KATE RUSBY – Philosophers, Poets & Kings (Pure PRCD53)

PhilosophersIncredibly, Philosophers, Poets & Kings is Rusby’s 17th studio album in just over 20 years. Once again, a collection of the traditional and self-penned with a couple of covers for good measure, it pays homage to her Yorkshire roots, both musical and personal, as well as furthering her exploits into electronic realms with Moog, synths and programming.

It opens though without any techno frills on her setting of a traditional song, ‘Jenny’, which, although I’ve been unable to track down its provenance, I would assume to originate from Yorkshire and tells the playful tale of Yorkshire Jen, the long shout outsider who proves to have the stamina to stay the course when the others can barely trot. As befits the subject, it builds into a sprightly drum thumping number that features cornet and flugelhorn, Michael McGoldrick on flute, double bass, diatonic accordion and Ron Block on banjo as well as Damien O’Kane on guitars and vocals. Not only that, it’s reprised in a remix version as the penultimate track that strips out flute, bass and accordion and replaces them with Anthony Davis’s programming for which you might want to break out the folk glow-sticks.

Horses also get a mention in the languidly paced ‘Bogey’s Bonnie Belle’, a much recorded bothy ballad about impregnation out of wedlock and the class system divide popularised by Scottish Travellers, here featuring O’Kane on tenor guitar, Ross Ainslie on whistles and moody Moog provided by Duncan Lyall. Apparently, when she was young Rusby’s family had a Staffy named after the song, which leads nicely into the swayalong title track. Another traditional song set to a new tune, celebrating the inspirational power of the vine in promoting poetry and song that namechecks Diogenes, Plato and Democritus it also harks to wine-fuelled family singsongs and, who knows, may well have been the inspiration for Monty Python’s ‘Philosophers’ Song’.

The first original number comes with ‘Until Morning’, a twinkling I’m by your side lullaby of sorts essentially about how it’s always darkest before the dawn, followed by the two covers, first up being a rousing reading of Thompson and Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’ from Liege and Lief, although fiddle is conspicuous by its absence, substituted by whistles, Moog and programming. The second is a rather more left field choice, being an emotionally plaintive take on Oasis’ ‘Don’t Go Away’ featuring just Rusby and O’Kane’s tenor guitar, Rusby having first performed it on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show.

Co-penned with dad Steve and featuring wheezing accordion and whistles, the whimsical lurching ‘The Squire and the Parson’ is apparently based on a local folk tale involving much strong wine, a night-time coach journey and the two characters mistaking each other for a highwayman and knocking one another about.

A bittersweet mood shrouds ‘The Wanderer’, a poignant self-penned story about a man from her village suffering from Alzheimer’s who spends his time walking in search of his lost soul mate. Staying local with a dedication to the Barr Family who host Rusby’s Underneath The Stars Festival, ‘The Farmer’s Toast’ is another airy, waltzing accordion-based arrangement of a song originally published as a broadside in the early 19th century celebrating the idyllic pleasures of farming life a century earlier.

That soul-swelling sense of joy spreads over the Rusby original ‘As The Lights Go Out’, on which, joined by Chas MacKenzie on electric guitar and Sam Kelly on vocals, another anthem to hope in the face of loss, grief and doubt as she sings about facing the dawn with a smile and how “Tonight the stars are yours and mine.”

It closes though on a much darker note the self-penned ‘Halt The Wagons’ conceived as a lullaby to the 26 children, 15 boys and 11 girls aged 7-17 from Silkstone, who, in 1838, were drowned in the Barnsley Huskar Pit disaster when the coal mine shaft in which they were working was flooded in a freak storm, their bodies found with their arms around each other for comfort. Written to commemorate the 180th anniversary, it features evocative Yorkshire brass and euphonium but, more movingly, 26 members of the Barnsley Youth Choir of the same ages and gender, recorded underground at the National Coal Mining Museum of England. It’s impossible to listen to without welling up.

The booklet features quotes from three Greek philosophers, among them Aristotle who said “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Kate Rusby bears the torch.

Mike Davies

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‘Jenny’ – live:

GNOSS – Drawn From Deep Water (Blackfly Records, BFLY03CD)

Drawn From Deep WaterA little over a year since their Brother Wind EP made a favourable impact on Folking’s Singles Bar, those talented Gnoss chaps are back to unveil their new album, Drawn From Deep Water. Now a well-established four-piece of Aidan Moodie (guitar/vocal), Graham Rorie (fiddle/mandolin), Connor Sinclair (flutes/whistles) and Craig Baxter (bodhrán/stomp/percussion), their time spent touring and maturing has forged a richly coherent unit.

A good proportion of self-written material appears on the album, showing the lads to be as strong creatively as they are performatively. Moodie’s ‘Three Shores’ opens up proceedings with a light touch, the loping roll of the rhythm lifted by whistle and mandolin, while Sinclair’s ‘The Duchess’ features his deft, curling flute over tautly sparkling mandolin and soft-spoken guitar.

Rorie demonstrates great compositional versatility deeply rooted in traditional music, from the lyrical patterns of ‘An Orkney Christmas’ to the more manic ‘Voodoo’. The latter’s lithe, twisting 3-tune set drops flavours of jazz and blues into the melting pot, the whole held steady by Baxter’s intently quick-fire percussion. ‘The Badger’ begins with a looping spiral of fiddle and flute motifs before an atmospheric guitar bridge leads into the band’s own arrangement of ‘The Banks Of Newfoundland’. James Lindsay (Breabach) lends some ethereally swirling Moog on his piece with Rorie, ‘The Peeriefool’, as well as bass duties across the album.

Moodie’s other track here, ‘Sea Widow’ breathes more intimately. The understated melancholy of the lyric derives from Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown, whose work also makes an appearance in ‘The Five Of Spades’. There’s a rather sweet swinginess to this version of the late Lise Sinclair’s song, from her cycle inspired by Mackay Brown’s novel A Time To Keep, although it feels as if it needed to be edgier, murkier. However, there’s a pleasing fragile brightness to Dave Francey’s ‘The Waking Hour’ and Väsen’s ‘Hasse A’s’ is just a burst of vital energy; its expressively fluttering, slurring fiddle pinned by a vividly pattering percussion.

Ross Ainslie’s airy, rounded production lets the interplay of instruments sing, as in album finale, the swirling ‘Laurel Cottage’ (Sinclair again) with its shifting transitions between foreground and background. Lending a warm, live-like sound, it manages to encapsulate the band’s essential dynamic and energy.

Drawn From Deep Water is a very impressive album, fully delivering on the EP’s promise and still leaving plenty of scope for future development. Don’t be an aGnosstic, give it a listen.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.gnossmusic.com

‘The Moul Head’ live:

RUTH NOTMAN & SAM KELLY – Changeable Heart (Pure PRCD52)

Changeable HeartRuth Notman burst onto the scene a dozen or so years ago with two very fine solo albums and then disappeared to successfully pursue a medical degree – not the usual career path. Sam Kelly – well, if you don’t know about Sam Kelly you’re probably reading the wrong page. It was Sam who initiated their meeting and the lovely Changeable Heart is the result. Producing, playing and sharing arranging credits is Damien O’Kane with Anthony Davis filling out the sound with synths and strings, Josh Clark on percussion and Ross Ainslie’s whistles but nothing is allowed to overpower the vocals.

The record opens with ‘Bold Fisherman’, not a favourite of mine simply because it can become a dirge but Ruth and Sam shorten the chorus and there isn’t a rallentando to be heard. Sam takes a lower register and blends perfectly with Ruth’s slightly breathy delivery. The title track is a Notman/Kelly composition, a rather affecting love song featuring some really nice keyboards that builds to a splendid climax. Then they change the mood. ‘The Cunning Cobbler’ is a cousin of ‘The Molecatcher’ involving a policeman’s truncheon and a broken chamber-pot.

‘Caw The Yowes’ and ‘My Lagan Love’ are sometimes fragile and sometimes rousing and between them is a song not often heard these days; ‘Sweet Lass Of Richmond Hill’. Here it’s a vignette reduced to a verse and a chorus – the omitted lines are almost certainly too high-faluting for modern tastes. Ruth takes up the piano accordion for her own song, ‘As You Find Your Way Home’ and then comes a song that I know nothing about. I’ve deduced that ‘Young Brian Of The Sussex Wold’ is probably about the 13th century Battle of Lewes but whence it comes I know not.

Finally we have two covers. Ruth leads off ‘School Days Over’ when you might anticipate Sam’s gruffer tones and she takes the “tougher” verse in Paul Brady’s ‘The Island’, nicely confounding expectations. Changeable Heart is an album that will be on many “best of” lists come the end of the year.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Changeable Heart’:

DOLPHIN BOY – The Highland Swing (Skye Records SCRCX005)

The Highland SwingThere is story behind this album although I’m not sure I fully understand it. Once upon a time DJ Andy Dolphin, aka Dolphin Boy, was producing what he called “sample-heavy, bootleg-style music”. Late last year he and former Peatbog Faerie Iain Copeland, drummer with techno-folk fusion band Sketch, discussed the idea of producing an album of remixes; Copeland sent Dolphin the tapes of Highland Time and Shed Life and thus was The Highland Swing born.

Sketch mixed club beats with traditional musical forms so you might wonder what Dolphin Boy could do with their music. You would be surprised. The beats are perhaps emphasised but the music remains – mostly, anyway. Most of the music is written by Copeland and Andy Levy with tunes by such distinguished composers as Aidan Burke, Charlie Maclennan and Gordon Duncan. There are some fine musicians who were members of or guested with Sketch – Neil Ewart, Angus Binnie, Ross Ainslie and Ali Levack – and their contributions are highlighted but over all this Dolphin Boy adds his samples.

There is an enormous amount of tongue-in-cheek humour here. The opening track ‘Too Many Fiddles’ should tell you that without the two voices repeating “too many fiddles” over and over again. It’s taken out of context, of course but what the hell. ‘He’s A Piper’ repeats the word bagpipes in similar fashion and ‘Ghetto Pipe’ has people asking Dolphin questions about the pipes, to which the answer is always “I Don’t Know”. The vocal on ‘Kicks’ is mostly a list of perversions (some of which I’ve never heard of) that does go on a bit. I’ll leave you to discover the other delights for yourselves.

This is a strange record but I liked Sketch’s second album, Highland Life, and slowly The Highland Swing grew on me but, being rather too old for the disco, I’m not sure when I’d play it.

Dai Jeffries

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Needless to say there isn’t video of any of this!

Hamish Napier announces new album, The Railway

Hamish Napier

The Railway is the much-anticipated new album from Scottish musician Hamish Napier. The follow-up to Hamish Napier’s critically-acclaimed debut solo album The River, Hamish’s newest album will be released on Friday 3rd August.

Returning to his hometown of Grantown-on-Spey, Napier’s collection of new compositions and songs were specially commissioned by the new Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre – the formerly derelict Grantown East railway station that is been lovingly restored as a cultural centre and is set to open on 2nd November 2018.

In 2016, the new owners approached Hamish, as one of Scotland’s finest traditional wooden flute players, to capture the sounds, atmosphere and culture surrounding the old Speyside Line.

In the course of his research for the new album, Hamish conducted interviews with railwaymen closely connected with the Great North of Scotland Railway, including Jimmy Gray (93, a driver from Aviemore), Jocky Hay (94, a driver from Inverness) and James Telfer (94, the last signalman at Grantown-on-Spey East Station). Many of the tunes and songs on The Railway have been inspired by the great stories these men have to tell about their working lives.

The album showcases a stellar line-up of Scottish musicians including Ross Ainslie, Patsy Reid, Ewan Robertson, James Lindsay and Fraser Stone. The Railway also features two songs written for the project by Hamish’s brother Findlay Napier, and cameos from the Strathspey Railway’s whistles, wheels and brakes.

A few words from Hamish on his new album:

“When I performed my debut album in Grantown during the summer of 2016, the new owners of the Grantown East: Highland Heritage and Cultural Centre approached me and asked if I would compose a soundtrack for this fantastic new venture – I was so honoured to be asked!

“‘The Old Railway Station’ as I called it when I was wee, was just over the river from my house. It was haunted and as a dare my brothers, pals and I – including Fraser Stone, the drummer on this album – would sometimes sneak into the forbidden derelict buildings. Over two decades later, with the ruin carefully restored as an important local monument and centre, the ghosts of the railway people are given a platform to tell the world their story.

“This album is dedicated to the railwaymen and women who I spoke to during my research – the inspiration for so much of the material on this album has come from them and the stories they shared with me about their working lives.

“I am so honoured and proud to be given the opportunity to help bring new life to the heritage of my local area with this album. I hope that the listener feels that the music, lyrics, titles and tales capture the atmosphere and sounds of the lost railways of the North and the people that were closely connected with them.”

Hamish Napier is originally from Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. For over a decade he has been an integral part of Glasgow’s vibrant folk music scene, whilst also touring in Europe and North America.

Hamish’s Celtic Connections’ New Voices commission The River received 4 and 5-star reviews in four national publications, and was released as a highly-regarded debut solo album, named ‘Album of the Week’ on four BBC folk radio shows in Scotland, Shetland, Lancashire and Ulster.

Hamish and his band will present a live performance of The Railway as part of Piping Live Festival in Glasgow on August 17th & 18th, they will also do be performing a live set for BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk special from the Edinburgh Festival on Sunday 5th August before going on to open the new Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre on Friday 2nd November.

Napier is part of the bold traditional duo Nae Plans with fiddler Adam Sutherland and also performs regularly with Duncan Chisholm, The Jarlath Henderson Band and Ross Ainslie.

He has recorded on over forty folk albums to date, recording with leading Scottish musicians such as Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, Mike Vass and Eddi Reader.

Over the last decade Hamish has been shortlisted for twelve MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, including Composer of the Year, Album of the Year and Tutor of the Year.

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Artist’s website: www.hamishnapier.com

‘1000 Horsepower’ – may contain language:

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of Hamish’s debut solo album here: https://folking.com/hamish-napier-the-river-strathspey-records-srcd001/

ROSS & ALI – Symbiosis II (Symbiosis Records, SYMCD001)

Symbiosis IIIt was only in December that Ross Ainslie’s fantastic solo album, Sanctuary, was released, and he is back again already, this time with Ali Hutton in a very welcome second celebration of their long-standing partnership. Symbiosis II (despite sounding like the title of a particularly difficult contemporary art piece) is a logical successor to their previous album, Symbiosis, and – appropriately – clear lines of connection join the two.

Symbiosis II is dedicated to Hutton’s grandad, who is also the subject of the first tune of the set entitled ‘Grandad’s’. This reflective piece makes a worthy companion, a mirror, to the delicate music box he previously created for his grandma, on the first album’s ‘Grans’.

As with the first album, titles are thematic one-word embodiments of the tunes that lie within (and an apostrophe pedant’s heaven!). The only non-original work on the album is ‘Goretree’, a tender Tommy Peoples cover. A number of the tunes have been specifically commissioned, and are credited accordingly. Whether composed by Ainslie or Hutton, the blending of the individual tunes into a set is never less than sublimely skilful, there’s no sudden lurch, no visible join, it all flows immaculately.

Despite these echoes of the first album, Symbiosis II pushes off into new territory, playing with notional boundaries of traditional music. It’s also definitely more of a “studio” album, given the addition of sound effects and synthesisers. Storm effects on ‘Mick’s’ give way to fast, fierce piping over a dark synth undercurrent, for instance, whilst ‘Birds’ features a clever interplay of whistles and pipes to reinvent the birdsong audio of the intro.

There is some striking, often quite moody, percussion, such as on the terrific ‘Kings’ where it lends an immediacy and a specific modernity to the tune ‘Dine Like Kings’. In the second part, ‘King Of The Mountain’, Patsy Reid’s strings add a dream-like drone, quite unlike the more tense, pulsating backdrop they provide on ‘Mink’. Andrea Gobbi’s thoughtful mixing ensures that nothing becomes overwhelming and a coherent balance is maintained throughout.

The duo’s core sound (Highland pipes, cittern, whistles, guitars and banjo) becomes more richly fleshed out as a result, and they wring a staggering variety of moods from whistles and pipes: lyrical and breathy, writhing and sinuous, beefy and muscular – and every shade in between.

Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton must surely be two of the most prolific young men around in Scottish music at the moment. Working in a dizzying variety of (often award-winning) projects their output never seems to falter. Symbiosis II is another superb addition to the catalogue.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: http://rossandali.co.uk/

Buy from: rossandali.bandcamp.com

Hogmanay in Edinburgh: