DÀIMH – The Rough Bounds (Goat Island Music, GIMCD005)

The Rough BoundsTwenty years to the day since their first gig, Dàimh release their seventh album, The Rough Bounds. While the title might aptly describe the burly chap gracing the cover, it actually relates to the area around West Lochaber where the band originates, “Na Garbh Chrìochan” in Gaelic.

Dàimh (meaning “kinship”) are now a six-piece, with the addition of fiddler Alasdair White to complement Gabe McVarish. The album also features Duncan Lyall (double bass), Martin O’Neill (bodhran) alongside ex-band member Calum Alex MaxMillan, Ewen Henderson and Kathleen MacInnes (backing vocals).

A lively puirt à beul trio (about chickens, Owen’s boat and picking cockles), ‘‘S Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan’ fairly bubbles along like a clear mountain stream. Followed up by ‘12th Of June’, a strong, driving pipe-led set of jigs, these two tracks make an immediately engaging opening to the album.

Sorrowful òran, ‘Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn’ features a delicate metallic sheen of percussion courtesy of guest artist Signy Jakobsdottir, well-partnered with Ellen MacDonald’s expressive vocal. MacDonald’s crystal clear voice is edged with a subtle smokiness and, aside from the liveliness of puirt à beul, the songs of love, loss and longing featured here allow her melancholy lyricism to the fore. (A witty set of icons printed alongside the song titles provides helpful clues about the subject matter: those accompanying ‘Bodach Innse Chrò’ are particularly brilliant).

The tunes mix the band’s arrangements of traditional material with their original compositions, all of which sit together extremely comfortably. New and old interweave unobtrusively. A pair of Donald MacLeod reels, an homage to one of the band’s favourite composers, makes for an interesting diversion. Here, beaty guitar and assertive fiddle provide the framework for a deftly twisting, turning interplay of pipes and whistles.

Arrangements are rich but not overloaded, with the band’s skilful, energetic playing breathing fresh vitality into the tunes. The album culminates with a haunting and lamenting instrumental version of the murderous, ‘Chì mi’n Toman’, with its eerie, lingering final pipe notes.

The Rough Bounds makes a most welcome and assured addition to the Scottish traditional music canon. From here, Dàimh are looking strong and confident as they embark on their next twenty years.
Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.daimh.net

‘Dhannsamaid Le Ailean’ – live:

Dàimh announce new album and Scottish tour

Dàimh

Translated from the Gaelic Na Garbh Chrìochan, the Rough Bounds is the area of West Lochaber where Dàimh were formed 20 years ago. Still based in the area, the band’s roots remain firmly tied to the region by the enduring connections of the three remaining founding members.

Historically regarded as an unruly and inaccessible Jacobite stronghold from which Bonnie Prince Charlie both launched his campaign and subsequently fled from in defeat six months later; the landscape of the Rough Bounds is reflected in the breath-taking beauty of Ellen MacDonald’s vocals, the wild grandeur of Dàimh’s pipe and fiddle led instrumentals and the band’s ongoing mission to defend and promote the Gaelic culture.

The idea of crossing the paths of past and future is strongly represented. “Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces” explains piper Angus MacKenzie.

Bringing a mixture of seldom-heard songs passed down from family to better-known puirt à beul and ballads, Ellen MacDonald confidently takes command of the vocals and proves she is now a firmly established star in the gaelaxy. The songs cover all of the expected Dàimh themes; drinking, fighting, heartbreak and heading off to sea, never to be seen again.

For this, the band’s seventh album to date, their number swells to six with the addition of Alasdair White who joins Gabe McVarish on fiddle. “Fiddle is spelt with two ‘D’s because Dàimh deserves a double dose of fiddle action” declares Gabe. “Alasdair is just d’man for the job!”

Former Dàimh singer Calum Alex MacMillan makes a cameo appearance alongside Kathleen MacInnes and Ewen Henderson on backing vocals. The Rough Bounds also features guest appearances by instrumentalists Martin O’Neill (bodhran), Duncan Lyall (double bass) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion) and was engineered by Barry Reid.

The Rough Bounds is due for release on Goat Island Music on 27th May 2018; exactly 20 years to the day after their first ever gig. A coinciding launch tour includes 3 venues from their inaugural tour and also notches up the 27th and 28th Scottish Islands the band has performed on.

