Sunday, 11 September 2011

Book Review: Folksongs And Folklore Of South Uist

Another review to be getting on with:

Folksongs And Folklore Of South Uist
Margaret Fay Shaw

This is one of those seminal works by one of the most prolific and passionate folklorists of the day - and what an amazing woman, too!

Comparison with Alexander Carmichael's work is going to be inevitable with this book, and Shaw herself handily points out the places where there is an overlap with the songs of the Carmina Gadelica. Part of the appeal of this book, then, is seeing how Carmichael's work measures up (especially bearing in mind the criticisms laid against him at times), but I would hasten to add that Shaw offers a lot more than just different of songs that you might be already familiar with.

As the title suggests, it's not just songs to be found here - there are stories, recipes, a chapter on traditional dyes, proverbs and riddles, and a bit about Shaw's own experiences during her time on the island. Many of the songs also have musical scores accompanying them, which is great if you want to have a go at singing yourself (alas, I'm about as musical as a guitar with three knackered strings).

The glimpses of folklore - much of it seasonal, detailing Hogmanay celebrations and so on - are described with passion and a charm that bleeds through onto the pages. It's hard not to fall in love with the people and the place that Shaw describes, just like Shaw herself did. Over all the book itself is perhaps not as useful as the Carmina Gadelica - it's certainly not as wide-ranging being only one volume rather than six, but it's a good complement to it, and it contains things that I haven't seen anywhere else. The recipe for a traditional strùthan along with a more modern version, in particular, is something that I found extremely useful.

This isn't the first book I'd necessarily look to as far as research goes, but it does come in handy. It's well-researched and well-referenced so you'll find pointers to other places you can look to, and I think it would be a great addition to the bookshelf for anyone with a particular interest in Scottish folklore and song.