Various Artists – Sounds From the Great Garden

Album Review | Clincart Music | Review by Marc Higgins

Some places make music, it comes out of the stones and the landscape. At one time all of these islands were alive with music, Michael Chapman veteran journeyman folk musician, describes the 60s revival as a time when there was a folk club behind every tree. More recently Katy Crossan, Lismore resident and experienced ‘Bean an taig’ or Ceilidh master of ceremony, was struck by both the wide variety and sheer number of musicians in her Hebredian island community. The ‘Great Garden’ is an historic description of the Isle Of Lismore, because of the fertility of its landscape. So Sounds from the Great Garden is an apt description of this harvest or showcase for the stories, songs, music and musicians of Lismore. Like a Ceilidh gathering, this is a lively collection of poetry, tales and music steeped in tradition and a sense of space. Describing the aftermath of a storm performer Jennifer Baker says, ‘Everyone had a tale to tell’, which is central to the whole double album.

Mairi Campell opens with a stirring song about “A Wee Herd Laddie”, with fine backing from Davy Clincart the song is full of rich detail. A sense of place comes from the use of atmospherics on tracks like “Walking To Port Ramsay” by Jennifer Allan or “The Hill Gathering” a poetic spoken piece by Arthur Cross. On both pieces words and weather sounds place us in the scenes clearly described with Davy’s music adding a touch of magic realism. The overall effect is beautiful. “The Bollard In The Tree” is a very Ivor Cutler like, surreal tale by Jeremy Gilchrist. Yorick Paine and Sarah Campbell’s, vocal and percussion “Verde Esmerelda” and the Country call and response of their “A Little Birdie”, perfectly reminds us of the international nature of the community. “The Unst Boat Song” delivered by the meditative choir of The Lismore Voices, over stream sounds is a balm for the ears. As is “The Wrong Side Of The Moon” by Shoona Wright, her wonderful voice and guitar backed by Clincart’s bass and keyboards. There is softly spirited dance music too, with medleys by Arthur Cross and Duncan Ferguson and Mairi Campbell’s richly arranged “Johnny And Dorothy Livingstone” ‘“The Parish of Dunkeld” is a lively unaccompanied larger than life tale performed by Katy Crossman who also gives us an eerie “The Highland Clearances”. This is no cobbled together straight compilation, rather this is a carefully sequenced set of performances committed to tape at Trilaggan Studio on Lismore, with owner and musician Davy Clincart providing the musical glue that ties the album together. Davy also performs “Padavine” a gentle instrumental. Exotic flavours come, with Paul Speakman’s Lismore Woody Guthrie “Do Yourself A Favour” and Sarah Campbell’s perfect smoky jazz “You’ve Changed”. Listen out for Phil Bancroft’s fine saxophone and Davy’s jazz guitar. “Not A Liosach” by Pauline Isobel Dowling is a spoken piece that explores the inclusive embrace of the Lismore community. Sebastian Toombs adds reflective acoustic singer songwriter to the set with the clever wordplay of “Four Winds” and “Flotsam and Jetsum”. Contrasting the soft choir of The Lismore Voices is Mary MacDougall’s stirring, gaelic “An-t Eileen Alainn (The Beautiful Island) and Duncan Laggan Livingstone’s “Come By The Hills”. Laura Cook performs the reflective “Nam Aonar Le Mo Smuaintean” accompanied by Sarah Campbell’s piano and a fine “Wild Mountain Thyme”. Wind white noise blast and finally evocative water noise emphasises Jennifer Baker’s spoken piece “The Storm”. Mentions of mobile phone signal and cotton wool grounding this metaphysical folk tale in the current day. With a set of constrasting vocal performances are Freda Drysdale’s “Spanish Lady” with Freda’s pure voice, Jennifer Allen’s spoken “Wise Woman”, with the cadence of real conversation and the spiritual massed voices of The Lismore Voices on “Tibie Paiom”. Just perfect are the harmonies and guitar on “The Otter and The Kestral” with Amy Bowman, Sarah Campbell and Kathy Crossan stopping time. Real life experiences and history informs and grounds “The Last Clearance Cottage” by Pauline Isobel Dowling, a tale that ponders the gritty reality behind the picturesque. Also making “Fagail Liosmor (Leaving Lismore) “ by Sarah McDougall, all the more poignant. “A Nice Thing To Do” by Julie Fayngruen and Erick Tovarsson, is a beautifully simple reminder of the fundamentals that are important in life. Final mention must go to “My Island Home”, its sentiments are like a national anthem for this isle and the primary school children’s voices represent the musical future of Lismore.

This is a simply stunning set. Its breadth, its spirit and its intent are to be commended. The fact that across thirty four tracks and two hours there is no filler is a testament to the performers and their home. As a record of a place and a time this is a powerful statement. “That’s it” says David Laggan Livingstone, filling the dead air at the close of the album, I doubt it. I also want to hear more by these performers, The Lismore Voices, Amy Bowman and Shona Wright especially have been on heavy rotation on the stereo.