THE TANNAHILL WEAVERS – Òrach (Compass Records 7417172)

ÒrachFew bands get to celebrate fifty years together – and some of those have taken a breather mid-career – so The Tannahill Weavers have joined a pretty exclusive club. Sub-titled The Golden Anniversary Album, their new record, Òrach, draws together music, friends and former colleagues. Joining the current line-up of Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, John Martin and Lorne MacDougall are such luminaries as Dougie MacLean, Aaron Jones, Innes White and Davie Hunter.

The album opens with the title track, a classic march/strathspey/reel set. It initially sounds a little four-square to modern ears and I suspect that is by design, an imitation of the way things were done back in 1968. By the end of the reel the band have moved up a couple of gears but it’s early days yet so they settle back with Matt McGinn’s unusually romantic ‘Jenny A’ Things’ featuring the band’s first singer, John Cassidy. ‘Christchurch Cathedral’ comes from The Dubliners via Shooglenifty and sounds almost Playford-like until it slips into the jig variation.

 Òrach continues to mix songs and tunes more or less equally. There are two lyrics from the original weaver, Robert Tannahill, including ‘Jessie The Floo’er O’ Dunblane’ and the huge ballad, ‘The Battle Of Sheriffmuir’ adapted by Robert Burns from an earlier and longer poem – the battle ended in a sort of draw. Billy Connolly’s ‘Oh No!’ from The Humblebums’ final album (with Alison Brown on banjo) comes as a light-hearted surprise, in contrast to Daithi Rua’s ‘The Ghost Of Mick McDonnell’, a reflection on the Great War. The record closes with ‘Gordon Duncan Set’ commemorating his time with the band. Only one tune in the set, ‘Red Ken’s’ sometimes known as ‘Rory Gallagher’s’, was written by Duncan but the set was put together by him for his solo album, Just For Seumas.

I’m sorry if this is turning into a history lesson but there a so many fascinating stories surrounding a band that has survived five decades. More important is the variety of music they have played and present here. So sandwiched between two ghost stories, one old, one new, is ‘The Asturian Sessions’ that begins in Nova Scotia and ends in Asturias and features MacLean on didgeridoo! Òrach looks back with great affection but also looks forward as they absorb new music into their repertoire. It may be a case of grandfather’s axe but I reckon The Tannahill Weavers are good for another fifty years.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.tannahillweavers.com

The Tannahill Weavers at the Just For Gordon concert:

STEPH GEREMIA – Up She Flew (Black Box Music BBM009)

Up She FlewI was beginning to muse about why it is that Irish, and indeed Scottish, musicians have such a deep desire to rework and circulate the music from their native lands and then I read that Steph Geremia is actually from New York. Up She Flew is Steph’s second album, almost ten years on from her debut and she is now ensconced in the north-west of Ireland from which much of her repertoire is drawn. North Connaught is her home and the source of her inspiration. Steph principally plays flute – more delicate and fluid than whistle or pipes – which makes this a very pretty record. She also plays soprano sax on two tracks and sings on one but doesn’t dwell on it.

Most of the material is traditional but among the credits you’ll find the names of Charlie Lennon, Martin Wynne and, venturing away from Ireland, Chris Stout. Steph is punctilious about noting the sources of her tunes so we learn that ‘The Housemaid’ is a version of ‘The Humours Of Glendart’ via Chris Sheridan and I suppose that we’ll one day read that a particular tune comes from the playing of Steph Geremia. I suppose, too, that that’s been going on for a few hundred years.

Steph has a fine supporting band, notably percussionist Jim Higgins and Aaron Jones on bouzouki and guitar but she remains on top of everyone and I suspect that co-producer Donal O’Connor has a lot to do with that. Even when Ben Gunnery’s fiddle or Michael Rooney’s harp is an integral part of a track it’s very restrained. If you’re a session player you’ll probably find several tunes that you’ll want to learn and if not, well, it’s a very pleasant album for a summer’s day.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://stephgeremia.com/

‘Come Up To The Room I Want Ye/Ebb Tide’ – live:

ALISTAIR McCULLOCH TRIO – Off The Hook (Rostral Records RTRLCD015)

Off The HookThe Alistair McCulloch Trio summer tour has become a well-established Scottish fixture over many years now, yet this busy bunch has only just got around to recording an album. Thankfully, they have now whittled down their extensive live repertoire to the ten excellent tracks featured on Off The Hook.

Alongside legendary fiddle maestro Alistair McCulloch, the band consists of Capercaillie founder Marc Duff and Aaron Jones of Old Blind Dogs/The Kate Rusby Band. With a musical pedigree like that – McCulloch alone is 25 years a professional musician – it’s no surprise to find superb playing that’s ultra-tight, harmonious and lithe.

Aiming to capture the band’s live sound as closely as possible, the album also demonstrates a broad-church approach to its musical choices. In a 2013 interview, McCulloch said, “You’ve always got to maintain an open mind and remember folk is an evolving tradition. If you let it stand still then it will stagnate” and this album continues that commitment. Reworkings of traditional tunes and songs nestle comfortably alongside contemporary compositions, with changes to phrasing, rhythm, key or tempo allowing them to flow logically, often virtually seamlessly together.

The tune sets are inspired: ‘Mazurkas’ delicately re-phrases a pair of waltzes, while ‘Brady’s Set’ – with Duff on bodhran – connects four storming jigs. ‘Whistle Solo’ consists of a waltz and two reels, arranged by Jones and Duff, the subtlety of the guitar letting the whistle shine.

‘Shetland Medley’ draws the listener through a range of moods, starting with the tense, spare ‘Da Day Dawn’ (a traditional Shetland Christmas Day tune) and winding up at the lively ‘The Lass That Made The Bed For Me’. ‘Xesus’ takes John McCusker’s thoughtful ‘Xesus and Felicia’, letting it just about melt into ‘Farley Bridge’ with a sensitive arrangement, before a final high-speed romp through ‘The Calgary Fiddlers Welcome To Scotland’. This is first-rate tune setting and no mistake, always conscious of how each piece interacts with the next, with the whole and with the overall atmosphere.

Jones fronts the three songs on the album, each a considered reclamation of a well-trodden classic. In particular, ‘The Wild Rover’, which shrugs off its bar room machismo, becoming instead maturely rueful and reflective.

It may have been a long wait, but for those already fans of the Alistair McCulloch Trio it will have been well worth it. For those new to the trio, Off The Hook stands up as an album of top quality music-making and a hugely entertaining masterclass in how to set tunes.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website: www.alistairmcculloch.com

Four reels filmed during the 2017 tour:

Alistair McCulloch Trio announce new album

Alistair McCulloch Trio

The Alistair McCulloch Trio annual summer Scottish tour has become a firm fixture on the folk music calendar. Featuring champion fiddler McCulloch, alongside past Scottish folk musician of the year, Aaron Jones of Old Blind Dogs and the Kate Rusby Band on bouzouki, guitar and vocals and former Capercaillie whistle wizard Marc Duff, the trio has gained a formidable reputation for its dynamic concert performances.

Collectively Alistair, Marc and Aaron have appeared on dozens of albums over the years and after many requests they have finally recorded a studio album as a trio. From driving reels and jigs to tender airs and expressive songs, Off The Hook perfectly encapsulates the feel of their live shows. Blending traditional, contemporary and self-penned material the album showcases the combined talents of three of Scotland’s most respected and established traditional musicians.

Alistair McCulloch is one of the country’s best known fiddle performers, teachers and composers and one of the fiddle instructors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. To date he has performed in over 20 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, China, the Middle East and throughout Europe and North America.

Of the Off The Hook album Alistair said

“this has been a project we have been discussing for quite some time and we are all delighted that we have finally captured our live sound in the studio. We are really excited to see how the album will be received”.

Artists’ website: http://www.alistairmcculloch.com/

Alistair McCulloch live in Central Park:

KATE RUSBY – Angels & Men (Pure PRCD44)

Angels & MenBringing the 25th anniversary of her music career to date to a sparkling finale, Kate Rusby sees the year out with Angels & Men, her fourth Christmas album, again featuring a collection of predominantly South Yorkshire carols, but, this time, produced by husband Damien O’Kane with what she calls “an iridescent twinkle”.

Twinkle it most certainly does on the opening gambit of ‘Hark Hark’, the crispness burnished by the mulled wine warmth of cornet, French horn, Flugel horn and tuba, complemented by euphonium, diatonic accordion and, special guest from the Alison Krauss Band, Ron Block on banjo.

The album marks another first in featuring a Christmas standard in the jaunty form of Sammy Chan and Jule Styne’s festive chestnut, ‘Let It Snow’, given her own Barnsley sheen and, again featuring the brass section, a folksy instrumental interpolation.

Changing the ambience for a more brooding, portentous tone, featuring O’Kane on guitar, Duncan Lyle on moog with Josh Clark on percussion, ‘Paradise’ returns to the South Yorkshire canon for what is, in fact, a variation on ‘Down In Yon Forest’, a Renaissance carol about the nativity based on the Middle English hymn, the ‘Corpus Christi Carol’. And, on the subject of variations, things take a playful turn for ‘The Ivy And The Holly’, a cover of Kipper Family member Chris Sugden’s witty riposte to the evergreen carol as having “no good points between ‘em!” from their 1989 album Arrest These Merry Gentlemen.

Rusby, of course, recorded the original carol on Sweet Bells, her 2008 Christmas album, and the lively ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ is, in fact a revisiting of the title track in a fuller brass arrangement, basically ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ with an added Yorkshire village chorus and renamed after the tune.

The words written in 1858 by Edward Caswell and set to the tune of ‘Humility’ in 1871 by John Goss, ‘See Amid The Winter Snow’ is also known as ‘Hymn For Christmas Day’, the simple cascading brass arrangement here perfectly capturing the theme of purity.

Featuring a circling guitar pattern from O’Kane with Nick Cooke on accordion although credited as traditional, the first two verses and chorus of ‘Rolling Downward’ are actually taken from the lyrics by 19th century Pennsylvanian hymnalist Robert Lowry with Rusby providing an amendment to the third.

Another familiar festive number arrives ‘Deck The Halls’, Clark laying down the rhythmic bedrock with the brass section and Aaron Jones on bouzouki adding extra joie de vivre to its fa la la la la. Then, things take another contemporary turn with a sleigh bells feel to Richard Thompson’s ‘We’ll Sing Hallelujah’, reclaiming its somewhat depressive and downbeat lyrics about mortality and investing it with a jubilant feel.

Introduced by a sample her young daughter Daisy saying banjo over and over, the light-hearted ‘Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo’ is another cover, this time from Canadian singer-songwriter David Myles, taken at a more measured tempo and featuring Block again on banjo, this time joined by Sierra Hull on mandolin.

The album ends with two Rusby originals. Clocking at just under six minutes, the slow waltzing ‘Let The Bells Ring’ is a bittersweet mingling of sadness at the passing of the year and the hope of the one beginning, Anton Davis on piano as it gathers to a swelling orchestral brass crescendo. The final track reprises Barnsley’s very own Yorkshire tea-drinking super-hero first featured on last year’s Life In A Paper Boat, returning for ‘Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas’ as he variously melts Sid the bad snowman with a pot of tea, saves Daisy and sister Phoebe from the thin ice over the lake and digs Santa out of a Lapland snowdrift, bringing it all to a climax with military drums and a flourish of brass. And, in good super-hero movie tradition, stay on for that extra little bonus after the final note. To borrow the name of well-known dessert, as the sleeve photo suggests, this is an Angel Delight.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

‘Sweet Bells’ – live:

Old Blind Dogs announce new album

 

Old Blind Dogs

Old Blind Dogs are back  with a new record and a new line up.

Original member, Jonny Hardie (Fiddle / Vocals) is joined by long term partners Aaron Jones (Bouzouki / Vocals), Ali Hutton (Pipes / Whistles) and new percussion powerhouse Donald Hay.

In their twenty five year history this is The Dogs’ thirteenth release and their first in six years. Back to their best with a recording capturing the infectious energy of their live show, Room With A View has excitement, beauty and their trademark powerful vocals.

A Scottish band that takes their historical ties seriously, Old Blind Dogs’ new recording captures parts of a tradition that goes back a long way. Great story telling and timeless tunes made for the ups and downs of life … and dancing!

The Dogs have spent a lot of time touring in America and opening track ‘Bunker Hill’ is a perfect example of tunes travelling from one country to another, adapting to their surroundings as they go.

Music by brilliant current tune writers sits seamlessly with tunes from days gone by, from ‘Ali’s Cairo Day’ and Alasdair White’s brand new ‘An Iuchair’ to Breton gavottes and old Scottish pipe reels. Aaron was interested in singing songs from where he lives so there are two from Lionel McLelland, a great poet from Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, the enchanting ‘Earl O March’s Daughter’ and the dark tale of ‘Sawney Bean’.

Jonny was fascinated with the Orcadian history of The Maid of Norway, so ‘A Ring On Her Hand’ by Saltfishforty’s Brian Cromarty has been given the Old Blind Dogs pounding groove treatment.

Recorded and mixed at Carrier Waves Studio in Glasgow by Andrea Gobbi. This was a genuinely collaborative and enjoyable process for everyone involved. We’re looking forward to the next chapter in this influential band’s long history.

Old Blind Dogs will be touring the UK in April / May 2017, the USA in September / October 2017 and Germany in November 2017.

Artists’ website: www.oldblinddogs.co.uk

Old Blind Dogs live at this year’s Celtic Connections: