BRIAN McALPINE – Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1 (own label CD001)

Mutual Imagination SocietyWhen did classical and traditional music become so intertwined? I suppose we must go back to the 15th century to find where it started but the definition of classical music didn’t appear until the early 1800s. In England, we can probably pin the blame on Ralph Vaughn Williams for nicking so many good tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern and then Percy Grainger and George Butterworth. The purpose of this musing is to try to define Brian McAlpine and Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1.

Brian is first and foremost a composer, notably of music for film and television, where the accompaniment to a scene is so important and he’s contributed as arranger, composer and performer to almost seventy albums. He doesn’t borrow tunes but he does employ traditional styles so here you’ll find massed highland pipes alongside horns laid over the foundation of his piano. He doesn’t borrow tunes but ‘November 6th’, for example, sounds as though its origins lie deep in the past ‘Blue Grass’, which follows it, sounds much more contemporary with drones and massed keyboards. I’m just guessing here because Brian is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist but modestly doesn’t list all his instruments and what I take to be synthesised strings could be the real strings of Jonny Hardie and Alison Smith multi-tracked. ‘Blue Grass’ is a particularly fascinating track because half-way through Brian suddenly switches to banjo overlaid with pipes before eventually returning to the drones.

All the tracks dance around ideas and forms. The eleven minute opener, ‘Suite #1’, is a sort of hors d’oeuvre allowing the listener a taste of what is to come. Brian uses a good deal of piano-accordion but he doesn’t do things in the obvious way. ‘Piobroch #1’ is initially a piano piece and just when you think it won’t happen, here come the pipes but not for long and we’re left with piano and accordion. ‘The Tumbler’, which comes next,opens with bluesy saxophone played Nigel Hitchcock but having established itself it wanders off for a while.

I’m not enough of an expert to say what Brian McAlpine does exactly or how he does it but he does say that each piece was composed to express an emotion and was inspired by the Scottish landscape and that, at least, I can recognise. I also know that it’s a rather wonderful album.

Dai Jeffries

The link is:

Artist’s website:

‘Soundtrack To Peace’- official video:

Maeve Mackinnon – new album

Maeve Mackinnon

Contemporary Gaelic Singer Maeve Mackinnon releases her third studio album in February, 2018. Strì is a collection of songs in Gaelic and English, based on the themes of work, exile and struggle, from a woman’s perspective.

Strì means to strive or struggle in Gaelic. My original idea was to revisit the songs I love, particularly Gaelic Waulking songs. Waulking songs are work songs traditionally sung by women in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They were hardy, tough women and they sang of battles, tragedies, breakups and romance. I realised midway through recording that nearly all the songs are from a female perspective, and the messages within them are so current today on many levels”.

The album is produced by multiple award-winning producer and bassist Duncan Lyall (producer of Scots Trad Music Awards’ Album of the Year 2015 for Treacherous Orchestra’s Grind along with many others!).

Strì features guest contributions from musical luminaries such as Kathleen MacInnes, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid, Ali Hutton, Duncan Lyall, and Jarlath Henderson alongside longtime collaborators Ross Martin and Brian McAlpine.

“The stories, melodies and rhythms convey so much. Whether you speak Gaelic or not, I think people can hear the power of feeling in these songs”.

Strì is launched on Sunday 4 February at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of  Celtic Connections 2018.

Artist’s website:

Jenny Sturgeon announces debut album

Jenny Sturgeon band

Inspired by her home region, the north east of Scotland, Jenny Sturgeon explores themes of nature, legend, myth and everyday human experience as she celebrates a community that is both local and global. The songs and the range of musical influences they incorporate weave a web of varied styles and feelings that ebb and flow through the album.

Jenny’s lyrics and the album arrangements fuse traditional Scottish folk styles with contemporary musical genres across a range of styles and places. The songs create a rich tapestry – from local history and folklore through key life moments – and as a biologist, nature creeps in to all of Jenny’s work which is reflected in the striking artwork.

With exceptional vocal clarity Jenny weaves melodies with her thoughtful and poignant lyrics. From energetic and spirited songs to delicate ballads and gritty laments, ‘From the skein’ captures the range, depth and imagery of Jenny’s songwriting. As pointed out by Charlie West, Director of Stonehaven Folk Festival, she is skilled at producing songs across a wide range of styles: “taking a simple melody and creating a haunting ballad, or writing compelling narrative songs which immediately engage with the audience“.

From The Skein features Jenny’s regular bandmates and the album co-arrangers – multi-instrumentalists Jonny Hardie (Old Blind Dogs), Davy Cattanach (Catford) and Grant Anderson (Brothers Reid). Special guests include Fraser Fifield on whistle and saxophone, Brian McAlpine on accordion and cello player Aongus Mac Amhlaigh. Guest vocalists include Indian Carnatic singer Rahul K Ravindran and Gaelic singer Ana Maia MacLellan. The album was produced by accomplished piano player and songwriter Simon Gall (Salsa Celtica) with whom Jenny worked on the critically-acclaimed 2015 Clype album.

The album opens with ‘Maiden Stone’, one of several songs on the album inspired by regional folklore. This track features the distinctive low whistle of Fraser Fifield, whose melody weaves around the vocals and the driving bass line, building tension and giving the song the timeless feel of an old ballad first sung hundreds of years ago.

The breadth of inspiration in the album is apparent in the songs ‘Running Free’ and ‘Honest Man’. ‘Running Free’ is a track borrowing from folk as well as drum and bass genres to create an uplifting and energising song, featuring Brian McAlpine on accordion and punchy rhythmic instrumentation on guitar and bass. The delicate and light ‘Honest Man’ has a dream like quality with lush vocal harmonies and a rolling tenor guitar melody.

Other tracks such as ‘Linton’ highlight Jenny’s interest in local history. This song tells the tale of the Cutty Sark and her designer Hercules Linton – who hailed from Aberdeenshire. The steady rhythm and Rahul Ravindran’s thrilling improvised melody create a light and fluid song which dances over the guitar and percussion as a boat over water.

The power and emotion of Jenny’s voice and lyrics are clear in the only unaccompanied track on the album – the politically driven song ‘Judgement’ – as well as in ‘Cùlan’ which tells a variation on the tale of the popular traditional song ‘the cruel sister’. With Gaelic translation and delicate harmonies from Ana Maia MacLellan this track is hauntingly beautiful.

From The Skein is testimony to Jenny’s songwriting and storytelling ability as well as to the creativity of the musicians. It was born out of a love of folk music and the joy of creating new compositions and has produced a varied, vibrant and inspiring album.

Artist’s website:

‘The Greenwood Side’ live, featuring Fraser Fifield:

ÁLYTH – Homelands (ANE Records CD103)

ÁLYTH HomelandsÁlyth McCormack was born and brought up on the Isle Of Lewis but now lives in Ireland and this rather beautiful album links those two Gaelic traditions. She has made numerous albums, heedless of genre, and is as well known as an actor as a musician appearing in everything from television soap opera to real opera.

The album opens with ‘The Lambs On The Greenhills’ and even if you’ve never heard this version before you will instantly recognise the family of songs to which it belongs. Actually, Ályth mixes songs familiar to English ears with those which may not have strayed south of the border or across the Irish Sea. Both ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘Raglan Road’ are comfortably family and ‘Buachaill Ón Éirne’ is the original which loaned its tune to ‘Come By The Hills’.

Ályth’s voice can sound fragile but isn’t. Her support includes co-producer and arranger Brian Mcalpine, Aidan O’Rourke and percussionist Noel Eccles with Karol Lynch on bouzouki and Joe Csibli on double bass and even when they work up a head of steam she still soars effortlessly above them. Her puirt à beul – ‘The American Set’ – begins with a piece that was regularly sung in my earliest folk club days and I realised that I hadn’t heard it for more than forty years. Thanks for that, Ályth.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Carrickfergus’ live:

SESSION A9 – Session A9 (RAJ Records 005)

Featuring four world class fiddle players; Charlie McKerron, Gordon Gunn, Adam Sutherland and Kevin Henderson plus, for good measure Marc Clement (guitar), Brian McAlpine (piano and accordion) and percussionist David “Chimp” Robertson there’s no monkey-ing around with Session A9. The first track, McKerron’s “The Surfing Bride” is an attractive set-up with gentle piano introduction followed by solo fiddle before unleashing a glorious orchestra of fiddles washing over the listener like a musical spa before shifting up a gear into the key-alternating “Ruffus And Molly’s Wedding Polka” and the grand finale “One For Oliver”. For a bunch of musicians the other nice thing about the band is that they cover some excellent songs including Jackson Brown’s “These Days” featuring some country styled mandolin licks and the good -time “One For The Road” by the much missed John Martyn. In Clement (well, they can weather it) the group have a gifted lead vocalist and with all the members taking a stab at backing vocals they make an impressive wall of sound. This is the kind of recording where it sounds like all the members are having a blast playing together so be prepared to have your dancing shoes ready for some serious ceilidh swinging with a good time guaranteed . Nice one lads!