An ‘A’ list of Scottish trad musicians shine in this remarkable offering. Mr Goose provides so much more than a tale for children.
Release Date: 20th August 2021
Format: Book, CD, Digital, Audiobook
It probably isn’t often that At the Barrier features projects nominally aimed at children. But, please, don’t see that as any reason to dismiss this excellent endeavour; this should please and delight as many a parent (or grandparent) that frequent this site.
Based upon a story by Ayrshire business consultant, Grant Kennedy, his aim was to instil in children the ideas of risk and the resilience gained by the taking thereof. Picked up by the Scottish educational platform, Glow, and following its pilot in Ayrshire schools, it is now being rolled out, country wide.
Initially a book, delightfully illustrated by Louise McBride, Kennedy decided to take it a step further, and teamed up with Craig Espie, fiddle maestro with Skerryvore, to oversee a musical interpretation. Recruiting a bevy of the country’s finest players, each using their instrument to interpret each of the separate characters, Gary Innes, of Mánran, a broadcaster for BBC Scotland, was also recruited to add narration. If you are beginning to think Peter and the Wolf, yes, you would not be too far wrong, if with a particularly Scots slant, with the storyline recounting the journey of the titular Mr Goose, as he travails the River Doon, meeting with the other characters along the way, each giving their own take on risk.
If the version with Innes sounds too worthy, worry not, there is also the largely all-instrumental version, and that is the version reviews here. If you are a lover of the current vibrancy in Scottish roots music, this is definitely for you, with any number of virtuosi queuing up to take part. So we get the likes of concertina wizard, Mohsen Amini (Talisk), flautist supreme, David Foley (Rura), and current double bassist man of the moment, James Lindsay (Breabach), alongside exemplary instrumentalists like Innes White, Martin O’Neill and Anna Massie, all well known across innumerable projects.
With the music all composed by Espie, he utilises textures from right across the Scottish idiom, from stately waltzes to the more modern intonations of the bands he draws his participants from, not least his own. Thus the opening salvo, the title track, suggests the simple template that Scottish music might have occupied in our parents ears, one of those delightful 4/4 canters, fiddle with a piano striding along as the method of propulsion, a real White Heather/Hogmanay special. And, lest you see this as a put-down, that is meant with genuine affection. This style of music, to my ears, is a delight and it effortlessly evokes an image of a brisk riverside walk.
Mr Goose first meets with Ned the Horse, identified through the muscular banjo of Ciaran Ryan (Dallahan, Salsa Celtica and his own band), with a clip-clop rhythm of shuffling drums, ahead of Little Mouse; again the percussion is to the fore, together with Innes Watson’s mandolin, managing to imply the scampering of little feet. A glorious jig that builds, Lindsay showing why he is held in such high regard.
Propelled by the bodhran of O’Neill, Hector the Hawk is personified through Mohsen Amini; his concertina a familiar blur of frantic fingers, Ronald Jappy’s synthesised keyboard brass adding a gradual swell alongside. A short track, as they all are, the mood is of a session, each player showcasing in turn. I confess I found myself trying to second guess the breed of Fudge the Dog, his character channeled through Scott Wood (Skerryvore), on whistle. You will have to purchase the book to discover!
A brief return to the fiddle-led Mr Goose, this time in a far faster mode, with electric guitar the rhythmic underpin this time, before Ian West (Trail West) straps on his accordion to conjure up Madam Heron, as graceful an air as you would expect for that purpose. A more threatening mood of menace comes with Wood, now on bagpipes, over a a tribal beat, to give aural body to Captain Drake, a militaristic figure as befits the title. A complete contrast then with the tinkling clarsach of Sarah McNeil, yet another youthful musician with mastery of her chosen instrument, to evince (the) Swans. This is a beautiful segment, needing no backing to embed it at all, perhaps just some muted piano and a smidgeon of strings as it fades.
Anna Massie, the powerhouse boiler room of Blazin’ Fiddles, adds her sneaky and sinuous syncopated guitar to and as Foxy, a distinct change of mood before Foley’s flute portrays Mr Kingfisher, again with a need to mention O’Neill’s beak drill of percussion. a lively and almost Catalan dance. By now we have come to journey’s end, with a third and final reprise of the Mr Goose theme, additionally titled as A New Home, in this iteration much slower, offering a satisfied, if tired, sense of achievement for our plucky gander.
That would be that, but, by way of an afterword, comes a song. The body of musicians come together, with the sturdy tones of Cameron Barnes, erstwhile of the Red Hot Chili Pipers, to give a fitting end to the recording. An altogether uplifting project, this, the music, is well able to stand alone. Get some brownie points, buy the book for a younger family member, and then subvert them with the music. Win win.