Sometimes something crosses your desk which is just classy. The Ledger is one of those things. The album is due to be released on May 1st and is a rather special piece of work by Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame – with Mike Vass (the latter both in the studio and playing on the album) and various others contributing to a unique album. In essence, this traditional folk music at its finest played and recorded beautifully for the modern age.
The inspiration is described in the following long-ish quotation from Napier’s website, “Every week in the late 50s and early 60s ‘The Scotsman’ published a traditional Scottish folk song: lyrics and melody alongside an explanatory article. Findlay’s Grandfather, Findlay Cumming, cut them out and pasted them into an old ledger. These articles, by folklorist Norman Buchan, were later published as both the ‘101 Scottish Folks Songs’ and eventually as ‘The Scottish Folksinger’. These books have become two of the most influential books on the Scottish Folk scene past and present. …. The Ledger is a time capsule of the fledgling Scottish and UK folk scene”. The CD has an accompanying booklet in which each of the ten tracks has a two-page-spread, the left-hand page with a photo of the original article by Norman Buchan and the right-hand page with the music and lyrics.
Napier, with Frame and Vass, began with sixty of the songs from his grandfather’s ledger and over a two year period settled for the ten on the album. “At first we searched for a theme but in the end we chose the ten we liked singing the most”, which is almost certainly the best possible criteria for choosing. The tracks on the album, then, are:
- Bonnie George Campbell
- Burnie Bushel
- Baloo Baleery
- Van Diemen’s Land
- Barbara Allan
- Walking All Alane (Buchan notes this version as a new song in the old style)
- Jamie Raeburn
- Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants
- Mormond Braes
- The Road To Dundee
There are some of my favourite traditional songs on here, some I’d forgotten I knew until I re-heard them, some that I’m pretty sure were new to me (though may be just forgotten?) and that I’ve enjoyed just as much.
You can get a feel for The Ledger in this video , which was filmed at the TED summit in the summer of 2019. Napier and Frame (with Ali Hutton rather than Mike Vass) play three of the songs and show pictures of the ledger which, with its sepia staves and articles from ‘The Scotsman’, somehow add to the sense of age and tradition. The video is not shareable so you’ll need to go to here.
The video gives you the songs in what I might call their natural environment, i.e. live performance – these are, after all, traditional songs passed down the generations. I’d add something about the CD, though. The songs are wonderfully recorded – the sense of enjoyment in playing and singing comes over really well – and you could play the album to anyone, from folk traditionalist steeped in Scottish music to someone learning about these songs for the first time. Norman Buchan’s notes for ‘Jamie Raeburn’ include the comment “It should be sung in a gently flowing fashion, avoiding any staccato effects in the short notes”. That melodic instruction could be applied to the way the whole CD has been fashioned.
As you can tell, The Ledger is one of the new albums I’ve most enjoyed playing this year. Since, in current circumstances, a party/concert to launch the album isn’t possible, a ‘Live Listening Lockdown Launch Party’ has been set up for May 1st https://www.facebook.com/events/241456650239027/. You don’t even have to travel to get to it.
Artist’s website: https://www.findlaynapier.com
‘Jamie Raeburn’ – from The Ledger :