Reviews

Brian McNeil & FriendsBrian McNeil & Friends
Album: The Falkirk Music Pot
Label: Greentracks
Tracks: 22
Website: http://www.brianmcneill.co.uk/

Brian McNeill, the iconic figure of Scottish traditional and folk music has always been one of the busiest musicians on the scene. Whether he's on the stage as a soloist or with a band, in the classroom or at a festival teaching group workshops or in the studio engineering and producing his own and other people's albums he never fails to bring his high standard of musicianship to the table.

In recent years McNeill has had many releases including an album documenting the Scottish and their travels in Europe and a live DVD. His latest release entitled, The Falkirk Music Pot, is two discs of music collected from the community of Falkirk in central lowlands of Scotland, (which is Brian McNeill's home town), and the Bandawe Girls Secondary School in Malawi, (who have a partnership with Falkirk High School).

It is immediately clear that Falkirk is just overflowing with music! Members of the Falkirk Fiddle Workshop provide a representation of how very strong the Scottish fiddling tradition is in Falkirk. Sheila Airth, Sandy Harvey, John Johnstone, Mary McElroy, Jennifer Simpson and Lorna Swan play two piping tunes by the famous Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsey of the Falkirk area as an ensemble, creating the classic fiddle band sound that is associated with the likes of Blazin Fiddles, Fiddler's Bid and Session A9. Another track of tunes that I found extremely striking is on the second CD. John Somerville, Marc Duff, Steven Holland and the Falkirk Youth Trad Band play a strathspey by Sommerville called the Great Wheel and another very famous tune by Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsey entitled, Schiehallion. This track contains some fantastic tune playing that I took for granted at first, but after reading the sleeve notes and finding out that the young musicians playing are only between the ages of 11 and 16 it becomes twice as impressive!

Of course, the standard of singing and the level of variation in the singers on this album is exceptionally high. Andy McKean is a singer and songwriter that has been performing and writing music for a number of years and is a twice recipient of the Falkirk Folk Club Songwriting Competition. "A Mariner Who's Never Been To Sea", is the song that first bagged him the titled and also appears on this album. McKean's voice tells the story of the neglect of the working class community beautifully and is sensitively accompanied by the concertina of Brian McNeill and the whistles of Marc Duff. Andy McKean firmly demonstrates that as well as maintaining tradition, Falkirk is also contributing material to the vast library of Scottish traditional music

The two tracks contributed by the Bandawe Girls Secondary School in Malawi are delivered with brilliant energy and an unlimited amount of soul. "You Are The Pillar", is the third track on the first CD and is written by Mercy Nyirongo who is a student at the school. Nyirongo takes the lead role and is accompanied by beautifully close harmonies produced by a choir made up by other students. Words cannot describe the amount of heart with which this song is sung with! The last track on the second disc is a song about porridge and is more of fun song than the other but delivered with the same level of gusto.

Whilst the majority of this release is other people's music there are a selection of tracks where the spotlight shines onto Brian McNeill. My favourite is by far the two tunes McNeill plays with John Sommerville, called the, "Bothkennar", and the "Beauty O' the Bing". I've always had a soft spot for Brian McNeill's fiddle playing and his tune writing, especially the slow airs that he writes and the Bothkennar is a beautiful example of of his skill at crafting these slower melodies.

Of course this is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this album. There are more singers and songwriters, pipers, brass bands and even a few harpsichord tunes! It is impossible to go into depth about this album as each track is so different to the next. In this project, Brian McNeil has recorded real music of the people and produced an album of great variety.

Matt Tighe