There is story behind this album although I’m not sure I fully understand it. Once upon a time DJ Andy Dolphin, aka Dolphin Boy, was producing what he called “sample-heavy, bootleg-style music”. Late last year he and former Peatbog Faerie Iain Copeland, drummer with techno-folk fusion band Sketch, discussed the idea of producing an album of remixes; Copeland sent Dolphin the tapes of Highland Time and Shed Life and thus was The Highland Swing born.
Sketch mixed club beats with traditional musical forms so you might wonder what Dolphin Boy could do with their music. You would be surprised. The beats are perhaps emphasised but the music remains – mostly, anyway. Most of the music is written by Copeland and Andy Levy with tunes by such distinguished composers as Aidan Burke, Charlie Maclennan and Gordon Duncan. There are some fine musicians who were members of or guested with Sketch – Neil Ewart, Angus Binnie, Ross Ainslie and Ali Levack – and their contributions are highlighted but over all this Dolphin Boy adds his samples.
There is an enormous amount of tongue-in-cheek humour here. The opening track ‘Too Many Fiddles’ should tell you that without the two voices repeating “too many fiddles” over and over again. It’s taken out of context, of course but what the hell. ‘He’s A Piper’ repeats the word bagpipes in similar fashion and ‘Ghetto Pipe’ has people asking Dolphin questions about the pipes, to which the answer is always “I Don’t Know”. The vocal on ‘Kicks’ is mostly a list of perversions (some of which I’ve never heard of) that does go on a bit. I’ll leave you to discover the other delights for yourselves.
This is a strange record but I liked Sketch’s second album, Highland Life, and slowly The Highland Swing grew on me but, being rather too old for the disco, I’m not sure when I’d play it.
Tirade comes out the speakers at you like a cavalry charge as Eddie Seaman winds up his Highland bagpipes and Iain Copeland hits the drums. The tune is ‘Angry Piper’s Tirade’ by Hazen Metro and it is described as pushing the boundaries – I really don’t think bagpipes were ever designed to do this.
Eddie is originally from Edinburgh and is a member of Barluath, a six-piece band with a twin pipes front row. Luc McNally comes from County Durham, a fact which quickly becomes obvious. He’s a member of both Dosca and Sketch and a former member of Kathryn Tickell’s Folkestra Youth ensemble. The title track is not entirely typical of the album but Eddie and Luc have proved how hard they can be and now can relax a bit.
‘On A Boat’ is a particularly fine set with Eddie doubling on whistle and pipes while allowing Luc to solo the first ninety seconds or so and it’s only when Eddie comes in that you realise that’s what was happening. Copeland plays darabuka which gives a different texture to the set. ‘Not Enough Triplets’ consists of a pair of Irish tunes that belie the set’s title. What we used to call a finger-breaking workshop. ‘MSR’ is a rather more stately set of a march, a strathspey and a reel in the traditional manner while ‘Infinite Space’ is another contrast being a gentle guitar and whistle tune married to a composition by Madeleine Stewart who joins the duo on violin.
There are four songs, all sung by Luc. The first is ‘Harry Brewer’, an old and very powerful song by Nick Burbridge. Luc’s voice is rather light but the arrangements support him well. There’s a nice twist as Eddie opens ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ on the Highland pipes where we are more used to hear the Northumbrian variety. Third is ‘Byker Hill’, one of the tracks on which Eddie plays bouzouki, and finally comes ‘Elsie Marley’ paired with one of Eddie’s tunes. ‘James Bruce Of Wick’.
A glance at the cover might suggest that Tirade might be a rather austere album but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s one I’ve very much enjoyed.
I know about bagrock and whatever Saor Patrol call their blend of pipes, electric guitar, drums and more drums but techno piping is a new one. Which is very remiss of me since Highland Time is Sketch’s second album.
It should come as no surprise that the man behind Sketch is former Peatbog Faerie Iain Copeland who is responsible for the programming and production. It’s not much a band as the idea of a band. I presumed that the core, for the purposes of live performances, consists of fiddler Neil Ewart, who is also responsible for several fine tunes, Angus Binnie on pipes on whistles, Seaumas Maclennan on bouzouki and vocalist Darren Maclean with Copeland manning the electronics. I’m wrong because Charlie Stewart seems to have replaced Ewart. That seems like unfortunate timing.
Ali Levack and Ross Ainslie play as big a part on this album as the “core” and other guests include guitarist Luc McNally, the late Fraser Shaw leading his own tune ‘C Side’ and singer Maeve Mackinnon. It’s Lavack and Binnie who make the album because it really shouldn’t work. I mean: club beats and tunes grown from the tradition! And if it does work it should be boring as hell. The fact that it works and isn’t boring is down to two very fine pipers and Copeland’s fertile imagination.
Maclean’s vocals are somewhat secondary and often treated and Copeland himself handles the most extreme vocal part on ‘Taxi For Copeland’ which is actually Ewart’s tune, ‘The Road To Kilchoan’. No, I don’t know why it has two titles. When you get past all these apparent contradictions, however, Highland Time is a really good album.
Sketch live at Cambridge Folk Festival 2013 – with Ross Ainslie: