Monthly Archives: September 2016

Folk: album review – Kaela Rowan ‘The Fruited Thorn’

My review was originally published on the Bright Young Folk website here

Scottish singer Kaela Rowan sang with Mouth Music, recording four albums with them in the 1990s, and more recently has been touring and recording as part of the acclaimed Shooglenifty and their unique fusion of traditional Scottish music and modern dance beats. The Fruited Thorn is Rowan’s second solo album, following Menagerie which was released in 2014.

An album of eleven traditional ballads (seven sung in English, four in Gaelic), The Fruited Thorn is, in Rowan’s own words, “a homage to all the amazing ballads and ballad singers past and present. Those great singers who bring songs to life and helped awaken the young singer in me.”

The whole album has a nice relaxed tempo about it and some beautiful songs, both familiar and less familiar. However, some really interesting musical collaborations do make it particularly stand out from many similar releases in this field.

Rowan has put together a band composed of Shooglenifty personnel James Mackintosh (percussion, guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Ewan MacPherson (guitars, mandolin, jaw harp) for the entire album, but throughout they are joined by a fascinating line-up of additional guests.

Second track ‘Eilan Fhianain’ is one of the most interesting and unexpected collaborations on the album. Rowan’s traditional Gaelic singing is accompanied by traditional Indian singer Dayam Khan Manganiyar who sings the songs of the Rajasthani desert lands, and the two sets of vocals provide for an absolutely compelling cultural mix that actually works. He also provides vocals on another track, ‘Griogal Chridhe’, another traditional Gaelic song.

Elsewhere, more familiar territory is covered and the album gives us lovely new interpretations of traditional standards like ‘Now Westlin Winds’, ‘Lord Gregory’ and ‘As I Roved Out’. Rowan’s soft but persuasive vocals and the gentle but innovative instrumentation provide a fresh take on well known songs. The Uillean pipes on ‘As I Roved Out’ are particularly lovely – played by Jarlaith Henderson who also provides backing vocals to the same track.

While percussion on most of the tracks eschews the folk fusion dance beats for which Shooglenifty is renowned for, it would be surprising if such influences were to be completely absent from the album and sixth track ‘Mary and the Gallant Soldiers’ is where the so-called “Acid Croft” influences of Shooglenifty are most apparent.

An album that takes a fresh look at some traditional ballads, with fine vocals, superb instrumentation and innovative collaborations, The Fruited Thorn skilfully bridges the gap between the experimental and the familiar.

Released August 2016


Motörpace (Motörhead tribute) at The Carlisle, Hastings 20/8/16

My review originally appeared in the Hastings Independent 1/9/16

When there is so much excellent original music being performed live around the town should the Hastings Independent be reviewing tribute bands? It’s a moot point and for much of the past couple of decades I’ve been pretty dismissive of the whole tribute band scene; but two things began to change. Firstly, being exposed to world-class tribute acts, like Australian Pink Floyd, appearing on festival line-ups alongside original artists and experiencing first hand the sheer quality of the musicianship, regardless of whether it was original or not. Secondly, reflecting on the legacy of some truly iconic acts in the wake of a seemingly endless succession of rock star deaths in recent months, not least one Lemmy Kilmister at the end of 2015, and concluding that it would be a particularly severe case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face to refuse to celebrate and enjoy the music of, say, David Bowie or The Eagles or Motörhead in a live setting just because the instigators are no longer with us. No-one ever got sniffy about the artistic validity of the Royal Philharmonic performing an evening of Beethoven so should celebrating the music of some of rock’s greatest icons really be that much different?

So here we are at The Carlisle then to witness the Motörhead tribute act, Motorpace. First, however, the band as they put it themselves “are their own support act” and rattle through a number of heavy metal staples by the likes of AC/DC, Metallica and Judas Priest before doing a full second set in full-on tribute band mode. Wisely, apart from the bass player/vocalist sporting some Lemmy-esque facial hair and a vaguely rock n roll-ish leather hat, the band avoid the temptation to play-act the roles of the former members of Motörhead and instead concentrate on getting the sound right; which they do with devastating precision. All the essential ingredients are there: the fast and furious bass-playing rumbling away like some industrial power tool, the hoary, growled vocals, the blinding guitar solos, the power drumming. It goes down really well with the Carlisle crowd which has swelled significantly by the time the band come on stage to do their main set in tribute to Lemmy and co. Punters lap up the likes of We Are The Road Crew, The Chase is Better Than the Catch, Overkill and, of course, Ace of Spades as well as more recent material like Thunder & Lightning from Motörhead’s final studio album, Bad Magic.

I’ve certainly become far more philosophical about tribute acts. If your entire experience of live music was to be nothing but an endless stream of tribute acts, each aping the glory days of bands gone by, that would be rather sad indeed; but as part of a balanced musical diet I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking in the odd tribute concert. This is especially so when the quality of the performance is as good as that delivered by Motorpace this evening.

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2016-09-06 12.43.50

Related reviews:
Motörhead – Bad Magic
Motörhead at Hyde Park