Tag Archives: Scottish folk

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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Folk – album review – Birichen ‘Hush’

This review was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

Birichen are Catriona Sutherland (vocals), Iain-Gordon Macfarlane (fiddle and guitar) and Robert McDonald (dobro slide guitar) and this five-track EP is their debut release. Named after the settlement in the Scottish highlands that serves as their base, the trio’s music is steeped in the influences of Scottish folk but there are other influences at work, too, most notably Americana.

The EP opens with the sound of birdsong and running water, but regardless of whether it’s Drumnadrochit or Montana it really doesn’t matter, the opening song Holding On To Each Moment immediately transports the listener to somewhere that is soothing, laid-back and breathtakingly beautiful. Gordon-Macfarlane’s fiddle and McDonald’s slide guitar serve to clearly lay out Birichen’s musical mission from the outset and both players provide the perfect accompaniment for Sutherland’s clear voice and gentle, evocative delivery. The country influences come even more to the fore with a cover of Guy Clark’s LA Freeway but on the jazzy Gonnae Get Good and the poignant Smile In Your Sleep the emphasis is very much on Scottish history and culture, the latter an emotive lullaby recalling the brutal and traumatic impact of the Highland Clearances that touches on the history of the Birichen settlement and Sutherland’s own family history.

A beguiling blend of Scottish folk and American country Hush sees Birichen announce their arrival in splendid form. A fine debut EP.

Released: October 2018

https://www.facebook.com/Birichen/

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Folk: album review – Band of Burns ‘Live From The Union Chapel’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Originating out of the Burns Night gigs that ran at East London’s Wilton’s Music Hall for several years, Band of Burns came about when key members of the team (musicians Alastair Caplin and Dilar Vardar, and promoter Sophie Bostock) decided to put a more permanent touring outfit together. Featuring twelve musicians, this double live album was recorded at one of the band’s celebrated gigs at North London’s iconic Union Chapel and was released thanks to a successful crowdfunding appeal.

As the band’s origins and name suggests the influence of Scotland’s most celebrated poet casts a major presence over the entire project. It would be a mistake, however, to assume the album was focused solely on the work of Robert Burns.

Indeed, it would be a mistake to assume it was focused solely on the Scottish folk tradition either. Those involved in the Band of Burns come from a variety of different backgrounds and musical traditions, hailing from England, Wales and Ireland as well as Scotland and from as far afield as Turkey.

The result is a delightful collection of songs and tune sets from a fantastic array of musicians. From songs based on Burns’ own writing like My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose, Now Westlin Winds and Parcel o’ Rogues, through to other traditional numbers like Banks of Red Roses as well as songs like Richard Farina’s The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, there will be much that many folk enthusiasts will be familiar with here. However, the range of voices, both male and female, together with the exceptional standards of musicianship has resulted in Band of Burns producing something very special here.

Moreover, it is definitely a collaboration that lends itself well to the live album format. Although overflowing with talent, it would be difficult to imagine the album having quite the same impact had the recording been studio-bound. The awed crowd reactions to the ballads and the rapturous responses to some of the tune sets wonderfully capture what must have been an incredible atmosphere in Union Chapel on the evening of 29th January 2017.

Although nicely packaged a little bit more information on the background to the song choices and the playing on each track would not have gone amiss. However, with information about both the sizeable number of musicians and the concert itself to cram in there is probably a limit to how much additional information can be squeezed in.

Two discs, twelve musicians and one magical night, Live From The Union Chapel is a wonderful celebration of the life and work of Robert Burns.

Released: Ord Ban Music  19th January 2018

https://www.bandofburns.com/

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Folk: album review – Top Floor Taivers ‘A Delicate Game’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The dramatic piano introduction that opens A Delicate Game instantly tells the listener that this is going to be something slightly different to the numerous, admittedly excellent, début albums that are coming out of the Scottish folk scene these days.

Aside from the fresh, engaging voice of Claire Hastings, who won Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2015, the piano of Tina Jordan Rees is very much the dominant sound on A Delicate Game.

It gives this young female foursome, and the album itself, a very distinct identity. Hastings and Jordan Rees are joined by fiddler Gráinne Brady, with Heather Downie on the clàsrsach, the Gaelic triangular harp.

Material-wise the album is dominated by covers, including some very well-known ones, with a couple of traditional songs and two originals thrown in. In terms of covers they don’t beat about the bush, choosing iconic songs like Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows and Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

While the tune and lyrics of the latter are always going to be instantly recognisable, transforming the guitar maestro’s famous vintage motorcycling death-disc into a pacey, keyboard-driven track is an ambitious and genuinely interesting treatment that works well.

Other covers include Andy M. Stewart’s Ramblin’ Rover, while the traditional material includes The False Bride.

Of the two original tracks, one is by Heather Downie and her brother Alasdair, in what the sleeve-notes reveal to be their first foray into writing together. Called Jeannie and the Spider it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at relationships and the roles each partner plays within them. While it’s perhaps not the most memorable song on the album it is fair to say it is up against some stiff song-writing competition. It has a catchy, easily likeable melody and shows promise for song-writing that captures the spirit of the tradition.

The other original track, 10 Little Men, is Hastings’ re-imagining of the old nursery rhyme, and offers something a little different from the band’s usual style with electronic percussion and swirly atmospheric soundscapes. This track does, however, also offer an opportunity for Brady’s beautiful fiddle playing to really shine.

This is a band who have established a sound and a clear musical identity for themselves. At the same time they are not afraid to experiment and as a début A Delicate Game is an excellent showcase for the combined talents of the Top Floor Taivers.

Released 2016

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