"Royal Oak: Best of Folk" is a Scottish compilation based around Scotland's most famous music pub. With some of Scotland's finest artists on board and a write-up from best selling author, Ian Rankin all twenty newly recorded tracks sum up the unique experience at The Royal Oak.
The Royal Oak: Best Of Folk (Magic Park Records)
Royal Oak - Best Of Folk Review by Jack Foster
For over 30 years, Edinburgh's Royal Oak has been a bastion for Scottish folk music. The sheer quantity of artists who've played or cut their musical teeth at number 1, Infirmary Street, has earned it the affectionate handle of 'Grand Ole' Opry Of Folk' - from the likes of Bobby Eaglesham and Danny Kyle to the Kris Drevers and Karine Polwarts of this world - the Oak is renowned the world over for it's service to traditional music.
Now, for the first time - an album has been compiled featuring a mixture of the Oak's resident musicians and members of the wider Royal Oak family. Calum Wood of Magic Park Records, first took on the undertaking after a chance visit to the pub - where he was so taken in by the Oak's unique atmosphere that he began work on 'The Royal Oak - Best Of Folk' album. It was only after several months when he realised that bringing the sounds of the Oak to the world would be a personal journey through not only the music, but the traditions, humanity and history of his native Scotland. A bit like 'Local Hero', he went to make a CD - but emerged with a whole new appreciation of the simpler things in life.
Distilling the Oak into a 20 track CD is no mean feat, as any regular 'Oakie' will testify - there is more to the Oak than it's music. It is a pub where people from every walk of life converge, from tourists to locals, musicians of the highest order and the tone deaf - I heard it put best once in the doorway of the pub "akin to the army, you have the salt of the earth and the scum of the earth". The Oak is one of the few pubs which closely resembles that ideal of the classic sitcom 'Cheers' - it is a fairly regular occurrence to hear a chorus of voices greeting one of their fellow regulars in a not dissimilar fashion to the immortal cries of "Norm!".
Perhaps the track which defines the Oak best is track 14, 'Harmonious Welter'. One voice after another overlays a harmony, filling the room with a wall of folkie sound - when all of a sudden, some poor drunken soul can stand no more the idea that he is not the centre of attention, and lets out a loud noise which can neither be described as tuneful or literate. Frustrating as these experiences may be for musicians and punters alike, they are an unfortunately rare occurance these days - as more and more pubs push for jukebox's, sky television or pub singers battering out the greatest hits of the Beatles, the Oak remains as one of the few folk pubs keeping the traditional music of Scotland alive. It has been referred to as the "front line" of the folk scene, and anyone who's ever played regularly at the Oak will tell you "if you can play the Oak, you can play anywhere".
My only qualm with the album, would be the ommision of such stalwarts as 'Charlie Strachan', 'Andy Chung', 'George Shepherd' and 'John Dodds' (to name just a few) in favour of the likes of 'The Lord The Gypsy & The Wench', who's inclusion still puzzles me a bit. But it's just a niggle, and to be fair - it would be impossible to create the perfect tracklist for such a CD. You could record this album 100 times and produce 100 totally unique versions - each almost indistinguishable from the next. This is the beauty of the Oak, it has been said many times that the more often you attend it's legendary sessions - the less able you are to predict what you are going to hear.
This album though, will undoubtedly go on to become a seminal recording on the Edinburgh folk scene - if not the folk scene as a whole. It is a long awaited recognition of the high standard of musicianship housed within the Oak's walls, and commits more than a nod to the immense contribution the Oak has made to the folk scene over the past 30 or so years. As the first project under the banner of 'Magic Park Records', it is a rip roaring start to what will surely become a force to be reckoned with amongst the folk labels of Scotland's music scene in the years to come.
Here's a link to the story in the Scotsman Newspaper...