Expand the Table of Contents (below) to find the review you want
- MÀIRI MACMILLAN
- RÃO KYAO
- TRANSGLOBAL UNDERGROUND
- CATH & PHIL TYLER
- HARBOTTLE & JONAS
- MICK’S QUICKS
- JIM CAUSLEY
- JENNY STURGEON
- VARIOUS ARTISTS
- THE CHAIR
- MOSSY CHRISTIAN
- NICK DOW
Independent release MMM1CD
Màiri MacMillan was brought up in Milton, a tack or tenant farm on the Hebridean island of South Uist; it takes its name from the Scottish Gaelic of Geàrraidh Bhailteas, and it was on this tack that 18-century Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald was born and spent her childhood. Màiri has spent her life surrounded by the Gaelic language, culture, music and song, and she comes from a family the a strong Gaelic background. Gaelic is her first language and Gaelic songs and traditions are always an important part of family life.
This is the long-awaited album from her; Gu Deas translates as South or Southern, and Màiri deftly and expertly displays eleven songs from South Uist tradition bearers. Joining Màiri are four wonderful and talented musicians: Mhairi Hall, (harmonium, piano, flute and whistle), Megan Henderson (fiddle and voice), Ali Hutton (bodhràn, guitar, whistle and great highland bagpipes) and Rachel Newton (clàrsach, electric harp and voice). She sets the atmosphere just right with the brisk and dancing opener ‘Mairead nan Cuiread’ (Wily Margaret), a trippingly hypnotic waulking song; Mairi, who learned the song with Kate Nicholson leading the verses, describes “The energy and the spirit, the women coming together to waulk the cloth is magnificent.” In contrast, ‘O Phiuthrag Ole O Phiuthar’ (Oh Wicked Confidant O Sister) tells the story of a woman who falls in love with a mythical creature who is half-man, half-horse; she is betrayed by her sister.
Màiri’s sweet and lovely voice runs the gamut of Hebridean culture, from ‘B’ Feàrr Leam nan Tigeadh Mo Robairneach Gaolach’ (I Wish The Return Of My Clever Darling), which she learned at school, to ‘Mo Rùn Geal Òg (Cumha Uilleim Shiosalaich)’ (My Fair Young Love (William Chisholm’s Lament) – a really fine closer. Mhairi, Megan, Ali and Rachel do such precise wonders with the accompaniment; combined with Mairi’s confident, must-listen-again vocals, it’s a strong advertisement for South Uist.
Galileo Music GMC093
Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest spiritual and political leaders of the 20th century; he was born in 1869 and assassinated on January 30, 1948 by Nathuram Godse, an advocate of Hindu nationalism. An Indian lawyer and an anti-colonial nationalist, Gandhi led the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule. He employed Satyagraha – resistance to tyranny through mass non-violent civil disobedience. What started as a relatively small-scale peaceful walk to protest against British salt pans in Dandi, Gujarat ended with thousands of protesters joining in the march. Gandhi reached down and picked up the salt grains in his hands, claiming the salt for India.
Portuguese bamboo flute master Rão Kyao – real name João Maria Centeno Gorjão Jorge – recorded six albums in the course of many years, and his seventh honours the great man. He produced Gandhi using traditional and modern instruments, including Portuguese guitar, accordion, harmonium and the viola braguesa, from Braga in north-west Portugal; Rao’s warm, lovely bamboo flute blends in with the proud and peaceful music, including Gandhi’s favourite devotional song or bhajan, ‘Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je’, written in the 15th century the Indian poet and composer, Narsinh Mehta. Originally written for the devotees of Vaishnavism, the song is known for its profound teachings about human conduct.
‘Marcha Do Sal’ (Salt March) celebrates the march on the Dandi salt pans, and Rão Kyao performs so many tunes which form Gandhi’s views on life: ‘Respeito Pela Naturanza’ (Respect for Nature), ‘Deus É Amor’ (God Is Love), ‘Paz E O Caminho’ (Peace Is The Way), ‘Misericórdia’ (Mercy), ‘Sathya Graha’, ‘Independência’ (Independence) and the closing coda ‘Mahatma’ create a beautiful, permanent work. He says: “Gandhi was always ahead of his time, a futurist. His philosophy is exactly what we need nowadays.”
A Gathering Of Strangers 2021
Mule Satellite MULE20
The highly commendable European Union Erasmus scheme was established in 1987 to allow students from EU member states to study abroad for a part of their degree; however, the English Tory prime minister Boris Johnson plumbed the depths of philistinism by scrapping all grants in Wales, Scotland, The North Of Ireland and England in his Brexit frenzy. Before that, Transglobal Underground musicians and core members Hamilton Lee (alias Hamid Mantu) and Tim Whelan (alias Alex Kasiek) used their money by journeying across the continent and collaborating mainly in Prague, Budapest and Sofia, searching in unexpected corners for traditional songs of emigration, immigration and travel across Europe – and their findings enabled TGU to create an ear-popping patchwork array of Balkan, English and Irish voices together with traditional Balkan kaval flutes, hurdy-gurdies, violins, hip-hop, pounding drum and bass dub, spacey synths and electronic bubbling farts in far-reaching, experimental cross-over folk-mix.
TGU are a group of London-based collaborationists with many floating members, past and present – including storyteller and lead singer TUUP, percussionist and lyricist (an acronym for The Unorthodox Unprecedented Preacher, real name Godfrey Duncan), Natacha Atlas on vocals, bassist Count Dubulah (real name Nick Page), Johnny Kalsi (dhol) and Larry Whelan (saxophone, clarinet, ney, shenai and string arrangements). A Gathering Of Strangers 2021 starts off finely with stunning open-throated Eastern European singing from Nóri Kovács in ‘I Left My Sweet Homeland’, accompanied by Iván Barvics on kaval and hypnotic percussion; and the follow-up, ‘Hey You Shepherd’, scores even better with a jaw-dropping trio of female voices (Eugenia Georgieva, Jazmina Stosic and Dessislava Vasileva) mixed in with Hungarian and Bulgarian kavals (Iván Barvics and Alexander Todorov), Eastern European gaida bagpipe (Apostol Georgieva), violinist Gundula Gruen, davul drummer Juan Pino, beats programmer Christopher Juul and hurdy-gurdy player Seren Hammerlund.
All the tracks are arranged and mixed by TGU; English folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Jim Moray swaps voices with Nóri Kováks in ‘Lisbon / Soldier Song from Ӧrdöngösfüzes’, and Eugenia Georgieva’s incredibly beautiful vocals shine through the kaval, violin and lap steel guitar on ‘When You Hear Me Sing’. However, Stuart Staples’ histrionic tortured expressions in ‘The Miner’s Dream Of Home’ does not float my boat – and the album goes downhill after that, with a plethora of annoying synthetic beeps and burbles. Martin Furey, son Finbarr Furey, performs ‘Van Dieman’s Land’ to Bourama Badji’s Mandika rap, and Weronika Grozdew-Kotaci interprets ‘I Have Sold My Field’ to hammered dulcimer accompaniment. ‘Hudci’ is one big noise, and the closing tune – the Irish traditional song ‘Farewell My Dear Own Native Land’, made famous by the late Cork-born traveller Margaret Barry – is a messy dog’s dinner of production, with banjo, whistle and kaval fighting to be heard above the mayhem. The album is a bit of a curate’s egg, with absolutely inspiring voices and wonderful ancient instruments sparring with DJs’ electronics. TGU have come very close – but, regretfully, no cigar.
CATH & PHIL TYLER
Some Heavy Hand
Ferric Mordant Records FE12
Cath and Phil are a raw, stripped-bare Anglo-American folk duo, combining guitar, banjo, fiddle and voices with the thrilling sounds of Sacred Harp, the New England shape-note tradition which has lasted more than 200 years, Stephen Foster’s plantation melodies, a Bellamy-Kipling song-poem and ultra-rare versions of country material. They tied the knot in 2003; before that, Cath lived in Massachusetts where she played bass guitar as part of the American folk-punk band Cordelia’s Dad and was a member of shape-note singing quartet Northampton Harmony. Phil comes from Newcastle upon Tyne and has been a mainstay of the North-East folk scene for years. Before lockdown, they hosted a weekly night in Newcastle, while Cath is a respected Sacred Harp teacher.
Since they recorded Dumb Supper, their first album in 2008, they have gathered a collection of unreleased and rarely-heard tracks – including the follow-up CD The Hind Wheels of Bad Luck. The opening shouter ‘Palms Of Victory’ was their first recording in 2005 at Brancepeth Castle, about five miles south-west from the city of Durham; the last offering is ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’, composed in 1884 by G. Clifton Bingham and James Lynam Malloy and recorded at Cath and Phil’s home for a Resonance FM Bloomsday programme. If you don’t recognise the name, you will when Cath sings the familiar chorus: “Just a song at twilight…” ‘Angeline’ was adapted from Stephen Foster, who called it ‘Angelina Baker’; they say their version owes a lot to Dwight Miller, who interprets the song slower than most. The James Rowe and R.H. Cornelius 1925 composition ‘Give Me The Roses’ was recorded at home for the 2014 Leigh Festival competition, and William Farrington’s 1848 Methodist hymn, ‘Dying Boy’, is given the full hairs-on-the-spine a capella shape-note style. The album’s title derives from Farrington’s verses: “Mother, I’m dying now / There’s a deep suffocation in my breast / As if some heavy hand my bosom pressed…”
The whole album is spiced with their no-holds-barred, stark and simple material; the well-known folk chestnut ‘The Water Is Wide’, recorded for a NARC magazine 2009 compilation, takes on a new meaning when it’s given their down-home treatment, and ‘Sunshine’ – recorded from The Ox And The Axe 2018 sessions – develops a bleak and beautiful quality which is completely different from the usual show-biz vaudeville style. ‘Our Fathers of Old’, written by Rudyard Kipling and embellished with a Peter Bellamy melody, is a fresh departure from the American tradition; and ‘Amazing Grace’, John Newton’s well-known hymn, dons a freshly made-up face enhanced with an unusual tune.
Only one thing is missing – and that is Cath’s fiddle. That’s a shame; perhaps in choosing the album’s tracks, the fiddle got left out. Memo to myself: must investigate Cath and Phil’s strange, wonderful repertoire…
HARBOTTLE & JONAS
Brook View Records BVR002
Devon duo David Harbottle and Freya Jonas combine a love of the richness of traditional folk with the compelling sound of their own dreamy songwriting; The Beacon is the fifth album under their belts, and the mixture of concertina, harmonium, banjo, acoustic guitar and cittern married to their beautiful and closely intertwined harmonies produce a fresh and original texture. Collaborator Annie Bayliss joins them on violin, accordion and three-part vocals.
The album is named after Ugborough Beacon, the ancient site that looms over South Brent, the Dartmoor village that David and Freya call home – the home to which they hurriedly returned from a cancelled tour of Germany, rushing to make it back to Devon before the UK entered lockdown in mid-March last year. The Beacon is their attempt to break away from the confines of the folk scene and sail ahead in the commercial pop industry wave; engineer and producer Josh Best-Shaw creates some very lush layers, with David multi-tracking, loads of echo and shimmering, drifting voices. What is more, they wrote and recorded the collection entirely in their living room during the 2020 covid pandemic.
The title track, where Harbottle and Jonas salute the site, is truly impressive; pounding percussion and sweeping violin heralds the coda. The pretty ‘Edith Cavell’ tells a sombre Great War story of how she was murdered by German troops, and Freya’s ‘I Make A Nest’ is simply demurringly gentle. ‘Whenever You See A Robin’ is mindbogglingly complicated to an exhilarating degree, and ‘Every Creature Is A Book’ is really feelgood pop. Annie delivers some gorgeous viola in the instrumental interlude; and Freya’s lovely voice shines through to the last traditional track, ‘Black Is The Colour’, which is utterly breathtaking.
What a fine album, but it’s linked to a cautious comment: in trying to appeal to large audiences, the production is tending to drown out the words and the meaning. The average pop fan doesn’t give two hoots about the lyrics, but the average folk fan certainly does. Let’s sincerely hope that David and Freya don’t fall between the commercial and folk stools.
Reg Meuross is a prolifically industrial and very entertaining singer-songwriter; in fact, he’s just one of my favourite contemporary guitarist-troubadours right now. He has just released an incredible seven albums, which speak volumes of the history of the man and his music. The Goodbye Hat (Hat Records, HAT014) is the 1996 introduction to the young Reg, with an array of session musicians – the title song has a unforgettable ‘earworm’ mighty chorus. Short Stories (HAT015, 2004), Still (HAT016, 2006), Dragonfly (HAT017, 2008), All This Longing (HAT018, 2010) and Leaves & Feathers (HAT017, 2013) provide oodles of marvelous material; Songs About A Train (HAT012, 2017) is a collection of unreleased songs, recorded between 2013 and 2017. What utter quality!
Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter Bob Leslie started off in the 1960s folk boom but found himself in the pop industry, courted by Kinks managers and Chrysalis Records; Back in Glasgow, he returned to folk and released Land And Sea (2017), The Barren Fig (2019) and his latest album, In Praise Of Crows (Big Red 5). Bob’s booming voice eloquently explores the 12 tracks plus a bonus ‘Bess Millie’ – he plays electric, acoustic and bass guitars, and his talented daughter provides proves vocals on two songs. Verdict: a razor-sharp comment on life in Scotland today.
Aberdeenshire-born Iona Fife has released her new digital single, Scotland Yet, a preview of her forthcoming crowdfunding album. Written by the late lamented Davey Steele, it’s a proud anthem which addresses to all Scots on the question of independence: “The choice will be upon us soon tae set oor destiny / I’ll drink a toast tae Scotland yet whatever yet may be.” A trio of musicians sets the tone: guitarist Jack McRobbie, double bassist Charlie Stewart and Graham Rorie (mandolin, fiddle, electric tenor guitar).
The beautiful Scottish song ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ found its way over the Atlantic to the Appalachian hills; Dartmoor duo Harbottle & Jonas hit the target with their promising digital preview single Black Is The Colour (Brook View Records), a foretaste of the just-released album The Beacon. Freya Jonas takes solo lead and plays harmonium, David Harbottle supports with guitar and cittern and Annie Bayliss adds violin to the lush arrangement.
Fruzsina Zsofia Rakoczy is an Anglo-Hungarian singer and concertina, recorder and bagpipe player, born in Budapest and now based in Manchester; her debut album Frontrunner (Talking Cat Records TCCD2002) is a mad whirl of traditional and pop themes concerning the mysterious horse, backed by The Horror Show (musicians Heather Sirrell, Edwin Beasant, Jon Loomes and Forbes Legato). Bagpipe, hurdy-gurdy and Rakoczy’s stark voice combine to conjure an intoxicating upbeat sound.
Where The Wind Blows (EP Records EPR002) is the second album for Sardinian Elena Piras; She moved to London at the age of 18, and then to Scotland in 2006 to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art. it’s a compelling mix of well-known and well-loved folk material and beautiful Scottish and Gaelic songs, including Robert Burns’ ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ and the traditional ‘Soraidh Leis An Áit’, which local Borders radio have aired for her. Session musicians include pianist and mixer Angus Lyon and fiddler Seonaid Aitken.
The Daughters Of The Dessert’s six-track EP Sorrow Soothe (New Cat, no catalogue number) is so left-field that it drops off and vanishes into space. It’s the latest project that was born at the London Musicians’ Collective Renaissance FM, comprising composer and producer Esbe, writer presenter Jude Cowan Montague and studio engineer Mia Kutathasan. Lots of pulsating synth and dissonant harmonies – disturbingly weird.
Jerry Akehurst spent this project building, insulating and equipping a studio on the isle of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides, harvesting 50 years of his best written songs. The result is An Old Man’s Folly (JA2021, independently released), 13 heartwarming, feelgood tracks which are really generous, time-wise; the shortest song, ‘Last Boat’, is a mere four minutes and 15 seconds, while ‘Heaven’s Bounty’ is a shade under five minutes, the folk-influenced ‘Atlantic Charter’ is six minutes and the magnificent ‘Remembrance Day’ lasts nine-and-a-half minutes – and time really does fly by when he packs in a plethora of enjoyable and must-hear material.
Coth Records COTHCD
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Intarsia is spellbinding percussionist Jo May and innovative fiddler Sarah Matthews, who have worked together since 2018. The name of this remarkable duo derives from a blend of textures in textiles and woodcraft, similar to marquetry; but Jo and Sarah like to think of it as “an intricate blend patterned musical sounds using a variety of wooden instruments and voice – an acoustic intarsia.” Jo has worked for different bands, including Against The Grain, Xoox and Token Women, while Sarah is a member of Cupola, Moirai and Derby band Cross o’th Hands – and Sistere is a latin verb meaning ‘to stand still’ or ‘to take a stand.’
Sarah executes some pretty neat fiddle, viola and octave violin; Jo maintains a plethora of percussion instruments, including a tan tan, cajon, conga, pandeiro, spoons, bodhràn, assorted foot pedals and drums. However, the balafon takes the lion’s share – it’s a type of gourd-resonated West African xylophone which is spreading from Guinea across to Mali. Its recognisable and thrillingly exotic sound can be heard in the opening track, Jo’s composition ‘Mam Tor’; meanwhile, Jo and Sarah certainly ring the changes with their very tasty follow-up, ‘Les Doigts De Carmen/ Round The Corner’ – two gutsy, kicking tunes from the highly-respected hurdy-gurdy player Evelyne Girardon and the celebrated and well-loved diatonic accordionist Andy Cutting.
Sarah’s beautiful and lusciously-low voice heralds the traditional song ‘Once I Had A Spring Of Thyme’, blended with the gloriously complicated tune ‘Playing For Time’ by ex-Cross o’th Hands member Doug Eunson, who engineered and mastered the album at Derby’s Old Farm Studios. Jo and Sarah are absolutely brimming over with inspirational and exciting material; Jo conjures up her mind-boggling melody ‘Double Figures’, and Sarah is so stunning on the late Bill Caddick’s ‘The Barmaid’s Song’ – her a capella singing, accompanied by Jo’s empathetic, quiet-but-insistent percussion, can move mountains.
The tracks come thick and fast; Jo’s ‘Always A Smile’ is a dear tribute to her sister, who passed away in hospital, and ‘Le Bandeau Perdu’ is Sarah’s lovely but sad story of the lost hairband at the St Chartier festival. Jo’s ‘Lost At Dusk’ was composed at a scary time when she and a friend got thoroughly misplaced, just as the setting sun threw long, dark shadows. Sarah’s dizzy jig, ‘Amber’s Great Adventures’, celebrates one of her chickens who escaped many times; Jo adds some magical stuff on the balafon, and throws in ‘Somewhere In Between’ – a whimsical melody whose 7/8 time is guaranteed to have dancers tripping over themselves.
One remarkable and very noticeable impression is that Jo and Sarah play the tunes and the songs completely on their own; Doug touches up one or two subtle double-tracks for good measure. However, Sarah names the final track ‘Sol Sistere’, which praises the wonders of our universe and the summer solstice – and Jo and Sarah join over a goodly score of singers, recorded remotely in the 2020 lockdown, as the chorus swells: “Let the sun stand still…” Buy it, I implore you!
Hröc Music HROC05
Here’s one in the eye for those glitzy million-pound commercial productions! Jim returns to his roots for his lockdown home-produced album on his own label, proudly strutting his stuff and displaying 20 traditional, written and supremely local songs from Devon. What a magnificent collection it is – and he has already recorded 30 more down-home melodies and verses for his planned Devon trilogy. Born 40 years ago in Exeter, he lives in his home village of Whimple, in the heart of cider country and the wassailing culture. In these covid times, all the Devonshire Roses musicians recorded themselves at home – Jim is playing a battery of instruments including his piano accordion, button accordion, accordina and piano, Matt Norman is on his mandolin, banjo and mandola and Nick Wyke contributes his violin, viola, guitar, glockenspiel, ukulele and voice. Josephine and Ross, from the Causley family, supply vocals; and the Mariners Away Shanty Crew add luscious and lusty unison singing. Last, but not least, is artist Karen Cater’s lovely painting, which serves as an impressive CD cover – the Welsh-language ‘Dyfnaint’ proper noun really leaps out!
First off is ‘The Bell Ringing’; Jim adopts a jaunty swing and a bucolic accent, and the sound of church peals adds to the atmosphere. He stamps the ubiquitous ‘The Rounding Of Cape Horn’ as a true Devon song, and Brendon Valley farmer Margaret Palmer sang the gay ‘Bampton Fair’, which is still held every last Thursday in October.
‘Childe The Hunter’ is a true story, and Childe’s Tomb marks the spot where Tavistock Abbey monks discovered his frozen body. In pre-covid days, Jim used to host Jan Stewer nights; Jan Stewer was the nom-de-plume of John Albert Coles, an author, teacher, journalist, performer and TV personality who wrote humorous letters and stories in the Devon and Exeter Gazette. Coles wrote ‘What About A Little Drop Of Cider’, which Jim and company take to the limit. In contrast, a navvy working on the Barrator Reservoir sang the beautiful ‘Queen Of Hearts’, taken down by the Reverend Sabine Baring Gould – who, despite all his faults, certainly made his mark on Devon tradition.
The Dartmoor ghost song ‘My Lady’s Coach’ was one that Baring Gould learned from his nurse, Mary Bickle of Bratton Clovelly. Jim sings a bevy of the reverend’s work, including the sombre murder ballad ‘Ockington’, an old name for Okehampton, ‘Blackingstone Ravens’, an unusual Devon variant of the ‘Two Crows’ ballads. Typically, Baring Gould collected many versions of popular cumulative song ‘The Mallard’ but discarded the words as nonsense. Jim learned a medley of versions from Bunny Palmer Henry Mitchelmore and sings the slewed, crazy words magnificently.
Devonshire Roses is brimming over with wonderful songs, including Phoebe Birch’s Derby Ram-like ‘Flemington Great Meat Pie’ and ‘Twenty One Years On Dartmoor’, a 1930s song written by the American Bob Miller. It smacks of the traditional prison song ‘Birmingham Jail’, and Jim sings “Dart-i-moor Jail” to fit in with the rhythm. The album closes with the notorious ‘Widecombe Fair’; Baring Gould collected many versions of this song, but was the first to give it the title of ‘Widecombe Fair’. Jim says that the actual fair in Widecombe did not begin until 1850, but the first published reference to the song ‘Old Cobley’ was in 1761. Verdict: The Devon Songbook in glorious CD – it’s fair to say that Roses definitely grow on you.
The Living Mountain
Hudson Records HUD021CD
The book The Living Mountain conveys the very essence of the Cairngorm mountain range in north east Scotland; it was written by Aberdonian Nan Shepherd in the 1940s, but it sat in her desk drawer until it was published in 1977. Singer and songwriter Jenny Sturgeon paints a fabulous picture of the brooding, empty splendour of the high country – and a number of session musicians complete the vivid, shimmering image. She is working on an audio-visual project of the same name, alongside award-winning curator, filmmaker, facilitator, strategist and producer Shona Thomson – a collection of songs and films triggered by Nan’s book. Supported by Creative Scotland and Help Musicians, the show was supposed to be tour on 2020 and 2021; however, the covid pandemic jinxed that. Here’s hoping that the tour will blossom and grow this year.
Jenny is an organic musician who forges the old and the new with a fine and rare skill and individual art. Her songs are seamlessly woven with nature, folklore and the beautiful, rugged wild country. Among her recordings is the 2016 geese-inspired CD From The Skein and the 2018 album Northern Flyway, with accordionist Inge Thompson, a virtual tone-poem which tracked the course of the migrating sea-birds. The Living Mountain successfully brings together all the emptiness and grandeur of nature’s ways.
The celebrated producer Andy Bell recorded Jenny’s songs in the remote Clashnettie Arts Centre, close by the Cairngorm range. Jenny plays a plethora of instruments, including guitar, piano, dulcimer and harmonium; Magnus Robb and The Sound Approach and Jez Riley French contributed field recordings of the copious wildlife which inhabits the thousands of acres – snipe, crested tit, snow bunting, golden plover, ptarmigan and red deer. Musicians include bassist Grant Anderson, viola player Mairi Campbell and cellist Su-a Lee; from the opener ‘The Plateau’ to the closing ‘Being’, ethereal harmonies and fleeting, wonderful strings abound. This album is like an isolated walk by yourself in the mountains; it soothes the mind and refreshes the soul.
Between Islands (double CD)
An Lanntair Records LANCD0006
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
In line with several creative ideas, the Between Islands Project had to be halted because of covid-19. Originally initiated by the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, Lewis, and funded through the LEADER 2014-2020 regional cooperation scheme, the project had been working with 13 artists from Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides. Musical performances were planned for the Shetland Folk Festival and Heb Celt in Lewis, but the virus put paid to that.
Project coordinator Alex Macdonald explains: “As the project was based on live events, initially we were at a loss as to how it could be saved. Thankfully we were able to redesign what was planned, and this double CD contains both live work previously captured and a series of entirely new tracks recorded in lockdown.”
Between Islands encapsulates the songwriting project, with Orkney’s Kris Drever, Willie from Lewis and Arthur Nicholson from Shetland; the fiddle project, with Shetland’s Maggie Adamson, Orkney’s Louise Bichan and Lewis’s Jane Hepburn Macmillan trading some stunning and beautiful tunes; and the folk project, with Orkney musicmeister quartet Saltfishforty, North Uist-born Julie Fowlis, Kathleen Macinnes (born in South Uist and living in Glasgow), Maggie Adamson, Jenny Napier Keldie and Neil Johnstone.
CD one is studio recorded and CD two live at An Lanntair; the many spectacular highlights include Saltfishforty and Jane Hepburn Macmillan’s rollicking and swaggering ‘The Curly Doddy/The West To The North/The Last Queen Of Burray’; the classic and serene ‘Da Slockit Light’, written by the late fiddler Tom Anderson after the passing of his wife; Maggie Adamson’s ‘Maggie Robertson’s Reel/Cosgrave’s Sound/Hurlock’s Reel’; ‘Fishing Puirt/The Stronsay Weaver’, an unaccompanied puirt a beul which tells the story of the herring girls following the fishing fleet; and fiddler Douglas Montgomery’s ‘Howe Hornpipe’, composed for his mother and father on the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary – Howe is the family home in Burray where he grew up with his brother and sister. All the tracks are faultlessly superb, and they include Kris Drever pairing with Linda Macleod, Neil Johnstone linked with Louise Bichan, Arthur Nicholson duetting with Julie Fowlis, Maggie Adamson together with Kathleen Macinnes and Willie Campbell performing with Jenny Napier Keldie. All the artists absolutely strike sparks; Between Islands could have met with disaster because of the virus, but now this double album is a triumphant must-hear souvenir for all the world to share and savour.
Folky Gibbon Records FGCD0025
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
The Chair is a mighty kick-butt eight-piece dance band from the bleak and beautiful Orkney Islands; the line-up is drummer Erik Laughton, percussionist Robbie Thompson, bassist Andrew Gifford, guitarist Gavin Firth, accordionist Bob Gibbon, Brian Cromarty on banjo and mandolin, while Kenny Ritch and Douglas Montgomery magic up the singing, ringing fiddles. Orkney Monster is the long-awaited third album, and it’s living aural proof that nobody can keep still when these cracking musicians get down and just rock. They have become synonymous for live concerts, festival highlights, late-night parties and the unique ‘Orkney Stomp’, which fits in snugly with ‘The Orkney Soond’ – in fact, Douglas and Brian make up half of the Orcadian quartet Saltfishforty, which the magazine Living Tradition recommends as “a class act from start to finish”.
This album sizzles, backfires, steams and smoulders. Master tunesmith Gavin contributes his fair share, including the desolate-but-gentle epic ‘Wee Davie’. Douglas and Brian write barnstorming tunes, Bob fashions the marvelous ‘Margaret Davidson’ while Kenny pens ‘Fixing George’, the first in the ‘Fixing Jigs’ set. First up is a sizzling ‘Beachcombers’ set, which fires off with a polka penned by Gavin, building up with Donal Lunny’s ‘Tolka Polka’ and culminating with ‘The Angry Seal’, Douglas’s shuddering juggernaut of a dance tune. There are only two songs, but the vocals and harmonies are really impressive and refreshing – American Tim O’Brien’s juiced-up ‘Walk Beside Me’ and Tom Waits’ wistful, wonderful composition ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.
The Chair alternate between brash-and-swaggering original tunes – I’m just loving those fiddles! – and gorgeous, peaceful airs of beauteous splendour. Most of all, the traditional, chugging ‘The Rose In The Gap’ shouts loudly and clearly what the band is all about – a carnivorous energy-force coupled to a no-holds-barred attitude of creating never-ending hedonistic fun. No doubt about it – Orkney Monster places them fairly and squarely in the champions’ league of exciting artists to watch, hear, experience and savour.
ARC Music EUCD2935
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
The members of Llantrisant Folk Club were eagerly looking forward to experience the five-strong Belgian band WӦR coming to South Wales and playing their stunning set; alas, that wasn’t to be. Baritone saxophonist Fabio Di Meo, fiddler, mandolin and banjoist Jergen Goegebuer, bagpiper, saxophonist and pianist Pieterjan Van Kerckhoven, accordionist Bert Ruymbeek and guitarist/double bassist Jonas Scheys cancelled their British tour – and on the resurgence of the covid pandemic, music, shows, singing, dancing and the whole way of life came to a shuddering stop.
This is the third album from this Flanders five-piece, and it’s based upon the lovely tradition of the carillon – a set of tuned bronze bells, suspended in a bell tower. Belgium and The Netherlands enjoy the greatest concentration of bell towers in the world, with 68 in all. Carillons can vary significantly in weight, ranging from a few hundred kilograms to 40 tons; professional bellringers, or carilloneurs, play the music with a baton-type keyboard, where the keys are connected to the bells’ clappers and sets them in motion. Around 1644, brothers Francois and Pieter Hemony together with the carillonneur Jacob Van Eyck developed a technique to tune the bells accurately. From then on, Carillons mostly played arrangements of folk songs; however, from the 18th century onwards, original compositions were written for the instrument. The First World War broke out, and 13 carrillons were destroyed; this caused a great outcry and led to the introduction of the carillon culture in North America. In 2014, UNESCO recognised the carillon culture in Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia as an intangible cultural heritage.
WӦR develop this remarkable album as a full-on and delightful assault on the audience’s ears and minds – absolutely great and very startling writing, using hints of classical pieces melded to Belgian folk, and a never-ending battery of bagpipes, saxes, fiddles, accordion and echoing, ringing carillon stir the bubbling musical cauldron. The striking repertoire is entirely instrumental; voices would only break the spell of the scintillating atmosphere.
About Towers is overflowing with ingenuous originality coupled with a bonding love and regard of ageless Belgian tradition; from the opening ‘Beyaert’ to the entrancing ‘Jolies Filles’, the joyous ‘Bien Amoureux’ and the closing, quiet ‘Cecilia’, quite simply it’s a gorgeous cracker. When I travel to Belgium, notwithstanding covid and the appalling Brexit nightmare, I will see and hear carillons in a different light now.
Come Nobles and Heroes
Talking Cat Recordings ORRCD002
Mossy Christian comes from Lincolnshire and is a talented player of the fiddle, anglo-concertina and one-row melodeon; Jon Loomes, the well-known hurdy-gurdy player who set up Talking Cat Recordings and co-produced Mossy’s solo debut album, describes him as “a young performer who bears the mantle of tradition proudly.” Influenced by source singers such as Joseph Taylor, Harry Cox and Walter Pardon, his dextrous musicianship bubbles with a sparkling vitality. Come Nobles and Heroes is chock-full of traditional and Kipling-Bellamy material from England’s coastal counties and makes a very interesting listen.
Mossy’s session musicians comprise the wonderful Johnny Adams (trombone and bass brass arrangements), Gina Le Faux (mandolin), Tim Walker (percussion and cornet) and Jon on guitar and hurdy-gurdy. Edwin Beasant plays bass bugle and Ruth Bibby lends a hand – or rather, two feet – at clog dancing, on the finisher ‘Dan Leno’. First up is the ranting medley ‘Market Rasen Feast / Louth Quickstep’, learned from a manuscript which was compiled from 1823 to 1826 by Jushua Gibbons, a papermaker from Tealby, Lincolnshire, suitable for the band to get motoring. Methinks I hear Mossy double-tracked on fiddle and squeeze-box! Definitely one to watch…
…Then As Now
I’m really looking forward to a Llantrisant Folk Club visit by Nick Dow and his lovely gypsy wife Mally on July 7, 2021 – covid and the new dangerous strain permitting. Nick, a Londoner who has located to East Lancashire, is a mesmerising performer, impressive guitarist and respected song collector, and he makes it his business restoring and renovating travellers’ wagons. He has been performing and researching folk songs for over 40 years and is an acknowledged expert on the West Country tradition.
During the pandemic lockdown, Nick has taken the time to list together all the existing recordings that he owns. He recorded tracks for the BBC in 1990, with Nigel Canter on fiddle and Chris Robson on button accordion; however, the BBC eventually deleted all the recordings. Nick thought the tracks had disappeared – but, he says, imagine his delight when a long-lost cassette dropped through his letter box. A friend of Nick’s had stored the BBC recordings in his loft and kept them for the last 30 years; little did he know that he had found he had found a precious gem.
A lot has happened in those 30 years; Nigel went on to join the bluegrass band Bowed Legged Skeeter – recent favourites at the Gower Bluegrass Festival – and had a successful music career. Chris became a light operatic singer; both are still playing and performing. However, the recordings have been remastered and …Then As Now has been made into a CD, with three extra unreleased tracks. The songs are from the Hammond and Gardiner collections or songs which Nick found in Dorset on his collecting trips, and he has polished his reputable repertoire as good as new. Fourteen entrancing stories, from the opener ‘The Brewer Lad’ and ‘The Maid In Bedlam’ to ‘The Trees They Grow So High’ and ‘The Man Of Burningham Town’, come up as bright as a new pin; furthermore, Nick will charge you the amazing bargain of £6.50, postage and packing included. What’s not to like?
Reviews for 2020 and earlier have now been archived and can be found on the CD Reviews Archive (from 2017) page