MIKE VASS – The Four Pillars (Unroofed Records UR005CD)

The Four PillarsThe four pillars of traditional Scottish music are, as you know, the air, the march, the strathspey and the reel. With this in mind, Mike Vass wrote the suite of music that became The Four Pillars for the 2018 Scots Fiddle Festival. He’s not greedy, though, and the album features three other fiddlers with Tom Gibbs on piano, Iain Sandilands on vibes and percussion and a string quartet whose fiddlers both play violins, of course.

I probably wouldn’t have begun with the Air section which features Lauren MacColl. ‘After Years’ and ‘The Ancient Day’ are beautiful tunes but slow and quite long and they might have worked better as a change of pace after the Strathspey section. Mike himself takes charge of the marches. The first is another slow tune, ‘A Handful Of Dust’ featuring himself on two fiddles while ‘From Regions Far Apart’ features all the supporting musicians. Again, it’s rather slow and if you’re looking for funeral marches both would do very well, although the vibraphone part in the latter might be rather incongruous.

Patsy Reid takes charge of the strathspeys. The first, ‘Martial Tunes’, is also rather stately, in the traditional manner rather than as music for dancing. ‘Thrown Away’ picks up the pace a little and builds up quite a head of steam by the end. ‘Torrent Of A Thing’ open with pizzicato fiddle and pizzicato viola, if I’m not mistaken, and involves all the players. It feels as though it belongs in a grand salon.

The reels are the province of Jenna Reid. ‘Frenzy In The Coda’ and ‘Under These Notes’ again involve the whole ensemble. As with all these pieces, Mike has followed the musical ‘rules’ but has taken the forms a step away from their original functions. This is not a record to put on for a ceilidh.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.mikevass.com

‘After Years’:

MALINKY – Handsel (Greentrax CDTRAX402)

HandselHere’s the second Scottish band celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. While some might go for a big statement Malinky, who concentrate on song more than instrumentals, are rather more subtle. They boast two of the finest interpreters of Scottish song in Steve Byrne and Fiona Hunter with Mark Dunlop bringing songs from Ireland and the guitar and fiddle of Mike Vass completing the line-up. Handsel is a double CD: one of new material and a bonus disc of archive recordings. The band has recruited Euan Burton to join them on double bass and some celebrated singers to bring songs to the party. With nine lead vocalists there is plenty of variety.

Although the songs are distinctively Scots or Irish, some of the stories they tell are familiar. Most are old, either labelled as traditional or holding on their authorship from the 19th century. There is one new tune by Mark Dunlop and one new song by Steve Byrne, who has done the most work in amalgamating texts to improve the narratives. The opener, ‘Begone Bonnie Laddie’ borrows a line or two from ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ and ‘The Forester’ is well known to Steeleye Span fans.  Dunlop played a major part in rebuilding ‘The Maid Of Doneysheil’ and its Irish origins can be discerned from the first notes.

The bothy ballad, ‘Sleepytoon’ with Ellie Beaton is as broad Scots as you might wish to hear and then come variants on stories concerning a grey cock and a ploughman laddie. There is old poetry from Allan Ramsey and Robert Burns and a more modern bothy ballad in the shape of ‘The Hash O Bennagoak’. Steve’s new song, ‘The Lads O The Lindsay’ concerns a lifeboat disaster off Arbroath in 1953. Steve is a native of Arbroath and his late grandmother remembered the event. Although it’s an emotional story the song is remarkably unsentimental in the manner of many old ballads.

The bonus disc is a splendid collection of favourite album tracks, live cuts and demos. Several are previously unreleased as far as I can tell – ‘Alison Cross’, a mighty and slightly atypical ‘The Trawlin Trade’ and ‘Clerk Saunders’ stand out as does the final track. This is a live performance of ‘The Bonnie Lass O Fyvie/The Silver Spear’ recorded for Malinky’s tenth anniversary concert featuring ten members of the band past and present including, of course, Karine Polwart.

Handsel – the name refers to a traditional New Year gift – is a really splendid album. Both the old and the new music resonate with the feeling of timelessness that makes folk music special. Please buy and enjoy.

Dai Jeffries

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One of the bonus tracks, ‘King Orfeo’:

Elliott Morris announces his second album

Elliott Morris

The Way Is Clear is the new album from singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliott Morris. It showcases Elliott’s expert percussive acoustic guitar playing, swooping and soulful electric solos, heartfelt lyrics and strong, honest vocals.

And he’s put together an all-star ensemble. Playing alongside are Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Eric Clapton) on Hammond organ, Paul’s son Jack Carrack on drums, Innes Watson (Treacherous Orchestra) and Mike Vass (PRS Scots Trad Composer of the Year, SAY Award Nominee) on fiddles/strings, Laura-Beth Salter (The Shee) on mandolin and vocals, Rosie Hood (Dovetail Trio) on vocals, Stu Hanna (Megson) on mandolin and guitar, David Milligan (Larry Carlton, Mark Knopfler, Karine Polwart) on piano, Simon Bates (Jamie Cullam, Elvis Costello) on tenor saxophone, Alan Thomson (The John Martyn Band) on fretless bass and Elliott’s brother Bevan Morris (Dallahan, Pons Aelius) on double and electric bass. The album also features two other members of Pons Aelius, Jordan Aikin on Great Highland bagpipes, whistle and Alasdair Paul on bouzouki.

Music blog WriteWyattUK proclaimed that Elliott Morris “redefines folk…with a little John Martyn influence delivered in Seth Lakeman style” and BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson described him as “absurdly talented”.

With hundreds of gigs behind him – and a coveted Danny Kyle Award from Celtic Connections – Elliott Morris has a formidable reputation as one of the hardest-working and most sought-after artists on the acoustic scene.

The singer-songwriter, featured in Acoustic magazine as “The Next Big Thing”, has a unique guitar style. Favouring open tunings, his extended techniques include percussive hits, string tapping, and occasionally slide.

Half English, half Scottish and raised in Wales and Lincolnshire, Elliott has continued this journey by honing his craft on the road. He has played all across the British Isles, from Orkney to Plymouth, Boston to Llangrannog, Belfast to Clonakilty. And further afield, he’s headlined shows in Germany, Holland, Ireland, Canada. Other key dates have included Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, as well as major events such as Cambridge Folk Festival, The Great British Folk Festival, Hop Farm, Towersey Festival, The London Acoustic Guitar Show and the Ullapool Guitar Festival.

He scooped a prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, BBC Alba broadcast a duo performance with Dougie Maclean at Perthshire Amber and in 2019 Elliott is a Drake Yolanda Award grant recipient.

Elliott Morris twice toured the UK opening for Paul Carrack taking in over fifty major venues including a show at The London Palladium.

He has supported a seemingly endless list of other respected acts, among them Frank Turner, Andy McKee, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Big Country, The Levellers, Ed Sheeran, Cara Dillon and Eddi Reader.

But now Elliott moves centre stage, the spotlight focused on him. June 2019 sees him release his second album The Way Is Clear, with a launch show at Cecil Sharp House.

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Artist’s website: http://www.elliottmorris.co.uk/

‘One More Day’ – official video:

MIKE VASS – Save His Calm (Unroofed Records UR006CD)

Save His CalmWe’re used to hearing Mike Vass as an instrumentalist and, particularly, a composer. His albums have been evocative musical journeys, In The Wake Of Neil Gunn being the prime example of his talent. With Save His Calm he’s turned singer-songwriter, a most unexpected change of direction. The title is an anagram and the album is described as semi-autobiographical with the songs drawn from people and experiences of the last few years.

I was prepared to be disappointed at first. The opening song, ‘They Never Found Me’, seemed designed to avoid scaring the horses but on closer listening it sets the scene for the powerful ‘Done With Calling You’. This is clearly a song about divorce but whose breakup isn’t made clear.  The accompaniments are strong but restrained with Mike confining himself to tenor guitar and he gives his band: Louis Abbot, Euan Burton, Philip Cardwell, Tom Gibbs, Su-a Lee and sister Fi an unfamiliar freedom. Cardwell’s trumpet and Gibbs piano are key instruments on the record.

In 2013 Mike contracted neuroborreliosis, a very unpleasant and potentially life-threatening disease which resulted in hospitalisation and an induced coma. As documented in ‘Gates Of Saints’ he clearly believed that he was facing his final days. Before that song we have one about someone else’s death, ‘The Rainbow Of Your Last Days’. It might have been that he was writing about his own demise before it came.

‘Just Enough To Let The Light In’ and ‘Fly’ are both about past loves and there is a theme of aging and death running through the whole album with ‘Clutching At Straws’ and ‘As I’ve Grown Older’ and it seems to me that Mike was considering his own mortality in a different way and the final ‘Walk With Me And Meet My Children’ is a slightly disturbing piece about a traffic accident and its aftermath.

The power of Save His Calm grows with repeated listening and it becomes clear that sometimes it takes a monumental event to release someone’s creativity.

Dai Jeffries

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‘The Rainbow Of Your Last Days’ – acoustic solo:

MAIREARAD GREEN MIKE VASS – A Day A Month (Buie Records BUIECD004)

A Day A MonthScottish 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.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ websites: www.mairearadgreen.co.uk / www.mikevass.com

Elliott Morris announces debut album

Elliott Morris

Lost And Found is the debut album from singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliott Morris. Recorded at Caribou Studios, Scotland and produced by Mattie Foulds, the album is a melting pot of folk, rock, blues and country. Blending progressive, contemporary ingredients with still vibrant British folk and roots traditions, this is folk music for the 21st century.

The album showcases Elliott’s expert percussive acoustic guitar playing, swooping and soulful electric solos, heartfelt lyrics and strong, honest vocals.

And he’s put together an all-star ensemble. Playing alongside are Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Eric Clapton) on Hammond organ, Paul’s son Jack Carrack on drums, Innes Watson (Treacherous Orchestra) and Mike Vass (PRS Scots Trad Composer of the Year, SAY Award Nominee) on fiddles/strings, Laura-Beth Salter (The Shee) on mandolin and vocals, Lisbee Stainton (Seth Lakeman Band) on guitar and vocals, Jim Molyneux (4Square) on piano and Fender Rhodes, Alan Thomson (The John Martyn Band) on fretless bass and Elliott’s brother Bevan Morris (Dallahan, Pons Aelius) on double and electric bass.

Music blog WriteWyattUK proclaimed that Elliott Morris “redefines folk…with a little John Martyn influence delivered in Seth Lakeman style” and BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson described him as “absurdly talented”.

Lost And Found is released both on CD and on iTunes worldwide on 16th June 2017. Elliott plays a special launch gig at Cecil Sharp House in London on 21st June, and at Café Portico in Lincoln on 30th June.

With hundreds of gigs behind him – and a coveted Danny Kyle Award from Celtic Connections 2013 – Elliott Morris has a formidable reputation as one of the hardest-working and most sought-after young artists on the acoustic scene.

The singer-songwriter, featured in Acoustic magazine as “The Next Big Thing”, taps the strings and beats the guitar’s body to create an intricate spectacle, together with an original and unique sound integral to his songs.

Half English, half Scottish and raised in Wales and Lincolnshire, Elliott is continuing this journey by means of his almost constant touring schedule. He plays across the British Isles, from Orkney to Plymouth, Boston to Llangrannog, Belfast to Clonakilty.

Elliott’s original compositions marry intricate guitar lines with heartfelt, honest vocals and clever wordplay, combining elements of folk, roots, jazz and country, all the time embracing the traditional and the contemporary.

Elliott has honed his craft on the road, regularly clocking up 120+ gigs a year. He has headlined in Germany, Holland, Ireland and Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, as well as performing at major festivals such as Cambridge Folk Festival, Hop Farm, Towersey Festival, The London Acoustic Guitar Show and the Ullapool Guitar Festival. He scooped a prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, and last year BBC Alba broadcast a duo performance with Dougie Maclean at Perthshire Amber.

Elliott Morris twice toured the UK opening for Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Ace, Eric Clapton), taking in over fifty major venues including a show at The London Palladium.

He has also supported a seemingly endless list of other respected acts, among them Frank Turner, Andy McKee, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Big Country, The Levellers, Ed Sheeran, Cara Dillon and Eddi Reader. But now Elliott moves centre stage, the spotlight focused on him.

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.elliottmorris.co.uk

‘Sirens’ and Elliott’s tour video: