Auld Reekie is a veritable janus of a city — its two faces, innocent and sinister, have fascinated many artists. Robin Laing is a conscious heir of this turbulent tradition and his songs are compelling evocations of the camsteerie city and its many moods. Even when far away, in Cornwall or the West Highlands, Robin is still clearly under the sway of his native place.
If there is one unifying theme which binds these beguiling songs together it is a preoccupation with the transitory nature of things — with time, the passing of the seasons and the annual resurrection and rebirth which the folksong of the world celebrates.
This dominant theme is as much present in Union Canal — a really wonderful piece which is my own favourite — as in Spring Song; this latter was clearly influenced by the exultant Padstow May Day Song which accompanies the dance of the 'Obby 'Oss through the streets of a little Cornish coastal town.
The bewitching Isle of Eigg charts the progress of a love affair from spring to autumn and beyond; Day by Day is about growing up and Ulysses very much about growing old.
In Burke and Hare, Robin directs a fly beam of torchlight into the fetid darkness of Edinburgh's murky past; the Scots' imagination is not infrequently at home among the tombstones!
As a student of Edinburgh University's School of Scottish Studies in the early 1970s, Robin was able to immerse himself in Scotland's variegated folk traditions and he has used this experience to admirable advantage in a number of his songs.
It is no accident that the one traditional song on the album is the tragic ballad Andrew Lammie (also known as The Trumpeter of Fyvie). This song is still quite widely sung in the North East of Scotland and is consequently well represented in the School's archive.
In it most of Robin's preoccupations find poignant expression and his performance illustrates how much he has learned from the examples of traditional Scots' folksinging that the school has preserved.
There can be no doubt that his is one of the most thoughtful, gifted and promising voices of the Revival.
"Youth and Age, on the face of Corravine."
Edinburgh Skyline — Written at a time when I was living in Cornwall and missing my hometown. It is my personal and biased opinion that Edinburgh is one of the world's most beautiful and interesting cities. I had to live away from it for years to find that out.
Burke And Hare — A grisly but true tale with fascinating twists and turns. These were two Irishmen who came to Edinburgh to work on the construction of the Union Canal. Burke was hanged in the High Street in 1829, and his skeleton is still on display at the University. They were definitely not grave robbers but murderers pure and simple.
Love Is Born — It's dangerous to take a loving relationship for granted. This song was written at a time when I was down because I had done just that. However, note that hope springs eternal in the last verse.
The Union Canal — Only in the last Jew years have people become aware of the historical interest and potential recreational value of the canal. Just in time, as its deterioration and abuse had almost reached the point of no return. I have always been aware of its attractiveness and am glad that its future is now secure.
Leaving Today — Sometimes the safest way is not to get involved. This song was written quite a long time ago. Nowadays I don't have quite the same outlook.
Icarus — This lovely song appeals to me because of the Greek mythology theme. (Let's not forget that Edinburgh is the Athens of the North.) It has been written with great affection and care by Anne Lister.
Ulysses — This song presents Ulysses in his later life, as in the poem of the same name by Tennyson and is written from the point of view of his wife Penelope. Ulysses is a wonderful character though never a very popular hero in this country. Throughout the song there are glimpses of my awareness of approaching the mid-life crisis!
Isle of Eigg — Arisaig, Morar and the Inner Hebrides provide such a beautiful and romantic setting, I'm surprised there aren't many more love songs from the area.
Day by Day — This started as a poem for Mother's Day, written on behalf of my children in 1986, the year when the youngest went to school. I turned it into a song later.
Andrew Lammie — A traditional ballad on the common theme of family disapproval of romantic love between people not socially compatible. This theme has a lot to do with the importance of marriage and inheritance and may even hint back to a time of arranged marriage.
Spring Song — One of the most powerful experiences I had while living in Cornwall was to go to the Padstow May Day. This song is based on the Song of Life from that celebration.
Passing Time — This is an enigmatic little number, so I won't give anything away. I wrote it after reading something by Albert Camus and had been thinking about life, the universe and everything.