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Dick Gaughan’s Glasgow’s City Halls set started with his now standard introductory number, Si Kahn’s What You Do With What You’ve Got, as close to individualism as Gaughan gets.  The Leith troubador remains the champion of solidarity but his interpretation of Kahn also challenges individuals.  The whole gig delighted and challenged the audience.
Steeped in trade unionism and the political left, Gaughan inevitably referred back to the miners’ strike and derided New Labour’s obsession with celebrity.  There was also material harking back to earlier struggles.  The medley of tunes from the 1798 United Irishmen’s revolt displayed his virtuoso guitar picking.  A superb rendition of Adam McNaughton’s Thomas Muir of Huntershill made the point that every democratic right was wrested from the unwilling hands of the ruling elite.  Liberty and equality are complementary not contradictory.
Gaughan’s own all-time favourite, Burns’s paean to nature and love, Now Westlin Winds, held the audience totally in his spell.  The one weakness was his self-confessed obsession with guitar-tuning but it allowed some wonderful, warm and witty introductions to the music.
Gaughan’s music echoes key contemporary themes.  His reworking of the 1707 anti-Union ballad, Both Sides the Tweed, asserts that Scottish patriotism needn’t mean hatred of England.  His powerful version of Brian McNeil’s No Gods and Precious Few Heroes superbly dismisses romantic Jacobite nostalgia.  It was only proper then that his encore, a positive assertion of Scotland’s future, was a vintage rendition of Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye.  This was Gaughan with a mature finesse.
This article was originally published (with one typographical error) in The Caledonian Mercury on 19th September 2011
The illustration featured with this article is copyright Niall Reddy

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