BRIAN McALPINE – Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1 (own label CD001)

Mutual Imagination Society

When did classical and traditional music become so intertwined? I suppose we must go back to the 15th century to find where it started but the definition of classical music didn’t appear until the early 1800s. In England, we can probably pin the blame on Ralph Vaughn Williams for nicking so many good tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern and then Percy Grainger and George Butterworth. The purpose of this musing is to try to define Brian McAlpine and Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1.

Brian is first and foremost a composer, notably of music for film and television, where the accompaniment to a scene is so important and he’s contributed as arranger, composer and performer to almost seventy albums. He doesn’t borrow tunes but he does employ traditional styles so here you’ll find massed highland pipes alongside horns laid over the foundation of his piano. He doesn’t borrow tunes but ‘November 6th’, for example, sounds as though its origins lie deep in the past ‘Blue Grass’, which follows it, sounds much more contemporary with drones and massed keyboards. I’m just guessing here because Brian is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist but modestly doesn’t list all his instruments and what I take to be synthesised strings could be the real strings of Jonny Hardie and Alison Smith multi-tracked. ‘Blue Grass’ is a particularly fascinating track because half-way through Brian suddenly switches to banjo overlaid with pipes before eventually returning to the drones.

All the tracks dance around ideas and forms. The eleven minute opener, ‘Suite #1’, is a sort of hors d’oeuvre allowing the listener a taste of what is to come. Brian uses a good deal of piano-accordion but he doesn’t do things in the obvious way. ‘Piobroch #1’ is initially a piano piece and just when you think it won’t happen, here come the pipes but not for long and we’re left with piano and accordion. ‘The Tumbler’, which comes next,opens with bluesy saxophone played Nigel Hitchcock but having established itself it wanders off for a while.

I’m not enough of an expert to say what Brian McAlpine does exactly or how he does it but he does say that each piece was composed to express an emotion and was inspired by the Scottish landscape and that, at least, I can recognise. I also know that it’s a rather wonderful album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Soundtrack To Peace’- official video:

DANKO & BUTTERFIELD – Live At The Golden Bear (Floating World FLOATM6375)

Live At The Golden BearThis is the earliest of three new archive albums featuring Rick Danko. When The Band was in down-time Rick would regularly tour small clubs, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends and in the late 70s, Paul Butterfield was a regular partner. Live At The Golden Bear is one of the first of these collaborations, reckoned to be recorded in November 1978 but so obscure that it isn’t listed on The Band’s website.

The first disc is pretty much pure rock’n’roll and Rick and Paul are clearly having a wonderful time. Early tracks include JJ Cale’s ‘Crazy Mama’, a staple of Danko’s live set; Nick Gravenites’ ‘Born In Chicago’ from Butterfield’s early days and ‘Seaboard Line Boogie’ from Paul Revere & The Raiders – I’m still trying to find the connection to that one. From there we have five Buddy Holly songs and Bob Wills’ ‘Stay All Night’ to end the first disc.

The band includes Marty Grebb, Walt Richmond and Terry Danko and there may be others but they are not listed in the booklet. They are announced from the stage but the crowd noise is too high for clarity and therein lies the major problem. The noise builds and builds and an attempt to introduce some sensitivity in the shape of ‘Unfaithful Servant’ is ruined by an annoyingly loud-voiced woman, presumably standing next to the microphone. She moves or shuts up after a while and Randy Van Warmer’s ‘Just When I Needed You Most’ fares rather better.

I was really looking forward to hearing this album but, sadly, it turns out to be a so-so bootleg and I’m unwilling to recommend it.

Dai Jeffries

Label website:

‘Crazy Mama’ – live in 1979:

THE OUTSIDE TRACK – Rise Up (Lorimer Records LORRCD07)

Rise UpWhen Rise Up hit my doormat I realised that it was a long time since I’d heard anything from The Outside Track. In fact it has been six years since Flash Company but an international band based in Scotland is always going to be very busy. There has been a line-up change with Norah Rendell and Cillian Ó’Dálaigh leaving the band to be replaced by Teresa Horgan. Technically, it was an all-female line-up that recorded Rise Up but Michael Ferrie, who plays guitar throughout, has now officially joined them.

The album opens with ‘Dark Reels’, a mighty set of tunes opening gently enough with Ailie Robertson’s harp but getting a bit heavier than you might expect. Two of the three are by Robertson and the third is by Lauren MacColl and they make for an excellent starter. Next is ‘Sweet Lover Of Mine’, a variation of ‘Scarborough Fair’ sung by Horgan followed by ‘Road To Rollo Bay’, a set of three tunes from the band’s homelands: Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The first of these was written by Shirley (or Shelly) Campbell from Prince Edward Isle and the others are by Jenna Reid and Neil Vallely.

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ is an unusual tale of attempted matrimony and successful homicide while ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ presents a slightly unfamiliar take on the story set over a pulsing arrangement. ‘Neillí Pluincéad’ is one of the few titles that seems better in English than Irish and it’s unusual to hear O’Carolan’s words as well as the tune of ‘Eleanor Plunkett’. This is perhaps most haunting track. In contrast to the opener, ‘The Happy Reels’ is a pair of tunes written by Horgan and Mairi Rankin to cheer us up and ‘The Silver Bullet’ is a set of rocking tunes from Cape Breton.

