In cupboards up and down the land is a battered blue cassette of five Shetland men playing and singing their hearts out, the same as they did several nights every week in the pubs and halls for many a year.
When it came out 21 years ago Hom Bru’s Rowin Foula Doon was the fastest-selling album at Clive’s Record Shop in Lerwick before earning its place as one of Shetland’s all-time classic recordings. The cassette player has since been ejected into history and the familiar folk songs and tunes from the tired old tape are now seldom heard, although not forgotten.
This week that has been put right with the re-release of a digitally remastered version on CD by the band themselves, prompting an outbreak of nostalgia on Facebook among the faithful and a rash of album buying in town.
Hom Bru still play on after 33 years but Rowin Foula Doon in 1990 featured what was perhaps the classic line up among many, fronted by the deep, rich voice of guitarist Ivor Pottinger who now rarely performs and is sorely missed on the local music scene. Steven Spence supplied blistering fiddle while Gary Peterson and Davie Henry combined with their trademark harmony mandolin or banjo and backing vocals, further enriched by the voice of bass guitarist Peter Miller.
Among its highlights were Caledonia, for many the definitive version of Dougie MacLean’s most famous song, and the hypnotic power of the title track, written by poet Vagaland and set to TMY Manson’s music. Among the many intricate tunes there was also the filskit fiddle of Spence’s Sylvia.
The album did actually come out on CD in 1995 on the Scottish label Klub Records with a different cover. But it was not promoted much. Gary Peterson said this week they had received the licence and master ADAT tapes back after Klub was done with them and it was decided to put it out again.
Folk had also been pestering current, and original, Hom Bru member Brian Nicholson who runs the High Level music shop.
Gary said: “When we got the rights back we thought we might as well promote it ourselves. It’s funny the amount of young folk that actually had the tape. Magnus Bradley of The Revellers said he was brought up on Nirvana and Rowin Foula Doon – that was his two favourite albums when he was younger! So we thought maybe we should bring it out.
“Clive thought it was the fastest-selling album he had ever seen at that time. It sold two or three thousand in the first week. He said if the [chart compilers] had phoned him that week it would have been in the Scottish charts.”
Local sound engineer Stevie Hook was brought in to remaster the tapes but Gary said it had not needed much tweaking. He is delighted with the results and admits to loving hearing it once more. “I think it’s just great to hear the tracks again. I’ve never listened to it fae the tape was out and I’ve never listened to tapes now for years.”
Putting him on the spot to ask if he thought it was the classic Hom Bru line-up, he is gracious and diplomatic as always: “I couldna say that. I think most folk think that and a lot of folk miss Ivor’s singing. Steven’s fiddle playing is immense – especially the fast stuff.”
Facebook has been buzzing with news of the re-release and memories like those of Carolyn Smith who wrote: “My bairns were brought up on it and all love the music still. I’m now going to introduce my grand bairns to it.”
The release has prompted fans to ask if the first album, 1978’s First Swig, will get similar treatment. Only about 500 copies were made.
Sadly, the master tapes recorded by Douglas Bentley for his Viking Vision label are believed to have been destroyed. However, Gary speculated it might be possible to salvage some kind of improved recording from an old album using modern technology.
The second album Obadeeaa was on Dave Bulmer’s Celtic Music label and is said to still be available with difficulty while the most recent, 2003’s No Afore Time, is in the shops.
These days there is a fashion for classic albums to be recreated in concert as close to the original as possible. It remains to be seen if that can happen with Rowin Foula Doon and Gary is, for once, not optimistic. So, for now, reliving the memories on CD will have to do.