Dick Gaughan,
Prentice Piece
(Greentrax, 2002)

Dick Gaughan has been writing, arranging and performing the best of Scottish folk music for over three decades. Therefore it is about time that those of us who come late to his music get a chance to hear the fruits of 30 years without having to scour the second-hand record shops seeking out scratchy vinyl recordings.

Prentice Piece is named, as one would expect from Gaughan, after a tradition. It seems that in pre-technology days when people started as apprentices and learned from "the master," they often produced the best possible examples of their craft as showpieces. This CD is Gaughan's showpiece from his ongoing apprenticeship. It is a double CD playing over 107 minutes with 21 tracks.

As with most good folk performers in the old tradition, he does not limit a song to fit the commercial radio sound bite. To tell a story and give a song a fitting musical introduction some tracks last for six, eight and even eleven minutes.

I was particularly pleased to find a track on here which I presume is the one referred to in the Bogle song "Green Fields of France," or "Willie McBride" as some call it. "Flooers o' the Forest" is a traditional tune dating back to the battle of Floden in 1513. It is widely used as a lament for those fallen in battle and that is how it is referred to in the other song "did the pipes play the 'Flooers o' the Forest'?" It is a truly haunting piece that is all the more poignant when the listener knows something of its background.

Not that Gaughan confines himself to old traditional material, he also includes a very good rendition of the Joe South song of the 1960s or '70s, "Games People Play." I remember when this song was popular there was a pop psychology book of the same name by Eric Berne on sale. Which came first?

"Why Old Men Cry" is perhaps my favourite track. Over a few verses he ranges from the Great War to coal-mining and brings it all together in a beautiful finale.

Gaughan is one of the best singers on the scene who is pricking social consciences, so the tracks are not all dealing with history of long ago. "The Pound a Week Rise" is another great song concerning coal mines, bosses and pay.

Gaughan is not an apprentice -- he is a master craftsman -- but his Prentice Piece is a work that should adorn the collection of anyone who is serious about good music, history and heartfelt performance. An excellent booklet giving lyrics and background notes complements the CD. It also indicates which albums the tracks were originally released on for anyone determined to track down quality.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 28 September 2002