Kenneth I MacKenzie is not a well-known name in these parts. He’s Scottish, as you might have guessed, a multi-instrumentalist and composer who specialises in whistles and Highland pipes. His new album, Glendrian, takes its name from a deserted settlement in Lochaber and the music ranges across north-west Scotland. Most of the tunes are written by Mackenzie with a few select borrowings.
You might expect, therefore, that the record has a modern slant and with the first track, ‘Lexie a’Chook’ you might consider yourself proved right. It opens with a synth drone and piano played by Will Marshall, then MacKenzie comes in with a wistful low whistle melody and you settle back for some relaxed listening. The next sound you hear is MacKenzie’s jaunty harmonica over Rory Grindlay’s drums kicking off a pair of 2/4 marches and you have to reconsider. Further inspection shows that the tunes are grouped into traditional dance forms with, at one point, MacKenzie squeezing nine reels into less than four minutes.
In fact, the majority of Glendrian sounds reassuringly traditional. Marshall also plays accordion, Marie Fielding provides fiddle, Tom Oakes plays acoustic guitar and flute and Donald Black adds more harmonica on the final track. There is a playfulness about the arranging. The set of jigs at track 4 opens with gentle piano and then Mackenzie’s pipes leap in with drums thundering in the background. A pair of 6/8 marches maintain the same martial style but lighten up towards the end.
‘Sunset On Sunart’ is one of the non-original tracks, beginning as a drifting slow air which builds up towards the end ready for a set of hornpipes, one of which boasts the wonderful old-style title of ‘Dr M J Leonard’s Farewell To Kilmarnock Road’. There’s another lovely slow air with hints of ‘Molly Malone’ in its melody, that monster set of reels, a waltz and the title track. ‘Glendrian’ is a lament echoing the hard life of the people on a bleak (or tranquil as the guidebooks would have it) peninsula served by only one road.
Finally, there is another 4/4 march, ‘Alasdair Gillies MBE’, which begins with Gillies in his role as MC calling for a Gay Gordons. If it’s live or carefully constructed I can’t say but the musical traditions are never far away with this delightful collection.
Label website: www.caberfeidhmusic.co.uk
‘Glendrian’ – you can play along: