A bot­tom­less well of cul­tural riches

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

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.

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