Humbug – Celtic Circles
CD review by Tony Smith
TN992-81 – $22 Published in TN152 Nov 22
Humbug, an 8 piece vocal and instrumental ensemble from Canberra, produced this pleasant choral music.
Its members are listed as Mal Bennett (vocals, guitar, banjo, fiddle), Joanne Boyd (vocals), Naone Carrell (vocals), Tanya Caldwell (flute, vocals, whistle), Jim Roberts (vocals), Ros Hales (vocals, percussion), Graham Chalker (vocals, snare, mandolin) and Frank Nizynski (vocals, bass guitar).
The songs on this album are ‘Sweet Rose of Allendale’, ‘Eriskay Love Lilt’, ‘Red is the Rose’, ‘Lizzie Lindsay’, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ (P. McCartney/ D. Laine), ‘Circle’ (H. Chapin), ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ (Burns), ‘I’m a Rover’, ‘Lassie wi’ the Yellow Coatie’ and ‘Hard Times’ (S. Foster).
The sleeve notes are extremely brief.
Some other features of these songs worth noting include that Eriskay is in South Uist, an island in the Hebrides and that ‘Red is the Rose’ is set to the Scottish tune ‘Loch Lomond’.
The group describes all tracks as ‘traditional’ except those attributed and all are arranged by Humbug.
One problem for folk musicians is always the notion of disputed provenance.
In some cases of course, we hear a good version of a song but if the singer does not acknowledge sources then it cuts us off from the original.
There is for example some dispute about the origins of ‘Sweet Rose of Allendale’ which was apparently written by Charles Jeffreys and Sidney Nelson in the 1830s.
‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is also known as ‘Purple Heather’ or ‘Go Lassie Go’.
It was a variant of ‘Braes of Balquhither’ by Scots lyricist, Robert Tannahill and composer Robert Alexander Smith, but adapted by Belfast musician Francis McPeake.
‘Lizzie (or Leezie) Lindsay’ is Child ballad 226 (Roud 94).
The songs of Celtic Circles make very pleasant listening.
‘Hard Times’, which Humbug do a capella, is especially enjoyable.
A democratic spirit obviously informed the choir’s style as there were few moments when an individual’s voice rose about the others.
This level style of presentation means that the unified voice tends to be pushed into the background.
There is every chance that this effect would vanish during a live performance, the harmonies are fine and enunciation of the lyrics cannot be faulted, so there is no need for a lyrics sheet.
These are rare qualities in a choir today and it would be good were Humbug poised for a reprise.