Tag Archives: Birnam CD

Folk: album review – Fraya Thomsen ‘Release’

Harpist, singer and award-winning composer, Fraya Thomsen’s musical roots lie in the Scottish traditional music scene  but she’s equally at home in the world of film and TV, where she has composed music for a number of award-winning short films as well as pieces for contemporary choreographers and multimedia artists.

Release began life as a piece of work entitled Community & Stardust, commissioned for the 2017 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but then evolved into a lockdown project with the album being recorded in the participating musicians’ own homes and studios during 2020.

The team of musicians who had originally devised and performed the piece have similarly contributed to the album: Sarah Allen (flute), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn), Colette O’Leary (accordion), Louise McMonagle (cello), James Maddren (drums/percussion) and Cameron Maxwell (bass). Artist, Lucy Cash, has also written the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, ‘Just This Sky Line’ which was also used for a film called A Song For Nine Elms.

Featuring tracks with titles like ‘Save The World’, ‘For The Water Protectors’ and ‘Connected’. It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a strong ecological theme to this album. The twelve tracks are a mixture of songs and tunes and while, unsurprisingly, there are obvious Celtic influences from the folk world, other musical influences make the presence felt, too. ‘Tiger’, for example, is jazz-influenced while other tracks take on a more experimental feel, again perhaps unsurprising, given Thomsen’s work in the world of film as well as folk.

There’s much to appreciate on this album with the contributions of the guest musicians perfectly complimenting Thomsen’s beautiful harp and vocal. What’s more there seems to be more to discover with each repeated listen. Put it on, sit back, soak it all in and quietly contemplate the future of our world  and our connections to one another.

Released: 9th April 2022

http://www.frayathomsen.com/

Folk: album review – Andy Martyn ‘Will We Give It A Go?’

A virtuoso of the button accordion and a notable figure on London’s traditional Irish music scene, Andy Martyn has been immersed in traditional music from a young age and has gone on to collaborate with many leading players. Appearing on a number of albums, past collaborations have included work with the likes of John Carty, Brendan Mulkere, Alias Ron Kavana and Gino Lupari, as well as with London-based bands, Le Cheile and Slip Jigolos. Will We Give It A Go? is Martyn’s debut solo album released under his own name, however.

Evidently, he may have taken a little persuading to have finally agreed to a solo release. Writing in the album liner notes, he observes: “Having been persuaded by a number of musicians and friends over the years to put down a new recording, I chose perhaps the most strange time to do so during a global pandemic which severely restricted our ability to meet, play and record together.”

Any logistical challenges presented by putting such an album together has clearly not impeded on its vibrancy and vitality, It really is a delight to listen to. Distilling the spirit of traditional Irish music from the streets of London while reaching back to Martyn’s own Galway family roots, he brings us an album that’s both highly inventive and one steeped in tradition.

Described as a landmark recording of traditional Irish music in London, the fourteen-track CD combines some of Marty’s own compositions with his own interpretations of Irish airs, reels and other traditional tunes.

Traditional airs like the ‘Lament Of The Three Marys’ jostle with traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.

Martyn has drawn on his long-established connections on the scene to pull together an impressive line-up of supporting musicians: John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men and a Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio), Michael McGoldrick (Michael McGoldrick Band, Usher’s Island), Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle (Le Cheile) and Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone).

Altogether, an impressive outcome for this long-awaited solo venture from the Irish button accordion virtuoso, Andy Martyn.

Released: 1 March 2022

https://www.andymartynmusic.com/

Folk: album review – Bruce MacGregor ‘Road To Tyranny’

A pivotal figure on the Scottish traditional music scene, Bruce MacGregor is renowned both for his work with the award winning Highland fiddle group, Blazin’ Fiddles, as well as presenting BBC Radio Scotland’s folk show, Travelling Folk. 2020 also saw the launch of MacGregor’s book, The Highlander’s Revenge, a collection of fifty compositions telling the story behind each song.

Road To Tyranny is a new solo album from MacGregor, showcasing fourteen original compositions and including a stellar cast of supporting musicians.

MacGregor: “I’m so delighted with the way this album has turned out, each track sounds unique thanks to the amazing musicians who joined me. Anna Massie and Angus Lyon helped with the production and Jenna Reid also from the Blazers helped me with string parts. We were then treated to the musical magic dust that Tim Edey (guitar and box) and Ali Levack (whistles) and Su-a Lee (cello) added. We then added to the swinging rhythm section with Duncan Lyall on bass and Iain Sandilands on percussion. Iain even had to go out and buy a washboard to get the right vibe for the Big Yins! We also added in something a little different for a Scottish fiddle album with Tom Oats on clarinet and Iain Sloan on lap steel guitar giving us a completely different vibe for each set.”

With Road To Tyranny, MacGregor proves you don’t need to delve too far back into history for inspiration to create such evocative compositions. The title track was inspired by a remark from a former president of the Supreme Court over the constitutional implications of the 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Act, while others have been prompted by a memorable visit to Billy Connolly’s house (‘The Big Yin’s’), an adolescent boy’s sometimes lackadaisical approach to completing household chores (‘Josh’s 2 Secs’) and a celebration of the career of Scottish rugby player, Doddie Weir (‘Doddie’s Dream’).

With its irresistible collection of airs, jigs, strathspeys, reels and marches, as well compositions that MacGregor simply terms “catchy tunes!” as they don’t quite neatly fit into a particular category, Road To Tyranny takes us on a magical journey at the hands of a deft composer, talented fiddler and all-round Scottish music legend.

Released: 15 January 2022

https://www.brucemacgregor.scot/

Folk: album review – Beinn Lee ‘DEÒ’

Formed in 2013, Beinn Lee are a six-piece band from Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Two-and-a-half years in the making, the band’s second album, DEÒ, follows their debut, OSGARRA, released back in 2018.

While DEÒ contains a number of the band’s interpretations of traditional songs and tunes, it also showcases some brand-new original compositions, too, in both English and Gaelic. Musically, too, the album combines the traditional sounds of pipes, flute, fiddle and accordion with more contemporary influences. And the result is a stunningly vibrant synthesis of the traditional and the modern. Infectious modern beats jostle with the long-revered sounds of Gaelic folk to produce something that is fresh, vibrant and instantly moreish.

“The feeling of returning to music in 2021 highlighted the band’s roots with traditional tunes and bringing people together to dance,” say Beinn Lee. “That fundamental aspect of the band’s music is part of DEÒ and compliments lots of new material borne out of the band’s strong ambition to drive Gaelic music forward in new ways.”

The band are Micheal Steele, Pàdruig Morrison, Mairi Thérèse Gilfedder, James Stewart, Anna Black, and Seoras Lewis. They’ve been able to bring a strongly-held inheritance in Gaelic song and west coast pipe music with being open to more diverse contemporary influences, too, meaning they are now a much in-demand live act, from festivals to weddings.

Taking a break from catching up with new folk releases these past few weeks while I finished my latest book, this has been a stunning album to come back to. I absolutely love it!

Released: 17th December 2021

https://www.beinnlee.com/

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/