Tag Archives: Scottish folk

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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Folk: album review – Hamish Napier ‘The River’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Hamish Napier is an in-demand folk musician who has collaborated with a number of key acts on the Scottish folk scene. The River, however, is the debut solo album from this Strathspey-born composer and multi-instrumentalist, and is very much inspired by a childhood spent growing up on the banks of the Spey. “The River brings to the surface vivid sonic images of occurrences, past and present, along the mile-long stretch of the Spey that flows past my childhood home,” Napier tells us in the extensive sleeve notes.

The album includes a stellar cast of renowned Scottish folk musicians, including Sarah Hayes (Admiral Fallow) on flute, James Lindsay (Breabach) on double bass, Martin O’Neil (Duncan Chisholm) on bodhran, as well as Callum MacCrimmon singing Canntaireach, the ancient chanting language of the bagpipes.

Perhaps symbolic of the constantly changing flow of any river, there is a breadth of sounds and moods explored on this album. Opening track Mayfly puts one in mind of some early 70s prog rock passages, a folky Tubular Bells if you will. It’s perhaps an unusual start but provides a captivating experimental feel which immediately encourages the listener to want to explore further.

The Whirlpool meanwhile is a lovely tune with flute and whistle. It has been written as a round – in celebration of the whirlpool that constantly spins and spins just a few hundred yards from the Old Spey Bridge.which captures the frenetic natural cycle of the river as an ever-changing dance. The mood changes considerably with The Dance, beginning with gentle, sombre piano.

Of course, no aquatic-inspired folk, be it river or sea, is complete without harrowing tales of tragedy and death, and the beautiful but mournful Drowning of the Silver Brothers is inspired by the fate of two local boys who mysteriously drowned in the 1930s. Clearly not forgotten locally, this piece serves as a haunting but fitting tribute to the boys and the mystery that surrounds them.

Another memorable track is Floating, which has a funky electronic feel to it demonstrating just how far Napier is prepared to cast his musical net in order to capture the range of moods and emotions he feels moved to express in this album. The two-part The Spey Cast closes the album. The first part is a thought-provoking gentle piece inspired by the death of an old fly fisherman while the second part is a fast and furious musical romp which reflects the mixture of chaos and hilarity that is the town’s annual raft race.

For those with a love of Scottish folk, particularly those with a keen interest in experimentation and innovation within the Celtic world and who love to hear the sound of boundaries being pushed, this is an album well worth exploring.

Released January 2016

http://www.hamishnapier.com/

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