Hamish Napier announces third album in his Strathspey Pentalogy

Hamish Napier

The Woods is the third album from acclaimed musician and composer Hamish Napier, exploring and celebrating the ancient forests of his native Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands.

Rooted in the pine woodland of his home, Hamish’s third record follows on from his critically acclaimed albums The River (2016) and The Railway (2018). This 3rd release takes him beyond the midpoint of his ten-year journey to create his Strathspey Pentalogy – five albums of new compositions inspired by Hamish’s homeland, each representing the Classical elements water, fire, earth, wind and aether.

The Woods was commissioned by Cairngorms Connect, a partnership of neighbouring land managers committed to a bold and ambitious 200-year vision to enhance habitats, species and ecological processes across a vast area within the Cairngorms National Park.

The Woods is a beautiful folk tune cycle. Through the album’s 21 tracks, which incorporate 28 new tunes and pieces, Hamish explores the inter-connected flora and fauna, folklore, legends and characters of Scotland’s native wild forests.

In a true exploration of woodland and its connection to the past and present, there is a track on the album for every letter of the Scottish Gaelic tree alphabet (related to the Ogham alphabet), which was traditionally taught with reference to native trees and shrubs.

A variety of moods and tempos reflect the character of each native tree. There is a heady mix of jigs, reels, marches and slow airs. The cheerful mood of the leaves of the ash tree are captured in an upbeat polka called ‘Venus Of The Woods’, while the dark, twisted elm tree, used to make coffins, is transformed into a lament, ‘The Tree Of The Underworld’.

The forest lives and breathes through the music – recordings of saws and axes chopping wood, birdsong, forest wind, ice clinking in Loch Garten and the call of woodland stags are all woven into the tracks by maverick engineer and coproducer Andrea Gobbi.

Through The Woods, Hamish relives the days of his youth spent amongst the trees and his strong connection with the woodlands. He brings to life the stories and discoveries he’s made since moving from the city back to his native Grantown-on-Spey three years ago.

Hamish says, “I grew up by the Anagach Woods in Grantown and spent many years of my childhood playing there. What I viewed as simply, ‘the woods’, is now a gathering of different characters and personalities. My work is about celebrating my homeland, finding hidden gems and stories in the surrounding landscape. ‘The Woods’ is an album of identity. I have loved every moment exploring my native languages, music, folklore and the natural environment.

“I’m very grateful to Cairngorm Connect for the opportunity to celebrate this very special place that I am lucky enough to call home. Being deep in forest gives you a powerful sense of perspective. We are all creatures of the forest – for thousands of years trees have given us shelter, protection, fuel, medicines, sustenance and materials to build homes, wheels and boats. I hope this album not only speaks to a lot of people but also rekindles in some way man’s great bond with the woods.”

Hamish is joined on The Woods by an array of celebrated folk musicians including Ross Ainslie, Jarlath Henderson, Innes Watson, Calum MacCrimmon, James Lindsay, Steve Byrnes and Scottish Chamber Orchestra celloist Su-a Lee. The album was coproduced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Andrea Gobbi at GloWorm Recordings, Glasgow.

The Woods is the third instalment of Hamish Napier’s pentalogy of music inspired by the landscape and the people of Strathspey. It is released on the Spring Equinox, 20 March 2020, and will be available in CD and Digital formats.

Artist’s website:  www.hamishnapier.com

‘The Woods’:

Live dates

Thursday March 19th  Lochaber Crafts and Things, Glencoe Village
Friday March 20th Sutherland Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, by Dornoch, Sutherland Sessions
Saturday March 21st  Strathspey Boat of Garten Community Hall, by Aviemore
Friday March 27th  Moray Fochabers Public Institute, Fochabers
Saturday March 28th Aberdeenshire Newton Dee Phoenix Centre
Sunday March 29th. Angus Hatton Castle, Angus
Tuesday April 7th Isle of Skye Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Sleat
Saturday May 16th Badenoch Newtonmore Village Hall for Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend
Sunday May 17th Inverness Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
Friday November 6th Banchory  Glassel Hall (1st night)
Saturday November 7th Banchory Glassel Hall (2nd night)

BREABACH – Frenzy Of The Meeting (Breabach Records, BRE005CD)

Frenzy Of The MeetingHaving toured the world, won awards and created an immensely successful album, Astar, zinging with creative fusion, what would Breabach do next? Judging by their latest album, Frenzy Of The Meeting, released in late October, the answer seems to be to find a revitalised inspiration in the traditional music of home.

Never a band to stand still, Frenzy Of The Meeting finds Breabach testing new waters once again. As usual, tracks were initially laid down live in the studio in order to capture the band’s essential sound. The band then enhanced these tracks during further studio sessions, in collaboration with producer Eamon Doorley. The final result is still absolutely Breabach, but in a subtly fleshed out way.

Starting with Bonnie Prince Charlie landing on a chilly beach on Eriskay, the low-slung guitar and bass of ‘Princes Strand’ provide solid ground for a rather wistful tune carried by whistles and pipes, as well as forming the link to ‘Knees Up’. This uplifting two-tune set pits ferocious piping against Megan Henderson’s soaring vocals.

Delicate bouzouki wreathes through ‘Winter Winds’, Calum MacCrimmon’s utterly beautiful song comparing the changing weather to the healing nature of time, “give it time and the sky will change”. Sharply switching mood, the stomping opening to ‘Western Isle Dance’ pairs a lively traditional tune with James Lindsay’s more reflective musing on the nature of alternative facts.

Ewan Robertson and Michael Farrell’s thoughtful ‘Birds Of Passage’, inspired by Longfellow’s poem of the same name, contemplates aspects of migration, its upwardly spiralling instrumentation mirroring the lyrics. The ballsy, sinuous ‘Google This’ follows, intriguingly paired with a traditional waulking song which sounds like it shouldn’t work, although – of course – it does.

The title track, ‘Frenzy Of The Meeting’ opening with a deep bowed bass and lithe fiddle bubbling over mouth harp, is a darkly delicious meshing of Henderson’s tune ‘Incahoots’ with the low chant of a traditional Ceòl Mòr. The album wraps up with ‘Oran Bhraigh Rusgaich’ which builds on its core of atmospheric harmonium drone, airy reverb and sparse guitar into a grand climactic finale, leaving just a trace of whistles hanging on the air.

Frenzy Of The Meeting may not have quite the same immediacy as its predecessor, but it has a satisfying deep richness and texture all of its own. It’s a fascinating new development in Breabach’s work, building yet more layers, more experiment and versatility into their sound.

To see this album in live performance, catch Breabach on tour around the UK now and until February 2019.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website: www.breabach.com

‘Birds Of Passage’ – official video:

MAIREARAD & ANNA – Farran (Shouty Records SHOUTYCD04)

FarranFarran is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and is also Mairearad Green and Anna Massie’s fourth album as a duo. It’s a stripped back album recorded by Andrea Gobbi and co-produced by Calum MacCrimmon of Breabach, recorded off the floor with accordion, pipes, fiddle, guitar and Anna’s voice on one track.

The album kicks off at a pace with three pipe tunes by Mairearad’s teacher, P/M Norman Gillies, followed by ‘Wee McGhee’s’ which starts deceptively slowly but builds up speed as Mairearad starts to slip the triples in. It’s a really nice set as is ‘The Merton Set’ with Anna’s “peal of bells’ figure on the guitar’s bass notes on her own tune, ‘Laura Drummond’ Slip Jig’. It also lets the listener get some breath back for a while, although the third tune in the set, Mairearad’s ‘Emma And Ali’s Wedding’ picks up the pace again.

Up next is the only song, ‘Molly May’ – check out the cover – by Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. (John Paul) Cormier and given its country of origin and subject matter I don’t need to tell you who it puts me in mind of. It’s set in Nova Scotia, by the way, and I like it a lot. Then we have another pacy set, ‘Jamie’s’, followed by a chance for Anna to show off on guitar with a set of more reflective tunes, ‘Rachel Newton’s ‘The Eggshell Brewery’ and  Ian Henderson’s ‘Trip To Austin’ – I have a romantic notion of someone playing the latter as the boats come in to port but don’t ask me why.

‘Willie Macrea Of Ullapool’, another tune by P/M Gillies, sees Anna switch to fiddle playing in the style of a slow march before Mairearad joins in. There’s a traditional set before the album closes with a beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Mo Chailean – Dileas Donn’, written by Hector Mackenzie, an Ullapool fisherman.

Farran seems a little short but there is no doubt that Mairearad and Anna have produced another fine album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.mairearadandanna.com/

‘Polkas’ from Summer Isle Festival:

Fraser Shaw – posthumous tune book and CD

Fraser Shaw
The Islay Sessioners

Fraser Shaw was a wonderful piper, whistle player and composer from Glasgow who resided on the Isle of Islay. After his passing in May 2015, a group of friends and family started a Trust in his honour. The foremost aim of the Fraser Shaw Trust is to raise money for the relief of multiple sclerosis, particularly in Argyll, Scotland, through a series of projects and events celebrating Fraser and his music.

A few years before Fraser’s passing, he had it in mind to release a book of his own compositions, the proceeds of which would go towards the MS Care Centre in Lochilphead, Scotland. Unfortunately, due to his illness, this never came to fruition.

Over the last year and a half, the Trust have been working hard to bring this idea to life and release this much anticipated book, along with an album comprised of Fraser’s tunes. In November 2015 a group of musicians gathered on Islay, to play a special memorial concert at Fraser’s festival, The Islay Sessions, thus laying the groundwork for this album. In January 2016 at Celtic Connections this same group of musicians, “The Islay Sessioners”, as they called themselves, performed this music as part of Islay Night, a concert that both celebrated the music and culture of Islay, and the music of Fraser Shaw.

In September 2016, recording began for the album in Castlesound and Carrier Waves Studios. Many of the arrangements heard at Islay Night have been recorded, along with a few additional tracks. Playing on the album are; Adam Sutherland, Eilidh Shaw, Gráinne Brady, Lori Watson, Innes Watson, Angus MacKenzie, Calum MacCrimmon, Kevin O’Neill, John Somerville, Laura-Beth Salter, Jenn Butterworth, Ross Martin, Tina Jordan Rees, Duncan Lyall, with very special guests; Kathleen Graham, Mhairi Hall and Ross Couper.

The Fraser Shaw Trust is delighted to announce the release of the book and CD on Tuesday June 27th 2017, with a big launch on the Isle of Islay to mark the occasion. The event will take plce in Bruichladdich Hall, with a concert featuring the musicians on the album. A second launch in Glasgow is set for Monday August 7th in St Luke’s Church as part of Piping Live!

Hard copies of Fraser’s CD will be available exclusively at the pre-launch party which will take place in The Sparkle Horse, Glasgow on Tuesday May 16th. Tickets for launch concerts and pre-orders will be for sale online from May 16th through the website – www.FraserShawTrust.com.

Proceeds of the tunebook will go directly towards the MS Care Centre in Lochilphead. Proceeds of the album and further donations will be used for the advancement of education, arts and culture and for the relief of those living with multiple sclerosis in Scotland, particularly on the Isle of Islay.

BREABACH – Astar (Breabach BRE004CD)

BREABACH AstarWith most albums it’s good to have the sleeve notes to hand when listening. With Breabach’s sixth outing an atlas is just as important. Astar means distance or journey in Gaelic and the musical ideas are drawn from all round the world.

The album opens with ‘The Midnight Sun’ written by piper James Duncan Mackenzie and inspired by a visit he paid to Tromso to run a marathon on midsummers day when the sun never actually sets. It begins with an oddly oriental sound, presumably an attempt to imitate the sound of a kantele. That is followed by a set of three compositions inspired by the rhythms of the Haka. The parts of ‘Muriwai’ are written by Calum MacCrimmon, Scott Morrison and Mackenzie.

There is brief return to Scotland with Dick Gaughan’s ‘Outlaws And Dreamers’ before we’re off to Scandinavia again with ‘Farsund’, the title track of the medley being composed by Megan Henderson. The third part of the medley is the first traditional tune on the album, ‘Wee Totum Fog’, which itself has an interesting history. ‘Mo Thruaighe Leir Thu ‘Ille Bhuidhe’ gives Megan her first lead vocal of the collection and then we’re off again, this time to Australia. ‘The White Sands Of Jervis Bay’ begins with a ceremonial song from the Aborigine tradition called ‘Guka Manikay’ while MacCrimmon and Mackenzie composed the title piece. It’s interesting to note that no-one seems to have come up with a more politically correct term for the original inhabitants of Australia.

‘Les Pieds Joyeaux’ is inspired by the Quebeçois tradition even though the tunes themselves are Scottish – Le Vent Du Nord join Breabach on vocals for this one. Then there is a visit to the Hebrides for a waulking song and a tune inspired by the waulking rhythm. It would be appropriate to stay in Scotland now but Ewan Robertson’s ‘Ribbon Of Fire’ is a song inspired by the band’s tour of the antipodes and ‘The Last March’ takes us to Cape Breton.

Astar is an album full of musical imagery and imagination – a melting pot of ideas that is varied and satisfying. This could be Beabach’s best.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://breabach.com/

Breabach live on their 2015 Highland Blast tour:

Breabach’s new album is on the way

Breabach's new album is on the way

Release Date Friday, 11th March, 2016

Voted ‘Best Live Act 2013’ & ’Best Folk Band 2012‘ at the Scots Trad Music Awards and twice nominated ‘Best Band’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards; Scottish five-piece Breabach deliver a thrilling and unique brand of contemporary folk music that has earned them international recognition on the world and roots music scene as one of the UK’s most dynamic and exciting bands.

After a whirlwind five years traversing the globe, touring Australia, New Zealand, Asia, North America, Scandinavia and the middle East, Breabach are delighted to announce their fifth studio album Astar (translating from Scottish Gaelic as distance or journey). The music on the album takes inspiration from the beauty of both the places and people the band have visited and the wonderful musicians and cultures encountered along the way. Working with producer Greg Lawson (Moishes Bagel, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, GRIT Orchestra) the band have taken melodic, rhythmic and harmonic ideas from each of the countries they have visited. Some of this is woven into the arrangement, some of this is achieved through self-penned works. Through it all however, it’s their Scottish roots that remain at the core of the recording with work from Burns, Dick Gaughan and Donald Macleod finding it’s way into the mix. Augmenting the album will be some special guests including Yidaki player Mark Atkins (AUS), extraordinary Aborigine artist Yirrmal of Black Arm Band (AUS) Maori tradition bearer Scott Morrison (NZ), Quebecois violinist Olivier Demers of Le Vent Du Nord (Quebec) and Hardanger virtuoso Olav Luksengård Mjelva of Nordic Fiddlers Bloc (NO).

Breabach unite the talent of Calum MacCrimmon (pipes/whistles/bouzouki/vocals), Ewan Robertson (guitar/ vocals), James Mackenzie (pipes/flute/whistles), Megan Henderson (fiddle/vocals/stepdance) and James Lindsay (double bass). Since launching their career as winners of the Open Stage Award at Celtic Connections in 2005 the band have steadily moved from strength to strength, picking up accolades and performing at esteemed events along the way. The 2016 release of Astar sees them reaching new levels of their musical ambition and maturity.

Artists’ website: www.breabach.com