A Review of the CD
"Common Ground"
by Gillie McPherson

"Common Ground"
by Gillie McPherson

Copyright: Gillie McPherson 2002.
(Coop Breizh: GIL 2002 DB10 )

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 1/03

Friends often accuse me of “living in the past”. Always saying that FOOD was better then; FILMS were better; SOCCER was better. I guess it’s what happens when you get to be 55. It might be the inevitable response of anyone recalling when the “world was young”: when events really seemed more vivid.

But I always try to put that mind-set behind me when it comes to reviewing anything. After all, the creative artiste does not want me to arrive at his work carrying any unnecessary baggage that might scupper his chances of my providing a totally fair and balanced response.

However, “the best laid plans” etc! Well, they go out the window when a CD arrives from someone you can just distantly recall from Cambridge Folk Festivals you attended in the 70s and 80s. Immediately one sighs the sigh of someone nostalgic for the days when the Cambridge Folk Festival still had its soul: when it was still under the inspired direction of its founder, the late Ken Woollard. When he died, the event somehow lost its navigation equipment, and what was already a famously ECLECTIC event, soon became the chaotic mishmash it is today.

So, receiving this CD and thus being reminded of someone I last saw there (performing with the late great Alexis Korner) in 1983, I was predisposed to warm to the album from the start. For one thing, it was nice to know she was still ALIVE, for I had not heard of her since.

Why I had not heard of her is now clear: she has hitched her wagon to La Belle France. And whilst there is only 22 miles of the English Channel between England where I live, and French soil, it could as well be two THOUSAND and 22. Certainly to most Brits, there is less distance between London and New York or Sydney, than London to Paris.

Of course, LANGUAGE is the factor. That is why us Brits are not the most ardent of Europeans. Who can forget the British newspaper headline: “Fog in the Channel: Continent cut off”?!

So to learn that Gillie has been in France all this time, makes me realise why she disappeared from my radar. She might just as well have been living on the Moon!

So, how nice to see her reappear with this album. Blessedly the songs are in English. I say “blessedly” not because I am a Francophobe, but because my French is not up to understanding most song lyrics.

And in the main they are traditional classics. Songs and jigs and reels. And here a mention of her 6 musicians. They are top-drawer: no praise is too great. Marvellously tight yet giving the illusion of apparently not taking events too seriously. You can be “tight and serious” (I call such bands “anally retentive” ) or you can be loose and laid-back (and risk being called “amateurish”). However to be tight and still have a twinkle in the eye and a spring in the step: well, that is called CLASS. This band has it in spades.

Perhaps it is invidious to highlight individual members, but I feel compelled to say that Paul Harbourdin’s fiddle impressed throughout, as did multi-percussionist Karim Bensalah. The latter’s udu drumming on “She Moved Through The Fair” coupled with Gillie’s somewhat baroque rendition, proved the artistic high-water mark of the album.

It is an album from an assured and convincing performer. If I am to be HYPER critical, I would have to say that I longed for her to bring a fresher “take” to one or two of these old Folk “standards”, but that said, I would far sooner her travel the tried-and-tested route through a song, than be “different” for the pure hell of it!

I would recommend this album to anyone wanting to do a crash-course on the traditional songs and music of the British Isles, and having only an hour to do it. It seems to me to be as good an album for that purpose as any I can think of.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

Track List:

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