Derek Piotr is a US-based folklorist, performer and composer from New England. His work focuses primarily on the human voice and covers genres as diverse as folk, leftfield pop, classical, and dance but he has a particular interest in Appalachian versions of traditional ballads. He has collaborated with a number of different artists including Thomas Brinkmann, Scott Solter, and Bradford Reed across various disciplines. Derek was nominated by the jury for Prix Ars Electronica in 2012, and has featured on UbuWeb and the BBC.
Derek Piotr’s CV includes an impressive ten solo albums to date in spite of only just hitting his 30s this year. I ask him about the latest Making and Then Unmaking which was released back in May.
Derek Piotr:“My tenth album, Making and Then Unmaking, is an extension of the folkloric work I’ve done in Western North Carolina, with a heavy emphasis on Appalachian ballad singing and folk and country instrumentation. Originally I was meant to work on this album in a studio in North Carolina, but due to Covid, I ended up recording 90% of the album remotely and putting the performances together via filesharing. Making and Then Unmaking features a much broader instrumental palette because of this workflow, with instruments appearing including bagpipes, clavichord, saxophone, harp, pedal steel guitar, viol da gamba, autoharp and dulcimer.”
Of particular interest to British folk enthusiasts who follow this blog is that Derek has been working in the UK all through the summer, carrying out fieldwork.
Derek Piotr: “My fieldwork in the UK has predominantly focused on collecting recordings of ‘non-singers’ in North Yorkshire. This is a direct continuity of my work in North Carolina documenting non-singers, in other words, informants who have no formal background in vocal performance but nevertheless have living knowledge of traditional song and can still sing or recite these ballads from memory. One of the informants I’ve met on my UK journey was 102…it has been a rich and valuable experience for me to collect ballads from their origin source; most of Child’s ballads were collected in Northumberland and Scotland.”
Mel Biggs, who has recorded several albums as part of acclaimed trio Moirai, is one of the UK’s leading diatonic accordion players. She releases From Darkness Comes Light her debut solo album on 1st October. Over twelve stunningly inventive instrumental tracks, Mel Biggs takes us on a journey through the seasonal changes, both natural and cultural over the course of the year. Accompanied by fiddle, mandolin, piano accordion, guitar and cittern she invites us to join her on this deeply personal and evocative journey.
I ask Mel how the album came about:
This album has taken over a decade to be made. And when I say that, I’m not talking about the physical album, which took 9-ish months in lockdown, but the mental health journey I’ve been on since my early 20s. The darkness of living with anxiety and depression, a binge eating disorder, and menstrual health issues brought forth the light that is my music and composition. Further to this, and rather poignantly, the album’s completion earlier this year coincided with me being diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. Knowing this has given me the missing pieces on my past diagnoses and, well, literally everything in my life! Especially my sensory crossovers which influence my creativity so much.
The diatonic accordion (or melodeon) became my closest friend and confidante early on when Iwasn’t able to understand and process the difficult emotions I experienced. It gave me a way to escape and meditate on the natural world around me. The healing power of the great outdoors is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. A sunny day in spring watching washing dry on the line brought forth Shivelight In Spring. Being high up in the Norwegian mountains breezed Oppland Upland into my brain. Zoning out of a difficult day whilst viewing winter’s golden light in the garden gave me Silver Linings. Meditating on the heat haze obscuring the view out the back of my house shone Shimmer into my life. Let me travel the world with my accordion and I’d write and write and be very content!
Mel fills us in on the themes that emerged for the album:
When it came to making the album, I looked at what material I had and realised the running theme was light states in nature through the seasons. Each piece relates to a different point in my personal discovery journey. From Darkness Comes Light is a symbiosis of seasons, nature, and light and their combined effect on mood and mental health recovery. It’s also become a statement to myself of never giving up on finding those missing pieces to understanding and accepting yourself for exactly who you are. Feels like a pretty big thing to say about an album of instrumental folk music, but I prefer using sounds to words any day!
From Darkness Comes Light released 1st October 2021 by Talking Cat Recordings
While not an obsessive fan (I have a greatest hits CD and a copy of Highway 61 Revisited in my collection but that’s all I’m afraid) Bob Dylan’s presence has loomed large in the history of many of the bands, such as Fairport Convention and The Byrds, that I am pretty obsessive about. Moreover, many of the music biographies I have read make frequent references to Dylan’s sundry visits to London in the early to mid-1960s – both in terms of the impact he had on London’s folk and nascent rock scenes and vice versa.
Given what a pivotal figure Dylan is then, the idea of having a proper contextual overview rather than relying on what I’ve pieced together through a series of fleeting appearances in other people’s biographies was therefore appealing.
‘Bob Dylan in London: Troubadour Tales’ begins with his first visit to London in the Winter of 1962. We start off in the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia, where Dylan made his first live appearance in London, and take in iconic folk-scene venues such as the Pindar of Wakefield (now the Water Rats) in Kings Cross, home of Ewan MacColl’s Singers’ Club, and the Troubadour in Earls Court.
One might assume that the remaining chapters would take us on similarly meandering detours of the capital for each of Dylan’s subsequent visits. However, ‘Bob Dylan in London’ is as much guide-book as it is biography and the publication is generally arranged geographically rather than strictly chronologically and includes a 16-page colour sections with maps and illustrations.
Two long-time Dylan devotees, Jackie Lees and KG Miles, take us through several decades of Dylan in London, bringing to life the writer/performer’s presence in a series of locations through a mixture of contemporary concert reviews, anecdotes from fellow artists and recollections from audience members, with some of their own personal memories thrown in for good measure. At one point we even get to hear from a homeowner whose Crouch End property was on the market and Dylan’s early 80s visit as a prospective buyer is recalled.
The most fascinating parts of the book, however, are the ones where Dylan was at his creative and commercial peak in the 1960s. Insightful anecdotes from this period abound, including Donovan and Joan Baez in Dylan’s Savoy hotel room helping him write out the cue cards for the iconic trailer for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, filmed in a nearby alleyway off The Strand called Savoy Steps.
The recollections do not always put Dylan in a favourable light. The treatment of Joan Baez on a 1965 tour leaves a particularly unpleasant taste. However, this short, concise book is highly readable, entertaining and informative. Anyone with an interest in London’s musical heritage and Dylan’s artistic legacy will find much to enjoy here.
With his style being described as “sketchbook pop” the music of singer-songwriter, Robert Gray, combines elements of folk, jazz and blues. Playing in a variety of bands on the London live scene, he released in album in partnership with Australian singer-songwriter, Troy Utz, back in 2003. After a break from music and a subsequent move to Germany with his young family in 2012, Gray was inspired to begin writing and recording again.
Short Stories is his debut solo album. Some ten years in the making the album has been recorded at a number of home studios in Britain and Germany. The songs range from the highly personal: the birth of his son, a love-song to his wife on the theme of growing old together, his feelings as his young daughter lay in hospital for an operation – to the more political: a break-up song about Brexit, a young mother working in a sweatshop and Trump’s election to the White House.
“I think of my songs as little sketches of a scene”, he says “and in those two or three minutes I am trying to paint a picture for the listener.”
“When I look back on the album I have a lot of memories of things that inspired the songs and the places where I wrote or recorded them.”
A multi-instrumentalist who plays all the instruments on the album (bar two guest musicians on one of the track), Gray cites J.J. Cale, Richard Thompson and Chet Atkins as key influences
With an easy-going vocal delivery, some rather lovely guitar flourishes and consistently thought-provoking lyrics, Gray turns out some quality songs which make for a highly listenable album.
Highfield Suite is the debut album from Glasgow singer-songwriter Michael McGovern. At 25 he’s been writing songs since he was a teenager, Highfield Suite being the culmination of his work to date. He says the songs on the album very much reflect this period of his life, focusing on themes such as friendship, love, regret and reconciling with one’s own mistakes. Citing the likes of Leonard Cohen, to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Springsteen and Fleet Foxes as key inspirations McGovern traverses that folky, acoustic, Americana-flavoured vibe with confidence and there’s a real maturity to his song-writing, too.
McGovern had begun building a name for himself on the festival circuit but, like many musicians, once the pandemic struck and brought an end to life performances his focus turned to writing and recording. Taking the self-isolation route to its creative limits, McGovern ended up recording much of the album alone in a small wooden cabin in Galway, Ireland with a single microphone.
If that suggests a stark, minimalist feel to the album, then it’s a wrong impression. Dublin-based producer, Bill Shanley, worked alongside McGovern to flesh out the album and a range of additional musicians and backing vocalists were brought in on various tracks to add extra depth and texture. McGovern himself plays guitar, bass, piano and keyboards on the album with co-producer, Shanley, providing additional guitars, bass and vocals alongside assorted guests, including some wonderfully evocative pedal steel guitar from Connor Smith.
The result is a beautifully timeless album with heartfelt lyrics, lush gospel-tinged harmony vocals complementing McGovern’s own emotive voice and some gorgeous guitar. An impressive debut.
Carbonhobo is the alias for Neil McCartney’s latest solo venture. McCartney (who confirms in the accompanying press release he is actually related to his far more famous name-sake – but only distantly so) will be known to many folk-rock fans as the fiddle player with Merry Hell. Just as we witnessed with the solo album from Merry Hell’s Virginia Kettle last summer, the album is something of a departure from the parent group’s signature sound. In place of amped-up, rousing folk rock anthems we go down a far mellower singer-songwriter road with Carbonhobo.
What is fascinating about the songs on this album is that unlike many musicians who used the enforced down-time during lockdown to put pen to paper and create a whole load of brand-new material, many of the songs on this album go back decades – or at least were started back then.
Described as a “twelve-track wander through over thirty years of songs, written and lived around the world” Memoirs From The Crooked Road include the wistful ‘Seagull’, based on a tune McCartney wrote in his teens in Wigan back in the 1980s, to the infectious ‘Fifteen Miles To Buy Tobacco’ written in a cottage in County Mayo in the early 90s and completed in present day Wigan.
Between his teen years in Wigan and settling down there again later on, McCartney has enjoyed an adventurous life with stints in London, Ireland, the US and Thailand, all of which leave their mark on this album and the songs therein.
McCartney is effortlessly comfortable with the material, has an expressive, emotive voice, is a great storyteller, a fine musician and has an ear for a catchy melody. He takes us on quite a journey with Memoirs From The Crooked Road but it’s well worth joining him.
Having previously lived in south-east London for nearly twenty years I was pretty familiar with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and delighted to learn that Joe Danks’ album Seaspeak came about as a result of a collaboration between the museum and the English Folk Dance & Song Society.
Hailing from Nottingham and now residing in Derbyshire, what Danks lacks in terms of bonafide seafaring credentials he certainly makes up for in musicianship, songwriting and ability to source and reinterpret traditional material. Listeners may already be familiar with Danks through his work as part of Anglo-Irish folk outfit Ranagri.
Although shanties suddenly became the height of cool during lockdown, Danks avoided the most obvious musical direction for his material and looks elsewhere for inspiration. Recorded at the Queen’s House in Greenwich close to the Maritime Museum, he’s gone for a mixture of traditional material with some kind of maritime theme – either directly or indirectly, several brand-new compositions and a couple of poems set to music. The album concludes with a new interpretation of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’.
“I was thrilled to be selected for the residency,” says Danks. “It was a great pleasure and privilege sourcing, writing, and arranging the material. The collection at the museum and its Caird Library is the richest stimulus imaginable for a songwriter and arranger and I was lucky to be supported by some very fine musicians on the project.”
Joining Danks, who plays guitar, bodhran and melodeon as well as singing, are Danny Peddler (accordion/hurdy gurdy), Sarah Matthews (fiddle/viola/vocals) and Jean Kelly (harp). Traditional dancer, Simon Harmer, also contributes his distinctive step dancing on two numbers.
Fresh-sounding, inventive yet steeped in tradition and tapping into a rich vein of history, from the sad tale of Jumbo the Elephant to the battle of Jutland in the First World War to Shackleton’s expedition to name but three, Seaspeak is a very impressive solo debut arising out of a fascinating project.
“We are two Americans living in Ireland doing original Americana which is folky and rocky at times.”
So stated the charming hand-written note that accompanied the CD and press release announcing Beki Hemingway’s latest album. Folky and rocky Americana does indeed sound just the sort of thing that Darren’s Music Blog should be investigating so I decided to find out more.
Working with her husband and musical partner, Randy Kerkman, since the mid-90s Hemingway has already released half a dozen albums, the last being Whins and Weather which came out in 2017. It was around that time, however, that the pair made some major changes to their lives. Leaving behind Denver, Colorado they emigrated to Ireland in late 2016, settling in Dundalk on Ireland’s east coast.
Channelling the spirit of the likes of Emmylou Harris, John Mellencamp and Hank Williams Earth & Asphalt serves up eleven tracks of gorgeous, sun-kissed, heart-felt Americana. And there is, indeed, some rocky bits. Kerkman is a greatly talented guitarist, whether turning in some achingly poignant guitar licks on the slower tracks like ‘Shape of My Face’ and ‘Hurricane’ or some Stonesy-type riffing on songs like ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, not to mention bags of gorgeous-sounding, upbeat Americana on the rest.
Expressive and emotive as a singer and a great story-telling lyricist and melodious song-writer, Hemingway’s vocals are the perfect fit for her husband’s playing. Bass, drums and keyboards from a succession of supporting players round out the sound nicely and it’s extremely well-produced with some rich-sounding harmony vocals.
What you won’t really find is much in the way of Celtic influences, however much they are soaking up the scenery and culture of their new lifestyle.
“It turns out that being here has only made us sound more American,” says Hemingway. I can’t disagree with that! Simply gorgeous.
In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talk to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones and about his forthcoming album.
DJ: Firstly it’s a huge, huge pleasure to be talking to you. My own dad was a big, big Lonnie Donegan fan and I think he’d be very touched that I was interviewing his son. Growing up in the 1970s the Rolling Stones and Deep Purple and so on were always played a lot in our house but there was still always lots of Lonnie Donegan, too. So it was a big part of my childhood. But if we can start off going back to the very beginning then we’ll look at your more recent career. Elvis Presley recorded ‘That’s Alright’ and your father recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ in the very same month back in July 1954. It’s something Billy Bragg points out in his book on skiffle, and he called them ‘the first tremors of an earthquake that would shake the world’. Did that give you a good feeling seeing it put like that?
PD: Yes, definitely. Billy’s been a huge campaigner for the importance of what has become a kind of forgotten era – the skiffle era. I mean, Billy made another nice analogy which was that it was the nursery for British rock and roll. Because songs like ‘Rock Island Line’ – and that one in particular which changed the British music industry – it gave a new breath of life into what was, you know, a crooners’ market. And I don’t mean any disrespect to any artist up until my dad came out, obviously, but it did. It changed the nature of it. And it made music accessible. It meant that for people like Eric Clapton, for people like Van Morrison, for people like Jimmy Page – all these kind of people realised, ‘Ok, so I don’t have to be – number one – classically trained to play the guitar. I can learn the basic two/three chords – or one sometimes – and the lyrics and go for it.’ And, number two, it meant that you didn’t have to feel self-conscious singing a lot of these old American country and blues songs and feel self-conscious about it – especially a British white person as well. You didn’t feel like you were false either. You could be ‘paying homage’ to, you know, and doing it in your own way. I mean that gave birth to, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin who all started off in skiffle bands.
DJ: And it was a very British take. It wasn’t a straightforward adoption of an American culture was it?
PD: No, No. You could argue really that while skiffle was Americana music, as we call it now nowadays, it was definitely with a very British tint to it. It didn’t sound the same. They were the same songs, but they weren’t the same way. They were definitely distinct. Which is how ‘Rock Island Line’ went to number 8 in the States, you know – just before Johnny Cash recorded and released it. And the odd thing is, is that my dad had added that part of the tollgate which wasn’t in the Leadbelly original. And then Johnny Cash put out a version afterwards with the tollgate in it again – so you can argue that Johnny was listening to my dad’s version. Because it’s kind of like, he’s just taken dad’s version, slowed it down just a little bit. So there could be something there. There could be something there. You could argue really that the skiffle sessions – all that stuff for that period in time, that six years or whatever it was – was a little bit more British even than when the Stones came out. Because they were doing it much more per original blues… Definitely, much more modernised but it was arguably more towards the original than what Dad was doing.
DJ: In the true folk tradition he actually adapted it and added his own take on it and that’s now become the tradition.
PD: Yes, exactly. You know, it’s been fantastic. And, of course, Dad wrote his own things as well which we all know about. Most notably was the Tom Jones hit ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’. I mean, it wasn’t written for Tom to do. My dad went to release it because he loved the sounds that he was hearing coming from Ray Charles. Great gospel R&B singer, you know, and Dad thought, ‘That’s brilliant. I want to do something like that.’ Wrote ‘Never Fall In Love Again’ and the record label which was Pye at the time – who were trying to be true to their roots and wanting to be jazz, despite the fact of having Lonnie Donegan on the record label who was definitely not jazz anymore despite his origins of coming through with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen and then the Chris Barber Jazz Band – they insisted on there being a jazz version. So they recorded a jazz version and a more gospel version which Dad wanted to do. And insisted on releasing the jazz version – obviously, because that was their plan all along. And nothing happened with it – because it wasn’t what people expected. It wasn’t ‘Dad’ if you know what I mean. So, Tom picked up on it.
DJ: It was a few years gap wasn’t it between your dad releasing it and Tom Jones having a hit with it?
PD: It was early ‘60s for my dad. You’re looking at 62/63 whenever it was – and I think it was 67/68 when Tom released it. And Dad’s gag on stage was always, ‘What’s Tom Jones got that I haven’t got!’ It was always a good laugh. And then, of course, Elvis picked it up in the end because, you know, Elvis was permanently ‘on tour’ doing all the casinos in Vegas. As was Tom, so they were always going to see each other’s set at some point in time. And Elvis picked it up and did it, you know. And I think that was the last track on the last album that Elvis released.
DJ: And then, obviously, you had that wonderful emotional moment with Tom Jones on ‘The Voice’ two years ago. That must have been very, very special?
PD: It was! It was a big ‘pinch me’ moment because I was scouted by the show. They’d seen me at a country festival in London and they wanted that – because they knew that the country genre was really booming in the UK. And they wanted me to go and try out – so that was nice. And they said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not like you’ve got to wait in the queue or anything. You can go straight to the producer so there’s no pressure.’ And that’s more pressure I think! So yeah.. sat there and did some original songs. That’s what they wanted. They said they wanted originals. And went through about another four rounds of auditions and they said, ‘Yep – we want you for the blinds.’ And I just thought well, if nothing else, this is just a bit of PR. You know, get a nice bit of high-quality PR footage [laughs] and have some fun while you’re there. And when it was Tom that turned, you know, it was an emotional relief that somebody turned. I was very nervous. I’d never done anything like that before and it was a very nice moment. And then when, obviously, Tom asked us to do that song and we did it – it was a shock, you know. There’s a video about me – because I did a video on YouTube talking about it which had about two million views.
DJ: Yes, I watched that. I still tear up every time I see the footage. It’s just so incredible!
PD: It was a lovely, lovely evening. It really was. I mean, bittersweet in some ways because obviously you realise it’s a TV show first and foremost before it’s a talent show – and it’s a very good one and I really enjoyed my experience on there. But, as a friend of mine who was there said, ‘That’s going to go viral.’ I said, ‘Do you think? Shit!’ He said, ‘Why?’. I said, ‘I peaked too soon in that case! It probably means I’m out next.’ And I was out next!
DJ: But no-one could take away that moment though.
PD: No! I have no regrets. I had great fun. And not many people get to do three songs in two shows – so it was good!
DJ: Has Tom been in touch since?
PD: No. I’ve tried but not got anything back though.
DJ: Ok. Ok. And just looking back – this week, it’s actually the 67th anniversary of ‘Rock Island Line’ being recorded.
PD: Yep. ‘54 it was recorded. ‘56 it became a hit. It was a track on the Chris Barber Jazz Band album and for whatever reason Decca released it two years later as a single and it was played on – I can’t remember the radio show – Dad didn’t know anything of it. Somebody said to him, ‘You know you’re number one!. He was like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah check out the papers…’ And the rest is history, as they say.
DJ: And you did a special concert two years ago, to mark the 65th anniversary of it?
PD: We did, yes. We did one in 2018 just at the end because it all started off with Chas Hodges – God rest his soul. It was his initial idea because we were raising money for our son’s therapy for his autism and he said, ‘If you want to do a gig, me and Dave will get up and do something. We’ll do half an hour, you finish the gig off. I was like, well that’s lovely. Mentioned it to a couple of friends as I was talking and they we’re like, well I’ll do something and I’ll do something and someone said, ‘Well we haven’t done a night for your dad in a while. Why don’t we do that?’ So in 2018 we had Billy Bragg, Nora Guthrie, The Jive Aces, Mike Berry, Mike Read, Ralph McTell, Chris Difford from Squeeze, Chas McDevitt, Vince Eager and we did that at the Union Chapel in Islington. And Billy Bragg said, ‘Right, so what are we doing next year?’ And I was like, oh you’re kidding right. But I’d invited Van to do that one and he wasn’t available but then he followed up and said, ‘Are you doing another one?’ I said, ‘Well yes, next year’s the 65th anniversary of the recording of ‘Rock Island Line’. And then Mike Read said, ‘Well we need a blue plaque to commemorate that.’ So we did a blue plaque on the same day, on the morning and then we went and did the gig.
DJ: You obviously grew up with music. Did you always want to be a musician?
Yeah. I did. There was never any other option, you know. And I had a great coach, obviously, in Dad and he always taught me that the best thing to do – the only way to make it in this industry is to write your own songs. And that’s why I’ve always done that. From becoming my dad’s piano player to then becoming the opening act for the set, I always did original material. And then, from then I kept doing it. It was difficult because, you know, every time a label said that we could do an album they would only include a maximum of one of my songs on it. Because they wanted to make easy money and just do another Lonnie Donegan tribute album which was, you know, getting frustrating to say the least. So, I decided to go independent and in 2017 released my ‘Superman’ EP which did quite well for my first independent thing and that’s what got me ‘Country To Country Festival’ which got me noted by the guys at ‘The Voice’ and then on with Tom Jones and then on from there. And then we did the live album after that which was recorded in 2019 in the Decca recording studios. In the same studio that Dad recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ – which now belongs to the English National Opera. But that was nice. It was good fun. And then since then I’ve released ‘Thank You Texas’ which was co-written with two Texans at the Buddy Holly song-writing retreat in Lubbock.
DJ: And that won an award didn’t it?
PD: It yes – at the ‘Texas Sounds Country Music Awards’ last year. Got Best Male Vocalist and Original Song.
DJ: The Americana/country direction that you’ve taken as you wanted to pursue your own, as you say, independent career – was that a very conscious decision or did you just sort of evolve into that direction, musically?
PD: Well, obviously, when you consider the influences I was surrounded by with Dad’s record collection at home – which had everything, you know, from Fats Waller to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Highway Men – all that kind of stuff. So I grew up with that plus – I was born in London but only because Dad was doing a West End thing at the time… We were living in California. So you know California, Florida, Spain. I didn’t grow up here, so I was surrounded by American music a lot of the time. And Dad was big into country. And then so was I. I’m a huge Waylon fan, Willie fan and later on, you know, I love now Chris Stapleton and Eric Church and the High Women if you’ve heard them… So it was a natural transition for me because I like to write stories, you know real-life events, that kind of stuff. And country music, Americana music in general really lends itself to that.
DJ: Well story telling is at the heart of those lyrics.
PD: Yeah. So it was a natural transition for me. And when you consider really where I came from musically with Dad, skiffle is what we call Americana now. Because Americana is country, with blues, folk. And it’s just Americana is the umbrella term. And underneath it you’ve got all these different genres.
DJ: So what’s next for you in terms of your solo career? Are you working on new music at the moment?
PD: I am yes. Again, written at the same retreat with a couple of great song-writers in America. With Sean Healen who’s from New Mexico and with Tessy Lou Williams – ‘It’s My Dreams’. We did a lockdown sessions version of it which you can find on YouTube but there will be a single version of it coming out. And it will be included on the new album which is currently being made.
There’ll be a couple more singles to come off that album as well… I think there’s some really cool tunes on there, especially with the new collaborations. Because I do like to co-write… the old adage two heads are better than one is true. Because there’s ideas that you come up with that you wouldn’t come up with unless you were sitting with somebody else. I’m not saying that maybe their idea is in the song, but they say something which sparks an idea in your head again, you know – and the other way around, too.
DJ: That approach to collaboration is very much part of the Americana scene isn’t it, I think?
PD: It is and there’s a feelgood sense within it as well. It’s a case of not quite as much competition as we’re in it together. So it’s more fun to drag these other people that you respect – if you’re not already friends – along with you and have that shared experience rather than try and keep it for yourself. And I like that feel. It’s much more relaxed… It’s a better experience. It’s less uptight.
Thank you so very much to Peter Donegan for talking to me. You can check his forthcoming live dates on his website here:
On her long-awaited debut album entitled Gu Deas (meaning south or southern), Màiri MacMillan presents us with interpretations of eleven traditional Gaelic songs. For MacMillan, Gaelic folksong and the Gaelic language is not merely some recent exploration of Scotland’s rich musical heritage. She lives and breathes it and is very much the genuine article.
From Milton in South Uist, MacMillan was brought up surrounded by Gaelic language, culture, music and song and began singing at an early age. Gaelic is her first language and Gaelic songs, and traditions run deep in her family.
“The songs on this album have been learned from recordings of women, mostly from South Uist, who passed on songs for future generations,” she writes in the sleeve-notes.
MacMillan is blessed with one of these beautiful, clear, pure voices that is just so perfect for this material and her familiarity with and deep love for the songs shines through.
The songs have been given fresh-sounding but sympathetic contemporary arrangements by the musician Mhairi Hall, who arranged and produced the album, learning from past recordings of South Uist tradition bearers. Alongside Hall (harmonium, piano, flute, and whistle), the album features Megan Henderson (fiddle and voice), Ali Hutton (bodhrán, guitar, whistle, great highland bagpipes) and Rachel Newton (clàrsach, electric harp and voice).
The extensive sleeve-notes, in both Gaelic and English, provide full lyrics and additional background information for each of the songs. The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version.
A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.