VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sense Of The Place (Stonehaven Folk Club SFC001)

Sense Of The PlaceStonehaven, as our Scottish readers all know, is a coastal town south of Aberdeen. The Stonehaven Folk Club is one of the founders of the Folk-In-Crisis Fund and from that effort came Sense Of The Place, a collection of ten specially commissioned songs rooted in north-east Scotland. The writers are among Scotland’s finest and the “house band” comprises Jen Austin, Emma Smith, Mhairi Hall, Aaron Jones and Mike Vass, who also oversaw the recording of the project. That should be enough to whet your appetite.

The album opens with ‘Lady Finella’ by Iona Fyfe, a traditional ballad written this year in what I take to be the Scots language. Lady Finella killed King Kenneth II in revenge for the death of her son and did so in a bizarre and complex way if legends are to be believed. Iona bases her song on these stories. Lady Finella jumped to her death from a waterfall and the King’s men burned Fettercairn to the ground as a reprisal. If that’s not a proper folk song, I don’t know what is!

Claire Hastings’ ‘Keeper Of The Light’ tells of another death with less of the grand guignol about it while ‘Catterline’, by Kris Drever, celebrates the life of painter Joan Eardley who worked there and whose centenary is celebrated this year. As Kris says, “the song wrote itself”. There’s a hint of Stan Rogers abut Mike Blackburn’s ‘Boat Memories’, a backwards look inspired by an abandoned fishing boat while Jenny Sturgeon is similarly looking to the past in ‘Violet Rae’, a song about emigration in the late 19th century.

Findlay Napier tells the extraordinary story of Alex Ritchie’s heroic rescue of the crew of ‘The Snowdrop’ in 1908 and his survival among the Inuit in Greenland. This is another song that has the feel of the tradition thanks to a fine chorus and Mike Vass’ contributions on fiddle. Bob Knight sings an autobiography of ‘Cutty Sark’, which you can do when you’re an unqualified success, and Steve Byrne recounts a rather imaginative history of his own family in ‘The Sands O St Cyrus’, a village north of Montrose which turns up frequently in the notes for these songs.

‘Calloused Hands’ is Irene Watt’s tribute to the fisher women of the Aberdeenshire coast, including her own grandmother, and Paul McKenna celebrates another intrepid woman in ‘Far From Home’. Helen Milne was a native of Stonehaven who volunteered as a nurse during the Great War and travelled to India to serve.

By the time I’d listened to Sense Of The Place once, I’d come to the conclusion that these are songs that should have been written long ago but, for some reason, never were. The constant presence of a small group of musicians holds the disparate stories together, providing cohesion and ensuring that the album is firmly rooted in The Place.

Dai Jeffries

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