Calum Alex Macmillan releases second solo album

Calum Alex Macmillan

The latest in a venerable family line of Gaelic singers and bards, Calum Alex Macmillan ranks squarely at the forefront of his culture’s contemporary renaissance. With his second solo album Till (a long-awaited successor to 2005’s highly-praised Taladh Nan Cuantan), the Isle of Lewis native and ex-Dàimh vocalist resoundingly reaffirms that status, in material retracing his deepest traditional roots, while simultaneously embracing the present.

Till means ‘return’ in Gaelic, denoting the frequent visits back to his family home in Point, a tradition-rich peninsula off Lewis’s east coast, during which Macmillan – currently based in Inverness – gradually gathered songs and tunes for the album. His primary source was numerous kitchen-table sessions with his father, Harris Tweed weaver John “Seonaidh Beag” Macmillan, himself a celebrated singer, and co-founder of pioneering Gaelic group The Lochies.

“Besides sharing his own songs,” Calum Alex explains, “Dad played me loads of his reel-to-reel tapes from years ago, of other folk singing, old BBC programmes and suchlike. I also discovered that my great-auntie, in the next village, had tapes that her late auntie had made, of singers she knew in the area. I have a lot of singers going back on both sides of my family, and there were a good many others, really quite widely-known singers, living nearby when I was growing up, who sang songs by local bards – some of them written by my ancestors. The ones on the album have so many interconnections for me: with my childhood, my family’s history, with that particular place and that community.”

The album title also resonates aptly in English, with its dual sense of cultivation – tilling the land – and of looking forward (until), reflecting both Macmillan’s heartfelt fealty to centuries-old tradition, and his skill at bringing it to timeless yet modern-day life. Produced by Donald Shaw – of Capercaillie/Celtic Connections fame – Till’s sensitively spacious, freshly imaginative arrangements feature such fellow contemporary folk luminaries as Julie Fowlis, Greg Lawson (GRIT), Ross Martin (Dàimh), James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), James D. Mackenzie (Breabach) and Manus Lunny (Capercaillie).

As alluded to above, Macmillan has been singing nigh-on since he could talk, developing his talents and repertoire at both local ceilidhs and the annual Mòd network of competitive Gaelic festivals. Winner of the coveted National Mòd Gold Medal at only 18 – he triumphed again in the Traditional contest two years later. His parallel prowess on the bagpipes (as featured in Till’s two instrumental sets), resonates clearly through his vocal phrasing and ornamentation, while a potent expressive blend of gravitas and passion, buoyancy and weight, also reveals the uniquely elemental influence of Gaelic psalm-singing, a tradition still widespread during his childhood. Following Taladh Nan Cuantan’s release, Macmillan’s six years with award-winning Highland band Dàimh further honed this exquisitely distinctive artistry, not least in his masterly handling of accompaniment – artistry that now, on Till, attains marvellously mature, transcendently eloquent fruition.

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Calum Alex Macmillan – Till link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.calumalexmacmillan.co.uk   

Argyll Gathering – new Scottish festival debuts in August

Argyll Gathering is a new Scottish event celebrating the best of music, culture and the arts opening its doors August 19th – 20th 2017 in the stunning setting of Helensburgh. The event will showcase the best in traditional contemporary Scottish music, local food and drink and feature interactive workshops. Community is at the heart of the festival and its goal is to celebrate the best of what Scotland has to offer culturally; Argyll Gathering is not just a festival, but a platform for people to interact and form an artistic movement.

So far, artists confirmed are the former lead singer of one of Scotland’s most celebrated groups, Runrig‘s Donnie Munro, who will be performing live with a full band. The most famous bagpipe band in the world, Red Hot Chilli Pipers will be bringing their ground-breaking fusion of traditional Scottish music and rock/pop anthems, Scottish supergroup Treacherous Orchestra are the third of the festival’s headliners – their foot-stomping, Celtic rock performance is sure to blow spectators away.

The festival also boasts additional praised artists, Bwani Junction who will perform Graceland by Paul Simon, Elephant Sessions, Manran, Federation of the Disco Pimp, Jarlath Henderson Band, Blue Rose Code, Daimh, Fat-Suit, Pronto Mama and, finally Nae Plans (Adam Sutherland & Hamish Napier) will perform over both days with special guests and added surprises.

A community workshop tent, aimed at all ages will showcase music, art and the Gaelic language. There will be delicious food courtesy of Food From Argyll, sweet treats, a carefully selected beer and ale bar, an independent spirits bar and children’s entertainment will be on offer making the festival something for all the family to enjoy.

Having been born and raised in Helensburgh, Festival organiser James Windebank has seen the town evolve and change over 30 years.

“The one thing that I always wanted my hometown to have was a spectacular event that focussed on bringing people together to listen to great music, have a dram and really enjoy themselves as a community of people!”

Together with co-curator, Nick Lawrie, he and Windebank have independently worked on some of the largest cultural projects in the world and wanted to curate an event to bring out the best facets of that they have learnt working events over the years. Windebank goes on to say:

“We believe that an event such as this should enhance its home turf, and really bring something to the table. That could be a great music line up that speaks to its patrons, showcasing the gorgeous larder of Scotland, or exposing people to the rich creative culture that exists all around us.”

Helensburgh and its surroundings are renowned for their picturesque backdrop. The area is steeped in Scottish history, it has also offered events such as highland games and piping championships to carry on traditions.

Full details available from the festival website

Daimh announce new album

Daimh announce new album

‘Gaelic Supergroup’ and internationally renowned ambassadors of Highland Music release a new album of traditional material recorded, mastered and designed on the Hebridean Islands.

Never a band to find an easy way to do things, the album was recorded over a week across the Islands of Mull, Skye and South Uist in a series of intimate accoustic get togethers.

“We wanted to record an album of the traditional tunes we have been playing for years at wild dances and ceilidhs across the West Coast and islands” recounts piper Angus MacKenzie who lives on the Isle of Skye. “The best way to capture the feel and spirit we were after was to take the recording studio with us rather than go to the studio and try and make it feel like an island.”

The songs cover the full range of the known Gaelaxy, from dancing and drinking to crofting and un-requited love and are provided by new vocalist and the firmament’s fastest rising star: Ellen MacDonald. Taking the recording process and the fact that all the band live either on the Isles of Skye and Eigg – or in full view of them, the band decided to take the island theme one step further by choosing Beaver Island on Lake Michigan for their North American album launch in September this year.

“Every island has it’s own unique character and charm” relates Eigg adoptee Gabe McVarish, “Yet there is a shared feeling of island mentality’, wherever you go in the world. Beaver Island may have been 4,000 miles away and in the middle of a fresh water lake but at certain points it felt just like home!”

A full Scottish launch tour is planned for spring/summer 2016 and will include a Hebridean world record attempt.

Artists’ website: www.daimh.net

DAIMH – Diversions (Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX 343)

Starting with the Gaelic song “Donald’s Sporran” immediately puts me in mind of when I first heard the arrangement of “Brose & Butter” by Ossian in the late 70’s. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, more power to Daimh’s collective elbow for allowing the creative juices to flow from guest producer Donald Shaw on an album that is studded with gems. Although there may be a perceived (from the listener’s point of view) obstacle of propelling the Gaelic language as the language of choice instead of English you get the feeling that this was never a problem for Shaw as he’s been breaking these barriers for many years with his own band Capercaillie. So, with the mission clearly stated in making the Gaelic vocals of Calum Alex MacMillan, Angus MacKenzie (pipes & whistles), Colm O’Rua (banjo & mandola), Gabe McVarish (fiddle), James Bremner (bodhran) and the guitar of Ross Martin more accessible to the general public you can relax and enjoy an exquisite slice of Scottish culture. Not unlike the afore mentioned Ossian and the Tannahill Weavers before them Daimh show commendable restraint in some of the driving fiddle/pipes set pieces such as “White Houses” and “Lock And Load” and it is apparent that here is an ensemble totally at ease with their choice of artistic endeavours. PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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: http://www.daimh.net/