IAIN THOMSON AND MARC DUFF – No Borders (own label IAT 003)

No BordersIain Thomson is a singer-songwriter brought up in Dumfries who works regularly as a duo with Marc Duff who plays bouzouki, pipes, piano and whistles here and also produced the album. In his other life Iain has been a sheep farmer on Mull, where he again lives, although we’re told that he’s planning a move to Sweden, obliquely referenced in ‘Fate Is Knocking At My Door’. Then he was a truck-driver and, most recently, a fencing contractor. One look at his photograph tells you that he’s a man who knows about hard physical work and many of his songs draw on his experiences. No Borders is his second CD.

The record opens with ‘All Our Stories’. It derives from a project that began when the school in Ulva on Mull closed and the local people were interviewed for an archive about their lives and experiences. Iain doesn’t go into detail about their stories but rather concentrates on the fragility of a community living on the country’s edge. A related story appears in ‘Glendale Martys’ which tells how the resistance to the clearances of crofters on Skye eventually led to the Crofters Holdings Act of 1886.

The second track is ‘The Winter Winds Blow’ in which Iain recalls the working life of a fencer – out in the open in all weathers – remembering the good and glossing over the bad. Perhaps we all do that. ‘Back To The Sheds’ recounts his life as a shearer, both on Mull and in the antipodes while ‘The City Sleeps’ tells a story from his trucking days when he found himself stranded in Glasgow’s red light district at 3.00 am – perhaps it’s better not to ask.

Raising his eyes to more distant horizons he writes about the refugee situation in the title track and the way that isolation and separation can be brought to an end by technology in ‘Reunion’. He ends with an old Gaelic poem, ‘An t’Eilean Àlainn’ which, in a way, takes us back to the beginning.

No Borders has a very traditional sound with Hannah Fisher, John Somerville and John Saich among the supporting players and even Gordon Maclean’s bass doesn’t really bring modernity crashing in. It’s an album of fine songs from Thomson and beautiful decoration from Duff.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.iainthomsonband.co.uk

‘The Long Road Home’ – live:

Iain Thomson announces new album with Marc Duff

Iain Thomson and Marc Duff

Iain Thomson along with long-time friend and musician Marc Duff will release a new album entitled No Borders.

No Borders includes eleven new self-penned songs and features multi-instrumentalist Marc Duff, who also produced the album, along with guest musicians Gordon Maclean (bass), John Somerville (accordion), John Saiche (bass) and Hannah Fisher (fiddle, backing vocals).

The album is a collection of songs that are both personal and topical but still very much rooted by experiences of life in rural Argyll. Iain is now in the process of emigrating to Sweden and starting a new life and a new language, a process that will surely inspire new songs for the future and perhaps another CD.

Title track ‘No Borders’ is about what drives folk to jump on a boat run by money driven people with no regard for human life. They have no idea what awaits them at the other side of the ocean but they feel it must be better and safer than what they are leaving behind. The dilemma that faces refugees today is also very similar to the plight of the people during the Highland clearances when they boarded the ships with few possessions to emigrate.

Other notable songs on the album include ‘The Glendale Martyrs’; much of the aforementioned Highland clearances took place without much resistance from the crofters. However, in Skye the crofters refused to pay rents and the people fought on many occasions with sticks and stones when the factors tried to administer force and arrest. The main leader of the rebellious crofters was John Macpherson of Glendale. The publicity created by this led to great support for the crofter’s cause and eventually led to the crofting act that gave crofters security of tenure.

‘Winter Winds Blow’ is inspired by Iain’s main income as a fencing contractor – a job that has taken him to some amazing places. This song tries to encapsulate the beautiful surrounding landscape and wildlife, the thoughts that go through the head when working a lot on your own and just the sheer physicality of the job in sometimes harsh conditions.

Iain was brought up in Dumfries and started learning the piano at age seven. By the age of 15 he moved on from the discipline of classical piano to take up the guitar and singing. He moved to the Isle of Mull in 1986 to run a large hill farm and became known as the “Singing Shepherd” after producing two successful tapes of self-penned songs. In 1996 he left Mull spending seven restless years driving trucks and playing in bars. Due to changing circumstances and an almost magnetic draw he returned to Mull and his rural roots and started a fencing and sheep shearing business. 2010 would see him release the album Field Of Dreams to critical acclaim, an album of twelve self-penned songs and tunes.

Marc Duff is known primarily for co-founding the notable Celtic band Capercaillie with whom he has toured extensively and made many successful recordings.

His time spent at the Guildhall School of Music has given him an eclectic taste in music and a distinct style of playing which has kept him in demand as a session musician and a teacher.

Since leaving Capercaillie in 1995 to pursue his own career, he has worked with many prominent artists, playing low D whistle, Bodhran, bouzouki and wind synthesizer and now with the uilleann pipes bringing a whole new dimension.

Marc has performed and recorded with an eclectic array of artists from many different musical genres including Def Shepherd, Fish, Iain Morrison, Dick Gaughan, Billy Bragg, Wolfstone and as a soloist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra performing music for the BBC series A History of Scotland.

Notably Marc was nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2008 Scottish Trad Music Awards. As well as being a very accomplished musician Marc has proved to be a very talented producer.

Artists’ website: www.iainthomsonband.co.uk

‘The Winter Winds Blow’ – live:

BELLA HARDY – Hey Sammy (Noe NOE10)

Hey SammyHer ninth solo outing, this is very much Hardy’s ‘pop’ album, a dramatic change in sound an style resulting from a brief relocation to Nashville and a seven-week residency in Kumming in Southwest China (which itself gave rise to Eternal Spring earlier this year, a live collection of song and poetry with Chinese musicians). Recorded with the backing of Iain Thomson on guitars, Tom Gibbs on keys and clarinet, and the rhythm section of James Lindsay and John Blease, with Hardy on fiddle, harmonium and xylophone and Paul Savage in the producer’s chair, it opens with Chinese colours evident on the chiming notes that introduce and underpin the dreamy ‘Redemption’, a folk song about friendship and kindness to others, enrobed in almost show tune clothes.

Driven by a beating tribal drum rhythm, the poppy ‘Learning To Let Go’ details feelings of displacement and search for self as she sings of being a stranger in California looking for “another way of being known another way of being” but that also “I know the who but I still don’t know what I want to be.”

Co-penned with Thomson, ‘Driving Through Harmony’ gets a touch funky in a West Coast style and is followed by the first of two-writes with Nashville’s Peter Groenwald. First up is the mid-tempo ticking rhythm ‘Queen Of Carter’s Bar’, a country-tinted fading relationship number that, a loose rework of ‘Tam Lin’, again concerns identity (“I’m watching you pretend to be the thing you’re aren’t”), followed by the keyboards balled ‘In My Dreams’, which, with added input from Konnad Snyder, is a suitably hushed and atmospheric weave with a percussive ebb and flow.

A particular standout is the self-penned ‘You Don’t Owe The World Pretty’, a punchy jangling feminist pop song about women taking ownership of their bodies and their lives that comes with a surging chorus rush. It’s followed by the two collaborations with Scottish jazz pianist and composer Tom Gibbs, the first being ‘Busy Head’ (tracing the familiar theme of “so desperate to fit in and so in need of staying apart”) that again, especially in its swelling flourishes, has the air of a Broadway showstopper, as indeed does the gathering swell of piano-led ‘Heartbreaker’, a song about “a neon jazz folk love affair” you might imagine Elaine Paige covering.

Next up comes the title track, its jaunty guitar chug and big burst choruses belying the song’s subject matter concerning the rise of racism in Britain, followed, in turn, by ‘South Lake’, a piano-based, clarinet-shaded number inspired by and referencing Nan Hu, meaning South Lake, a stretch of water in Yunnan province, in its contemplation of being and our connection with the world around us.

The lyrics conjure thoughts of Chinese poetry and, indeed, one such provides the source for the closing shimmering six-minute ‘Stars’. It’s a studio rerecording of the number originally featured on Eternal Spring, a two part lyric that combines words adapted from poem 21, written in praise of Yunnan, in the Shijing, a collection of some three hundred ancient poems sometimes translated as The Book of Songs, with Hardy’s own response, both set to her spirits soaring tune.

The press blurb talk of it as a ‘glorious…grown up’ record, I think a magnificent coming of age might be a better term.

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).

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Artist’s website: www.bellahardy.com

‘Driving Through Harmony’ – official video:

Iain Thomson – FIELDS OF DREAMS

Artist – Iain Thomson
Title – FIELDS OF DREAMS
Label – Self Released

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE…

I first heard of Iain Thomson from a DJ friend of mine who pointed me in his direction. Frankly I was stunned when I heard what superb music and lyrics he produced. There is an honesty and pure ‘down home’ feel to his work that make it appeal to all fans of folk/Americana and roots music in general. As a shepherd on the Isle of Mull, Iain has a unique perspective on what surrounds him and when he puts down his thoughts and ideas inspired by the beautiful landscape and diverse wildlife where he resides the result is truly magical. Iain did have a spell living on the mainland and has also travelled the world, this all helping to build his rich storybook of songs, but the Isle of Mull had a strong pull and he’s back living on the island that he loves, continuing to shepherd and compose words and music. The album that you have in your hands is the fruit of his inspired life and travels.

FIELDS OF DREAMS is a superb collection of twelve songs all from the pen of Iain Thomson. One of the most heartfelt and emotional tracks on the album is The Old Country, inspired by an old lady that Iain met while having a spell sheep shearing in New Zealand, she relayed a tale of an ex pat from Scotland who married a New Zealand born girl but always had a longing to return to ‘the old country’, years later after his wife died he managed to make just one more visit to Scotland before he himself sadly passed away. Iain also spent time driving large trucks up and down the UK and the song The Southern Line is dedicated to truckers worldwide who keep the supplies moving.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered at the B&B Studios in Edinburgh with founder member of Capercaillie Marc Duff at the controls. Mark also plays on the album and other notable musicians lending their talents include fellow Capercaillie member Charlie McKerron, award winning Gaelic singer Maeve MacKinnon, Gordon Maclean who has worked with Michael Marra and Corrina Hewat and not forgetting one of Scotland’s finest accordion players Gregor Lowrey. A short UK tour is planned for later in 2010 including a possible appearance at the Tarbert Music Festival in Argyll and a longer tour of UK folk clubs is planned for the spring of 2011.

“The Singing Shepherd has grown up, in the Fields of Dreams.”

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.

For more information and the latest tour news please visit www.iainthomsonband.co.uk