Glasgow, Scotland – The cream of the Scottish folk scene assemble in St Andrews in the Square Monday, January 22, to celebrate the classic songs of Paisley weaver Robert Tannahill (1774-1810) from the new CD The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol.1.
In 2003, Dr Fred Freeman released his The Complete Songs of Robert Burns; a boxed set of 13 CDs, featuring over 100 singers and players from virtually every major and minor folk group in Scotland. Alan Taylor of The Sunday Herald compared this “remarkable achievement…to the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling or the King James translation of bible'”.Nevertheless, Freeman still felt he had serious cultural work to do as he turned his attention with increasing enthusiasm to another neglected 18th-century figure, a weaver and song-writer who had written over 100 songs of a quality comparable to Burns – Robert Tannahill of Paisley (1774-1810). After a Burns concert in Ayr, Freeman related his enthusiasm to Sandy Brechin, the noted accordionist, in a fortuitous conversation over a pint. Brechin was looking for an exciting project for his recording company, Brechin-All-Records, and Freeman was more than prepared to bend his ear.
Dr Fred began to arrange and record The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol.1 in November 2005, with a view to releasing the 5 vol set by 2010, the Tannahill bicentenary year.
For the most part the approach remains similar to the Burns series. Vol I features superb singers and players, young and old, from every region of Scotland. Amongst the old stalwarts are Jim Reid, 71 years old, but buoyant as ever after winning a BBC Trad Award, Best Singer of the Year 2005; John Morran (Deaf Shepherd); Ian Anderson (Fiddler’s Leap); Ross Kennedy (ex Tannahill Weavers); Wendy Weatherby and Gillian McDonald.
It does differ, however, in its more concerted effort to present Tannahill to a new age. To that end John Croall (Jock Tamson’s Bairns) was brought in for a jazzy reprise of The Braes o Balquhidder, the song that inspired the McPeake family to write The Wild Mountain Thyme. Another BBC prize winner, and one of the more dynamic young singers to emerge in recent years, Emily Smith, appropriately tops and tails the album with haunting versions of Fly We To Some Desert Isle and I’ll Lay Me On The Wintry Lea.
Tannahill Vol.1 thus has a distinctly contemporary feel to it, but it is in no way fusion music of any description. The Paisley versifier’s splendid songs, composed against the rhythm of his loom, and with traditional strathspeys, reels and jigs in mind, naturally lend themselves to modern treatment. Much of the music has, in fact, something of the character of 18th-century rap:Coggie Thou Heals Me, Hey Donald How Donald, I’ll Hie Me To The Sheiling Hill and so many of the others.
Moreover, the album is backed by a strong team of sympathetic players from a wide cross section of groups: Chris Agnew, Sandy Brechin, Marc Duff, Corrina Hewat, Aaron Jones, Anna Massie, Alasdair MacLeod, Frank McLaughlin, John Morran, Rod Paul and Mike Vass. And the plan is to broaden the wide mix of singers and players, in subsequent volumes, through bringing in various Irish, British and Continental musicians in accordance with Tannahill’s interest in – and use of – traditional tunes from other countries.
In his lifetime the song-writer despaired of ever being properly recognized. He died, avowedly, ‘an obscure verse making Weaver’. Brechin All Records are to be commended for endeavoring to end this unwarranted obscurity and for undertaking one of the most important cultural projects of our new century.
Appearing at the concert are singers Emily Smith, John Morran, Wendy Weatherby, Ross Kennedy, Gillian McDonald, John Croall and Ian Anderson. The players include Corrina Hewat, Sandy Brechin, Marc Duff, Aaron Jones, Anna Massie, Frank McLaughlin and Rod Paul, with commentary from the man behind the project, Dr Fred Freeman.
Celtic Connections takes place in 12 venues all over Glasgow. The focal point of the festival is The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, where performances take place in every available space, from workshops in the foyers to performances by world-class artists in the Main Auditorium. The City Halls and Old Fruitmarket, ABC, The Tron, The Piping Centre and Glasgow’s newest live venue The Classic Grand will all play host to Celtic Connections events this year over a period of nineteen days in January and February.
Robert Tannahill Launch Concert
Mon 22 January, 8:00pm
St Andrew’s in the Square
Tickets can be purchased from the Box Office:
In person at: The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
2 Sauchiehall Street
Online at: www.celticconnections.com
By phone on: 0141 353 8000