Stairheid Gossip,
Stirring it Up
(Greentrax, 2002)

"Angels Sing History" could be a subtitle of this fantastic CD. A cappella singing is an art and the ladies of Stairheid Gossip have perfected it. They can take songs that are almost overlooked because we are so used to them and give them a new lease of life.

"Bahele Bonke" is proof that we do not need to know a language to understand and appreciate a well-performed song. This South African song about leaders imprisoned in Longweni Prison will move you although you have no idea what the words mean. They repeat the magic on "Igama Lama," but the English words of Christine Kydd help us understand that track.

A rhyme known to all of us inspired the song "King of the Castle" by Colum Sands, but it is far deeper than a children's chant. You will need to listen carefully, but it is worth the effort.

Another song that bears close listening is "Rantin' Dog." The words are by Robbie Burns and tell a tale of an unmarried mother worried about getting help to care for her child. It is a lesson in how older folk songs are as relevant in 2003 as in the 18th century or earlier.

"High Germany" is one of those hackneyed songs that Stairheid Gossip revives and breathes new life into. As the notes say, call centres and mobile phone plants do not give rise to great songs like "Women o' Dundee," but I suppose if we listen carefully the sentiments may have sad parallels.

"Johnny I Hardly Knew You" needs no introduction but listen to this rendition and you will weep at how little the world is changing. These ladies do great work on the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland but they do not stand still. They took "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou and made it their own with a beautiful version.

They return to Scotland for "Aye Waukin O" and do a fantastic version with the dialect words adding to the magic of a song of unrequited love. "Cotton Mill Girls" is a spirited rendition of an American song that must go down a treat in live shows.

In 17 tracks this group brings us around the world and through the centuries. Here we experience rather than hear the songs. How this magic must be multiplied in live performance I can only imagine.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 28 June 2003