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Ballads and Folksongs with guitar

The McEwen brothers, from a famous musical Scottish Border family, started singing Scots Border Ballads and arrangements of Burns poems at home as children and then, as teenagers in the 1950s, inspired by Lonnie Johnsion, Big Bill Broonzie, Josh White and Burl Ives took their guitars and busked across Europe and the States. On their return Peter recorded them and in 1958 provided an LP for HMV called "Folksong Jubilee". In the early 1960s Rory and Alex became well-known on TV when, alternating with Robin and Jimmy and Cy Grant, the brothers, each evening, provided freshly penned topical songs and calypsos for the BBC "Tonight" programmes. While Alex continued to manage the family farm in Berwickshire, Rory, an artist whose book illustrations of seals for "Ring of Bright Water" earned him international acclaim, continued folksinging and helped Peter organise the first National Folk Festival at Keele.

1. TAE THE BEGGING I WILL GO - Rory with Alex and Isla Cameron in chorus - 1'48"

2. THE WEE COOPER O' FIFE - Rory & Alex (talk before) - 1'39"

3. JOHNSON (The Three Butchers) - Rory with 12 string guitar - 2'48"


5. HA-HA THIS A-WAY (coll. Lomax) - Rory with chorus - 1'36"

6. POLWARTH ON THE GREEN - Rory & Alex (talk before) - 3'06

7. THE BONNY EARL O' MORAY - Rory & Alex - 2'57"

8. MORMOND BRAES - Rory with Alex & Isla in chorus - 1'30"


10. DUPREE - Rory - 3'16"

11. I LOVED A LASS, A FAIR ONE (Trad words & tune by Alex) - Rory & Alex (with talk before by Alex) - 2'38"

12. THE BONNY LASS O' FYVIE-O - Rory - 3'36"

13. OLD DADDY FOX - Rory & Alex - 1'47"

14. AINT IT A SHAME? ("Leadbelly"/ Lomax) - Rory & Alex - 2'07"

15. SUR LES MARCHES DU PALAIS - Rory & Alex (talk before by Alex) - 3'41"

16. THE BARNYARDS OF DELGATY - Rory & Alex - 2'22"

17. DOWN BY THE SALLY GARDENS (tune by Rory) - Rory & Alex - 1'48"

18. JOHNNY COPE - Rory with 12 string guitar - 3'00"

19. THE EDDYSTONE LIGHT - Rory & Alex - 0'59"

20. LA BERCEUSE BASQUE (LULLABY) - Rory & Alex - 1'32"

21. PAY ME MY MONEY DOWN - Rory & Alex - 1'56"

22. JOHNNY LAD - Rory with Alex and Isla in chorus - 2'31"

Recorded by Peter Kennedy, London 1955 & 1956

In 1958 Rory wrote about the mid-50s, before the arrival of skiffle and the consequent mass-production of acoustic guitars: In 1955, when the photograph was taken, you could walk through London's Soho by day or night, and not see a single guitar, nor hear a single note of folk music. Now the guitar has become a symbol as familiar as a loaf of bread, and songs created in America's Southern States by Negro folk musicians are whistled on every street corner. But folk music is very tricky and elusive; preserve it and you kill it; popularise it and you still kill it.

In its natural form, whether it is a blues on a street corner in Memphis, or a bothy ballad on a farm in Aberdeenshire, it still has a universal quality of simplicity, strength and feeling, the natural and functional beauty if a ploughshare or a stone dyke. When this is captured, written down, and preserved, a service is no doubt done to scholarship and history, but the life and fire of it are only there when it is in its natural surroundings.

The older generation of natural folk singers is disappearing and, owing to the growth of the mass media of entertainment, there are no young men and women growing up in the tradition, singing the old songs unquestioningly and instinctively. But the interest in the songs is being kept alive by such men As Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Bert Lloyd and Peter Kennedy, and there has sprung up a new generation of singers who have, as it were, come to folkmusic from the outside and worked themselves in, building up knowledge and technique and taste, until they are ready to take over from their predecessors.

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