No…not that John Paul Jones…the harmonica playing bluesman (!) but this one is, in nautical terms at least a legend none the less. His omnipresent personality was later to become established as ‘The Father Of The American Navy’ and although an exalted position, how did this gardener’s son from Scotland (a bit like Peter Sellers character Chauncey Gardiner in ‘Being There’ perhaps?) gain such an enviable and at times despised reputation? Well, that dear reader is established from this historical though not over scholarly document that was obviously a labour of love for Reid. To write a whole album’s worth (15 tracks) of material collaboratively with Rob Van Sante joined by various guest musicians based on one character might be regarded as a vanity project but I assure you, if you come along for the ride you’ll be justly rewarded. Much like Vladimir Cosma’s evocative musical score for the 1978 TV series “Kidnapped” Reid weaves an almost magical spell conjuring visions of brooding Scottish vista’s whilst just as easily slipping into a sense of joviality on the track “Landlord” and in my own way (envisaging film clips) I latch onto certain aspects of the storylines to propel the action forward. I can’t think of any better way to capture the mood of the piece other than by utilising predominantly ‘acoustic’ instrumentation including guitar, mandolin, viola, banjo, cello but could I be controversial in suggesting the lads put the lyrics on a page on their website along with a few background notes. I’ve always believed in the use of ‘folk opera’ such as Fairport’s “Babbacombe Lee” and Elecampagne’s “Adventures Of Mr Punch” to tutor the general public without being too heavy handed and if this recording is anything to go by it will sit very comfortably within that genre.
The drama of an opening chord sequence to grab the listener’s attention was never an issue with the Battlefield Band. Starting with the driving rhythm of double stopped fiddle the momentum of the opening track “Raigmore” is regulated by the introduction of Highland Pipes painting a picture of say a battlefield scene from the movies Braveheart or Rob Roy. The following piece, a cover of Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” couldn’t be more different providing the band with their now established quirky ‘commercial’ song and will undoubtedly prove a sure-fire hit amongst the ‘folk’ fraternity. I won’t spoil your enjoyment (Twitter-like) by revealing the ‘link’ to the traditional element of our beloved music, you’ll just have to purchase the album yourselves whilst imagining the audience at a festival waving their arms in the air joining in with gusto. Whether utilising a song by Robert Burns, traditional melodies or their own self-penned material there is always much to admire from a band that is forever evolving and, it has to be said, they do it with great style. With this in mind and unfortunately due (I presume) to limited space in the CD booklet I’m unable to give individual credit to each of the members as the band members instrumentation along with their lead vocal performances aren’t listed under the titles of each song but needless to say that the latest incarnation of Mike Katz, Sean O’Donnell, Alasdair White and Ewen Henderson have taken the baton masterfully. I’ve never been disappointed by a performance or recording of the band since hearing their debut French album in 1976 and long may they continue.
This CD represents a nostalgic look-back over many years of creative input from Battlefield Band’s longest serving member Alan Reid. Now, I’ve been following the band since I first saw them at The Half Moon in Putney humping (and you don’t hear that term used in the way it was originally intended much these days) his harmonium on stage and ‘that’ very first recording on the French record label Arfolk…yes, I go back that far…and I for one can say how enjoyable this experience has been. Of course, in company with band mates including BrianMcNeill, Davey Steele, John McCusker and Mike Katz it was not only his keyboard accompaniment to the powerful instrumentals but his own contributions in the singer/song-writing department that has inspired a whole generation of Celt-ophiles to take up pen and paper. With a choice of songs as long as your arm to choose from he has selected eighteen tracks to represent his career with the band. Including as it does “The Road Of Tears”, “Jenny O’The Braes” and “The Pleasure Will Be Mine” these are but the tip of the iceberg on an album of treasures and I’m pleased to say that his work will continue (even if it is without the Batties) and prosper in whoever’s company he chooses to collaborate with.
Starting the album with Alan Reid’s interpretation of the traditional song ‘The Devil’s Courtship’ he is joined by the rather wonderful voice of Karine Polwart (now a full-time member of the band). In fact Karine comes into her own particularly on the track ‘The Banks Of Red Roses’ which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on an album by Kate Rusby. Being arranged in part by John McCuske(Kate’s other half) I suppose that isn’t surprising.
As regular supporters of the band will be aware, Mike Katz has contributed much with his skill as not only a fine writer of tunes but for his dynamic piping which features throughout the album. Although he will be sadly missed the recent passing of Davy Steele unfolds another chapter in the band’s history and there could be no finer compliment to his memory.
The band have always been able to re-invent themselves and on this album the title of the last track ‘Start It All Over Again’ couldn’t be more apt.
Original Posting date -17-May-2001
Reviewers Name – Pete Fyfe