TWELFTH DAY – Face To Face (Orange Feather Records OFR005)

Face To FaceTwelfth Day’s Face to Face creates a new element on the folk periodic table. There’s a nice current angle to this music that embraces traditional folk, classical, jazz, and off-kilt(er) Scottish sounds.

Years ago, Peter Gabriel’s first album was advertised with the promotion “Expect the unexpected”. Well, that’s the gist of this record, too. Twelfth Day is a dual of Esther Swift on harp and Catriona Price on fiddle, while both women share vocals. Well, I half-expected a rather folk purist Greentrax or Fellside recording. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that! I love those Wrigley sisters! And ditto for Fribo or anything ex-Ossian William (aka Billy) Jackson does. But this is a very different and a very “unexpected” Scottish ale.

The first song, ‘Keep Me’, sets the weird template: This isn’t pop music, but it hums into the brain. There’s an intersection of early Kate Bush, Kate Rusby, and jazz vocalist Norma Winstone. The song has a very modern folk pulse, which is fleshed out with percussion and bass.

The jazzy vibe continues. ‘What’s Real’, oddly enough, finds the main instruments—the fiddle and harp—propelling the music into folk cosmos, while the harmony vocals sweeten the take-off. This is simply lovely music that avoids just about any cliché that comes to mind. And the harp becomes positively percussive in its pluck! ‘Fact of Life’ goes deeper into the soft atmosphere of folk jazz. The same is very true for the wonderous ‘Deep Dark Beast’. This tune touches the fears of old sacred wood fires with the very best of catchy and clever fiddle music.

And then – Oh my! The brief ‘The Plough’ floats on cushioned tension. It’s a melodic glance at a falling star. ‘Oma’, too, is instrumental and flows with highland free spirit. Odd: the fiddle/harp interplay of these songs recalls the absolute beauty of the quiet King Crimson Larks’ Tongues in Aspic moments when David Cross’s violin slow danced in a glade of solace, which juxtaposed Fripp’s tough guitar logic. There’s also an echo of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ and its classical ethos. That’s heavy breathing for a folk album!

Now, speaking of mathematics (as one often does in the middle of a record review): Archimedes of Syracuse, known for his big “Eureka” comment after inventing the theory of water displacement, also (sort of) created calculus and its measured pursuit of circular perfection. That’s what this album does: As said, it’s musical calculus with a fresh folk angle that still sings harmony (even after all these years) with that old chestnut of a tune that hopes, with eternal passion, that “the circle will be unbroken”. We humans love that perfect circumference.

That said, ‘Superwoman’, again, bounces with un-expected jazzy exuberance. This one simply soars with vocals and a heavenly fiddle.

In contrast, ‘East’ is solemn and bobs like a life jacket in an un-forgiving sea. It touches the quietude of The Medieval Babes in their more spiritual moments.

The title track, ‘Face To Face’, certainly justifies its seven-minute multi-part (almost) classical folk groove. The tune is a pilgrimage into some sort of really nice shrine. Once again, the fiddle/harp dialogue orbits several planets, as two gifted folk players run through the moves of a pretty great chess game.

‘In a Bar’ is acapella heaven in its brief breath.

The curtains close with ‘Reset Butten’. The song stretches the folk rubber band a bit. The antenna needs to be adjusted. There are maudlin vocals and a minor key starched music hall melody that ends the record with an uneasy paintbrush stroke. Perhaps, that’s the point.

So, folk purists, “Expect the unexpected’ with this album.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Superwoman’ – official video:

365: Stories And Music opens in Edinburgh

365 - James Robertson365 - Aidan O'Rouke


The Edinburgh International Book Festival today launched the latest chapter in the 365: Stories And Music collaboration between James Robertson and Aidan O’Rourke.  Commissioned by the Book Festival, and supported by Creative Scotland, an immersive sound installation of stories and music by the two leading Scottish artists can be enjoyed, free of charge, by the public in the Book Festival’s George Street Bookshop from today, Wednesday 7th August 2019.

James Robertson, one of Scotland’s most respected authors, wrote a short story every day for a year. Each story was to be 365 words, no more, no less. It became an enchanting, roaming collection of fairytales, memories and provocations published in 2014 as 365:Stories. That was only the beginning.  Fiddler/composer Aidan O’Rourke (of the folk supertrio Lau) wrote a tune every day in response, resulting in a major new body of 365 tunes. Aidan’s fiddle tunes are sparse and emotive; his playing is famous for its lyricism, here paired with kaleidoscopic harmonies from Mercury-nominated keyboardist Kit Downes, guitarist Sorren Maclean and harpist Esther Swift.  The album 365: Volume 1 was released in May 2018. 365: Volume 2 will be released on 9 August 2019.

The installation is a piece of art in itself, beautifully crafted from oak and steel with no digital screens in sight. It allows up to six people at a time to browse through all 365 stories and listen through headphones.  Each spoken word-recording is paired with a piece of music.

Robertson reads many himself; other storytellers include Tam Dean Burn, Gerda Stevenson, Cathy Macdonald, Matthew Zajac and Kate Molleson providing rich and varied accents from around Scotland.

James Robertson said “This project has grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I began writing these stories. It has become a vast, multiform patchwork of fiction and stunning melody – an expansive and emotive catalogue of public art.”

Roland Gulliver, Associate Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival said, “This new installation is an exciting embodiment of a brilliant project.  We have worked with James and Aidan since the inception of 365: Stories & Music and are delighted that we can now offer an opportunity for the public to select their own choices of these wonderful stories, and beautiful music, to listen to here at the Festival.”

The installation launches today at Edinburgh International Book Festival in Edinburgh and will be available in the Festival’s George Street Bookshop until Sunday 25 August.  James Robertson, Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes will be performing music and stories from 365: Stories And Music at the Book Festival on Saturday 10 August at 5.00pm.

365 - location

Full details and tickets from

The 365: Stories And Music sound installation will tour the country from September 2019 visiting Shetland Mareel, Orkney Library, Linlithgow Palace, Wigtown Book Festival, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and many more.

‘The News Where You Are’ – James Robertson live:

TWELFTH DAY – The Devil Makes Three (Orange Feather Records OFR003)

twelfth dayHailing from, respectively, Orkney and Peebles, Catriona Price and Esther Swift have been making waves on the Scottish folk scene since releasing their debut album back in 2010. Twinning their high pitched vocals, with Price on fiddle and Swift on harp and clarsach, they’re an impressive pair of musicians with the awards to prove it. Working largely within the Scottish musical and lyrical tradition, they draw upon landscapes and memories, the opening number, ‘Noise Show’, intended to evoke the serenity of their remote childhood landscapes, the tranquillity gradually giving way to the effects of the urban sprawl as the sound builds, while ‘The Beach’ is an instrumental inspired by those on which they played, most especially on the Isle of Mull and at Hoy.

Celtic myth is embraced on ‘Shapeshifter’, the story of a woman who falls in love with a male Selkie and joins him in the sea while. On a more realistic, but no less romantic note, ‘Dusking’ seeks to capure the atmosphere of an Edinburgh spring evening while the city also provides the backdrop for ‘A City You Can See Out Of’, which celebrates the true stories of three different women who found strength in loss.

‘Young Sir’ takes the traditional Scottish tale of a bonny lass who, unable to pay her rent, runs away to England, wins the heart of a rich man, steals his horse and returns home, although here the horse is updated to his car. The only exception to local colour comes with the album title track, an adaptation of the American folk song ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ that transforms into a sprightly instrumental.

It is all immaculately played and precisely sung, but that’s where my reservations emerge. They seem so bound up in their craft that there’s little room for heart, resulting in a pristine but somewhat detached sound that’s more intellectual than emotional. Additionally, while not disputing their mastery of their instruments, of the three instrumentals, neither ‘Me And My Friend’ or ‘The Beach’ have sufficient variety of colour or texture to warrant their near six minute playing time, only the short and simple fiddle dominated ‘Swimming Safe’ really achieving its aims.

They are, without doubt, extremely talented and clearly think deeply about their material; if they can tap into the passion to match the proficiency, they could be huge.

Mike Davies

Official video of ‘Young Sir’: