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Rionnagan Reggae

“From another island, from another time”… I’ve enjoyed putting together a wee Gaelic “series” for our nascent community radio station here in Uist, featuring favourite tracks out of Kingston, Jamaica, from the sixties and seventies. I’ve nicked a short extract here to put on SoundCloud – just as a wee taster.

It features Clancy Eccles with “Fattie Fattie”. Other tracks in the series are “Red, Red Wine” (Tony Tribe), “Monkey Man” (Toots and the Maytals), “Sweet Sensation” (The Melodians), and “Johnny Too Bad” (The Slickers). Younger readers may remember the UB40 covers of some of these, if not the originals…

It’s a bit of a trip down memory lane for me – mixed memories to be honest. The music was great, in starkly disciplined and danceable contrast to the self-indulgent and seemingly stoned “oeuvres” of the likes of Jefferson Airplane or The Grateful Dead, the preferred listening of many of my would-be hippy schoolmates. But like them I wore the “grammar school uniform” of the times (shoulder-length hair and a greatcoat) – and so was an obvious target for the other new counter-culture, the “hippy-bashing” skinheads. I remember a few high-tension stand-offs on the meaner streets of outwardly douce Didcot and Wallingford…

How incongruous looking back, when the skinhead image is now so firmly established as a badge of identity for many violent and white-supremacist groupings across Europe and North America, to clock that the founding members took their musical inspiration from Kingston, Jamaica…

The soundcloud clip offers a short taste of the featured song. Here’s a YouTube recording of the full track. Check it out…

And you can listen to An Radio here. (Click on An Radio Player.)

Bi Beò goes to Bath

“Bi Beò goes to Bollywood” is the line I’d been wanting to write, given my parallel predilection for 60s and 70s Hindi film music (alongside my previously trailed liking for Jamaican sounds of the same period). But that’s one step further into fantasy that will not now be taken. Followers of the Island Voices blog may have already noticed news of the band’s relocation on the same page of Am Pàipear as coverage of project progress and plans for next year.  So my personal association with the band now comes to a close, but it’s been a true pleasure and I wish the balaich all the best. Bithibh beò gu bràth!

Musical Appendix

Bi Beò: But where's the drummer boy? Uilleim, cà' bheil thu?

All the excitement over phonecasting and what it can mean for language learning has left musical interests a little in the shade.

But here’s the thing. You don’t have to use a phone. In time-honoured fashion you can also upload traditional MP3s…

So – purely in the interests of balance of course – here are a couple of Bi Beò samples to flesh out my earlier post on “Gaelic reggae”.

“Sgath Sgitheanach” (a’ moladh ar nàbaidhean…)

“Sùilean dubh nan eilean” (an guth binn aig Seumas a-mach air a’ chuspair as fheàrr leis.)

Bi Beò and Gaelic Reggae: New Island Record

Yes! A lifetime ambition finally achieved – I get to play in (and compose for) a reggae band. Well, rock’n’roll’n’reggae band, but it’s the third R that’s my personal favourite. I filmed James MacLetchie and Kevin de Las Casas as a songwriting partnership for the first series of Guthan nan Eilean/Island Voices. They seemed to be having a lot of fun, so I was later pleased to join in when the chance arose for a broader collaboration with the band’s new album “Ma Sgaoil”.

Anna-Wendy Stevenson has been generous in her appreciation in the local paper. The material is all Gaelic – 12 original tracks plus a dub version – but not exactly traditional. It’s mostly lighthearted foot-tapping stuff, with James’s lyrics bordering on the bawdy from time to time. The sound, recorded and mixed in Kevin’s outhouse studio in Hougharry on North Uist, has a certain insular “rawness”. It would be nice to think it captures an island essence, but only time will tell if the Bi Beò name will one day carry the same resonance as, say, the Melodians, the Slickers, or maybe the Upsetters. There’s a way to go yet…

Eyebrows may be raised at the notion of any kind of reggae rhythm against a Gaelic song. For me it was a question of musicality in the “unleashed” spirit of the album. I had a couple of tunes that would have been fine melodically and harmonically as traditional ballad numbers. “Sgath Sgitheanach” actually started life as the slow air “Catherine Eunson’s Return to Benbecula (after a Business Meeting in Stornoway)”, but adding a chorus and whacking it up to a more Ska-like tempo injected some extra energy into what became a party song. James’s soulful lyric for “Sùilean dubh nan eilean” required a strong melody again but with a rather gentler treatment, so there’s perhaps more of a Lover’s Rock feel to that number, even if it’s still on the brash side.

Anyway, one or two tracks from the album are on the very busy myspace site that James maintains. It’s been a hoot to get involved in creating some real mongrel music. As far as the Gaelic tradition goes this is definitely on the irreverent side, and very possibly irrelevant also. It’s certainly hard to see how it would score on any musical “indigeneity index” were such a thing to exist, though James’s lyrics are plainly “of the earth”. The simple fact is that there are plenty of excellent musicians producing material in a traditional style, or close to it, that this band could never hope to emulate. This is “something completely different”, though not necessarily frivolous, as Kevin’s opening “Ruith leis a’ ghaoith” demonstrates. The exile theme of this song is both universal and particular, and imbued with a real depth of emotion evoked in inimitable style by his singular guitar playing. And the whole is topped off by a nicely moody dub version of the same track to close – and bring us back full circle.

Far be it from me to invoke higher powers – but the linguist in me notes there’s no great articulatory distance between “Dia” and “Jah”. Is this Hebridean-Caribbean fusion a marriage made in heaven?

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