Glasgow Letter – 30.5.19

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I mentioned in last week’s column that I would be reviewing some newly released albums with connections to Glasgow over the coming weeks.

At this time of year, there is never as much live Highland music in the city as so many of the diaspora head back up north for a large part of the summer, so it’s great to have some fantastic new albums to listen to.

A Review of Mary Ann Kennedy’s Glaschu

The album I wish to review this week, and possibly the most appropriate for the Glasgow Letter, is Mary Ann Kennedy’s Glaschu – a whole album dedicated to the city of her birth and charmingly subtitled, ‘home town love song’.

Mary Ann writes on the back cover: ‘You can take the girl out of Glasgow, but never Glasgow out of the girl, and in the spirit of Gaels’ eternal need to sing about home, this is my Gaelic love-song for the city in all its guises – the voices of arrivals in search of a new life and of those, like me, born and bred there with Gaelic as our first language.’

This sums up the album which really does explore ‘all its guises’: from the upbeat celebration of the annual New Year shinty game at Queen’s Park between Glasgow Gaels and their Greenock compatriots – through a vivid match report by Màiri Mhòr nan Òran – to the quiet, descriptive scene of Sauchiehall Street, Friday morning, written by Derick Thomson and read in both Gaelic and English by Bill Paterson.

There are even moments of great comedy as offered by the well known and much loved macaronic song, When I came to Glasgow first, which tells the tale of a Gael getting into a bit of trouble in Glasgow only to be let off the hook by a policeman from Portree – something which perhaps was not uncommon during the mid 20th-century Highland arrival in the city when Gaelic speakers were in abundance in the Glasgow force.

One particularly interesting song, showing a less savoury side of the history of the city, is Margadh an t-Salainn (The Saltmarket), which is an account by John MacFadyen, published in 1890, of a tribal clash between immigrant Irish families. In her notes on this song, Mary Ann writes: ‘I swithered about recording this, but it’s important to know that it was not always the “Gaels le chèile” (Gaels together) camaraderie of today’s Glasgow Gaelic communities.’

I, for one, am very glad she included the song – not only because she sings it incredibly well and is accompanied by wonderfully intriguing jazz guitar chords by the brilliant Finlay Wells from Oban – but because it is one of the songs that really enhances this wide-ranging and full account of the city of Glasgow through the eyes and voice of a Gael brought up in the city.

I was delighted when Mary Ann asked me to sing backing vocals on this album and it is lovely to hear the final product. I think, as well as being an enjoyable album, it is a very valuable personal account (as well as a deeply honest, historical one) of the city Mary Ann clearly loves so much.


caption: This week, Robert reviews Mary Ann Kennedy’s latest album, Glaschu – home town love song.