Tony Cuffe,
Sae Will We Yet
(Greentrax, 2003)

The title of this CD is unusual and I'm sure that some Scottish reader will enlighten this heathen Gael of the meaning -- it is a track on the album taken from a song dating back almost two centuries. The CD itself is also unusual in that it is sadly a posthumous release. Tony Cuffe was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1954 and died at Arlington, Mass., in 2001. The short life and diverse locations provide a guide to the music here.

He was a veteran of the folk scene in the 1970s, being part of numerous groups including the excellent Ossian, before striking out on a solo career. The new album is composed mainly of unreleased material from studio and live recordings. Tony had collected the songs and tunes in preparation for a CD of Scottish and Irish love songs.

The CD opens with a song collected by Robert Burns, the fabulous "Tail Toddle" featuring vocals, pipes, whistle, flute and bodhran -- although originally written as "mouth music." "Cairn o' Mount" is a beautiful song developed by Cuffe from a poem which also dates back around 200 years. That is one of the true joys of this album, a 20th century artist renewing our acquaintance with lost gems of the past.

He shows his mastery of the Irish tradition with two reels, "The Girl That Broke My Heart" and "Mary McMahon." It is great to hear these tunes re-interpreted for the guitar.

Not that all the work here is old songs or tunes in new guises. His own composition, "The Bonny Lassie," is a tribute to his writing but also shows his genuine love of tradition. Although new, it could have been performed back in 1800.

I was enchanted by "Caller Herring." From the notes we learn that Nathaniel Gow composed it around 1798 as a tone poem for harpsichord. It recalls the cries of the herring seller in the Edinburgh streets. An interesting note is that a Lady Nairne added verses in the 1820 and donated proceeds from the publication to Gow who had gone bankrupt. Here we have a great little song, a wonderful performance and a slice of social history in 1 minute and 40 seconds.

Apart from the wonderful music and songs, this album has a very good insert. The essential glossary for some of the Scots words and phrases is accompanied by lyrics, background to tunes and credits -- what a folk CD insert should be, by law.

This CD is a once off chance to experience a musician whose early death robbed us of great promise.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 19 April 2003