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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,rossey Origins/Author: Dark Island (43) RE: Lyr Req: Dark Island‰\\•\ 02 Jul 01

Malcolm, thanks for apologising. I have been driven to the point of many nervous breakdowns over the distress every time I hear this song, all caused by a few simple words.

The money is not an issue to my family, the credit for the writing of the words is.

I know you hate the Ross lyric. It's all personal taste and cultural background. I grew up with my father's version which has been famous for over 30 years in this area, but has had a ghostly existence - due to often being put down as David Silver's version and sometimes not being credited at all.

When you hear my father's version sung well, with a good arrangement, it can be very moving - as both the simple emigration words and the altered music have an effect on the audience (again it depends on which culture your audience is). I have heard some really beautiful versions where the combination of my father's words, the music, singing and arrangement - does work well. On the other hand it can be also be a boring dirge when mishandled.

One section of artists go for my father's version because it is an overtly simple emigration song and suits their vocal range, and is not tied to a geographical location. Hence some Donegal singers have applied it to Ireland - when it is in fact a Scottish song written about the Highlands. You can pick or choose with this one, but it was never deliberately written for the established folk market and my father couldn't predict that it would be used in the way it has been.

The more formal David Silver lyric suits some singers far better than my father's (as do some of the others). But again it can sound overblown and turgid when mishandled.

Incidentally, David Silver's version took over as being the most widely used version in the 1980's - and is unassailable. The Ross version had been the biggest sales-wise until then; this was due to it being used, wrongly credited to Silver/Maclachlan on many PYE albums by Calum and Fiona Kennedy, Alasdair Gillies etc. These albums were awarded gold and silver discs. Calum Kennedy and Fiona Kennedy (once big Scottish stars) used it on TV, radio and theatre - and many amateur singers then picked it up as a 'granny pleaser'.

My father actually pleaded with Calum Kennedy, the record company and Essex Music publishers to have the whole thing stopped - but by then it was too widely used and making considerable royalties (in our terms)!

The Silver lyric took over by the 1980's and whilst not wanting to lose royalties from the Ross version, Mr Silver got rather upset when a country music group used the Ross version on an award-winning LP as his own version was now the absolute standard.

Stories were placed by Silver (a then journalist) in many of the national Scottish newspapers that anybody who used the Ross version would have their recordings withdrawn. There were a blaze of stories about the country group's record being banned as using an 'unauthorised' lyric. The contract my father was given was supposed to make it into an authorised version (albeit with a form of royalty waiver), but until the correct forms are filled in with the MCPS it remains in limbo.

So the DigiTrad site is adding to confusion. The two main vocal lyrics have been illegally going out as one for years - even though they are entirely different - and the words cannot be sung to the same tune.

I only ask for my father to be credited for the words. (Nobody should doctor the fact that he wrote them, naive lyrics or not.) The cycle can only broken if artists know that they should be morally credited in the first place to Stewart Ross. Also the lyrics on DigiTrad are misquoted and therefore don't scan as they should. There is also a potential legal minefield with the work, with all parties' rights involved in a tangle which periodically rises to the surface. Artists are always at risk of being drawn into the dispute.

The issue of uniting the words to the tune is difficult - as theoretically permission has been withheld.

Should it be Ross/Maclachlan?

Ian Maclachlan (deceased) has a registration for the tune in name, although there many people such as Mike Oldfield and James Galway plus Chieftains who have put the tune as trad so nobody gets credited - but royalties get automatically diverted to the correct parties.

In 1963, it was very difficult to check copyright - and the whole world of Scottish music was different. No situation such as this should arise today with the available registration checks - but it obviously still does. We've been the victim of record co. Lastly to re-iterate to others that the two main vocal versions were written in 1963, my father's being first.

To reiterate: The tune used in the 1963 BBC TV series was not written for it, but became re-titled as 'Dark Island' to fit as its theme. The tune had done the rounds of the Scottish music circuit for a few years before being formally copyrighted to Maclachlan adding to confusion over its origins. The tune had earlier titles including 'Dr. Mackay's Farewell to Creagorry' and 'Dr. McInness's Farewell to South Uist'.

The vocal versions appeared after the tune was used in the TV series. It was not therefore a case of a wholly conceived song being fiddled around with, but genuine confusion over authorship of the tune.

I hate to think what's out there on earlier discussions of this subject. I'll only get depressed if I look!

Thanks again for earlier apology, Malcolm.

Discussion closed unless anybody has any queries.

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