EWAN MCLENNAN & GEORGE MONBIOT – Breaking The Spell Of Loneliness (Fellside FECD277)

George MonbiotThis album might come as a surprise. Fast-rising singer/songwriter and interpreter of the tradition Ewan McLennan joins forces with George Monbiot, journalist and bête noire of the fascist classes – or at least those sections of it that can actually read – to explore one of the themes of Monbiot’s columns. Breaking The Spell Of Loneliness is as much about alienation as simple human loneliness and I wondered if it was a phenomenon link to an aging population but neither Ewan nor George are exactly superannuated.

In fact, Monbiot doesn’t actually appear on the album although it was he who started the project off and co-wrote the songs with McLennan often from his own sketches. In a blind listening this is Ewan’s album and if I’d been in charge I would have included sections of George reading his own prose; with only nine tracks there is plenty of room. In fact, I was surprised that it wasn’t so.

The set opens with ‘Such A Thing As Society’, an obvious riposte to the attitude of the right wing. ‘The Child Inside’ is about a form of alienation; that of children from their environment. It has been forced upon them by the changes in society; there are few places that aren’t fenced off or built over and years of paedophile scares have made parents hyper-protective. ‘Reclaim The Street’ applies the same theme to the adult world – how well do we know are neighbours? How far can we rely on them in times of trouble, or indeed, they on us? ‘The Night Desk’ stems from George’s experience in a police station (no, he hadn’t been arrested) and is remarkably sympathetic to the poor sods who work in such places. If you regard the police as the paramilitary wing of a fascist government, you won’t like it but George has an admirable empathy with his fellow man.

Finally, the record is summed up by ‘We Shall Overcome’, always a song of solidarity and its third verse “we are not alone” should be the take-home message; even though we have to work towards that goal.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ websites: www.ewanmclennan.co.uk / www.monbiot.com

George Monbiot talks about Breaking The Spell Of Loneliness:

Ewan McLennan and George Monbiot in unique collaboration

George Monbiot

‘An epidemic is sweeping the world: an epidemic of loneliness. Never before have we, the supremely social mammal, been so isolated. The results are devastating: a collapse of common purpose, the replacement of civic life with a fug of consumerism, insecurity and alienation. We cannot carry on like this.’ – George Monbiot

So how do we respond to this trend towards social breakdown?

Breaking The Spell of Loneliness is a remarkable collaboration between writer George Monbiot and musician Ewan McLennan. They launched their project because they believe that nothing has greater potential to unite and delight than music. They seek to use the music to open up the issue of loneliness, and their performances to help address it.

The project began with an article that the journalist George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian, about the age of loneliness. The article went viral, and several publishers asked him to write books about it. But George had a different idea.

He approached Ewan McLennan – a musician whose work he greatly admired – and proposed a collaboration. Together they would write an album, a mixture of ballads and anthems, some sad, some stirring, whose aim was to try to break the spell that appears to have been cast upon us; the spell of separation. It would touch upon issues as varied as our relationship with nature, our capacity for altruism and co-operation, the politics that lie behind loneliness, and the ways people are together overcoming this social scourge.

Around the time of the album’s release George and Ewan will perform a small number of special concerts. George will narrate the show, describe the ideas behind the songs, and encourage members of the audience to engage with each other, both then and beyond the concert. Ewan will sing the songs and perform the music that has emerged from this innovative collaboration.

George Monbiot writes a column for the Guardian and is the author of several best-selling books. He campaigns for the better treatment of the living world, and a kinder, fairer society.

Ewan McLennan is an award winning singer, songwriter and guitarist at the forefront of his generation; a troubadour, balladeer and storyteller cut in the old style; a singer that can move audiences with his passion and pathos and a songwriter for whom social justice is still a burning issue.

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RANT – Reverie (Make Believe Records MBR6CD)

ReverieIf you’re going to make music with a band that consists of just fiddles and violas you have to pretty sure of your ground otherwise it’s going to get rather dull.

