Music review: The Irish in Scotland: Songs of Robert Tannahill

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: The Irish in Scotland: Songs of Robert Tannahill at Valvona & Crolla (Venue 67), reviewed by Jim Gilchrist

Falling somewhere between lecture and musical entertainment, this intimate and good-humoured performance is drawn from the excellent series of recordings The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill, produced by Fred Freeman, who here discourses on Paisley’s 18th-century weaver-poet and songwriter, while the songs are delivered with feeling by singers John Morran and Wendy Weatherby, multi-instrumentalist Marc Duff and accordionist Sandy Brechin.

Particularly homing in on the bard’s sympathetic attitude – unusual in its time – to the Irish workers then arriving in Scotland, Freeman’s studious commentary and the often spirited performances didn’t always quite gel, as Freeman evoked the often vicious anti-Irish prejudices of the day and the quartet performed songs that took the immigrants’ part, such as Adieu, Cheerful Native Plains and Peggy O’Rafferty.

Apart from Tannahill’s “Irish” repertoire, there was the poignant, poised measure of I’ll Lay Me on the Wintry Lea, the mock-heroic Are Ye Sleeping Maggie? and the romantic pastoral of The Braes of Glennifer. Instrumentally accomplished – although Brechin’s accordion did threaten to drown out Weatherby’s singing in The Grey-Pinioned Lark – this is a warm-hearted tribute to a tragic figure who remains relatively unsung, compared to his near-contemporary Robert Burns.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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