IAIN THOMSON AND MARC DUFF – No Borders (own label IAT 003)

No BordersIain Thomson is a singer-songwriter brought up in Dumfries who works regularly as a duo with Marc Duff who plays bouzouki, pipes, piano and whistles here and also produced the album. In his other life Iain has been a sheep farmer on Mull, where he again lives, although we’re told that he’s planning a move to Sweden, obliquely referenced in ‘Fate Is Knocking At My Door’. Then he was a truck-driver and, most recently, a fencing contractor. One look at his photograph tells you that he’s a man who knows about hard physical work and many of his songs draw on his experiences. No Borders is his second CD.

The record opens with ‘All Our Stories’. It derives from a project that began when the school in Ulva on Mull closed and the local people were interviewed for an archive about their lives and experiences. Iain doesn’t go into detail about their stories but rather concentrates on the fragility of a community living on the country’s edge. A related story appears in ‘Glendale Martys’ which tells how the resistance to the clearances of crofters on Skye eventually led to the Crofters Holdings Act of 1886.

The second track is ‘The Winter Winds Blow’ in which Iain recalls the working life of a fencer – out in the open in all weathers – remembering the good and glossing over the bad. Perhaps we all do that. ‘Back To The Sheds’ recounts his life as a shearer, both on Mull and in the antipodes while ‘The City Sleeps’ tells a story from his trucking days when he found himself stranded in Glasgow’s red light district at 3.00 am – perhaps it’s better not to ask.

Raising his eyes to more distant horizons he writes about the refugee situation in the title track and the way that isolation and separation can be brought to an end by technology in ‘Reunion’. He ends with an old Gaelic poem, ‘An t’Eilean Àlainn’ which, in a way, takes us back to the beginning.

No Borders has a very traditional sound with Hannah Fisher, John Somerville and John Saich among the supporting players and even Gordon Maclean’s bass doesn’t really bring modernity crashing in. It’s an album of fine songs from Thomson and beautiful decoration from Duff.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.iainthomsonband.co.uk

‘The Long Road Home’ – live:

Iain Thomson announces new album with Marc Duff

Iain Thomson and Marc Duff

Iain Thomson along with long-time friend and musician Marc Duff will release a new album entitled No Borders.

No Borders includes eleven new self-penned songs and features multi-instrumentalist Marc Duff, who also produced the album, along with guest musicians Gordon Maclean (bass), John Somerville (accordion), John Saiche (bass) and Hannah Fisher (fiddle, backing vocals).

The album is a collection of songs that are both personal and topical but still very much rooted by experiences of life in rural Argyll. Iain is now in the process of emigrating to Sweden and starting a new life and a new language, a process that will surely inspire new songs for the future and perhaps another CD.

Title track ‘No Borders’ is about what drives folk to jump on a boat run by money driven people with no regard for human life. They have no idea what awaits them at the other side of the ocean but they feel it must be better and safer than what they are leaving behind. The dilemma that faces refugees today is also very similar to the plight of the people during the Highland clearances when they boarded the ships with few possessions to emigrate.

Other notable songs on the album include ‘The Glendale Martyrs’; much of the aforementioned Highland clearances took place without much resistance from the crofters. However, in Skye the crofters refused to pay rents and the people fought on many occasions with sticks and stones when the factors tried to administer force and arrest. The main leader of the rebellious crofters was John Macpherson of Glendale. The publicity created by this led to great support for the crofter’s cause and eventually led to the crofting act that gave crofters security of tenure.

‘Winter Winds Blow’ is inspired by Iain’s main income as a fencing contractor – a job that has taken him to some amazing places. This song tries to encapsulate the beautiful surrounding landscape and wildlife, the thoughts that go through the head when working a lot on your own and just the sheer physicality of the job in sometimes harsh conditions.

Iain was brought up in Dumfries and started learning the piano at age seven. By the age of 15 he moved on from the discipline of classical piano to take up the guitar and singing. He moved to the Isle of Mull in 1986 to run a large hill farm and became known as the “Singing Shepherd” after producing two successful tapes of self-penned songs. In 1996 he left Mull spending seven restless years driving trucks and playing in bars. Due to changing circumstances and an almost magnetic draw he returned to Mull and his rural roots and started a fencing and sheep shearing business. 2010 would see him release the album Field Of Dreams to critical acclaim, an album of twelve self-penned songs and tunes.

Marc Duff is known primarily for co-founding the notable Celtic band Capercaillie with whom he has toured extensively and made many successful recordings.

His time spent at the Guildhall School of Music has given him an eclectic taste in music and a distinct style of playing which has kept him in demand as a session musician and a teacher.

Since leaving Capercaillie in 1995 to pursue his own career, he has worked with many prominent artists, playing low D whistle, Bodhran, bouzouki and wind synthesizer and now with the uilleann pipes bringing a whole new dimension.

Marc has performed and recorded with an eclectic array of artists from many different musical genres including Def Shepherd, Fish, Iain Morrison, Dick Gaughan, Billy Bragg, Wolfstone and as a soloist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra performing music for the BBC series A History of Scotland.

Notably Marc was nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2008 Scottish Trad Music Awards. As well as being a very accomplished musician Marc has proved to be a very talented producer.

Artists’ website: www.iainthomsonband.co.uk

‘The Winter Winds Blow’ – live:

ALISTAIR McCULLOCH TRIO – Off The Hook (Rostral Records RTRLCD015)

Off The HookThe Alistair McCulloch Trio summer tour has become a well-established Scottish fixture over many years now, yet this busy bunch has only just got around to recording an album. Thankfully, they have now whittled down their extensive live repertoire to the ten excellent tracks featured on Off The Hook.

Alongside legendary fiddle maestro Alistair McCulloch, the band consists of Capercaillie founder Marc Duff and Aaron Jones of Old Blind Dogs/The Kate Rusby Band. With a musical pedigree like that – McCulloch alone is 25 years a professional musician – it’s no surprise to find superb playing that’s ultra-tight, harmonious and lithe.

Aiming to capture the band’s live sound as closely as possible, the album also demonstrates a broad-church approach to its musical choices. In a 2013 interview, McCulloch said, “You’ve always got to maintain an open mind and remember folk is an evolving tradition. If you let it stand still then it will stagnate” and this album continues that commitment. Reworkings of traditional tunes and songs nestle comfortably alongside contemporary compositions, with changes to phrasing, rhythm, key or tempo allowing them to flow logically, often virtually seamlessly together.

The tune sets are inspired: ‘Mazurkas’ delicately re-phrases a pair of waltzes, while ‘Brady’s Set’ – with Duff on bodhran – connects four storming jigs. ‘Whistle Solo’ consists of a waltz and two reels, arranged by Jones and Duff, the subtlety of the guitar letting the whistle shine.

‘Shetland Medley’ draws the listener through a range of moods, starting with the tense, spare ‘Da Day Dawn’ (a traditional Shetland Christmas Day tune) and winding up at the lively ‘The Lass That Made The Bed For Me’. ‘Xesus’ takes John McCusker’s thoughtful ‘Xesus and Felicia’, letting it just about melt into ‘Farley Bridge’ with a sensitive arrangement, before a final high-speed romp through ‘The Calgary Fiddlers Welcome To Scotland’. This is first-rate tune setting and no mistake, always conscious of how each piece interacts with the next, with the whole and with the overall atmosphere.

Jones fronts the three songs on the album, each a considered reclamation of a well-trodden classic. In particular, ‘The Wild Rover’, which shrugs off its bar room machismo, becoming instead maturely rueful and reflective.

It may have been a long wait, but for those already fans of the Alistair McCulloch Trio it will have been well worth it. For those new to the trio, Off The Hook stands up as an album of top quality music-making and a hugely entertaining masterclass in how to set tunes.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.alistairmcculloch.com

Four reels filmed during the 2017 tour:

Alistair McCulloch Trio announce new album

Alistair McCulloch Trio

The Alistair McCulloch Trio annual summer Scottish tour has become a firm fixture on the folk music calendar. Featuring champion fiddler McCulloch, alongside past Scottish folk musician of the year, Aaron Jones of Old Blind Dogs and the Kate Rusby Band on bouzouki, guitar and vocals and former Capercaillie whistle wizard Marc Duff, the trio has gained a formidable reputation for its dynamic concert performances.

Collectively Alistair, Marc and Aaron have appeared on dozens of albums over the years and after many requests they have finally recorded a studio album as a trio. From driving reels and jigs to tender airs and expressive songs, Off The Hook perfectly encapsulates the feel of their live shows. Blending traditional, contemporary and self-penned material the album showcases the combined talents of three of Scotland’s most respected and established traditional musicians.

Alistair McCulloch is one of the country’s best known fiddle performers, teachers and composers and one of the fiddle instructors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. To date he has performed in over 20 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, China, the Middle East and throughout Europe and North America.

Of the Off The Hook album Alistair said

“this has been a project we have been discussing for quite some time and we are all delighted that we have finally captured our live sound in the studio. We are really excited to see how the album will be received”.

Artists’ website: http://www.alistairmcculloch.com/

Alistair McCulloch live in Central Park:


IAIN MORRISON – EasIain Morrison is a musician, singer and composer from the Isle of Lewis. He is also the son of a distinguished piper but he’s moved some distance from the tradition – but not as far as you might think.

Eas, which means “cascading waterfall”, is Iain’s sixth solo album and each track is based on the classical music of the pipes or piobaireachd. Here my expertise runs out but I do understand that, traditionally, the music consists of a theme and variations. Iain introduces the first track as “Piobaireachd number 47” but the track is actually called ‘Siubhal (47)’, siubhal being one of the formal variations. Any further explanation gets a bit technical.

Piobaireachd is traditionally taught by singing or canntaireached and two tracks, ‘Too Long In This Condition’ and ‘R. Morar’, include Iain’s father both singing and, in the former, explaining the finer points of his teaching. If this sounds terribly heavy, believe me it isn’t. Iain uses his father’s canntaireached as the basis of his own compositions beginning both very simply on piano, stating the theme if you like.

Iain is a songwriter too and was a member of the indie band Crash My Toy Car and all these pieces are songs in English. ‘To The Sea’ and ‘You’re My Letting Go’ are particularly good. Iain is a multi-instrumentalist – everything from bagpipes to banjo – but he does need some help and supporting musicians include Chris Stout and Marc Duff. Iain’s voice is well down in the mix and getting to grips with his lyrics can be difficult but I’m more taken with Eas than I was with its predecessor, To The Horizon, Sir.

Dai Jeffries

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

We’ve not found anything from the new album on video but you might like ‘A Lewis Summer’ with Eddi Reader and Danny Thompson among others: