There is story behind this album although I’m not sure I fully understand it. Once upon a time DJ Andy Dolphin, aka Dolphin Boy, was producing what he called “sample-heavy, bootleg-style music”. Late last year he and former Peatbog Faerie Iain Copeland, drummer with techno-folk fusion band Sketch, discussed the idea of producing an album of remixes; Copeland sent Dolphin the tapes of Highland Time and Shed Life and thus was The Highland Swing born.
Sketch mixed club beats with traditional musical forms so you might wonder what Dolphin Boy could do with their music. You would be surprised. The beats are perhaps emphasised but the music remains – mostly, anyway. Most of the music is written by Copeland and Andy Levy with tunes by such distinguished composers as Aidan Burke, Charlie Maclennan and Gordon Duncan. There are some fine musicians who were members of or guested with Sketch – Neil Ewart, Angus Binnie, Ross Ainslie and Ali Levack – and their contributions are highlighted but over all this Dolphin Boy adds his samples.
There is an enormous amount of tongue-in-cheek humour here. The opening track ‘Too Many Fiddles’ should tell you that without the two voices repeating “too many fiddles” over and over again. It’s taken out of context, of course but what the hell. ‘He’s A Piper’ repeats the word bagpipes in similar fashion and ‘Ghetto Pipe’ has people asking Dolphin questions about the pipes, to which the answer is always “I Don’t Know”. The vocal on ‘Kicks’ is mostly a list of perversions (some of which I’ve never heard of) that does go on a bit. I’ll leave you to discover the other delights for yourselves.
This is a strange record but I liked Sketch’s second album, Highland Life, and slowly The Highland Swing grew on me but, being rather too old for the disco, I’m not sure when I’d play it.
I have to say that this album represents everything that folk music should be about. There is tradition, there is musical invention and evolution of the tradition and there is the sort of protest on which the revival was based.
The opener is ‘Prologue’, ethereal, other-worldly sounds that morph into what I’m guessing is a traditional tune before finally resolving into the title track. ‘The Silent Majority’ was written by Lionel McClelland and seems particularly appropriate in our present circumstances. The examples it cites – Hitler, Chile – are familiar but still it’s a song to make you stop and think. From the global we turn to the local and ‘George’, the story of a Glasgow bad boy written by Findlay Napier and Nick Turner. George is not a pleasant character but I’m sure that there are men like him all over the country.
‘We Must Be Contented’ is a piece of social commentary from the 19th century; a sort of cousin of ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ with the optimism of the latter replaced by a weary resignation. The words are old but the tune is modern, written by Ron Flanagan, which leads into ‘Did You Like The Battle, Sir?’. Why have I never heard this song before? Its form is old but it was written in the 70s by Bev Pegg and John Richards and I thank Greg and Ciaran for bringing it to my attention.
After Ciaran’s epic instrumental ‘The Tide’ which he describes as his attempt to write film music the attention switches to Greg for two traditional songs, ‘Limbo’ and ‘Brisk Young Man’. Both have been tweaked, the latter to the extent of having a new tune written for it and some new words added. What a cracking version – I can imagine Eddi Reader borrowing it. After a second mostly traditional tune set, ‘Swipe Right’, featuring Ali Levack’s whistle and pipes the album closes with Pete Coe’s ‘Rolling Down The Ryburn’. Pete’s summary of the life of a travelling musician is a cut above the usual “life on the road it tough” lament. He still sings it, of course, but it’s good to have it on a new album.
The Silent Majority will be on my list next awards season