Gnoss are a Scottish quartet, nominated three time for the Scot Trad Awards, who have their own distinct view of what traditional folk music is. Orcadians Aidan Moodie (vocals, guitar), and Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin and electric guitar) are joined by mainlanders Connor Sinclair (flute, whistle) and Craig Baxter (bodhran, percussion) so they sounds like a traditional band probably playing traditional music, but they’re not. As Graham Rorie said in a recent radio interview “All traditions were new once. There’s a huge responsibility on artists to be respectful and faithful, but a shared responsibility to develop it and bring it to a new audience.” Stretching Skyward does that with ten new songs and tunes with a common theme at its heart of change being the only constant. Even the album artwork illustrates that with of the phases of the moon; always changing but constant over time. The final track, Gillian Welch’s ‘Hard Times’ also shows a constant, that we go through good and bad times.
‘Stroma’ opens the album with whistles and bodhran taking the lead, so a very traditional type tune at a fast pace which sounds modern as the playing is very light. ‘Hamnavoe’ is the second track and first song. Hamnavoe was the Old Norse name for what is now Stromness with a heritage that is a much Scandinavian as Scottish and tells the story of the first Vikings to arrive. Gnoss have got such a big sound to support Aidan Moodie’s voice and this piece is almost operatic in its scope. They certainly capture the wide horizons well.
It’s become a bit of a tradition that Gnoss write tunes for family members and they aren’t forgotten on this album with ”Christine’s’ and ‘Audrey’s’. The first is led by the whistle and is for Connor’s aunty, although I not sure she’ll pleased in having it announced that this was written for a “special” birthday! It’s a delightful tune, though, very light and bouncy. ‘Audrey’s’ is at the other end of the scale and this a first birthday tune for his niece. It’s much gentler, a fiddle tune written by Graham and I’m sure she’ll be as delighted with it as everyone who hears it.
Back to the songs and ‘Honey Wine’ is story of the old drovers bringing their cattle south, always on the move and not always welcome when they want to stay when they were considered “travellers”. A traditional song but, just like time, it moves on and there’s electricity used to provide the sound. It segues nicely into ‘The Drovers’, which is more traditional sounding but again with that big, lush sound.
Stretching Skyward is an impressive album, as would be expected from such a highly regarded band and does exactly what it set to do; showing that tradition is a living, breathing force that looks forward as well as back. The album releases on May 12th but is available to pre-order now through Bandcamp as a download or CD. There are also dates in the diary, including a few festivals where they will be well worth searching out.
Artist’s website: https://gnossmusic.com/
‘Keefa Hill’ – official video: