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SGOIL CHI┘IL NA G└IDHEALTACHD - Caution: Children Playing

SGOIL CHI┘IL NA G└IDHEALTACHD - Caution: Children Playing
Private Label SCGCD013D

Another year passes and another double CD appears from the prodigious students of Plockton's school for traditional music. Following the same formula as their last release, Disc 1 focuses on the final year students, while Disc 2 adds their talented younger schoolmates. The content and quality is variable, of course: like any school, there are stars and specialists, all-rounders and also-rans, but the breadth of talent on show here is a great portent for the future of Scottish music. This year's crew don't seem to be so strong on vocals - something I admit to being unperturbed by, for several reasons - but there are exceptions and the sparseness of vocal talent is more than compensated for by a positive embarrassment of instrumental prowess.

Year 6 students are all multi-talented, although their talents are concentrated around fiddle, guitar, clarsach and vocals, with one flute and a single accordionist: no doubt a gruesome fate befell the other box players and they won't even talk about the missing pipers. Fortunately, one accordion is enough for a lot of good dance music and these young voters rattle through reels and jigs by some of the best composers in the business, as well as some classic uncredited melodies. Alan Kelly's Trip To Dingle, Mairearad Green's The Raffle, Catriona McKay's Swan LK243 and Dougie Hunter's Goat Island Reel are interspersed with big tunes by Skinner, Marshall, Hill and, of course, Trad Arr. There's one tune by that lone box player, Joseph Peach, and a fine one too. Other highlights are Catriona MacDonald's air The Joy Of It and the final set Abdoul's.

Nikki Goldman does most of the sixth year singing, in a voice well suited to the modern ballad Outlaws but less convincing on traditional songs. Innes White makes a brave attempt at Aye Waulkin' O, accompanying himself on guitar. I'm not sure why Mairi Hawthorn isn't on this recording - she provided a highlight of the last one - but singers Ellie Boyd and Robert MacInnes both make welcome returns. Ellie is now a sixth-former, but she doesn't take a vocal solo on this album, preferring to sing Michael Marra's The Fold with a group of other girls. This track is one of a handful where the recording process probably doesn't do the musicians justice: microphone technique, channel separation and of course studio experience can be lacking in a school context, even in a school of musical excellence. Robert, on the other hand, grabs two singing opportunities and soars through them, even though the wee chancer is still only in year 3! Whether it's traditional Gaelic, or modern miserableness from Adam Holmes, Robert MacInnes shows power and confidence in addition to his natural musical talent. The last track, Peg And Awl, showcases fifth-former Kaitlin Ross, another vocal talent to watch.

On the instrumental side, Disc 2 is more varied: bigger groups (some with regrettable names), pipers and even a cello. Traditional treasures such as The Scholar (attributed here to James Hill) and Catch And Kiss The Romp are mixed with newer melodies in imaginative arrangements. These youngsters aren't afraid to try things and they know their music. Tunes by Allan MacDonald, the late Ian Hardie, Pete Clark, Hamish Moore, Rory Campbell, Liz Carroll and, of course, Gordon Duncan, rub shoulders with a few by the students themselves. Lorient Mornings is a glorious piece on twin fiddles, as is Mutt's Favourite. Fort Augustus fifth-former Charlie Grey's strathspey Jennie And Chris stands out and so does accordionist Kylie MacDonald of Sleat on Nusa. The most striking arrangements probably come from the quartet Meet The Plockers, the youngest grouping here but certainly not eclipsed by their elders. Two hours of promise, a high percentage of delivery and more than one future star.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 101 of The Living Tradition magazine.