The music coming out of Scotland is as wide and varied as anywhere in the world today. For not only is Scotland truly steeped in its own tradition, but also it is home to some of the finest singer-songwriters on this planet. The variation and quality is almost scary. Whistleberry is a fairly new record label, and organized as a songwriters’ co-operative label based in Scotland.
This is the 6th album from Robin Laing, consisting entirely of his original songs. Robin, who is also a fine traditional singer, has, over the past 10 years, also established himself as one of Scotland’s foremost contemporary singer-songwriters. He draws a lot of his influences from everyday life, tales and stories, and some encountered by life on the road. This album really carries on from where the previous album Imaginary Lines left off, as it stays with soft ballads, slightly Americana, with a hint of soft rock rhythms. Again, he has enlisted some guest musicians to provide the extra backings. They are: David Scott on electric guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals, Jim Gash on drums, Derek Star on percussion, Brian Gibb on side drum, with Ursular Laing on backing vocals. Once again Robin has come up with some nice songs and the album flows nicely. It starts with ‘There’s a New Life Round the Corner,’ a song about thoughts in your head when driving a long way, maybe to start a new life elsewhere; another about being born in springtime, another about a laughing boy. These sharply contrast with others about the Bloofer Lady (as found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula), The Lotus Eaters, the appeal of Scottish islands, and even a song in praise of black coffee.
However, two songs on the album stood out for me. The first is a song called ‘Jamie Penman.’ It says in the liner notes, “this is a true story that really needs a novel — but a song will do in the meantime.” It’s about the Scottish covenanters who were caught and sentenced to be deported to Jamaica as plantation slaves. They were treated cruelly by the ship’s captain, locked in the ship’s hold for 2 weeks with neither food nor water. Then, in a storm, the ship ran aground on some rocks off Orkney. The captain and crew abandoned ship, leaving the prisoners locked in the hold to drown. Fortunately, as the ship floundered, the sea burst open the hatch to the hold, and some of them escaped and swam ashore.
The other song worthy of an extra mention is called ‘Donald Cameron V.C.’ It is about the sinking of the Terpitz, the German battle ship, by specially trained submariners on special midget submarines in a Norwegian Fjord in W.W II. Donald Cameron was one of the submariners who survived the mission only to spend the rest of the war in a POW camp. He was awarded the V.C for his bravery whilst in the camp, and even the Germans shook his hand to congratulate him.
You really must get this album, if only to hear these two songs; they’re superb.