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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Dhannsadh Gun Dannsadh: Dance-Songs Of The Scottish Gaels 

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Dhannsadh Gun Dannsadh: Dance-Songs Of The Scottish Gaels 
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX9028 

Over the years, the School of Scottish Studies and Greentrax have brought us an amazing insight into the rich and hugely varied Scottish tradition. This is volume 28 of a mighty series that started off on vinyl in 1971 on the long-gone Tangent label. The 32 mainly short tracks, mostly field recordings from the 1950s, display a wide range of tunes, rhythms and styles of mouth music, puirt-à-beul, in the rhythms of strathspey, hornpipe, jig and reel. Popular dance and song tunes crop up all the time, so included are Soldier’s Joy, Bonnie Lass Come O’er The Burn and Miss McLeod’s Reel and others that are irritatingly difficult to put a name to.

The common explanation for the use of mouth music rather than instruments is the poverty of the participants but the interesting booklet suggests that this was also a matter of choice; that dancing happened spontaneously at the end of a long task, the return of a fishing boat or a long session of waulking the newly woven tweed. Certainly, when it is groups of women singing it is only the beating of feet sounds that distinguishes this singing from the thumping of the cloth on a table.

It takes a few listenings to appreciate just how skilful the vocables are, chosen to give the right emphasis, for example the ‘Scots snap’, to the music. Most of the short tracks sound like good functional dance music. Then we get to the four minutes of track 30 and we realise that we are in the company of a master; Angus Campbell MacLeod has everything – voice, tone, decoration, breath control, timing. It is exquisite.

Vic Smith


This review appeared in Issue 132 of The Living Tradition magazine