The remarkable story of Thomas Fraser turned another page on Wednesday evening with the launch of the fifth in the series of CDs of music recorded by the late Burra fisherman.
Several of the tracks from Just Call Me Lonesome were given an airing in the Hamnavoe Hall where family, friends and musicians who will be playing at this weekend’s annual festival were assembled.
Karl Simpson, the man responsible for promoting his grand-father’s legacy, much of which was recorded in the 1950s and 60s on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, welcomed everyone to the launch.
“I keep saying it’s going to be the last one,” Karl joked, before adding that the still-to-be-released sixth instalment, probably including two discs, would probably “wrap the whole thing up”.
He said the launch of Just Call Me Lonesome was slightly more low-key than its predecessors, as it was not necessarily what would appeal to the first-time Thomas Fraser fan – it was aimed more at the person who had heard him before.
The 25 tracks included some songs which were as strong as anything Thomas ever recorded, Karl said, for instance Changing of the Tide and Born to be Happy. But also included for the first time were traditional reels with examples of his mandolin playing, one with a young Arthur Pottinger providing guitar accompaniment and another with Karl’s mother and Thomas’s daughter May, probably only aged about eight at the time, on her new electric guitar.
Another feature of the latest CD is Thomas performing lead guitar solos, something which was unheard of this context in the mid-1950s.
“I am really pleased with this,” Karl said. “It paints a picture of where Thomas Fraser was as a musician. I can hardly believe that this it’s eight or nine years since that first CD.”
Musician and author Duncan McLean, who was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland to tell the Thomas Fraser story, has provided valuable information on the latest release, including origins of the songs which Thomas chose.
After enthralling audiences over the past year with his Long Gone Lonesome show, along with this Orkney-based The Lone Star Swing Band, he said he was delighted to be able to help out and now be back in Burra again.
“It was a great privilege to be involved in the festival last year and being asked to write the sleeve notes was another thrill for me. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to old country music.”
He played the track Gambling Man, which showed Thomas’ versatility. “He could sing, he could yodel and he could sat Louis Armstrong style,” Duncan said.
The third person to speak was sound wizard Andrew Rose from Pristine Audio, who has worked on the audio restoration again, including using a new process which is not yet commercially available.
“That Thomas was able to record himself was quite remarkable,” he said, adding that five years before he purchased his first reel-to-reel recorder the price of one was about $4,000, the equivalent of £130,000 in today’s money. Even the £60 Thomas paid was a considerable amount at that time.
Andrew played three tracks from the new CD, each time starting with the opening bars in their original raw format, then with some enhancement and finally the complete restored version. There was much foot-tapping around the room, particularly on I Don’t Hurt Any More, with many of those who were influenced greatly by Thomas showing their approval.