To avoid any confusion, Piskey Led are a Welsh band playing Celtic music with a predilection for Cornwall. The quartet consists of guitarist James Bower and three multi-instrumentals, Joshua Goodey who takes care of the low notes, Katie Lower and Chris Mercer and this is their debut album. Piskey led is a term for being led astray by the fairies or pixies and Cornwall is full of such tales.
The album opens with two tune sets: ‘Carn Galva’ and ‘Mousehole’s Joni’, the latter inspired by a sighting of Joni Mitchell walking along the sea wall at Mousehole. Shall we just say “allegedly” and leave it at that? Both sets give the players a chance to strut their stuff, notably Katie’s flute and Chris’ mandolin. From Cornwall we move to Ulster via Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the story of ‘Sally Monroe’ sung by Chris. It’s about a shipwreck in 1830 off the Llŷn Penisular in which the tragic heroine dies alongside her lover James Dickson. There are two versions of the song and Piskey Led choose the Ulster one. Joshua sings ‘Ashton Famine’ from that well-known Celtic outpost of Lancashire, set during the cotton famine that was caused by the lack of transatlantic trade during the American Civil War.
‘Come All Good Cornish Boys’ is a mostly instrumental set with tunes about mining and fishing with the title being a lovely bit of choral singing over Joshua’s harmonium. As with many of their tracks Piskey Led employ atmospheric field recordings/found sound often as an introduction.
Things lighten up as Chris sings ‘Buncrana Train’, a popular song in Derry a century ago. Katie plays the instrumental breaks on whistle which lead seamlessly into ‘Hwibanowl Nowydh’, a set of reels written for her new whistle on which James also gets to show off his guitar picking. ‘Bucca’s Chanter’ comes from the story of a man who encountered the Cornish Devil, Bucca himself and his minions, and escaped only by falling into a holy well. It’s wonderfully atmospheric tune with Chris on bodhran and the pace relentlessly picking up towards the mid-point where the mood changes and everyone seems to be having so much fun. Mandolin or mandocello take over for the third part as our piskey led, or possibly intoxicated, hero makes good his escape.
‘Blackbird Of Mullaghmore’, sung by Chris, isn’t some bucolic idyll but a song about poitín – the “blackbird” of the title being a name for a home-made still. It is by way of being a nineteenth-century advertising jingle. Finally, Katie sings ‘Zennor’, the tale of a mermaid with words from a poem by Victoria Field.
I very much like this album although if I were to be critical (and it is my job, after all) I might have sequenced it rather differently, perhaps opening with ‘All Good Cornish Boys’, but I bet the band debated the running order long into the night before committing themselves. Should you get the opportunity to hear them live I recommend that you do do.
Artists’ website: https://piskeyledband.co.uk/
‘An Cawr Carn Galva/Enys Reun’ – official video: