Folk band brings sounds of Scotland to Library

May 14, 2023

The rich, full voices of Scotland filled the Wareham Free Library on Sunday, May 14, as the folk band North Sea Gas performed to an enthusiastic audience. 

The band, which previously performed at the library in 2022, enthralled its audience with lively music and banter, combining technical skill and raw emotion. 

“A quarter of the song was in Gaelic,” fiddler Grant Simpson said after the band completed its first number, “so if you didn’t understand it, that’s okay. The rest of the song was in English, so if you didn’t understand it, there’s not much we can do.”

North Sea Gas sang tales of love and loss, protest songs lamenting the drudgery of coal miners and ballads of the Jacobites. The Jacobites, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, were a Scottish faction that sought to put Charlie’s father, James Francis Edward Stuart, on the English throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie is not to be confused with Prince Charles, now King Charles III.

“We could do a show about the current King Charles,” Simpson said, “but it would have to be X-rated.” 

The songs, both traditional and modern, were written by ordinary people, giving poetic insight into the history of Scottish life while retaining universal themes. 

For their version of “The Rigs o’Rye,” one of Scotland’s oldest songs, the band wrote additional lyrics.

Band member Dave Gilfillan agrees with purists, who frown upon adding new lyrics to old songs — but he did it anyway. 

“I hope you like it,” he told the audience. “I don’t care, but I hope you like it.” 

Gilfillan sang a song he wrote about the Great Montrose, a brilliant Scottish general who fought on the side of the English crown. Branded a traitor, he was captured, tried and subsequently hung, drawn and quartered.

“That pretty much put an end to his career,” Gilfillan said. 

Since its foundation in 1980, North Sea Gas has released 22 albums and has performed worldwide. Simpson joked that Gilfillan has been in the music business so long, he recorded his first songs on wax cylinders.

According to Simpson, many of the folk songs North Sea Gas performs were collected by music historians in the early 20th century and “cleaned up to be published.”

The songs, he said, are 250 versions of the same story — hard work, hard drinking and hard loving.

“I hate to think what the originals were like,” he said.