various artists,
Scottish Traditional Tales
(Greentrax, 2000)

For many of us, the traditional fairy tales we learned as children have remained a source of inspiration and wonder well into adulthood. Anyone with this fascination will find Scottish Traditional Tales to be a delightful addition to their story collection.

Many of the traditional fairy tales and stories of Scotland have survived through the travellers. Travellers were Scottish tradesmen, originally tinkers, gypsies or tinsmiths, who made their living while travelling from place to place. They would tell stories to their patrons to pass the time, and these stories have been preserved, right up to today. There are still travellers, working as door-to-door salesmen and the like.

The ten tales on this double-CD collection represent a wide range of the longer wonder tales from Scottish lore. The tales are told in native Scots dialect by nine different storytellers. The tellers come from a variety of backgrounds and locales.

Among the famous tellers is Betsy Whyte, from Montrose, who grew up in the traveller tradition, although she is no longer a traveller today. Wandering tinker/piper Davie Stewart from Kintyre tells his story with a personal touch and thick Scottish brogue. Stanley Robertson of Aberdeen, a piper, singer and storyteller, learned storytelling from his English grandfather.

Other tellers on the recording are Andrew Stewart of Blairgowrie, his sister Bella Higgins of Blairgowrie, Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen, Tom Tulloch of Yell, James Henderson of Orkney, and George Peterson of Shetland. The accents and storytelling styles vary as much as the places of origin of the storytellers.

Some of the tales will be familiar to lovers of traditional stories. I first read "One-eye, Two-eyes, Three-eyes" in a collection of fairy tales when I was a child. "The Three Feathers" has the familiar theme of three princes vying for the title of king when their father dies. Other tales include a gruesome and gory story of "Daughter Doris" whose father cuts off her limbs for breaking a milk pitcher; "The Humph at the Fit o the Glen and the Humph at the Head o the Glen," about two hunchbacks who get treated quite differently by the fairies; a "Silly Jack" tale titled "Silly Jack and the Factor"; "The Boy and the Bruni" which is much like "Jack and the Beanstalk"; and "The Greenbank Pony (The Flayed Horse)," about a horse in sheep's clothing. Stories range from 18 1/2 minutes to 3 minutes in length.

While some of the tellers embellish the stories with details and commentary of their own making, others tell them as close to the way they originally heard it as they can. They all tell in classic Scottish storytelling style, meaning that the tales are learned rather than memorized, and the words never come out the same way twice. The recordings were done at different locations, and the quality and background noise varies greatly. Some of the accents are so thick that those unused to listening to Scottish speakers may find them difficult to understand. This is easily remedied, however, for the full text to each story is included in the extensive and informative booklet that is included with the collection.

This collection is a gold mine for fans of traditional tales or Scottish lore. It would be a perfect companion on a long driving trip, to while away the hours. Or better yet, put it on in front of a roaring fire, sit back with a hot toddy and imagine yourself in a castle somewhere in Scotland, listening to the natives tell stories from long ago.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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