Daisy Chapman

Ythanside

Musical Traditions MTCD308

Surprising, Surprising!

We decided to review this album together since we both feel some sense of connection with Daisy Chapman.  I received copies from the late Peter Hall of some of his field recordings of Daisy way back in the 1960s (more of these specific recordings later).  In Alison's case, the main link was through Daisy's friendship with the late Willy Scott - the singing shepherd from the Scottish border - who, coincidentally, was also 'discovered by the folk song revival late in life'.

Daisy Chapman was born into a farming community in rural Aberdeenshire, the Buchan area.  This is an area rich in folksong and has produced many fine source singers - Daisy Chapman is no exception.  Cover pictureShe learned her songs at her grandmother's and mother's knee; music making was an integral part of her early life.  She never recorded commercially and, indeed, did not sing in public until her early fifties.  In terms of the folk song revival, she was 'discovered' by Peter Hall (singer and collector) who introduced her to the world of clubs and festivals.

The twenty three tracks on this album have been trawled from an eminent group of collectors/singers whose vision, commitment, enthusiasm and knowledge deserve praise; Peter Hall, Hamish Henderson, Arthur Argo, Peter Shepheard, Rod and Danny Stradling, Peter Cooke and finally, from a family video.  These taped 'field recordings' have been digitally remastered and are of exceptionally good technical quality.  They were made between 1965 and 1970 when daisy was most active and before health problems became significant - she never sang in public after 1976.  Nevertheless, this album is a more than ample testament to her quality as a traditional singer.

This CD has been a delight to review; variety in content - from the poignant to the comic - as well as notable variety of style.  The songs from the Peter Hall archive were recorded in Daisy's home in Aberdeen.  They are haunting in their intimacy - the sense of the singer both literally and artistically 'across the table' comes over very well - they were, for us, a moving experience.  play Sound ClipWe liked all these 'home' recordings, but must make special mention of her Jolly Ploughboy, Poor and Single Sailor, Banks of Allen Water, Bleacher Lassie o' Kelvinhaugh (sound clip) ...  We are in danger of simply listing all the songs - but these Hall items are lyric gems for us.

Mentioning 'jewels' - Ythanside is a real cracker.  play Sound ClipDaisy, now with her 'public' voice, delivers this with characteristic vigour and infectious enthusiasm, recorded at the 1968 Aberdeen Folk festival.  Peter Shepheard, the recordist, has good reason to be pleased with it - as was the audience! (sound clip)

There are many other examples of good songs, well sung before live audiences: Mormond Braes (another Shepheard 'capture'), or the spirited Aikey Brae recorded by Rod Stradling in 1970 at the King's Head folk club in London.  Daisy sings with confidence and authority - a 'natural' who, whether singing at home or in public, immediately engages the listener.

play Sound ClipA personal note - it was also from this occasion (via Peta Webb) that I first knew of Daisy's singing of The Nobleman's Wedding, or Surprising, Surprising as we called it (sound clip).  Inspired to learn it and to meet Daisy, it wasn't until Willy Scott expressed a particular wish to see her in Aberdeen that I accompanied him to visit her.  She had suffered a heart attack, followed by a heart bypass operation.  At this meeting Willy was greatly affected by the change in her.  He tried to cheer her up, calling her 'lass' and recalling some of the enjoyable singing occasions they had shared at various festivals, but he came away silent and saddened.  (Later, when compiling with him a book of his songs, I discovered how many songs he had learned from her).  So, in reviewing this CD there was for us both, on different levels, a particular poignancy at hearing the last track, taken from a home video of 1987.  Daisy sings two verses of The Dying Ploughboy.  What a moment!  This album really is free-standing - it sings for itself ...!  [But something wi ma heart gaed wrang, a vessel burst and blood oot sprang.  The Ploughboy had also just had a heart attack ... as has Geordie - Ed.]

Moreover - and we cannot emphasise this too strongly - the CD is accompanied by a superb booklet which:

Indeed, the booklet is a model of its type; erudite, lucid, and highly informative - and Pete Shepheard deserves a particular accolade for his substantial contributions to the content.  Indeed, on listening and re-listening to this album and consulting the invaluable accompanying booklet, it really is 'bouquets' all-round to the dedicated team involved in producing this quite unique record.  Not least, all lovers of good traditional song owe a debt of gratitude to Musical Traditions Records, who have clearly engaged in a labour of love to provide such a valuable addition to the already large body of song from this corner of Scotland.

Finally, the CD is both a fitting memorial to a fine singer as well as a celebration of good songs and the enduring spirit which keeps them alive.  We commend it unreservedly.

Geordie McIntyre and Alison McMorland - 31.8.00

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