Album of The Week – ‘Live From Harvard’ The Clutha 17th Aug 2019
‘From Harvard is taken from a long-lost recording, unearthed from a dusty cupboard, of The Clutha on a two-week USA tour in 1981, and the 17 tracks capture the five musicians at the height of their powers. The Clutha was one of the great bands who pioneered the Scottish revival, and this album is released following the sad news that stellar-voiced Gordeanna McCulloch passed away in March this year at the age of 73. Many regarded her as being the greatest of all traditional singers; the recording shows her wonderful, youthful voice delivering effortless performances, rich with the respect and love for the tradition and fuelled with the gallusness of the Glasgow lassie.
The birth of The Clutha was conceived in 1964, when three young librarians at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow shared an interest in Scottish traditional music. Erlend Voy, John Eaglesham and Don Martin got together with former colleague Ronnie Alexander to form The Clutha Folk Group. Two new members were recruited to fill in the guitar, fiddle and concertina sound; fiddler Callum Allan and an astonishingly talented young singer, Gordeanna McCulloch. Soon the expanded group was performing at Scottish folk clubs and festivals, with occasional forays south of the border; one of these was a trip to London’s Cecil Sharp House to take part in a radio programme. The Clutha became famous for its sparkling approach to the Scottish tradition; nevertheless, the members continued to hold down day jobs, often arriving home in the wee small hours to catch very little sleep, steeling themselves to be up for work at 9am.
In 1981, The Clutha was invited to go to the USA to perform at The South Eastern Massachusetts University’s Eisteddfod of traditional music. The committee wished to present the Eisteddfod’s brainchild, eminent folklorist Professor Howard Glasser, with a surprise guest group, and The Clutha fitted the bill. Professor Glasser was aware of the band’s existence for their important position in the Scottish revival. A tour was arranged from September 24 to October 9, and The Folksong Society of Greater Boston invited the members to perform at Harvard University’s Lowell House.
All 13 tracks were recorded live at Harvard University; the other four tracks were taken at The Granite Theatre in Westerly, Rhode Island, before the end of the tour. The 1981 line-up consisted of Ronnie Alexander (guitar, vocals), Callum Allan (fiddle), new member Tom Johnstone (pipes, small pipes), Gordeanna McCulloch (vocals) and Erlend Voy (fiddle, concertina, vocals). Live From Harvard, expertly digitised and engineered , is a brilliant portrait of the band’s exciting commitment in shaping the music of Scotland; Ronnie stokes up the atmosphere by taking the lead on the first song, ‘Jock Hawk’s Adventures In Glasgow’, and Gordeanna blazes away with her rendering of ‘The Spinner’s Waddin’’. Tom delights and amazes the audience with the pipe tunes ‘The Saffron Kilt’, ‘Duncan Johnstone’ ‘Train Journey North’ and ‘Turf Lodge’, and everybody pokes fun at ‘The Deerness Ram’, a ubiquitous Scottish whopper that seems to be doing the rounds in the UK and the Appalachian Mountains in America; it even had a local Mumbles version in South Wales!
The band spins an exhilarating stage show with a fascinating gamut of songs and pipe reels, airs and jigs; the lovely ‘Tramps And Hawkers’, Hamish Henderson’s ‘The 51st Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily’ and ‘Twa Recruiting Sergeants’. However, Gordeanna tops the lot with ‘Peer Rovin’ Lassie’ – a satifying conclusion to end their appearance. This album is a fitting salutation to the passing of two members; Ronnie died in March, 2017, preceding Gordeanna’s death this year. The sleeve notes pay this this tribute: “Two wonderful performers, forever remembered through song.” The Clutha – laugh, cry, dance and sing…’
- Band Introductions
- Jock Hawk’s Adventures In Glasgow
- The Spinner’s Waddin’
- Farewell Tae Tarwathie
- High Jeanie High
- Pipe Selection: The Saffron Kilt / Duncan Johnstone / Train Journey North / Turf Lodge
- The Deerness Ram
- My Apron
- The Forrester
- The Cruel Mither
- Tramps And Hawkers
- The 51st Highland Division’s Farewell To Sicily
- Pipe Selection: Glasgow Highland Club / Kesh Jig / Rocking The Baby / Walking The Floor / Banjo Breakdown
- Tam Bowie (advisory content)
- Instrumental: Crossing The Mitch / Jig Of Slurs
- Twa Recruiting Sergeants
- Peer Rovin’ Lassie.