If you’re wandering around Edinburgh this August looking for a glimpse into year-round Scottish culture, it might be worth popping into the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile for Mairi Campbell’s second solo show, Auld Lang Syne.
A pleasant, fun journey through her life in Scottish traditional music
Edinburgh-born Campbell is a staple of the Scottish trad music scene, but her dual claims to international fame both centre on Auld Lang Syne, that most familiar of Rabbie Burns’ tunes. She performed the song at the Lincoln Center in Washington DC for Sean Connery’s Kennedy Center Honour, and her recording with husband and musical partner David Francis was featured in the 2008 Sex in the City movie.
Campbell weaves these stories together with early recollections of the song, the meaning and history of it both lyrically and musically, the origin of its global presence, and her experience learning and performing the pre-Burns, non-ceilidh-standard version. Musically, Auld Lang Syne is far from the only song she sings. Her signature viola makes its appearances, but her voice is the star of the show, along with backing tracks designed by Dave Gray, who also composed music for the show. Gray did beautiful work, but it is these moments where I most wish that Campbell was working with a band or ensemble. It seems a shame to have so much recorded music, including other voices, when the live nature of her stage presence is so much more exciting.
The storytelling aspects of the show are well conceived, though the delivery at some points needs a bit more pace. In addition to Auld Lang Syne itself, Campbell tracks her relationships with her childhood best friend, Catriona, and her husband Dave, both intersecting at various points with her song-history. The movement sequences that pepper the performance are a little hit or miss – at best funny and entertaining, at worst a little awkward.
Overall, though, Campbell’s natural charm, decades of stage experience, and stellar musicianship make Auld Lang Syne a pleasant, fun journey through her life in Scottish trad music. And it concludes, quite rightly, with a singalong of the titular song, reassuring me that regardless of the song sheet / program handed out at the top of the show and an hours’ worth of history and explanation, I was not the only person singing enthusiastically while getting the words completely wrong.