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ELIZABETH STEWART Binnorie: Songs, Ballads and Tunes Elphinstone Institute EICD002

This is the first in a series of recordings of "The Traveller traditions of North East Scotland" planned by the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen. It's great value, featuring 31 items of songs and piano music performed by Elizabeth Stewart - a fine musician in her own right, but what comes across clearly from these CDs is also her role as representative of a significant family tradition within the community of North East travellers. There's a biographical introduction by Alison McMorland, who has assisted Elizabeth in making the recording, and comments from Tom McKean of the Elphinstone Institute, who provides scholarly notes on the repertoire.

There's an apt start, then, with the opening line of 'The Butcher's Boy': "O ma parents gave tae me good learnin...". Listeners will find some familiar songs here including 'Come A' Ye Fisher Lassies' which Elizabeth and her sister recorded for the "Radio Ballads" series in 1960. A fine version of The Jolly Beggar, has a refrain with an effective harmony line, apparently sung by Elizabeth herself. Amongst the other feast of songs I enjoyed Elizabeth's own 'Lord Gordon's Bonnie Boys', in the style of a traditional ballad, and her singing of 'Two Pretty Boys' whose expansive performance should be compared with that of the same song by her aunt, Lucy Stewart. There are also curiosities like 'The Russian Jew', apparently based on a macaronic music hall song including the Gaelic line "Ciamar a tha sibh an diugh" (here comes a Russian Jew)!

Elizabeth's piano playing which she got from her mother, is given a platform here. I particularly liked the set of her own tunes: 'Auld Betty's Cairty/Jean Stewart's Tune/Big Hamish', the last being named for Hamish Henderson who was well known to the Stewart family. It's great to hear such stylishly played dance tunes (with interesting decorations) representing the largely unsung tradition of Scottish traditional piano music. The last item on disc 1 reminds us of a tradition of variation making which was very popular earlier in the 20th century, judging from the number of tunes published in collections in this form. Here, Elizabeth's rendition of 'The Blue Bells o Scotland' displays this beautifully with its positively virtuosic variations.

While recommending this recording wholeheartedly I should declare a personal interest, as I am involved in the preparation of a book about Elizabeth Stewart's family traditions, being written by Elizabeth, and Alison McMorland. Together with these CDs, we will have a fine record of an important strand of traveller traditions in Scotland.

Jo Miller

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This album was reviewed in Issue 60 of The Living Tradition magazine.