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Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Mairi Campbell – Auld Lang Syne

Greengold Projects and Authentic Artists Collection

Genre: Music, Storytelling

Venue: Scottish Storytelling Centre


Low Down

Gentle hour of storytelling using Auld Lang Syne as the pillar around which to weave a tale of life, love and music.


The sign at the entrance of the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s sumptuous Netherbow Theatre invites you to switch off from the outside world (as well as switching off your outside world devices) and enter instead a world where stories stand tall.  Very appropriate for this solo piece from Mairi Campbell based around the Burns song Auld Lang Syne.

Music has the capacity to break down barriers between people.  And Auld Lang Syne is a song that everybody thinks they know, yet very few really do.  What it actually means remains the subject of much academic (and pub) debate.  How to sing it inspires even more passion – and not just from Scots.  The version most commonly regaled (or wailed, depending on the singer’s intake of alcohol) is to the words Burns penned but it is thought that he nicked a lot of the lyrics from other poets, including Allan Ramsay and Matthew Fitt.  And these days we use a quite different tune to that which originally prevailed, with many arguing that the latter is actually more reflective of the context in which the song is normally sung – the closing of a social gathering.

Campbell weaves a gently amusing tale of how Auld Lang Syne has been almost ever-present in her life as a writer, composer, singer, viola player and dancer.  Childhood reminiscences tumble forth, interspersed with musical sidebars and some interesting background on why we sing the eponymous song the way we do.

There is the (almost obligatory) chance for the audience to test their lungs and singing capabilities mid-way through as Campbell explores how just getting uniformity of pronunciation can be a challenge for anyone attempting to get a choir to deliver this.  And there is amusement at her embarrassing memory lapse when delivering the song as part of a ceremony to honour the late Sean Connery.  In front of the then US President, Bill Clinton.  But that happens sometimes to singers, especially when singing a song you’ve sung hundreds of times.  The mind goes blank, the lyrics vanish and you either look like a goldfish or make something up.  She, wisely, chose the latter course.

It’s a gentle, entertaining and surprisingly informative hour that left me knowing a lot more about a song I thought I already knew quite a bit about.  And go anywhere in the world and you’ll find someone who can sing this along with you, be it at a football match in the Netherlands or a shop at closing time in Japan.  I last heard it sung a few weeks ago in the depths of the Dordogne, in a wee village called Miers.  Pausing for breath whilst on cycling on a steamingly hot day, I heard the tune floating out of a church where a wedding was coming to its exciting conclusion and, yes, I joined in with the singing.

Judging by the generous and sustained applause from the appreciative audience, this is a show to be recommended for anyone with an interest in Scots’ music and for lovers of tales well told.