Scottish Music - 'Loch Lomond' is Not the Only Fruit Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Scottish Music - 'Loch Lomond' is Not the Only Fruit

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People go on holiday to Scotland. They fall in love with the hills, heather, and the Highland cattle and they are amused at the exceedingly small number of people who actually wear kilts. They want to take a memento home. They've heard bits and pieces of music from the pipers on the Royal Mile or the 'Jolly Scottish Tartan Tunes' tape that was played in the tour bus, so they head to the nearest music shop and the 'Scottish' section. To their delight it has exactly what they're looking for: 'Loch Lomond', 'Amazing Grace', 'My Heart's in the Highlands' and many other fine tunes. What they don't realise is that right next to it is the 'Folk' section which is (oddly enough) absent of tourists. What is the difference? There should be no need for the two separate sections, should there?

The CD they have bought is not what they think it is (ie, it is not real Scottish traditional music). As any Scottish person who knows such things will tell you, you need to rake through the Folk section to find true Scottish music. The sad thing is that many Scottish people don't realise this any more than the tourists do.

Many people have arguments over words like 'Folk' and 'Traditional' but few would argue with the fact that music that is truly 'traditional' should come from the grass roots - the people who have lived and died the life that they are portraying in the music. This has all the passion, commitment and musical integrity you would expect but it does not live up to what people would like to think Scotland is all about. However, facts have never been allowed to spoil a good story, so a music which was obviously Scottish had to be created. In step the music halls of the early to mid-20th Century.

Songs had to be sung by someone in a kilt or, failing that, a tartan skirt. They had to be either jolly and amusing (haggis, neeps and tatties) or romantic and misty-eyed (hills, heather and glens). People had to like the singer so he/she had better be trained in the art - hence the tags 'Scottish tenor' or 'Scottish soprano' which never failed to pull in the crowds. Roots were forgotten, a false picture was painted but money was made which was all that mattered.

Sadly, the damage was done and this still prevails today. The fictional-but-accurate tourists painted earlier still go looking for the CD with the nicest tartan cover.

The message of this is that there is an alternative. When you come to Scotland, have a look; better still, have a listen to the contents of the Folk section in the CD shop. You'll find a branch of music that comes straight from the heart, from the very bone of people who know what Scotland is really all about. To get you started, here's a few good examples.

  • Dick Gaughan is a one-man-with-guitar singer who has a voice that you either love or hate. He sings some traditional and some contemporary songs (one or two self-written as well) and he believes in everything he sings. Listen to him for 'music from the gut'.

  • One of his contemporaries is Brian McNeill who is a singer, songwriter, fiddle player, author, social commentator - too talented to be fair.

  • For the young, gifted and Scottish side of things check out Deaf Shepherd and Back of the Moon, both of whom are making great music and establishing their names in a big way.

  • In contrast, there are many long-running bands who still cut ice - Jock Tamsons Bairns and The Battlefield Band are two inspiring cases. See Blazin' Fiddles for the best fiddle playing around and for pipes listen to MacUmba who show how Scottish music can be amalgamated with other traditions.

  • Finally, there is the new movement of bands who are taking the tradition and extending it to include modern instruments and techniques. Look at Croft No. 5 and Burach for noise!

These are just a few examples. Many more can be found on the links pages of the Penicuik Folk Club website. There are also links to many other clubs, festivals, venues and web resources that tell you more about the music of Scotland.

Scottish music is not stuck in the past. It has its roots in the past but is also looking to the future. A new generation is in residence now and it sounds fantastic.

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