Tales of Auld Reekie – Dancing With Ghosts
The Tales of Auld Reekie is the latest album by Dancing With Ghosts and was just recently released on the 14th September of this month. Dancing With Ghosts is another side line project by the unsigned artist and English Song Folkster Karl Robins. Karl is a superb songwriter when it comes to writing traditional folk songs and one I would personally put on par with another truly great English Songwriter and artist Ralph McTell.
Though with Dancing With Ghosts Karl also has another fine lyric writer to help him out with having Andy Waterhouse onboard with him. He also contributes to the vocals on the album as well. They also have a fine female vocalist with Sheree Hemingway helping them out along the way, and Gary Hetherington is the very man, who not only adds his magic touch with all the other instrumentation to support Karl’s acoustic guitar. But he is also the producer who makes everything shine and sound so superbly, and there is no doubt that this album comes with a solid production.
Tales of Auld Reekie is the 3rd studio album by Dancing With Ghosts and this fine Group of old companions have churned out some truly amazing folk songs since they got together in 2013 and released their debut album Spirit of Beblow (Visions Of Holy Island) on the 3rd January 2014.
Karl Robins released an album with a collection of old songs he had wrote way back in the 80’s he did with John Carey whilst getting this new album ready to be released. That album was titled Easy Street and it’s an album I very much purchased and still tremendously enjoy, I also reviewed that album here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/lee-speaks-about-music-25/ and I myself made the artwork for the album.
A couple of days before the release of Tales of Auld Reekie in the late evening Karl sent me the album for free as a kind gesture, and asked me if I would do the album cover for it. I was only too glad to be able to help out, and the next day I quickly got to work on the artwork and based it around the title of the band and the albums name and sent it to Karl.
Having listened to the album and even though I did the artwork and had the album for free. There was just no way I could accept it for free. It was a pure quality piece of work that had been done on it, and everything about it spoke to me just like a professional album you would buy from a record store with the solid material and production the album had. So I decided to buy the album and show my support to the band and give a little to support the charity the proceeds are going too.
Gary Hetherington. Karl Robins. Andy Waterhouse. Sheree Hemingway.
Has old as this fine bunch may appear. There is bags of experience that goes into making up this line up of Dancing With Ghosts. They all go back a long way together and in some cases have known each other for decades. It’s this experience what makes this band work so well together.
Gary is very much more of a multi instrumentalist and producer with a great vision to see just what other elements a stripped down acoustic song needs to make it shine. He is very handy on the mixing desk and comes with great ear to be able to bring out the best quality in the end product that’s been put together. His contribution to the band is very much a magical one.
Karl is very much a singer songwriter in his own rights. He is a very experienced musician who has been crafting fine songs for decades on his acoustic guitars. He also comes with a great voice and has the technique to layer and construct superb harmonies.
Andy comes with a fine voice that also works superbly in working alongside Karl’s voice. They both can take on the lead roles and harmonies to make these songs work so well. He also contributes in another big way to with the lyrics, and the biggest majority of songs on this album are in fact written by Karl and Andy.
Sheree is another excellent contribution to some of the songs in this fine outfit. Her vocals and harmonies are not only great, but they also lend an hand to giving the band more of a variety. They work so well with the band and upon this album they are like a breath of fresh air to hear, and help make the songs to be that much more interesting and provide another light and touch to it all.
The Concept Behind The Tales of Auld Reekie…
To be able to write a bunch of songs has good as they are on the album the Tales of Auld Reekie you very much need to travel places to see things that catch your eye and give you a firm subject matter to write about. The name of the band alone Dancing With Ghosts will no doubt have bearing on subject matter of being more based around some haunting places and events that have taken place in history.
The city of Edinburgh in Scotland is a place that goes way back in history and no doubt has some very haunting tales and places. It also has some brutal criminal history with the likes of Burke and Hare and some sad history regarding its famous dog Bobby who spent the rest of his days mourning at his masters grave
The city of Edinburgh was also nicknamed Auld Reekie down to its poor sewerage system many moons ago in its old town. Quite often the sewerage would pour out of its drains and roll all the way down the Royal Mile causing smog and a stench.
Though the album the Tales of Auld Reekie is not a concept album in the sense that it tells one continuous story throughout all its tracks. It does have a concept in that each song is based around the history of Edinburgh and is superbly portrayed in the way they have presented the album. It makes a very fascinating concept and truly magical album.
Tales of Auld Reekie Album Review…
The album the Tales of Auld Reekie by Dancing With Ghosts was released on the 14th September 2017 and contains 11 tracks over a playing time of 46 minutes and 50 seconds. Has with all Dancing With Ghosts albums the tracks consist of songs with vocal tracks and instrumental tracks.
This one contains 7 songs and 4 instrumentals and I have to say it comes with a superb high quality production and is a solid body of work with everything that’s upon it. It does not disappoint in anyway and the album tracks have been very well placed in the way that it presents itself very well to the listener.
Track 1. DinEidyn’s Air.
The album introduces itself with a lovely acoustic instrumental piece that features some gorgeous melodies on the acoustic guitar, and is accompanied very fittingly by an accordion it could even be a reed organ played on the keyboards. Whatever it is the piece is a beautiful little ditty of a tune.
