Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame with Mike Vass – The Ledger

Album Review | Cheerygroove | Review by Marc Higgins

Every week in the late 50s and early 60s The Scotsman published a traditional Scottish folk song, lyrics and melody, alongside an explanatory article.  Findlay’s grandfather, Findlay Cummings collected them in an old ledger.  The articles by folklorist Norman Buchan were published as two of the most influential books on the Scottish Folk scene, featuring songs that were essentials for artists like Dick Gaughan and Barbara Dickson and bands like The Battlefield Band and The Tannahill Weavers.  More personally Findlay Cummings ledger is a time capsule from the fledgling Scottish and UK folk scene and the basis for this album.  Napier, Gillian Frame and Mike Vass, whittled the sixty neatly cut n pasted songs down to the ten on this collection, at first searching for a theme, then settling on the ones they enjoyed performing.  This is a very warm and personal project, the actual ledger, extensively reproduced in the CD booklet influences the look and feel of the album, Marie Louise Napier gets a thank you for keeping it safe.

A stately version of “Bonnie George Campbell” opens, slow tempo with washes of guitar, fiddle and vocals like a glorious lullaby. More knotty and hypnotic is the trios “Burnie Bushel”.  You can float away on “Baloo Baleeey” with a ethereal music box behind the beautifully arranged vocals. Gillian Frame’s lead vocal on “Van Dieman’s Land” is a masterpiece, with the backing vocals adding a touch of strange.  “Barbara Allen” at just over six minutes, is immersive, where some of the other songs feel to over too quickly, telling the dark tale of the two lovers.

“Walking All Alaine” is an eerie classic love gone wrong ballad, written at the age of 13 by Anne Neilson who went on to be a respected singer and teacher at The Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland, it borrows from “Twa Corbies”. Napier, Frame and Vass deliver an atmospheric folk Psych piece, with fine vocals from all and an otherworldly fiddle from Mike.  Mike also contributes a lively solo to the dreamy “Road To Dundee” that closes the set.  Both real hairs on the back of the neck stuff. “Jamie Raeburn” features Gillian Frame’s pure and striking vocal with Finlay and Mike layering in a choir of chorus vocals.  “Twa Recruiting Sergeants” is another song that crackles with atmosphere and tension, the interplay between instruments is stunning and Steve Fivey’s percussion conjures distant marching soldiers.

This is a wonderful mix of the familiar and the more obscure. Cohesive, separate tracks flow together creating a soothing whole. On the strength of the performances I cannot be alone in hoping, Findlay, Gillian and Mike revisit Findlay seniors rich ledger for further volumes.

Choice Track: Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants (NSV 507)