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
The first thing I had to do was discover the meaning of taiver. Apparently it means a rag and, by extension, low or abject. Top Floor Taivers is a good name for a band but there is nothing abject or low about Claire Hastings, Gráinne Brady, Heather Downie and Tina Jordan Rees or their debut album, A Delicate Game.
There’s not that much delicate about their music either. The opener, ‘Johnny O’ Braidieslee’ begins with big piano chords from Tina counterpointed by Heather’s clarsach and Gráinne’s fiddle. It’s a great old ballad of death and derring-do and Top Floor Taivers do it full justice. Next is Findlay Napier’s ‘Princess Rosanna’ inspired, so we’re told, by graffiti on a Glasgow wall. The song is ostensibly about a woman who drowned in the Clyde although I’ve long fancied that Princess Rosanna was, in fact, a ship. Again, it’s given a robust treatment after an a cappella introduction – perhaps a shade too strong given the subject.
‘The False Bride’ is actually quite delicate and stately with piano and fiddle, despite the pain at the end of the story, but the ladies immediately return to the robust with ‘Everybody Knows’. Most people think of Leonard Cohen as being somewhat morose but he could be a bit of a curmudgeon with a bitter sense of humour and a wicked way with words. This is one of his best songs in that vein.
I love ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ but I always worry when someone covers it because, for me, the essence of the piece is Richard Thompson’s incredible guitar part. No-one else dare even attempt it. Top Floor Taivers begin the song with staccato piano chords before opening it out with fiddle but it’s Tina’s playing that expresses the story.
‘Jeannie And The Spider’ is by Heather and her brother Alasdair but sounds traditional and ‘Campfires’ is not so much delicate as fragile with lead vocalist Claire Hastings’ echoey ukulele sounding almost mournful behind her. ‘Ramblin’ Rover’ is a song that is being covered a great deal in the wake of Andy M Stewart’s death and it may be that, of all the songs he’s written, this fine rollicking piece will prove to be his legacy. Finally ’10 Little Men’ is Claire’s adaptation of a nursery rhyme complete with what I take to be synthesised sounds.
A Delicate Game is a fine debut album and I reckon that Top Floor Taivers must be a knockout live.