BAND OF BURNS – The Thread (own label)

The ThreadTwo years on from making their debut with the Live from Union Chapel album, the twelve-strong outfit return with their first studio recording, The Thread, again underscoring their mission to interpret the works and philosophies of Robert Burns, the binding thread of the messages that inform them providing its title.

Arranged by the band members, over thirteen tracks, the words are predominantly those of Burns, some set to music for the first time, with one penned by Adam Beattie, two instrumentals from Mikey Kenney and one traditional tune.

They begin with ‘Ca’ The Yowes’, a song often erroneously attributed to Burns but in fact a pastoral poem from Ayshire poet Isabel Pagan, collected by him in 1794 and subsequently revised. Although the booklet credits Burns as editor, the lyrics, about a shepherdess who meets a shepherd lad while herding her ewes are actually Pagan’s original, Armagh’s Rioghnach Connolly on lead vocals, a minimally accompanied opening gradually given a gentle backing by strings and cittern.

As befits its theme of emotional desolation, set to to music by lead vocalist John Langan, the ruminatively strummed ‘To Ruin’ maintains the wistful mood, Dila Vardar providing backing, Fellimi Devlin bodhran and Connolly on flute. The latter returns take lead on her rustic circling guitar arrangement of the nature celebrating ‘Now Westlin Winds’ with its fiddle, viola, violin and Sonny Johns’ brushed snare before handing the vocal reins to Langan and Kenney for one of the two best known numbers, Dominic Hooper’s cello introducing ‘Parcel O’Rogues’, the instrumentation gathering in power as it proceeds, which, like the latter was also featured on the live album.

Hooper, Vardar and Connolly, again on flute, take vocal command of ‘To Daunton Me’, opening largely unaccompanied before adopting a more lustful marching rhythm burnished by Tansay Omar’s cymbal shimmers that captures the female narrator’s defiant declaration never to be seduced by an old man.

The first of the instrumentals and the only traditional number comes with a restrained yet still rousing ‘Highlanders’, Kenney, Lewis Murray and Alastair Caplin leading the fiddle charge with Dave Tunstall on border pipes, Connolly on whistle and Irish flute and Turkish bells courtesy of Vardar.

Things calm down again with ‘Ay Waukin O’, a yearning for an absent lover, written in 1790, with Caplin’s aching violin underscoring the melancholic mood, then it’s on to another familiar song in ‘Charlie is my Darling’. Originally a rousing patriotic celebration of Prince Charles Edward Stewart, the young Chevalier or Young Pretender, who led a rebellion against the English in 1745 before being defeated at Culloden the following year, Burns’ version largely dispenses with any political references and, instead, views him through the eyes of a besotted highland lass. Arranged by Vardar, who sings lead, and Fatih Ebrem it has earthy Middle Eastern colours, flourishing as the pace shifts from its slow intro to the rousing chorus.

Based on ‘The Trappan’d Maiden’, a late 17th century broadside about an English girl sold to Virginia, singing lead, Kenney gives ‘The Slave’s Lament’ a medieval troubadour arrangement with just Adam Beattie’s acoustic guitar, Hooper’s cello and Dave Tunstall on double bass.

With words and music by Beattie, who also sings solo, the sole original song is ‘Stripped To The Bone’, a powerful number about refugees (“Gave all your money to a smuggler. Boat leaves in the night”) and subsequent homelessness (“Going where the begging’s good”) , a tick tocking rhythm embellished by strings, bodhran, mandolin, flute, double bass and Turkish bells, followed by Kenney’s guitar and fiddle Celtic ambience instrumental ‘Red Jura’, he also providing the closing instrumental, the full-blooded ‘Coleman’s Fireproof Depository’ which sees Langan on cajon and the return of border pipes. Should you be curious, the title refers to a historic building in Liverpool, established around 1875 by George Coleman & Sons as a “cart owners and furniture removers” business and now, having survived a fire in the 1981 riots, converted into apartments.

Again sung and arranged by Kenney, sandwiched between these two tracks is the remaining Burns lyric, the jaunty fiddle-driven ‘The Dusty Miller’, the shortest number at just over two minutes (most clock in at over four with five pushing past the five-minute mark) and one that positively makes you want to link arms with someone and dance circles round the room.

Not that Burns is in any danger of slipping from the public consciousness, but between Eddi Reader and this collective, his work is reaching a perhaps wider and younger audience, and the band’s short set of dates, including Celtic Connections, at the tail end of next January will weave the thread even stronger.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Now Westlin Winds’ – live:

New release from The John Langan Band…

The John Langan Band BONES OF CONTENTIONThe John Langan Band formed in Glasgow in 2008 after John had spent years travelling the globe gathering and writing songs, honing his performance on the streets and searching for the perfect band. Ironically it wasn’t till he came home to Glasgow that he found what he was looking for in Dave Tunstall (double bass/backing vocals) and Alastair Caplin (fiddle/backing vocals). In their first year they won the prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections and have since been unfailingly making crowds dance like maniacs at gigs and festivals all over the UK and Europe. Dave Tunstall is also well known for being a member of Orchestra Elastique and Alastair Caplin also plays alongside Alasdair Roberts and is currently working on a film score with Lou Rhodes.

High energy, unhinged, and musically extravagant, they are a dynamic three piece offering a unique sound with influences from Scottish, Irish, Balkan and gypsy jazz music all delivered with punk abandonment and virtuosic flare. Wrapping pan European traditional acoustic music with infectious grooves, epic, pounding, sing along, punch the air anthems to intricately arranged instrumentals.

Challenging the limitations of what people might expect acoustic instruments to sound like, the use of bowed harmonics between fiddle and bass can be as menacing and eerie as it can be psychedelic and mesmerising. Percussion provided by the front man Langan, whilst singing and driving the rhythm guitar, he somehow co-ordinates the operation of a Cajon and a tambourine with his feet bringing the driving, swinging groove of the rhythm guitar together with his foot percussion resulting in an impressively tight band sound with a tempo that is free to go anywhere. Add scorching hot fiddle lines and a guy thumping the groove out of a double bass. If you’re not dancing like a demented ostrich by the end of their set you get a refund.

Their Debut Album BONES OF CONTENTION is being released on the April 5th and the official launch party will be at the New Empowering Church, Hackney, London also on April 5th, with support from Cocos Lovers and another act TBC..

The opening track Aquaplane is a balkanesque dance song formed from a fiddle tune Alastair wrote about a hairy drive from Glasgow to Cambridge in torrential rain and not quite enough fuel. Winter Song is the ballad of the album, Johns traditional Scottish roots really shine through on this one. It was written for his wife who moved from warmer climes up to Glasgow to live with him in an unheated house with a broken fireplace during the coldest winter in years.

Midgets on Acid is the most adventurous track on the album, a nine minute instrumental inspired by John Fitzpatrick’s Morris Dancing tune Jump at the Sun. Jumping keys and time signatures and moments of discordant psychedelica. To calm the senses the following track is a gentle classical piece called Piano Miniature. Alastair wrote this on piano many years ago for a project when he was studying opera at the RSAMD in Glasgow. The D-mented set consists of Charlies Rant, an up-tempo foray into the world of bluegrass with a sprinkling of trad Scottish fiddle. Tunstall’s Rant is the brainchild of Dave Tunstall who specialises in scary noises bowed on the double bass, a harrowing tune designed to make you feel like the wolves are at the door.

This then subsides into delicately plucked mandolin, played by Tunstall, into Riley’s Rant, written by Alastair Caplin who wrote this tune for their good friend Gordon Riley. Topped off by The Langan Band’s fan’s favourite, Auld Jimmy, a song about grabbing life by the balls and taking every opportunity that comes your way, this really is an album for all musical tastes.

“I have been listening to John Langan band’s new CD entitled Bones of contention; it’s full of fire that makes you want to dance. Crafted by fine musicianship it evokes visions of the Highlands. My favourite tracks are the heart warming and melodically evocative “Winter song” and the rhythmic and lyrically alluring “Pumpin Pie” … a must for anyone’s record collection.” Vic Coppersmith Heaven, Producer- The Jam, Black Sabbath

“The John Langan Band brought intoxicating rhythm and a kaleidoscopic swirling cocktail of carnival, colour and interaction to the Main Stage at Eden Festival” Adam Curtis, Eden Festival Organiser

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