Review by David Kidman
“Calum’s Collection” is subtitled Field Recordings Of Gaelic Music And Song From The Highlands And Islands By Calum Maclean, and released as Volume 26 in Greentrax’s long-running Scottish Tradition series. It’s a handsome two-disc set that gathers together but a tip-of-the-iceberg selection of these recordings; one disc is devoted exclusively to songs and the other primarily to instrumental music. For several years starting in 1951, Raasay-born Calum was the first appointed collector at the then newly founded School Of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. He was the first person to undertake the systematic collection of Gaelic songs, stories and traditions in the Highlands and Islands with modern recording apparatus, and he doggedly and devotedly continued with this work despite the onset of cancer (of which tragically he died in 1960 at the age of only 44). He left an enduring legacy, comprising not only the sound recordings but also the book The Highlands, published the year before he died, described as “an uncompromising view of the Highland people, history and culture from the perspective of an insider, a Gaelic-speaking Scot”. What’s particularly astonishing is the high quality of these field recordings, and their intense degree of presence (except in one isolated instance, we’re not given the actual recording dates). Only the blinding proximity of the Highland pipes on the 18-minute lament threatens at times to overload the eardrums a touch, but there’s a remarkable beauty and poise to Rona Lightfoot’s performance nevertheless. The song recordings are almost exclusively of solo performances (only Georgina Murray’s features another singer – James Campbell – in tandem), and the material ranges over the spectrum of Gaelic song, from composed items like The White Swan (An Eala Bhán) and a song on the Battle of Culloden and its aftermath, to a 19th century recruiting song. The songs disc opens with a performance by Calum himself, an in-demand singer in his own right, while another interesting inclusion is the plaintive woman’s love-song A Mhic’ An Tòisich ’S Ceanalt’ Thu, sung by an Islayman, John Kennedy. Kate MacDonald turns in a magnificent (if quite a marathon at eight minutes) waulking song, and puirt a beul is represented by a pair of tunes sung by Catriona MacIntyre from South Uist. The instrumental disc is also wide-ranging and contains some wonderfully atmospheric delights including a joyous, rip-roaring set of reels from a Braemar ceilidh band, a no less lively, stomping medley of pipe-marches from the Lochailort Dance Band, a march-strathspey-and-reel set played on the jew’s harp, some spirited fiddle solos and even a pibroch-song (slow march) vibrantly sung by Alasdair Boyd. A copious amount of information is contained in the accompanying booklet (usual excellent Greentrax house standards) and plenty more is available on the project website. The tremendously enjoyable Cruinneachadh Chaluim is bound to be counted one of the most valuable releases in this established, well-regarded and illustrious ongoing series from Greentrax.
This product was added to our catalog on Sunday 20 September, 2015.