Artists’ website: https://www.daimh.net/

Tour Dates

May

11th The Maltings, Berwick

12th Astley Hall, Arisaig

23rd Paisley Arts Centre, Paisley

24th Isle of Muck

25th Isle of Canna

26th Seall – The Stables, Armadale, Isle of Skye

31st Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore

June

1st Sutherland Sessions – Ardgay Hall

2nd Strathy Hall, Strathy

JAMES DUNCAN MACKENZIE – Sròmos (own label JMMCD002)

SròmosJames Duncan Mackenzie is, as you know, piper and flautist with Breabach, one of the finest of the young Scottish bands. James is from the Isle of Lewis and there is a big story behind Sròmos, his second solo album: the history of the island over the last two centuries, its landscape, myths and characters. It’s a completely instrumental album, all self-composed with a core band of producer John Lowrie, Alan Nairn, Innes White and James Lindsay and two guest fiddlers; Alasdair White and Jack Smedley. James provides brief but very informative notes that make me want to seek out a book on the history of Lewis.

The opening title track starts with echoey notes on Lowrie’s Rhodes piano and you might think that you’re in for something very modern but James’ flute immediately takes up a very traditional sounding tune. The music builds almost like a ceilidh band before the tune fades back to the Rhodes and leads gently into the linked piece, ‘The Lazy Beds Of Rias’. Sròmos was a settlement cleared in the 19th century to make way for deer. It’s a common story across the Highlands, I know, but it’s made more poignant by the fact that the ruins can still be seen. Lazy beds are are version of ridge and furrow cultivation and their remains can be seen too. And now this is beginning to sound like a history lesson.

James’ pipes are first heard in the middle of ‘The Garron/The Plough On The Cross-Beam’ but he returns to the flute for the absolutely delightful ‘Stornoway Waltz’ with the melody played in double time over a steady but unobtrusive dance beat. ‘Land Raiders’ is another great story opening with flute over White’s acoustic guitar. The intensity builds as the pipes take over for the angry second and third sections.’Walk Home’ concerns the wreck of a troop-ship in 1919 while the up-tempo ‘Langavat’ describes two notable features of the Lewis landscape and there’s more history to take us the close.

Sròmos is an absolutely delightful album; a soundtrack for a visit to the Isle of Lewis should you ever get to cross the Minch.

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).

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Artist’s website: http://www.jamesduncanmackenzie.com/

James and his band live:

BATTLEFIELD BAND – Beg & Borrow (Temple COMD2107)

BATTLEFIELD BAND - Beg & Borrow (Temple COMD2107)The idea behind this album is simple but the execution is rather less so. The Straits of Moyle are just twelve miles wide which means that on a clear day you can stand on the Mull of Kintyre and see the Ulster coast. Legends are full of conflicts between the Scots and the Irish but there was also trade and, inevitably, music. Beg & Borrow celebrates the musical trade between the two countries.

Battlefield Band is now a trio and well illustrate the international nature of Celtic music. Piper Mike Katz is from Los Angeles, fiddler Alasdair White from Lewis and singer/guitarist Sean O’Donnell from Derry. They have recruited twelve special guests to celebrate this global musical community. Furthest flung is Australian piper Barry Gray and the nearest to home is Robin Morton who, although actually Irish, is the boss of Temple Records and the studio in which he produced the record and plays bodhran. Other famous names are Christine Primrose, Alison Kinnaird, Mike Whellans and Nuala Kennedy.

In contrast to the modern style of bands giving their sets short, snappy titles the tracks here are billed rather more formally so we begin with ‘Reels’, ‘6/8s’, ‘Song’, ‘Slow Air & Jig’ and so on. I’m no expert but I suspect this was how they would be noted on dance cards in the 18th and 19th centuries – Scottish country dancing was the ballroom dancing of the period after all. There is sometimes something rather formal about the style of playing, too, although the record opens with a robust set of Irish reels featuring the melodeon of Leo McCann. The 6/8 set – ‘Drunken Man’s Frolic/We Will Go Merrily Sailing/Charlie Over The Water’ is rather more stately.

My favourite tunes are the strathspeys, possibly because we don’t hear them very much this far south. Their rhythm is quite different from the jig and the reel and although the dance is described as being stately and often slow the tunes themselves are bouncy and expressive. Of course Mike Whellans’ contributions with the moothie and Jim Kilpatrick’s snare and bass drums add uniquely to the tracks on which they appear and Alison Kinnaird gets an almost solo on ‘Ellen’s Dreams’, a tune written by her husband, Robin Morton.

The first song we hear is ‘The Blantyre Explosion’ powerfully sung by Sean O’Donnell with the addition of a Gaelic verse by Christine Primrose. I would have liked to hear more of her on this track but later she is joined by Nuala Kennedy for ‘An Gille Mear’ which she translated from Irish Gaelic to Scots Gaelic. That seems a bit esoteric to me but it’s a lovely track. Christine returns the compliment on Nuala’s song ‘Mo Bhuachaill Dubh Dhonn’.

Beg & Borrow is an album you have to give some time to. The music here is something over and above the usual mix of Celtic music while still being firmly rooted in the traditions of Scotland and Ireland. While many musicians try to push the envelope, Battlefield Band and their friends have found plenty to explore in its dustier corners.

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.

Artists’ website: www.battlefieldband.co.uk

BATTLEFIELD BAND – Room Enough For All Temple Records COMD2106

Battlefield.Band-Room.Enough.For.AllBattlefield Band never stand still. They’re a forty year old institution but their line-up is fluid – players come, players go and sometimes return. The current twin-bagpipes/twin fiddles set-up of Mike Katz, Ewen Henderson, Alasdair White and Sean O’Donnell has been together for a while – White joined as a teenager over a decade ago – and seems very comfortable.

That’s not meant as a criticism but Room Enough For All could be described as a pastoral album, or whatever the equivalent is for music firmly rooted in the traditions of the western isles. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t spring a few surprises. The record opens with a setting by O’Donnell of Louis MacNeice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’, a poem perhaps best remembered now as the starting point for Leon Rosselson’s ‘Brass Band Music’. The poem, written in the 30s, describes the decline of indigenous culture in Scotland and, as the band point out, it applies equally today with only minor updates to the objects of desire. This is a hell of a good time to record it.

Towards the end of the disc is a new setting of Aaron Kramer’s ‘In Contempt’, published in 1950 and included in a selection called In Wicked Times – another piece appropriate to our times. In between are tunes and songs old and new – sparkling dance tunes and wistful airs, and a song about the return of Scots exiles, ‘Farewell To Indiana’ – quiet and reflective but full of optimism.

The multi-instrumental band members don’t need much help. Mike Whellans adds harmonica to one track and producer Robin Morton adds bodhran and bass drum to the final set but that’s all. Listen to the dancing fiddles on ‘The Garron Trotting’ set and you’ll understand why. 

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 web link: www.battlefieldband.co.uk

PETER NARDINI – Hug (Temple Records COMD2105)

The last time I saw a photo like that depicted on the sleeve of Peter Nardini’s “Hug” CD was one of James Bond (in “Diamonds Are Forever” now you ask) before he was about to kill the character Peter Franks…thought you might be interested in that snippet of trivia. Now, some might find tracks like “Bum” a bit questionable in taste but it’s obvious Nardini couldn’t give a jot and as he proffers his thoughts in scatter-gun style it becomes a blatant case of who gives a toss…take it or leave it. In a way it’s a refreshing philosophy but one that is becoming more prevalent in today’s society and particularly on the ‘acoustic’ scene. Given free reign to spread his wings Battlefield Band’s Mike Katz takes on the role of producer (he also adds guitar, bass, bouzouki, piano, ebow, mandolin, whistles and melodica…please someone stop me before I run out of breath) joined by Ewen Henderson (backing vocals), Ken Donaldson (additional guitar) and the soaring harmonica/percussion of Mike Whellans and fiddler Alasdair White. There, I hope I’ve conjured an image of something to whet your appetite. As you can possibly tell from this scribbling, this is an interesting recording including the drunk’s whispered words of wisdom “A Wish A Wis A Pigeon” with its Lindisfarne styled arrangement and the equally quirky “The Best In Me” with its kind of positive solution to what some (Nardini) would consider awkward questions (a bit like Alistair Campbell on a good day) he seems to at least put the world to rights. This, for those of you wondering is a ‘love song’ of sorts and although a bit skewed is good-time enough to give The Proclaimers a run for their money. An interesting album that won’t be to everyone’s taste but ultimately rewarding if you enjoy a sly look through your own thoughts but didn’t know how to express them [how many times can I use the word ‘interesting’ before it gets boring?].

PETE FYFE

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.