Twenty years to the day since their first gig, Dàimh release their seventh album, The Rough Bounds. While the title might aptly describe the burly chap gracing the cover, it actually relates to the area around West Lochaber where the band originates, “Na Garbh Chrìochan” in Gaelic.
Dàimh (meaning “kinship”) are now a six-piece, with the addition of fiddler Alasdair White to complement Gabe McVarish. The album also features Duncan Lyall (double bass), Martin O’Neill (bodhran) alongside ex-band member Calum Alex MaxMillan, Ewen Henderson and Kathleen MacInnes (backing vocals).
A lively puirt à beul trio (about chickens, Owen’s boat and picking cockles), ‘‘S Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan’ fairly bubbles along like a clear mountain stream. Followed up by ‘12th Of June’, a strong, driving pipe-led set of jigs, these two tracks make an immediately engaging opening to the album.
Sorrowful òran, ‘Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn’ features a delicate metallic sheen of percussion courtesy of guest artist Signy Jakobsdottir, well-partnered with Ellen MacDonald’s expressive vocal. MacDonald’s crystal clear voice is edged with a subtle smokiness and, aside from the liveliness of puirt à beul, the songs of love, loss and longing featured here allow her melancholy lyricism to the fore. (A witty set of icons printed alongside the song titles provides helpful clues about the subject matter: those accompanying ‘Bodach Innse Chrò’ are particularly brilliant).
The tunes mix the band’s arrangements of traditional material with their original compositions, all of which sit together extremely comfortably. New and old interweave unobtrusively. A pair of Donald MacLeod reels, an homage to one of the band’s favourite composers, makes for an interesting diversion. Here, beaty guitar and assertive fiddle provide the framework for a deftly twisting, turning interplay of pipes and whistles.
Arrangements are rich but not overloaded, with the band’s skilful, energetic playing breathing fresh vitality into the tunes. The album culminates with a haunting and lamenting instrumental version of the murderous, ‘Chì mi’n Toman’, with its eerie, lingering final pipe notes.
The Rough Bounds makes a most welcome and assured addition to the Scottish traditional music canon. From here, Dàimh are looking strong and confident as they embark on their next twenty years. Su O’Brien
Translated from the Gaelic Na Garbh Chrìochan, the Rough Bounds is the area of West Lochaber where Dàimh were formed 20 years ago. Still based in the area, the band’s roots remain firmly tied to the region by the enduring connections of the three remaining founding members.
Historically regarded as an unruly and inaccessible Jacobite stronghold from which Bonnie Prince Charlie both launched his campaign and subsequently fled from in defeat six months later; the landscape of the Rough Bounds is reflected in the breath-taking beauty of Ellen MacDonald’s vocals, the wild grandeur of Dàimh’s pipe and fiddle led instrumentals and the band’s ongoing mission to defend and promote the Gaelic culture.
The idea of crossing the paths of past and future is strongly represented. “Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces” explains piper Angus MacKenzie.
Bringing a mixture of seldom-heard songs passed down from family to better-known puirt à beul and ballads, Ellen MacDonald confidently takes command of the vocals and proves she is now a firmly established star in the gaelaxy. The songs cover all of the expected Dàimh themes; drinking, fighting, heartbreak and heading off to sea, never to be seen again.
For this, the band’s seventh album to date, their number swells to six with the addition of Alasdair White who joins Gabe McVarish on fiddle. “Fiddle is spelt with two ‘D’s because Dàimh deserves a double dose of fiddle action” declares Gabe. “Alasdair is just d’man for the job!”
Former Dàimh singer Calum Alex MacMillan makes a cameo appearance alongside Kathleen MacInnes and Ewen Henderson on backing vocals. The Rough Bounds also features guest appearances by instrumentalists Martin O’Neill (bodhran), Duncan Lyall (double bass) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion) and was engineered by Barry Reid.
The Rough Bounds is due for release on Goat Island Music on 27th May 2018; exactly 20 years to the day after their first ever gig. A coinciding launch tour includes 3 venues from their inaugural tour and also notches up the 27th and 28th Scottish Islands the band has performed on.
If you’re the sort of person who reads the small print on CD covers, you’ll be familiar with the name of Louise Bichan. She is widely known as a photographer, particularly of Scottish artists but has been playing the fiddle for even longer. Out Of My Own Light is subtitled The Margaret S. Tait Project and is, I believe, her first solo album. Margaret Tait was Louise’s grandmother and both came from the Orkneys but Margaret’s uncle had emigrated to Canada and settled there. After the second world war Margaret was, in her own words, “restless and unhappy” and journeyed to Canada to meet her family.
Out Of My Own Light tells Margaret’s story in music and it’s a complicated one involving a recording for CBC radio in 1950 and the choice of two suitors. The record closes with a recently rediscovered but sadly scratchy and incomplete tape of that broadcast. The rest of the record is composed by Louise and performed alongside some of Scotland’s finest musicians: Mike Vass, Signy Jakobsdottir, Duncan Lyall, Su-a Lee and Jennifer Austin, whose piano makes a striking contribution to the album.
Although rooted in the tradition, Out Of My Own Light is something more. You might call it alt-folk or nu-folk but I prefer to think of it as modern classical with tracks titled for people and incidents in Margaret’s life. The man she chose to marry, Sydney Bichan, gets two pieces, ‘Sidney The Pilot’ and ‘Flying Farmer’ and ‘Swanbister’, the name of Louise’s label was also the home of Sydney’s family. Louise isn’t clear about this but I suspect that ‘Margaret’s Walk To The Pier’ and the cover photograph are of Swanbister.
This isn’t an album you’re going to get at first hearing but you’ll find expanded sleeve notes at http://www.outofmyownlight.com and in Louise’s blog.
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A new album from Patsy Reid is a rare and fine thing.
Her first solo recording since 2008, The Brightest Path combines newly unearthed traditional Scottish melodies with soaring self-penned tunes and sublime contemporary songs, displaying the full breadth of Patsy’s talents.
It was recorded in the remote Crear in Argyll (with a view overlooking Jura) with a core band of Ben Nicholls (double bass), Ewan MacPherson (guitars, mandolin and banjo), Signy Jakobsdóttir (percussion), Mhairi Hall (piano) and Mattie Foulds (drums). Playing live in such relaxed and beautiful surroundings gives The Brightest Path an organic and natural sound, despite the virtuosity present throughout its 10 tracks.
The album also features a dreamlike performance from Fraser Fifield – who Patsy describes as “the saxophone version of me”. For her part Patsy is a one-woman string quartet; playing violin, viola and cello as well as co-producing the record with Mattie.
She also sings: The River Princes by the aforementioned Mr MacPherson, Half Acre by Brooklyn band Hem and Patty Griffin’s gorgeous Kite Song.
“I love singing but I’m not a folk singer,” Patsy explains. “So I took great care to find songs that I felt I had a right to sing.”
Patsy has become one of the most admired and in demand musicians in the UK – performing and recording with Breabach, Kathryn Tickell, Zakir Hussain, Bella Hardy, Tim Edey, Treacherous Orchestra and too many more to mention.
But with The Brightest Path we finally have an album that is the complete and unique sound of Patsy Reid. Treasure it because… who knows when we’ll get another?
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Emily Smith’s fifth solo album, Echoes, will be released on 24th February followed by a spring tour. While we wait, what else has been going on?
It’s pretty much all about the new album. To start off we have three dates at Celtic Connections and because they are before the album is officially released we’ll be launching an EP with two tracks from the album and two even newer tracks that people can’t get anywhere else. We recorded that at the end of December but I have an eight month old baby boy and he’s taking up most of my time!
The new record is more traditional than Traiveller’s Joy which featured your own song-writing. What prompted that move, if move it is?
We started recording this album in November and December 2012 so it’s been a long time and I just had lots of traditional songs that kept popping into my head – songs that I’d forgotten about – and I was thinking ‘I want to do something with that’. I seemed that my heart was leaning towards making a more traditional album. Traiveller’s Joy and the two before that were a 50:50 split of traditional and newly-written songs – my songs or other people’s songs. I’d written a few songs but I’ve never written every week or every day or every month – if I feel like writing a song it comes and I move on. But when I was starting to think about Echoes I had lots of traditional songs coming to the surface but I didn’t want to follow the stereotypical template in terms of instruments and arrangements. I still wanted to do something new and fresh.
Indeed. The record has a very rich sound produced by relatively few, albeit very talented, musicians. Is that down to the production, the arrangements, the playing?
I think it’s all of those. Jamie [McClennan] and I always start together. I choose the songs and have a rough idea of where we want to go and we’ll work on it a bit and gradually bring in other people. The first person to be brought in on this album was Matheu Watson, who mainly plays guitar but also fiddle and whistle. We took a lot more time to rehearse this album before we went into the studio so we rehearsed a lot with Matheu and also Signy Jakobsdottir, who we’ve worked with for several years, and the bass player Ross Hamilton.
So that’s the core band and we spent a fair bit of time playing together, going through the songs and recording live together as much as we could. In previous years we’ve had to layer things. There is still a bit of that and obviously the folks who have recorded over in the States were added on but the groundwork was done altogether.
Does working through the material before recording make a significant difference?
I think it does. The first album I made was done with a band I’d gigged with quite a lot and that came together quite quickly. You take time to settle into it and it gave time to change things. If you book someone to come in and record on a particular day and then go away that’s the part they’ve laid down. If you’ve played together you’ve got the time to change and adapt and the songs really did change. At the start I was thinking that it was going to be a more stripped-back album – I love the way it’s turned out but it’s so funny to think back to how I thought it was going to be.
There are non-Scottish instruments, like lap steel, on the album but they don’t detract from the essential Scottish feel.
That’s something I really wanted to hold on to. I do listen to a lot of American music and I’m influenced by a lot of American artists and the bluegrass scene – the Transatlantic Sessions guys; Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien and Aoife O’Donovan, who sings on the album – she’s one of my favourite singers – but I certainly didn’t want to make an album that sounded American. I wanted it to be a Scottish album with its own sound.
There is a kinship between Scottish music and some of the music of the Americas, simply because the Scots took their music with them, isn’t there?
Definitely. That’s really apparent in the songs that Aoife used to sing in Crooked Still. I could hear the Scottish versions in them. There’s a strong thread and it’s nice to be able to collaborate and we’re living in an age where you don’t even have to be on the same continent to be able to perform together.
Of the three covers on the album, Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’ seems a natural choice but how did you come across Darrell Scott’s song, ‘The Open Door’?
It’s on an album of his called The Crooked Road and we bought that the year it came out. Jamie and I have always been big Darrell Scott fans. We came across him because we knew of Tim O’Brien and they did a duo album. After that Darrell was playing in Glasgow – that must be about seven years ago – we went to see him and were totally blown away by his voice and his songs.
And ‘John O’ Dreams’?
It wasn’t Bill’s version I heard first. It was a young Irish singer called Daoirí Farrell. It was on an album he put out a couple of years ago and it just reached out and touched me – I thought it was a really beautiful song. Then you go on to find other versions. When I come across a song I like to learn it and then go and listen to other people singing it, once I’ve made my own version. Then I don’t feel like I’ve been influenced in the way I sing it.
The covers seem to fit in with the other songs that I was choosing. Jamie and I have been gigging ‘The Open Door’ for a good few years and likewise ‘John O’ Dreams’.
Who will be with you on the tour?
The bulk of the tour will be myself, Jamie and Matheu playing as a trio with the exception of the Queen’s Hall date in Edinburgh and the London show at Cecil Sharp House where we’ll also have Signy and Ross – percussion and bass. At Celtic Connections, the first gig on 28th January will also have Jerry Douglas and Aoife O’Donovan and another backing vocalist, Rory Butler.