (fiddle, banjo) and Angus Lyon (accordion, keyboards).

Stand-outs… Cameron Nixon’s melodic rendition of the title track confounds expectations of the more in-your-face treatment accorded similar songs such as A Gordon For Me – while his fiddle-playing gives the song a gently nostalgic feel. John Morran’s take on Banks Of Sicily is now my all-time favourite version, with Hamish’s lyrics flowing smoothly and naturally, the Scots sounding as if John uses every single word every single day. Fiona Hunter’s beautifully sensitive version of Goettingen Nicht is set, by Fred Freeman, to an adapted minor-tinged version of the tune, O Tannenbaum. She also makes a fine job of Stuart Macgregor’s The Presence. Atte’s Rivonia, although thematically now a historical piece, provides a haunting a cappella harmony finale.

I’d also mention the informal recordings that highlight Hamish’s good humour. There’s a tendency these days to concentrate on his more serious politically-tinged works, so it was a delight to hear him obviously enjoying a soldier’s version of the children’s song, Aunty Mary, and Tail Toddle – his take on the puirt a beul mouth-music tradition.

So often, tribute albums can come across as ‘worthy’ rather than as entertainment, but Ballad Of The Banffies is no dry commemoration, rather a vigorous celebration of a man who effortlessly blended academia with live performance art. Highly recommended.

Bob Leslie


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine