Jimmy Macbeath,
Tramps & Hawkers
(Rounder, 2002)

This is much more than a music CD. It is social history in a very accessible form and real life on disc.

As well as some beautiful unaccompanied songs by Jimmy, there are interviews with him about many aspects of his life, which in turn are explorations of Scottish life between 1894 and the mid-1900s. The songs and interviews are transcribed and annotated along with other notes and information in a 36-page booklet.

Many of the songs will be new to anyone who is not steeped in Scottish folk music and as such they are warmly welcomed.

The only song that was familiar to me was "McCafferty," which I had not heard sung in perhaps 20 years until I put this CD on the player. The air is similar to the Irish/Wexford song "The Croppy Boy," but this is a sad and very moving anti-war song telling the tale of an 18-year-old squaddie. In the preceding interview Jimmy tells us about the subject of the song, Patrick McCafferty, who joined the army and in 1861 shot a commanding officer. Patrick was hanged before a crowd of 30,000 people for the offence.

The beauty of this album is not just in the fantastic clear voice of Jimmy MacBeath. It is the fact that we get re-introduced to old songs and we also get the stories that go with them.

"Drumdeligie" is a song about the reality of farm life. It tells us of the horses to be tended, winnowing, ploughing and carting. "And then the frost it did stick in and the ploughs they widden go." The songs retain the Scots dialect and pronunciation and these are faithfully transcribed.

"Down by the Magdalene Green" is another song showing its ancient roots. As the notes tell us, it was in 1582 that this name was given to an area of Dundee, but in the song Jimmy uses the older title of the place -- Maidlane Gier. The song itself is telling a sailor's tale as he repents the folly of his treatment of a young girl. "Tae court a girl, then sail away, is neither calm nor clean and never do as I have done down by the Madlin Green."

The title track "Tramps & Hawkers" is featured twice on the CD. At the end it is a version recorded at the People's Festival in Edinburgh in 1951 and has a reconfiguration of verses from the other. This shows the living nature of true folk music as it adapts to circumstances and location.

This album is a must for anyone professing to have an interest in folk music, Scotland or the plight of our fellow man. It is part of the Alan Lomax Collection, which includes recordings spanning such diverse areas as the Spanish Collection, Prison Songs, Deep River of Song and many more. If the quality of production and accompanying booklets are nearly as good as Tramps & Hawkers, I cannot wait to get my hands on them.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 9 March 2002

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