Few bands get to celebrate fifty years together – and some of those have taken a breather mid-career – so The Tannahill Weavers have joined a pretty exclusive club. Sub-titled The Golden Anniversary Album, their new record, Òrach, draws together music, friends and former colleagues. Joining the current line-up of Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, John Martin and Lorne MacDougall are such luminaries as Dougie MacLean, Aaron Jones, Innes White and Davie Hunter.
The album opens with the title track, a classic march/strathspey/reel set. It initially sounds a little four-square to modern ears and I suspect that is by design, an imitation of the way things were done back in 1968. By the end of the reel the band have moved up a couple of gears but it’s early days yet so they settle back with Matt McGinn’s unusually romantic ‘Jenny A’ Things’ featuring the band’s first singer, John Cassidy. ‘Christchurch Cathedral’ comes from The Dubliners via Shooglenifty and sounds almost Playford-like until it slips into the jig variation.
Òrach continues to mix songs and tunes more or less equally. There are two lyrics from the original weaver, Robert Tannahill, including ‘Jessie The Floo’er O’ Dunblane’ and the huge ballad, ‘The Battle Of Sheriffmuir’ adapted by Robert Burns from an earlier and longer poem – the battle ended in a sort of draw. Billy Connolly’s ‘Oh No!’ from The Humblebums’ final album (with Alison Brown on banjo) comes as a light-hearted surprise, in contrast to Daithi Rua’s ‘The Ghost Of Mick McDonnell’, a reflection on the Great War. The record closes with ‘Gordon Duncan Set’ commemorating his time with the band. Only one tune in the set, ‘Red Ken’s’ sometimes known as ‘Rory Gallagher’s’, was written by Duncan but the set was put together by him for his solo album, Just For Seumas.
I’m sorry if this is turning into a history lesson but there a so many fascinating stories surrounding a band that has survived five decades. More important is the variety of music they have played and present here. So sandwiched between two ghost stories, one old, one new, is ‘The Asturian Sessions’ that begins in Nova Scotia and ends in Asturias and features MacLean on didgeridoo! Òrach looks back with great affection but also looks forward as they absorb new music into their repertoire. It may be a case of grandfather’s axe but I reckon The Tannahill Weavers are good for another fifty years.
The trio of musicians who make up Assynt may still only be in their 20s but between them have already amassed a barrowload of nominations and awards. Having worked with many of Scotland’s finest musicians, this year they finally came together as Assynt (named after an area of North-West Scotland). So, as the first album from this newly-minted group, there’s plenty of anticipation surrounding Road To The North.
That it’s an album of largely original material is the first of many pleasant surprises. Pipes and whistles man David Shedden contributes by far the largest share, although Graham Mackenzie (fiddle) and Innes White (guitar / mandolin) demonstrate equally strong composition skills. Only the final track, ‘Harris Dance’ presents a set of traditional tunes, drawing the line of continuity between old and new.
White’s understated playing is the keystone to the band, holding the centre rhythmically and with great sensitivity. Sometimes loose and jazzy (‘Fiend And The Hound’), at other times hinting at Spanish style (‘Aidan Jack’), or playfully riding the beat on ‘No Way Out’, he’s got flair to spare. On the lovely ‘Ava May’, his spare accompaniment underscores a lyrical lament very much in the Highland tradition.
Sheddon’s vigorous and nimble piping is at the fore on ‘The One Upper’ and title track, ‘Road To The North’. Mackenzie, whose clean style tends to minimal vibrato afterburn, readily matches or complements him, as the tunes demand. Frequently, fiddle and pipes/whistles are tightly and intricately entwined, moving effortlessly from mirroring the melody to chasing around and playing tag with it, as on ‘Forward Thinking’. On the smartly drilled ‘Garthland Drive’ they wreathe and twine sinuously around each other, whilst ‘Conal McDonagh’s’ initially moody fiddle gets bowled over by some frenzied pipes as they spin off in a rapidly turning pattern.
The interplay between these three musicians is deft and subtle, the tuneset bridging transitions smooth. There can be no doubting the quality of their composition, arranging and playing together. If they’re this good when they’re just starting out together, imagine what Assynt could become.
Hannah Rarity – BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2018 – releases her much anticipated debut album Neath The Gloaming Star on 2nd September. This new release will be launched with a number of high-profile appearances (BBC Proms In The Park) and UK tour dates in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen amongst others.
Following her acclaimed 2016 EP, Beginnings, (“Beautifully engaging vocals, thoughtful interpretations of traditional songs and some highly promising song-writing…Hers is definitely a name to watch.” fRoots Magazine), Neath The Gloaming Star features eleven songs, carefully selected by Rarity, which showcase her powerful vocals and fresh interpretations of songs from the folk genre she whole-heartedly embraces. Her vocal performance is supported by a stellar line-up of Scottish musicians, including Innes White (Karen Matheson, John McCusker), John Lowrie (Blue Rose Code, Adam Holmes & The Embers) and Euan Burton (Kris Drever, Siobhan Miller).
Rarity’s musical career to date has earned her a nomination for Scots Singer of the Year 2017 at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, seen her feature as ‘One to Watch in 2018’ in The Scotsman and front Irish-American band Cherish the Ladies. This first full-length work is a culmination of her musical journey and experience thus far, establishing Rarity as a voice in her own right, whilst paying homage to both source – Jeannie Robertson – and revival singers, including Rod Paterson, Fiona Hunter and Anne Neilson, from whom songs have been passed.
Produced by acclaimed musician and producer Euan Burton, the album has a bright and modern sound whilst remaining true to the folk tradition it is inspired by. “Neath the Gloaming Star” features a carefully balanced mix of beloved traditional songs, self-penned tracks and soulful covers of some of Scotland’s best-loved songwriters of the folk-revival – two late greats are celebrated in re-workings of Andy M. Stewart’s ‘Where Are You (Tonight I Wonder?)’, and ‘Rose O’ Summerlee’ by Davy Steele, which features folk legend Phil Cunningham. Meanwhile more contemporary songs – ‘Wander Through This Land’ and ‘Wasting Time’ – further develop the emotive themes of loss, love, hardship and longing that run throughout the album.
Assynt are one of Scotland’s newest, most exciting folk trios featuring award winning musicians Graham Mackenzie (fiddle), David Shedden (pipes/whistles) and Innes White (guitar/mandolin). Having performed together for many years, 2018 sees the official launch of Assynt and their debut album Road To The North. Predominantly comprising self-penned tunes, the album draws upon influences from traditional Scottish fiddle and pipe music, in particular the Highland and Gaelic traditions.
Over a year in the making and with the addition of BBC Radio Scotland Young Musician of the Year, Charlie Stewart on double bass and drummer, Scott Mackay, Road To The North was recorded and mixed by Scott Wood at Oak Ridge Studios and mastered by Michael Fossenkemper at TurtleTone Studios in New York.
As a band, Assynt are keen to explore their own compositions with nine of the ten tracks written by members of the band. However, deeply rooted in traditional folk music, the final track of the album, an arrangement of three well known Scottish tunes, clearly shows where the band’s roots lie.
Beginning 2018 at Celtic Connections in the New Auditorium with a collaboration with Iranian piper, Mohsen Sharifian and the Lian Band, Assynt have continued to preview music from their debut album in a sell out concert in Inverness as well as gigs in Glencoe and Glasgow. August will be see them perform in Arisaig; The National Piping Centre in Glasgow as part of the Piping Live festival; Braemar, and in September they will perform as part of the Blas festival in Portmahomack and Invergarry.
James Duncan Mackenzie is, as you know, piper and flautist with Breabach, one of the finest of the young Scottish bands. James is from the Isle of Lewis and there is a big story behind Sròmos, his second solo album: the history of the island over the last two centuries, its landscape, myths and characters. It’s a completely instrumental album, all self-composed with a core band of producer John Lowrie, Alan Nairn, Innes White and James Lindsay and two guest fiddlers; Alasdair White and Jack Smedley. James provides brief but very informative notes that make me want to seek out a book on the history of Lewis.
The opening title track starts with echoey notes on Lowrie’s Rhodes piano and you might think that you’re in for something very modern but James’ flute immediately takes up a very traditional sounding tune. The music builds almost like a ceilidh band before the tune fades back to the Rhodes and leads gently into the linked piece, ‘The Lazy Beds Of Rias’. Sròmos was a settlement cleared in the 19th century to make way for deer. It’s a common story across the Highlands, I know, but it’s made more poignant by the fact that the ruins can still be seen. Lazy beds are are version of ridge and furrow cultivation and their remains can be seen too. And now this is beginning to sound like a history lesson.
James’ pipes are first heard in the middle of ‘The Garron/The Plough On The Cross-Beam’ but he returns to the flute for the absolutely delightful ‘Stornoway Waltz’ with the melody played in double time over a steady but unobtrusive dance beat. ‘Land Raiders’ is another great story opening with flute over White’s acoustic guitar. The intensity builds as the pipes take over for the angry second and third sections.’Walk Home’ concerns the wreck of a troop-ship in 1919 while the up-tempo ‘Langavat’ describes two notable features of the Lewis landscape and there’s more history to take us the close.
Sròmos is an absolutely delightful album; a soundtrack for a visit to the Isle of Lewis should you ever get to cross the Minch.
I was delighted to receive a copy to review of Songs Of Robert Burns, the latest album by Robyn Stapleton. Quite simply, this is a fabulous recording by the young Scottish female singer. She has carefully selected a top-notch group of musicians to support her. Most of the songs she has chosen will be familiar to the followers of Robert Burns.
For anybody who is not aware of the songs of Robert Burns or who has previously stated that they were not keen on Burns then I suggest you go out and buy this CD now! I would find it hard to find fault in any track. The arrangements are superb and extremely complementary to Robyn’s voice. The clarity of her voice and her excellent diction is a bonus which not all current artistes offer.
‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose ‘, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’,’ John Anderson My Jo’ and ‘Ca’ the Ewes’ are only some of the beautiful songs she sings and Robyn’s version of ‘Parcel O’ Rogues’ is exceptional. Her musicians include Patsy Reid, Aaron Jones, Innes White , Alistair Paterson and several more who are becoming well known in their own rights on the scene.
The album cover and quality of the actual recordings can put me off of purchasing a CD. No problem with that on this disc. The cover is excellent and there is a separate booklet with all the words, just in case you missed any when listening. For non-Scots this is most beneficial. The studio work is also very good with a high quality production by Robyn at Castlesound Studios.
Altogether a very, very good album which should find itself into many people’s collections. For those who prefer the older classical singing of Burns songs in preference to the more ‘folkie’ style , this CD crosses those barriers . This is for all lovers of Robert Burns.