March-April 2008

We get a bit of a rest in February, but now it's time to start looking forward to all of the folk and traditional festivals that will be starting soon. If anyone is planning a trip to the UK this summer, take a look at the various web sites that list the schedule of festivals. No matter where you're going to be, you'll find something happening.


Joseph Shabalala, founder and leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has announced recently that upon his retirement, he will be succeeded by his son, Thamsanqa (Tommy). Shabalala writes, "Ladysmith Black Mambazo was never about one person. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a mission. A mission to spread our message and to keep our culture alive and known."

First envisioned in the 1960s, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has thrived for forty-five years and counting. Throughout the group's career, it never faltered in spreading their message of peace, love and harmony to millions of people.


Ken Nelson has died in Los Angeles, at the ripe old age of 96. Who? Ken was a talent scout for Capitol Records back in the 1960s. Old fogies like me will remember the days when there was no such thing as an "indie" recording. If you wanted to get recorded and played, you needed a contract with a record label. Nelson was the man who brought Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, among others, to the Capitol label, and he's credited with creating what became known as the "Bakersfield Sound."

But his greatest legacy to musicians of all genres was his insistence on letting artists bring their own bands into the studio. Before that, all recording were made with studio musicians and they all sounded pretty much alike no matter who was singing up front.


"Melody is the golden thread running through the maze of tones by which the ear is guided and the heart reached." Anonymous


One of the best things about YouTube is that it gives us a chance to see and hear the great musicians who are no longer with us. My pick video for this issue is a clip of the late Johnny Cunningham playing fiddle with brother Phil on accordion. These days, Phil is most often seen playing with Shetland fiddler Aly Bain - a duo well worth seeing if you get the chance - but it all started with brother Johnny. Here's the link:



New Mondegreens: It's getting harder to find any of these mis-heard lyric gems that haven't been repeated all over the internet, but here are a few that recently came to my attention:

  • A guitar player in a Glasgow band heard the lyric "Hey, bonnie lassie, mount and go" as "Hey, bonnie lassie, mountain goat."

  • Instead of "Lead On, O King Eternal," one perplexed church-goer heard the lyrics to the hymn as "Lead On, O Kinky Turtle!"

  • Hymns seem to be causing a lot of confusion lately. How about "A constipated cross-eyed bear," which someone heard instead of the more pious "A consecrated cross I'd bear." And on hearing the hymn "Jesus is Seeking a Humble Heart," someone else heard the phrase as "Jesus is Sneaking through Humboldt Park."

  • Remember the Kenny Rogers song, Lucille? Who could blame her for leaving after hearing that she had deserted not "four hungry kids" but "four hundred kids" and a crop in the field?


Controversy at the RSAMD: As I'm writing this, it's early February. One of the hottest topics among traditional musicians here in Scotland is the ongoing changes that are taking place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, particularly in the school of traditional music. Last month, the school offered all of its full-time staff attrition bonuses-in other words, payment if they would quit their positions-as a means of reducing expenses. Many people are saying that the school has an agenda that includes significant reduction of the Traditional Music program, although RSAMD had denied this.

Last month, Brian McNeill resigned his post as the Academy's Director of Traditional Music, effective February 1. Just a few days ago, it was announced that Phil Cunningham will take his place in September 2009, but in a re-titled position that will require him to be available only one day a week. RSAMD has been emphatic in stating that this change is coincidental to the planned staff reductions. Certainly one positive side-effect is that Brian McNeill will be back on the road again, playing gigs in the UK and elsewhere. He's due to appear at the Campbell Scottish Games in northern California in June.


Everyone's a critic:

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music."

Orson Welles on Donny Osmond

"I like Wagner's music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says. This is a great advantage."

Oscar Wilde

"It must have been done by music critics."

Oscar Levant, on the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Linda Dewar is a singer and a player of various instruments with strings and keys. She can be heard playing mostly Celtic music at small gatherings and large festivals here and there in California. You can find her first solo CD Where the Heart Is at


All Columns by Linda Dewar