ROSS & ALI – Symbiosis II (Symbiosis Records, SYMCD001)

Symbiosis IIIt was only in December that Ross Ainslie’s fantastic solo album, Sanctuary, was released, and he is back again already, this time with Ali Hutton in a very welcome second celebration of their long-standing partnership. Symbiosis II (despite sounding like the title of a particularly difficult contemporary art piece) is a logical successor to their previous album, Symbiosis, and – appropriately – clear lines of connection join the two.

Symbiosis II is dedicated to Hutton’s grandad, who is also the subject of the first tune of the set entitled ‘Grandad’s’. This reflective piece makes a worthy companion, a mirror, to the delicate music box he previously created for his grandma, on the first album’s ‘Grans’.

As with the first album, titles are thematic one-word embodiments of the tunes that lie within (and an apostrophe pedant’s heaven!). The only non-original work on the album is ‘Goretree’, a tender Tommy Peoples cover. A number of the tunes have been specifically commissioned, and are credited accordingly. Whether composed by Ainslie or Hutton, the blending of the individual tunes into a set is never less than sublimely skilful, there’s no sudden lurch, no visible join, it all flows immaculately.

Despite these echoes of the first album, Symbiosis II pushes off into new territory, playing with notional boundaries of traditional music. It’s also definitely more of a “studio” album, given the addition of sound effects and synthesisers. Storm effects on ‘Mick’s’ give way to fast, fierce piping over a dark synth undercurrent, for instance, whilst ‘Birds’ features a clever interplay of whistles and pipes to reinvent the birdsong audio of the intro.

There is some striking, often quite moody, percussion, such as on the terrific ‘Kings’ where it lends an immediacy and a specific modernity to the tune ‘Dine Like Kings’. In the second part, ‘King Of The Mountain’, Patsy Reid’s strings add a dream-like drone, quite unlike the more tense, pulsating backdrop they provide on ‘Mink’. Andrea Gobbi’s thoughtful mixing ensures that nothing becomes overwhelming and a coherent balance is maintained throughout.

The duo’s core sound (Highland pipes, cittern, whistles, guitars and banjo) becomes more richly fleshed out as a result, and they wring a staggering variety of moods from whistles and pipes: lyrical and breathy, writhing and sinuous, beefy and muscular – and every shade in between.

Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton must surely be two of the most prolific young men around in Scottish music at the moment. Working in a dizzying variety of (often award-winning) projects their output never seems to falter. Symbiosis II is another superb addition to the catalogue.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: http://rossandali.co.uk/

Buy from: rossandali.bandcamp.com

Hogmanay in Edinburgh:

Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton – new album and tour dates

Ross and Ali

Following on from the success of their debut album Symbiosis Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton will release their second album Symbiosis II this spring. Winners of the best duo category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2017 and nominees for the same award in 2018, Ross and Ali have been busy in the studio creating an album full of new and original material.

Packed full of their own compositions, partly commissioned by some of their fans, Ross and Ali have welcomed lots of their fellow friends and musicians to record on this album.

Revolving around skilfully played guitar, cittern, whistles and bagpipes, which are the bedrock of the award winning duo, the arrangements also include a full string section, the extensive use of synthesisers, drum kit and bodhran. The result is a much bigger sound with more adventurous and epic arrangements.

Ross and Ali met in the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band when they were 12 years old. The boys were guided by one of the most influential pipers in the last 30 years Gordon Duncan. Gordon instilled a great passion in them for playing pipes with other instruments and they have gone on to play in many leading Scottish bands including Treacherous Orchestra, Old Blind Dogs, Salsa Celtica, Dougie Maclean, Shooglenifty and Capercaillie.

Ross Ainslie is one of Scotland’s finest traditional musicians and composers, playing pipes, whistles and cittern. He is renowned for his highly acclaimed solo material, and as a skilled performer and prolific collaborator who performs regularly with bands Treacherous Orchestra (of which he is a founding member), Salsa Celtica, Dougie Maclean, Ali Hutton, Jarlath Henderson, Charlie Mckerron, India Alba and has performed with Kate Rusby, Blue Rose Code, Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, Capercaillie, Shooglenifty, Carl Barat, Papon, Karsh Kale, Flook, Breabach, Soumik Datta, Tim Edey, Patsy Reid and Hamish Napier.

Ali Hutton, from Methven in Perthshire, was inspired at the age of 7 to take up the bagpipes and rose through the ranks of the world-famous Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. It was there that he was taught, alongside Ross Ainslie, by the late, great Gordon Duncan. He has since gone on to become a successful multi-instrumentalist on the Scottish music scene. Ali has performed, and worked alongside some of the most respected musicians, and bands on the scene, such as Capercaillie, Dougie Maclean, Carlos Nunez, Deaf Shepherd,Clueless, Steve Forman, Salsa Celtica, and Shooglenifty to name but a few.

During his apprentice years as a professional musician he was fortunate enough to become a member of the multi award winning bands Brolum and Back Of The Moon. He toured with them for several years across Europe and North America. Ali has also found himself producing some of the most well received Scottish Folk albums in recent years. Ali is currently a member of Treacherous Orchestra, Old Blind Dogs, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson band, and the new duo, cleverly named Ross and Ali.

Artists’ websites: http://rossandali.co.uk/

Tour Dates

12 April – Kings Place, London

13 April – Old King’s Head, Belper

14 April – Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal

20 April – An Lantair, Stornoway

21 April – Glenbuchat Hall

22 April – Cyclefest, Isle of Man

23 April – Perth Concert Hall

27 April – Sabhal Mor Ostaig

28 April – Drygate, Glasgow (Full band and string section)

MAEVE MACKINNON – Strì (Own Label, MM003)

Launched this weekend as part of Celtic Connections 2018, comes Maeve Mackinnon’s third studio album, Strì (meaning “strive”). After a couple of years of touring with Stepcrew and others, Mackinnon returns to home turf with an album of songs with a distinctly female perspective.

Inspired by Mackinnon’s love of waulking songs, this collection bears all the hallmark strong rhythms of work songs, like opener ‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’ (“Row Lightly”) with its hypnotic rowing pace. There’s also an evident relish in playing with assonance and alliteration in the language.

The lyrics (in translation) form a brutal poetry. Often these little hunks of plain-spoken, stark phrases hang together with a dark twist involving betrayal, or a loss of love or life. But it’s as repeated, sung phrases that they come alive with their own musicality.

Knowing Gaelic may help comprehension, but it’s certainly not essential to appreciating the vocal skill and dexterity in pieces like ‘Puirt-a-Beul’ (“Mouth Music”) – a “hidden” track that runs on from ‘Moch An-Diugh A Rinn Mi Eirigh’ (“Early Today I Rose”). Then there’s the not-quite-rapping, tongue-twisting ‘Bodachan a’Ghàrraidh’ (“Little Old Man In The Garden”) with its loose, funky guitar undercarriage. (And this song even fades out, like some contemporary radio playlister).

What the Scots generally do seem to have is a sound grasp of how to respect and refresh their traditions with judicious use of the studio toolbox, and Strì is no exception. So, occasional processed vocals, industrial metallic sounds, scratchy electronics and even an almost club-like rhythmic regularity on can be found here, all of which help to keep these songs feeling right up to date.

Producer/arranger Duncan Lyall successfully marshalls an array of top musicians including Jarlath Henderson, Ali Hutton, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid and Kathleen MacInnes, amongst others, whilst keeping a firm hold on the balance of instrumentation and sympathetically fleshing out Mackinnon’s warm tones.

Most of the songs here may be from the Gaelic tradition, but Mackinnon does include one of her own compositions. Following a crackly announcement in Spanish, it’s quite startling to hear English lyrics again. ‘We’re Not Staying’ is a complex tale of flight and persecution, nicely told with an emphasis on the disruption of migration and the wistful sense of temporariness.

In short, Maeve Mackinnon has made, in Strì, an album that is a real pleasure to listen to, relishing in all its rhythmic twists and turns. She has taken traditional forms and given them a contemporary edge, and the women’s stories that she sings are just as relevant as they ever have been.

Su O’Brien

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Artist’s website: www.maevemackinnon.com

‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’:

Maeve Mackinnon – new album

Maeve Mackinnon

Contemporary Gaelic Singer Maeve Mackinnon releases her third studio album in February, 2018. Strì is a collection of songs in Gaelic and English, based on the themes of work, exile and struggle, from a woman’s perspective.

Strì means to strive or struggle in Gaelic. My original idea was to revisit the songs I love, particularly Gaelic Waulking songs. Waulking songs are work songs traditionally sung by women in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They were hardy, tough women and they sang of battles, tragedies, breakups and romance. I realised midway through recording that nearly all the songs are from a female perspective, and the messages within them are so current today on many levels”.

The album is produced by multiple award-winning producer and bassist Duncan Lyall (producer of Scots Trad Music Awards’ Album of the Year 2015 for Treacherous Orchestra’s Grind along with many others!).

Strì features guest contributions from musical luminaries such as Kathleen MacInnes, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid, Ali Hutton, Duncan Lyall, and Jarlath Henderson alongside longtime collaborators Ross Martin and Brian McAlpine.

“The stories, melodies and rhythms convey so much. Whether you speak Gaelic or not, I think people can hear the power of feeling in these songs”.

Strì is launched on Sunday 4 February at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of  Celtic Connections 2018.

Artist’s website: https://www.maevemackinnon.com/

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 Winners Announced

The winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 have been announced in a ceremony broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Now in their 18th year, the Awards are a key highlight of the folk music calendar and serve to raise the profile of folk music. Talent, new and old, received accolades including Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year, Young Folk Award and more. Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to Ry Cooder and Al Stewart.

American roots-rock musician and songwriter, Ry Cooder, took to the stage for a rare UK performance, singing Jesus On The Mainline. A career-long champion of folk music, he is renowned for his inspired slide guitar playing, and through his own work and collaborations with others, from The Rolling Stones to The Chieftains and Buena Vista Social Club.

British singer-songwriter Al Stewart also took to the stage for a performance of his 1977 song, On The Border. Al started his career on the 1960s London folk scene, and has worked alongside Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page, John Renbourn, Rick Wakeman, Tori Amos, Roy Harper and many more. Appearing at the first Glastonbury Festival in 1970, he became known for his brand of folk-rock, which he combined with tales of characters and events from history. He’s best known for his 1970s hits Year of the Cat and Time Passages.

Tony Blackburn presented Al Stewart with his award and regaled the audience with his own personal story of Al. He explained that in the early 1960s, he had in fact been the lead guitarist in Tony’s own group, ‘Tony Blackburn and the Swinging Bells’.

Tony said: “We used to practice at my parents’ house and, as good as he was, he always played his electric guitar far too loud as it always drowned out my vocals… The fact I’m here tonight will do Al’s credibility a lot of damage but I don’t care as I’ve enjoyed playing ‘Year of the Cat’ very much over the years and I haven’t seen him in a long time. It really is an honour to present this Lifetime Achievement Award to such a talented musician.”

The evening opened with a rousing performance by Afro Celt Sound System. And across the night there were spectacular performances from Shirley Collins MBE (performing Washed Ashore), Daoirí Farrell (Van Diemen’s Land), Jim Moray (Fair Margaret And Sweet William), Billy Bragg (I Ain’t Got No Home), and Fara (Three Fishers).

There was a powerful and moving performance taken from the Ballads of Child Migration, which tells the story of the enforced migration of over 100,000 children to Australia and Canada between 1863 and 1970. The specially-curated performance was narrated by Barbara Dickson with original songs performed by Kris Drever, Jez Lowe, While & Matthews, Boo Hewerdine, O’Hooley & Tidow, John McCusker, Andy Cutting and Michael McGoldrick.

Folk icon Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame, to celebrate his lasting influence. Billy Bragg performed a special tribute with a rendition of Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got No Home. The celebration marked 50 years since Guthrie’s death in 1967, aged 55. The musician wrote some of the most enduring standards in the genre with his life and work dedicated to supporting and documenting the rights of workers and the downtrodden. His songs have been covered by countless singers from Bruce Springsteen to Lady Gaga and he was a mentor to a young Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: “Huge congratulations to all the winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 – the calibre of all the nominees was outstanding. This annual event is a wonderful celebration of the vibrant folk music scene and tonight’s show was spectacular, featuring some of folk’s most long standing, biggest and newest stars which Radio 2 is committed to supporting throughout the year.”

The Folk Awards will be broadcast on BBC Four on Sunday 9 April at 10pm as an hour-long highlights programme which will include all the performances.

Alternatively, click on any of the links below to see the individual performances:










The full list of winners:

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR presented by Sharleen Spiteri
Kris Drever

BEST DUO presented by Peter Lord of Aardman Animations
Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton

BEST GROUP presented by Sir Ray Davies
The Furrow Collective

BEST ALBUM presented by Mark Kermode
Songs of Separation – Songs of Separation

HORIZON AWARD presented by Rachel and Becky Unthank (of The Unthanks)
Daoirí Farrell

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR presented by Gus Unger-Hamilton from Alt-J
Rachel Newton

BEST ORIGINAL TRACK presented by Susie Dent
If Wishes Were Horses by Kris Drever

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK presented by Pauline Black of The Selecter
Van Diemen’s Land by Daoirí Farrell

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD presented by Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention
Josie Duncan & Pablo Lafuente

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Tony Blackburn
Al Stewart

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Nick Lowe
Ry Cooder

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Woody Guthrie

Building up to the Awards, Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Drivetime programme was broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall. In the show, Simon counted down the Top 10 Most Played Folk Songs on Radio 2. Compiled by PPL, the Number 1 track was Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ Wild World – released in 1970, which featured on his fourth album, Tea for the Tillerman. It wasn’t released as a single in the UK, but reached No 11 on the US Billboard chart. Jimmy Cliff released his recording of Wild World in 1970 – produced by Cat Stevens – reaching No 8 in the UK; with Maxi Priest hitting No 5 with his version in 1988. Cat was presented with the Lifetime Achievement honours at the Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2015. Number 2 of the Top 10 Most Played Folk Songs on Radio 2 was Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal; at No 3 was Bellowhead’s Roll the Woodpile Down; at No 4 was Meet Me On The Corner by Lindisfarne; No 5 was Underneath The Stars by Kate Rusby; at No 6 was River Man by Nick Drake; No 7 was Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys; No 8 was Thea Gilmore & Sandy Denny’s London; at No 9 was Streets of London by Ralph McTell and at No 10 was Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford and Sons.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens said: “I’m surprised that we actually pipped to the post all these great folk singers and that it’s still being played. That makes me feel very satisfied and it shows that the song and the meaning is still relevant. Of course it is relevant because wild world is exactly what it is and exactly what we’re living in right now and it’s getting wilder perhaps.”

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: