It must be admitted that folk-electronica is (like most electronica) a genre that has passed me by up to now, so although A’ Ghrian (released on 14th January 2022) is the latest of a number of releases by Niteworks, it’s the first to have found its way onto my CD player. The band consists of Innes Strachan (synth and keys), Allan MacDonald (pipes), Christopher Nicolson (bass) and Ruairidh Graham (drums), but the album also features a string section consisting of Susan Appelbe, Fiona MacAskill (who contributes most of the string arrangements and performs all the fiddle tunes on the album), Aileen Reid and Laura Wilkie, plus featured and backing vocals from Gaelic vocal harmony band Sian and a cast of thousands. Well, several more singers.
The Niteworks foursome grew up together on Skye and are making a career out of a synthesis (pun intended) of traditional Gaelic culture and music (though this album casts the net a little wider), and electronic music. And it seems to me to be a thought-provoking, stimulating cocktail.
Here’s the track listing:
- The instrumental ‘Each-Uisge’ takes its name from a rather scary type of kelpie or water horse, one with a nasty habit of drowning people incautious enough to mount it near water. This dramatic piece ranges across a vaguely Pink Floydian intro with police sirens, through Scots ceilidh music, to a sort of Giorgio Moroder synthscape. A word that keeps cropping up in the PR handout is “cinematic“, and I must admit that I’d certainly be interested in a movie that embraced this range of music.
- ‘Gura mise tha fo Èislein’ (‘That I under grief”) features Sian’s Ellen MacDonald on vocals, and was previously released in November 2021 as a single. It’s a traditional tune offset by a disco-ish backing. I’m normally invulnerable to disco’s charms, but this seems to me a good choice for a single and video.
- Robert Tannahill’s ‘Gloomy Winter’ (‘Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa’) features Hannah Rarity’s vocals. The first few lines set some lovely singing against a drone then eases into full-blown synth and strings entirely appropriate to the song. My favourite track.
- ‘Guns Of Ajaccio’ walks a tightrope between synth-pop and a sprightly dance tune. Very nicely done.
- I remember the traditional song ‘John Riley’ as a staple of 1960s folk club evenings, and in fact Beth Malcolm’s vocal follows much the same version as the early recording by Joan Baez, though with some attractive Celtic ornamentation. The dramatic percussion, synth and backing vocal that underpins it is very different to Baez’s simple guitar, though it works surprisingly well.
- ‘The Old Ghost’s Waltz’ is a rather pleasant synth and keyboard interpretation tune written by Archie MacFarlane, recorded by him on the 2000 album of Skye ceilidh music She’s Good On The Croft. I’ve heard this done as a straightforward waltz, but this one incorporates some nice changes of tempo.
- Alasdair Whyte takes the vocal on ‘Thèid mi lem Dheòin’ (‘I will go willingly’) with support from a hefty backing choir. A stirring version of the song by the 17-18th century poet Màiri nighean Alasdair Ruaidh (Mary MacLeod).
- ‘Bumpth On Theaths’ is another lively instrumental.
- ‘Teannaibh Dlùth’ or ‘O, Teannaibh Dlùth us togaibh fonn’ (‘Come Close And Raise A Tune’) is a traditional air beautifully sung by the members of Sian.
- The contemplative ‘A’ Ghrian’ (‘The Sun’) features the distinctive voice of Kathleen MacInnes. A gentle, slightly pop-ballad-ish take on a traditional song ends a very interesting record.
I don’t have an up-to-date list of the dates the band is doing to tour the album, but they are set to do a rescheduled Celtic Connections gig in Glasgow on 22nd June 2022 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Artist’s website: www.niteworksband.com
‘Gura mise tha fo Èislein’ featuring Ellen MacDonald – official video: