various artists,
The Music & Song of the Great Tapestry of Scotland
(Greentrax, 2012)

We have books making the rounds like A History of the World in 100 Objects. Now the inimitable Greentrax have gone one better with what we might subtitle A History of Scotland in 40 Songs.

At present, work is in hand with scores of volunteers stitching panels for what they hope will be the longest tapestry in the world, representing the history of a nation that modestly produced another book called How The Scots Invented the World. This double CD, featuring the cream of Scottish musical talent, focuses on 40 of those panels and events with some fantastic songs and tunes.

It opens in pre-history with "Orkney" by the Gordon Gunn Band; the tune transports us back in time to days of stone circles, ritual and magic. Staying in those earliest days, we have a spine-tingling hymn called "O Pater Partiae," sung unaccompanied by the Monks of Pluscarden Abbey.

The Battle of Flodden comes to life with "Flowers of the Forrest" and, of course, Glencoe is hauntingly brought to life as Alastair McDonald performs "The Massacre of Glencoe." On a lighter note we have Alex Dodgson accompanied by the Infants of Prestonpans Primary School singing about "The Toun o' Prestonpans." The McCalmans stay in that area with "Bonnie Prince Charlie," recalling the Rising of 1745.

Robbie Burns is remembered with "Ae Fond Kiss," while the body snatchers "Burke & Hare" have their tale retold by Robin Laing. Laing also gives us the moving tale of the construction of "The Forth Railway Bridge."

The first I ever heard of John Muir was on a trip to America, but Brian McNeill puts him in his Scottish context on "Muir & the Master Builder." It was no surprise to find Eric Bogle drafted to commemorate the Great War with "No Man's Land," or "Green Fields of France." Other Scottish miltary involvements are represented by "The Beaches of St Valery," a thoughtful song about Dunkirk and those captured with references back to The Somme, and "Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers."

Other Scots fights were fought for working men's rights, and these are also recalled on tracks like the wonderful "Who Pays the Piper" by the McCalmans, about North Sea oil, and "Blantyre" by Alex Hodgson, reminding us of the Miners' Strike of 1982.

Sheena Wellington celebrates the Scottish Parliament of 1999 with "A Man's a Man fo A' That," a Burns song sung on that occasion.

This is true history in a neat package. It should be an inspiration to all nations -- especially those with a strong musical heritage to follow suit and teach future generations about their history, heritage and music.

music review by
Nicky Rossiter

9 March 2013

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