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 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 BLUE ROSE CODE – The Water Of Leith 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.

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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 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 Blue Rose Code – The Water Of Leith 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: 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 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 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 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 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