Various Artists: Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree

Alan Lomax in Scotland.

The singers throughout the album, in universal folk song tradition, take on the voices of the poor and the pressured, which are the voices of themselves.

Various Artists

Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree

Label: Drag City World
US Release Date: 2011-11-08
UK Release Date: 2011-11-08

"[M]y own feeling is that Alan is, in his way, a man of genius," said Hamish Henderson, singer, communist, folklorist, co-founder of the school of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, a man who was born in 1919 and died in 2002, and a chief supporter of Alan Lomax during his field recording excursions to Scotland in the mid-1900s.

Henderson was also in possession of a clear and rhythmic singing voice, as you can hear on the album, where he performs "The John MacLean March". MacLean was a revolutionary and pacifist and "The March" is one of several songs here that kick against the situation of Scotland -- defeated by England, working through the industrial revolution, caught up in British wars. "The Big Kilmarnock Bonnet" warns young farmhands not to try their luck in the big city, otherwise they'll end up robbed, soaked, and in gaol. "McCafferty", which was originally an Irish song, sympathizes with a soldier who shot two of his superiors and was sentenced to hang.

The singers throughout the album, in universal folk song tradition, take on the voices of the poor and the pressured, which are the voices of themselves, informal performers, singers-to-the-neighbourhood. A poacher is executed in "Johnny O' Braidislee", and it's the poacher we follow, not the foresters who shoot him. He gets up in the morning, he fetches his dogs, he goes out, kills deer, eats, and is betrayed. Trapped, he fires back and rides away defiantly. All in an economical storytelling style, all information packed into nuggets of four lines each, with an extra one on the last verse to emphasise his death.

Now Johnny's good benbow is broke

And his twa grey hounds are slain

His body lies in Monymusk

And his huntin days are daen, daen

And his huntin days are daen

Lomax visited Scotland in 1951, lifting microphones, interviewing the singers, and swiftly recording around 250 songs in the cities and the countryside. "He brought to the task a ruthless readiness to do things with his own two hands that most orthodox folklorists would not have handled with two thicknesses of kid gloves," declared Henderson, defending him against local experts who complained that they hadn't been consulted, that they had been disregarded, and that the American wanted the glory of the recordings for himself. Several albums came out of this trip, and Whaer the Pig is a selection of tracks from several of them, put together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Lomax's trip.

There are a few fiddling tracks but mostly we hear voices. A woman, Mary Cosgrove, sings "The Collier Lad" with a voice that finds each syllable as it comes to it, not throwing the weight of the line forward to the end, not seeming to anticipate the sound and form a bridge from one word to the next, as singers are trained to do when they train formally, but lurching down at the end of one word and plunging up at the start of the next. A man named Jimmy McBeath sings "Hey Barra Gadgie" in Cant, a structured mass of borrowings from Gaelic and Romany. "Gadgie" can be connected back to the Romany gadjo. A group of children from a school in Aberdeen sing a playground chant in rocking breathless voices.

My mother and your mother were hanging out some clothes. My mother gave your mother a dunt on the nose. What. Colour. Was. Her. Blood?

Field recordings of children are always interesting. One of my favourites is the children on Saydisc's Spirit of Polynesia singing about a snake. If the children from Polynesia met the children from Aberdeen they could fit their singsong rhythms together almost without pausing.

Some of the tracks on Pig are comedies, some are tragedies, some are records of lost love. The recordings, copies of which were donated to Henderson's School, were one element in the mid-century British folk revival. The larger society suspected that industrialisation had crushed folk singing to the ground but here it was, here was proof of it, here it was recorded with the same microphone and heard out of the same speakers that industrialisation had brought about. But the days of tramping farmhands like Macbeath, they were indeed dying, and here was their tomb.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.