CALUM STEWART – True North (own label EMCD03)

True NorthCalum Stewart has come to our attention once or twice before but this is the first time one of his solo albums has landed on our doormat. Calum is a Scot who plays the Uilleann pipes and wooden flute and True North is, we think, his second solo album, a mixture of original and traditional music. He is supported by long-time collaborators Yann Le Bozec on double bass and Sylvain Quéré on cittern.

The album opens with the title track written by Stewart, beginning with a deep, throaty rumble topped with a mournful melody. I wonder if it is the perfect start to an album but it certainly grabs the attention and I suspect that the soundscape is designed to imitate the Highland bagpipes. Let’s not forget that Calum is playing music of Scottish origin on an Irish instrument. That bass rumble continues briefly into ‘Às, a Thòisich!’, a set of traditional reels which break out and race away.

Sylvain gets to play the opening notes of ‘Maol Dònaidh’, a pair of old seal songs from north-west Scotland and they are followed by one of Calum’s most modern sounding pieces, ‘Schottishe Kerlou’ dedicated to a place in Galicia That, in turn, is followed by another original, ‘Cille Chuimein’, played on the flute. Cille Chuimein is the Gaelic name for Fort Augustus thus bringing us back to northern Scotland.

‘Frost And Snow/The Cuckoo’s Nest’ are two Irish classics and then Calum converts ‘The Snape’ from it’s original fiddle setting to the pipes. ‘The Craigellachie Lasses’, a jaunty tune by William Marshall, is paired with another Stewart original, ‘The Phoenix’. Craigellachie is a lovely little village on the banks of the Spey and I can’t help feeling that the music is inspired by the sound of the rushing water. Craigellachie is also home to a distillery and a wonderful hotel where they have a menu for the whiskies – which runs to several pages. If you are understandably confused by the selection the knowledgeable staff will contrive to serve you a dram of the local product.

‘Looking At A Rainbow Through A Dirty Window’ is another Stewart original featuring flute and cittern. Finally, Calum brings us ‘Rothiemurchus Rant’, the traditional combination of march, strathspey and reel – two tunes from Scotland and one from the Irish tradition.

I am given to understand that there are people who don’t fully appreciate the sound of the pipes and, like fine malt whisky, it can be an acquired taste. If you are a fan of the pipes you should waste no time in buying a copy of True North. If you haven’t acquired the taste yet ask a friend to play it to you. It really is that good.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Looking At A Rainbow Through A Dirty Window’ – live: