It was just a whim which took us the 240 mile round trip from Edinburgh to the West Highland village of Ballachulish. The village, nestling between wooded mountains and loch was the latest venue on The McCalmans Highland Tour. The air soft, the misty rain surprisingly wetting, we joined the mixture of tourists and locals in the village hall to enjoy the blend of fun and fine music. Suddenly the power failed, but unperturbed by the denial of their sound equipment, the group merely stepped forward of their microphones and filling their lungs with air, launched into song, saturating the candlelit hall with a mesmerising display of three part harmony singing. The combination of location, atmosphere and song, created, not for the first time, that sensation born of a sense of sheer enjoyment, that begs a wish to preserve the moment forever. The power of the human voice to stir emotion never fails to amaze, and it is in this capability that lies the strength of The McCalmans and the reason for their continuing popularity and longevity.
Ian McCalman, Hamish Bayne and Derek Moffat first met during registration for entry into Edinburgh College of Art on 6 th October, 1964, and in a mutual interest in folk music, formed, not only a much loved, and I think consistently the best folk group, but also a friendship which has endured for all these years. There has only been one change in the original line up when, in 1982, Hamish retired to the quieter life, with new boy Nick Keir joining the group. The strength of their friendship is exemplified when Hamish cheerfully came out of retirement for several months in 1991 to act as substitute for Nick, who, at that time suffered a debilitating illness. The lucky amongst us have been privileged to see all four performing together.
Although the airwaves often seem filled with Gaelic Rock, thundering out ethnicity to a backing of heavy electric bass, bagpipes, frantic fiddles and drums, often creating chants and rhythms more reminiscent of an Indian war dance, the contrasting combination of The McCalmans' harmony singing and audience interaction is somehow much more satisfying. It is their brand of music that has entertained appreciative audiences to the four corners of the world. To see the group on stage is to see three individuals acting as one, yet, backed by a continuing updating of material and without the ties of a routine presentation, there is an air of unpredictability and humour to keep each performer on his toes and each performance a unique experience.
Hamish has now retired to hand craft his excellent 'Holmwood' concertinas for the connoisseur; when not touring, Ian and Nick are fast forging a reputation for first class digital recordings in their own Kevock Digital Studios in Lasswade, a launching pad for many new artists; whilst Derek's voice remains the corner stone of The McCalmans sound. However, the road again beckons, new material has been researched, new songs written, new musical arrangements developed and new tours arranged — to afford old and new audiences the privilege of experiencing that McCalmans magic. But then, I have always been hooked on the Macs' sound... and I'm biased!
In trying to compile a balanced selection of tracks, Ian Green (Greentrax) and myself have been completely spoilt for choice. For my part, I have spent many happy hours listening to all the Macs LPs/CDs and taken great pleasure in revisiting so many wonderful tracks. Past titles of many of the albums have been taken from the words or titles of songs therein. So too, did our family researches almost provide the title for this anniversary album from the words of Alan Bell's song 'Windmills': Creaking and Groaning
-fortunately, we did not quite have the nerve'.
About the Songs & Albums
Pace Egging Song from All in One Mind [McCalmans Folk] (1968)
Within two weeks of coming together, Ian, Derek and Hamish made their nervous singing debut in the Waverley Bar in Edinburgh. They survived and quickly established themselves as one of Scotlands best harmony groups earning them the excitement of the recording studios. Here, at Craighall, they recorded their first record (and only record in the name of the Ian McCalman Folk Group) under the guidance of producer, Pete "You have a great future behind you" Kerr. "Here's one, two, three jolly lads, all in one mind" — oh, so true.
The Sun Rises Bright in France from Singers Three (1969)
In providing the title, 'Singers Three' for the second record, it almost seemed that Longfellow had written his poem 'The Singers' about The McCalmans. Now more assured, the strength and character of The McCalmans' harmonies power through, our chosen track a fine example.
The Broom from Turn Again (1970)
A change in direction, this record contains a mix of traditional and contemporary songs arranged with orchestral backings. Retrospectively, still fascinating, the passage of years has perhaps been kinder to the traditional numbers, especially those, including 'The Broom', graced by Derek's fine voice. Aly Bain, backing on fiddle, plays in a haunting arrangement of 'The Captains Lament'.
Windmills from No Strings Attached (1971)
Arrangers and string backing dispensed with, an album of fine songs and harmony, with Ian penning more than credited.
My Johnny Is A Shoemaker from An Audience With The McCalmans (1973)
Undoubtedly, The McCalmans are at their entertaining best, in front of an audience. Ian's mercurial, sharp wit combined with the sheer quality of the group's live singing performance is difficult to convey on a record, but in this, the first of their live records, the atmosphere is ably captured. Singing Mills Brother barbershop harmony songs for years, 'The Love Bug' is their first to be recorded.
Smuggler from Smuggler (1975)
Recorded on Transatlantic, the folk label. The last verse of Smuggler' is Ian's contribution. 'The Rising' is the namesake of a play in which the group appeared at the Dundee Rep. The cast of actors are now household names in the theatre and on television.
Ye Jacobites By Name from House Full (1976)
The McCalmans second live album, recorded over two hilarious nights in Leicester. The 'Diamond' introduction, even edited, is a classic and proves that as an exponent of stage cross talk and repartee, Derek makes a great singer!
Farewell to Sicily from Side by Side by Side (1977)
Including songs from talented English singer/songwriters. Sydney Carter's 'Standing in the Rain' certainly tugs at the conscience. Regarding the cover, I'm sure that my neighbours thought that the bright lights in my lounge were for a porno photo session: I hadn't the heart to disillusion them.
Burn the Witch from Burn the Witch (1978)
Typical of The McCalmans, the range of moods and tempos on this record provides so many quality tracks from which to choose. To avoid further bloodletting, we settled on the title track, one of three tracks written by Ian, still expanding his horizons. The bowed psaltery gives an eerie quality.
The Best Of The McCalmans (1979)
Having appeared in many collections, this is the first compilation album of their own tracks as recorded for Transatlantic.
The Ladies' Evening Song from The Ettrick Shepherd (1980)
Ambitious theme album putting the works of Scots poet, James Hogg, to music. After originally choosing 'The Witch of Fife', we heard Ian say of Hamish, in a radio interview, that his lead vocal in 'The Ladies Evening Song' was his favourite. The tune is perhaps better known as 'Kelvingrove'.
Kelty Clippie from McCalmans Live [At Your Service] (1980)
Recorded live in Kirkcaldy and first on the MACS label, it marked, after 16 years, the retirement of Hamish from the group "in a fit of wisdom and a VW Scirrocco". He left on a high note. Hats off to Derek for sticking to his task in 'Kelty Clippie' in spite of background heckling from the other two.
Bonnie Maid of Fife from Bonnie Bands Again (1982)
Inaugural album of the new line up with former 'Finn MacCuill' singer/songwriter Nick Keir joining the group. Whilst a new mellow style was engineered around these gentle contemporary songs, the familiar McCalman magic, especially in the more gutsy numbers, is as impressive as ever. A most emphatic signal, "business as usual".
Scotland from Ancestral Manoeuvres (1984)
Undoubtedly the hardest record title to spell! A fine mix of traditional and contemporary songs with Ian and Nick in full flow providing half the tracks. From so many fine tracks, we tossed a coin and it fell in favour of Scotland'. Not often that happens!
Bonnie Lass O' Gala Water from Scottish Songs (1986)
On Ross Records label, an album of songs from their TV series for Grampian Television for whom working is always a happy experience. This showed in their enjoyable singing jaunt round the highlands. 'Gala Water' was one of the group's earliest arrangements and also featured on their first album.
Mothers, Daughters, Wives from Peace & Plenty (1986)
To help establish the fledgling 'Greentrax' record label, The McCalmans offered to record the groups next record for long time friend of the group, Ian Green. This alliance has proved to be a lasting association to their mutual benefit. Cracking shanties, however, we have chosen the poignant Judy Small song.
Rambling Rover from Listen to The Heat (1988)
A hot summer night in Balerno, near Edinburgh, was the setting for another mix of fun and quality music in the latest of the group's live records. Hi-tech caught up with The McCalmans with this, their first recording issued on CD. The sentiments of 'Rambling Rover' hold a secret hankering for those of us with more ordered lives.
Farewell Tae The Haven from Flames on The Water (1990)
Guest musicians, including the return of Hamish Bayne, skilful arrangements and tight performances form a splendid showcase for a wealth of Scottish songwriting talent. The harmonies in 'Sounding' are stunning, 'Festival Lights' now traditionally brings the groups Edinburgh Festival run to a close, and so on... It may be because the songs are written by our contemporaries that we more fully identify with the messages.
The Last Session
All the Tunes in The World from Songs from Scotland (1991)
Punctuated with some well-known melodies, a mix of traditional, contemporary, instrumentals and unaccompanied numbers. The vocal gymnastics in 'Widow Mackay' are made to seem easy. We have all been reluctant to end a good folk singing session at the local and can sympathise with 'All the Tunes'.
A Man's A Man For A' That from Honest Poverty (1993)
First McCalmans CD recorded digitally at their own studio, Kevock Digital Studios. Relaxed 'unstudio' atmosphere, skilful production and great coffee has produced another excellent record of wide variety. And who could have a Scottish record without one Robert Burns song? Preposterous!
Bound to Go from Side by Side by Side (1977)
The words say it all. Well, no — not quite. Fortunately, The McCalmans have so much more to offer, a wealth of songs still to sing, so many audiences still to entertain.