Tag Archives: Scottish folk

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

The Between Islands Project began life in 2014 with the aim of bringing together contemporary songwriters from Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides and celebrate the rich musical heritage of those islands. In the years that followed a number of diverse individual projects emerged out of this, from joint song-writing ventures through to exhibitions, lectures, films and, of course, live performances.

Come 2020 and Covid was to throw a spanner in the works. Performances had been scheduled at both the Shetland Folk Festival and the Heb Celt festival in Stornaway but, undeterred, project co-ordinator Alex MacDonald sought to translate the project from the stage to the studio.

He explains: “As the project was based on live events, initially we were at a loss as to how it could be saved. Thankfully we were able to redesign what was planned, and this double CD contains both live work previously captured and a series of entirely new tracks recorded in lockdown.”

The result is a breath-taking thirty-track, two-disc collection showcasing some top-notch song-writing, exquisite singing  and inventive contemporary arrangements of traditional fiddle tunes.

The thirteen musicians featured are: Maggie Adamson. Louise Bichan, Williw Campbell, Kris Drever, Julie Fowlis, Neil Johnstone, Jenny Napier Keldie, Kathleen MacInnes, Linda MacLeod, Jane Hepburn MacMillan, Arthur Nicholson and Satfishforty.  

The ‘lockdown disc’ was created from sessions that paired up artists across the existing projects while also allowing the opportunity for entirely new remote collaborations and compositions. Consequently, the disc begins by introducing the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney musicians respectively over the opening three tracks before going on to explore a range of other pairings. The ‘live disc’ meanwhile was something that had long been planned and features performances from both Orkney Folk Festival and the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornaway. A detailed twelve-page booklet accompanies the two discs.

When live events do, once more, become possible this lovingly-curated CD will undoubtedly ensure the reputation of the Between Islands project will be stronger than ever and their return to the stage warmly anticipated.

Released: 11t December 2020

www.betweenislands.com

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 – Rura ‘Live At The Old Fruitmarket’

Recorded live at a home-town gig in the month before lock-down commenced, Glasgow’s folk instrumentalists Rura celebrate their tenth anniversary with this brand new live album. Live At The Old Fruitmarket documents Rura’s performance for a 1,200-strong crowd on the final day of the Celtic Connections festival back in February.

The foursome – Steven Blake (pipes and keys), Jack Smedley (fiddle), David Foley (flute and bodhran) and Adam Brown (guitar) are joined by former, past collaborators and long-time musical friends to celebrate the band’s decade of music-making. The concert includes guest slots for the band’s former singer and songwriter Adam Holmes, who contributes two songs, and guitarist Chris Waite in addition to other musicians, including Ali Hutton (Treacherous Orchestra) and James Lindsay (Braebach).

Fiddler, Jack Smedley, reflects: “Over the past ten years we have made incredible friends, made ridiculous memories and played a few tunes along the way! We want to thank everyone who joined us on stage that night at The Old Fruitmarket as well as every single person who has come to see us. We had a blast!”

Capturing some of the magic and atmosphere of what was clearly a very special night, the band and their guests are fizzing with energy as they revisit highlights from their back catalogue.

From fast and furious to melancholy and mournful anyone with a love of Scottish pipes and fiddle is going to love this album. And for anyone who was lucky enough to experience this as one of their last gigs before lock-down they are almost certainly going to want to purchase it as a memento of that evening.

Released 11th September 2020

https://www.rura.co.uk/

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).

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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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Folk: album review – Siobhan Miller ‘All Is Not Forgotten’

All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. Featuring a mixture of new arrangements of traditional songs and newly-composed original material, Miller has drawn together a stellar team of supporting musicians from across the Scottish folk scene. Lau’s Kris Drever plays guitar, Miller’s husband and musician/producer Euan Burton plays bass (both of whom also collaborate in the song-writing), while Braebach’s Megan Henderson plays fiddle, Innes White plays acoustic guitar, John Lowrie plays piano and Kim Carnie contributes backing vocals.

A more stripped-back slightly less commercial affair than her 2018 album, Miller reflects:

“After releasing Mercury I really wanted to create something reflective of our live shows, mixing original songs with new arrangements of traditional songs I’ve learned and making it as raw and as honest as possible.”

A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.

Among the album’s nine tracks highlights include ‘Selkie’ a lovely arrangement of the traditional song immortalising the Scottish legend of those beasts that are seals in water but human on land. The gentle beauty of ‘While The World Weeps’, co-written by Euan Burton with Findlay Napier, is another real highlight, while a complete contrast comes in the shape of the music hall feel of the wittily tongue-in-cheek ‘Cholesterol’ that closes the album.

A string of tour dates were announced to promote All Is Not Forgotten, sadly and inevitably now all cancelled. So if you want to support Siobhan Miller while at the same time adding some thoughtful songwriting and creative arrangements of traditional Scottish folk to your collection then do visit her website and purchase a copy of this beautiful album.

Released: 3 April 2020 by Songprint Recordings via Proper Music

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https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

News: The Roke – debut album from Scottish piper Ross Miller

The Roke is the town tune of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Linlithgow where Ross Miller was brought up and where he is the official Town Piper. The Roke is also the title of Miller’s debut album, released on 9th March – his 25th birthday.

“This album has been years in the making,” Ross Miller tells Darren’s music blog. “I’ve been writing tunes and putting sets together for years with a variety of different groups but I felt that the time had come to record my music and release it into the world. The recording process was spaced out over three months and the sound evolved so much into what you hear on the CD. I am over the moon with the way it has turned out and I am hugely grateful to everyone who has supported me through the process either musically, financially or just generally being there to listen to my constant thinking out loud!”

A finalist in the 2019 BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year and a Celtic Connections award winner, Miller has also won the World Pipe Band Championships and an array of Solo Piping prizes in his career so far. The tunes on this instrumental album are all either Miller’s compositions or his personal favourites to play. The music ranges from tunes he has played in pipe bands that have been given a new twist to modern Reels and Jigs. The album features full band arrangements as well as more stripped back solo performances and even includes a pipe quartet where Miller performs all four parts.

Co-produced with Craig Irving,  Ross Miller has assembled a strong cast of musicians for the album:

Ross Miller – Bagpipes
Craig Irivng – Guitar (a BBC Young Folk Award winner and former member of Scottish bands Manran and Talisk)
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle, Double Bass (BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2017)
Rory Matheson – Piano (Fara)
Callum Edwards – Drums, percussion, marching snare drum (Red Hot Chilli Pipers)
Craig Baxter – Bodhran (Gnoss)

The Roke by Ross Miller is released on 9th March 2020 by Avontoun Records.

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Photo credits: Martin Venherm

https://www.rossmillermusic.com/

News: Cladaich Loch Iù – debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair

Cladaich Loch Iù is the debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair. In English meaning ‘Shores of Loch Ewe’ his album has been inspired primarily by songs from his own part of the world combined with other well-known Gaelic songs that he has picked up over the years.

“It was a great experience to come together with such brilliant musicians and take some of my favourite Gaelic songs and breath new life into them. Everyone involved in the album brought a different element with them which created a final product of which I’m very proud,” Steven tells Darren’s music blog.

“It was important for me to include, in the album, some songs from my own village and bring these excellent works to a wider audience’s attention.”

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Born in a small village in the West Coast of Scotland, Naast, near Poolewe, he grew up in a musical home where he developed a love for singing. During his school years his interest and passion for the Gaelic language grew and lead him to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig where he completed a course in Gaelic broadcasting, and most recently, an Honours Degree in Education and Gaelic. Steven started competing in both local and national Mòds when he was 12 years old and won the James C MacPhee Memorial Medal in 1999, just 10 years later he went on to win the coveted An Comunn Gàidhealach Gold Medal. He is currently a Gaelic primary school teacher in Dingwall.

Initially launched on the 28th of August 2019 at a gig he organised in Dingwall and available digitally the album is now also available on CD.

