To be brutally honest, if this were Siobhan Miller’s first album and I was listening cold I probably wouldn’t have got past the first three tracks. I loved Strata – it was the perfect blend of new and old, of traditional songs and covers – but Mercury is pop music, well made and sophisticated, true, but pop music nevertheless. All the songs are originals, some written with Euan Burton, Louis Abbott and Kris Drever, performed with a fashionably modern band, embellished with violins and brass.
I’ll temper my criticism a little. The third track, ‘Strandline’ attracted my attention and the fourth, ‘The Western Edge’ is excellent. I hoped, at that point, that Siobhan had turned her back on foolish notions but, sadly, I was disappointed. A major problem is the absence of lyrics: they are not printed on the cover and, although we’re promised them on Siobhan’s website they are nowhere to be found. With everything that is going on around her musically, they are essential. Even the star guests like Eddi Reader and Kris Drever are lost in the wall of sound that Burton, Abbott and Iain Hutchinson generate.
The title track, which opens the album, actually sounds rather interesting on subsequent listenings – I can make out something about picket lines and throwing stones but it’s lost. The second track, ‘Sorrow When The Day Is Done’, is a nicely upbeat song but the combination of Abbott’s drums and John Lowrie’s piano overwhelms it. It’s rather like an episode of Masterchef – I can appreciate the skill and see the ideas going into the dish but there are far too many of them and the finished article is unpalatable.
I am so disappointed with Mercury. Come back to us, Siobhan, please.
Born in Penicuik, Scotland, Siobhan Miller grew up in the folk scene singing at festivals she attended with her parents. Her soulful and stirring renewal of traditional song won her the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Traditional Track, and Scots Singer of the Year an unprecedented three times at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards (2011, 2013, 2017), whilst her first two solo albums received wide critical acclaim.
Growing up in a musical family in Penicuik, Siobhan made her singing debut at the Auchtermuchty Festival when she was 13 years old, winning both the children’s and women’s competitions. Continuing to sing, learn songs and develop her music, she formed a strong partnership with Orcadian musician Jeana Leslie. Together they won the 2008 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award and more accolades the following year.
After two albums in partnership with Jeana (2008’s In A Bleeze and 2010’s Shadows Tall) and graduating from Glasgow’s RSAMD with a 1st Class Honours BA in 2009, Siobhan joined Salt House, a group with the finely matched abilities of Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson and Euan Burton. Their album Lay Your Dark Low was released in 2014 heralded as “seamless” by The Guardian.
Siobhan’s first two solo releases, Flight Of Time (2015) and Strata (2017) were nominated for Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Awards, highlighting her extensive range through traditional, contemporary and self-penned material, as well as her “delicate, nourishing vocals and lyrically rich compositions” (The List). Following her well-received debut, produced by James Grant of Love And Money, her hotly-anticipated follow-up Strata featured eleven carefully chosen songs Miller grew up listening to and performing in her youth and showcased the many influences on her formative musical years. Songs passed down by Scotland’s source and revival singers, such as ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘False, False’, were included alongside titles from contemporary writers including Bob Dylan’s ‘One Too Many Mornings’ and ‘Pound A Week Rise’, penned by Ed Pickford.
Siobhan’s unique vocal style has been honed through collaborations and studies with many of Scotland’s top musicians and traditional bearers, leading to extensive tours fronting her own band, as well as guest appearances with the National Theatre of Scotland, a season on Broadway in New York, and on US/UK TV drama Outlander.
Mercury is the third solo album from Siobhan and her first album of entirely original material. Recorded in Glasgow with many of her frequent collaborators, including producer Euan Burton, it also features co-writes with Lau’s Kris Drever and Admiral Fallow frontman Louis Abbott.
Winner of 2018 BBC Folk Award for ‘Best Traditional Track’, at which she was also nominated for Best Singer, Miller is the only ever three-time winner of Scots Singer of the Year, and widely regarded as one of the foremost vocalists in Scotland. She creates music with detail and rich melodies that combine indie and alternative sounds with her upbringing in Scotland’s folk music scene. The album release will be accompanied by an extensive UK tour.
One of the themes of the album is memory: what we take with us over the years as the ‘important moments’, the precious nature of those memories and the curious process of our brain deciding what it will filter out without us really having control over it. Many of the songs see Miller looking at what we leave behind us in various chapters of our own lives and where we are headed, individually and as a society.
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Forty years into her career, Reader’s 11th solo studio album, Cavalier, continues the recent trend of mixing original and traditional material with, naturally, something from Robert Burns.
Recorded in Glasgow and co-produced with husband John Douglas, and featuring a plethora of musicians, Boo Hewardine, John McCusker, Siobhan Miller, Phil Cunningham and Michael McGoldrick among then, it opens on a traditional note with the gently waltzing Irish tune ‘Maiden’s Lament (An Charraig Donn)’, with whistles, Martin Kershaw’s clarinet and Miller and Annie Grace on backing. The first of the original numbers comes with the poppy Douglas co-penned ‘Wonderful’, a song about learning to let go of trying to control your children’s lives as they transition to adults, the collaboration (along with Simon Dine) also providing the hushed slow waltzer ‘My Favourite Dress’, a nostalgic song reminding how short life is, written for his aunt Mary, in care and suffering from dementia.
It’s Douglas who provides the equally poppy, R&B brass-embellished uptempo title track about sharing the load, his other credits including the slower sway of ‘Fishing’, a number about learning that troubles always pass, even rainy evening, and the following ‘Maid O’The Loch’, a number written as a fundraiser to refurbish the titular boat that takes tourists around Loch Lomond. He also shares a co-write with Phil Cunningham on the gradually swelling ‘A Sailor’s Farewell To The Sea’, the latter putting words to the latter’s Christmassy instrumental and featuring both brass ensemble and accordion.
Hewardine provides two numbers, the first being the 50s-like jazzy shimmering, brushed drums, clarinet and brass-kissed ‘Starlight’ (to which Reader added a final verse), given a Mills Brothers-styled arrangement. The other, ‘Old Song’, takes on a very Scottish waltzing feel courtesy of Alan Kelly’s accordion, a romantic hymn to how music can touch memories and lift hearts.
Turning to Reader’s solo material, coloured by whistles and accordion, ‘There’s A Whole In The Desert Dear Darling’ is a swaylong waltzing lullaby of sorts written in memory of Milou Bedssa, a close friend from her teens who had recently passed away. The other is the album’s penultimate track, the lovely, ukulele-accompanied, percussion rippling ‘Go Wisely’, another song for the kids, both a benediction as they embark on their own lives and a reminder that phone calls don’t cost a lot.
Which just leaves the other traditional numbers. Given a rolling and tumbling Celtic rhythm, ‘Meg O’The Glen’ takes its lyrics from two 18th century poems by Paisley’s Robert Tannahill telling the tale of a lass of low fortune being forced to marry a rich old man she didn’t want, song seguing into an instrumental coda of Jerry Holland’s ‘Brenda Stubbert’s Reel’.
Found among songbooks during a late relative’s house clearance, picked out on the harmonium inherited at the same time, ‘Deirdre’s Farewell To Scotland’ is based on the Celtic myth ‘Deirdra Of The Sorrows’, about a pregnant Irish girl forced to seek sanctuary and the fate of her daughter, the story resonating with the contemporary refugee crisis.
Learned from a version by American jazz singer Kurt Elling, ‘The Loch Tay Boat Song’ is familiar number of love and leaving in the Scottish tradition, here given a laid back late night jazz arrangement for Steve Hamilton’s piano and dedicated to Davy Steele. It’s followed in lively fiddle-laced and wheezing accordion style by ‘Pangur Bán And The Primrose Lass’, a cocktail of an Irish poem about a cat hunting mike (the title translates as White Cat) that rolls into the instrumental interlude, a tune that apparently appeared on an early 70s Steeleye Span album as ‘The Primrose Lassie’, originally collected by Douglas’s great uncle, Irish song archivist Colm Keane. It features Monica Queen on harmonies, prompting thoughts that’s she’s long overdue an album of her own.
And so, Douglas on piano and McCusker on fiddle and whistle, it ends with another nod to her favourite Scottish songwriter, a four verse version of Burns’ classic ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’. She says she chose the album title to reflect how she’s feeling. The thesaurus defines it as offhand, high-handed or careless, but also, as a Caballero or a Quixotic figure. Long may she tilt at windmills.
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The winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2018 have been announced in a ceremony broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio Ulster, from Belfast Waterfront in Northern Ireland.
A key highlight of the music calendar – now in its 19th year – the awards produced by 7digital saw a host of music stars come together in Belfast for an evening of recognition and show-stopping performances. The ceremony was presented by Radio 2 Folk Show host Mark Radcliffe and world renowned Gaelic singer, Julie Fowlis. Talented artists received prizes including Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year, Young Folk Award and many more.
Music legend Van Morrison presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to musician and producer Dónal Lunny for his massive contribution to folk music.
The Good Tradition Award went to the Armagh Pipers Club to recognise their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and progression of traditional music over more than 50 years.
Folk Singer of the Year was awarded to Scottish singer-songwriter and musician, Karine Polwart, a talented artist who is also a theatre maker, storyteller, spoken-word performer and essayist.
Dónal Lunny took to the stage to perform with acclaimed musician Zoë Conway on the fiddle, and earlier in the evening Cara Dillon performed accompanied by Sam Lakeman on piano and John Smith on guitar.
Opening the show with a rousing performance of Devil In The Woman was Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, driven by brass and electric guitar. And across the night there were also fantastic performances from Lankum, with their song What Will We Do When We Have No Money?, Paul Brady with a solo acoustic rendition of the ballad Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender, and finally, a nine-piece from the Armagh Pipers Club brought the evening to a close with a performance of three specially composed new songs.
The evening included the presentation of the 20th annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, an educational contest that exists to discover the next generation of folk acts. Mera Royle, a young harpist from the Isle of Man, was the recipient.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: ‘I’d like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners – the calibre of nominees was extremely high and the wealth of talent that was seen on stage across the evening in Belfast was spectacular. The Radio 2 Folk Awards is an annual celebration of the thriving folk music scene – supporting both established and burgeoning folk musicians – and part of our specialist music content that Radio 2 is proud to broadcast across the year.’
Influential singer-songwriter Nick Drake was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame to celebrate the lasting impression he has had on folk music, despite passing away at the age of just 26 in 1974. Had he lived, he would have turned 70 this year.
Olivia Chaney performed a special tribute with a sublime piano-based interpretation of Drake’s essential song, River Man. Olivia is a great fan of Nick Drake and a multi-talented singer, musician and songwriter. Her collaboration with The Decemberists, called Offa Rex, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017. Her second solo album, Shelter, will be released in June 2018.
Although Nick Drake’s music didn’t garner commercial success during his lifetime, decades after his early death, his music would find a wide and reverent audience. Featuring sublime and original guitar work which is heavy with meaning and mood, his work has been highly influential on singer-songwriters of all kinds. Actor Gabrielle Drake, Nick’s elder sister, was present at the Radio 2 Folk Awards to tell the audience how her famously shy brother might have felt about the occasion.
Later this evening (4 April) at 11pm on Radio 2, Lost Boy: In Search Of Nick Drake will be re-broadcast. In the documentary which originally went out in 2004, Hollywood film star Brad Pitt shines a light on the life and work of the cult singer-songwriter. Featured in the programme are contributions from producer Joe Boyd, engineer John Wood, Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Gabrielle Drake and Nick’s late mother, Molly Drake.
The Folk Awards will be broadcast on Sunday 8 April on BBC Four at 9pm and on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 5.30pm, plus selected highlights will be available to watch at bbc.co.uk/radio2 after the show.
The full list of winners:
HORIZON AWARD presented by Jamie Lawson
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK presented by Val McDermid
Banks of Newfoundland by Siobhan Miller
BEST DUO presented by Rab Noakes
Chris Stout & Catriona McKay
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR presented by Leo Green
BEST ORIGINAL TRACK presented by Ralph McTell
The Granite Gaze by Lankum
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Van Morrison
BEST GROUP presented by Finbar Furey
HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
YOUNG FOLK AWARD presented by Lynette Fay of BBC Radio Ulster
Strangers by The Young’uns
GOOD TRADITION AWARD presented by Tommy Sands
Armagh Pipers Club
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR presented by Karan Casey
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Welcome to the 2018 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated last year. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with considered argument and arm-wrestling by the Folkmeister and the Editor.
There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2017.
As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.
*The Public Vote for each category will close at 9.00pm on Sunday 1st April (GMT+1).
Soloist Of The Year
Oh boy, do I like this CD? Yes, I do! Era is only the second ‘solo’ album released by Gary Innes who is part of the award-winning group, Mànran and it has such a variety of material that it grasps you from start to finish.
All of the tunes and songs are written by Gary, highlighting a superb talent. Strangely enough, I was not taken so much by the first track, ‘Yarra Wine Valley’. I liked it but it is my least favourite of the ten tracks on the CD. If you feel the same way then do not let it put you off listening to the rest if the tracks.
Track two, ‘The Road To Lochaber’ is beautiful. Great melody, great tempo and has a power build up throughout the track.
‘The Caman Man’ is a fabulous song written cleverly, affectionally but also humorously as a tribute to shinty the sport that Gary loves and represented Scotland in as captain, several times. I am not a Robert Robertson fan although the clarity of his vocal is a bonus, but possibly the humour is missed a bit. The players described as “wood swinging brothers” is brilliant! A great track and song that will surely be picked up by many singers.
Track four highlights Gary’s fabulous instrumental skills but track five is as good as it gets. ‘May Life Always Be Peachy’, a tune that Gary composed for his brother and his new wife to dance to as their wedding dance. “Peachy”, apparently is his brother’s name for his wife based on a specific part of her anatomy. I can imagine this tune being played as an anthem by massed pipe bands. It is beautiful.
The rest of the CD continues with such a variety of material that I could go on and write pages, but shan’t. However, track seven, ‘Zara’, is for his little niece and is sung by Siobhan Miller. It is a masterpiece of beauty and feeling, a credit to any songwriter.
The list of backing musicians is impressive and what I especially like about this CD is that Gary has not fallen into the trap that many musicians do when entering a recording studio with a group of musicians. No loud, heavy drumming, no offensive bagpiping, no bumping up the tempo. Gary has controlled the entire product and produced a CD of beautiful melodic music that will appeal beyond the limited audience of ‘Folk’!
I also like the fact that the songs are in English, written by somebody heavily involved in Gaeldom , so we can all understand what is being said.
The CD Era represents the passing of an era for Gary as he realises his life will now be dedicated to music. He no longer plays shinty or is part of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Let’s hope this CD is part of a very successful era.
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