The name “Din Eidyn” goes back centuries to the days of the Celts and the Cumbric language which when translated in Old English you get the name Edinburgh. The word “Din Eidyn” is also believed to have been found in a Welsh poem. The poem speaks of it has being a hill fort in the territory of the Gododdin.
The “Air” put at the end of title we have here comes from Edinburgh being situated in the central belt of Scotland and there also lies Firth of Forth on the southern shore so you can take in its air so to speak.
Track 2. Greyfriars Bobby.
The “Greyfriars Bobby” is the first song on the album and features the beautiful voice of Sheree Hemingway and wonderfully backed up by the voices of Karl Robins and Andy Waterhouse. The lyrics they have put to the song are truly amazing with how so well they have put them in context here. The music is handled by Karl & Gary and it even has a tad of touch of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” about it with it’s wonderful melody.
The subject matter of the song is based on a true and very sad story from the19th century of a famous dog named “Bobby” owned by his master John Gray who was a policeman and worked in the city of Edinburgh patrolling the streets at night.
Bobby The Famous Sky Terrier.
When John Gray died they buried him in Greyfriars Kirkyard. His dog spent the rest of his life some 14 years in total sitting and morning at his masters grave. Bobby died in 1872 and they buried him at the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard near his master. They even built a statue of him and he is still very popular with the tourists today, and people come from all countries to get a picture of themselves standing next to his statue.
The “Greyfriars Bobby” is a true classic song and one of the highest contenders for the top spot on the album. For many this could easily also be their personal favourite and this album is full of contenders for sure.
Track 3. A Person of Qualitie.
The longest track on the album “A Person of Qualitie” is a fine song based around the some of the history of Corstorphine in the west of Edinburgh back in the 17th century and the wealth of lords, lairds and peers and how land and property got passed on down the line. The person of qualitie or quality in question was one such laird and owner of land called James Baillie who Lord Forester took note of due to having no children of his own, and seen Ballie has the right person to pass over his title and his castle.
Though Ballie was not the man of qualitie that the 1st Lord Forester had seen, and had a roving eye for other woman. The one woman that caught his eye and seduced was his own niece Jane Hamilton who was married to Edinburgh burgess James Nimmo. However later on both Hamilton and Ballie had a big quarrel over the incident which resulted in Hamilton stabbing him to death with his own sword. Hamilton was charged and sent to prison for the killing and later executed at the Cross of Edinburgh.
The castle was demolished around 1797 and apart from the ancient dovecot (pictured above) that stands near the east end of Dovecot Road in Corstorphine, a suburb on the northwest side of Edinburgh. It is also said that it is haunted by a white lady often identified with Christian Hamilton or her by her married name of Nimmo.
All 4 members of the band feature on this cracking and once again the lyrics are superbly put into fine context to put across this bit of history and the music, vocals and harmonies do the business.
Track 4. Arthur’s Seat.
Well I suppose at some point you could not do a concept album about Edinburgh without mentioning “Arthur’s Seat” and this one is another wonderful instrumental piece that perhaps captures the beauty that can be seen of the city from it. Karl’s acoustic guitar and Gary’s orchestration do a grand job and it’s a a beauty of a piece.
Track 5. 17 Coffins (Mystery at Arthur’s Seat).
Another super traditional folk song performed by all 4 band members is one that tells the mystery of the 17 miniature coffins that contained miniature dolls inside that was found on the hills of Arthur’s Seat by a group of boys way back in June of 1836. Even till this day it’s still a mystery as to where they came from and why they was left there.
Many theories has to why they were made have been speculated over the years even down to the 17 victims that fell by the hands of Burke & Hare. Today only 8 of the coffins exist and they are on display in the National Museum of Scotland.
The Mysterious Miniature Coffins.
“17 Coffins (Mystery at Arthur’s Seat)” is another song superbly portrayed and put across by the band, and is another really high contender for the top spot on the album.
Track 6. Messrs Burke & Hare.
Up next we have a classic bit of songwriting and my personal fave of the album that merits the top spot award on the album. “Messrs Burke & Hare” reminds a lot of the great songwriter and artist Richard Thomson who I myself have been a fan of ever since he was with the folk rock band Fairport Convention. When it comes to writing traditional folk songs Thompson without a doubt is up there with best of them, and in my opinion so is this song.
Once again an amazing job has been done on putting these lyrics into context and it portrays the evil doing’s of Burke & Hare superbly with Andy taking on the vocals and Karl and Gary doing the business on the instrumentation.
Track 7. Jingling Geordie.
A song with a lot of spirit about it in the way the band put this fine story over with its merry pace and feel about it all. The title perhaps suggests that this is about a chap who came from Newcastle, but the Geordie here is about a very kind wealthy Scotsman by the name of George Heriot who was the Goldsmith for King James VI of Scotland and his wife Anne of Denmark. It was through having this position that made him very well off and wealthy.
When Heriot died in 1624, he left the bulk of his estate and his money and requested for an hospital to be built in his own city of Edinburgh to care for orphaned children. The hospital was built and opened later on during the 17th century and was later turned into a school and today it’s known has George Heriot’s School.
The “Jingling Geordie” is another fabulous song that puts over another fine piece of history about Edinburgh and is once again put into context beautifully with the lyrics here.
Track 8. Johnny One Arm.
Another fascinating and great song that tells the story and tales of John Chiesly a guy with a short fuse who was not at all happy with the decision the judge George Lockhart made over the substantial amount of alimony money he had to pay his wife each year for the upkeep of his wife and 11 children. It resulted in Chiesly shooting dead the judge in broad daylight.
Over the years since the said event happened back in 1689 many tales and inaccurate accounts have found their way of how it all happened. Some say the event happened has Lockhart had just left the church on Easter Sunday and proceeded to walk along the Royal Mile. Others say that Lockhart was shot in the courtroom on the day he made his decision.
Has to how Chiesly became noted for having only one arm was also a bit of a mystery, and it was said that the arm he used the gun to shoot the judge with was badly severed by those who arrested him. Other accounts say he received more brutal torture when they hanged him at the gallows. Such has chopping his right hand off whilst still alive and hanging him in chains with the murder weapon tied to his neck.
It’s also said that he was left hanging on the gallows and his body disappeared, believed to be taken by his friends or relatives so that they could bury him. It was not until 1965 that a skeleton was found in a cottage in Dairy in Scotland where Chiesly was born. The skeleton was also found with the murder weapon lying next to his neck.
Today and for many years people have claimed that the ghost of John Chiesly can still be heard screaming in torture running along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
It’s another cracking song the band so very well put across and another contender for the top spot on the album.
Track 9. Where the Ghosts Hide.
An enchanting ghost song that features the beautiful voices of Sheree Hemingway and Karl Robins working in fine unison in the way of a duet and canticle on this wonderful song. Once again the music is skilfully handled by Karl and Gary and even though this song is not pertaining to any history of Edinburgh, the ghostly tale is very fitting to the hauntings about it and to the bands name.
Track 10. The Deacon.
A song about William Brodie a Scottish cabinet maker who was more commonly known by his prestigious title of Deacon Brodie for his deacon of trades and an Edinburgh city counsellor. Though Brodie appeared to many has a respectable and reputable man he was very much a scallywag with the ladies, and a gambler and thief.
He was also the local locksmith and worked on many of the houses of the rich in Edinburgh. He used to make moulds of the keys so he could make his own keys and rob their houses to help pay for his gambling habit. He even copied the keys to the bank and robbed that. He also recruited a gang of 3 thieves to help him do the robberies which included a grocer and cobbler.
Both William Brodie and one of is accomplishes George Smith who ran the grocers shop were hanged for their deeds on the 1st October 1788 at the Old Tolbooth in the high street in front of a crowd of 40.000. There was even a popular myth spread around that Brodie was the very man who made the gallows he was hanged on.
Brodie’s Advertising Figure On The Royal Mile.
You can still today see the remnants of Deacon Brodie around Edinburgh including on a couple of pubs. Even the fictional character Jean Brodie from Muriel Spark’s famous novel The Pride Of Jean Brodie was said to be descended from Deacon Brodie.
The “Deacon” is another superb job the band have done here and is another contender for the top spot on the album.
Track 11. Standard Guage Folly.
The album comes to a close with an instrumental piece solely done by Gary Hetherington. This fine orchestral piece was inspired by the marvellous shenanigans surrounding the new tram system in Edinburgh and is very apt to it all I have to say and a cracking way to end off a truly superb album.
The Tales of Auld Reekie by Dancing With Ghosts without doubt contains a very strong body of work that has been very skilfully crafted around the history of Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh. It’s also very well portrayed with its well crafted lyrics that have been put into great context and the music that supports it, is very well apt for the genre of traditional folk.
It’s a very fascinating concept album that takes in many different stories from the 17th century upwards, and for me personally it’s been quite an educational and enjoyable experience not just in listening to the album, but learning about it all and doing a lot of research to make this review for the superb album.
I feel that this is an album that would do well being sold in shops and places around Edinburgh and would even be a good thing for tourists to pick up,.
But unfortunately down to the way music hardly sells these days. making a physical product of the album in the way of a CD can be very costly thing to do, and it more than often ends up leaving the artist out of pocket.
Which is really a shame. Because no doubt this album is as good as any album even made by the likes of Richard Thompson. Ralph McTell or any other mainstream artists in the world of traditional folk music.
Tales of Auld Reekie by Dancing With Ghosts is available in the form of a Digital Album from Bandcamp. You can pay what you want for the album and all of its proceeds will be put into ‘We Shall Overcome’ which is a fund raising event where the money goes into charities to food banks for the needy and to support the homeless.
You only have to look at the picture of the band to see that these people are genuine and even take after perhaps George Heriot the “Jingling Geordie” on track 7 of the album. Only these are not as wealthy as he was to be able support it all by themselves. With your money you can help and get yourself a truly magical and enjoyable album by doing so in return.
The album can be obtained from the following link here: https://dancingwithghosts1.bandcamp.com/album/tales-of-auld-reekie
The track listing of the album is as follows: