Tag Archives: celtic

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traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.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/electronica: album review – Barry Reid ‘Breathing Space’

A noteworthy figure on the Scottish music scene, Barry Reid has made his presence felt both through membership of bands like the Treacherous Orchestra and Croft No. Five, and also as a studio engineer and producer. Breathing Space, however, is Reid’s debut solo album.

Inspired by the rural landscapes of Ross-Shire and Inverness-Shire and recorded at his own Rose Croft Studio in the Highland village of Muir of Ord, Breathing Space fuses folk and electronica to create ten self-composed instrumental tracks.

Alongside Reid, the album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians in Lauren MacColl, Hamish Napier, Laura Wilkie, Innes Watson and Ali Hutton.

“For many years I’ve wanted to make an electronic based album of music that not only reflects myself as a musician but also the places I love to be in, where I find calm amongst all the chaos,” Reid writes in the album sleeve-notes.  

He’s not the first to do this, of course. A number of musicians have been tempted to explore that intersect of folk and electronica and in recent years we’ve been seeing more albums treading this same path. However, both for the sheer wealth of instruments involved (which include acoustic guitar, synthesizers, harmonium, drums, samples, keyboards, percussion and vocal drone as well as fiddle, flute and whistles from the assorted guest musicians) and for the incorporation of mood-setting sounds from the natural landscape, Reid has come up with something that’s both evocative and highly inventive.

Released: 2 March 2022

www.spad.org.uk

Celtic/electronica: album review – Whyte ‘MAIM’

Electronica duo Whyte have been compared to a Gaelic version of Sigur Rós, their brooding, shimmering arrangements forming a dramatic yet pleasing fusion of tradition and modernity.

Formed back in 2016, the duo are Alasdair C. Whyte (vocals) and Ross Whyte (electronics).  Whyte were awarded the Scottish Gaelic Arts and Culture Award in 2019 and in 2017 won the Hands Up For Trad/Creative Scotland Nòs Ùr Songwriting Award for their original Gaelic song ‘Cionran’.

True to their experimental roots, the duo’s latest and third album MAIM is a collaboration with contemporary Gaelic theatre company Theatre Gu Leòr.

MAIM developed out of a partnership with Theatre Gu Leòr and a successful theatre production of the same name. The original theatre production, directed by Muireann Kelly, premiered in March 2020 and saw a run of sold-out shows at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow prior to advent of lockdown last Spring. MAIM, meaning panic in Gàidhlig, is a call to action, giving voice to the frustrations of the next generation who care deeply about the crisis facing their land and language, is how the show defined itself – and attracted a slew of favourable reviews.

Both the production and the new album explore responses to the panic and horror we feel when time is running out,“ say the duo. “When faced with all we stand to lose – if we don’t make a stand against language and climate extinction.”

The album’s extensive sleeve-notes, curated by Ross Whyte, give the background to the duo’s collaboration and the creative process that inspired each of the ten tracks. A limited-edition book is also set for publication later this summer.

MAIM was recorded at GloWorm Recording with Gordon Maclean and Keir Long. Additional musical contributions come from Seonaid Aitken, Megan Henderson, Patsy Reid, Alice Allen and Màrtainn Skene (strings) and Elspeth Turner, Evie Wadddell, Cian McCarthy and Ruairidh Murray (additional vocals and guitar).

Experimental yet accessible and contemporary yet timeless this album will appeal to many fans of both traditional Celtic folk and modern electronica.

Released: 9th April 2021

Available from: Bandcamp | Amazon (CD, Download, Stream) | Spotify | iTunes | Apple Music | Youtube Music | birnamcdshop.com

https://www.whytenoise.co.uk/

This week’s featured artist: Matt Steady – new album ‘New Buryin’ Ground’ released 27th April

Matt Steady is a singer-songwriter from Leicester. His music is most closely identified with blues and folk but he pulls in a wide range of influences. Even within the confines of those two genres, however, he traverses a refreshingly broad spectrum: on the blues front going from the blistering electric variety to the mournful acoustic type and on the folk side there’s everything from contemporary singer-songwriter to Celtic soundscapes to traditional balladry. Classically-trained, Matt Steady is a highly talented and naturally expressive player, whether that’s guitar or violin, and he’s an evocative lyricist, too.

Steady has a brand new album out New Buryin’ Ground on 27th April. Prior to that though, he released a compilation album featuring highlights from his previous six albums which he launched with a very generous and fairly unique offer. If you fancy the album, you can order it online and he’ll send out the CD to you direct to your door absolutely free of charge.

The Echoes Remain is a very fine compendium of Matt Steady’s work – eleven tracks in all – and something I’m very pleased to now have in my CD collection.

What on earth possessed him to make it completely free of charge, though, I asked him:

MS: “I’m all about the win/win. This compilation album is a win for listeners and a win for me too! Firstly, as an independent artist, the main challenge I have is getting people to listen to my music. Our attention spans on social media are so short that posting up songs, no matter how good they are, is not a strategy that works particularly well. People are unlikely to stop scrolling to listen to a whole song from someone they’ve never heard of for sure! However the people who enjoy my eclectic style of music often still have CDs player, and often love listening to music in their cars or while working. It costs me very little to have CDs made these days, and with the postage paid for I’m not generally out of pocket on them. And actually any shortfall is made up by some generous folks who either leave a tip or buy an extra CD with it. So the win for the listener is obvious – a free CD delivered to their door; a menu of tracks from my other albums to introduce them to my music. And the win for me is that more people are listening to my music, more people are messaging me and having conversations with me, more people are discovering my other albums and enjoying those too. It’s a win/win for everyone!”

“And for those evolved people who don’t have CDs … it’s available as a free download as well. I don’t want to stop anyone from listening from lack of a piece of equipment. And for streamers, this compilation isn’t up on Spotify etc., but all my albums that the tracks come from are, so that’s a way of listening too.”

You can order your free CD here

Photo credit: Frank Roper Photography

I also asked Matt to tell us a little more about the new album that’s due to be released next week:

MS: “My new album is called New Buryin’ Ground, and this time rather than releasing it under my own name, it’s being released under the band name “The Grace Machine”. Alongside my vocals and guitar work, I am frankly astounded to have playing with me two very sought-after musicians – Terl Bryant on percussion and Matt Weeks on bass. I’ve been listening to their work since I was a teen (ahem that’s quite a long time ago now), and I’m still in shock that they wanted to form this band! The music itself is rocky gospel blues. Many of the tracks are interpreting old spirituals and slave songs, bringing them up to date for a modern audience. We owe so much of our musical lives and heritage to black music, crafted under such dire circumstances, and this album is a homage to those often unknown musicians. The album is full of joy and angst in equal measure, and I can only hope that we’ve done the songs justice.”

New Buryin’ Ground available from Matt Steady’s website here

Released 27th April 2021

This week’s featured artist: Elena Piras – new album of Scottish folk ‘Where The Wind Blows’

Where The Wind Blows is the second album from Elana Pira. Not unusually for a Scottish folk release it features a number of traditional Scottish and Gaelic melodies alongside familiar favourites like Francis McPeake’s ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ and Tom Paxton’s ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’. It’s an album of Scottish folk with a twist, however. Hailing from Sardinia, Piras inherited her father’s love of singing from an early age and began performing professionally in Italy when young.

“I think when you begin on a path so young, it just becomes an unquestionable part of the fabric of your life and your whole being. Making music is as natural as breathing for me,” she says.

Piras moved to the UK aged 18, where she co-founded and toured with the London Bulgarian choir. It was in 2006, however, following a move to Scotland and a position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art that her love of Scottish music really began to make itself felt. Immersing herself in the local music scene Piras became a popular fixture at festivals and released her debut album in 2010. Journey was predominantly an album of traditional Scottish music but also included songs from Ireland, Sardinia and Bulgaria

Being visually impaired since birth, Elena believes it has enabled her to impart a very special meaning to her folk music. She also feels a particular affinity to Scots, Irish and Gaelic folk and maintains that nothing can compare to it in terms of being able to convey the beauty and hardship of a land and its people and its ability to transport both performer and audience into its melodies and narrative.

Where The Wind Blows is Elena Pira’s second album and very much continues the journey she embarked upon with her debut release – exploring and interpreting traditional Scottish music. Recorded in a shed that was repurposed as a recording studio, the project has drawn in a number of talented musicians. As the pandemic threw up the now familiar range of logistical challenges, some of the album’s collaborators also contributed their parts from similarly unconventional locations. Perseverance has its rewards, however, and we are left with an exceptional album.

With a pure clear voice, a self-evident love for the Gaelic language and an instinctive feel for interpreting the material in her own unique way, Elena Pira brings something that’s both precious and meaningful to the Scottish folk scene.

Where The Wind Blows was released 20th November 2020

Visit the website of Elena Piras here

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/world: album review – Reely Jiggered ‘Tricky Terrain’

Kate Bush with a Bhangra band and a Celtic fiddle player – if you asked me to give my first impressions of Tricky Terrain, the new album from Reely Jiggered, that’s pretty much what sprang to mind when I put it into the CD player .

Actually, as first impressions go that’s not too far out. With the soaring vocals and frenetic fiddle-playing of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trained Alison McNeill and the band’s output inspired by both Scottish folk and World beats, they have managed to create a unique and irresistible fusion of folk, funk, rock, pop and jazz

Now releasing their third album they have headlined a number of festivals, both in Scotland and internationally, and are past winners of the Soundwave music competition. Joining Alison McNeill on vocals and fiddle are Fiona McNeill (guitar, bodhran, backing vocals) and Scott McLean (drums), with guest musicians Stuart Taylor (keys) and Gregor McPhie (bass).

ReelyJiggered_PR2

The rocking rhythms, furious fiddling and exquisite vocals aligned with those diverse beats make for an absolutely cracking album. The songs are great, too – whether it’s Alison McNeil’s own compositions exploring politics, mental health and international issues as well as the Scottish landscape and past history – or whether it’s the band’s modern take on ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which closes the album.

Fresh, vibrant and unique I’m immediately won over to ‘Reely Jiggered’ and Tricky Terrain is a superb album.

Released 1st May 2020

https://www.reelyjiggered.co.uk/

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Singer-songwriter: album review – Tom Fairnie ‘Lightning in the Dark’

An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.

Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning in the Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It’s a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary – Celticana as Bregante dubbed it.

The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Fairnie’s gift as a songwriter and easy-going but thought-provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet Bob Shields, make this a standout-out album.

An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed.

Released: 1st May 2020

https://tomfairnie.com/home-news

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Folk: album review – Adam Amos & Noel Rocks ‘Back Up To Zero’

Back Up To Zero is the third album from acoustic singer-songwriter duo Adam Amos & Noel Rocks. It comes after quite some gap since the first two though. Adam Amos and Noel Rocks recorded two albums together in the 1980s and toured around the UK and Europe. Their endeavours as a duo came to a premature end, however, when Amos relocated abroad. Two sell-out reunion shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 evidently encouraged them to rekindle their working partnership as a permanent set-up once more and they began working on Back Up To Zero in 2019, on Amos’s return to live in Scotland.

The album comprises eight original songs along with one traditional number and one cover. The duo (Amos guitar/vocals and Rocks guitar/banjo/vocals) say the songs are mainly drawn from their personal observations, with influences from Scotland, Ireland and North America.

amos garden-crop-framed

They are joined by a number of guest musicians: renowned Korean born Su-a Lee (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr McFall’s Chamber, La Banda Europa) on cello, David Paton (Pilot, Elton John, Albert Hammond) on bass and Kenny Hutchison on accordion and piano, who was also the album’s producer.

Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.

Released: 17th March 2020

https://www.amosandrocks.com/

amos rocks