CHRISTINE PRIMROSE – Gràdh Is Gonadh – Guth Ag Aithris (Temple COMCD2109)

Christine PrimroseThat Christine Primrose is one of Scotland’s premier Gaelic singers is a given. The title translates as Love & Loss – A Lone Voice and that tells you pretty much all you need to know. There are eleven newly recorded tracks and three bonus tracks one of which, from a 1987 album, serves to reunite the two poems of William Campbell dedicated to his late wife and set to music by Christine at his request.

There is a lot of love here; some unrequited, some forbidden, some lasting beyond death and some dedicated to land and home. Many, like Campbell’s ‘Gràdh Maireannach’ and ‘Gad Ionndrainn’ come from (relatively) modern poets while six are traditional and few will be known outside the Gaelic community. In fact, ‘An Gille Donn’ (The Brown-haired Lad) is the only one I recognise with any certainty. It’s a lament, of course, and a couple of tracks later comes an elegy – things are not getting any happier. Thinking of ‘An Gille Donn’ I was struck by how often the object of affection is referred to obliquely. So here we have (and forgive me if I stay with the English titles) ‘The Curly-haired Young Man’, ‘I Gave My Promise To The Islander’, ‘The Black-Haired Lad I’ll Not Forsake’ and ‘My Love Is The Fair-haired One’. Does it stem from living in small communities where everyone knows everyone else’s business? If so, I’m not sure that it would have worked.

My one criticism is that the subject matter makes the album rather homogenous. There are no up-tempo songs and no humour. Even the spoken word interjections are rather dour. The lyrics, in both Gaelic and English, are available to download from Christine’s website and I found that following the Gaelic, which I don’t speak incidentally, helped to put the beautiful tunes into context.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://christineprimrose.com/

‘Mo Cheist Am Fear Bàn’ – official video:

BATTLEFIELD BAND – Beg & Borrow (Temple COMD2107)

BATTLEFIELD BAND - Beg & Borrow (Temple COMD2107)The idea behind this album is simple but the execution is rather less so. The Straits of Moyle are just twelve miles wide which means that on a clear day you can stand on the Mull of Kintyre and see the Ulster coast. Legends are full of conflicts between the Scots and the Irish but there was also trade and, inevitably, music. Beg & Borrow celebrates the musical trade between the two countries.

Battlefield Band is now a trio and well illustrate the international nature of Celtic music. Piper Mike Katz is from Los Angeles, fiddler Alasdair White from Lewis and singer/guitarist Sean O’Donnell from Derry. They have recruited twelve special guests to celebrate this global musical community. Furthest flung is Australian piper Barry Gray and the nearest to home is Robin Morton who, although actually Irish, is the boss of Temple Records and the studio in which he produced the record and plays bodhran. Other famous names are Christine Primrose, Alison Kinnaird, Mike Whellans and Nuala Kennedy.

In contrast to the modern style of bands giving their sets short, snappy titles the tracks here are billed rather more formally so we begin with ‘Reels’, ‘6/8s’, ‘Song’, ‘Slow Air & Jig’ and so on. I’m no expert but I suspect this was how they would be noted on dance cards in the 18th and 19th centuries – Scottish country dancing was the ballroom dancing of the period after all. There is sometimes something rather formal about the style of playing, too, although the record opens with a robust set of Irish reels featuring the melodeon of Leo McCann. The 6/8 set – ‘Drunken Man’s Frolic/We Will Go Merrily Sailing/Charlie Over The Water’ is rather more stately.

My favourite tunes are the strathspeys, possibly because we don’t hear them very much this far south. Their rhythm is quite different from the jig and the reel and although the dance is described as being stately and often slow the tunes themselves are bouncy and expressive. Of course Mike Whellans’ contributions with the moothie and Jim Kilpatrick’s snare and bass drums add uniquely to the tracks on which they appear and Alison Kinnaird gets an almost solo on ‘Ellen’s Dreams’, a tune written by her husband, Robin Morton.

The first song we hear is ‘The Blantyre Explosion’ powerfully sung by Sean O’Donnell with the addition of a Gaelic verse by Christine Primrose. I would have liked to hear more of her on this track but later she is joined by Nuala Kennedy for ‘An Gille Mear’ which she translated from Irish Gaelic to Scots Gaelic. That seems a bit esoteric to me but it’s a lovely track. Christine returns the compliment on Nuala’s song ‘Mo Bhuachaill Dubh Dhonn’.

Beg & Borrow is an album you have to give some time to. The music here is something over and above the usual mix of Celtic music while still being firmly rooted in the traditions of Scotland and Ireland. While many musicians try to push the envelope, Battlefield Band and their friends have found plenty to explore in its dustier corners.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.battlefieldband.co.uk