Gary Forrest Ceilidh BandGary Forrest Ceilidh Band
Album: Both Sides Of The Border
Label: Self released
Tracks: 13

It's a well-known fact that the Scottish Borders and Northumberland traditions hold some of the best ceilidh band tunes, whether handed down from player to another or written by great local musicians over the years. The Gary Forrest ceilidh Band, being based in the area, are ideal ambassadors for this material, and this recording both highlights those local traditions and reflects the wider Scottish tradition.

The repertoire therefore includes a number of new compositions by band members Gary Forrest and Roddy Matthews, and features tunes by noted Border musicians including Billy Pigg, Willie Taylor, Tom Clough, Ian Hardie, Archie Dagg, Jimmy Nagle and the late Bob Hobkirk. The lusty yet refined demeanour of the band's performances is gently infectious - it's a lively sound, but not always a rough, rumbustious one - that's not a bad thing, although the more animated moments are certainly amongst the most appealing. First impressions are of an ensemble that's a touch polite, even cautiously respectful, and it takes until track 4 for the music to start working its dashing magic. For inevitably, there will be some tunes that will make even the most recalcitrant of listeners tap their feet (the Thropton Two-Step, the sprightly Cumberland Square Eight set and Canadian Barn Dance to name but three selections), while the band certainly take the Riverside Jig set at a good lick! And I can say with confidence that the unique Borders flavour of the band's performances is very refreshing.

At first acquaintance, the casual listener might merely note that the sound and instrumental blend is much what you would expect from a fairly standard ceilidh band lineup (accordion, fiddle, piano, bass and drums, the latter courtesy of guest Keith Lauder), but this outfit also possesses, and parades, a degree of musicality that's not always a feature of a band that plays for dances. On this CD, Gary's band also provides a number of refinements within the texture which enable their music to be listened to as well as danced to.

Take the set of Scottish Border Waltzes (track 3), which features a beautifully coordinated - and totally unexpected - guitar solo from guest Chris Newman on the final tune (Jock O' Hazeldean); and we can rejoice that Chris takes centre stage for a sparkling rendition of the James Hill tune The Hawk. By the time you've stepped on through the disc's finale, The Borders Strip The Willow, you'll realise just how invigorating a whole album of well-upholstered ceilidh band music can be. Only one niggle - the individual personnel within the band should've been credited somewhere in the booklet, surely.

David Kidman