The contemporary Scottish folk scene definitely isn’t short of talent, and this debut album from Glasgow based band Trip, further demonstrates the scene’s robust health. Crowd funded and recorded during lockdown, A Drop for Neptune is inspired by something that connects us all – the sea. And it’s very impressive. The musicianship is a good as one would expect from a band made up of graduates from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and all tracks are beautifully arranged, with a selection of material is fresh and varied.
Trip are a six piece band in which three Scots – Alasdair Mackenzie on guitar and vocals, Rory Matheson on piano and Craig Baxter on bodhran – are joined by Sligo flautist Tiernan Courell, Northumbrian accordionist Michael Biggins and Manx fiddler Isla Callister. These diverse origins are reflected in the choice of material, which includes traditional tunes from Scotland, Ireland and The Isle of Mann, as well as compositions by band members.
The album consists of five sets of tunes, two songs and two stand-alone tunes. First up is ‘September Sea’, a set of high tempo dance tunes, drawn from the Scots and Irish traditions along with a new composition from Isla Callister. The arrangement sets the tone for much of the album. It starts with one instrument dominant – the flute in this case – and builds up to a full interplay of the six instruments. The second set, ‘Madeline’s’, is similarly upbeat.
By this time Trip’s approach is becoming clear. The top line consists of fiddle, accordion and flute, while guitar, piano and bodhran provide a fine rhythm section. In particular, listening to ‘Madeline’s’ I first became aware of Rory Matheson’s piano playing- with its slight jazz and blues inflection – adding depth and freshness to the sound.
‘Turning Tides’ is the first of two songs, sung by Alasdair Mackenzie. Written by Isla Callister, it’s both a paean to the often overlooked part of these islands that is her home and an exploration of the pull of home.
‘Mackay’s’ is a more mellow set, during which the guitar assumes a leading role. ‘The Ninth Wave’ is a pair of reels.
The first stand-alone tune – ‘Flaich Na Faiche’ (‘Prince Of The Lawn’) – is a delightful slow air, written by Tiernan Courell, for a canine companion from his. Performed on flute and piano, this is the most stripped back arrangement.
The second song is ‘The Arabic’. Written by John Doyle, it is an epic re-telling of Doyle’s grandfather’s ill fated attempt to escape poverty in Roscommon by sailing to America on SS Arabic. The year, 1915, wasn’t a great choice for transatlantic crossings and, fifteen miles south of Kinsale, The Arabic was sunk by a German submarine. Struggling in the water, Doyle’s grandfather narrowly escaped with his life by being pulled into a boat.
The second stand-alone tune – ‘For Marie’ – is a beautiful contemporary Manx 7/8 tune, composed by Isla Callister for Marie Fielding, her tutor at the Royal Conservatoire.
The dramatic finale is provided by ‘Towards The Storm’. Another set of traditional and new tunes, it basically does what it says, taking from calm seas into the tempest as it builds from a jaunty start to a violent and at times almost discordant crescendo. For some reason, it left me unimpressed on the first listening, but I persevered and it’s sounded better and better with each listening.
As you’ll have no doubt realised, I enjoyed A Drop for Neptune. It’s an album that combines tradition with freshness, and I look forward to hearing more from Trip before too long.
Artist website: www.trip-music.com
‘The Sweetheart Reels’ – an early live recording: