album cover Handful of Earth (1981)

[Topic 12TS419]

Engineer Robin Morton
Producer Dick Gaughan

Artist : Dick Gaughan

Dick Gaughan : Vocal, Guitars
Brian McNeill : Fiddle, acoustic bass
Stuart Isbister : Bass
Phil Cunningham : Keyboard, Whistle

Track Notes

songtext Erin Go Bragh (Trad. arr. Gaughan)

I always credit this to Davie Stewart ('The Galoot') but the truth is I'm not absolutely 100% certain if he's who I learned it from. It is likely that it was a combination of him and a few others. It deals with the anti-Irish and anti-Highlander prejudices found in Lowland Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tune is one of the most common Irish tunes and is used for many songs, including Master McGrath. The guitar was tuned DADGAD, capo at the 5th fret.

songtext Now Westlin Winds (Trad. arr. Gaughan)

I learned this, and many others songs including Bonnie Woodha, from Geordie Hamilton, an ex-miner from Kirkintilloch who worked with the Post Office in Edinburgh. He used to frequent the Forrest Hill Bar (always known as Sandy Bell's) and was responsible for encouraging and assisting many a young singer. But it was very difficult learning a complete song from him as he had a habit of starting one, singing a verse or two, then saying, "You don't really want to hear that" and launching into something else. The wonderful Ulster singer, Len Graham, sings this to a similar tune. Due to its closeness to the south-west of Scotland, Burns' songs and poetry are very popular in Ulster. The guitar was again tuned DADGAD, capo at the 2nd fret.

songtext Craigie Hill (Trad. arr. Gaughan)

And speaking of Ulster and Ulster singers, I learned this from a recording of the great Paddy Tunney. So many Irish songs of emigration speak in glowing terms of great success and joy in the promised land of America. This one is much more like the Scots emigrant songs in that it is concerned solely with the reasons for the forced migration and the heartbreak of leaving. It used to be common to hold wakes for those leaving as, to those left behind, it was exactly as if they had died. If I remember correctly, I tuned the guitar to CGCGCD but I can't swear to it as I haven't sung it in many years.

The World Turned Upside Down (Leon Rosselson)

So much has been written in recent years about this period of English history that there's not much I could add here. The English Civil War, which was in fact simply a Bourgeois Revolution, left many of its early supporters feeling cheated and betrayed. The Diggers were Christian, pacifist and could be described as primitive communists. The conclusion of the song, in my interpretation, is that, as they were not prepared to defend themselves, they were annihilated. The evidence of history is that revolutions are usually peaceful - but the resulting counter-revolution is usually extremely bloody and ruthless. Anyone who believes that any ruling class will give up power without extreme resistance is living in a different dimension. The guitar tuning used here was DADDAE with a capo at the 2nd fret.

songtext The Snows They Melt The Soonest (Trad. arr. Gaughan)

As I have said elsewhere, on many occasions, there is much more to the lives of ordinary working people than the struggle to survive. The view put forward by, for example, George Orwell in his insulting portrayal of the working class in The Road to Wigan Pier, I find grossly offensive and dehumanising. I come from an area and the class like the one Orwell wrote of and while I can understand how our poverty might have looked to the guilty conscience of a former pupil of Eton, he totally missed the point and might as well have been visiting Mars. He was incapable of seeing beyond superficial appearances and appreciating that we are human beings who experience the full range of human life and emotion. Yes, we sing of struggle and hardship - but we also sing of love and beauty, joy and delight. Guitar again in DADGAD. I can't remember offhand what key it was in but live I place a capo at the 5th fret.

songtext Lough Erne (Trad. arr. Gaughan) / First Kiss At Parting (Dick Gaughan)

I learned Lough Erne, also known as The Rambling Irishman, from Cathal McConnell. More typical of the Irish emigrant songs than Craigie Hill in its gentle, almost cheerful, expectation of a better life in the new land. The guitar was in DADGAD and the wee tune which follows it takes its title from a poem by Burns.

Scojun Waltz (Dick Gaughan) / Randers Hopsa (Trad. arr. Gaughan)

The first of these was written one morning sitting in Andy Irvine's kitchen in Dublin while we were working (in theory - most of the time we spent talking!) on the songs for Parallel Lines. I had woken really early and was waiting for him to get up and started messing around on the guitar as one does. Something about it felt vaguely Cajun but it was also obviously Scottish, hence the lousy pun in the name. The second is a kind of Danish dance called a 'hopsa' and I learned it from the band McEwan's Export when I produced their album in 1979. The main melody guitar was in DADGAD with the harmony guitar tuned DGDDAE

songtext Song For Ireland (Phil & June Colclough)

I first heard this sung by Sean Cannon and asked him about it. I was quite surprised to learn it had been written by Phil and June, who I had known for years. They'd been with the Critics Group, the group based around MacColl and Seeger at the Singers' Club in London. I don't think it could have been written by anyone Scots or Irish as it is not an inside view but there is something about it which appeals to us, with its echoes of Yeats. The guitar tuning used was DADGAD.

songtext Workers' Song (Ed Pickford)

This was written by Ed Pickford and is pretty much self-explanatory. The guitar was tuned DGDDAE

songtext Both Sides The Tweed (Words: Trad with additional words by Gaughan / Music: Gaughan)

In March 1979, Scotland and Wales had referenda on the question of devolved 'Home Rule' parliaments. At the last minute, they fell victim to an act of opportunistic treachery by some Labour Members of Parliament from the North East of England who succeeded in forcing through an amendment which meant that a simple majority vote, as is the case for every other election in the UK, would not suffice and that it would be necessary to achieve, not just a majority of votes cast, but at least 40% of all eligible votes. To put this in perspective, had this been applied in General Elections, no Governement in the UK in the 60s, 70s or 80s would have been elected. It meant that an abstention would, in effect, be a vote against. Scotland was split down the middle with the Nationalists opposing, the Conservatives (naturally) opposing, the Liberals supporting and the Labour Party in tatters with some campaigning for and some campaigning against. The result in Scotland was a majority of votes cast but it just failed to reach the required 40%. In principle I had no objection to the 40% requirement but, in practise, it was a piece of sabotage as it was a complete departure from the principle of majority vote upon which all UK legislation is based.

This, and the chaos within the Labour party, whose government was responsible for the referendum in the first place, meant a guarantee of failure. It made James Callaghan's Labour Government look amateurish and incompetent and played a significant part in their defeat in the General Election 2 months later and the election of Thatcher's Government.

When the result was announced, I was in the Phoenix Bar in Cork in Ireland (a bit like 'where were you when you heard that Kennedy had been shot?') and found myself on the receiving end of merciless scorn from the rather left-wing republican clientele there, absolutely incapable of defending the indefensible.

The text of this song is a reworking of a song from 1707 about the Treaty of Union to which I added the tune.

Historical Footnote

Recorded at Robin Morton's Temple Studios near Edinburgh.

celtic knotwork

This was the first album I had recorded in Scotland. For some reason, it seemed to strike a chord with people and it is the most succesful recording I have made in terms of acclaim and sales.

It was Melody Maker's Album of the Year in 1981 and in 1989 it was voted in the Critics' Poll, and more important to me, the Readers' Poll, in Folk Roots as Album of the Decade. I have had hundreds of reviews, good and bad, and I pay little attention to them. But when the actual people you're playing to confer an honour like that upon you, you shed the odd tear of thanks that you've been privileged to be able to do something which means something to them.

Why they voted it such was a complete mystery to me then and still is today. As a friend of mine says, "Never ask one of the actors what they thought of the play".

celtic knotwork

After leaving Five Hand Reel at the end of 78 my life appeared to disintegrate. I had had bouts of depression and mental illness on and off for several years and ended up having a total breakdown in 79 - the years of excessive consumption of alcohol etc and unhealthy living, which at that time were all an inevitable part of life on the road, had finally caught up. I spent the next 2 years trying to get some solo gigs again but for most of these 2 years I did very little but work on getting back to health, apart from the odd short tour in Europe, including the making of the Folk Friends 2 album.

I was still under contract to make another album for Topic and by spring of 1980 finally felt well enough to tackle it.

celtic knotwork

A bit of background to the making of this album.

Just before my breakdown, May 79, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher had won the General Election with a majority in England but a minority in Scotland and Wales and we were saddled with the most extreme Rightwing Government of my lifetime. We had just had the Devolution Referendum debacle and people in Scotland, particularly on the Left, were reeling under the economic consequences of the Thatcher strategy for solving inflation by crashing the economy and creating mass unemployment.

What seemed to be required was to openly stand up and be counted. Although all my solo albums prior to this had included songs which reflected my political ideas, they had been more as chronicler than as protagonist. It was quite clearly time to stop reporting and start participating.

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