A double CD ‘concept’ album, the title refers to the historic description of the Scottish island of Lismore, the music within it, all recorded at Davy Clincart’s studios on the Hebridean isle, conceived to reflect the rich diversity of song, story and music from the community of local artists involved. Sounds From The Great Garden is an ambitious and impressive project, with names ranging from internally acclaimed performers to more parochial contributions, embracing Scottish traditional folk, jazz, choral, contemporary and even narration.
Disc 1 gets the two hour marathon underway with the best known name, Mairi Campbell, a recent inductee into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, who, playing viola and accompanied by Clincart on bass, mandolin and keys, contributes ‘A Wee Herd Laddie’, a setting of The Herd’s House by Victorian Scottish poet Walter Wingate. Staying on a ruminant theme, bookended and punctuated with synthesised whistle and flute sections, ‘The Hill Gathering’ unfolds as a subsequent ten-minute narrative account of a day gathering in the sheep. Cross also joins forces with Duncan Ferguson on a pipes and squeezebox medley of two traditional tunes, ‘Lochanside’ and ‘Glencoe March’.
Shifting from the Hebrides to Brazil, Sarah Campbell and husband Yorick Paine offer the traditional Maracatu rhythms of ‘Verde Esmerelda’ celebrating the fecundity of the earth. As well as managing a herd of sheep and her textile business, Campbell also runs the island choir, Lismore Voices, which steps up to the plate for a haunting rendition of the traditional ‘The Unst Boat Song’.
From the traditional things shift to contemporary jazzy folk with ‘The Wrong Side Of The Moon’, a song about getting out of bed on the wrong side, by the clearly talented husky-voiced Lismore teenager Shona Wright, who also gets into jazz cellar mood on the Fitzgerald-like sax and piano torch of ‘You’ve Changed’. Then it’s back to spoken word as Jennifer Allan reads her poem ‘Walking To Port Ramsay’, recalling her arrival on the island. On a somewhat more of an Ivor Cutler note, surveillance artist Jeremy Gilchrist also reads the amusing 21-second ‘The Bollard In The Tree’ while ‘Not A Liosach’ is a poem about identity by Pauline Isabel Dowling written to commemorate the ‘homecoming’ event in 2009 when Scots from all over the globe to were invited to return to their homeland.
The project was assembled by Glasgow-born Katy Crossan who takes the spotlight for Silly Wizard’s tongue in cheek satire on church life, ‘The Parish Of Dunkeld’, while Clincart gets his own solo spot with keyboard and strings instrumental ‘Padavine’ off his Esther’s Island album and described as “a romantic memory of a couple in their younger days dancing in a misty cobbled square in an old Eastern European regional town.”
Singing a capella in Gaelic, Mary McDougall provides a particular highlight with ‘An t-Eilean Alainn (The Beautiful Island)’, a song written in 1947 by the late James MacDonald about emigrants from the island and the wish that, when they return, they speak the language of their ancestors. The first half closes with another choral number, this time featuring Campbell and the children of Lismore Primary on the self-explanatory ‘My Island Home’ written by their teacher Laura Cook.
Cook also opens up Disc 2, accompanied on piano as she sings ‘Nam Aonar Le Mo Smuaintean’, a song written by Rev. John Mcleod in memory of Gordon MacPherson and Corporal Frank Spencer who were killed during the Falklands conflict. And, since you can’t really have an album of Scottish traditional folk without ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, she also obliges on that.
Also putting in return appearances Clincart gets into film noir soundtrack territory with ‘Edgy’ and MacDougall offers another a capella Gaelic track, ‘Fagail Liosmor’, a lament about leaving the island. Also unaccompanied, Crossan sings ‘The Highland Clearances’, Andy M. Stewart’s powerful song about the forced diaspora inflicted on Scotland, the song having a companion piece with Dowling’s reading of ‘The Last Clearance Cottage’ about how her neighbour was forced to leave Lismore because her landlords failed to improve her substandard house. There’s also another poem from Allen, ‘Wise Women’.
Meanwhile, Campbell and Paine take another international jaunt, this time to America for the Stanley Brothers’ ‘Little Birdie’, while, a particular joy, she also pairs with Crossan to sing Amy Bowman’s six-minute pastoral folk ‘The Otter And The Kestrel’.
There’s a second showing too for Lismore Voices on the traditional ‘Tibie Paiom’ as well as Cross and Ferguson with another medley, ‘72nd Highlanders’ Farewell To Aberdeen’ and ‘Campbell’s Farewell To Redcastle’, the pair also bringing whistle and accordion to bear on Mairi Campbell’s sprightly tune ‘Jonathan And Dorothy Livingstone’.
The disc also has several first appearances, kicking off with Jennifer Baker with her near 15-minute short story ‘The Storm’, followed by teacher Freda Drysdale with a lively take on the familiar traditional number ‘The Spanish Lady’ and Julia Fayngruen and Erick Tovarsson with the acoustic fingerpicked love song ‘A Nice Thing To Do’.
Sebastian Tombs, who also appears in the first disc, accompanies himself on guitar for the playful ‘Flotsam And Jetsam’, a song about the sea written for his son’s 7th birthday and clearly making an impression as he’s now a marine engineer, everything coming to a close on a final traditional note with the unadorned croaky and cracked tones of Duncan Laggan Livingstone on ‘Nighean Og nan Suilean Ciuin’.
Described as representative of the sort of informal ceilidh you might get caught up in on Lismore, it’s a celebration of the island’s heritage, talent and community which, while it may not attract a mainstream folk audience, is most assuredly a garden worth tending.
Label website: www.clincartmusic.com
Davy Clincart – ‘Edgy’ – official video: