Battlefield Band,
Stand Easy
& Preview
(1979-1980; Temple, 1994)

Stand Easy and Preview are reissues of two recordings released in 1979 and 1980. Stand Easy was the last recording of the Battlefield Band with Jenny Clark, Duncan MacGillivray, Brian McNeill and Allen Reid. Preview was an EP released to showcase the new lineup of Sylvia Barnes, Jim Barnes, MacGillivray, McNeill and Reid. Together now on one compact disc, they serve as an interesting milestone in the long career of this band.

Overall, these two recordings are still fresh and strong as ever. There is a good mixture of instrumentals and vocals, though I would have preferred to hear a few more pipe tunes; Duncan MacGillavrey's piping gives me goose bumps.

One aspect of these two recordings I still question is the use of keyboards, especially organ and synthesized harpsichord. The piano parts don't bother me; there is a long tradition of keyboard accompaniment and, in the right hands, can sound wonderful. I object primarily to the organ.

The sound jars at first. Amidst a whirling blend of pipes, cittern, fiddle, dulcimer and other traditional instruments, there is this electronic-sounding harpsichord. At best it imparts an interesting classical flavor to the music (e.g., "Miss Drummond of Perth's Favourite Scotch Measure/Miss MacLeod's Minuet"). At worst, it detracts from the power and drive of a song, especially on the Jacobite tune "The Battle of Falkirk Muir." I find it difficult to get charged up on the chorus of "up and run awa' Hawley" while the midi keyboard is tinkling along. I have listened to these recordings over and over the past few weeks trying to figure out why I'm not as wild about them as I am about, for example, the Tannahill Weavers. It's the keyboard, stupid.

Aside from that, the disc is very good. The bagpipe music is stirring, driving and accomplished. Musicianship throughout is top-notch. Backup is tasteful and serves the melody well, with the exception of the keyboard already mentioned. There is a joyous spirit that pervades the disc from top to bottom. It's infectious and you'll be bouncing and tapping along despite the silly harpsichord sound. Vocals are strong throughout, with Jenny Clark sounding a bit like Jean Redpath on Stand Easy and Sylvia Barnes providing a smoother, silkier texture on Preview.

Stand Easy and Preview make an interesting snapshot of a turning point in this long-running band's career. I love the joy and life they infuse into the music but believe some of their accompaniment choices did not pan out. This is a nice recording; perhaps not great, but it, like the band itself, has the quality of sounding better and better each time you play it.

[ by Fred Keller ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002

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