Isla Ratcliff announces her debut album

Isla Ratcliff
Photograph by Elly Lucas

Emerging Scottish traditional artist Isla Ratcliff will release her exciting debut album The Castalia on Friday 19th November, inspired by her experience of the traditional music cultures of Cape Breton and New Brunswick.

The Edinburgh musician spent four months at university in Cape Breton – an island on the east coast of Canada with a rich traditional music culture and Scottish Gaelic heritage – connecting with her roots.

The transatlantic album explores Scotland’s relationship with Canada via Isla’s own family ties – ‘The Castalia’ was the ship her great-great-great-uncle and his family took from Glasgow when they emigrated from Glen Clova, Angus to New Brunswick, Canada in 1873.

Isla’s debut record explores her appreciation for the community spirit and kindness she experienced in Canada, the friends she met along the way, and the distant family she connected with while living there.

The trip made a lasting impact on Isla musically, reinforcing her love for the tradition and allowing her to uncover new repertoire, inspiration for new compositions and a fresh approach to interpreting tunes – all of which is encapsulated in The Castalia.

 Isla said: ‘By immersing myself in Cape Breton culture, I fell in love with the music, the people and the place. I particularly loved the sense of community and inclusivity that’s integral to Cape Breton traditional music. My album celebrates Scottish-Canadian cultural ties and the power of music to bring people together.

“My time in Canada also had a revolutionary impact on my artistic practice and approach to music, allowing me to really cultivate my individual fiddle playing style. I’m incredibly proud to present this in my first album.”

Through its thirteen heartfelt tracks and thirty-two traditional and self-composed tunes, The Castalia takes listeners on a journey, from the joyful to the reflective, all within the backdrop of the history of Scottish emigration to Canada.

The album possesses a unique instrumentation and the way it was created brings cultures together. Isla’s fiddle and piano is primarily accompanied by Ellen Gira on cello. In order to capture the sound of Cape Breton, Isla is also joined by local pianist Adam Young and American stepdancer Annabelle Bugay.

The album was produced by acclaimed fiddler Marie Fielding and recorded remotely between Scotland, Canada and the US. Stuart Hamilton of Castlesound Studios near Edinburgh was responsible for recording, mixing and mastering, while the international recordings came from Charlie Pilzer at Tonal Park, Maryland and Michael Shepherd at Lakewind Sound Studios, Cape Breton.

A versatile musician, composer and arranger, Isla grew up immersed in music and has a background in classical violin and piano. She has performed at the likes of Celtic Connections, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the BBC Proms.

Aged just thirteen she shared the stage with classical superstar Nicola Benedetti, when they performed a duet at Edinburgh Usher Hall. She has music degrees from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Oxford University and was a Semi-Finalist at this year’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition.

Her debut album was created with support from Creative Scotland, Alan Surtees Trust and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The Castalia will be available to download and stream on all major platforms, and purchase on CD, from Friday 19 November 2021.

Artist’s website:

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