Sure, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren McColl stretch the point by importing vocalists for two tracks but they import the best – Julie Fowlis and Ewan McLennan. The opening track, ‘JT’s’, written by Bethany makes a bold statement with almost staccato fiddle phrases leading into a sweeter restatement and then a rocking melody. The mood changes immediately with a set of two traditional tunes, ‘Miss Drummond Of Perth’s Favourite Scotch Measure’ – another great old title – which is given an almost eerie opening and ‘Strathbogie’s Toast’ from Niel Gow’s collection. ‘Dad’s 60th’ is another tune by Bethany, a bright march with echoes of older pieces hidden within it.

The first of the songs is ‘Mary’s Dream’. The words are by the 18th century Galloway poet, John Lowe’ and the tune is traditional – a variant of ‘The Parting Glass’. McLennan’s warm voice is complemented by almost tender fiddle parts. Julie Fowlis sings the other song, ‘Thug Thu Chonnlach As An T-Sabhal’, a strathspey tune with a very different feel. Her vocal dexterity with the Gaelic language is always a delight.

There are two pieces from James Scott Skinner who is always good value, two by Lauren and a couple of covers and the final track is an Icelandic hymn, ‘Fyrir Mig, Jesú, þoldir þú’, brought to the band by Jenna and rearranged by Bethany with an ethereal feel that’s almost chilling, bringing the album to a lovely close.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.rantfiddles.com

The promotional video:


A round-up of recent EPs and singles that have come our way

SINGLES BAR 15 Dec 2015 ANGE HARDY releases a seasonal single, ‘When Christmas Day Is Near’, all multi-tracked a cappella full of joyous optimism which is something we all need plenty of these days. The tune insistently reminded of something I couldn’t quite identify but which I eventually pinned down as ‘Three Jolly Rogues’. It’s coupled with ‘William Frend’ from her album Esteesee leading neatly into a short plea for ‘Solidarity’ written in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

SINGLES BAR 15 Dec 2015 ROSA REBECKA is a Swedish-American singer who came to Devon to study and stayed to work for Wren Music. Home is her first recording for Folkstock records although far from her first outing. The opening title track has a beautiful melody. That’s followed by the traditional Swedish ‘Det Står Ett Träd’ which is a complete contrast. The top is probably ‘Jonah’s Song’ in which Rosa is reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell as her voice soars into the stratosphere. The final track is the traditional Jewish ‘Sh’Ma’, as Rosa pulls the threads of her heritage together. For collectors, Home is also available as a guitar shaped USB stick with bonus tracks from her debut album.

SINGLES BAR 15 Dec 2015 CHRIS WHILE & JULIE MATTHEWS take a hard-hitting approach with their single ‘Are We Human?’. Written by Matthews it’s an attack on our collective inhumanity in the face of the refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. It features Neil Marshall, Ken Nicol, Liz Frencham and Christine Collister and all the proceeds will go to Migrant Offshore Aid Station. The song put me in mind of ‘Jewel In The Crown’ which she wrote more than twenty years ago and similarly attacks the political mind-set of this country.

SINGLES BAR 15 Dec 2015 ‘Lampedusa’ is a download single from EWAN McLENNAN – another not very festive seasonal offering – but its proceeds will go to Médecins Sans Frontières. Lampedusa is also an island roughly midway between Sicily and the North African coast and a place where many refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean find themselves. With songs of migration a major feature of Scottish song this is a natural subject for Ewan and although the title is very specific the theme and sentiments are universal. Finger-picked guitar is backed by slide and fiddle – ‘Lampedusa’ is a fine song, a serious subject and a worthy cause.

Ewan McLennan releases charity single

Lampedusa.jDigital Download Single released on 15th December 2015 via Bandcamp

For years I’ve sung traditional songs of emigration, thinking them some of the most powerful ballads I’ve ever come across. These songs – whether Scottish, Irish or English – tell the tales of times when life was so hard people were forced to leave their homes and families in search of a better place, a tolerable place. Very often the protagonist mourns the separation from the land of her birth and longs one day to return. The songs invariably deal with the subject of emigration with a deep sympathy and compassion.

It is with these songs still ringing in my ears that I’ve watched the migrant crisis unfold and intensify. Huge numbers of people have been landing precariously on the shores of Southern Europe. In the most part they have been escaping conditions in their home countries that have become perilous and unbearable.

With all this in mind I thought I would try and write a simple song that described the plight and the journey of a migrant today, hopefully with some of the sympathy and compassion of our own tales. Here is the song I wrote, ‘Lampedusa’.

I am releasing this track in conjunction with Doctors Without Borders, an incredible organisation rescuing migrants stranded in the Mediterranean. All the money raised from the download of this track will go direct to them. Thanks for your support.

Artist’s website: http://www.ewanmclennan.co.uk/

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

We are Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF). We help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from healthcare. In 1999, we were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and in 2014 we provided over eight million medical consultations in more than 60 countries.

At least 1,900 people have died crossing the Mediterranean in 2015. So far this year, our teams have rescued 16,350 people. Our search and rescue operations are paid for by our general funds and your donation will support MSF projects such as this.

We are very pleased to be part of this project.

EWAN McLENNAN – new album

Artist: Ewan McLennan
Stories Still Untold
Label: Fellside Records
Release Date: 29th September 2014


Autumn 2014 sees the release of Ewan McLennan’s 3rd album, Stories Still Untold.

It follows on from his debut release of 2010, the BBC Radio 2 Horizon Award-winning Rags & Robes and his second, critically acclaimed, 2012 album Last Bird to Sing. More recently, 2013 and 2014 have seen Ewan performing and recording alongside some of the world’s finest folk musicians on the latest series of Transatlantic Sessions, which featured both his self-penned and traditional arrangements. Ewan’s new release builds on all this and sees him produce quite possibly his best work yet.

Stories Still Untold has been two years in the making but it results from a process of distillation that began years before. A whole body of traditional songs long closest to Ewan were whittled down and, together with newly penned songs of his own, formed this album. The characteristics for which Ewan’s music has become known – depth of feeling, pathos and an evident respect and passion for the original material – are on show in abundance here.

More than ever this latest album has Ewan cast in the role of storyteller, with each song pulling you in and spinning a new tale before giving way to the next. There are new songs and old songs, past and present, spanning several hundred years. You’ll hear the first ever airing of powerful ‘big ballads’ like ‘Prince Robert’, dug up from some of the more obscure texts of the Child Ballads collection, as well as haunting traditional lost-love ballads like ‘False Young Man’ that have journeyed across the Atlantic and back. You’ll hear the cries of political dissent, long part of the folk song tradition, in songs such as ‘Granite Cage’ and the Chartist hymn ‘Song of the Lower Classes’. You’ll hear songs, like ‘A Beggar’ and ‘Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie’, with a lilt and a momentum driven by both Ewan’s unique and impressive guitar work and the cast of fellow musicians who join him on this album. Sitting seamlessly beside all this is Ewan’s own modern but timeless song writing – ranging from ballads from the underbelly of society, through to poignant and personal stories and onto hard tales from the finest watering holes.

Stories Still Untold features a cast of highly regarded folk musicians of Ewan’s generation who add their exceptional talents. From Ross Ainslie’s whistles, to Beth Porter’s cello and Lauren MacColl’s viola, each musician was chosen specifically with the songs in mind and the effect is subtle yet powerful. But in this intimate and moving album, both Ewan’s performances and the stories he sings remain very much at the forefront.

Ewan McLennan sings ‘The Granite Cage’:


1. A Beggar
2. Out On the Banks
3. The Shearing
4. Aye Waulking O’
5. Song of the Lower Classes
6. Tales From Down At the Harp
7. The Ballad of Amy Nielson
8. Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie
9. The False Young Man
10. Prince Robert
11. The Granite Cage
12. Henry Joy
13. Coorie Doon