Live Review
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2003
Reid Hall, Edinburgh, 23rd Aug 2003

Celtic Roots, BBC Radio Scotland

It's always enriching, on several levels, to attend a Dick Gaughan concert. Smiling and relaxed tonight, Dick took us on a trip through his back pages in what could be called a triumphal homecoming show; the Reid was practically sold out, it had been a beautiful day and the audience was attentive.

The perennial opener What You Do With What You've Got set a high standard and was followed a few songs in by Brian McNeill's stately Muir & the Master Builder. This was as ever delicate, provocative and to my mind delightfully ambiguous, with Gaughan's performance allowing the song to suggest all its possibilities; it increases in stature with each year it's in the set.

Now Westlin Winds closed the first half, Gaughan a force majeure, eyes shut, off in a trance, channelling Burns; No Gods & Precious Few Heroes (another McNeill song) remains a key tune in the repertoire, McNeill's multi-layered critique of Scottish nationalism continuing to spur Gaughan to a white hot performance level, like a one man Sex Pistols.

Introducing Both Sides the Tweed, Dick self-effacingly opines "If I've done anything of service to the cause of Scottish folk music, it was rescuing this song from obscurity." He then shares with us the progress of his own relationship with the song, from when he found it abandoned in a library in the late seventies to his current understanding of it as a celebration of human diversity. Not bad for a folk gig!

"I have had an absolute ball tonight," he says at the song's close, bidding us goodnight, then nips back for an encore ("no way am I going to be coy") of Hamish Henderson's The Freedom Come-All-Ye.

Some people find Dick's between song tuning and often lengthy introductions a turn-off; but boy, have they got it wrong. The between song riffing is more akin to musical improvisation accompanying what is being said in the way gestures accompany words. The lengthy introductions are always illuminating and informative, as far away from patter as you can imagine. A live album of the 21st century Gaughan would be a marvellous testament.

If there are really "no gods and precious few heroes," then let us celebrate Gaughan as one of these precious heroes and a national treasure.


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