THE POOZIES – Punch (Schmooz SCHMOOZCD003)

PunchI was amused by the quote from Eilidh Shaw (fiddle, vocals) who says that the Poozies are probably fortunate that the charge of witchcraft has gone out of fashion; otherwise they’d be in trouble. In Punch there’s certainly a mischievous mix of musical mayhem, spellbinding showcase instrumentals and probably some frogs legs to boot. True to form, The Poozies are unencumbered by conventional folk idioms, slipping and sliding between cool jazz cadences and the more structured strathspeys. Fortunately, boundaries are never pushed too far and the whole thing hangs together beautifully, albeit with a shimmer of post-modern irony. I just loved it when on ‘Plecthumb’ the tune is suddenly punctured by an almighty scream from one of the women!

Looking back, The Poozies were initially the established harp duet of Mary MacMaster and Patsy Seddon (of Sileas) joined by Sally Barker and Karen Tweed. Always an all-female ensemble, they rode the wave of new Scottish music in the 1990s. One shouldn’t forget they also introduced us to Kate Rusby at that time. There have been many personnel changes since, and only MacMaster remains from the original line-up. Fiddles have replaced harps as the predominant sound and there are no fewer than three fiddle players in the current band: Eilidh Shaw, Sarah McFadyen and Tia Files.

The four women keep you on your toes, and there’s never a dull moment. The stomp box and bass drum allow for gear shifts just when they’re needed and the keen rhythmic edginess serves them well in ‘Knees of Fire’ and ‘Bloodknot’. There’s an even spread of songs and tunes, from the frivolous ‘Soaking’ to a traditional Scots Gaelic ‘Ailein, Ailein’, one of my favourites. Their harmonized vocal talents are particularly noticeable on the final alluring track, ‘Easily Led’ which brings the set to a relatively quiet, though indubitably classy, finish.

So much good music is coming out of Scotland these days, a credit to serious recognition and investments made in traditional arts. We shouldn’t take it for granted. Enjoy the renaissance and marvel at just how good these musicians are and how much memorable fun they can pack into nine tracks.

Jon Bennett

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‘Knees Of Fire/The Chase’ – live:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Songs of Separation (Navigator NAVIGATOR094P)

Songs of SeparationAn ambitious project, this is the brainchild of double-bassist Jenny Hill who, in the period running up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, found herself frequently on the road away from her Scottish home. As such, and being English, she was struck by the different messages being directed at and from the two nations and decided to address the notion of separation through a musical project. Recruiting Eliza Carthy, Hannah James, Hannah Read, Hazel Askew, Jenn Butterworth, Karine Polwart, Kate Young, Mary Macmaster and Rowan Rheingans, a posse of female folkies from both Scotland and England, they holed up on Isle of Eigg last June to write, rehearse and record (in just six days) what would eventually become this album, its theme of separation embracing the personal, political, social and cultural as well as touching on matters of family, gender, communication, supernatural, home, work, identity and the land.

Polwart taking the lead vocal, it opens with a reading of the traditional number, ‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’, an appropriate choice given that Eigg is one of this migratory bird’s remaining habitats, its distinctive call introducing the track and echoed in the percussive beats, the lyrics about the separation of two lovers serving as a metaphor for the rural depopulation of the Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s a robust treatment involving harp, scraping strings bass, double bass and a rousing wordless vocal refrain.

The album continues in traditional mode with Read’s bluegrass-tinged arrangement of Burns’ ‘It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, a gently yearning melody picked out her acoustic guitar and completed by harp and banjo, followed by the equality and love themed ‘The Poor Man’s Lamentation’ with its urgent rhythm, swirling violins and a capella ending. Further birdsong and the sound of a storm heralds the wholly massed a capella lament ‘Sad The Climbing’ (or, since it’s sung in Gaelic, ‘Trom An Direadh’), recorded live, like the album’s other a capella number, ‘Unst Boat Song’, in Eigg’s acoustically striking Cathedral Cave, itself not far from the site of a 1577 massacre of the MacDonald population by the MacLeods of Harris upon which the lyrics treat.

Driven by choppy percussive arrangement and gathering to a chanted climax, things remain in Scottish Gaelic for the near six-minute ‘Muladach Mi ‘s Mi Air M’aineoil’ (‘Sad Am I And In A Strange Place’), a call-and-response waulking song about a woman and her two daughters being separated from their people and their home.

In contrast to the bulk of the album, ‘Cleaning The Stones’ is an original number (a fish’s love song) penned by Eliza Carthy. Opening with a chamber folk arrangement, it waltzes dreamily on wings of plucked strings and harp arpeggios like something from the music halls. A little more birdsong, and it’s a journey way back in time and to the far reaches of the Shetlands for ‘Unst Boat Song’, a prayer for the safe return of fisherman sung on the original Norn with Polwart taking lead.

Sung by Hazel Askew with the others providing harmonies, the lullabying music hall tune of ‘London Lights’ may be more familiar as ‘Just Before The Battle Mother’, an American Civil War song written by George Root, the lyrics here about the destitution fate of abandoned single mothers. Heading into the final stretch, the harp shimmering ballad ‘Sea King’ is a handclap backed intricate setting by Kate Young of a poem by 19th century Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger, a variation on the selkie myth about a woman who, years after being transformed into a mermaid, returns to shore, human again, only to find she has now has no home on either land and the sea.

Lady Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans steps up for another original, the strings-swathed ‘Soil And Soul’, a song inspired by both the hills known as The Old Woman of the Moors on the Isle of Lewis and the translation of the Gaelic for Eigg, The Island of the Big Women (a reference to the 7th century female Pict warriors sent to rid the island of Christianity-peddling monks), while the title (and the theme) stems from a book by Scottish environmental campaigner Alastair McIntosh.

Concerned with separation and loss as a result of conflict, personal or otherwise, ‘Over The Border’ weaves together a number of traditional tunes and a collective original, among them ‘The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest’, ‘Blue Bonnets Over the Border’ and pipe lament ‘The Floo’ers of The Forest’, plucked harp and Indian harmonium drone giving way to shared vocals by Polwart and Carthy before the ensemble joins in and violins, guitars and percussion lift the tempo for a rousing dance reel and the optimistic refrain of ‘the gates and the borders will all fade away’.

Finally, Robert Frost’s classic poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ provides the inspiration for’ Rheingans’ ‘Road Less Travelled’, her vocals joined by Polwart and Young (who also lent a lyric hand) on an suitably banjo-dappled accompaniment behind which, recorded in the open air, birds trill and the wind blows as they exhort “lay your cares and troubles down” and “sing your own way home”.

There’s no better way to end this than by quoting Hill’s words in the booklet:

Songs of Separation is an ‘SoS’, reminding us that this connection between people, and between people and place, is the key to overcoming the challenges we face, both in our communities and in this fragile world of which we are temporary custodians.” Come together, right now.

Mike Davies

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Cathedral Cove:

Songs Of Separation – single and new album

Songs Of Separation - single, album and tour dates

Songs Of Separation is a highly significant collaborative recording project which reflects, through song, the issue of “separation” in its many forms. Featuring ten of England and Scotland’s most celebrated female contemporary folk artists, together they explore the similarities and differences in our musical, linguistic and cultural heritage. The ten participants are Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart, Rowan Rheingans, Mary Macmaster, Hannah Read, Kate Young, Jenn Butterworth, Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Jenny Hill (who conceived the project).

Ahead of the release of the Songs Of Separation album and tour, Navigator Records are pleased to announce the release of a double A-side single release from the forthcoming album; ‘Echo Mocks the Corncrake’, featuring. Karine Polwart, and ‘A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, featuring Hannah Read.

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‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ – a sort of video:

The Songs Of Separation ensemble will embark on a short tour early in 2016, culminating at Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on 24th January. Songs Of Separation aims to capture a sense of our times, exploring topical social and political issues through powerful music.

Artists’ website: www.songsofseparation.co.uk

Songs-of-Separation-group-s

THE POOZIES – Into The Well (Schmooz SchmoozCD002)

IntoTheWellThe 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.

Dai Jeffries

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OK, so it’s not on this album but it’s a great song. ‘Another Train’: