FARA – Energy Islands (FARA003)

Energy IslandsThe (predominantly) Orcadian band Fara have recently released their third album, Energy Islands. The band came together at the Orkney Folk Festival in 2014 and have since won music awards in multiple countries.

Three of the founding band members are on the new album – Jeanna Leslie, Catriona Price and Kristan Harvey. Rory Matheson has become the fourth in place of Jennifer Austin – and hence Fara are now ‘predominantly’ Orcadian.

It’s worth noting the geography as Orkney is important to Fara’s music, for this album particularly. Green energy from wind and water means the island now produces more energy than the National Grid can take and Price describes the energy from tides and waves as something akin to their music “To us this feels like a physical manifestation of the energy that traditional music brings to our communities. As Laura Watts wrote in her book Energy at the End of the World: ‘Feel the Energy Islands with all your senses’.” If you’ve lived that close to the sea with its fluctuating humours, you’ll know this is life lived, not metaphor.

And what an ear-catching album Energy Islands is. The violin is reckoned to be the most expressive instrument made – and there are three of them here blending with Matheson’s piano. From the album’s opening plucked springs on ‘Solar’, slowly teasing you before the tempo races upwards, to the final tune, ‘Energy Islands’, this is a captivating listen.

You can tell the influence of the weather in the titles of the album tracks. After ‘Solar’ the album moves into ‘Wind Dancers’ which floats through the set, steady on ‘Chinook Winds’ to the pace, too much pace (in the wind not the music) of ‘Turbine Down. ‘Fair Winds’ is sung by writer Jeanna Leslie and continues the zephyr-ish theme. As for the singing – you can only say that if this track is about setting out on the sea with on fair winds, Leslie must have been tamed from Sirens, so alluring is her vocal.

‘Broom Power’ is named after a community hydro scheme. ‘Merry Dancers’ is a song building around the words of Lucy Douglas; it’s slower, Matheson’s piano interacting with another evocative vocal on a song about the northern lights.

‘The Hampshire’ is a solemn, mournful tune fittingly drawing sadness out of the listener since Kristan Harvey was commissioned to write this to mark the centenary of the loss of HMS Hampshire and over seven hundred lives.

‘Song In The Night’ builds on a Duncan J Robertson poem contrasting the daily cycle of the terrors of the night with the salvation of dawn and the morning.  It’s followed by ‘Northerner’, built on a poem by Margaret Tait, which picks up again on the day/night contrast and evokes the different moods created by the long light days of summer and the darker, hibernating days of winter.

Between these two tracks is ‘White Horse Power’, a set of three tunes which, simply, is everything that traditional violin music should be, the music blending and swirling from one to the next, trading tunes and tempos.

Fittingly for an album called Energy Islands, the energy of the violins, the keyboards, the vocals are all present in the video of ‘Fair Winds’ below. I feel it’s bound to end in my top ten tracks of the year.

Fara’s website has details of gigs around the UK in September and October. I saw the band live at the Radio 2 Folk Awards some years ago – they are as stunning live as you hear on this video. Energy Islands is a great addition to their recorded music.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:  https://faramusic.co.uk

‘Solar’ – official video: