Scotland has given many things to mankind and if we seem to have colonised the world the world must forgive us. We have been particularly generous with our songs, sending their influential melodies and rhythms into the folk cultures of many lands. In recent years it is possible to argue that the success of Scottish folk-singers on radio and television, the most persuasive of all the mass — communication media has been the major factor in bringing a vast new audience to the sort of folk-song recital from which these recordings were taken. One has to think only of Ewan MacColl's prize-winning radio ballads, Rory and Alex McEwen blazing the trail on "To-night," succeeded by Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor, followed up fast by the Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell as the resident group on a highly successful network series on BBC TV.
As it happens these recordings were made before "The Hoot'nanny Show" appeared on television and planned long before that. For over a decade hoot'nanny has been the traditional title for a folk-song sing-around. But, inevitably, all the artists on this disc and many of the songs have appeared on the television show. And of course the audience, an integral part of any folksong performance, also comes from Edinburgh. We can thank the Edinburgh Festival and its basement sideshows for the fact that the Scottish capital now ranks with Liverpool and Greenwich Village as one of the capitals of the folk world.
The Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell, led by Bill Smith, begin Side 1 with that rollicking piece of Irish whimsey. Jug o' Punch. This is typical of their treatment of a standard folk number — dynamic, fresh, and delivered with great gusto.
Ray and Archie Fisher have established themselves as a compelling brother and sister duet. Ray's voice, carrying as it does some of the earthy drive of the late Edith Piafs is ideally suited to Leave Her Johnny, a strident song of the sea. Archie explains what they have done to Poor Bill.
One of the most successful of the young singers from the northeast of Scotland — always a stronghold of folk performers—is Eleanor Leith. Unlike many Scots singers, however, she has brought the songs of many lands into her repertoire. On Side 1 she sings the modern song What Have They Done to the Rain alongside the traditional Still I Love Him.
The Corrie Trio and Paddie return to close the side with Roy Williamson on concertina and leading Hanging Johnny. Ronnie Browne and the other Corries get Side 2 off to a rumbustious start with Finnegan's Wake. Of all the great comic Irish songs this one is amongst the best, with its strong narrative, jigging choruses, and disconcerting good humour. Another great Irish song. She Moved Thro' the Fair, is a real test for any singer and Paddie Bell's performance of it reveals all of its haunting beauty and sadness.
The Gaelic culture still survives in Scotland and is represented here by Dolina McLennan who comes from the Outer Hebrides. Dolina sings traditional peurt a beul and follows up with a Lowland lyric Dee an Auld Maid in a Garret, a song of working-class Glasgow.
From the same scene comes Backgreen Ballad, a comic fragment, which Ray and Archie Fisher remember from their childhood around the close-mouths of Glasgow. Eleanor Leith returns to sing I Aince Loved a Lad, and Ray Fisher leads the company and the audience in We Shall Overcome, the "freedom song" of the American negroes, which Ray has sung so often and well that it is now identified with her all over Britain.
KELLYBURN BRAES (Roy Guest)
There are few jollier jumpv Irish songs than tins. Even if its rhythms, bounce, and chirpy tune failed to catch the attention and set the feet tapping, its message—if such yon can, call it—could attract its own audience … "surely the women are worse than the men, when you send them to hell they get sent hack again."
JOHNNY I HARDLY KNEW YOU (Ray and Archie Fisher)
Another Irish song, but there is nothing very pleasant about it. A song of protest, an anguished cry against war, the determined—if historically fruitless—resolution by a woman that men will never fight again. "Theyre rolling out the guns again, but they never will take our sons again" means what it says on this occasion because Johnny has come back from the war … "you hadn't an arm, you hadn't a leg, you're an eyeless, boneless, chicken-less egg, you'll have to be put with a bowl to beg."
JOHN RILEY (Eleanor Leith)
Scholars squabble over the origins of this beautiful ballad, many of them claiming it as a seventeenth century British "broadside ballad." Today it is usually thought of as an American song, largely because of the beautiful interpretations of it by Joan Baez and others. Eleanor thinks of it simply as a ballad about a young girl, the young girl of every boy's imaginings.
MASON'S APRON (Barney McKenna)
For one brief second, the flashing moment between a string being plucked and unplucked (or "picked" in the contemporary folk idiom), this recording is imperfect. But in its space and time and virtuosity and subtlety and sheer driving energy it is an excellent illustration of the tenor banjo playing of one of the great folk artists of the world.
STRANGEST DREAM (Roy Guest)
A very different sort of protest against war, gentler, ironic, using fantasy to ridicule the basic insanity of any situation that could provoke a war.
BLACKLEG MINER (Ray and Archie Fisher)
Industrial strife in the bitter bad old days of the mines provoked this Northumbrian ballad. Few songs are so completely unyielding in their attitude. The blackleg or the scab—the worker who defies the strike call of his mates—is still regarded as something that belongs under a stone. It is not a pretty song. Indeed, in these more tolerant times, it is a provocative, ugly song. But it expresses in most eloquent terms the genuine emotions of people at bay.
WATER IS WIDE (Eleanor Leith)
Probably the most international of all folk songs, different versions of it being shared by many countries, "I leaned my back against an oak, thinking it was a trusty tree, but first it bended then it broke, and so did my false love to me" is probably the verse that exists in all of the versions. There is even a version, on "O Waly, Waly" lines, which is unmistakably an Edinburgh variation of the old song. Eleanor's lyric, however, comes from across the Atlantic.
THE ROVING PLOUGHBOY (Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell)
An uncomplicated but lovely romantic ballad from the north-cost of Scotland—that great storehouse of much that is best in Scottish folk music.
JOHNNY McELDOO (Ray and Archie Fisher)
Rav and Archie have turned this whimsical Irish song about gluttony into a whimsical Scottish song about the same thing. The melody swings along with an insistent wallop; the lyric, a tongue-twister if ever there was one, is a singer's nightmare.
EVERYBODY LOVES SATURDAY NIGHT (Roy Guest)
A song that is thought of today as nothing, much more than good fun. But in its origins in Africa it was, in its- way, a protest against the restriction of the freedom of the individual. Roy Guest has since made it a personal tour-de-force.