The Orkney International Science Festival
PICKING UP PIECES OF MUSICAL DRIFTWOOD
The Orkney Club, Harbour Street, Kirkwall, September 7th
By Eamonn Keyes
Missing only a full moon, the lonesome wail of a coyote and a fire with a coffee pot on it, The Driftwood Cowboys performed to a packed Thursday night Orkney Club crowd, taking us on a journey through Cowboy musical culture. As the blurb says, they pick up musical flotsam from the Orkney shores and build something unique from it, connected by stories, reflections and conversation. Country, blues, swing, bothy ballads and traditional fiddle combined in this humorous fusion of music encompassing Americana and tales of Orkney life.
It was simultaneously tongue in cheek yet reverential, displaying a deep love of and respect for the cowboy music that has formed the basis of genres like Country music, Rockabilly, Western Swing and even Rock and Roll.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Duncan McLean, who has written extensively about Western Swing, including his prize-winning book, Lone Star Swing: On the Trail of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys read from his book, setting the scene for the songs that were sprinkled throughout the evening, accompanied by three other familiar Orcadian musical names – Iain Tait (double bass), Brian Cromarty (guitar) and Douglas Montgomery (fiddle), all possessing the versatility to switch genres skilfully and convincingly, sliding from Country to early Rock and Roll, with even a nod to Hot Jazz phrasing in Douglas’s playing.
They performed a selection of songs and tunes, introduced by Duncan’s informative and imaginative stories about their origins and significance, and the links between Scottish and Americana music, and it all added up to a superb evening’s entertainment. These ran from the excellent ‘Shopping Week Queen’ to hilarious genre take offs like “Jeanie O The Neeps’ and ‘North Ronaldsay Baby’.
Despite their protestations of lack of practice, their long years of experience shone through, ensuring that everything they touched was a sheer delight, with the Saltfishforty-somethings taking their solos with ease and flair.
Duncan’s tales and between-song patter was informative, wry and very, very funny, delivered comfortably and with authority. It is a subject he visibly warms to and brings us with him in his stories of figures long gone into the sunset, whilst nodding to Elvis, Ella Fitzgerald and others in passing.
As a stand-alone musical venture, despite being only an occasional outing, this is a worthwhile ensemble, and would still be just as entertaining with a longer set and ideally with somewhere to dance. Still, it’s good to watch a crowd laugh and visibly enjoy themselves at something less ordinary.
As I left and walked through the rain to my car I could have sworn I caught a tumbleweed rolling along Shore Street, just out of the side of my eye.
Happy trails, lads.