In late 2016 Battlefield Band was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall Of Fame which gave their long-time producer Robin Morton the excuse, if excuse were needed, to celebrate. Hence The Producer’s Choice, nineteen tracks featuring nineteen members of the band plus guest percussionists Donald Hay and Morton himself. Actually I count twenty but I don’t know what Jim Barnes had to do to be excluded from the official count.
The big names who passed through the band’s ranks are legends: Brian McNeill, Alan Reid, John McCusker, Davy Steele, Karine Polwart and, latterly, Ewan Henderson. All are featured but it’s probably the more obscure tracks that excite the most interest. The oldest tracks are ‘The Shipyard Apprentice’ and ‘Silver Spear/The Humours Of Tulla’ from 1977 featuring Reid, McNeill, John Gahagan and Jamie McMenemy followed by ‘Seven Braw Gowns’ from 1979 and featuring the band’s first female vocalist, Jenny Clark. Archie Fisher’s song is one of my favourite tracks in the set alongside McNeill’s ‘Lads O’ The Fair’ and ‘Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin’ featuring one of Scotland’s most underrated singers, Sylvia Barnes. ‘Leaving Friday Harbor’ is one of John McCusker’s finest tunes and I love the way that ‘The Canongate Twitch’ opens with the ‘Pinball Wizard’ riff.
The Producer’s Choice may be an important lesson for bands: let your producer sequence your album. Morton has done a superb job in mixing light and shade, songs and instrumentals, allowing the mood to go one way for a while before switching direction without any sense of dislocation. So Alan Reid’s wonderful song, ‘The Road Of Tears’, is followed by Ged Foley’s ‘Blackhall Rocks’ – stirring yet mournful – and then we’re into the melodic but rousing ‘Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin’.
For those who prefer Battlefield Band in stomping mood the album closes with the live ‘After Hours’ set and I was surprised to find that they have made only three live albums in over forty years – back in the 80s they were one of the hottest festival bands on the scene. Funny how things turn out.
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‘The Road Of Tears’ from the film Battlefield Band In Concert available from Temple Records.