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Mon 14 Aug 2006

Scottish Songs & Ballads




IN THE midst of the bubbling musical eclecticism of the Fringe music scene, there was an almost surprising pleasure in sitting in a small room listening to these three strong and unamplified voices delving with seasoned ease into their rich collective store of (largely north-eastern) Scots balladry, accompanying themselves with the unobtrusive strains of melodeon, whistle and fiddle.

Pete Shepheard, Arthur Watson and Tom Spiers have all paid their dues over decades of the Scottish folk revival, while their material ranged through the centuries, from Watson's opening Sleepytoon, a rollicking North-east ditty sung with North-east smeddum, to lesser-known and venerable material such as The Dun Brown Bride, which Shepheard rendered in clear and articulate Scots, ending with the kind of sanguinary denouement which seems near-mandatory for these hoary old ballads.

Spiers, a singer gifted with the relatively rare trick of accompanying himself on fiddle, came up with the one-time folk club favourite Tae the Beggin', but set to a different and somehow older-sounding tune than the one we normally associate with it.

So the auld sangs wended their well-paced ways, spinning out the farmhand or whale-fisher's complaints, lovers' laments or, in the case of Spiers's Allan Water, a litany of courtship, deceit and suicide (as Watson pointed out with indecent relish).

They were delivered with regard and infectious warmth, and shifted across the country to Argyllshire for the closing Boys of Calliburn, delivered poignantly by Shepheard over the gentle wheeze of his melodeon, and with a strong-swelling chorus from his companions.

"Assist me, a' ye muses," implored an invocatory line in an earlier song. On this occasion, however, the muses required little bidding.

• Tonight at 8pm and 9.30pm

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