AIDAN O’ROURKE & KIT DOWNES – 365 Volume 2 (Reveal Records Reveal018CDX)

365 Volume 2Having been privileged to see Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes performing their 365 Volume 1 in 2018, the release of 365 Volume 2 was extremely high on my “most anticipated” list. And rightly so. This two-disc album presents a further 25 compositions inspired by (and fully the equal of) author James Robertson’s virtuoso short-story collection 365: stories.

The music contains its own energy and works perfectly as a standalone piece but, when combined with reading Robertson’s stories (presented in the CD booklet), a strange sympathetic magic occurs. O’Rourke’s music is, after all, created in response to Robertson’s tales and perhaps this is what creates additional sensory depth when the two art forms coincide: a rich, dense, absorbing world evolves with slow-burning intensity.

As in 365 Volume 1, this is a fairly minimalist piece featuring two highly skilful musicians making graceful, richly textural sound paintings – listen to ‘That Place, Mick Said, Christ What A Hole’ or ‘Off The Motorway And Onto The Short Cut, Over The Hill’, to pick just two. A masterful, controlled tightness of playing exists between Downes on piano or harmonium and O’Rourke’s fiddle, yet the overall feeling is free and loose-limbed.

Naturally, traditional music influences feature large, emphatically Scottish in the bluster of ‘That Braggart Has It Coming To Him’, ‘I Met Him Only Once’ and the rustic ‘On This Day The First Recorded Total Eclipse Of Scotland Took Place’. Almost-cheery jigs are slyly subverted in ‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’ and ‘One Day She Decided To Open Her Own Library’, to create a fidgety tension.

Folky motifs also seem favoured to sketch in elements of the natural and supernatural, as in the darkly atmospheric ‘Now You Know About Clootie Wells, Do You?’, the brightly surreal ‘Douglas And Aileen Stood In Front Of The Blue Plaque’ or ‘They’d Start Their Calling Around Midnight’, this last twining vine-like around a jazzy piano.

Angular atonalities slant by like icy rain in ‘We Drove Down That Road Saddened By My Father’ and ‘Right William, Trolley Duty, Kev Said’. The modernist jagged repetition, (think a less-saccharine Einaudi) in ‘The Film Was Preceded By A Warning’ would make a great setting for contemporary dance.

365 Volume 2 is an intimately-recorded performance with each piece a beautiful, vividly-coloured miniature portrait, a perfectly executed distillation of emotion and style. All life is here: drama, empathy, wit and melancholy. The scale of this ambitious project remains as awe-inspiring as the consistently superlative quality of the results.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.aidanorourke.net

Read about the installation at Edinburgh Book Fair here.

‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’:

365: Stories And Music opens in Edinburgh

365 - James Robertson365 - Aidan O'Rouke

 

The Edinburgh International Book Festival today launched the latest chapter in the 365: Stories And Music collaboration between James Robertson and Aidan O’Rourke.  Commissioned by the Book Festival, and supported by Creative Scotland, an immersive sound installation of stories and music by the two leading Scottish artists can be enjoyed, free of charge, by the public in the Book Festival’s George Street Bookshop from today, Wednesday 7th August 2019.

James Robertson, one of Scotland’s most respected authors, wrote a short story every day for a year. Each story was to be 365 words, no more, no less. It became an enchanting, roaming collection of fairytales, memories and provocations published in 2014 as 365:Stories. That was only the beginning.  Fiddler/composer Aidan O’Rourke (of the folk supertrio Lau) wrote a tune every day in response, resulting in a major new body of 365 tunes. Aidan’s fiddle tunes are sparse and emotive; his playing is famous for its lyricism, here paired with kaleidoscopic harmonies from Mercury-nominated keyboardist Kit Downes, guitarist Sorren Maclean and harpist Esther Swift.  The album 365: Volume 1 was released in May 2018. 365: Volume 2 will be released on 9 August 2019.

The installation is a piece of art in itself, beautifully crafted from oak and steel with no digital screens in sight. It allows up to six people at a time to browse through all 365 stories and listen through headphones.  Each spoken word-recording is paired with a piece of music.

Robertson reads many himself; other storytellers include Tam Dean Burn, Gerda Stevenson, Cathy Macdonald, Matthew Zajac and Kate Molleson providing rich and varied accents from around Scotland.

James Robertson said “This project has grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I began writing these stories. It has become a vast, multiform patchwork of fiction and stunning melody – an expansive and emotive catalogue of public art.”

Roland Gulliver, Associate Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival said, “This new installation is an exciting embodiment of a brilliant project.  We have worked with James and Aidan since the inception of 365: Stories & Music and are delighted that we can now offer an opportunity for the public to select their own choices of these wonderful stories, and beautiful music, to listen to here at the Festival.”

The installation launches today at Edinburgh International Book Festival in Edinburgh and will be available in the Festival’s George Street Bookshop until Sunday 25 August.  James Robertson, Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes will be performing music and stories from 365: Stories And Music at the Book Festival on Saturday 10 August at 5.00pm.

365 - location

Full details and tickets from www.edbookfest.co.uk.

The 365: Stories And Music sound installation will tour the country from September 2019 visiting Shetland Mareel, Orkney Library, Linlithgow Palace, Wigtown Book Festival, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and many more.

‘The News Where You Are’ – James Robertson live:

JOSIENNE CLARKE & BEN WALKER – Seedlings All (Rough Trade RTRADCD898)

Seedlings AllIt’s long been the case that you don’t come to Clarke and Walker for background music or cheeriness. Their music is sparse but intricate and you have to work at it. It is also almost inevitably suffused with melancholia, delivered at a pace and tempo to suit the mood. But they always deliver and the effort always pays off.

That said, the opening track here is, in their terms, positively thrash, the electric guitar riding a rolling melody and even breaking out into a reflective solo on a lyric littered with images of failure and struggle, but then, having talked about looking foolish and how “no one came to see me play” (a reference to an actual gig while touring in America), there’s an unexpected last verse refusal to give in as Clarke sings “you wouldn’t trade it for all they’d offer you. You sing and play and make things for that is all that you can do”.

The album’s highly autobiographical in addressing the highs and lows of following music as a career, the costs it exacts and the precariousness off it all, and the sentiment of that final line is echoed in the last line of the next song, ‘Bells Ring’, an otherwordly ambience of tinkling bells, piano (courtesy Kit Downes) and jazzy muted brass in a song that uses the alternate rings of two bells as a metaphor for a relationship, the pull and the longing, the sweet and sad, but ultimately “all we have.”

The jazzy tones here permeate the album, particularly evident in Walker’s meditative guitar work on the hope and potential-themed title track, the smoky late night vibe of ‘Tender Heart’ built around Downes’ piano and Ruth Goller’s double bass, the weary relationship breaking apart sway Ghost Light and the classic jazz trio feel of the mortality imbued ‘Sad Day’, Clarke’s vocals taking on a breathy torch-like quality like a young, more innocent Billie Holiday.

Not that the folk colours are any thinner. The simple slow piano waltz ‘Maybe I Won’t’, a song addressing the possibility or not of motherhood, conjures the plaintive ache of Sandy Denny circa Like An Old Fashioned Waltz while the existential crisis of ‘All Is Myth’ is simple voice and guitar, gently caressed by violin in the final seconds.

But, the point is that this finds them painting using an altogether bigger canvas, flexing rather than forsaking their palette. Inspired by Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘The Calvary Cross’, ‘Things Of No Use’, one of only two co-written numbers, takes on a more expansive production with powerful drums making their presence felt behind the sax, guitars and backing vocals, while, with its wearied waltz notes, ‘Bathed In Light’ has a minimalist, retro, almost early 50s feel to it, as she returns to the musician’s nightmare that “I’ll write everyday but no one cares what I say. That I’ll stand and I’ll sing but no one will be moved to join in.” The final crushing realisation “that I’ve lost all I’ve got”, deliberately counterpoints the closing words of the opening number.

Nonetheless, it ends on a final more resolved refusnik note with the folkier strains of ‘Only Me Only’, strings, bass and piano the waves on which Clarke’s carried on an introspective songwriter’s confessional lyric about being “ever to burrow but never to hide”, of “the left of the living in suffering song” and “the scratching thorn in my side” , and how, when the dawn is done and the birds have taken wing “it’s only me singing the only one.”

Clarke says that, after the disappointing and disillusioning commercial success of the last album and the experience of playing to an empty room in Chicago, she and Walker approached this as if it might prove their last album, taking soul searching chances both musically and lyrically. Far from the end, this feels just like it’s just the beginning.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.josienneandben.com

‘Chicago’ – official video:

Tilly Moses is crowdfunding her debut album

Tilly Moses

At just 18 Tilly’s lyric writing and delicate instrumentation on mandolin and harmonium demonstrate a maturity beyond her years. She’s already featured on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 6 Music & BBC Introducing, and in 2014 she launched her 6 track EP Painted Faces which was produced by Ben Walker, a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner. In 2017 she is recording her debut album with contributions from a number of award winning folk musicians including Sam Kelly and James Delarre.

In 2016 despite being busy with A level studies she fitted in three tour dates with the Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Mawkin and opened for one of her great song writing influences, Irish musician Mick Flannery. Over the past few years she has supported some big names in the folk music world including Dave Swarbrick, Ashley Hutchings & Ken Nicol, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, The Unthanks and Gilmore & Roberts. She was the youngest artist chosen by the EFDSS for a workshop of young folk singer-songwriters which included rising stars such as Maz O’Connor, Sam Kelly, Fabian Holland, Ange Hardy & the Carrivick sisters.

“I’m delighted to be recording my debut album with GingerDog Records, due for release in summer 2017. I’ll be joined by some exceptionally talented musicians – BBC Folk Award Winner Sam Kelly, BBC Jazz Award Winner Kit Downes, and James Delarre, the fiddle player from the BBC Folk Award nominated band Mawkin.”

Tilly grew up just outside Bury St Edmunds and is now at the University of York. She has been writing and performing music since she was 13. She has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to produce the album. Please support her by going to: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tilly-moses-debut-album

Alternatively donations can be sent by cheque made out to GingerDog Records and sent to GingerDog Records, Buxhall, Stowmarket IP14 3DJ

“In return for your help, I’ve taken time to come up with some great rewards – from things as small as a postcard written from me to you, to things as big as myself and some fellow musicians coming to your house to serenade your friends and family. Your money would go towards the recording costs, designing the album artwork, mastering and printing the album, and towards the costs of promotion. A donation of just a few pounds is welcome, as well as larger contributions.”

Artist’s website: http://www.tillymoses.com/

‘Harbour’ – live and very cold: