To me, songs are poems that escape and when my poems escape, I prefer to remain anonymous (I'm no fool). I was amazed when Ian Green (Greentrax) told me that over fifty of my songs had been recorded and he suggested that we might try a CD featuring my music. After my tears of laughter had dried, I talked over the unlikely concept with a few musician friends and I have to admit that I was secretly delighted to find that they were all "well up" for the idea. Without exception, the singers and performers on this album are old friends and if you don't like their contributions, shoot the writer, not the messenger. I thank them all and though I question their judgement, I admire their loyalty and talent in making this album my "great craic (crack)" experience of the '04 summer.
Ian McCalman (Ian is a founder member of the Scottish folk group, "The McCalmans").
From Greenland — Barbara Dickson
Barbara has had more acting roles, hit records and hit musicals to her name than I've had red tins of beer. I met Barbara in the sixties and she has remained a great friend and despite her amazing success, her feet are "firmly planted on the ground". There is nothing in this world that she won't talk about at length and it is probably her committment to endangered species that caused her to help with this album.
This song was written for Ellen, my wife and best pal. It simply says that, like the snow goose, we will always return to Scotland. Aaaaaaaaw!
Wha's Like Us — Jim Malcolm
Jim is a brilliant singer/ songwriter and it is with some pride that I claim to have had a small part in his success. I saw Jim a few times at the Edinburgh Folk Club and fancied recording him at the studio which Nick Keir and I had just installed. We recorded his first album ("Sconeward"), which was released on the "Greentrax" label. He has since recorded many albums, both solo and with "The Old Blind Dogs" and generally he goes from strength to strength.
The song concerns the way we look at ourselves in Scotland. No-one could have a greater passion for Scotland than I do and one of these days we're going to get it right. Isn't it difficult to look forward when you look back all the time?
Sidmouth Folk Festival Blues — Mike Whellans
Mike and I go back to the mid-sixties, can this be true? He's a great blues man and I stress that he doesn't necessarily share the sentiments of this "sour grapes" song which was written in the early '80s. It was supposed to be a criticism of the traditional music snobbery which was rampant at that time. I think they all needed a hug, but, not by me! Needless to say, I take all of it back now … well, almost all of it!
Scotland — Sangsters
Well, I'm a fan! I met this group when "Greentrax" signed them up and I was asked to record their first album. They are all great singers but … what a laugh. I've had fine times with this lot and I trust there will be many more. They are all "Fifer than Fife" and they decided to sing the song in a broader "tongue" than the original version. "Scotland" was written before devolution and … well … I'm happier now.
High Ground/Vogrie — Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham
These guys are a national institution and I want a "Preservation Notice" stuck on them. I've known them for more years than they care to remember but, suffice it to say, Aly stayed in "The McCalmans'" flat when he came down from Shetland last century and I remember Phil playing accordion when he should have been at school. They make a great sound together and I was flattered that they seemed to know my tunes better than I did when they came to the studio. Real pros!
The two tunes were originally written for an audio/visual display at Vogrie Country Park in Midlothian, and "The Macs" recorded them on our "High Ground" album. Incidentally when you phone Phil on his mobile phone and chat for hours make sure he's not in Italy. I'm still paying B.T.
Wrecked Again — Allan Taylor
Allan and his wife, Wendy, stay at our house on a fairly regular basis. We have great nights and after a couple of wines Allan can't resist a couple of rude comments about my songs, particularly "Wrecked Again", a fast "encore" song about the institution of the Scottish hangover. About a couple of months ago I was sent an anonymous tape in the post. It was a long monologue about a drunk deadbeat (me) singing a song that catches the imagination of the sophisticated listener (Allan). Allan then sung a slow version of "Wrecked Again" and OK, it parodied the song, but Allan managed to laugh at himself a lot more. I asked him if we could re-record it and use it for this album and after a few seconds (where he considered the end of a wonderful career) he said "yes". I think it's wonderful and if the brief of this album was to create songs which are different from the originals, then this must take the top award.
Highlands Tomorrow — Janet McCalman
Janet is one of my four extremely talented nieces and her repertoire usually consists of blues and contemporary songs. All these Hogmanay parties where everyone sings and then falls down has finally paid off. I would never have known how good Janet's voice was until there was a lull (at our Hogmanay "see who can sing loudest" session) between "Deadwood Stage" and "Living Doll". Janet sung and the room quietened for two and a half minutes before Derek started Cliff's song. Janet is very proud that two and a half minutes is still the duration record for a song at Hogmanay. "Highlands Tomorrow" is not a song about a journey. It is about lost dreams and the grim fact that when you promise a new life for yourself "tomorrow", it will never happen. Fiona Forbes of "Sangsters" joins her on the choruses.
War Outside — Dick Gaughan
Dick is one of my oldest buddies and I have fond memories of the many singing sessions we shared in the McCalmans' flat ("the madhouse") where everyone congregated after being chucked out of "Sandy Bells" pub. He's an uncompromising singer and I'm proud that he chose to sing this song about the Bosnian conflict and our naive belief that we can disassociate ourselves from these awful attrocities.
Strange Dawn — Ian McCalman
Songs such as "Shian road" and this one, "Strange Dawn", were never intended for "the outside world". Derek Moffat was a founder member of "The McCalmans" and it was a terrible shock when we discovered he had contracted cancer. On the morning of October 21st, 2001, I lay awake with the certain knowledge that he was going to die. Nothing can prepare you for the actual phone call and when the news came, I went out to my garden with a mixture of sadness and guilty relief. The poem was started then and finished a couple of days later. Therapy you see. Even now!
The 8-3-0 — Sheena Wellington
Sheena is not famous because she sung "A Man's a Man For A'That" at the opening of the newly devolved Scottish Parliament. She's famous because she did it so bloody well. Sheena came to a "McCalmans" CD launch and expressed an interest in this song so … that'll teach you, Sheena! Every year, on our tax-loss tour of the Scottish Highlands, we drive up the dreaded A830 from Fort William to Mallaig and are exposed to the worst Euro-route in Britain. It's all wonderful of course and long may it stay free of roadside bagpipe players and snack bars because it is one of the ultimate driving experiences.
Edinburgh — Ian McCalman
Ian Green made a condition that I attempted at least two songs on the album so I made the effort though my solo days are definitely over. This is another song that was never meant for the big, wide world as I'm not convinced that punters want to hear about a singer wanting to come home all the time. Still, it is what I do I suppose.
Seagull Cry — Derek Moffat
Derek was, indisputably, the finest singer in "The McCalmans" and was best when he had the audience in his sights. This track is taken from the album, "McCalmans Live", recorded in "The Carnegie Halls", Kirkaldy in 1980, so it's Hamish Bayne that you hear playing whistle and singing. Spot the deliberate mistake. The song was written in Kilchattan Bay on the Island of Bute and was one of my "here I am all alone and I don't care" songs. The tune of the verse owes much to a Faroese song which I learned when I recorded a Faroese children's album with Annika Hoydal in the early 70's. I claim to be the only native-born Scots that can sing "Lord of the Dance" in Faroese. I wrote "Seagull Cry" around '75 and "The Macs" sung it for years before the "live" recording. There was no holding back with Derek's voice on "quiet" songs like this yet he managed to get the feeling across.
Shian Road — Isla St Clair
I remember, in my wretched youth, going with the other "Macs" to a concert at "The Pollock Halls", Edinburgh. Isla, a schoolgirl from Buckie, was on the bill and we were extremely impressed (understatement). She stole the show and I remember talking to Derek and Hamish about how we'd left it a bit late to get involved in the folk scene because we were 19 at the time. We met Isla and became friends in the course of the folk "milk-round" and I'm pleased to say that I took the photograph that went on the cover of her first album. Isla knew my mum and dad so she was a natural choice for this song about my father. When dad reached his eighties, it became obvious that he would not be able to travel to his beloved Isle of Bute or The Highlands any more and this was a poem I wrote at the time. Like all of these poems, it became a song and I don't apologise for the sentimental feel to it. Isla sings better than ever!
W.M.D. — The McCalmans
I pinched this off our "Tangled Web" album. It was written just after the invasion of Iraq. Question: "Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?" Answer: "So you support Saddam Hussein?" Never trust anyone that answers questions with questions.
Bound To Go — Davy Steele with Drinkers Drouth
This track is taken from the album "Bound to Go" and I thank "The Drouth" for letting me feature one of my best friends, the late Davy Steele. I met Davy in Germany and again, in Ireland around the early '70s and we became good mates then. In 1981 Davy met "Drinkers Drouth", who were already a fine close-harmony group, but the addition of Davy gave an extra dimension to their sound. The original master tapes of their album, "BoundTo Go", were lost and so this was "lifted" from the vinyl, but it has that analogue warmth that we all love. No, really!
Davy was also a member of "Caledon", "Ceolbeg", "Urb'n Ri", Clan Alba" and "Battlefield Band". He was my close neighbour and friend for many years and sadly died in April of 2001. This ain't a bad way to end an album. We travel on.