Farran is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and is also Mairearad Green and Anna Massie’s fourth album as a duo. It’s a stripped back album recorded by Andrea Gobbi and co-produced by Calum MacCrimmon of Breabach, recorded off the floor with accordion, pipes, fiddle, guitar and Anna’s voice on one track.
The album kicks off at a pace with three pipe tunes by Mairearad’s teacher, P/M Norman Gillies, followed by ‘Wee McGhee’s’ which starts deceptively slowly but builds up speed as Mairearad starts to slip the triples in. It’s a really nice set as is ‘The Merton Set’ with Anna’s “peal of bells’ figure on the guitar’s bass notes on her own tune, ‘Laura Drummond’ Slip Jig’. It also lets the listener get some breath back for a while, although the third tune in the set, Mairearad’s ‘Emma And Ali’s Wedding’ picks up the pace again.
Up next is the only song, ‘Molly May’ – check out the cover – by Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. (John Paul) Cormier and given its country of origin and subject matter I don’t need to tell you who it puts me in mind of. It’s set in Nova Scotia, by the way, and I like it a lot. Then we have another pacy set, ‘Jamie’s’, followed by a chance for Anna to show off on guitar with a set of more reflective tunes, ‘Rachel Newton’s ‘The Eggshell Brewery’ and Ian Henderson’s ‘Trip To Austin’ – I have a romantic notion of someone playing the latter as the boats come in to port but don’t ask me why.
‘Willie Macrea Of Ullapool’, another tune by P/M Gillies, sees Anna switch to fiddle playing in the style of a slow march before Mairearad joins in. There’s a traditional set before the album closes with a beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Mo Chailean – Dileas Donn’, written by Hector Mackenzie, an Ullapool fisherman.
Farran seems a little short but there is no doubt that Mairearad and Anna have produced another fine album.
Given that Mairearad grew up by Achnahaird bay and is now living by the sea in Ullapool and Anna is from the village of Fortrose by the Moray Firth, it is not surprising that there is a marine themed title and cover illustration for this duo’s fourth album. The album is called Farran which is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and the beautiful marine illustrations for the cover design are by illustrator and mural artist, Chelsea Frew from Glasgow. (chelseafrew.com)
The concept for this duo’s fourth album is to represent exactly what this virtuosic duo perform live. It is the stripped back sound of vocals, guitar, accordion, fiddle and bagpipes and it was recorded live at Gloworm studio in Glasgow with co-producer, Calum MacCrimmon from the band, ‘Breabach’. The material includes the JP Cormier song about a boat, ‘Molly May’ and a haunting fiddle number ‘Mo Chailin – Dileas Donn’ written by Ullapool fisherman, Hector Mackenzie. Also on the album, there’s a foot stomping set of local reels written by Mairearad’s piping teacher, PM Norman Gillies, and many other great tunes, notably, some self penned compositions which is a staple for this pair’s music.
Mairearad says, “Moving back up North and living by the sea in Ullapool definitely slows you down! This has allowed more time to discover some fantastic local tunes that we are delighted to include on this album.”
The duo will be touring the album in the UK in November 2018.
Scottish musicians lead very busy lives. In fact, I sometimes wonder how they keep track of what they are playing where and when and with whom. So it was that when Mairearad Green and Mike Vass decided that they wanted to play together they tried to set aside a day every month for the purpose. They didn’t always succeed but their efforts led to A Day A Month, a collection of ten tracks made up of nineteen traditional tunes gleaned from old collections and recorded in a croft near Achnahaird.
These are accordion and fiddle duets with no guest stars although there is guitar and I detect some background percussion which gives a modern feel to some of the tunes. The recording is very clean and, I suppose, designed to sound as live as possible. Most of the tracks are up-tempo with one set entitled ‘Jigs’ and another ‘Reels’. The opener, ‘Puirt’, consists of two tunes: ‘‘Ille Bhig’ and ‘Ruidhlidh Na Coilich Dhubha’. I know that puirt means port but I’m none the wiser as to the connection between the three. There are two lovely slow pieces. The first is ‘Dhomhnuil’ or ‘Donald’ which I’m guessing started life as a pibroch, and here the two instruments meld in what is probably an old-fashioned style. A similar unison style is employed on the delightful ‘Miss Muir Mackenzie’. The second slow air is the closing track, ‘Failte Do’n Mhisg’, which features the fiddle over deep rumbling bass chords on the accordion – an almost bleak sound for a haunting tune.
Mike Vass’ guitar opens ‘Tha’m Buntàta Mòr’ with Mairearad’s accordion initially taking the melody before Mike’s fiddle sweeps back into the fray. It’s one the album’s best tracks. Unless you’re a real aficionado of Scottish traditional music or a dedicated session player, most of these tunes will be unfamiliar to you and it’s great that there is trend for musicians digging deep into old books and revitalising some half-forgotten tunes.
Melody Lab is a CD created by a group of fabulous Scottish musicians, Ross Ainslie, Simon Bradley and Mairearad Green joined by Mhairi Hall on piano, Matheu Watson on guitar and James Macintosh on percussion to “present an exploration of contemporary tune writing in the Scottish traditional context”.
There are nine tracks, seven with three tunes and two with only two tunes. All of the tunes are written by one or other of the musicians with Jamie MacLean and Anna-Wendy Stevenson gaining shared credits on a tune apiece. There can be no doubt that all of the musicians on this CD are superbly talented. Throughout the CD this is proven over and over again. As well as their instrumental ability, their writing skills are now highlighted.
For lovers of Scots music and musicians looking for new material, this CD is a must. I am impressed.
Best Day is the third album from two of Scotland’s finest instrumentalists, Mairearad Green and Anna Massie, recorded as live in the little Lowlands studio run by Angus Lyon and called Gran’s House.
The first set is called ‘The Red Poppy’ and opens with one of those great Scottish titles, ‘Mrs Colonel L Baillie Of Redcastle’ (‘Captain Campbell Of Drum Of Voisk’ comes later but P/M Duncan Campbell made that one up). That is followed by a set from Cape Breton fiddlers Jerry Holland and Otis Tomas which is bright and sparkly and then the mood changes twice. First comes the rather sedate ‘Musical Flowers’, written for the ladies of the village of Achiltibuie and paired with a traditional polska. Then comes the real surprise as Anna sings ‘She Loves Me (When I Try)’ which, like many of Dougie MacLean’s songs gets under you skin very quickly.
And it goes on: ‘Bottle Island’ is a lovely set including the title track and ‘Julia & Simon’s’ is a pretty slow air. There’s another song, Nanci Griffith’s ‘Always Will’, a sparkling ‘Banjo Set’ and a fine set of traditional ‘Pipe Reels’ to finish off with. All in all, a damn fine album.
The Poozies isn’t so much a band as an academy for female musicians. Stars who have passed through its ranks include Patsy Seddon, Kate Rusby, Karen Tweed and Sally Barker, who has how returned to the fold. A constant presence has been harpist Mary Macmaster and the electro-harp is the band’s defining sound. Into The Well is their seventh studio album in a career stretching back over twenty years with the current members recording five times that number of records as soloists or in other partnerships.
The album opens with ‘Percy’s’, a sprightly set of four tunes: one traditional, one Poozie original and two borrowed as is the fashion these days. That’s followed by ‘Southern Cross’, a song by Andrew Peter Griffiths who doesn’t seem to have recorded or written anything else. It’s a song about modern piracy in the southern oceans and I’d venture to suggest that The Poozies did well to find it before Fairport Convention did – I can imagine them giving it the full folk-rock treatment.
Next is a puirt-à-beul called ‘Churinn’ paired with another tune by Mairearad Green. I’m having trouble with this because it sounds like Eildih Shaw and/or Mairearad and Mary are singing “fucking yeah” repeatedly. There are two sets of lyrics associated with this title and, although I’m no Gaelic speaker, I can’t match what they’re singing to either of them. Still, we need something to make us laugh today.
There is one slightly jarring note and that is Sally Barker’s ‘Ghost Girl’. It’s a pop song – a superior one, no doubt and with rather more words than the average top 10 hit – but a pop song nonetheless. It contains a superb instrumental break but one which sounds as though it belongs somewhere else. The song itself is beginning to grow on me but it still feels out of place. The other pop song is ‘Three Chords And The Truth’ but that seems to fit better. Finally I should mention ‘Small Things In The Cupboards’, a poem by Julia Darling with music by Tim Dalling. Some might find it amusing but I think it’s very clever and insightful.
With one ever-decreasing reservation, I declare Into The Well a very fine album and commend The Poozies on more than holding their own in the crowded world of innovative music from Scotland. You might even say that Mary and Patsy helped to start it all off with Delighted With Harps.