FLOOK – Ancora (Flatfish 006)

Ancora“Ancora impara” said Michaelangelo, aged 82, and I probably don’t need to tell you that means “I am always learning”.  [I suspect you might – Ed.] That’s something that Flook have taken on board with their first album since Haven in 2005. Flook didn’t go away in those 14 years, playing festivals, live shows and tours so why the lack of studio material? As Brian Finnegan says, “We…took a break in 2008, followed our hearts and instincts and went our separate ways; had kids, got hitched, loved, lost, explored the musical world…” Now they’re back with a Ancora, an album that shows that even iconic bands don’t rest on their laurels but continue to look for the new. This album will delight their many fans, attract new ones and be listened to by anyone who loves tradition as played by four experts.

Flook formed over 20 years ago, winning Best Band at the BBC Folk Awards in 2006 and at their heart still retain original flute and pipers Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan, now joined by Ed Boyd (guitar, piano) and John Joe Kelly (bodhran). As well as the band the album includes a who’s who of guest musicians including Phil Cunningham, Philip Henry, Patsy Reid and Niall Murphy. There’s even Mark Tucker playing the theramin. The quality shines through and every track, none traditional, on the album is spot on. Hang on, didn’t I say the traditionalists will love it? Yes, I did because tradition doesn’t just mean it has to have been around for years. The 12 tracks on the album are formed from twenty tunes of which the majority are written by Allen and Finnegan but they also use works of contemporaries such as Jarleth Henderson, Sam Lakeman and John McSherry. It’s a living, breathing tradition.

The overall impression of the album is quality musicianship. The playing is precise and tight, they make it sound all very easy and natural, with the music flowing seamlessly. As an album of purely instrumental work it gives you, as the listener, a choice of dipping in and out or listening straight through. I’ve found it ideal to put into the car stereo for the trip to work, it has a running time of just under 50 minutes, and arriving in a much better frame of mind than I would normally do. Opening the album are two tunes by Finnegan; ‘Reel For Rubik’ and ‘Toward The Sun’. As expected the flutes dominate but the piece moves up through tempo and intensity and introducing the other instrumentalists.

This change in pace and style is common throughout the album, but never becomes rollicking. Probably my favourite piece, although a difficult choice to make, is Allen’s ‘Companion Star’ which is absolutely beautiful. It flows so well, at a gentle pace, and it’s very easy to imagine oneself on a boat just drifting along following that star. The segue into ‘Coral Castle’, co-written by Finnegan and Ashley Broder lifts the pace and introduces further instruments but again the title fits the piece, and anyone who has dived a coral reef will recognise the rhythm of life within it. .
I could easily have chosen ‘Turquoise Girl’ as another favourite track. This is a set of four tunes by four different composers, again flowing smoothly, with a faster pace that certainly gets the toes tapping. I can imagine it going down very well during a live performance.

This is certainly an album you should buy, a milestone from an iconic band, and get it now so that you can say you had it before the inevitable awards come along, because it will gain many Instrumental Album of the Year plaudits if there’s any justice in the world.

The album will be released on April 12th but is available to pre-order now through the website. Alternatively I’m certain it will be available at live shows and Flook will be taking it on tour throughout 2019, covering most of the country from Findhorn to Sidmouth.

Tony Birch

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‘Reel For Rubik/Unto The Sun’ – live:

Flook return with new album after fourteen years

Flook

On 12 April 2019, due to overwhelming popular demand, the legendary folk band Flook are finally to release a new album.  Coming after a gap of fourteen years, Ancora will be released through Cadiz Music on CD and digital formats. Despite the recording hiatus between their third studio album and Ancora, in recent years Flook have played occasional live shows, including short tours of Ireland,, Japan and Germany as well as festival shows, and they will undertake a seventeen-date tour of England and Wales in April and May 2019.

With the flutes and whistles of Brian Finnegan and Sarah Allen, the guitar of Ed Boyd and the bodhran of John Joe Kelly, the iconic band Flook weaves and spins traditionally rooted tunes into an enthralling sound – with agile but tight rhythms and virtuoso improvisation. Flook possesses a rare blend of fiery technical brilliance, delicate ensemble interaction and a bold, adventurous musical imagination.

Formed over 20 years ago by four friends, Flook burst onto the international music scene with their debut studio album, Flatfish.  The band had a remarkably successful performing and recording career – the sheer enjoyment of playing together shone through their albums. But it was their live performances that really captured the hearts of those who watched and listened.

Brian Finnegan said, “Way back in 2005 when we released our 3rd studio album Haven, little did we know that it would be our last for almost a decade and a half.  We took a break in 2008, followed our hearts and instincts and went our separate ways; had kids, got hitched, loved, lost, explored the musical world post-Flook.

But when Flook came calling again in 2013, so the voltage returned and like all deep friendships it felt like we’d never been apart. Part of the decision to re-group was the understanding that we had much left to say as a band, and a certain responsibility to our loyal fans, old and new, to create Flook music of the present, rich in both past and future.

The imagery associated with the meaning of Ancora is abundant indeed. It is the Latin word for anchor, be that to the seabed or in the kith and kin of our lives.  It also means ‘hope’ and ‘again’. The great Italian master Michelangelo was attributed as saying “Ancora Impara” on his 87th birthday, meaning “I am ever learning”. This resonated in us and was present throughout the process of recording Ancora.  So, deeper in we go. Thanks for listening.”

Having won ‘Best Band’ at BBC Folk Awards 2006, there is no shortage of virtuosity amongst the members of Flook, but the unique impact of this sensational Anglo-Irish group stems from the wholly intuitive, almost symbiotic, exchange between the various flutes, frets and skins. Ancora marks a return after too long away, but also a continuation.

Artists’ website: https://flook.co.uk/

‘Sharig’ – live:

GRÁINNE HOLLAND – Corcra (Gráinne Holland GH003)

CorcraGráinne Holland released Corcra on February 1st. This is her third album, but Corcra is the first album of her own original material. Holland was born and raised in Belfast, bi-lingual in both English and Gaelic, and with a love of Irish music from her early years.

When I got the chance to review the album, I did what I always do – listened briefly to Holland’s music on YouTube – thought it was rather nice….but also pointed out that I don’t speak Gaelic and maybe someone else should get the chance first? The succinct reply I got was “I don’t speak Gaelic either but I love the sound of it” – the album was immediately in the post. A third person, a singer, walking past the door when I was playing the album, loved the sound of it. So, from a random sample of three, we have 100% agreement that Corcra is a delight – whether you understand its full subtleties (just over half the album is Gaelic songs) or just feel the beauty of the music and the singing.

The video below is of ‘Lon Dubh an Gheimhridh’ where you can hear Holland breathily giving voice to a beautiful, slow song about Black Winter “I often experience a sadness in winter when the days grow shorter, the trees lose their leaves and everything seems to sleep. I wrote this song about that feeling” is her description of the song. I sent the YouTube link to an Irish friend who gave me some translations and included in her reply was the comment “Atmospheric, but not cheerful”. Holland’s songwrititng clearly hits the spot she was wanting to capture (and by now I have four out of four positive reviews to elements of this album).

There are optimistic songs on here as well. The album opens with ‘Mise agus Tusa’ (Me And You) which is “a love song I wrote about my husband” and ‘Coinsias, Corp agus Croi’ “a song I wrote about beginning to feel alive again after a very dark time in my life”, the first track skipping along and the second more thoughtful but with a rising chorus. ‘Ni Chluinim, Ni Fheicim’ bounds along, appropriately for a song about “focusing on the positive and beautiful things in life rather than the negative”.

‘Goodbye Love’ is what it says, a song about saying goodbye but both musically and lyrically is a grown-up farewell – slow-ish tune, but not mournful, with a lyric that includes emotionally mature lines such as “My heart will always hold a piece of you/Goodbye love”; ‘Harry’s’ is a song about Holland’s late father; ‘Beal Feirste’ a tribute to hometown Belfast as Holland leaves the city for the countryside; ‘An Ri Rua’ is “ a song about two little birds who died together after flying into my window at home” – I have no idea about the lyrics, but I love the musicality of the song.

There is a consistently quality to Corcra, Holland’s vocals holding you throughout the album, supported by a range of musicians and a rather nice production by Brian Finnegan. My favourite track, if it’s possible to choose given this level of consistent quality, is the closing track ‘Miracle’ a song written after the birth of Holland’s first child. It’s quite simple both lyrically and musically (piano and vocal mostly) “miracle of mine/a creation so divine…..when I take your hand in mine I see forever/what’s gone before, what’s now and what’s to come”. But, though simple, it avoids sentimentality and captures that sheer joy of new birth and the way it changes our perception of ourselves and our surrounding world.

Holland’s earlier albums were traditional songs in contemporary arrangements, Corcra shows that she can also compose her own powerfully atmospheric songs – great to listen to even though I don’t understand all the lyrics. There are no gigs planned at the moment but I’d think this is an album worth a tour/festival sometime soon.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.grainneholland.com/grainne/

‘Lon Dubh an Gheimhridh’:

Gráinne Holland releases her first album of original songs

Gráinne Holland

Corcra is Gráinne’s first album of her own original songs. It was produced by renowned musician Brian Finnegan, recorded by Seán Óg Graham and features the best of Irish and Scottish musicians including Aidan O’Rourke, Liam Bradley, Brendan Mullholland and Cormac Mac Carthy. When it comes to the songs, the stunning opener is ‘Mise Agus Tusa’, meaning me and you, a beautiful song written for her husband Frainc, Harry’s, a song about her father which she wrote shortly after his death in 2007 and ‘Lonn Dubh an Gheimhridh’ which describes the sadness that we often experience in winter when the days grow shorter, the trees lose their leaves and everything seems to sleep. Gráinne wrote this song about just that feeling. On a lighter note we have ‘Miracle’, written after the birth of her first son and ‘Béal Feirste’, a tribute to her home town of Belfast.

Born and raised in Belfast, Gráinne’s love of Irish music and song began at an early age. A product of the Gaelic language revival in the North of Ireland, she was brought up with both Gaelic and English and attended the first Gaelic-medium school in Belfast. It was here that her love of traditional song was fostered.

Gráinne released her debut album of traditional songs with contemporary arrangements; Teanga na nGael in 2011 to great critical acclaim. She followed it up with a second studio album Gaelré in 2015 which was published under the Gael Linn label. Gráinne has toured and performed at many major festivals both at home and abroad. She is also a successful producer and presenter in Irish language media.

“Gráinne’s voice soars and swoops and glides like a swallow in the sublime Irish summer sky” Damien Dempsey

Artist’s website: www.grainneholland.com

‘Lonn Dubh an Gheimhridh’ – official video:

THE SHEE – Continuum (Shee Records SHEE4)

ContinuumThe concept behind Continuum, supported by Celtic Connections, was to celebrate their tenth anniversary by having each of them commission a musician of their choice to write a piece of music for the album. That’s only half the story, of course, for the band had then to arrange the music for six players and write some pieces to bind the whole thing together.

The opening song is ‘From The Shadows’ by Laura-Beth Salter. It’s a powerful call to arms to … ah, well. It could be a feminist piece, the logical first thought, but it could be a warning to the rich and powerful that the poor and oppressed aren’t going to take it any more. Next come two atmospheric pieces by Kathryn Tickell; one evoking the borders and the other with a Scandinavian feel. The playing, needless to say, is exquisite.

Rachel Newton commissioned Karine Polwart and the result is ‘Song For Mary’. The Mary in question is Mary Brooksbank, composer of ‘The Jute Mill Song’ and an archive recording of one verse forms the introduction. We’re not told that it’s Mary herself but I’d like to think it is. Amy Thatcher naturally turned to a box-player and who better than Andy Cutting? Olivia Ross’ choice was Chris Wood who shares the credit for ‘Cradle Song’ with lyricist Hugh Lupton. The Shee turns what could be a pretty little song into something quite strange so you’re not sure whether this a mother singing to her baby from the safety of a warm fireside or struggling home from the storm outside.

Laura-Beth, Amy and Shona Mooney provide the next two tune sets with Shona responsible for the wonderfully titled ‘The Vampire Rabbit Of Newcastle’. Olivia wrote ‘Precious Tears’, a song for children – possibly the band members’ own – and Brian Finnegan wrote a trio of tunes with Lillias- Kinsman-Blake’s flute and a journey through India in mind. Finally, we have Martin Simpson’s song for his mother. ‘Dance With Me’ might be seen as the companion-piece to ‘Never Any Good’. Laura-Beth sings it and plays mandolin where Martin would use guitar and the band play what is almost an orchestral accompaniment.

Continuum is a monument to musical collaboration and the exchange of ideas but more than that, it is a tribute to six exceptionally talented musicians.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Ower Late For The Lasses/Sheepolska’ and more with Kathryn Tickell live at Celtic Connections 2016:

Top composers join The Shee to celebrate ten years

Top composers join The Shee to celebrate ten years
Photograph by David Boni

Multi instrumentalists and festival favourites, The Shee, have reached the ten-year milestone in their action-packed career, and intend to celebrate by creating a brand new body of original work.

Following three albums and a hectic touring schedule, the six members of the band have each approached a composer hero to write an original piece of music ahead of a prestigious premiere at Celtic Connections 2016.

The composers will then join The Shee on stage to introduce their piece and perform with the band as each is performed for the first time.

The composers are, in alphabetical order:

Andy Cutting
Brian Finnegan
Karine Polwart
Martin Simpson
Kathryn Tickell
Chris Wood   

The Shee’s accordionist, Amy Thatcher, said: ‘We can’t quite believe our luck: we’re getting some of the most influential musicians and composers on the current British folk scene to write original music for us. It’s going to be an incredible experience, and the perfect way to celebrate ten years of making music as The Shee.’

Following the premiere at Celtic Connections on 15 January 2016, the band will head back to the studio to work on a new album for release later that year.

Artists’ website: theshee.com