Various artists, Scotland - The Music and the Song, 20 Year profile of Greentrax (Greentrax, 2006)
Kathleen MacInnes, Og Mhaddainn Shamhraidh (Greentrax, 2006)
Various artists - Scottish Tradition 22, Chokit on a Tattie: Children's Songs and Rhymes (Greentrax, 2006)
One of my tutors once described the main goal of his life to be able to retire in a good enough health to enjoy his retirement. In 1986 Ian D. Green did just that, maybe helped by the fact that British policemen have the chance to retire rather early. One of my Scottish friends, ex-policeman, retired at 50. But Ian D. Green did not become an idle pensioner, spending his life on some Spanish beach. Instead he did what many music lovers dream of, he started his own record company. 20 years later that venture, Greentrax Records, is probably the biggest record company concerned with traditional Scottish music. On average it has released 17,5 albums a year over its 20-year-existence. And the pace is faster now than it was at the beginning. Quite an achievement for anyone, let alone someone who apparently stopped working.
Scotland - The Music and the Song celebrates the first 20 years of Greentrax. On three CDs, each holding about 78 minutes of music, a total of nearly four hours, with 59 tracks you are handed a selection of what Greentrax has offered us over the years.
And what a selection this is. Here you have tracks by The McCalmans, Hamish Moore, Eric Bogle, Shooglenifty, The Easy Club Brian McNeill, Dick Gaughan and Alasdair Fraser, just to mention a few. On CD1 and CD3 songs and instrumental music are mixed, while CD2, labelled "At the Cutting Edge" is solely instrumental music, often what you could call experimental folk.
Compilations of this kind serves two purposes. One is to remind listeners of good performers who are familiar. Once again I realise how good a singer Heather Heywood is (must remember to dig our her CDs again) and what good songs Eric Bogle writes. And in this setting Dick Gaughan's "Sail On" shines like never before, and had I not discovered the Australian Colcannon at a festival last year I would have by this record. Their version of "The Border" is still a stand-out track on any CD. But compilations also reveal new talent. If you are not too well acquainted with Scottish folk this will probably be the case with this collection. Myself I have decided to get to know more about Malinky after hearing their "Edom o Gordon".
But remember, about five sixths of the output of Greentrax is not represented on the triple CD. One of the singers who is not is Kathleen MacInnes. Og Mhadainn Shamhraid, in translation "Summer Dawn", is her debut-album. But she is no newcomer to entertainment, having appeared on television in various guises, including being a presenter of children's programmes and doing voice-overs for cartoons, acting on stage and appearing a few times on other people's records.
The CD is dedicated to songs in Gaelic, most of them contemporary. MacInnes's voice, more of an alto than a soprano, is backed by a multitude of musicians, including Marc Duff, John McCusker and Donald Shaw, appearing two or three on each track. This is mainly an album of songs, and the instruments are there to underline the sentiments of each, something they do very well.
It is a fine album by any one's standards, maybe not one to take the music business by storm, but a soft, down-to-earth recording, easy accessible even to a non-Gaelic-speaker as I. Good singing and lovely instrumental backings and vocal harmonies do the trick every time.
Greentrax also has the honour of releasing the Scottish Tradition-series, which has now reached number 22. The series is dedicated to field recordings and is a goldmine for singers and musicians looking for traditional songs and tunes, and for anyone interested in the more historical and folkloristic side of Scottish music.Chokit on a Tattie is a collection of songs and rhymes for and by children. Many of them are very short, there are 23 tracks on the CD, but most of them are made up of up to seven different songs or rhymes, some are funny and some more serious. Many of them are connected to games, and quite often the lyrics are set to popular tunes. The odd one also appears in the English tradition, like "London Bridge is Falling Down", and there are frequent references to well-known people, like Mary Queen of Scots (obviously), Charlie Chaplin (less expected) and Robin Hood.
As always it is well researched and has extensive sleeve notes (including all lyrics and a glossary for those of us who need some translation). A CD to keep for reference.
In summary: One triple-CD to serve as either in introduction to or a reminder of some great Scottish singers and musicians, a single one to show the talents of a rising star and one to give you insight to what Scottish children sing in school playgrounds and other places. All three albums serve as a celebration of Ian D. Green's achievement. Aren't we all lucky British policemen get to retire early?
[ Lars Nilsson]