When I first moved to this area I set out to find the local folk scene, which was not as easy then as it is now. The guests at the first club I found were Hot Vultures – Ian A Anderson and Maggie Holland – and that was the first time I heard Maggie sing. There have been many more occasions since. Maggie shares some of my taste in songwriters, has written a couple of classics herself and is responsible for the recording of one of my all-time favourite songs. She isn’t terribly prolific but, coincident with the 40th anniversary of her first solo album, she now releases her sixth, The Dust Of Rage.
Maggie begins with one of her own songs. ‘Blood Like Wine’ combines an observation on the 2005 G8 summit with a take on the ballad, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’. It’s a complex song and, despite several plays, I’m not sure I totally understand it. There are two more Holland originals. ‘Small Boy On A Train’ recounts stories her father told of being sent to boarding school in Dumfries in 1918 and has a link to the final song. The other is ‘Morecambe Bay’ written after the deaths of Chinese cockle-pickers. Maggie uses the tune and some of the structures of the convict song ‘Moreton Bay’ which, before it was Australian was an Irish tune, so Morecambe Bay is about as close to home as it will get. She sings it in a reportage style which could be dispassionate but actually tells the story in a moving way that brought vivid pictures to my mind.
As you probably know, Maggie plays acoustic guitar, banjo and acoustic bass guitar and is generally sparing with her arrangements. She is supported on The Dust Of Rage by Malcolm Ross, Chloe Harrington and Robb Johnson but twelve of the sixteen tracks are purely solo. Her voice can be powerful and strident or light and thoughtful but it is always distinctive. Maggie is an advocate of singing in your natural voice which can be a bit odd sometimes – hearing ‘Mississippi’ without Bob Dylan’s distinctive drawl comes as bit of a shock to the system but it makes you listen more closely.
The second track is ‘My Country Too’, something of a rant from Oysterband, followed by the first of two Bruce Cockburn songs – enough to keep me hooked. There are two songs that Maggie learned back in the day but never performed. The first is ‘Plane Wreck At Los Gatos’ and the second is ‘Palaces Of Gold’ and I’m pleased that they live on – they are both still relevant today. Derroll Adams’ ‘Portland Town’ is a song that I’ve heard Maggie sing many times but there are four songs I hadn’t heard before. ‘Spaces’ is an end-of-love song by Duffy Power; the next is Butch Hancock’s powerful ‘Give Them Water’ and the third is Chris Smither’s ‘Leave The Light On’. I’m very pleased to be acquainted with them all.
The fourth song (I’m sure you thought that I’d miscounted) is ‘Coming Home’ by Steven Clark. The song uses the phrase “a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns” in its chorus, the point being that we’re all the same under the skin and it welcomes refugees from all over the world who don’t know that they are coming home but that’s what is happening. Having relocated to Scotland Maggie concludes that she is one of Jock Tamson’s bairns.
You may have concluded that I like The Dust Of Rage and you’re right. But don’t just take my word for it.
Artist’s website: http://www.maggieholland.scot/