A native of Glasgow and a continuing presence there, Adam McNaughtan has had a career as a singer, which dates back over thirty years and a lot of songs. He has a powerful and expressive baritone voice that is quite pleasant to listen to -- a good thing considering that he sings a capella on many of the tracks for The Glasgow That I Used To Know and on all the tracks of Words, Words, Words, the two CDs that make up the compilation, The Words That I Used To Know.
I confess to a slight personal connection here. I am, by marriage, a member of Clan MacNaughton (to use the spelling of my son's middle name) so Adam McNaughtan is likely a distant cousin of mine by marriage. I think, however, that I can keep familial bias out of this.
The Glasgow That I Used To Know harks back to an older time. Many of the tracks are traditional, and those that aren't often use traditional tunes. The central track is the title song, a lament for the old Glasgow where neighbors were known and trusted, and all the shops one needed were the nearby. In the end, McNaughtan sadly asks, "If you scrape the veneer of are these things still there?" More starkly tragic is "Old Annie Brown," the tale of an old woman who died in her apartment but was not found for six months.
On the lighter side is "Ludgin' Wi Big Aggie" about the singer's misadventure in a very run down boarding house. But what makes this CD particularly interesting are six tracks of collections of short songs. Each track is devoted to a theme: "School Songs," "Mammie Songs," "Jail Songs," "Music Hall Fragments," "Football Songs," and "Street Songs."
Typical of these songs is the school song: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school/ We have tortured all the teachers; we have broken all the rules." I found this one particularly interesting, since I learned the same song in my school in the U.S. Some lines are changed, but those I quote above, as well as, "Glory, glory hallelujah/Teacher hit me with a ruler," are the same my friends taught me when I was in grade school. The same tune is used for the football song, "You've heard of Bobby Collins, he's the Celtics inside right./He's a terror to The Rangers, 'cause he's always in a fight./You'll know him, if you see him, 'cause he's dressed in green and white./And his name is Bobby Collins, he's the Celtics inside right." (Incidentally, "Celtics" in this verse is pronounced with a soft "C" like the Boston basketball team.)
Where some of the songs are sung without accompaniment on The Glasgow That I Used To Know, they all are on Words, Words, Words. With the songs ranging from nostalgia to humor to political outrage, McNaughtan sets for himself a heavy task and lives up to it.
Two of the funnier songs are "The Glasgow Sunday School" and "Oor Hamlet." The former belongs to the tradition of humorous takes on The Bible. McNaughtan uses some traditional verses and some from his own imagination. I note that he doesn't say which are which. I'm not sure which is more impressive about "Oor Hamlet": That McNaughtan managed to keep the lyrics funny, while still summarizing the play accurately, or that he sings it to the tune of the reel, "Mason's Aprons."
On the more serious side is "Ain John," a 19th century protest song against the proposal to sell a Glasgow Green for its mining rights. The protest was successful, as witnessed by "We Will Not Have a Motorway," which protested a 20th century plan to build a highway across the same location. More harrowing is "Blood on the Grass," protesting a 1978 exhibition football (soccer to us Americans) match between the Scottish and Chilean national team in the stadium, where Pinochet had kept thousands of prisoners just five years before. As McNaughtan usually keeps his singing light or matter-of-fact, the outrage he puts into this song makes it more striking.
These CDs succeed or fail on McNaughtan's singing, and he pulls it off. He has a rough-edged but pleasant baritone voice that sounds like that of a man who laughs easily. It is a voice that -- thankfully -- becomes neither dull nor irritating even after listening to more than 30 songs and makes The Words That I Used To Know well-worth obtaining.