FINN PAUL – Wind & Stone (Independent Release IWCD001)

Wind & StoneScottish singer-songwriter Finn Paul says, accurately enough, that his music “… is about fantastical nonsense; pirates, dreamworlds and mystical islands. But more than that it’s about the methods we use to escape in a society that’s becoming ever more disconnected from reality“. That said, to my ear, the lyrics on his new CD Wind & Stone are not as far out or surreal as that might suggest. In fact, they often hint at an understated but close affinity with the Highlands and islands of the North, though without the explicit political commitment of a Dick Gaughan or Karine Polwart. Regardless, these are very good songs indeed, and suit his distinctive vocals perfectly.

Those vocals, plus Finn’s own guitars and mandolin, are augmented by producer Angus Lyon (keys and accordion), Briona Mannion (violin), Finn Mannion (cello and cajon), Daisy Tempest (drums and backing vocals) and Ben Schofield (backing vocals). The accompaniments are solid without being showy, focusing the listener’s attention on the songs rather than the instrumentation, as seems entirely appropriate to a quality set. of compositions.

Here’s the track listing:

  1. ‘Spanish Silver’ does indeed bring to mind words like romantic or escapist – “For Spanish Silver / I pledge my heart / for sword and spoil / for freedom sails” – echoing, perhaps, the era of Sir Andrew Barton / Henry Martyn, though the emphasis here is on freedom and adventure rather than the explicit bloodletting of the old ballads.
  2. ‘The Watcher’ certainly has echoes of faraway places and cultures. It’s not often you find references to Valhalla and the Silk Road in the same lyric, though the adventures here seem altogether more peaceful in intent than the battles of Norse mythology.
  3. ‘Norwegian Sea’ hints at a story of love lost rather further North than most love stories – or is it a fantasy, or simply a metaphor? Regardless, it’s a fascinating track.
  4. ‘Treat Her Fair’ refers not to a woman, but to the world, though the politicizing is restrained – “…So let’s stand up to those who wish to buy her / And let them know we’ve / Always been borrowing“. Nicely done.
  5. The slightly James Taylor-ish guitar introduction to ‘Anna’ leads into a fascinating metaphor/story/portrait in song slightly reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’, though I think I actually prefer Finn’s song (heresy!). Certainly Anna seems an altogether more comfortable heroine, though clearly she is more than capable of discouraging a visitor from overstaying his welcome. Sooner or later in many of the review CDs I like most, I come across a song that makes me think I might actually like to add it to my own repertoire, and in this case it’s ‘Anna’.
  6. The appealing love song ‘Fortune’ is also available as a single, and will, I suspect, do very well.
  7. ‘Dance It All Away’ is a slow, emotive ballad accompanied only by piano.
  8. ‘Wind & Stone’ returns to the themes of freedom and escape, yet without suggesting loneliness. I particularly like the sparing use of strings on this track, which makes a fine end to the CD.

I tend to mistrust reviews that compare one artist to another in order to convey a general impression of the music being considered, but several plays in, it occurred to me that there was something vaguely familiar about this set. I think perhaps it’s a slight similarity to early Donovan in the vocals, and while Finn Paul is certainly no imitator of Donovan or anyone else, I think there’s also a resemblance in lyrical approach with these characteristic themes of romance, freedom, and escape, expressed through a certain individual approach to mythmaking.

All that aside, this is fine music from a significant talent. I think – hope – we will hear a great deal more from Finn Paul.

David Harley

Artist’s website:

‘Fortune’ – official video:

BLAZIN’ FIDDLES – The Key (Blazin’ Records BFCD2017)

The KeyAs is often the case I initially listened to The Key while driving and my first thought was that it seemed very restrained. Second time around it still seems that way, although “tight” and “controlled” might be better adjectives.

We all know how Blazin’ Fiddles can make a stage rock but this is a bit different. They start, as they must, with set of reels, ‘Break The Light’ and a set of jigs, ‘Double Rise’. Both are full of energy but allow solos to peek through. The third set, ‘The Black Pig’ opens with ‘McFall’s March’ written by Jenna Reid and initially soloed by the acoustic guitar of Anna Massie. Then the fiddles sweep in and I do mean ‘sweep’ – they arrive like an ocean tide, move through ‘Lucy Campbell’ and take the brakes off for ‘The Black Pig’ itself.

Next comes the first tune of the set to be written by band leader Bruce MacGregor. ‘Annie’s Waltz’ is a lilting fiddle duet underpinned by guitar and Angus Lyon’s piano which also opens ‘Picnic In The Sky’ linking the two tracks together. Here, a pipe march is mated with a reel by Debbie Scott and another by Matheu Watson. Ivan Drever wrote the air ‘The Rose Of St. Magnus’ which is performed as a duet by fellow Orcadian Kristan Harvey and Angus Lyon. It’s a gorgeous tune and about as mellow as Blazin’ Fiddles can possibly get but just as you might be drifting off they hit you with ‘The Ox’; a most appropriate title at this point in the programme.

‘The Beeswing’ is essentially a solo by Ruairidh Macmillan except that he’s accompanied by Angus and Annie. Now, we’re picking up the pace for ‘The Highlander’s Revenge’, another of Bruce’s tunes paired with a Jerry Holland reel featuring a bit of funky guitar and some wild fiddle playing. ‘The Silent Command’ is equally brash but the band slows the pace just a little for Hamish Napier’s ‘Wind Song’. The final set, ‘Harris Dance’, begins in proper Shetland fashion with a tune by Tom Anderson, wanders over the sea to Cape Breton and finally lands in the Hebrides for the title tune.

I think that The Key is probably the best of the Blazin’ Fiddles albums that I’ve heard, although that isn’t all of them. If there is a better one, tell me about it.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

Blazin’ Fiddles live at Celtic Connections 2016:

Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) announces new album

Blue Rose Code

Blue Rose Code, aka acclaimed singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, releases The Water Of Leith, his first album for Navigator Records on October 27 on CD, download and album stream.

A nomad both geographically and musically, Ross writes from the heart eschewing any specific genre and the twelve new songs on The Water Of Leith, addressing themes of love, loss, travel, home, accepting the past and embracing the future, are painted with colours of folk, jazz, soul and pop; an eclecticism that has become a hallmark of Blue Rose Code and has seen him compared to John Martyn, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.

Underlining the sense of movement and place in Ross’s work and The Water Of Leith is rooted in his return to his Scottish homeland. There, he reconnected with the stellar musicians who were to become an integral part of the new album’s sound: multi award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award Winner, Ross Ainslie, 2017’s Scottish Jazz Awards’ instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski, leading violinist Seonaid Aitken and three of Scotland’s finest jazz musicians; John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay, to name just some of the contributors. Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman features on the opening track. Ross co-produced the album with Angus Lyon.

Blue Rose Code will tour extensively around the release of The Water Of Leith, including concerts at Edinburgh Queen’s Hall on November 3, London Bush Hall on November 14, Perth Concert Hall on November 20 and two nights at Harbour Arts in Irvine on November 24 and 25.

In the space of a few short years and the release of well-received albums North Ten, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, and And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing, Blue Rose Code has built a growing reputation as a powerful writer and performer, gaining extensive radio play and the praise of key broadcasters including Edith Bowman, Mary Ann Kennedy, Bob Harris and also actor Ewan McGregor who made a cameo appearance on And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing after commenting: “My uncle Denis Lawson (star of Local Hero) gave me a copy of The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, it’s beautiful and I can’t stop listening to it.” Author Ian Rankin is also a fan and has written insightful sleeve notes for the new album.  The Water Of Leith marks another step forward for Ross: his first record in recovery following a personal history overcoming alcoholism and addiction.

Artist’s website:

‘Grateful’ – live at RTE:


Ross AinslieReleased on Great White Records GWR001CD

Distribution by Proper Music Distribution

Release date: 10th March, 2014

Nominated as “Musician of the Year” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, 2013 and nominated, with Jarlath Henderson, in the “Best Duo” category for this year’s Folk Awards.

Ross is one half of the stellar duo, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson, as well as one of the most sought after musicians in the Scottish music scene today.

Performing with Salsa Celtica, Dougie Maclean and the Treacherous Orchestra, Ross has also appeared and collaborated with Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, Capercaillie, Mike McGoldrick, Flook and many more.

Wide Open is a snap shot of Ross’s influences and is a diverse collection of musical styles that have inspired him over the years.

The nine tracks feature his talents as master piper and whistle player as well as his skills on cittern and mandolin. Ross is joined by a wonderful line up of musicians: Ali Hutton on guitar, Duncan Lyall on bass, James Mackintosh on drums, Innes Watson on fiddle, John Somerville on accordion, Angus Lyon on keys and Gyan Singh on tabla.

From the Breton influenced ‘Clans’  to the energetic playing on  ‘Problem’ , the album illustrates a fusion of styles that have inspired Ross throughout his musical career. ‘Wood Suite’ is an expression of his musical journeys and fuses the instruments of cittern, whistles, accordion, bass, drums and tabla in an evocative and creative arrangement that takes creative input from his collaborations, in India, to his life in Scotland.

Dedicated to his teacher and mentor the late Gordon Duncan, Wide Open is a musical gathering of his experiences in a refreshing collection of tunes that debuts his creativity as a solo artist.

Artist’s website:

BLAZIN’ FIDDLES – new album – SIX

SixRight from the outset, Blazin’ Fiddles was never going to be “just another band”; there was a mission and purpose!

The band was formed in 1998 by Bruce MacGregor, at that stage a lowly BBC Radio Scotland Researcher with a chip on his shoulder.

Funnily enough for a band celebrating their 15th year, the original concept was it was never intentionally to be a touring band. It was a statement about where we, as Scots and Highlanders, were in terms of musical identity, particularly the Highlands and Islands and the best way to do it was in the shape of a musical showcase.

So in early ‘98 MacGregor walked in to the office of The Highland Festival with a plan to showcase the distinct voices of the Highlands and islands fiddle music.

“I had a list of fiddle players I liked and had met at sessions or festivals. I had no budget, no idea what I was doing but I came out an hour later and we had a tour and a budget” explained MacGregor

The name Blazin’ Fiddles came with a meaning and some baggage.

The most obvious explanation to anyone who has seen the band play, describes the frenetic, sometimes manic performances of the band – something that has won them admirers from Buckingham Palace to the Albert Hall, to private concerts for the likes of Billy Connolly and Sean Connery.

The second meaning comes from Scotland’s history and the way in which religious orders and governments tried to stamp out music in the Highlands and Islands. Fiddles and pipes were piled in pyres and set alight on account of them being instruments of the devil.

The continued existence and indeed revival of the music has been phoenix-like, over the last few decades, and Blazin’ Fiddles have played more than their part.

“We’ve all been lucky enough to have been brought up and taught by true masters of the music, people who have passed on the traditions to us through difficult times. My own was Donald Riddell and Jenna’s was the great Willie Hunter – these guys didn’t just teach the music, they taught you the culture, the history and the importance of the music to your society.”

What makes Blazin’ Fiddles distinctive from other fiddle bands is their continued efforts to showcase the styles of their area. This allow audiences to hear the dialects within the music.

Trends will come and go in folk music but what you always get from Blazin’ Fiddles is 100% authenticity and passion no matter who is in the line up – and that comes because of the material and the band member’s musical heritage”.

“The history is vital for us but so is keeping the music modern and relevant to today’s audiences. That’s where Anna Massie and Angus Lyon come into the equation. Both brought up within the tradition but both happily embracing new techniques. There is a fine line between modernising a tune for the sake of it to show how clever you are with your chords and at other times just knowing that the rhythm and the melody is the key. Knowing where that line is, is the secret to developing the music and respecting the tradition”

So here we are, fifteen years down the line. The Blazers’ are still making wonderful albums, still touring (Celtic Connections on 31st January) and still winning awards (recently, winning “Folk Band of the Year” at the 2013 MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards.)

 Blazin’ Fiddles are more than a band and SIX is more than an album—-Enjoy!!!!

Catalogue Number: BRCD2013

Distribution: Proper Music Distribution & Highlander Distribution

Tour news available from

Release Date: Monday, 3rd February, 2014.

MAEVE MACKINNON – Once Upon An Olive Branch (MM02)

It must be a difficult decision for any performer…in this case by Maeve MacKinnon…to relinquish control of their latest recording to the skills of a producer but in Angus Lyon I think she has made the right choice. In using the additional services of Innes Watson (guitar and fiddle), Signy Jacobsdottir (percussion), James Lindsay (bass), Fraser Fifield (whistle and saxophone) along with Lyons own skills on Fender Rhodes, piano and accordion he certainly brings a fresh approach to the tried and tested including an intriguing version of “Kind Friends And Companions” with its disconcerting, almost discordant use of jazz tinged backing. Probably this will either conversely be seen as too outrageous by the ‘folk police’ or a bold step into nearly uncharted territory. I must admit that although not every track sits well with me (call me prejudiced if you like but I still can’t get into Gaelic songs…just the rhythms and arrangements) but there are at least many interesting moments to sustain the interest of the listener. From a general consumer point of view (I’ve played it to my partner and she’s not sure about it) it might possibly be viewed as something of a curiosity but only time will tell if this CD is well received with its presumed ‘folk music’ audience. Finally, I’d like to say how refreshing it is to come across an artist who has given some thought in utilising their website to provide information (including translations of some of the lyrics) and notes on the songs etc that would otherwise take up too much space in a small booklet.