NITEWORKS – Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music, CM002)

Air Faìr An LàIf the combined words “folk” and “electronica” bring on an attack of the vapours, a lie down with the reviving sal volatile of Niteworks’ second album Air Faìr An Là (At Dawn Of Day) might just help. The four Skye lads of Niteworks clearly love their traditional music but, obviously, generations born into techno and its offspring want to reflect contemporary sounds, too. If Martyn Bennett was a pioneer in this field, Niteworks are most ably picking up the reins and forging forward on their own account.

This time around, they’ve engaged top techno producer Alex Menzies (aka Alex Smoke), who overcame his own initial reluctance about the project and has helped to create a vital, full-throttle album that’s subtler than it might at first appear (try the constantly mutating rhythmic pattern punctuating the 1968 spoken-word recording of Skye man, ‘Calum Ruadh MacNeacail’), and definitely stands on its own merits.

Opening with ‘Dookin’’, spacey sonics lope along until first a vibrant fiddle and then pipes drop in, hoisting the melody line across a thumping drumbeat. Kinnaris Quintet’s Fiona MacAskill and her two colleagues provide excellent fiddle parts throughout.

Other guests include Julie Fowlis, whose coolly sparkling vocal soars over ever-intensifying beats in ‘Òran Fir Ghriminis’, and Lewis musician Iain Morrison who brings a slow, atmospheric version of his own song, ‘Like Wolves In The Night’.

SIAN, a trio featuring Ellen MacDonald (recently with Daìmh), deliver crisp vocals on the title track, a waulking song, and also the album’s lead single, reviewed here in a recent Singles Bar. The rapid vocal repetitions are weirdly well-complemented by an ‘80s Kraftwerk-ish bubbling undercurrent. MacDonald’s warm tones also take up ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ (‘Your Two Beady Little Eyes’), a St Kilda lullaby with a soundscape that conjures blowing sand, rattling boat masts and the sea’s sighing fall-rise.

Dragged from the very earth itself is ‘Cumhachd’ (‘Power’ or ‘Energy’): a primal incantation where Allan MacDonald’s hypnotic vocals are slowly subsumed as he picks up the tune on his pipes. More pipes feature on ‘Iain McGee’s’, this time steadily bubbling up through a trance-ish rendering of the tune, before erupting wildly out. In contrast, the increasingly dark, insistent ‘Lùths (Gabh Greim)’ wibbles along, unsteady as an old cassette tape, and closing tune ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ somehow works a traditional strathspey up into what could be an action film car chase soundtrack.

Updating traditional music can be risky, but clearly Niteworks have found their contemporary groove and, right now, they are riding it expertly.

Su O’Brien

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Live at Celtic Connections feat. Julie Fowlis:

Techno-folkies Niteworks release their second album

Niteworks
Photograph by Callum Woodbridge

Air Fàir an Là, the second album by Niteworks releases 17th August, and is the follow up to Niteworks critically acclaimed debut album, NW. The album takes its name, which translates from Gaelic to ‘at dawn of day’, from the album’s lead single which features a song composed by Màiri nighean Alasdair Ruaidh, a poet that lived on the Isle of Skye during the 17th Century. The band felt this title appropriately reflects the point where they are on their musical journey; the beginning of something new, different and unknown, with yet more potential to be seized and explored.

Niteworks vision with Air Fàir an Là was to produce a record that blurs the lines between Scottish traditional music and contemporary electronica, by bringing together elements of Gaelic and Scottish folk song, traditional tunes and melodies, all melded together with cutting edge electronica.

Having previously self-produced all their material, Niteworks have changed tack for this new album, and have called upon acclaimed techno producer Alex Menzies (Alex Smoke) to oversee the album’s production. The band, being fans of his solo productions, approached Alex despite him having limited experience of working with a band or experience of Scottish traditional music. The aim of this was to bring a whole new way of thinking and approach to Niteworks’ sound, and has resulted in the perfect combination to bring Niteworks to a new, more diverse audience.

In keeping with the band’s previous work, Air Fàir an Là contains many high-profile collaborations including with Julie Fowlis, one of the most successful and high-profile Gaelic musicians of all time. Other collaborators include Lewis born singer and multi-instrumentalist Iain Morrison, traditional string ensemble Kinnaris Quintet and up-and-coming band of three of Scotland’s finest Gaelic singers SIAN, who feature on the lead single. The album also features Ellen MacDonald, winner of the 2016 Gaelic singer of the year at the MG Alba Scots Trad music awards, whose contribution on Air Fàir an Là, marks the first time she has recorded with the band despite having performed live on numerous occasions.

Keen to ensure the entire package reflects the high-quality standards of the band, the album features stunning photography from acclaimed landscape photographer, Dougie Cunningham of Leading Lines. The front and inside album covers features an illuminated Niteworks logo in locations around the Isle of Skye, creating a dramatic backdrop to the Niteworks brand.

Innes Strachan of Niteworks said, “working with a producer has something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and to get the opportunity to do this with someone as high profile as Alex is absolutely amazing. Alex brought the whole album together in a way that doesn’t just sound like a collection of tracks, and we’re now excited for people to hear the results”.

Alex Menzies said, “having never worked with a band before, or had many dealings with traditional music, I was not the obvious choice for Niteworks to work with. As it turned out, it was a chance to think without preconceptions and work outside my comfort zone. As the band are all accomplished musicians and producers already, I was really just there to add noise and make things messier. I gained a lot from the experience and really enjoyed working with the band. I have a genuine new regard for traditional music, and this may well see further exploration.”

Iain Morrison said ‘I’ve been a fan of Niteworks so it was really lovely to be asked to collaborate on their new record. They are grounded in their roots but they’re also pushing into new ground so it’s going to be exciting to see where they go with it. Just a great band’.

Air Fàir an Là feat. SIAN, is the first release from Niteworks second album, of the same name. It was released on the 13th July with a supporting video by up-and-coming Scottish film maker Dòl Eoin MacKinnon.

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Air Fàir an Là is available for pre-order now from Niteworks bandcamp, and will be available for purchase, download and to stream across all major platform iTunes, Spotify, Amazon etc., from the 17th of August 2018.

Niteworks and Julie Fowlis live at Celtic Connections:

IAIN MORRISON – Eas (Peatfire PEATFIRE006)

IAIN MORRISON – EasIain Morrison is a musician, singer and composer from the Isle of Lewis. He is also the son of a distinguished piper but he’s moved some distance from the tradition – but not as far as you might think.

Eas, which means “cascading waterfall”, is Iain’s sixth solo album and each track is based on the classical music of the pipes or piobaireachd. Here my expertise runs out but I do understand that, traditionally, the music consists of a theme and variations. Iain introduces the first track as “Piobaireachd number 47” but the track is actually called ‘Siubhal (47)’, siubhal being one of the formal variations. Any further explanation gets a bit technical.

Piobaireachd is traditionally taught by singing or canntaireached and two tracks, ‘Too Long In This Condition’ and ‘R. Morar’, include Iain’s father both singing and, in the former, explaining the finer points of his teaching. If this sounds terribly heavy, believe me it isn’t. Iain uses his father’s canntaireached as the basis of his own compositions beginning both very simply on piano, stating the theme if you like.

Iain is a songwriter too and was a member of the indie band Crash My Toy Car and all these pieces are songs in English. ‘To The Sea’ and ‘You’re My Letting Go’ are particularly good. Iain is a multi-instrumentalist – everything from bagpipes to banjo – but he does need some help and supporting musicians include Chris Stout and Marc Duff. Iain’s voice is well down in the mix and getting to grips with his lyrics can be difficult but I’m more taken with Eas than I was with its predecessor, To The Horizon, Sir.

Dai Jeffries

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We’ve not found anything from the new album on video but you might like ‘A Lewis Summer’ with Eddi Reader and Danny Thompson among others:

IAIN MORRISON – To The Horizon, Sir (Peatfire Records peatfire005)

Iain Morrison To the Horizon SirNot since the first time I heard the distinctive vocal of October Project’s Mary Fahl singing “Return To Me” have I come across a vocalist with such unique character. That’s not to say Iain Morrison sounds like a girl it’s just meant as a pointer to how such a distinctive sounding voice can lodge itself in your memory…for all the right reasons. This is a tremendously enigmatic recording performed by an artist who, although bleak in outlook creates pictures that are as stunning as his birth place on the Isle of Lewis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never visited the Isle of Lewis but in my own personal opinion I consider Morrison conveys bringing his feelings to the surface having been at one with nature and soaked up the culture of an island rich in mysticism and allowing the space for individual thought. When you’re sitting in a flat in Croydon looking at all the activity surrounding you escapism is a word I look forward to (particularly at 3:29am) and trust me when I say that Iain’s writing will put you in a different place altogether with sparse but well mapped arrangements featuring guest musicians Michael Chorney (guitar), Robinson Morse (double bass), Geza Carr (drums) and cellist Pete Harvey. If you’re looking for something different although by no means outlandish you’ll find it here. A subjectively stunning masterpiece!

Pete Fyfe

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Artist’s website: www.iainmorrisonmusic.com