International band String Sisters announce their new album

String Sisters

String Sisters produces a sound that is awe-inspiring and captivating in equal measure. Capable of capturing an audience from the first few notes, their shows are a masterclass in the emotional power of instrumental music and traditional song. From heart-stopping songs performed by Emma Härdelin and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh to the energetic intensity of the more upbeat fiddle tunes, Between Wind And Water transfers the energy and emotion of their live performances to a studio recording.

This prestigious international project features tunes and songs written by Catriona Macdonald, Dave Milligan, Annbjørg Lien, Liz Carroll, Liz Knowles, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Tore Bruvoll. Traditional tunes and songs from Sweden, Shetland, Ireland and the United States also feature.

The album was conceived at Mareel in Shetland during ten intense and wonderfully light days in June 2017, and completed on some crisp autumnal days in November 2017 at Castlesound in Edinburgh.

Artists’ website:

‘Vinterfolk’ – official video:


String Sisters blends Nordic and Celtic traditions into a glorious riot of all-encompassing sound. With band members from Shetland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland and the United States, this is an internationally-appealing combo with an incredible pedigree.

The band was founded at Celtic Connections in 2001 by Shetland fiddler Catriona Macdonald. Catriona is currently a Senior Lecturer on the BMus Folk Degree at Newcastle University, a leading fiddle music composer and an enthusiastic proponent of the Shetland fiddle tradition.

On hardanger fiddle we have Annbjørg Lien, one of Norway’s most eminent fiddlers. She has collaborated with musicians from all over the globe and is a key player on the world music stage. This September Annbjørg was awarded the prestigious Anders Jahre Cultural Prize for her outstanding contribution to folk music.

From the United States String Sisters’ Liz Carroll and Liz Knowles both come from the Irish tradition. Liz Carroll is a legendary fiddler who has been junior and senior All-Ireland Fiddle Champion. In 2010 she was the first Irish-American musician to be nominated for a Grammy and in 2011 she was the first US-born composer honoured with the Cumadóir TG4, Ireland’s most significant traditional music prize. Meanwhile Liz Knowles has her own distinctive sound. Combining Irish fiddle with the tonal richness of classical violin, she is in demand globally as a virtuosic live performer and versatile recording artist. Her credits range from fiddler for Riverdance to soloist on the soundtrack for the film Michael Collins.

Also on fiddle we have two musicians who are also accomplished singers. Emma Härdelin from Sweden who comes from a family of nationally-acclaimed musicians and lends her hauntingly beautiful voice to folk-rock band Garmarna, traditional trio Triakel and String Sisters. Joining Emma on two duets on the new album is Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from Ireland. One of the most important carriers of the Donegal fiddle style, Mairéad performs all over the world with her band Altan, and in February this year was honoured with the Gradam Ceoil, one of the most prestigious prizes in Irish music.

The band is completed by Dave Milligan on piano, Tore Bruvoll on guitar, Conrad Molleson on bass and James Mackintosh on drums. Dave and Tore have also composed tunes for the album.

Here is some explanation of the tunes/songs contained on the album.

‘As The Crow Flies’ (Liz Carroll)
‘A Visit’ (Annbjørg Lien)

Liz Carroll: “I originally wrote ‘As The Crow Flies’ for the wonderful group Childsplay. Based in Boston, they’re a group of fiddlers who play instruments made by Bob Childs. Bob gave me the title, and this is the tune that came out.”

Annbjørg: “’A Visit’ was inspired by those great moments when musicians visit each other and jam a tune together. These sessions have no borders and are true inspiration for musical resonance and friendships.”

‘Wind And Rain’ (Traditional)
‘Parker’s Mill’ (Liz Knowles)

Mairéad: “This song was given to me by the great Jody Stecher. It’s the American version of the famous Child Ballad, ‘Twa Sisters’, a universal story of love, jealousy and murder. It can be found in different traditions all over the world. Emma knows a Swedish version, but this time she sings it with me in English.”

Liz Knowles: “This tune is named for the street on which my family farm sat. In a happy, accidental String Sisters musical moment, Annbjørg thought I meant for this tune to be in 4/4 and it ended up working perfectly in this beautiful and treacherous song about a murderous sister and a fiddle!”

‘Walking Intro’ (Liz Knowles)
‘Gravel Walks To Grannie’ (Traditional Irish/Scottish)
‘Resistance Reel’ (Dave Milligan)
‘The Glen Road To Carrick’ (Traditional Irish)

Liz Knowles: “Walking was originally composed as a soundtrack for a documentary project about urban renewal, developed through an architectural and design residency in Chicago. This little round seemed to be a great intro to this reel set and very happily works as a counter-melody under the ‘A’ part of Gravel Walks To Grannie.”

Mairéad: “’The Gravel Walks To Grannie’ is a reel named after a road outside the town of Ardara to a remote area called Grannie. This is one of the most popular reels favoured by Donegal fiddlers. ‘The Glen Road To Carrick’ is a reel which celebrates the lonely road from Glencolumbkille to the neighbouring village of Carrick, in South West Donegal.”

Dave: “’Resistance Reel’ was written for a young group from Fèis Rois in Scotland called Ceolraidh to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the 2011 Youth Proms. It was named after a quote from US author and historian Steven Pressfield: ‘Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.’”

‘Hjaltland To Flatland’ (Catriona Macdonald)
‘Dolkaren’ (traditional Norwegian)
‘Up Da Stroods Da Sailor Goes’ (traditional Shetland)

Catriona : “I originally composed ‘Hjaltland To Flatland’ for a commissioned piece entitled “Norn’ for double string quartet for the 2014 Telemark International Folk Festival. Hjaltland is old norse for Shetland and Flatland in Bø is the birthplace of many of the greatest Telemark Hardanger fiddlers. ‘Up Da Stroods Da Sailor Goes’ is a maritime tune I learned from archive recordings of the wonderful Shetland fiddler George ‘Geordie’ Sutherland. Most Shetlanders knew George as a native of the island of Bressay, but he was originally from Nesting, and was closely connected to the traditional playing of that area. I remember him taking part in one of my teacher Tom Anderson’s folk festival workshops in the 1980s, when various older fiddlers were invited to demonstrate their local style. He was a great player and a real gentleman.”

Annbjørg: “’Dolkaren’ is a traditional Hardanger Fiddle tune from Setesdal, and my variant is inspired by the great fiddler Gunnar Stubseid. Dolkaren is an old norse word; doll refers to the leather pocket you put the knife in, and has also a sexual reference to a woman’s most intimate part. The tune is therefore supposed to be played so that you can feel each beat in the music.”

DET BOR I MINA TANKAR (Traditional Swedish)

Emma: “I learned this song from the singing of Kristina Holm. I first heard it on an old recording at the Swedish Song Archive. Kristina Holm was from Kall in the county of Jämtland close to where I grew up. The song is a classic tale of unrequited love, and betrayal, as told by the injured party.”

TROTTO (Anon/Liz Knowles)

Liz Knowles: “This tune is an example of an afterdance, the second part of a dance pair. I found this version in a collection named, appropriately, Medieval Instrumental Dances, by Timothy J. McGee. Dance pairs would have included a first tune with a title, possibly referring to a particular choreography, and a second tune, called an afterdance, titled only “rotta”, meaning “route”, or “trotto”, a derivation from the word “trottare” meaning “to trot”. The melodies of these afterdances would have developed from the title dance, but with shorter phrases and smaller note values. This particular afterdance is missing its title dance so we know little about its origins or its choreography. For me, its charm is in the melody and the missing story behind its title tune. I love that it can be transformed so easily into a jig.”

‘Valsjö-Tigern’s Polska’ (Traditional Swedish)
‘Jarl Squad’ (Liz Carroll)

Emma: “I learned this traditional tune from my father and grandfather, both fiddlers from the Swedish tradition. Valsjö is a village in the county of Hälsingland, and Tigern was the fiddler (and soldier) who was famous for playing this tune. The tune was passed down fiddler to fiddler, but this way of playing it originated in the mid-nineteenth century when Tigern was active.”

Liz Carroll: “I presented this tune without a name to the String Sisters at our recording in Shetland. After Catriona arranged for us to meet the Guizer Jarl (The Jarl Squad Leader) at the Up Helly Aa galley shed in Lerwick, I decided that the tune, with its swagger, might suit the Jarl Squad and so I named it for those fabulous Vikings.”

‘Mó Níon Ó’ (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh)
String Arrangement by Liz Knowles

Mairéad: “This song I wrote for my daughter Nia as a lullaby and a memento of her childhood. Having her has been the biggest gift with which I was ever bestowed and it has been such an honour to raise her here on the Atlantic shores of West Donegal.”


Catriona: “As degree programme director for Newcastle University’s BA in Folk and Traditional Music course, I have had the lucky job of working with some of the best young folk musicians from Scotland and England. Ian Stephenson, Newcastle-based guitarist and bassist, was one of the first intake in 2001. His beautiful tune Return from Helsinki marks his time as an exchange student at Sibelius Academy. I really enjoyed creating this string arrangement, taking the sisters to a sonic place where our solo voices can weave and blend, and ultimately play as one.”

VINTERFOLK (Tore Bruvoll)

Tore: “I wrote ‘Vinterfolk’ as the theme tune for a concert series at the folk music venue Riksscenen in Oslo. The concerts were presented January, hence the seasonal name for the piece.”


Annbjørg: “This is a tune that I was commissioned to write by Førdefestivalen in 2014. The work was composed for String Sisters who attended this magical festival in that year. Førdefestivalen is held in a very small village on the west coast of Norway each July, and is a miracle of ingenious hospitality. They fly in bands from all over the world who instantly form an inspirational musical community over the long weekend. And, of course, there are some wonderful sessions going on late into the night!”

‘Liam Childs’ (Liz Carroll)
‘Balkin’ Balkan’ (Liz Carroll)
‘The E-B-E Reel’ (Liz Carroll)

Liz Carroll: “Molly Gawler is a marvelous dancer from Maine, and she created a skit/dance for the group Childsplay, and titled it, The Blooming Conductor. It was a joy to create this music which took the conductor out of her cello case to conduct a group of fiddlers. ‘Liam Childs’ is named for Bob Childs’s son; ‘Balkin’ Balkan’ is for a Balkan who is balking; ‘The E-B-E Reel’ is woefully named for the first three notes of the tune.”

String Sisters are:

Annbjørg Lien |Hardanger fiddle
Catriona Macdonald | Fiddle
Conrad Molleson | Bass
Dave Milligan | Piano
Emma Härdelin | Fiddle, vocals
James Mackintosh | Percussion
Liz Carroll | Fiddle
Liz Knowles | Fiddle
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh | Fiddle, vocals
Tore Bruvoll | Guitar, backing vocals

STRING SISTERS are playing at:

The Sage, Gateshead on Friday, 19th January, 2018

Celtic Connections with “Scotland’s Wild Heart”:
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on Saturday, 20th January

Details are here:

Calum Alex Macmillan releases second solo album

Calum Alex Macmillan

The latest in a venerable family line of Gaelic singers and bards, Calum Alex Macmillan ranks squarely at the forefront of his culture’s contemporary renaissance. With his second solo album Till (a long-awaited successor to 2005’s highly-praised Taladh Nan Cuantan), the Isle of Lewis native and ex-Dàimh vocalist resoundingly reaffirms that status, in material retracing his deepest traditional roots, while simultaneously embracing the present.

Till means ‘return’ in Gaelic, denoting the frequent visits back to his family home in Point, a tradition-rich peninsula off Lewis’s east coast, during which Macmillan – currently based in Inverness – gradually gathered songs and tunes for the album. His primary source was numerous kitchen-table sessions with his father, Harris Tweed weaver John “Seonaidh Beag” Macmillan, himself a celebrated singer, and co-founder of pioneering Gaelic group The Lochies.

“Besides sharing his own songs,” Calum Alex explains, “Dad played me loads of his reel-to-reel tapes from years ago, of other folk singing, old BBC programmes and suchlike. I also discovered that my great-auntie, in the next village, had tapes that her late auntie had made, of singers she knew in the area. I have a lot of singers going back on both sides of my family, and there were a good many others, really quite widely-known singers, living nearby when I was growing up, who sang songs by local bards – some of them written by my ancestors. The ones on the album have so many interconnections for me: with my childhood, my family’s history, with that particular place and that community.”

The album title also resonates aptly in English, with its dual sense of cultivation – tilling the land – and of looking forward (until), reflecting both Macmillan’s heartfelt fealty to centuries-old tradition, and his skill at bringing it to timeless yet modern-day life. Produced by Donald Shaw – of Capercaillie/Celtic Connections fame – Till’s sensitively spacious, freshly imaginative arrangements feature such fellow contemporary folk luminaries as Julie Fowlis, Greg Lawson (GRIT), Ross Martin (Dàimh), James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), James D. Mackenzie (Breabach) and Manus Lunny (Capercaillie).

As alluded to above, Macmillan has been singing nigh-on since he could talk, developing his talents and repertoire at both local ceilidhs and the annual Mòd network of competitive Gaelic festivals. Winner of the coveted National Mòd Gold Medal at only 18 – he triumphed again in the Traditional contest two years later. His parallel prowess on the bagpipes (as featured in Till’s two instrumental sets), resonates clearly through his vocal phrasing and ornamentation, while a potent expressive blend of gravitas and passion, buoyancy and weight, also reveals the uniquely elemental influence of Gaelic psalm-singing, a tradition still widespread during his childhood. Following Taladh Nan Cuantan’s release, Macmillan’s six years with award-winning Highland band Dàimh further honed this exquisitely distinctive artistry, not least in his masterly handling of accompaniment – artistry that now, on Till, attains marvellously mature, transcendently eloquent fruition.

Artist’s website:   

Kaela Rowan announces second solo album

Kaela Rowan

Kaela Rowan’s second album returns to her roots in the Scottish Highlands, to the songs she learned as a young session singer, and to the sounds of those who inspired her. The Fruited Thorn contains 11 traditional ballads, ancient and modern, coalescing into a work of raw and powerful beauty.

Kaela co-produced the album with James Mackintosh, best known as the innovative percussionist driving the irresistible grooves behind Acid Croft pioneers Shooglenifty and Transatlantic Sessions. And together with third band member Ewan MacPherson (Shooglenifty, Salt House), they have amassed a dream team of guest musicians, all carefully chosen for their unique musical voice.

 “This album is really a homage to all the amazing ballads and ballad singers past and present. Those great singers who bring songs to life and helped awaken the young singer in me. No matter how often I sing these songs, they move me with their universal and timeless beauty. Sheila Stewart said, ‘You search and you find your soul and you put that into the singing’ – I think that is what makes a good storyteller.

“Part of the story involves several journeys to Rajasthan. James Mackintosh and I were first invited to perform at Jodhpur Riff in 2012 and have been back very year since. Two of the songs ( Eilean Fhianain and Grioghal Cridhe) are the result of out collaborations with the amazing Rajasthani singer Dayam Khan Manganiyar.

“In every one of these ballads, there is a mesmerising age-old story, as relevant today as the day it was written. These songs connect us to those before us and, in some moments, it’s as though time itself doesn’t exist.

“I am indebted to the uniquely talented instrumentalists who were so generous with their contributions to the album, not least my band mates James Mackintosh and Ewan MacPherson”. Kaela Rowan

Artist’s website:

‘Now Westlin Winds’ with James Mackintosh:

John McCusker – new album

John McCusker

In celebration of his 25th Anniversary as a professional musician, John McCusker will release Hello, Goodbye on April 29th 2016 and tour the UK in April and May. A wonderfully evocative set of compositions, Hello, Goodbye is John’s first solo album in thirteen years, the first on his new record label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in his state of the art studio, built over the last 2 years in a bothy dating from 1779, which neighbours his Scottish Borders home. Designed by legendary record producer and studio designer Calum Malcolm, the new studio is a winning combination of the traditional and the new, much like John’s music itself!

Hello, Goodbye was composed while John was on a world tour with Mark Knopfler. The core musical group for the album is an all-star cast of handpicked musicians with whom John has been fortunate to work over the past 25 years: James Mackintosh, Drums/Percussion (Shooglenifty, The Blue Nile, James); Ewen Vernal, Bass (Deacon Blue, Capercaille); Ian Carr, Guitar (Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Swap); Michael McGoldrick, Whistle (Mark Knopfler, Capercaille, Sharon Shannon); Andy Cutting, Melodeon  (The Who, June Tabor); Tim O’Brien (Grammy Award Winning US bluegrass star); Phil Cunningham MBE, Accordion (Bonnie Raitt, Nicola Benedetti) and acclaimed Irish singer Heidi Talbot.

Born in Bellshill, near Glasgow, John began playing whistle and fiddle as a child and joined the legendary folk outfit Battlefield Band aged 17. During his 11 years with the band, he also released his first two solo recordings, 1995’s self-titled debut and 2000’s Yella Hoose. His most recent albums include Under One Sky and the reissues of Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger re-mastered deluxe.

John has long been renowned for his skill at transcending musical boundaries: striving to keep his music fresh and exciting, never leaving the past behind but always embracing new sonic adventures. As a live and studio guest he has shared stages with Paul Weller, Paolo Nutini, Teenage Fanclub, Graham Coxon and Eddi Reader. Since 2008, he has been a member of Mark Knopfler’s band, playing arenas around the world including a double bill with Bob Dylan at The Hollywood Bowl and 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

An expanding portfolio as a producer features debut albums by Kris Drever and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. He’s also manned the controls for top folk chanteuses Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Eliza Carthy and Linda Thompson. Film and TV work includes soundtracks for the movie Heartlands (2002) and 16 Years of Alcohol (2003), Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand (2004), Jennifer Saunders BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem (2008) & Starlings sitcom for Sky TV (2012).

John was awarded the coveted BBC Radio 2 Musician of the Year in 2003 and also The Spirit of Scotland Award for music in 1999 and again in 2009.

The John McCusker Band, featuring some of the finest traditional musicians including Andy Cutting, Adam Holmes, Innes White and Toby Shaer, will embark on an extensive UK tour in April/May:

“One of the UK’s most gifted and versatile musicians in any genre, John McCusker is equally in demand as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer.” The Guardian

‘Muireann’s Jig/Farewell to Whalley Range/Roddy McDonald’s’ – The John McCusker band live:


Artist’s website:

MAÍRÍ MACINNES – Gràs (Puffin Recordings PUFFIN01CD)

MAÍRÍ MACINNESI’m fortunate in that I get to hear albums of Gaelic song that I wouldn’t otherwise know about – it’s not a major topic of conversation here in Hampshire – but rarely one as splendidly varied as Gràs, or Grace to render its title into Béarla.

This is an album that has everything from puirt à beul with silly titles like ‘Big Wellies On My Little Feet’ through love songs, a waulking song and a very old Runrig cover (‘Tillidh Mi’) to the beautiful setting of an old Gaelic prayer that is the title track. Maírí is joined on vocals by Karen Matheson and Paul McCallum and the trio of Hamish Napier, Aaron Jones and James Mackintosh. The traditional is mostly unaccompanied and the band does enough to update it without overwhelming the essential spirit. A very special track is ‘Meórachadh’ which begins with an archive recording of Maírí’s great uncle, Angus John MacMillan, before Maírí and the band join in to swell and enhance the sound. I find it hard to think of 1972 as “archive” but it is over forty years old!

Gràs is a beautiful, spiritual album leavened with fun songs like ‘Fealla Dhà’ to ensure you don’t drift off completely into a contented reverie. It really is splendid.

Dai Jeffries

A taster of the album launch at Celtic Connections 2015:


Ross AinslieReleased on Great White Records GWR001CD

Distribution by Proper Music Distribution

Release date: 10th March, 2014

Nominated as “Musician of the Year” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, 2013 and nominated, with Jarlath Henderson, in the “Best Duo” category for this year’s Folk Awards.

Ross is one half of the stellar duo, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson, as well as one of the most sought after musicians in the Scottish music scene today.

Performing with Salsa Celtica, Dougie Maclean and the Treacherous Orchestra, Ross has also appeared and collaborated with Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, Capercaillie, Mike McGoldrick, Flook and many more.

Wide Open is a snap shot of Ross’s influences and is a diverse collection of musical styles that have inspired him over the years.

The nine tracks feature his talents as master piper and whistle player as well as his skills on cittern and mandolin. Ross is joined by a wonderful line up of musicians: Ali Hutton on guitar, Duncan Lyall on bass, James Mackintosh on drums, Innes Watson on fiddle, John Somerville on accordion, Angus Lyon on keys and Gyan Singh on tabla.

From the Breton influenced ‘Clans’  to the energetic playing on  ‘Problem’ , the album illustrates a fusion of styles that have inspired Ross throughout his musical career. ‘Wood Suite’ is an expression of his musical journeys and fuses the instruments of cittern, whistles, accordion, bass, drums and tabla in an evocative and creative arrangement that takes creative input from his collaborations, in India, to his life in Scotland.

Dedicated to his teacher and mentor the late Gordon Duncan, Wide Open is a musical gathering of his experiences in a refreshing collection of tunes that debuts his creativity as a solo artist.

Artist’s website: