Days o’ Grace

Hector’s Album Notes

The realisation that it was fifty years since I first performed at the “Sing Out” Folk Club in Crewe Cheshire and seven years since my last recording on Wildgoose prompted me to record this album of mainly  Scottish material.

I had always sung from a young age, aided no doubt, by genetic good fortune inherited from both parents. In the post-war years they would regularly host their siblings and friends who would come over on weekends from Glasgow to our small Ayrshire farm-holding. From this singing environment there was no retreat and we were all pressed into service, with my cousin playing the piano and party pieces performed.

The “Heidie” of my local Coylton school was also keen to encourage the singing and recitation of the works of Burns and to that end there was an annual so-called competition where I had my first success.

Today, I am grateful for these introductions to the traditional and popular songs of the day. I will continue to sing at Clubs and Festivals whilst I am still invited.

The selection of tracks in this album include songs which are part of my regular performance repertoire and some which should have been. There is at the end of the day, always a difficult choice and a better song.

Track Notes

1 The Trysting Fair at Falkirk  (Bryan McNeil Words / music )

A rousing song, with a good chorus, which catalogues the changes in fortune over the centuries of the famous Falkirk Agricultural Fair. It was a great draw throughout Scotland, with animals being brought down on the old droving roads to be fattened up on the rich lowland pastures. It was also where “feeing” took place for farm workers seeking new employment.

2 The Gowden Locks o` Anna (Robert Burns)

Burns wrote this poem during an impassioned affair with the niece of the innkeeper of the Globe Tavern in Dumfries. She bore him a daughter, Elizabeth, who was raised within the Burns family. He was much criticised for this liaison, and later added the unrepentant fourth verse.

3 Turn Ye tae Me (C. North / Trad. arranged)

This rather gloomy poem by Christopher North was set to a old gaelic rowing melody, and was a favourite of my father`s when I sang it at home.

4 Lay the Bent tae the Bonny Broom (Trad.)

This is one of the many versions of an old ballad collected throughout the United Kingdom. The devil is disguised as a knight in this case, and poses his “questions three”, which intriguingly seem to become six! Well, you never could trust The Deil.

5 Glassmaker‘s Hand (Colum Sands)

Colum Sands is a popular visitor to my local Folk Club, the Ram in Thames Ditton. I heard him sing this song a couple of years ago, and resolved to learn it. A typically simple story about the mysterious origins of the art of glass-making is made special by Colum‘s poetical skill and fertile imagination.

6 Just a Boy (Alan Reid)

I was much taken by this little sentimental song by Alan Reid, the ex Battlefield Band keyboard player. He has suggested that it was about growing old, but I think that it is probably about the realisation that it is really the women who are in control all along.

7 The Shian Road (Ian McCalman)

This is a poem written by Ian as a tribute to his father, who loved the hills and the glens around the Argyll peninsula. He subsequently created a tune to match the sentiments. I first heard it beautifully sung by Isla St Clair.

8 Strong and Faithful (H. Gilchrist / E. Thomson)

This was written by the duo “Selkie” for a special gathering of the Clan Maclachlan, of which the Gilchrists are a sept. The clan slogan is “Fortis et Fidus”. The Clan lands, which are in Strathlachlan near Strachur, were forfeited after Culloden, but were eventually returned to the Chieftanship, currently held by Ewan Maclachlan of Castle Lachlan, Strathlachlan. Now there‘s a challenge for the non Scots!

9 John Condon (Laird / Starrett / McCrory)

There is still debate concerning the true identity of the soldier whose headstone lies in the Poelkapelle War Cemetery, but this does not detract from the poignancy of this song about the death of a young Irish boy serving in the British army, as many of his fellow countrymen did in the Great War. It has been much recorded, but I felt compelled to include it in this Anniversary year.

10 The Menzies Tree (G. Menzies)

Gordon Menzies, of the popular and long serving duo, “Gaberlunzie”, wrote this song about a travelling shepherd of the Menzies Clan, whose Clan symbol is a Scots Pine tree. The legend states that whilst such a tree remains standing on Rannoch Moor, the future of the Clan is assured.

11 Willie‘s Drooned in Yarrow (Trad.)

I first heard this Border song sung by the MacEwan brothers, Rory and Alex, around 1957. Their important contribution to Scottish Folk song was not always acknowledged by the politically orientated folk song community of the day, due to the brothers‘ perceived privileged background. The song is about a lassie who has been “twined o‘ her marrow” i.e. parted from her lover.

12 Faraway Tom (Dave Goulder)

This song reminds me of a travelling man who used to pay an annual visit to my junior school in Ayrshire. He would tell tales of the countryside to the assembled classes, and also fascinate us with his ability to play tunes with a pencil on his remaining two front teeth. Dave Goulder, who is well known for his “January Man” song and others, was a regular presence on the early Revival folk scene, but moved to the North of Scotland to teach the craft of dry stone walling.

13 Traivellers Joy (H. Fullerton / Trad.)

In this poem, Helen Fullerton tells the story of a travelling lass, who worked in the canteen of the Shira Dam Project, near Inveraray. She was the object of a siteworker‘s affection, but declined his advances, refusing to walk with him up the Shian (fairy) hill. The original tune is traditional, but has been subject to various arrangements, including that of McMorland / McIntyre.

14 Lang Road Hame (H. Gilchrist)

I originally wrote this as a poem, and it was some time before I composed the tune. In this version, an itinerant farm worker expresses his love for his partner throughout the long years of frequent absence. The album title is taken from a verse of the poem, and the cover is a photo of the isle of Arran, in the Firth of Clyde, which was taken by our friend, Eve Mathews, now resident in Sidmouth.

15 Scotland (Sir Alexander Grey / H. Gilchrist)

I came across this poem, written by the Scottish economist, in a book on whisky, given to me by a friend. For some bizarre reason this, along with several other such unrelated poems, was also included. I later discovered that the particular verse which I selected as a chorus is now etched on a wall of the present Scottish Parliament.

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