PEATBOG FAERIES – Live@25 (Peatbog Records CDBOG008)

Live@25The Peatbog Faeries new album, Live@25 is only their second foray into live recording in their long career, the other being 2009’s Live. As the title indicates, this return to the live format is a celebration of the band’s quarter-century anniversary – an impressive longevity by any standards.

Recorded at the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway and at Much Marcle, Herefordshire, the album largely consists of tracks from their two most recent studio albums, Blackhouse and Dust.

It’s an album light on between-songs chatter, but long on music. A live recording can be a tricky beast to pull off. We are assured “All our tracks are one take” and we can hear the crowd’s evident enthusiasm. But, it’s almost as if they’ve had their volume turned down slightly, which can make a difference to a format that relies, at least in part, on the energy of the crowd to capture the gig atmosphere.

As with most live albums, the tracks are given a bit more heft and general welly than their studio album counterparts, but this doesn’t detract from the skill or intricacy of the musicianship.

‘The Ranch’ particularly rocks out, getting all down and dirty with a great big Hammond-organ-style splash in the second minute and a grinding bassline, while a tune like ‘Shifting Peat And Feet’ really showcases the complex interplay between the instruments and band members.

It’s the effortless, endlessly versatile marriage of traditional instruments with electronica and global influences that marks out the Faeries’ unique style and makes them such a crowd favourite on the festival circuit.

Club music lovers will find beats, loops and grooves aplenty from the soothing to the insanely scratchy. The boy-racer-at-traffic-lights “um-chick-um-chick” beat of ‘Strictly Sambuca’ here assumes a rattly, rusty-castanet quality before whooshing off somewhere rather more gently trippy. The already jangly, edgy ‘Spider’s’ acquires a wild Donna Summer-ish Hi-NRG disco thang (so sorry) before dallying with a bit of Krautrock rhythm.

‘Jakes On A Plane’ (their song titles are often hilariously awful puns – reason enough to love them!) slows the energy down to an ambient Celtic trance while ‘Marx Terrace’ has a spacey, spangly electro groove under the churn of fiddle and whistle. ‘The Naughty Step’ marries a deeply funky bassline with a skittish whistle, whereas the addition of a lyrical piano part on ‘Fishing At Orbost’ lends a surprisingly forceful gravitas to the band’s sound.

The last two band tracks come from the Stornoway recordings, with the complexity of ‘Folk Police’ followed by new work, ‘The Humours Of Ardnamurchan’ notable for featuring a vocal, a female vocal no less, albeit apparently pre-programmed and pushed down the mix a bit. So is this a one-off experiment or an interesting new departure in style? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Wrapping up the album, the unashamedly sentimental Callum Kennedy track ‘The Skyline Of Skye’ is as sweetly touching as it is incongruous: a tender tribute to the island landscape that helped form this extraordinary, genre-trashing, outward-looking band. Here’s to the next 25 years!

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.peatbogfaeries.com

‘Folk Police’ live: