Rod Paterson

TrackAlbum
The Bleacher Lass O' KelvinhaughTwo Hats
Willie WastleTwo Hats
My Nannie, OTwo Hats
Earl RichardSmiling Waved Goodbye
Dowie Dens Of YarrowSmiling Waved Goodbye
Ye Banks And BraesSongs From The Bottom Drawer
Waukrife MinnieSongs From The Bottom Drawer
Green Grow The Rashes, OSongs From The Bottom Drawer
Auld Lang SyneSongs From The Bottom Drawer
Fill, Fill The Merry BowlThe Complete Songs
Of Robert Tannahill Vol.3

Rod Paterson photo

 

 

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Rod Paterson playlist

 

Contributor: Andrew Shields

Most of the Toppermosts I have written up to this point have been about artists I have been listening to for many years (decades in some instances). This one is very different as I only discovered Rod Paterson’s music a few months ago. Indeed, I found his music very much by chance. I was looking up a song by another artist on YouTube (for the life of me I cannot remember who that was) and saw a comment underneath. It was to the effect that this was the best version of a folk song that the person had heard since coming across Rod Paterson’s rendition of Earl Richard. This intrigued me and, of course, I had to explore further. What I discovered was that Paterson’s version of the song was not only as good as the comment had suggested but that his other work was also of a very high standard. Within a few weeks – and just before the current situation we find ourselves in had fully developed – I had purchased all of his solo albums. I was also casting the net wider to listen to the contributions he had made to tribute and compilation albums. In doing so, it became clear to me that Paterson was second only to the great Dick Gaughan as the outstanding interpreter of Robbie Burns songs of his generation. He was also a masterful singer of traditional Scottish folk songs and a fine interpreter of jazz standards like Rodgers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine and Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye.

So, what makes Paterson such a fine singer? First there is his voice which is smooth, supple, fluid, and mellifluous. Then there is his remarkably deft phrasing which may owe something to his fondness for jazz. On top of that, he is also a natural storyteller and a supremely skilled interpreter of a song. His talents as a singer were first noticed in groups like Chorda and the brilliant Jock Tamson’s Bairns and The Easy Club. All three groups emerged from a broader movement of Scottish artists, writers, folklorists and musicians centred around Sandy Bell’s pub in Edinburgh in the 70s. All three were also strongly influenced by Irish groups like Planxty and The Chieftains and were anxious to extend the innovations they had introduced to Scottish music. Their success in achieving this meant that Paterson already had a substantial reputation as a musician before he made his first solo album, Two Hats, in 1986.

The title itself was probably a reference to the divide on the album between old school jazz standards and his versions of folk songs and ballads. I have chosen my selections exclusively from the latter as, while I greatly enjoy the former, these represent for me the more essential aspect of Paterson’s art. My first selection from it, The Bleacher Lass O’ Kelvinhaugh, is a fine ballad which was among those collected by the great Irish uilleann piper, Séamus Ennis, in Scotland in the early 1950s. The song is however considerably older than this with some accounts dating it to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It has a particularly beautiful melody and Paterson does full justice to it. The next two choices are both songs by Burns – while Willie Wastle is a masterpiece of light-footed phrasing.

By contrast My Nannie, O is a fine version of one of Robbie’s finest love songs. It also features an unexpected but very tasteful sax part by Dick Lee.

In its diverse character, Paterson’s second solo record, Smiling Waved Goodbye, followed a similar template to that set by his first. Along with Scottish folk songs, it also included Paterson’s own jazz- influenced Roll That Boulder Away – which sounds almost like an early Bing Crosby song – and a lovely cover of Paul Simon’s I Do It For Your Love (on the CD reissue).

The two standout tracks for me, however, are the two great Scottish folk songs, Earl Richard and Dowie Dens Of Yarrow. Both are classic Scottish ballads, with the first being a good deal more obscure than the second. It is a variant version of the much older ballad, Young Hunting, and is related to the American song, Love Henry. All three contain references to a talking bird which comments on the murder committed by the anti-heroine who features in the song. As folk singer Tony Rose pointed out, it derives much of its power from the “recurring hints of magic and the supernatural” that run through it. Paterson’s rendition of it is superb and shows his easy mastery of the long narrative ballad. Dowie Dens Of Yarrow is a much better-known song that has been recorded by many of the key figures in modern Scottish folk music. These include artists of the calibre of Ewan MacColl, Jean Redpath, Dick Gaughan and Karine Polwart. Even against this competition, Paterson’s version of the song remains one of the very best ever recorded. It also displays the remarkable suppleness of his voice.

In a sense Paterson’s next album, Songs From The Bottom Drawer (1996) – a brilliant collection of Burns’ songs – was one he was born to make. His brilliance as a singer combined with his innate skills as a storyteller made him an ideal interpreter of the works of that great poet. My first selection, Ye Banks And Braes is, quite simply, a beautiful song, superbly sung. On the next, Waukrife Minnie (an English translation can be found here), Paterson makes light work of the technical challenges caused by the song’s unusual metre.

Given Burns’ complicated love life, it is possible to regard Green Grow The Rashes, O as simple reportage. The song also shows the poet’s supreme ability to take a basic structure from an old folk ballad and to transform it into something that is wholly his own. As is the case throughout the record, Paterson’s version shows a lovely lightness of touch which complements Burns’ own skill in that respect.

My final choice from the album, Auld Lang Syne is of course Burns’ best-known song. It is also another key example of Robbie’s ability to transform base metal derived from the folk tradition into pure gold. In the liner notes for the album, Paterson refers to his belief that this great song has frequently been misinterpreted and his version has the ‘intimate’ character which he believes has been lacking from many other renditions. For me, it is the finest version of the song that I have ever heard. For comparison’s sake, here is another fine version from The Original Transatlantic Sessions (BBC/RTÉ 1995) which also featured Máiréad Ní Mhaonaigh from the excellent Donegal group, Altan, and the late great Martyn Bennett.

My final selection is Paterson’s unaccompanied version of Robert Tannahill’s Fill, Fill The Merry Bowl. Tannahill was one of the best Scottish poets to follow in Burns’ wake and his songs are well deserving of revival. This is one to be enjoyed with a dram of a fine Scottish whisky, single malt preferably. Indeed, like a good whisky, Rod Paterson’s music is characterised by a consistent, mellow and finely crafted excellence. Since discovering his music, I have regularly wondered why such an incredible singer is so little-known outside of his native country. If this piece succeeds in encouraging some other listeners to explore his fine body of work, it will have more than served its purpose.

 

“Paterson is perhaps the finest singer I have heard in years” Folk Notes (USA)

“One of the most beautiful and agile voices in Scotland” The Scotsman

“Marvellously rich and expressive voice” The Herald (Glasgow)

“Rod is an outstanding singer by any standards. His voice combines strength, purity, clarity and a warmth of tone that makes it unmistakable” Vic Smith, The Folk Diary

“Rod Paterson’s ability to wonderfully interpret Robert Burns and traditional Scots songs is matched by his knack for combining wry observational lyrics to the rhythmic strumming of a guitar” Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland

“One of Scotland’s finest singers” Folk Roots (UK)

 

Rod Paterson singing Earl Richard with The Easy Club

 

Some of Rod Paterson’s most recent performances have been with the Bring In The Spirit collective along with Kirsten Easdale (vocals/bodhran) and Gregor Lowrey (accordion), and sometimes with Marc Duff (whistles/bouzouki/bodhran) and Pete Clark (fiddle)

‘Up To Date’ (Greentrax, 2000) is a compilation of Rod’s two early solo albums, ‘Two Hats’ and ‘Smiling Waved Goodbye’.

Details of other recordings with Rod Paterson

Jock Tamson’s Bairns on The Living Tradition website

Jock Tamson’s Bairns & The Easy Club selected discography

The Easy Club on Greentrax Records

Ceolbeg on Greentrax Records

Chorda Cleich on Nigel Gatherer’s website

Rod Paterson biography

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs ….

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Séamus Ennis, Dick Gaughan, Planxty

TopperPost #868

7 Comments

  1. Bert Wright
    May 21, 2020

    Andrew, I can well understand your exhilaration at “discovering” Rod Paterson only recently. I was a small part of the Sandy Bell’s scene in the 1970s and saw Jock Tamson’s Bairns many, many times (sadly several among them died too early including another great singer and instrumentalist, Tony Cuffe.) Rod learned a lot from an old jazz guitarist called Jimmy Elliot who had played in the dance band era and hung out in Bell’s back then. You’re absolutely right though, Rod has the most wonderful voice and like you I play his albums all the time. My only minor quibble is that you missed out one of my favourite songs of his which is another Burns song, The Lea Rig. Great post, thanks!

  2. Christine Hoy
    May 21, 2020

    Great tribute to fantastic singer. Have you heard Lady Keith’s Lament on Jock Tamson’s Bairns album The Lasses Fashion? It’s also a beezer, Rod’s version is superb. Hope you get a chance to look at raretunes, Rod’s house concert is there, he sings the Lea Rig.

  3. Colin Duncan
    May 22, 2020

    Andrew, like you and Bert above, I also play Rod’s songs frequently. He is a beautiful singer. I first came across Rod on Michael Marra’s album ‘On Stolen Stationery’, where Michael and he perform a great song which they wrote to a Niel Gow tune, The Bawbee Birlin’. Jock Tamson’s Bairns are great. You’ll definitely need to get your hands on the album, ‘Ceolbeg 5’ by Ceolbeg. Some great renditions of great songs by Rod, playing with other great musicians, including a song he penned himself related to Dundee’s relationship with India. The Presence/The Old Maid’s Dream is a stunning piece of music. You need to hear this album. I’m playing it as I type. Fans of Dougie MacLean, Emily Smith and Eddi Reader might have an opinion on who is the greatest singer of Burns’ songs, but ‘Songs From The Bottom Drawer’ is a great album. Coincidentally, I’m sitting a mile from Tannahill’s cottage.
    Thanks very much, Andrew – a great choice of songs.

  4. Andrew Shields
    May 22, 2020

    Bert, Christine and Colin, thanks for the kind words.
    Bert – Envy you having the opportunity to see Rod in the early days. And ‘The Lea Rig’ came very close to inclusion. Stayed in Edinburgh for a few months in early 90’s but sadly never made it to Sandy’s
    Christine – thanks for introducing me to raretunes, which is great.
    Colin – Ceolbeg album now next on my list. Rod is such a fabulous singer am anxious to get a hold of all of his work.

  5. David Lewis
    May 24, 2020

    Gosh there’s some great stuff here. I too will be chasing Rod up.

  6. Colin Duncan
    May 29, 2020

    Andrew, you have got me buying more music. Always meaning to, but never getting round to it, I bought ‘Cairn Water’ by Ceolbeg, the sixth Ceolbeg album, where Rod is lead singer again. There are brilliant songs on it among which are Ewan MacColl’s ‘Shoals of Herring’, Gerry Rafferty’s ‘To Each and Everyone of You’ and the brilliant Michael Marra song ‘Like Another Rolling Stone’. Michael is right up there for me, Andrew, and I used to wish for an album ‘Rod Paterson sings Michael Marra’. Rod’s singing is to his normal high standards, the qualities of which you describe so eloquently. But it must be said that Ceolbeg is a band of equal great musicians. Great album. You need this album. I’ve now gone and bought ‘Can I Have My Money Back?’ , which I used to play back in the day. Ah well…thanks for motivating me, Andrew.
    And … Hi Dlew, nice to hear from my fellow Bandito, hope you are well.

  7. Andrew Shields
    May 29, 2020

    Colin, many thanks for this.’Cairn Water’ gone on my list too. Had heard their version of ‘Shoals of Herring’ recently which is excellent. As you know, Rod also did fine version of ‘Dirty Old Town’ with The Easy Club –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSdGS4Ubr1c

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