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The CD, Cladaich Loch Iù, is available to buy from:

Glasgow: Gaelic Books Council Shop, Mansfied Street, Partick.
Stornoway: An Comunn Gàidhealach Office
Online: www.BirnamCDshop.com

The album can also be downloaded through:

iTunes
Spotify
Amazon Music
Google Play Music

News: ‘The Final Trawl’ – 19th annual CD of the students of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music

Situated in Plockton on the West Coast of Scotland, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music first opened its doors to students in 2000. Uniquely, each year the Centre has produced a CD of material chosen and arranged by the students themselves. Featuring twenty-one musicians this year, The Final Trawl double disc CD features both traditional material and the students’ own compositions.

Writing in the album’s sleeve-notes Dougie Pincock, Director of the Centre, remarks:

“The student’s choice of Archie Fisher’s great but gloomy song as the title track is singularly appropriate given that the state of the Scottish fishing industry is one of the more contentious issues of the day. But while, as in the past, I’m happy to commend our young people for their political awareness, I’m always glad to be able to say that they counterbalance the doom and gloom with their creative energy and the joy they take, and give, in the creation and performance of their music.”

The Centre came about when, following devolution in 1999, the Scottish Executive established its Excellence Fund for education, and invited the 32 Scottish local authorities to submit bids for appropriate projects. Recognising the wealth of traditional music activity generated by the Fèis movement and others, the Highland Council submitted a bid for a residential Centre of Excellence specialising in traditional music. The bid was successful and the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music was established at Plockton High School in May 2000 with funding of £500,000 from the Scottish Executive’s Excellence Fund. The Centre is now directly funded by the Highland Council.

The CD is available for purchase via the Centre’s website

https://www.musicplockton.org/

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Folk: album review – TMSA ‘Young Trad Tour 2018’

A simple, slightly quirky but effective idea, every year the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland (TMSA) run the Young Trad Tour project where they offer young musicians the opportunity to record an album with their contemporaries and tour their home towns. TMSA launched the project back in 2004 when the six finalists from BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician Of The Year awards were brought together to tour and make an album and its been repeated each year since.

This year’s CD features the six finalists of the 2018 competition along with the winner of the 2017 competition and the full lone-up is as follows: Hannah Rarity (vocals and 2018 winner), Charlie Stewart (fiddle and 2017 winner), Ali Levack (whistles/pipes), Rory Matheson (piano), Luc MacNally (guitar/vocals), Amy Papiransky (vocals) and David Shedden (bagpipes).

The album contains a nice mix of original material and arrangements of traditional tunes. There’s a real maturity to both the playing and the writing but one of the undoubted highlights of the album is the wonderful voice of 2018 competition winner Hannah Rarity. Rarity’s talent had already come to my notice when I reviewed her debut release for the sadly now-defunct fRoots magazine back in 2017. It’s certainly encouraging to see her getting the recognition she deserves, not that the CD is merely a showcase for the winner. There’s some fine fiddle playing and bagpipes on this album and it is impressive to see this ad-hoc ensemble coming together with something as cohesive as this.

A wonderfully creative project and one that has delivered a fine album.

Released: 6th August 2019 by TMSA

https://www.tmsa.scot/

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Related review:

EP review – Hannah Rarity – Beginings

News: Scottish folk band Skipinnish celebrate twentieth anniversary

Scottish folk band Skipinnish celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year. The band’s origins may have been modest, gigging in pubs and bars and village halls but their rise in recent years has been phenomenal – with prestigious venues selling out, many millions of streams on Spotify and other platforms and their latest album Steer By The Stars reaching number 4 in the charts. And that was not some obscure specialist folk chart but the actual official UK mainstream charts .

Now the album has been nominated for Album of the Year at the Scottish Trad Music Awards. Fans of the band can vote for the album here: https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/scotstradmusicawards/voting/

Visiting familiar themes for the band of ocean, island, landscape, love, hope, mortality, friendship and the pull of home the album was officially launched to a packed house at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall back in May this year and has gone on to attract many enthusiastic reviews.

The band’s twentieth anniversary is officially marked with a special performance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on October 25th and that will be followed by a short tour of Scottish venues in December.

https://www.skipinnish.com/

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