BRIAN McALPINE – Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1 (own label CD001)

Mutual Imagination SocietyWhen did classical and traditional music become so intertwined? I suppose we must go back to the 15th century to find where it started but the definition of classical music didn’t appear until the early 1800s. In England, we can probably pin the blame on Ralph Vaughn Williams for nicking so many good tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern and then Percy Grainger and George Butterworth. The purpose of this musing is to try to define Brian McAlpine and Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1.

Brian is first and foremost a composer, notably of music for film and television, where the accompaniment to a scene is so important and he’s contributed as arranger, composer and performer to almost seventy albums. He doesn’t borrow tunes but he does employ traditional styles so here you’ll find massed highland pipes alongside horns laid over the foundation of his piano. He doesn’t borrow tunes but ‘November 6th’, for example, sounds as though its origins lie deep in the past ‘Blue Grass’, which follows it, sounds much more contemporary with drones and massed keyboards. I’m just guessing here because Brian is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist but modestly doesn’t list all his instruments and what I take to be synthesised strings could be the real strings of Jonny Hardie and Alison Smith multi-tracked. ‘Blue Grass’ is a particularly fascinating track because half-way through Brian suddenly switches to banjo overlaid with pipes before eventually returning to the drones.

All the tracks dance around ideas and forms. The eleven minute opener, ‘Suite #1’, is a sort of hors d’oeuvre allowing the listener a taste of what is to come. Brian uses a good deal of piano-accordion but he doesn’t do things in the obvious way. ‘Piobroch #1’ is initially a piano piece and just when you think it won’t happen, here come the pipes but not for long and we’re left with piano and accordion. ‘The Tumbler’, which comes next,opens with bluesy saxophone played Nigel Hitchcock but having established itself it wanders off for a while.

I’m not enough of an expert to say what Brian McAlpine does exactly or how he does it but he does say that each piece was composed to express an emotion and was inspired by the Scottish landscape and that, at least, I can recognise. I also know that it’s a rather wonderful album.

Dai Jeffries

The link is:

Artist’s website:

‘Soundtrack To Peace’- official video:

STUART FORESTER – The Good Earth (Melonstone MLNR002)

The Good EarthSince we last heard from Stuart Forester he has endured tragedy and moved to Scotland from where he sometimes posts photographs of his new life and where he recorded his second album, The Good Earth. If you loved A Yard Of Ale as much as I did, you may feel some trepidation now. I admit that Stuart’s new record sat on my desk for a while waiting for me to pluck up the courage to play it. I can tell you now that he has lost nothing and gained much in the intervening years.

The opening track, ‘Born In A Blizzard’, takes us back to his home town of Hull. It has a retro sound with big guitar enhanced by Jonny Hardie’s fiddle and a jazzy/blues feel that comes from somewhere in the 60s. As before, Stuart keeps his arrangements simple – he plays dulcimer and keys as well as guitar – and also has Carol Anderson’s fiddle, Davy Cattanach’s percussion and harmony vocals from Rhiannon Campbell’s harmony vocals but nothing is overdone and the songs are where they should be – front and centre.

At first glance ‘Dead End Road Signs’ would seem to originate in America’s rust-belt but add in Stuart’s accent and it could equally be about the Yorkshire coalfields. ‘Red Brick Ballads’ is about “any street” but you sort of know that it’s about Hull and ‘Say Goodbye To Your Grimsby Lass’ proudly announces its roots in the fishing industry. ‘JJ Ride That Horse’ is definitely set in the USA but take away the coyotes and it could be describing life in the Scottish highlands. Stuart seems to enjoy ambiguity and double meanings.

Take the north London Irish song, ‘London Pride’, a wonderful tale of a session. The title could simply mean the sense of belonging in a community like that but it also refers to the beer. Then again, it is a story from Stuart’s past and implicitly references his late wife, Karen. Once again Hardie’s fiddle sets the scene and if I had been charged with sequencing the album I would have closed with it instead of the rather downbeat ‘Colorado Days’. If that’s the only criticism I can come up with you can be sure that there’s not much wrong with The Good Earth. And there’s much more for you to discover for yourself.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘London Pride’ – live:

Old Blind Dogs announce new album


Old Blind Dogs

Old Blind Dogs are back  with a new record and a new line up.

Original member, Jonny Hardie (Fiddle / Vocals) is joined by long term partners Aaron Jones (Bouzouki / Vocals), Ali Hutton (Pipes / Whistles) and new percussion powerhouse Donald Hay.

In their twenty five year history this is The Dogs’ thirteenth release and their first in six years. Back to their best with a recording capturing the infectious energy of their live show, Room With A View has excitement, beauty and their trademark powerful vocals.

A Scottish band that takes their historical ties seriously, Old Blind Dogs’ new recording captures parts of a tradition that goes back a long way. Great story telling and timeless tunes made for the ups and downs of life … and dancing!

The Dogs have spent a lot of time touring in America and opening track ‘Bunker Hill’ is a perfect example of tunes travelling from one country to another, adapting to their surroundings as they go.

Music by brilliant current tune writers sits seamlessly with tunes from days gone by, from ‘Ali’s Cairo Day’ and Alasdair White’s brand new ‘An Iuchair’ to Breton gavottes and old Scottish pipe reels. Aaron was interested in singing songs from where he lives so there are two from Lionel McLelland, a great poet from Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, the enchanting ‘Earl O March’s Daughter’ and the dark tale of ‘Sawney Bean’.

Jonny was fascinated with the Orcadian history of The Maid of Norway, so ‘A Ring On Her Hand’ by Saltfishforty’s Brian Cromarty has been given the Old Blind Dogs pounding groove treatment.

Recorded and mixed at Carrier Waves Studio in Glasgow by Andrea Gobbi. This was a genuinely collaborative and enjoyable process for everyone involved. We’re looking forward to the next chapter in this influential band’s long history.

Old Blind Dogs will be touring the UK in April / May 2017, the USA in September / October 2017 and Germany in November 2017.

Artists’ website:

Old Blind Dogs live at this year’s Celtic Connections:

Jenny Sturgeon records an EP for St Kilda

Jenny Sturgeon

The Wren And The Salt Air is a collection of songs and tunes by acclaimed Scottish singer-songwriter Jenny Sturgeon. It was written to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda becoming a World Heritage Site for its natural features.

The Wren And The Salt Air, commissioned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), comprises four new pieces of music inspired by the wildlife and human history of the archipelago. It is a spellbinding collection that effectively captures the unique atmosphere of St Kilda, Britain’s most remote island group.

In this EP Jenny explores the connections between birds and music, and woven into the tracks are her field recordings of the birds of St Kilda, as well as those of composer, author and ornithologist Magnus Robb (The Sound Approach).

Susan Bain, the St Kilda Site Manager for NTS, says of the project:

“The St Kildans drew inspiration from the landscape and wildlife around them in order to compose songs and melodies and I’m delighted that Jenny has continued this tradition. As a World Heritage Site St Kilda has value to all of humanity and music can connect and inspire peoples across the globe regardless of language or culture.”

The Wren And The Salt Air  features Jenny (vocals, shruti box, guitar), Jonny Hardie (fiddle, vocals), Pete MacCallum (guitar, vocals) and the distinctive calls of the St Kilda Wren, Leach’s Storm-Petrel and Black-Legged Kittiwake. This, the third studio recording from Jenny, was recorded over two days at Studio 1604 in Aberdeenshire.

St Kilda is an iconic group of islands with a wealth of human history and animal life, including a seabird population of around half a million birds, plus a unique sub-species of wren and mouse. St Kilda and its history have long captured the interest of people across the globe. It was as recently as 1930 that the last native St Kildans left the archipelago. Today, three organisations – NTS, Scottish Natural Heritage and the MoD – work in partnership to further a continuing programme of conservation and research on the islands.

Artist’s website:

Trailer video:

Jenny Sturgeon announces debut album

Jenny Sturgeon band

Inspired by her home region, the north east of Scotland, Jenny Sturgeon explores themes of nature, legend, myth and everyday human experience as she celebrates a community that is both local and global. The songs and the range of musical influences they incorporate weave a web of varied styles and feelings that ebb and flow through the album.

Jenny’s lyrics and the album arrangements fuse traditional Scottish folk styles with contemporary musical genres across a range of styles and places. The songs create a rich tapestry – from local history and folklore through key life moments – and as a biologist, nature creeps in to all of Jenny’s work which is reflected in the striking artwork.

With exceptional vocal clarity Jenny weaves melodies with her thoughtful and poignant lyrics. From energetic and spirited songs to delicate ballads and gritty laments, ‘From the skein’ captures the range, depth and imagery of Jenny’s songwriting. As pointed out by Charlie West, Director of Stonehaven Folk Festival, she is skilled at producing songs across a wide range of styles: “taking a simple melody and creating a haunting ballad, or writing compelling narrative songs which immediately engage with the audience“.

From The Skein features Jenny’s regular bandmates and the album co-arrangers – multi-instrumentalists Jonny Hardie (Old Blind Dogs), Davy Cattanach (Catford) and Grant Anderson (Brothers Reid). Special guests include Fraser Fifield on whistle and saxophone, Brian McAlpine on accordion and cello player Aongus Mac Amhlaigh. Guest vocalists include Indian Carnatic singer Rahul K Ravindran and Gaelic singer Ana Maia MacLellan. The album was produced by accomplished piano player and songwriter Simon Gall (Salsa Celtica) with whom Jenny worked on the critically-acclaimed 2015 Clype album.

The album opens with ‘Maiden Stone’, one of several songs on the album inspired by regional folklore. This track features the distinctive low whistle of Fraser Fifield, whose melody weaves around the vocals and the driving bass line, building tension and giving the song the timeless feel of an old ballad first sung hundreds of years ago.

The breadth of inspiration in the album is apparent in the songs ‘Running Free’ and ‘Honest Man’. ‘Running Free’ is a track borrowing from folk as well as drum and bass genres to create an uplifting and energising song, featuring Brian McAlpine on accordion and punchy rhythmic instrumentation on guitar and bass. The delicate and light ‘Honest Man’ has a dream like quality with lush vocal harmonies and a rolling tenor guitar melody.

Other tracks such as ‘Linton’ highlight Jenny’s interest in local history. This song tells the tale of the Cutty Sark and her designer Hercules Linton – who hailed from Aberdeenshire. The steady rhythm and Rahul Ravindran’s thrilling improvised melody create a light and fluid song which dances over the guitar and percussion as a boat over water.

The power and emotion of Jenny’s voice and lyrics are clear in the only unaccompanied track on the album – the politically driven song ‘Judgement’ – as well as in ‘Cùlan’ which tells a variation on the tale of the popular traditional song ‘the cruel sister’. With Gaelic translation and delicate harmonies from Ana Maia MacLellan this track is hauntingly beautiful.

From The Skein is testimony to Jenny’s songwriting and storytelling ability as well as to the creativity of the musicians. It was born out of a love of folk music and the joy of creating new compositions and has produced a varied, vibrant and inspiring album.

Artist’s website:

‘The Greenwood Side’ live, featuring Fraser Fifield:

Clype announce debut album


Clype is the much-anticipated self-titled debut album from one of Scotland’s newest and most dynamic duos. Hailing from the North East, Clype is a stripped-back experiment in fusing sounds and styles from around the globe. The musicians borrow from Scottish folk traditions as well as from the rhythms of Latin America and harmonic ideas of jazz to create a new, inimitable sound.

The duo, which comprises pianist and singer-songwriter Simon Gall of Salsa Celtica and Old Blind Dogs fiddler Jonny Hardie, has produced an exciting and challenging album filled with fresh-sounding melody lines, thought-provoking lyrics and elegant arrangements which has garnered prestigious support. Speaking about the music the legendary singer-songwriter Richard Thompson said,

 “I urge you to give a listen to Clype. This is music firmly rooted in the North East of Scotland, but which pulls in influences from all over the world. Simon Gall and Jonny Hardie create music which is eclectic, original, accomplished and challenging.”

The mood of the album is established in the introduction of the first song ‘The Brush to Paint Us All’; a song which was inspired by the harmonic ideas of Bill Evans, the melodic heritage of Scottish folk music and the academic ideas of Edward Said.

Other tracks such as ‘Down With May’ more clearly highlight Clype’s interest in Latin America – in particular Colombia’s Pacific coast. This song flits between feels and time signatures recalling the rhythmic traditions of Afro-Colombia while further exploring Scottish folk sensibilities.

‘Now My Home’ features the unmistakable low whistle of Ross Ainslie. The weaving melody is complimented by an exciting whistle solo which lifts the track to its peak before settling back into the tasteful piano groove.

The beautiful voice of guest singer-songwriter Jenny Sturgeon can be heard in her self-penned track ‘Fair Drawin’ In’. Its soaring melody is underpinned by a repetitive pedal in the piano and shruti box giving the song a distinctive and lush harmonic bed upon which to dance. Jenny also co-writes and sings on the reflective ‘Red Tide’.

The album is deep and mature and is a testimony to the creativity of the musicians. It was born out of a profound love for the folk music of the world and has masterfully pulled some of them together to create a vibrant, enduring and inspiring album.

Artists’ website:

Watch the promotional video: