Music for St. Andrew’s Day: celebrating Scotland

November 30 is the national day of Scotland, Saint Andrew’s day. It is celebrated with festivals, events, and family gatherings from Shetland off the far north coast to Hadrian’s wall down along the borders. That festive spirit finds those of Scottish descent across the world recall their highland, lowland, and island heritage as well. Music is a big part of all these celebrations. To join in the celebration of Saint Andrew’s day this year, take a listen to these albums to help you get in the spirit.

Music and Song From Scotland is a good taster of the range of Scottish music as it’s being made these days. The folks at Greentrax Recordings in East Lothian have made a home for the music of rising artists and celebrated musicians for twenty five years now, and to mark that anniversary they’ve created this two disc set. There are, appropriately enough, twenty five tracks, and each disc concludes with a bonus track as well so there are twenty seven cuts in all.. Things begin with a song from Dick Gaughan, a longtime master of Scottish folk songwriting, and there is a cut from Barbara Dickson, returning to her folk roots in Scotland in the midst of a distinguished career in musical theater. Tradition bearer Jean Redpath adds a song, and ace fiddlers Duncan Chisholm and Alasdair Fraser contribute fiery tunes. Piping from the band Seudan, and Gaelic singing from Margaret Stewart, along with a track from internally celenrated guitairst Tony McManus are all included. Rising stars of Scottish music are well represented too, as Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller offer the song The King’s Shilling, the high energy group Daimh adds the Trip to Glenfinnan Set, and Jamie Steele bring the collection to a close with a classic end of evening song his father wrote called Just One More Chorus. That’s not quite the end, though, as there’s a bonus cut from accordion master Phil Cunningham and Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, a gentle waltz they composed for the founders of Greentrax on their golden wedding anniversary.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national bard, so his words and music have a place in the celebration of Saint Andrew’s day. One of the best collections of the ploughman poet’s work is Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns. Reader skillfully interprets Burns’ sometimes bawdy sense of humor as well as she does his heartfelt romantic songs. His commitment to the equality of people and his love for Scottish landscape are present in the songs Reader chooses here too. The singer, who spent some years following her music in the world of pop music by living in London, includes a personal touch as well. The song Wild Mountain side, by John Douglas, was written to remind her of coming home to Scotland, and it did indeed call her back to making her home in her native country once again,a nd to a deeper rerun to her love for folk music.. The song stands well alongside Robert Burns’ music, as a carrying forward of his songs of love and landscape.

Julie Fowlis is from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, islands which lie off the northwest coast of Scotland. Scottish Gaelic is spoken there alongside English, and songs from the long history of Gaelic tradition are sung alongside those from more recent times. On her recording Live at Perthshire Amber, Fowlis offers a selection which weaves these ideas together, with a number of songs from the tradition, a Scottish Gaelic version of the song Blackbird, and contemporary tunes composed by Duncan Chisholm and Eamon Doorley among others. The set was recorded at the Perthshire Amber Festival, which is an autumn celebration founded by songwriter Dougie MacLean. To conclude the set MacLean joins Fowlis for a song in English, one he himself wrote, called Pabay Mor.

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