Margaret Bennett: The Sunny Long Ago

Margaret Bennett: In The Sunny Long Ago

Nostalgic and sentimental, but with a keen ear for the lithe beauty of some of Scottish trad's song repertoire, Margaret Bennett, native of the Isle of Skye is a throwback to another time. When accordion and fiddle did the two-step and 'Sweet Forget Me Nots' rang from the wireless. Still, this is a lovingly honed collection; one that would be labelled 'Old Timey' if a U.S. label released it. (Unsurprisingly, she lived for 9 years in Newfoundland, a folkie's paradise). Bennett's soprano is startlingly crystalline, close harmonies provided by Gillian Frame and Hamish and Finlay Napier. Beautiful, gentle tiptoeing music.

In the very impressive Ceol Irish music exhibition in Dublin’s Smithfield, there’s a Singing Room where visitors find themselves smack in the middle of a traditional singaround using space-age technology. On a smaller scale this album sets out six chairs – one for the singer, four for the backing musicians and one for the listener.

Margaret Bennett grew up in Skye and Lewis and she was just leaving her teens when she emigrated to Newfoundland, which she describes as paradise to a folk musician. The informality of this recording is intentional, for singer and musicians attempt to recreate the kitchen sessions when old favourite songs were sung and exchanged. The recording venue this time, however, was An Tobar in Mull and the musicians are from the younger generation, comprising Findlay Napier on guitar; Gillian Frame, fiddle; Hamish Napier, accordian and flute; and Margaret’s son Martyn Bennett on fiddle, viola, flute and whistle. A bonus too, is that all the musicians sing and there’s a standout vocals-only track “An t-oighre og”

Naturally, there are Scots and Irish-influenced songs but there’s a native Newfoundland input, too, in the shape off “Sweet Forget-me-nots”, “Pat Murphy’s Meadow”, a line from which provides the album’s title. Margaret is in fine voice and you’ll find it very difficult not to join in the songs you know. It’s a very pleasant album and the listener can’t help but feel that Margaret really enjoyed reminiscing about the Newfoundland sessions – and that perhaps the youngsters wished they’d been there too.

When Hamish Henderson describes Margaret Bennett as ‘One of the major figures of the modern Scottish revival’ I expect to hear something special when I press the play button. Well, I pressed and she is good – but unexpectedly gentle. Given  the general robustness of Scottish women’s singing, I presumed Margaret would be one of the same. Not so. She has a sweet and delicate voice of considerable charm and that quality runs through this album. It’s a charmer, with some delightful songs, delightfully sung especially those in Gaelic. Margaret Bennett was raised in the Isles of Skye and Lewis and later lived in Newfoundland, another hotbed of traditional song, and she has absorbed their lessons. A quartet of musicians including her son Martyn, give sympathetic backing to her distinctive singing.

Margaret Bennett

Margaret Bennett is a renowned Scottish writer, folklorist, ethnologist, broadcaster and singer. Her main interests lies in the field of traditional Scottish folk culture and cultural identity of the Scots, home and abroad. If you want to know more about Scottish Folklore, Bothies, Bothy Ballads and traditions go to