I was amused by the quote from Eilidh Shaw (fiddle, vocals) who says that the Poozies are probably fortunate that the charge of witchcraft has gone out of fashion; otherwise they’d be in trouble. In Punch there’s certainly a mischievous mix of musical mayhem, spellbinding showcase instrumentals and probably some frogs legs to boot. True to form, The Poozies are unencumbered by conventional folk idioms, slipping and sliding between cool jazz cadences and the more structured strathspeys. Fortunately, boundaries are never pushed too far and the whole thing hangs together beautifully, albeit with a shimmer of post-modern irony. I just loved it when on ‘Plecthumb’ the tune is suddenly punctured by an almighty scream from one of the women!
Looking back, The Poozies were initially the established harp duet of Mary MacMaster and Patsy Seddon (of Sileas) joined by Sally Barker and Karen Tweed. Always an all-female ensemble, they rode the wave of new Scottish music in the 1990s. One shouldn’t forget they also introduced us to Kate Rusby at that time. There have been many personnel changes since, and only MacMaster remains from the original line-up. Fiddles have replaced harps as the predominant sound and there are no fewer than three fiddle players in the current band: Eilidh Shaw, Sarah McFadyen and Tia Files.
The four women keep you on your toes, and there’s never a dull moment. The stomp box and bass drum allow for gear shifts just when they’re needed and the keen rhythmic edginess serves them well in ‘Knees of Fire’ and ‘Bloodknot’. There’s an even spread of songs and tunes, from the frivolous ‘Soaking’ to a traditional Scots Gaelic ‘Ailein, Ailein’, one of my favourites. Their harmonized vocal talents are particularly noticeable on the final alluring track, ‘Easily Led’ which brings the set to a relatively quiet, though indubitably classy, finish.
So much good music is coming out of Scotland these days, a credit to serious recognition and investments made in traditional arts. We shouldn’t take it for granted. Enjoy the renaissance and marvel at just how good these musicians are and how much memorable fun they can pack into nine tracks.
Scottish musicians seem particularly adept at finding new ways of presenting their music but few are quite as charming as Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns, the debut album from harpist Heather Downie. From first listening I was captivated by her sound and I’m still impressed by the range of her sources and inspirations.
The first tune in the opening set, ‘For The Love Of Levers’, is written by percussionist Tia Files who supports Heather throughout the album. Heather generously lets Tia start and the piece thus has a syncopation which Heather carries over into the second tune. It’s good to start with a smile. The mood immediately changes with ‘Niel Gow’s Lament For The Death Of His Second Wife’, a lovely, reflective tune. Heather mixes one of her own tunes, ‘William The Conqueror’, written for her fiancé, with Jay Ungar’s ‘Wizard’s Walk’ and you realise that she is not going to do things the easy way. Both Gow’s and Ungar’s tunes were written for the fiddle and the first tune in the ‘Midnight’ set comes from another fiddle-player, Aidan O’Rourke, while its companion is another of Tia Files’ compositions.
Next Heather turns her attention to a classic of the pipe repertoire. ‘The Field Of Gold’ is a piobaireachd written by P/M Donald MacLeod and Heather attempts to reproduce the ornamentation of the piper on the harp. It’s not easy and, unusually, Heather sings a little of the canntaireachd over her harp at the end. Two very jolly marches are next and the album closes with ‘Under The Stars’, one of Heather’s one tunes played over field recordings made in Portugal.
There are two songs. The first, ‘The Best Of Us’, is co-written by Heather as tribute to her aunt and is pretty and sincere. The second, ‘Stronger Than You Know’, is written and sung by Corinna Hewat who also produced the record. But, nice as these songs are, the focus is, and should remain, on Heather and her harp.
Harpist and singer Heather Downie was introduced to Scottish music by the late Martyn Bennett at the age of nine and has been involved in music ever since. Graduating from the RSAMD with a first class honours degree, Heather went on to achieve distinction in her postgraduate diploma in performance studies. No stranger to performing Heather was a Young Traditional Musician of the Year finalist in 2015. She teaches at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and plays with the band Top Floor Taviers. She has toured across Europe and America and is the Co-founder of Harp Bazaar teaching and promoting group work for the harp.
In her debut album; Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns, Heather holds nothing back in her fresh, feisty approach to her harp playing. The album features self-penned tunes and songs such as the dark ‘Stalky Nightmare’ and rhythmic ‘William The Conqueror’ as well as a gentler sound in ‘Under The Stars’ which features a soundscape created from a field recording on a recent trip to Europe. Heather also honours the traditional with her arrangement of ‘Neil Gow’s Lament For The Death Of His Second Wife’ and her ‘harp take’ of Piobaireachd with Donald MacLeod’s ‘Field Of Gold’. The album also features percussion and guitar from Tia Files and guest vocals from producer Corrina Hewat.
The album launch is on 28th January 2018 at Celtic Connections in Piping Centre. The album will be toured nationwide in June 2018