JO MILLER – A’ The Way To Galloway (own label JOM1CD)

A' The Way To GallowayI’m always impressed by the number of Scottish singers and musicians who quietly preface their name with Dr. and these are not honorary degrees but hard won. Jo Miller is one such, a researcher and educator whose album A’ The Way To Galloway is a collection of songs and tunes from that region of south-west Scotland just across the Solway Firth from England. Jo plays fiddle and is supported by Amy Geddes playing second fiddle and viola, Neil Sutcliffe on piano and accordion, Steve Sutcliffe on bass concertina and singer Robyn Stapleton.

There are two things you need to appreciate. Firstly, although a lot of the material is traditional, this is a living tradition so there is new music here, too. Secondly, Jo sings in lowland Scots which, as Dick Gaughan pointed out, is a language of which we English know a few words. I should probably add that there is a certain academic quality about the record, not a bad thing but I’ll illustrate the point by considering ‘Canadee-i-o’. Jo’s version comes from a 19th century broadside and collected by Seamus Ennis and is sung to the sparce accompaniment of Neil’s concertina. Forget Nic Jones’ version (for all its excellence) as “borrowed” by Bob Dylan. This interpretation takes us back to the roots.

The record opens with a relatively modern poem, ‘I Was Born In Gallowa’, set to music by Jo herself and that is followed rather neatly by the traditional ‘Lads That Were Reared Amang The Heather’. ‘The Hills O Gallowa’ is set to the tune better known as ‘The Parting Glass’ followed by two contemporary instrumentals. ‘The Braes Of Galloway’ and ‘Gallowa Hills’ are two traditional songs in praise of the Galloway landscape both involving invitations to young ladies to accompany the singer for unspecified purposes. Robyn joins Jo on the latter unaccompanied piece.

‘Buchts O Knockreoch’ comes from the same source as the opening track, to whit the poet Logan Paterson who wrote in pure Lallan – just enjoy the sound and work the story out as you go along. Jo and Neil share the dialogue of the well-known ‘Lord Ronald’ and Robyn and Amy join her for ‘Seasons’. ‘Toon O Dalry’, written by Robbie Murray, is also in praise of place and people set in the early 20th century.

Finally we have two more instrumental tracks. The first of these, ‘Polka Mazurka’, sounds as though it sprang out of some messing about at the end of a recording session and is a high-spirited way to close the album. Except that the actual closer is Steve’s ‘Mr Godfrey Smith Of Balmaclellan’, a slow march (I think) featuring his bass concertina alongside Neil whose concertina gradually fades away at the end.

I very much enjoyed this album. Sometimes you need something relatively gentle and thoughtful and I feel much better now.

 Dai Jeffries

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