Glasgow Barons / Whistlebinkies

Film City, Govan Town Hall

It’s often said that the test of a new piece is not so much its premiere as its revival as a second performance. It’s taken 30 years for someone to resurrect Eddie McGuire’s Riverside, in its day a novel and, according to the Glasgow Barons Orchestra’s founder and conductor Paul MacAlindin, the first ever example of a major work combining folk group and orchestra. So well done to him for rescuing it from obscurity and performing it at the very heart of Govan, the Clydeside community that inspired it.

Commissioned originally by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and first performed by the SCO and McGuire’s own Whistlebinkies folk group as part of Glasgow’s 1991 Mayfest, it’s a fresh and accessible expression of the River Clyde’s importance in shaping the existence of a community once dominated by the workaday reliability of its former shipbuilding industry. 

A near-uninterrupted thread of folk melodies echo that sense of social confinement, briefly offset by the Chinese-flavoured middle section inspired by a cruise ship tour by the Whistlebinkies down the Yangtze River and through which McGuire captures the universality expressed in the complementary presence of pentatonic melodies.

MacAlindin conducts this filmed performance, recorded in Govan Town Hall and available online, which is visually enhanced by periodic black and white film footage of Govan at its industrial height. 

That’s a useful counterpoint to McGuire’s music, which has a ghostly lugubriousness about it. Rising from rumbling, amorphous beginnings, the folk melodies enter surreptitiously before establishing themselves as the driving force of a tempered conversation between orchestra and folk group. There is nothing particularly euphoric about Riverside, more a questioning reflection on the mundanity of industrial life, where the warmth of human spirit is contained, but not extinguished, by the strictures of routine survival.

It is also, I think, a work that might be best experienced in the flesh, both from the player and audience perspectives, where the subtleties of nuance defining the respective classical and folk idioms can be lived rather than observed. 

But this is yet another impressive initiative from MacAlindin – nominated in last year’s RPS Awards for his wider groundbreaking work with refugee musicians in Govan – and his enterprising Barons, more of which will be rolled out over the coming months. There is genuine belief and affection throughout this performance, and a visible interaction among the musicians that translates into spirited musical response. Above all, it brings a forgotten work back to the community that first gave it life.

Ken Walton

Available to watch at