It strikes me that the epicentre of British folk-rock has been moving steadily northwards with the times: from London, where everyone headed, to Oxfordshire, when getting it together in the country was the thing, and to the north-west when gritty realism took over. Contentious rubbish? Possibly. But now the focus seems to be heading to Scotland and I say this because Mànran are playing classic folk-rock with a Scottish twist employing pipes instead of lead guitars as their latest album, Ùrar, demonstrates. The title translates from Gaelic as “flourishing” and Mànran certainly are.
When I first played this in the car I thought that the engine had dropped out but it was just Mark Scobbie’s drums kicking off ‘Ailean’, the opening track and first single. The lyric is traditional Gaelic set to a modern tune and it certainly grabbed my attention. That’s followed by ‘Crossroads’, written by uillean piper Ryan Murphy demonstrating the band’s instrumental versatility.
Now it’s the turn of Mànran’s newest members; vocalist Kim Carnie and guitarist Aidan Moodie who composed ‘Crow Flies’ remotely during lockdown as a plea for us to support each other during the bad times. ‘Black Tower’ started as a commission handed to fiddler Ewan Henderson – the tune is ‘Strong Stands The Black Tower’ – and it’s paired with ‘An Tarbh Gàidhealach’ composed by Mischa MacPherson almost in the style of a puirt a beul. Four tracks – four different styles.
‘The Loop’ is an instrumental set in the classic style and ‘Briogais’ is an apparently comic song from the tradition. It’s at times like this that I really wish I spoke Gaelic so I could get the joke. ‘Foghar’ is another Gaelic song, this time written by Henderson. It’s a lament using the symbolism of trees but it’s powered by Scobbie’s drums adding a feeling of defiance to the sadness of the subject. ‘Lahinch’ is a pair of tunes written by Ryan Murphy and Henderson and introduced by Murphy’s flute before the pipes muscle their way in. Carnie wrote ‘San Cristóbal’ after a trip to Mexico, bringing a hint of Laurel Canyon to the record.
It’s back to Gaelic for ‘Puirt Ùrar’, a trio of puirt (puirts?) mixing the traditional and modern with some instrumental breaks thrown in and the album ends with a traditional lament, ‘Griogal Crìdhe’, which has great back story. Again, I wish I spoke Gaelic.
Ùrar is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. It has so much power and beauty, so much pace and variety: a record you won’t tire of.
Artists’ website: www.manran.co.uk
‘Briogais’ – live: