Skerryvore’s Live Across Scotland exemplifies the Ian Hunter album title, You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic. This record captures the Skerryvore ethos: sizzling big group Scottish electric folk and pulsing arena songs with a nod toward the memorable hooks of (perhaps) Supertramp, with a sometimes (pleasant)) country vibe.
But let me tell you: Live Across Scotland simply bounces and grooves with a demented Pictish pulse. And there’s a pathos here, too. I recall seeing a worn sole of a shoe in the Edinburgh Children’s Museum that had been crafted into a child’s doll. Skerryvore sings to that poor kid who loved that tattered leather toy. Of course, this is music that also stands tough in the hot angry ashes of all those long-ago Highland Clearances. But most of all, as (the great) Shooglenifty announced to open their Live At Selwyn Hall Box album: “This is dance music”.
Live Across Scotland blazes with instrumental prowess. The celebration begins in Edinburgh, with ‘Trip To Modera’, a frenzied powerhouse instrumental that fires on all Skerryvore cylinders. Pipes blaze a way, a lead guitar howls in the mix, while the engine room (with Jodie Bremeneson on bass and Fraser West on wondrous drums!), powers the pulse. ‘The Ginger Grouse Jigs ’ begins with an acoustic guitar, which gives center stage to Craig Espie’s crack fiddle; then it’s joined by accordion and whistle (Thank you Daniel Gillespie and Scott Wood!). Wave after wave descend from the heavens and those magic pipes dance against a tough electric guitar (that recalls Wishbone Ash’s ’Phoenix’). And then the song jumps into a higher gear. It’s all rather stunning. And, quite frankly, the electricity that buzzes in these grooves does weird and wonderful things to my Celtic inclined cerebral cortex. Oh, there’s more instrumental madness. ‘The Showman’ has a 3-D Tartan groove that gets rock guitar Stone of Scone heavy. Ditto for ‘The Rut’. The sound is that of a many pieced jigsaw puzzle (with time-lapsed photography) suddenly congealing into a picture postcard of cold Loch Ness on a nice warm Scottish morning—beauty without the need for a glance at a passing (and quite friendly) plesiosaur.
You know, I love all the Scottish bands like Silly Wizard, Five Hand Reel, Manrun, Shooglenifty, (my beloved) Runrig, Maliky, and even those Peatbog Faeries. But this live recording has the immense colourful clarity of NASA’s Hubble Telescope, if somehow, it could turn its eye on the universe of Scottish folk-rock music.
The heat continues to burn with ‘Soraidh Slan & The Rise’. A bagpipe wanders a bit. Then an electric guitar plays hard rock and weaves with saber dance pipes, while that percussion and bass guitar propel everything into Star Trek warp drive.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, said, “Even on the German autobahn, this music would get a ticket for speeding”. Then she commented, “I hope Saint Teresa’s ecstasy (of Bernini’s statue fame!) was a cool as this music”.
And then there’s ‘Solo – Live Forever’, which transcends all the other wonderful stuff. A bluesy guitar grumples a bit, and then it gets tough and rings ala 70’s rock band gusto and a vocal that lurches into Runrig ‘Loch Lomond’ territory.
As said, “You’re never alone with a schizophrenic”. And trust me, nobody’s alone during these concerts, what with the yelps from both the band and the concert goers, all the deep applause, and the occasional audience participation. These folks know and love their Skerryvore.
Now to the tunes. Their direct simplicity perfectly juxtaposes the complexity of the instrumental stuff. Some songs are short with the band decorating the melody, while others possess a verse and chorus but are launching pads for extended instrumental euphoria. This is big arena rock song sing-a-long stuff. The lyrics have simple messages like ‘Can You Hear Us’, ‘Hold On’, ‘Happy To Be Home’, ‘Put Your Hands Up’; and while they will never give Robert Burns’s ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ poem a run for its money, all the words are fan friendly, as the audience sings and enhances the spirit of this live recording.
Two other songs up the lyrical ante. ‘The Last Time’ makes a non-partisan political comment, and ‘Waiting On The Sun’ gets a slight country western slant. Quite frankly, Skerryvore’s roots are deep in ancient Alba, but its flowering thistle touches pop, folk, country, and some really great rock music.
And it all ends in Aberdeen, with “the topper most of the popper most” ‘Path To Home’, which is a ten minute plus euphoric ride, which (to mention Ian Hunter again) slugs with a tough Alec Dalglish guitar riff worthy of Mott The Hoople’s ‘Drivin’ Sister’; and then the encore elbows in solo bits from all the band members. There’s a lovely bass bit by Jodie Bremeneson, a fiddle seesaw ride from Craig Espie, a slow seductive whistle from Scott Wood, more roaring bliss from the (pride of Tiree) Gillespie brothers, Alan Scobie’s jazzy piano, and, of course, Fraser West’s drums that somehow manage tough order in the midst of the melodic combustion.
This is a very necessary live album. The venues are closed. Live music is in hibernation. But this record sizzles with blissful Scottish sweat, which is equal to blissful sweat from anywhere on our globe. There is communion of sorts in these vibrations that allowed the band, all those audiences, and now, listeners at home, to feel a little less alone. Thank you, Ian Hunter for that album title, and thank you, Skerryvore, for the grooves of this fiery and very human live album. Yeah, I agree with my friend, Kilda Defnut, because this music speeds, with bagpipe brilliance, on anybody’s folk rock ’n’ roll autobahn.
Artists’ website: www.skerryvore.com
‘Happy To Be Home’ – featuring Sharon Shannon: