A bottomless well of cultural riches
In Gaelic Scotland we have one of the richest musical and lyrical traditions in the world. The sheer volume of material in poetry, song and music is astounding. Although there have been many essential catalysts that have allowed the powerful renaissance of Highland music we have enjoyed in recent years, it is the wealth of source that has allowed this to occur.
Last weekend I was given the gift of a CD called Sguaban a’ Tìr an Eòrna Sheaves from the Land Of Barley – Traditions of Tiree. This is a release from Greentrax Recordngs on behalf of the School of Scottish Studies for their Scottish Tradition series. Edited by Donald Meek and Margaret MacKay (the giver of the gift), it contains 29 tracks, which are a representative selection of archive material recorded on Tiree in the fifties, sixties and seventies.
Music, stories and song feature and are delivered by a range of tradition bearers. It gives a fantastic insight into the culture of the island and a view into our history directly from the voices of the past. Hearing these voices of men and women who are long dead, telling stories, singing songs and reciting poetry from Tiree is a powerful experience and is like going straight back in time.
This CD gives a strong reminder of just how much raw material we have to work with in the realms of Highland music and of just how important music, song and poetry was in the lives of people in the Highlands and Islands. This album, while rich and varied in content, represents only a small fraction of the material that was recorded during this time. What was recorded was a small fraction of the repertoire of those who were visited, and by the time this field research was begun, much material had already been lost to past. If not for the timely work of the pioneering collectors such as Calum MacLean, John MacInnes, Eric Cregeen and Margaret MacKay, whose work is featured on this recording, so much more would have been lost to the changing nature of the world.
It is fantastic that this type of archive material is becoming widely available through recordings such as this and on the Tober an Dualchas website. Beware though. Once you start listening, it is impossible to stop and whole days can be lost in a ceilidh house of 60 years ago.
In the modern world of constant bombardment of current global information and the consequent melting pot of contemporary cultures that we all experience, it is more valuable than ever to have access to recordings like this that we can continue to learn from and gain reference from. We are lucky to be the custodians of this gift and we should all respect it.
To the contributors, the collectors and the protectors of this material, we should be very grateful. They have given us an infinite well of cultural riches.