Scottish born singer, musician and songwriter Gibb Todd has been living in Australia for a year and a half. He and his wife Annie reside in sunny south-east Queensland. With a straight face but give-away glint in his eye, he reckons it is the closest place in the world with a similarity to Scotland’s climate. He and his wife had driven down to the National Folk Festival via Dubbo, keen to take the opportunity of seeing other parts of Australia.
This was Gibb Todd’s first performance at the festival in Canberra. He came with solid credentials. In the 1960’s he was a member of the Kerries folk group, which included his father. Gibb has toured with the Dubliners and the Furies, worked with Finbar Furey and Ronnie Drew and has travelled extensively. Each January, since its commencement in 1994, he has been a popular performer at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. In 2000 he released his first CD, which was produced by John McCusker. At the insistence of American musicians Alison Brown and Gary West, owners of Compass Records, he travelled to Nashville and recorded his latest CD Goin’ Home. Goin’ Home, which was produced by West, was released this year. When you read the names of the backing musicians who played or sang on the CD (Danny Thompson, Alison Brown, Tim O’Brien. Andrea Zonn, etc) well, let’s just say that Gibb Todd could be excused for being a name-dropper.
I had the opportunity of attending at least three of Gibb’s performances during the National Festival. The little of his music I had heard prior to this had certainly whet my appetite to hear more.
He is one of those performers who seem effortlessly to engage their audience from the outset. The times I saw him, he performed seated, accompanying himself in fine style on both guitar and banjo. It was a listening pleasure hearing him sing in his deep, resonant voice. Memorable songs from his latest CD included The Last Trip Home, Strong Women Rule Us, Fair and Tender Ladies and his strong originals Canada andWhere The Bangelows Are. When a person is capable of carrying such images of Australian places in his mind and then expressing them so succinctly in song, as in Where The Bangelows Are, you become genuinely excited thinking about the possible songs Gibb will write now that he lives here.
At one of his performances he spoke of his musical debt to the late Scottish singer Alex Campbell. He finished with Campbell’s anti-war songI’ve Been On The Road So Long, which resounded with relevance despite having been written some sixty years ago.
The CD Goin’ Home contains four original songs, three traditional tunes with strong American ties and arrangements by Gibb, and four covers.
The country feel of The Belle of Byron Bay gets the CD off to a bright, rollicking start. A reel of the same name by John Doyle effectively augments the song. The unique, magical sounding Australian place names continue in Where The Bangelows Are. On hearing this beautiful song, you realise that you are discovering rich musical territory. The song is enhanced by the warmth of Gibb’s bass vocal and sets him apart as a wonderful songwriter.
A moving, understated interpretation of The Band Played Waltzing Matilda follows. The graceful adornment of Stuart Duncan’s fiddle playing adds significantly to the attraction of this version of Eric Bogle’s well-known song. Davy Steele’s wistful homage to the working plough horse, The Last Trip Home, set to a beautiful tune by John McCusker, continues the reflective mood. This is broken by the old-time rhythmic vitality of Don’t Put Taxes On The Women, with its serving of sly humour.
Canada further reveals Gibb’s writing strengths. This song relates, in a very discerning way, the plight of the dispossessed Scottish Highlanders during the land clearances. The cyclical nature revealed in the narrative leaves the listener reflecting on the whole concept of homeland. The sensitive arrangement of the haunting melody makes this a choice track.
The familiar Fair And Tender Ladies is raised well above the ordinary by the rawness of Gibb’s vocal delivery and his ornate banjo playing. The concepts of home and belonging are raised again in the catchy, country style original Going Home. The song is autobiographical with some wisdom thrown in for good measure. The obligatory travel of the troubadour’s life juxtaposes the desire to return to the familiar – home.
Just when you feel that more than enough musical gems have already been revealed, the CD throws up three more treasures: a memorable rendition of Brian McNeill’s intriguing Strong Women Rule Us All, the rousing traditional Cape Cod Girls, complete with some improvised lines, and Violet Jacob’s poem of exile Norlin’ Wind, to Danny Thompson’s innovative and eerie setting of Jim Reid’s tune.
While chatting with Gibb and Annie at the National Festival, he said that he was looking forward to the time when he becomes a naturalised Australian. In my opinion, just his song Where The Bangelows Are makes him more than eligible already. The National Folk Festival organisers showed discriminating taste in exposing us to the music of Gibb Todd this year.