NITEWORKS – Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music, CM002)

Air Faìr An LàIf the combined words “folk” and “electronica” bring on an attack of the vapours, a lie down with the reviving sal volatile of Niteworks’ second album Air Faìr An Là (At Dawn Of Day) might just help. The four Skye lads of Niteworks clearly love their traditional music but, obviously, generations born into techno and its offspring want to reflect contemporary sounds, too. If Martyn Bennett was a pioneer in this field, Niteworks are most ably picking up the reins and forging forward on their own account.

This time around, they’ve engaged top techno producer Alex Menzies (aka Alex Smoke), who overcame his own initial reluctance about the project and has helped to create a vital, full-throttle album that’s subtler than it might at first appear (try the constantly mutating rhythmic pattern punctuating the 1968 spoken-word recording of Skye man, ‘Calum Ruadh MacNeacail’), and definitely stands on its own merits.

Opening with ‘Dookin’’, spacey sonics lope along until first a vibrant fiddle and then pipes drop in, hoisting the melody line across a thumping drumbeat. Kinnaris Quintet’s Fiona MacAskill and her two colleagues provide excellent fiddle parts throughout.

Other guests include Julie Fowlis, whose coolly sparkling vocal soars over ever-intensifying beats in ‘Òran Fir Ghriminis’, and Lewis musician Iain Morrison who brings a slow, atmospheric version of his own song, ‘Like Wolves In The Night’.

SIAN, a trio featuring Ellen MacDonald (recently with Daìmh), deliver crisp vocals on the title track, a waulking song, and also the album’s lead single, reviewed here in a recent Singles Bar. The rapid vocal repetitions are weirdly well-complemented by an ‘80s Kraftwerk-ish bubbling undercurrent. MacDonald’s warm tones also take up ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ (‘Your Two Beady Little Eyes’), a St Kilda lullaby with a soundscape that conjures blowing sand, rattling boat masts and the sea’s sighing fall-rise.

Dragged from the very earth itself is ‘Cumhachd’ (‘Power’ or ‘Energy’): a primal incantation where Allan MacDonald’s hypnotic vocals are slowly subsumed as he picks up the tune on his pipes. More pipes feature on ‘Iain McGee’s’, this time steadily bubbling up through a trance-ish rendering of the tune, before erupting wildly out. In contrast, the increasingly dark, insistent ‘Lùths (Gabh Greim)’ wibbles along, unsteady as an old cassette tape, and closing tune ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ somehow works a traditional strathspey up into what could be an action film car chase soundtrack.

Updating traditional music can be risky, but clearly Niteworks have found their contemporary groove and, right now, they are riding it expertly.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.niteworksband.com/

Live at Celtic Connections feat. Julie Fowlis:

Techno-folkies Niteworks release their second album

Niteworks
Photograph by Callum Woodbridge

Air Fàir an Là, the second album by Niteworks releases 17th August, and is the follow up to Niteworks critically acclaimed debut album, NW. The album takes its name, which translates from Gaelic to ‘at dawn of day’, from the album’s lead single which features a song composed by Màiri nighean Alasdair Ruaidh, a poet that lived on the Isle of Skye during the 17th Century. The band felt this title appropriately reflects the point where they are on their musical journey; the beginning of something new, different and unknown, with yet more potential to be seized and explored.

Niteworks vision with Air Fàir an Là was to produce a record that blurs the lines between Scottish traditional music and contemporary electronica, by bringing together elements of Gaelic and Scottish folk song, traditional tunes and melodies, all melded together with cutting edge electronica.

Having previously self-produced all their material, Niteworks have changed tack for this new album, and have called upon acclaimed techno producer Alex Menzies (Alex Smoke) to oversee the album’s production. The band, being fans of his solo productions, approached Alex despite him having limited experience of working with a band or experience of Scottish traditional music. The aim of this was to bring a whole new way of thinking and approach to Niteworks’ sound, and has resulted in the perfect combination to bring Niteworks to a new, more diverse audience.

In keeping with the band’s previous work, Air Fàir an Là contains many high-profile collaborations including with Julie Fowlis, one of the most successful and high-profile Gaelic musicians of all time. Other collaborators include Lewis born singer and multi-instrumentalist Iain Morrison, traditional string ensemble Kinnaris Quintet and up-and-coming band of three of Scotland’s finest Gaelic singers SIAN, who feature on the lead single. The album also features Ellen MacDonald, winner of the 2016 Gaelic singer of the year at the MG Alba Scots Trad music awards, whose contribution on Air Fàir an Là, marks the first time she has recorded with the band despite having performed live on numerous occasions.

Keen to ensure the entire package reflects the high-quality standards of the band, the album features stunning photography from acclaimed landscape photographer, Dougie Cunningham of Leading Lines. The front and inside album covers features an illuminated Niteworks logo in locations around the Isle of Skye, creating a dramatic backdrop to the Niteworks brand.

Innes Strachan of Niteworks said, “working with a producer has something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and to get the opportunity to do this with someone as high profile as Alex is absolutely amazing. Alex brought the whole album together in a way that doesn’t just sound like a collection of tracks, and we’re now excited for people to hear the results”.

Alex Menzies said, “having never worked with a band before, or had many dealings with traditional music, I was not the obvious choice for Niteworks to work with. As it turned out, it was a chance to think without preconceptions and work outside my comfort zone. As the band are all accomplished musicians and producers already, I was really just there to add noise and make things messier. I gained a lot from the experience and really enjoyed working with the band. I have a genuine new regard for traditional music, and this may well see further exploration.”

Iain Morrison said ‘I’ve been a fan of Niteworks so it was really lovely to be asked to collaborate on their new record. They are grounded in their roots but they’re also pushing into new ground so it’s going to be exciting to see where they go with it. Just a great band’.

Air Fàir an Là feat. SIAN, is the first release from Niteworks second album, of the same name. It was released on the 13th July with a supporting video by up-and-coming Scottish film maker Dòl Eoin MacKinnon.

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.

Artists’ website: www.niteworksband.com

Air Fàir an Là is available for pre-order now from Niteworks bandcamp, and will be available for purchase, download and to stream across all major platform iTunes, Spotify, Amazon etc., from the 17th of August 2018.

Niteworks and Julie Fowlis live at Celtic Connections:

Nick Drake to be inducted into the Folk Awards Hall Of Fame

Photograph courtesy of Village Voice

This year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, held at Belfast Waterfront on 4 April, will see singer-songwriter Nick Drake inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame.

Folk musician and producer Dónal Lunny will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award and the Armagh Pipers Club will be presented with the Good Tradition Award.

One of folk music’s annual highlights, the event presented by Mark Radcliffe and Julie Fowlis sees some of the biggest names celebrate the thriving folk scene of the UK and beyond. Dónal Lunny and the Armagh Pipers Club will join previously announced Cara Dillon, Paul Brady, Lankum and Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band to perform on stage at the prestigious event in Belfast.

Mike Edgar, Head of Entertainment and Events, BBC Northern Ireland, says: “We are so thrilled that the Radio 2 Folk Awards have chosen to come to Belfast. This part of the world boasts some of the finest musicians and singers on the planet, a fact that is being truly reflected in the line-up for this year’s event. So much talent in one room on one night – it’s sure to be a stunning evening and we look forward to sharing it with everyone on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio Ulster and also BBC Four and BBC Northern Ireland.”

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame exists to celebrate significant people who have made a lasting impression on folk music, and have since passed away. In 2018, the year in which he would have turned 70, the inductee will be the singer and songwriter Nick Drake.

Drake’s music didn’t garner commercial success during his lifetime, but decades after his early death at the age of 26, his music would find a wide and reverent audience. Drake left relatively little music behind; only three full studio albums were recorded: Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972). Featuring sublime and original guitar work, intimate vocals and distinctive pastoral strings, those records became classics. Produced by Joe Boyd and John Wood, the music was heavy with meaning and mood and, ultimately, highly influential on singer-songwriters of all kinds.

Actor Gabrielle Drake, Nick’s elder sister, will be present at the Radio 2 Folk Awards and the evening will see a special performance of one of Nick Drake’s songs. Gabrielle is an actor of stage and screen and became well known in the 1970’s for her role in television series The Brothers and UFO, and later in Crossroads and Coronation Street.

On Nick being inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame, Gabrielle says:

“I think Nick would have been quietly amazed, amused but above all, honoured. And, indeed, grateful. As I am on his behalf.”

During the evening, musician and producer Dónal Lunny will receive a prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to folk music. He is widely regarded as being central to the renaissance of Irish music over the last three decades.

Born in Tullamore in the midlands of Ireland, Dónal grew up in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. He was founding member of several of Ireland’s important bands including Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, Coolfin, and more recently, Mozaik, plus he has produced some of the most significant albums of the traditional music revival since the ’70s. An adept musician and player of the bouzouki, guitar and bodhrán, Dónal has also produced tracks for, and performed on albums with international stars such as Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Mark Knopfler, Clannad, and Baaba Maal. He has written music for many films and theatre productions, and at present, performs with Andy Irvine, DoZoMo, Paddy Glackin, Atlantic Arc Orchestra, and Usher’s Island, and continues with composition, production and teaching.

The evening will also see the Armagh Pipers Club presented with the Good Tradition Award, to recognise their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and progression of traditional music over a number of years.

Founded in 1966 to promote and teach Irish traditional music, the Armagh Pipers Club is an educational charity. Although its original focus was the revival of Ireland’s elbow-driven uilleann bagpipes (pronounced ‘ill-un’), the club rapidly expanded into teaching many other traditional instruments. The club currently provides classes to over 200 students, children and adults, drawn from Armagh and seven neighbouring counties. Many Pipers Club students have gone on to successful professional careers in traditional music, and the contribution of the organisation to the folk scene in Ireland has been immense.

The club’s director, Brian Vallely, who with his wife Eithne founded the organisation, says:

“The Good Tradition Award has had many worthy recipients, ranging from Celtic Connections to Meredydd Evans, John McCusker, Steeleye Span, the Cambridge Folk Festival, the Transatlantic Sessions series and many others – so we are in exalted company. Over five decades, the hundreds of tutors and students who have been associated with the club have made a significant contribution to the survival and development of the traditional music of Ireland, as has the club’s ground-breaking series of tutor books since their first publication in 1972. The recognition of our work through this prestigious award will help the club to maintain its high profile nationally and indeed internationally.”

In addition to the Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition awards, prizes will be awarded in the following categories on the night: Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Group, Best Album, Horizon Award, Musician of the Year, Best Original Track, Best Traditional Track and the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award.

The Radio 2 Folk Awards 2018 will welcome an array of guest presenters to present winners with their awards, including Finbar Furey, who is a multi-instrumental folk musician, best known for his band of brothers, The Fureys. Past guest presenters have included Sir David Attenborough, Sharleen Spiteri, Sir Ray Davies, Pauline Black, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Martin Freeman, Sandie Shaw and Sean Bean.

Tickets for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in Belfast are available from bbc.co.uk/radio2, and the event will be simulcast live from 7.30-9pm on BBC Radio 2 and Radio Ulster. After the show, selected highlights will be available to watch at bbc.co.uk/radio2, and a highlights programme will be broadcast on both BBC Four and BBC Northern Ireland the weekend after the event, and available on BBC iPlayer following that.

The Radio 2 Folk Awards are a 7digital Creative production for Radio 2 and produced by Kellie While and Jon Lewis.

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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BLUE ROSE CODE – The Water Of Leith (Navigator NAVIGATOR103)

Water Of LeithBlue Rose Code, aka Ross Wilson, has a deservedly growing reputation, with luminaries as diverse as Edith Bowman, Ewan McGregor and Ian Rankin among his fans. Time Out described the music as “Imagine John Martyn meeting a young Van Morrison and being shipwrecked with bundle of Chet Baker records.” The Water Of Leith, the new album, is released on October 27th.

Sometimes in the clatter and busyness of modern life we miss out on more sophisticated gems which don’t leap out and hit us in the face. I’ve just spent a week in rural France, mostly surrounded by stillness but also with CDs to review. And with time and quietude to really hear, I discovered The Water Of Leith to be one of those sophisticated gems.

Wilson has said, “I’m passionate about that fusion of folk and jazz and where it intersects with songwriting”. He has returned to his roots in Scotland and the album has award winning singers (Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes) and jazz musicians (Konrad Wisznewski, Seonaid Aitken, John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay) creating the sound. The Water Of Leith strolls easily across those borders and intersections, melding Scottish music and jazz as stunningly as Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill have been finding new power and beauty in Irish music by similarly combining different traditions.

The first three tracks are more broadly accessible and likely to get the greater radio play on non-specialist programmes. The remaining nine tracks, though, take you somewhere different, somewhere unique, those borders and intersections between jazz and folk – like that world you capture occasionally in the very early morning where the dawn mixes with the rising mist and you see and hear with a clarity that will be gone in twenty minutes. There are songs where the interplay of vocal and instrument create the mood (‘Passing Places’, ‘Sandaig’) and there are others where the interplay is between instruments (notably the two extended tracks ‘The Water’ and ‘To The Shore’ – the two tracks combining into seventeen minutes of sheer delight if you can find a quiet place to listen).

Blue Rose Code are touring in November to coincide with the release of the new album, dates to be found on their website (see below). In the meantime have a listen, a proper listen, to ‘Scotland Yet’ which was recorded earlier this year in Glasgow – and feel the hairs tingle on your neck.

Mike Wistow

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.

Artist’s website: https://bluerosecode.com / https://bluerosecode.com/live

‘Scotland Yet’ live:

Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) announces new album

Blue Rose Code

Blue Rose Code, aka acclaimed singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, releases The Water Of Leith, his first album for Navigator Records on October 27 on CD, download and album stream.

A nomad both geographically and musically, Ross writes from the heart eschewing any specific genre and the twelve new songs on The Water Of Leith, addressing themes of love, loss, travel, home, accepting the past and embracing the future, are painted with colours of folk, jazz, soul and pop; an eclecticism that has become a hallmark of Blue Rose Code and has seen him compared to John Martyn, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.

Underlining the sense of movement and place in Ross’s work and The Water Of Leith is rooted in his return to his Scottish homeland. There, he reconnected with the stellar musicians who were to become an integral part of the new album’s sound: multi award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award Winner, Ross Ainslie, 2017’s Scottish Jazz Awards’ instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski, leading violinist Seonaid Aitken and three of Scotland’s finest jazz musicians; John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay, to name just some of the contributors. Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman features on the opening track. Ross co-produced the album with Angus Lyon.

Blue Rose Code will tour extensively around the release of The Water Of Leith, including concerts at Edinburgh Queen’s Hall on November 3, London Bush Hall on November 14, Perth Concert Hall on November 20 and two nights at Harbour Arts in Irvine on November 24 and 25.

In the space of a few short years and the release of well-received albums North Ten, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, and And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing, Blue Rose Code has built a growing reputation as a powerful writer and performer, gaining extensive radio play and the praise of key broadcasters including Edith Bowman, Mary Ann Kennedy, Bob Harris and also actor Ewan McGregor who made a cameo appearance on And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing after commenting: “My uncle Denis Lawson (star of Local Hero) gave me a copy of The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, it’s beautiful and I can’t stop listening to it.” Author Ian Rankin is also a fan and has written insightful sleeve notes for the new album.  The Water Of Leith marks another step forward for Ross: his first record in recovery following a personal history overcoming alcoholism and addiction.

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.

Artist’s website: http://www.bluerosecode.com/

‘Grateful’ – live at RTE:

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 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.

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