Finally, ‘Lady Diamond’ is a big take on another celebrated murder ballad in all its gory detail and a fitting end to another splendid album from The Outside Track.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ – live:


UntetheredRobert Fisher, the band’s founder, singer and guiding force, passed away as a result of cancer in February 2017, but not before he’d laid down the tracks that now form this 10th and final album. Dusted down and hewn into shape by long-time viola player David Michael Curry, with contributions from such names as Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw, Untethered is a terrific last testament, albeit the familiar melancholic and intimate mood given added resonance by Fisher’s death.

It opens, however, in more robust manner with the abrasive and distorted sound of the two-minute ‘Hideous Beast’ more recalling the work of Captain Beefheart. After this, things settle down into the band’s more familiar languid and melancholic style, perfect examples presenting themselves in ‘Do No Harm’, ‘Love You Apart’ and ‘26 Turns’ with its barely there semi-spoken vocals.

There’s four instrumentals, the poignantly titled ‘All We Have Left’, the simple, viola-based ‘Two Step’, the shimmeringly beautiful ‘Margaret On The Porch’ and the album’s pointedly titled six minute closer ‘Trail’s End’ which brings down the curtain in brooding and at times experimental almost improvisational style (much like the earlier ‘Chasing Rabbits’) with guitar distortions, reverb and effects that feels like being in the middle of desert electrical storm.

It is, however, Fisher’s voice, words and delivery that are the band’s legacy, and three numbers in particular stand out, the spare, forlorn viola-coloured ‘Let The Storm Be Your Pilot’ as he sings “your goodness will save us, you are my reason for waking”, the gorgeous warm and achingly intimate Lou Reed-like ‘Saturday With Jane’ and the simply strummed title track, the song he wrote after he was diagnosed, the semi-spoken lines “Take the last train to the station/Keep my eyes open while I can/Hope we get back home by morning/See the sunrise on the desert once again” suffused with the dignity of acceptance in a way that tears you apart.

The album never began as a farewell, but Curry has crafted it into a moving valediction as his late friend and musical partner sings himself away into immortality.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:


CÚIG – The Theory Of Chaos (Copperplate COPP032)

The Theory Of ChaosIrish traditional music with added chutzpah is probably the best description of Cúig’s second album, The Theory Of Chaos. Actually there are only two  traditional tunes here: ‘Eamon Coyne’s’ and an untitled jig, which sounds like a distant relative of ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’, plus one tune by John McAskill and one by Jarlath Henderson – all done by the end of the second track. The remaining material is written by Cathal Murphy, Eoin Murphy and Rónán Stewart.

The band’s melody instruments are button accordion, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, Uilleann pipes and piano with Ruairi Stewart on guitar and two guest bass guitarists in Ronnie Flynn and Paul McCabe. At the core of each track are the patterns of traditional music but the arrangements by Cúig and the production by Dave Molloy have a great deal to do with the finished sound.  Take ‘Before The Flood’, written by the Murphys: two fine tunes with an accompaniment which switches between pounding drums and the most delicate of light percussion. I have to say that the music doesn’t stay delicate or light for very long and it seems clear that Cúig’s real metier is on the live stage but that’s not to say that The Theory Of Chaos lacks subtlety. Just listen to the opening of Eoin’s ‘Tirolo Nights’ for confirmation of that.

There are three songs here, a first for the band. Two are written by Cathal and Rónán and one by Cathal alone and all three add a contrasting touch of lightness to the intensity of the music without being what you’d call showstoppers, although there’s something about ‘Carry On’ that draws you back to it.

Cúig are a young, exciting band with lots of ideas and considerable musical skill. Who can say where their journey will take them from here?

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Patient Zero’ – official video:

SASCHA OSBORN – Looking Out And After (THS002)

Looking Out And AfterLooking Out And After is the debut album from Sascha Osborn and it’s rather lovely. Take a look at the cover photo – soft focus greenery and a photo of the artist which is as far from power dressing as you could get. It’s a perfect visual for this album – eleven songs which build on Osborn’s eclectic background of poetry, folk, jazz, harmony singing, and some gentle playing.

Osborn’s voice is influenced by both her interest in jazz (try ‘Take A Moment’ for lovely held back vocal over a jazz influenced arrangement) and folk (try ‘Fragile’ a gentle optimistic song “Fragile we are/But together we are strong/As one we will be, as one we’ll be/Living life as one”). Mostly, though, it doesn’t help to have this album formulated, sprawling on a pin, Prufrock-style other than to give a general sense that it fits broadly into this jazz-folk, late-night-easy style with Osborn’s melodic voice leading some smooth, deftly-played songs.

It would be have been easy to overlook the lyrics, losing them in the soundscape, as I sank comfortably into the album. But the lyrics also repay more attention. ‘Tough Talking True’ contrasts the smoothness of the arrangement with images of danger “like walking cross desert sands with nothing to drink……like walking on a narrow rope in sky scraper heels” and brings the two together in the final couplet “You know I’d rather be making love to you/Than breaking up but this is what I’ve got to do”.

The video of ‘Could It Be You’ is set against a black and white film by the Thames in central London, the images matching the lyrics “But time passes by like the run of the river/There’s no boat I can sail in to free this shiver” – both of them correlatives for the singer’s emotion as she sees people walk by and wonders “could it be you” – the singing and the playing slow, minimal, holding her emotion in gentle tension (and making the words so much better than the couplet looks on the page as I write it down).

Looking Out And After is an album that’s worth sitting and listening to with no distractions. It’s a debut album, but from someone who’s paid their dues over the past 25 or so years. It’s gradually dawned on me that it’s only possible to play and sing as gently, as lazily, as this when you’re in full control of what you’re doing – and this album just is rather lovely.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website:

‘Could It Be You’ – official video: