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   

The Lost Songs Of St Kilda rediscovered

the lost songs of st kilda

The Lost Songs Of St Kilda, an album of songs from a remote Scottish island kept alive by a man in a care home who performs on the album, has hit  number 1 on the iTunes and Amazon Classical chart, as well as reaching number 9 on the Amazon overall charts in the US.

In connection with this project and for the first time ever, a concert has taken place on St Kilda – the deserted Scottish island dubbed “the edge of the world”. Internationally-renowned composer Sir James MacMillan performed  The Lost Songs Of St Kilda in front of a handful of people who endured an eight-hour boat trip from Skye to be there. It is the first time music has been heard on St Kilda since its evacuation in 1930.

The Lost Songs Of St. Kilda have been brought back to life on a this new Decca album (available now) thanks to a 73-year- old retired teacher, Trevor Morrison, who lived in an Edinburgh care home and enchanted fellow residents with his strangely haunting music played on a rickety piano. Trevor was taught these tunes as a small boy by an itinerant piano teacher from St Kilda, who sat him at the piano and placed his fingers on the keys to help him remember the melodies.

A volunteer at the care home, enthralled by their beauty, persuaded Trevor to let him record the songs. Stuart Mackenzie recalls: “I bought a £3 microphone and recorded Trevor playing that knackered care home piano.” That is exactly what you hear on The Lost Songs Of St Kilda – eight simple melodies, exactly as Trevor remembered them from those childhood lessons on Bute.

The songs made their way to Decca Records after Classical A&R Executive Fiona Pope, a cellist from Glasgow, heard about the existence of the recordings and was asked to transcribe the melodies. She later took them to Scotland’s foremost contemporary composers to reimagine, reinterpret and remix their favourite tunes. Each song is named after part of St Kilda (including its magnificent sea stacks) and evokes the wild beauty of the landscape.

Leading Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan wrote a string arrangement of the track ‘Hirta’ and conducts the Scottish Festival Orchestra on the album. He remembers his excitement at hearing the story of Trevor and his musical memories of St Kilda: “Forgotten songs, melodies that had disappeared from popular remembrance, and he’s kept them alive playing them on the piano. Very beautiful, simple accompaniments.”

Other composers who’ve transformed the original songs include Craig Armstrong, Mercury Prize nominee Christopher Duncan, Rebecca Dale and Francis MacDonald (also drummer of Teenage Fanclub) whose orchestration of the track ‘Dùn’ includes a poem, ‘To Finlay MacDonald From St Kilda’, written by the late Norman Campbell – read and sung in English and Scots Gaelic by North Uist singer Julie Fowlis (who performed on the soundtrack to 2012 film Brave).

Before Trevor Morrison died in 2012, he wrote a letter thanking those who helped him record the songs which he said had haunted him all his life, conveying his wish “that these few tunes from the long-forgotten isles can be preserved and given a future.” With the The Lost Songs Of St Kilda his wish is finally fulfilled.

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 The Lost Songs Of St Kilda 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]

Label website: http://decca.com/

RANT – Reverie (Make Believe Records MBR6CD)

ReverieIf you’re going to make music with a band that consists of just fiddles and violas you have to pretty sure of your ground otherwise it’s going to get rather dull.

Sure, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren McColl stretch the point by importing vocalists for two tracks but they import the best – Julie Fowlis and Ewan McLennan. The opening track, ‘JT’s’, written by Bethany makes a bold statement with almost staccato fiddle phrases leading into a sweeter restatement and then a rocking melody. The mood changes immediately with a set of two traditional tunes, ‘Miss Drummond Of Perth’s Favourite Scotch Measure’ – another great old title – which is given an almost eerie opening and ‘Strathbogie’s Toast’ from Niel Gow’s collection. ‘Dad’s 60th’ is another tune by Bethany, a bright march with echoes of older pieces hidden within it.

The first of the songs is ‘Mary’s Dream’. The words are by the 18th century Galloway poet, John Lowe’ and the tune is traditional – a variant of ‘The Parting Glass’. McLennan’s warm voice is complemented by almost tender fiddle parts. Julie Fowlis sings the other song, ‘Thug Thu Chonnlach As An T-Sabhal’, a strathspey tune with a very different feel. Her vocal dexterity with the Gaelic language is always a delight.

There are two pieces from James Scott Skinner who is always good value, two by Lauren and a couple of covers and the final track is an Icelandic hymn, ‘Fyrir Mig, Jesú, þoldir þú’, brought to the band by Jenna and rearranged by Bethany with an ethereal feel that’s almost chilling, bringing the album to a lovely close.

Dai Jeffries

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.

Artists’ website: www.rantfiddles.com

The promotional video:

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards Announced

Folk Awards 2015BBC Radio 2 has announced the recipients of this year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The two prestigious lifetime achievement accolades will be presented to legendary musicians Yusuf / Cat Stevens and Loudon Wainwright III at the ceremony which is being held at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 22 April. The Good Tradition Award, for an outstanding contribution to the upkeep of a musical tradition, is being presented posthumously to the late Meredydd Evans. Continue reading BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards Announced

BBC RADIO 2 FOLK AWARDS NOMINEES ANNOUNCED

The nominees for this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards have today been announced by Mark Radcliffe on The Radio 2 Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe (Wednesdays, 7pm-8pm).

The categories up for grabs are: Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Group, Best Album, Horizon Award, Musician of the Year, Best Original Song, Best Traditional Track and BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award.

The winners will be announced at the Folk Awards ceremony on Wednesday 22 April at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. The ceremony will be hosted by Mark Radcliffe and singer Julie Fowlis and tickets are available now from bbc.co.uk/radio2/folkawards.

This will be the Awards’ 16th year as some of the biggest names in music come together under one roof to celebrate the UK’s thriving folk scene.

The event will welcome a whole host of star guests and will see legendary performer Yusuf / Cat Stevens headlining. Also confirmed to perform live on the night are Grammy Award-winning artist Loudon Wainwright III, Welsh folk band 9Bach (who will be performing in Welsh) and English folk singer Kate Rusby. Other acts on the line-up will be announced at a later date.

The event will also feature the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame, which recognises the special contribution of an individual to the world of folk music; someone whose impact and influence has had a lasting impression. This year’s inductee will be the influential Ewan MacColl. The awards show will also include the presentation of Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards.

Drivetime presenter Simon Mayo will be broadcasting a special programme live from the Wales Millennium Centre (5pm-7.30pm) on the day of the awards. The interval will feature performances from the nominees for the Young Folk Award 2015.

Listeners will be able to watch highlights of the awards on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after the event and on Red Button. For more details head to bbc.co.uk/radio2

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards will be broadcast live from 7.30pm-10pm on Radio 2.

Those in the running include:

Folk Singer of the Year

Jez Lowe
Jez Lowe
  • Cara Dillon
  • Julie Fowlis
  • Nancy Kerr
  • Jez Lowe

Best Duo

O'Hooley & Tidow
O’Hooley & Tidow
  • Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
  • O’Hooley & Tidow
  • Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar
  • Chris While & Julie Matthews

Best Group

Bellowhead. (Photograph by Hugo Morris)
Bellowhead. (Photograph by Hugo Morris)
  • Bellowhead
  • The Furrow Collective
  • The Gloaming
  • The Young ‘Uns

Best Album

Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour
Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour
  • Fair Warning – The Rails
  • Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour – Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
  • Sweet Visitor – Nancy Kerr
  • The Moral Of The Elephant – Martin & Eliza Carthy
  • Tincian – 9Bach

Horizon Award

AH1
Ange Hardy
  • Ange Hardy
  • Maz O’Connor
  • Stick In The Wheel
  • The Rails

Musician of the Year

Will Pound
Will Pound
  • Martin Green
  • Will Pound
  • Sam Sweeney
  • Kathryn Tickell

Best Original Song

  • Swim To The Star – Peggy Seeger/Calum MacColl (performed by Peggy Seeger)
  • The Necklace Of Wrens – Michael Hartnett (performed by The Gloaming)
  • The Pitmen Poets – Jez Lowe
  • The Spider And The Wolf – Paul Simmonds (performed by Naomi Bedford)

Best Traditional Track

Bones EP - Stick In The Wheel
Bones EP – Stick In The Wheel
  • Bedlam – Stick In The Wheel
  • Handsome Molly – The Furrow Collective
  • Manus Mo Rùin – Cruinn
  • Samhradh Samhradh – The Gloaming

BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award

  • Cup O’Joe
  • Roseanne Reid
  • Talisk
  • Wildwood Kin

Making the announcement, Mark Radcliffe said:

“We’ve had another fantastic year in folk music, filled with excellent releases and exciting music from many well-loved and respected acts. But looking through the nominations, I’m particularly happy to see nods for acts that are almost completely unknown to mainstream audiences: The Gloaming, 9Bach, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Ange Hardy, Stick In The Wheel, Cruinn, The Furrow Collective… We know how superb these people are, so it’s wonderful to take this opportunity to shine a bright light on them. And we always say it, but do check out the nominees in our Young Folk Award – the sheer talent in that category is frightening.”

Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary album At the Heart of It All

Capercaillie - At the Heart of It AllAt the Heart of It All, Capercaillie’s brand-new 30th anniversary album, revisits and reinvigorates songs sourced from a wealth of centuries old Hebridean folk songs. The material has been enriched further by compelling contemporary arrangements, with contributions from many special guests who represent the pinnacle of today’s flourishing Scottish music scene.

“We’d never really done much in the way of collaboration on previous albums, but this time it seemed like a nice way to go,” says band member Donald Shaw, “We didn’t want Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary being all about us and our record, but more about celebrating how Scottish and Gaelic music as a whole has expanded and progressed in that time with so many younger musicians coming through.” Continue reading Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary album At the Heart of It All