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Topic Records TSCD678

One of the four Voice Of The People CDs scheduled for release in 2014, these field recordings date from a 13 day visit to the islands by Peter Kennedy in July 1955 and are a further instance of the tremendous value of that collector's work.

For the geographically challenged, Orkney is between Shetland and the Scottish mainland and to this day has a rich and distinctive musical tradition all of its own. To quote Kennedy in 1955: “every small hamlet had its own band and each village had at least two”, and hearing the Garson Trio's piano (yes piano) accordion / fiddle led first track, The Greeny Hill March, is a rhythmic revelation proving that in the right hands even the much-reviled piano box can really hit the spot!

‘Always start a CD with your best tune and they'll keep listening’, is a sound principle, but this collection continues in great style and even improves via a grand variety of waltzes, polkas, jigs, marches and barndances, as well as reels from players who played for dances, weddings and other community events. John Fraser of Birsay plays two wedding marches, illustrating the functionality of this music - you can almost see the happy couple. There's a wonderfully earthy photo of the Garson Trio on the CD cover showing them as working people who played music, rather than simply performers.

Peter Kennedy had very vague plans when he arrived in Orkney, but was fortunate enough on his second day to travel by ferry to the offshore island of Stronsay with the Orkney Strathspey and Reel Society (who were giving a concert) and the information gained there guided him during his visit. Fog prevented a return to the Orkney Mainland, which resulted in an overnight stay and an impromptu ceilidh in the old sense - singers, various instrumentalists, dances and recitations, even a conjuror! Sadly he was unable to record anything that night and had further problems when he ran out of tape in such a remote place, but recorded enough at other times to give us a vivid impression of a vibrant musical tradition.

For me, some of the highlights are several lovely tracks by the Garson Trio and Peter Pratt of Toab's presentation of five different tempos in under five minutes of fine staccato tin whistle playing, the same man being no slouch on the fiddle either!

There are 53 minutes of traditional music on this wonderful CD, ably edited and with booklet notes by Reg Hall. There are some great photos of the musicians and a cogent explanation of what these recordings are all about, making up another piece of essential listening from this excellent and informative series.

Jim Bainbridge

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.