A Production of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors


CD Reviews: “Roots & Wings,”
(dba The Digital Folk Life. Org)

The Occasionals, "Reel of Four" (Greentrax Records),

Awright, back up oan the flerr fur the auld-time music!

It’s The Occasionals third or sixth CD, depending on whether you count the Greentrax samplers on which they’ve appeared with other ceilidh bands, and this time they’re providing music for a ceilidh or a class, not a recording of a live concert or dance, but in the role of “the record for the night,” fifteen dances for the instructor, if that’s what’s involved, to use in as many ways and as often as he or she would like, this time around without their own caller (Mairi Cameron), leaving that up to the foresaid instructor or helper. What could be simpler, or more fun?

Once more, Gus Miller provides the necessary strict-tempo percussion, on his favorite wee snare drum and Ziildjan hi-hat cymbal, with Freeland Barbour’s accordion and Ian Hardie’s fiddle, and Kevin MacLeod’s tenor banjo in the background, more or less. It’s a unified, crisp band, four professionals who’ve been together more than a dozen years, the core group of Occasionals without their “occasional” Occasionals and old friends, additional fiddlers such as Mairi Campbell and Alison Hiley, and without the services of master-piper Duncan MacGillivray or additional accordionist Robert Duncan. This is, as Eugene O’Donnell would have said, music for dancing, strict tempo, with the band completely understanding their function as accompanists for dance instruction or as music just for a happy ceilidh, without competition for the dancers’ attention in the way that a record with a live caller or a live audience would have provided. Let the dancers in the hall whoop and “hooch aye!” it up to their hearts’ content, or let the instructor hit the pause button as necessary to go back over that practice step. It’s fine by these professional musicians, and they’re happy to provide the well-understood basic service.

The fifteen sets run from “The Thomson Boys,” for the opening dance, the “Britannia Two-Step, and go on to “Botany Bay,” for a “Pride of Erin Waltz/Waltz of the Bells” medley, and then to a “Loch Maree Islands” set to accompany a “Military Two-Step/Anniversary Two-Step,” followed up by “Bobby Campbell” for a “Gay Gordons/Call of the Pipes.” Then it’s “Jock Mackay” for the “St Bernard’s Waltz/La Rosa” dance, followed by “Maids of Kintail” for “Bonnie Dundee/Eva Three-Step,” and “Stirlingshire Militia” for “Canadian /Barn Dance,” and “Flowers of Edinburgh” for – well, what do you think? – “Flowers of Edinburgh” – and on and on, old favorites all of them, with highly informative notes on the CD booklet if you get puffed oot. For the complete listing, and the CD itself, you can go right over to The Occasionals’ website, at the URL provided on the CD, if you’re interested in booking the band for a local ceilidh, or visit their record company, Greentrax Records, in Edinburgh, or thro their website, for other fine Scottish music. You can tell them wee Johnny McLaughlin sent you, if you’d like.

(Copyright John McLaughlin, 3/28/2004)