Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

3. Dick GaughanHandful Of Earth

Handful of Earth by Dick Gaughan is a great album of Scottish nationalist songs and really old Highland ballads, with this fantastic intricate guitar playing. Just the atmosphere and the mood of it is really great. It’s also got originals of tracks like World Turned Upside Down by Leon Rosselson, which people my age knew from Billy Bragg. I still go and see Dick Gaughan every year at the Fringe. He’s a portly, elderly Scottish man and his in-between song banter, to an English person, is provocative and hard to understand, but the intensity of his performance never lets up for an hour. He also makes you come out with the belief that the world could be better. I expect he’s a dyed-in-the-wool hardcore socialist, and he’s really an inspiring performer.

He’s one of those people who’s so good at folk guitar that it almost becomes avant garde. He’s within a hair’s breadth of someone like Thurston Moore or Jim O’Rourke suddenly declaring him the answer, you know what I mean? They sometimes pluck these people out. Except that he’s a hardcore Scottish traditional singer that would have nothing to do with that. Dick Gaughan’s very sentimental, a lot of his songs are about very specific Scottish political issues, but there’s things about the guitar playing that’s more similar to people like John Fahey.

He mainly just hates English people, but he also does some great songs that are against the Scotts for copping out to the English. ‘No Gods (and Precious Few Heroes)’ makes fun of a man sitting in his flat thinking about being Scottish and dreaming of a Tartan Messiah. I really like the idea of a Tartan Messiah.

I’ve been collecting my bad reviews lately, I’ve started to find them really amusing. One was, ‘An embarrassing 40 year old man ranting like a teenage student activist.’ And I think, ‘Yeah, you know, good.’ Dick Gaughan feels like a student teenage activist and he’s 60 odd, and that’s no more or less embarrassing than just being a 60 year old man, is it?

Sometimes bad reviews of things can be what seal the fact that you want to find out about it. I remember reading a review of the second American Music Club album in the NME in about 1986, and it said, ‘Droning monotonous, self-pitying American Country Rock with rainy dregs of psychedelia. Two Stars.’ And I remember thinking, ‘That sounds great’. And it was.

Selected in other Baker’s Dozens: Alasdair Roberts
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