SKERRYVORE – Evo (Tyree09CD)

EvoSkerryvore release Evo, their sixth studio album, on June 11th. You get an album to review and it’s a bit like sitting in the marquee at a festival – you’re sitting around or stretching your legs and waiting for the next band to come on stage, wondering what will turn up, even when you expect to know the music. The gentle muttering of conversation dies as the lights go down, the musician/band starts and you get slowly into the set. Sometimes, though, the stage lights blaze in white lights and the music hits you like the first punch in a fight. Evo is a bit like that. It opens with ‘The Exorcists’, which spends a minute slowly introducing the musical themes and then explodes into life, rousing you out of whatever you’d been thinking about before you played the CD. Nor does it let up, the themes repeated on different instruments at an increasing tempo. If this were a festival, people would be dancing at the front before this opening instrumental had finished.

The second track, ‘At The End of the Line’, is one of several written by Alec Dalglish that will simply have you singing – the long vowels of a lyric that could be both a great one for an audience to join in and also for a 2:00 a.m. drunken chorus on the walk home. By the end of the third track ‘Live Forever’, with its mix of pop-rock and a great hook, anyone in earshot will feel like dancing.

The CD moves on next to the fiddle of Craig Espie’s ‘Mile High’ and this lively album continues with pipes and fiddle bounding you along. ‘Hold On’ gives you chance to rest but is another cracking chorus song to join in with – the kind of song that you sing along with when you hear it for the first time and don’t know the lyrics. The cover of Gordon Duncan’s ‘Trip to Modera’ keeps the album close to Skerryvore’s roots, intricate pipe playing on a tune that keeps the tempo going. The video link below is to ‘Take My Hand’, another of Dalglish’s songs to join in with. Have a listen for yourself. ‘Borderline’ is a cover, more rock than Scottish traditional, blending perfectly both with the track before and the country-tinged ‘Waiting For The Sun’ which follows.

‘Soraidh Slan’ is the only slow track on the album, written by the band’s Martin Gillespie, “in memory of loved ones lost in 2017”. The album closes with another Gillespie track, ‘The Rise’, traditional Scottish playing fused with a modern rock sensibility.

And there you have the album – a fusion of Scottish traditional music with rock/pop sounds; an album that in places draws on the heritage of, say, The Killers as much it does The Isle of Tiree and the Highlands which are the home of Skerryvore’s musicians.

The eight piece band have twice won ‘Live Act of the Year’ in Scotland’s Traditional Music Awards. While Evo still feels like a studio album, you can hear why Skerryvore got the awards. On an entirely personal note, I’m having to drive round the ring road in Coventry for work for a few weeks – Evo has sufficient energy that it’s kept me cheerful (I dislike city driving) and had me playing steering wheel percussion in full accompaniment……my apologies to the drivers who saw me in their rear view mirror.

I saw Skerryvore at a festival a few years ago; if you’ve also seen and enjoyed any of their gigs, this album won’t disappoint.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘Take My Hand’ – official video:

DONALD BLACK – Bho M’ Chridhe (own label DB05CD)

Bho m' ChridheScottish Celtic harmonica might seem like something of a niche market and that’s what I thought at first – but wait. Bho M’ Chridhe translates as From My Heart and that is exactly where this music comes from. The tunes come from all over Scotland and even further afield and feature tunes from Donald’s old friends and musical partners, some played by relatives of the composers, and a fiddle made by his great-uncle.

You know what harmonica sounds like, right? Forget all that – actually there are a few bars of train blues on ‘The Highland Express’, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. Harmonicas are free reed instruments like concertinas, accordions and many others and Donald treats them as such. Oddly enough, the bagpipes are not free reeds but several times I looked to see who was cheating by playing pipes. To put it simply, he is a virtuoso and though fans of blues harp and jazz players will point to their heroes in Donald Black’s hands the harmonica will sit up and beg. Not because of speed, although the second set ‘Pipe Reels’ could raise blisters, but because of flexibility and feel and an understanding of what the instrument can do.

Styles range from the old-fashioned dance band sound of ‘2/4 Marches’ and ‘Highland Schottishe’ to beautiful haunting slow airs like ‘Cumha Mhic Criomain’ and ‘Jimmy Mo Mhile Stòr’ through ‘Gaelic Melodies’, jigs, reels, polkas and waltzes. Donald has a fine cast of supporting musicians: melodeons, accordions, fiddles and keyboards and players include Runrig’s Malcolm Jones, Blazin’ Fiddler Alan Henderson and Skerryvore’s Alec Dalglish who plays the most beautiful electric guitar on Blair Douglas’ ‘New Island Waltz’.

So Bho M’ Chridhe isn’t a solo album in the strictest sense nor is it an academic performance of tunes. It is varied, beautiful, exciting and a whole lot of fun.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

This is an old film but it really shows off Donald’s playing of a slow air, ‘The Cuckoo’:

Mànran’s Gary Innes announces new solo album and single

Gary Innes

Highland born accordionist and one of the founding members of Scottish award-winning celtic  supergroup,  Mànran, Gary Innes, is about to release his much-anticipated second solo album entitled Era.

Gary released his first solo album How’s The Craic back in 2005 and has since released multiple collaborative albums with Ewan Robertson (of Breabach fame), all-accordion band Box Club and also has three albums with his current band Mànran. However, after 12 years of working on other projects, he is now back with a full album of self-composed tunes and even some self-penned songs, performed by some of the very best musicians and singers in the Scottish music scene.  Having been a professional musician for over 15 years, Innes is no stranger to the world of traditional music and as the newly appointed BBC Radio Scotland presenter for the iconic music show, Take The Floor, Innes is becoming further integrated into the Scottish music scene.

When asked about the album title, Innes said, “I have called the album Era as I feel it’s the end of a substantial chapter, or indeed era in my life. Due to my  increasing musical commitments, I retired from my beloved sport of shinty in 2014 and for the same reason finished up with the Scottish Fire and Rescue service after 15 and a half years, in 2015. Last year saw the beginning of the new era with the birth of my first little niece Zara and now my second niece is on the way. I am also getting married this year so it feels like life is very much starting to move me in a different, very significant, direction and I wanted to not only recognise this but also to celebrate it”.

Era has Hamish Napier on Keys, Duncan Lyall on bass, Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann Pipes, Steve Byrnes on kit and fellow Mànran bandmate, Ewen Henderson on fiddle. Innes co-produced the album with guitar and piping sensation, Ali Hutton who also performed on the album.

The album weaves in and out of melodies and titles that clearly resonate with Innes and his highland home village of Spean Bridge. Era includes three self-penned songs which all carry very different stories, sung by Robert Robertson, Alec Dalglish and Siobhan Miller.

The first single ‘The Caman Man’ will be available to download from January 27th, 2017 and it is a song all about Scotland’s most indigenous sport, Shinty and Innes’ journey from the start to the end of his sporting career which involved him captaining the national team on many occasions and his local club, Fort William to Camanachd Cup success.

Artist’s website:

Gary Innes interview – warning: Gaelic is involved: