Tag Archives: Birnam CD

Douze Noëls – Twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season by Gwen Màiri

Douze Noëls is the latest album from harpist Gwen Màiri – twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season arranged and performed on lever harp by Gwen Màiri. The collection was published in 1897 as Douze Noëls populaires Basques en dialecte Souletin (Twelve popular Basque carols in the Zuberoan dialect). It formed part of the Archive de la tradition Basque, the result of musicologist Charles Bordes’s many years of documenting traditional songs and tunes in the Basque Country, Euskal Herria.

Gwen Màiri was brought up in a Welsh-speaking household in north-east Fife. Both her parents were keen folk singers – her father in Scots and her mother in Welsh – and Gwen grew up singing the songs of both traditions. Her Stirling-born father had learnt Welsh but Scots was often used with his side of the family (and in the playground, of course), while long holidays grandparents in Lampeter, Ceredigion kept a very strong sense of belonging on the Welsh side.

Gwen Màiri is a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), BA(Hons) PGDipMus, where she studied pedal harp with Karen Vaughan (co-principal harp, LSO) and clàrsach (traditional Scottish lever harp) with Karen Marshalsay. Her career has been very varied, including work with professional orchestras (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra and education department of Scottish Opera), chamber music, teaching, publishing music for the lever harp and her main passion; researching, arranging and performing the music of Wales and Scotland in a traditionally informed contemporary style.

Gwen brings her traditional and classical influences together in her arrangement of these beautiful and unique Christmas tunes from Zuberoa. This album was recorded at home in Glasgow and is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.  The stunning artwork and animation is by Léa Sautin.

Douze Noëls is now streaming on all the usual platforms and the CD is available to buy from Birnam

http://www.gwenmairi.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Sense of the Place’

Featuring ten esteemed Scottish folk artists, the Sense of the Place album was commissioned by Stonehaven Folk Club with support from Aberdeenshire Council as part of the club’s Folk-In-Crisis-Fund to provide financial relief to performing artists whose livelihoods were seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An impressive endeavour in itself but this Sense of the Place no random ‘best-of’ style sampler but rather a collection of specially-commissioned and newly-recorded songs drawn from a reference archive of historical and geographical material relating to the coast lands between Findon and St. Cyrus in the north-east of Scotland.

To bring the project to fruition ten songwriters, were invited to use the archive to create ten new songs inspired by the area’s history, culture and geography. It’s a spectacularly ambitious projects with stunning results.

Some internationally acclaimed, others well known locally, there’s a top-notch array of folk singer-songwriters including Iona Fyfe, Kris Drever, Jenny Sturgeon, Findlay Napier and Paul McKenna. Musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Jones, Mhairi Hall, Emma Smith, Jen Austin and Mike Vass.

Themes for the songs include the tale of Lady Finella – who was assassinated by a Scottish king; a celebration of Aberdeenshire’s Todhead Lighthouse – and those who worked to keep it alight; and the story of the Cutty Sark – told from the point of view of the ship!

It’s a really lovely album raising much-needed funds for an important initiative. Last year, the folk world came together under the #folkforchristmas hashtag to encourage folk fans to support folk artists by buying an album. I’m not sure if there is going to be a similar initiative this Christmas but one way or the other if you’re a folk fan I recommend you put this on your Christmas list.

Released: 27th August 2021

https://www.stonehavenfolkclub.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

Folk: album review -Paul McKenna Band ‘Paths That Wind’

Folk/Jazz: album review – Scott Murray ‘There Was A Love’

Scott Murray has been a notable figure on the Scottish music scene for decades. Initially starting out playing jazz and R&B in the 1960s, he did not turn his attention to folk until the 1980s.

“In the 80s I heard Jim Reid and Rod Paterson on the radio one afternoon and my life changed. ‘Shy Geordie’ sung by Jim Reid, and ‘My Nanie O’ sung by Rod Paterson. I met Anne Combe and Fiona Forbes, and we formed Sangsters. We made a couple of Greentrax CDs, sang all over Scotland at clubs and festivals, got to go to Germany and Canada.”

Murray started tutoring with the Scots Music Group in the late 90s, and in 2010 started working with an Edinburgh-based project called Inspire which was set up to offer people affected by issues such as homelessness, mental health problems, poverty and addiction the chance to participate in music.

It was one of the highlights of my working life,” says Murray, “and led me to make a recording of my own songs, Evenin’s Fa, in 2012.”

Now, almost a decade on Scott has released a follow-up. Recorded a few days after Murray’s 75th birthday, There Was A Love takes a less folky approach than its predecessor and, with its strong jazz leanings, casts a nod back to Scott’s earlier musical life.

“I had a notion to record songs and tunes composed since then, some since lockdown, and decided to acknowledge both the days before I became a folky and our step mother, who was a fine pianist. Someone asked if I’d given up folk for jazz, and I replied that I identify as bi-musical.”

A fine collection of songs, instrumental pieces and poems set to music, eight are newly composed by Murray while the remaining two see him set the work of two of Scotland’s early twentieth century female poets to music: namely Marion Angus and Helen Cruikshank.

While the sensitive and highly evocative piano-playing of Dave Milligan is the dominant instrument throughout and while an instrumental piece (dedicated to Murray’s stepmother) opens the album, there’s also a heavy slice of brass adding texture and a warm jazz groove to several tracks and a mournful, melancholy brass band feel on another: ‘George Sanders & Gypsy Caravans’.

The album features: Scott Murray – voice; Dave Milligan – piano; Corrina Hewat – harp & voice; Tom Lyne – bass; Stuart Brown – drums; Mikey Owers – brass; Phil Bancroft – saxophones; and Martin Green – accordion.

A gentle, contemplative and in many ways, highly introspective album (save for the audaciously irresistible swagger of the New Orleans-style ‘Glenwhappen Rig’) Murray has given us a peek into his inner world that’s proved to be both thought-provoking and musically satisfying.

Released: 13th August 2021

Visit his website here

Folk: album review – Màiri MacMillan ‘Gu Deas’

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.

https://mairimacmillan.com/

Folk / Americana: album review – Wren ‘Pink Stone: Songs from Moose Lodge’

Writer, artist and singer-songwriter, Laura Adrienne Brady, performs music under the name Wren. Pink Stone: Tales From Moose Lodge is Wren’s third album, inspired by a stay at a remote cabin in the woods at Methow Valley, Washington State, where she was invited to house-sit while recovering from a mysterious but debilitating illness.

The resulting album is a sumptuous ten-track journey through Americana-infused, Celtic-inspired folk. Wren’s pure, emotive voice, intimate lyrics and melancholic, rootsy playing – ably assisted by a talented bunch of guest musicians and additional layers of harmony vocals.

Wren says of her latest album:

“The years I was writing these songs were some of the loneliest years of my life, but they were also imbued with a palpable magic, and I’ve spent the period since obsessed with how to transport the listener to the warm cocoon of a cabin where I felt free to move at my own pace for the first time. Though I was often alone, I wasn’t unattached. My relationships merged with this greater experience of place and led to a collection of songs about the paradoxes of love and intimacy, where the land and the river often become other characters in the story.”

Pink Stone: Songs from Moose Lodge follows in the tradition of her two previous albums which were largely also inspired by a specific geographical place: her lifetime love of the Salish Sea, Canada, her year in Galicia, Spain and, now with her third album her journey to Washington’s Methow Valley.

The album was produced at Airtime Studios in Bloomington, Indiana by David Weber and features Jason Wilber (guitar), Krista Detor (piano, organ, accordion and harmony vocals and Gary Stroutsos (American Indian cedar flute).

To accompany the album, Wren has also published a 98-page Companion Book of essay vignettes, journal entries, illustrations, photos, and lyrics born from her time in the Methow.

Check out the album and embark on this emotive journey with her.

Released: 20th February 2021

wren-music.com

Progressive folk / experimental: album review: Steve Tyler ‘The Enduring and the Ephemeral ‘

Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. He currently performs as a duo with Katy Marchant, as well as in the medieval-inspired trad folk band Woodwose (again with Marchant) and as part of the cross-cultural outfit Meridianum Ensemble.

The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.

“The intention was merely to render in sonic form some patterns from the imagination, rather than following any particular theme or genre. However, as many of the pieces arose from contemplation of the passage of time and the juxtaposition of different chronological perspectives, a theme of sorts has arisen.”

Tyler’s main creative drive is his interest in patterns and rhythms and the resulting interweaving of different components into a sonic structure. Tyler’s infectiously hypnotic hurdy gurdy playing is thus textured by his use of numerous other instruments, namely cittern, reed organ, psaltery, guitar, bass guitar, hammered dulcimer, gothic harp and percussion. However, the album also features guest musicians: Katy Marchant who plays, variously, bagpipes, recorder, shawm and vocal on several tracks) and Jane Harbour, from the Bristol-based band Spiro, whose vocal and violin-playing can be heard on the final track ‘Lullaby’.

A lovely touch, particularly for ELO fans, is the inclusion of the late Mike Edwards – the cellist from the original line-up of Electric Light Orchestra who was tragically killed in 2010. Tyler had previously worked with Edwards and an unaccompanied improvisational sample of his was located and, by chance, fitted perfectly into the dark, haunting piece on the album entitled ‘Tethys’.

A rich, fascinating and uniquely other-worldly album, Tyler creates some utterly compelling sonic textures and fans of experimental music, prog and folk will all find much to draw them in here.

Released: Autumn 2020

http://www.stevetyler-hurdygurdy.com/

Folk: album review – The Chair ‘Orkney Monster’

The Chair are an eight-piece folk band from Orkney. Formed in 2004, Orkney Monster is the band’s third album. Based around twin fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, drums and bass and this album, although recorded in the studio, aims to capture some of the energy and exhilaration of their live performances and promises their unique brand of ‘Orkney Stomp’.

Do they pull it off? Certainly. In Orkney Monster the band deliver an album that’s full of zest and joie de vivre while digging deep into their island heritage. There’s reels and jigs aplenty, with a slew of original compositions from band members as well as a handful by contemporary Scottish writers and a few traditional tunes, too.

As an eight-strong outfit the band are able to really go some on those infectiously rollicking reels and the interplay between the musicians is a wonder. But there is a more sensitive side to the band, too, as we hear on tunes like the wonderfully poignant ‘Wee Davie’ written by the band’s guitarist, Gavin Firth.

Mostly instrumental, the album does also include a couple of songs. There’s a lively take on ‘Walk Beside Me’, written by bluegrass and country artist, Tim O’Brien, that the band make truly their own as well as a beautifully mellow cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.

Superb playing, beautiful tunes and buzzing with energy, Orkney Monster is simply a delightful album.

Released: 4th December 2020 by Folky Gibbon Records

https://www.lovethechair.com/

Folk/acoustic: album review – Stephen Clark ‘The Lady Aurora’

Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.

Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.

On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.

The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.

Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.

Released: 6th November 2020

https://stephenpeterclark.wixsite.com/website

Folk: album review: Pat Walsh ‘Simply Whistle’

Simply Whistle pretty much does what it says on the tin. For the past five decades Pat Walsh has been part of the north-west traditional music scene and across each of its nineteen tracks this album puts Walsh’s tin whistle and her beautiful jigs, reels and flings centre-stage.

Walsh was born to an Irish family in Manchester in the mid 1950s. This beautifully-packaged CD with its informative twelve-page booklet details not only the background to the tunes, both the traditional numbers and original compositions, but also Walsh’s own life story and her abiding love of traditional music.

“I have tried to describe the really important part that Irish traditional music has played in my life,” she says in the sleeve-notes. “And my enduring passion for playing and listening to it. I have often wished that my great grandfather John Ryder, the fiddle player from Longford had done something similar for later generations to read. If my grandchildren or their children get the bug for trad music, I hope they find that this memoir and the tunes fill in the back story, or maybe even it will pique their interest. Either way, this is for them.”

Produced by Mike McGoldrick, who has played alongside Walsh and also features on the album, the production retains a clean and simple feel which works so well. Within seconds of putting the album on Walsh’s evocative playing has immediately transported you to another time and place.

Released: 14th September 2020

https://www.patwalshwhistle.com/

New-wave folk: album review – The Strunts ‘Too Much of Everything’

Describing their style as “post-truth, new wave folk” The Strunts came about as Kintyre musicians, David Fee and Les Oman, reacted to the inauguration of Donald trump as US President with a bout of song-writing. ‘Ranches and Mansions’ one of the songs on this album was the initial fruit of this collaboration, soon followed by several more. The Strunts and their debut album Too Much of Everything were born.

Applying a combination of dark humour and raw emotion with a singer-songwriter folky vibe, the album is quirky and eccentric yet musically appealing – based around Oman and Fee’s bouzouki and acoustic guitar playing. Recorded over the past three years, with the help of musician and engineer/producer Sam Hales at his Campbeltown studio, other local musician friends came on board as the project evolved. These included Alison Leith on additional vocals, Anne Leith on backing vocals, Mark Leishman on drums and percussion, Alex Johnson on double bass as well as Hales on electric guitar.

In spite of being delighted with the result, The Strunts say they will be “equally delighted if POTUS 46 is somebody else, meaning that the ‘difficult second album’ can fly in some other weird and wonderful direction.”

Released: 4th July 2020

Strunts_PR1

https://www.facebook.com/Struntoon