Davy Holt – Beinn Alba
Self Released – 2017
Born in Kirkpatrick and now based in Inverness, Davy Holt is proudly Scottish and sings with an unabashed dialect and accent. He made his live debut at eight and his first album when he was just twelve. Beinn Alba is his sixth album as well as his first in eight years.
Alongside his usual mix of covers and traditional, he has included self-penned material for the first time, and it is one of his own that kicks things off with the rousing title track. Beinn Alba was written during a day out climbing in 2016 but as geographers will know there isn’t actually a mountain or peak of that name. Instead, with Alba being the Gaelic for Scotland, it is an anthem to the nation itself.
Scottish pride extends to football too, 1967 being a lively accordion driven number celebrating the victory of the Scottish National Team over then world champions England at Wembley. Not an Al Green cover, the piano-accompanied Take Me To The River is a more universal stirring anthem about hope and endurance, be that a young kid dreaming of playing for Scotland, an old woman nursing her husband in a care home or a young orphan of war in Aleppo.
The fourth of the original tracks is more directly personal, Hero O’ Your Time recounting the story of John Kimm, his grandmother’s uncle who was killed on 31 July, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Passchendael. His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate memorial, but was never spoken about by the family for over 90 years until Holt mentioned he was playing a gig in Flanders. It chimes perfectly with the album’s other anti-war number, a fine addition to the many versions of Eric Bogle’s Green Fields of France.
Of the other non-original material, there’s one more non-Scottish writer, though Dominic Behan’s Crooked Jack is about the Irish navvies who, in the 50s and 60s, travelled to Scotland to work on the country’s Hydro network, the song recounting the physical injuries many would suffer.
There’s a well-known Scottish traditional number with the stirring MacPherson’s Rant. The original was allegedly written by James MacPherson on the evening before his execution and was later rewritten by Scottish Poet Robert Burns. It recounts the legend of MacPherson, an outlaw who, when hung in 1700, reportedly smashed his fiddle before jumping from the gallows to his death, unaware that a reprieve was on its way and the magistrate had put the clock forward by 15 minutes to forestall any pardon.
Written by Sandy Glendinning in the late 1800s following his emigration to Canada, Scarborough Settler’s Lament is a piano accompanied song of longing for his homeland, while, striking a more contemporary note, Skyscraper Wean is Adam McNaughton’s bouncy socio-comic piece about the families relocated to the Castlemilk tower blocks in Glasgow and the problems in throwing the traditional jam sandwich out of a 19th storey window to the kids playing below.
The remaining two numbers are equally playful, Gordon Menzies’ The Kishorn Commandos about the men from the Highlands who built the Western Ross oil rigs and Harry Hagan’s Sam The Skull , a popular Scottish ditty about the exploits of the Glesga Cat, a fictional hard man moggy that terrorised the city.
Holt may not come festooned with the reverence accorded to fellow contemporary Scottish folk acts, but, like his pride in his roots, his music is no less worthy of recognition.
You can order Beinn Alba direct from Davy Holt here: http://www.davyholtmusic.co.uk/beinn-alba/