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CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: DICK GAUGHAN- ‘Handful Of Earth’ (1981)

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Considered one of the great folk voices of our time and acknowledged as one of Scotland’s most outstanding musicians. Handful Of Earth is renowned as not only his best album but also as one of the best folk album’s of all time.

Dick 1

Though steeped in the traditions of folk and Celtic music, Scottish singer/songwriter Dick Gaughan has enjoyed a lengthy and far-reaching career in a variety of pursuits. The eldest of three children, he grew up surrounded by the music of both Scotland and Ireland. His mother, a Highland Scot who spoke Gaelic, had as a child won a silver medal for singing at a Gaelic Mòd and his Leith-born dad played guitar while his Irish grandad the fiddle and his Glaswegian grannie played button accordion.

The family experienced considerable poverty, but the area they lived in possessed a strong community and many of Gaughan’s songs celebrate his working-class roots. In his teens Gaughan served an apprenticeship at a local paper mill, but had wanted to be a musician since he first started playing guitar at the age of seven. Born in 1948, he first picked up the guitar at the age of seven, and released his debut solo album, No More Forever, in 1972. He then joined the Scots folk-rock group the Boys Of The Lough before returning to his solo career with 1976’s Kist o Gold. However, he soon formed a band named Five Hand Reel. Over the next two years, Gaughan issued four more records – two solo releases (1977’s Copper and Brass and 1978’s Gaughan) as well as two more Five Hand Reel outings (1977’s For a’ That and 1978’s Earl o’ Moray).

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he worked as a writer and in a theatre company but after a three-year absence from the studio, Dick returned to regular musical duty with the release of 1981’s Handful of Earth. The album has gone onto become one of the greatest recordings of traditional folk song’s ever made. His guitar playing is innovative, expressive and powerful and his voice is by turns tender, angry and passionate and even old songs sound new in his hands. The mixture of love songs, odes of parting and political commentaries such as ‘Worker’s Song’ and ‘World Turned Upside Down’ is Gaughan’s most complex and emotional work, and has come to be recognised as a masterpiece being named as Album of the Decade by Folk Roots magazine.

His version of ‘Song For Ireland’ is the album’s highlight capturing the sadness of emigration and evokes perfectly the feelings that those poor Irish must have felt when forced to leave their homes. Handful Of Earth is a brilliant album and features Brian McNeill, Phil Cunningham, and Stewart Isbister and is, without doubt, Gaughan’s best blend of traditional and contemporary songs.

In Dick Gaughan’s own words on Handful Of Earth

“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 successful 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”

A Different Kind of Love Song followed in 1983, and in 1985 he released a live album and a year later True and Bold. After 1988’s Call It Freedom, Gaughan again retreated from view devoting much of his time to his increasing interest in computer technology. In the mid-90’s he formed a new band, the short-lived Clan Alba, who disbanded after releasing a 1995 self-titled debut and he returned to making solo album’s and began to tour the country regularly to packed audiences everywhere. That was sadly until September 2016 when he announced that he was cancelling all public performances until further notice. This was because he believed that he had had a stroke, which was affecting his ability to perform. 

Statement from Dick Gaughan’s management

‘”This statement about Dick Gaughan’s health should be read before reading or believing anything else. Dick has now stated publicly at two recent gigs that, “In order to prevent rumours spreading, I think I have had a stroke”. It is untrue to say that he cannot sing or play guitar. However in saying what he has said, Dick is acknowledging that ‘something’, as yet unconfirmed, is not right. Dick has an appointment with a neurologist in early October 2016 when the situation will, it is hoped, be clarified. Until then “I think I have had stroke” is not an opinion based on medical fact”

London Celtic Punks send our best wishes to Dick wherever he may be laid up and look forward to seeing him performing again down here in the smoke. Get well soon Dick the scene needs you.

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Track-Listing
1 – Erin-Go-Bragh
2 – Now Westlin Winds
3 – Craigie Hill
4 – World Turned Upside Down
5 – The Snows They Melt the Soonest
6 – Lough Erne-First Kiss at Parting
7 – Scojun Waltz-Randers Hopsa
8 – Song for Ireland
9 – Workers’ Song
10 – Both Sides the Tweed

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

All tracks trad. arr. Dick Gaughan except Track 4 Leon Rosselson; Tracks 6b, 7a Dick Gaughan; Track 8 Phil & June Colclough; Track 9 Ed Pickford

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost or hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends and also unknowns that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern age celtic-punk music. The albums are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.

(if the links are broken please leave a comment and we will fix)

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