Tag Archives: Scottish folk

This week’s featured artist: Gaelic multi-instrumentalist Tina Jordan Rees

Originally from Lancashire but having spent time living in both Ireland and Scotland, Tina Jordan Rees is extremely well-versed in the musical traditions of each. A multi-instrumentalist, she plays flute, whistle and piano as well as being a qualified Irish dance teacher. Having released several albums of Irish dance music, Beatha represents her first album of flute and whistle.

Tina Jordan Rees: “In 2018, having not long turned 30, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Thankfully, it was found early and I had an operation which cured it. My outlook on life has changed somewhat since then. I want to enjoy like more, take in the small moments and breathe.”

“It was important to me to be creative once again after the majority of music had stopped during the pandemic. Making music brings me so much happiness and makes me feel alive. I have enjoyed pouring my heart and soul into this album and playing with the fantastic musicians who joined me for it.”

“I decided to name the album Beatha as a nod to this journey we are all on. As ‘beatha’ means life in both Scottish and Irish Gaelic, I feel it reflects my time spent in Ireland and Scotland where I now call home.”

The result is a beautiful, life-affirming album featuring ten tracks of self-composed Gaelic-inspired tunes. Tina Jordan Rees plays flute, whistles and piano, and is joined by guest musicians, Séan Gray (guitar), Lea Larsen (Bodhran) and James Lindsay (double bass).

From sweet and poignant to dramatic and fast-paced, Jordan Rees’ thoughtful compositions and inspired playing takes us on a journey that invokes a fulsome range of emotions. Beatha is an album that followers of Gaelic folk would do well to seek out, whether they are familiar with her previous work or not.

Beatha was released on June 24th and is available on CD and all the major musical platforms.

Photo credits: Elly Lucas

https://tinajordanrees.com/

This week’s featured artist: Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’

Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards.

In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.

As well as Carnie’s own standout vocals the album features a stellar line-up of the brightest and the best from the Scottish folk scene, including vocalists, Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson, Kathleen MacInnes, Megan Henderson and Calum MacCrimmon.

The album was written and arranged during lockdown on the Isle of Skye and features five of Carnie’s original songs, some sung in English and others Gaelic, alongside five of her own interpretations of traditional Gaelic songs and texts.

Kim Carnie: “Over the last two years, we have spent too much time apart from the people we care most about. We have had to learn how to show love through our physical absence and find calm in our isolation. This album is a celebration of where we are now: gathering loving and putting ourselves back together.”

“I spent the first few months of lockdown in Glenlyon. I would regularly walk a six-mile round-trip, sneak into our beautiful local church and play the baby grand piano – it was where I wrote most of the album.”

“The album brings together some of my favourite musicians, but most importantly some of my favourite hearts and minds. It’s been a real privilege putting this music together and hearing what others hear in both my songs and the songs of our ancestors.”

Musicians:
Kim Carnie – Vocals
Donald Shaw – Piano and harmonium
Innes White – Guitar, mandolin and vocals
James Lindsay – Double bass
James MacIntosh – Percussion

Guest vocalists:
Calum MacCrimmon
Julie Fowlis
Karen Matheson
Kathleen MacInnes
Megan Henderson

Guest musicians:
Alyn Cosker – Percussion
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle
Iain Hutchison – Electric guitar
John Lowrie – Piano
Kadialy Kouyate – Kora
Matt Carmichael – Saxophone
Scottish Session Orchestra

And So We Gather was released on 17th June 2022 by Càrn Records

https://www.kimcarnie.com/

Folk: album review – Hannah Rarity ‘To Have You Near’

I had the privilege of reviewing Hannah Rarity’s debut EP, Beginnings, for the now defunct fRoots magazine back in 2016. I predicted hers was a name to watch, Rarity’s voice reminding me of a young Cara Dillon, a comparison it seems a few others went on to make along the way. Since then, she went on to pick up BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year award  in 2018 and release her extremely well-received debut full album, Neath The Gloaming Star, that same year.

Four years later she returns with the follow-up, To Have You Near. The vocals are as captivating as ever and the songs, whether originals or Rarity’s interpretations of others’ material, are always both highly engaging and thought-provoking. With this new album, however, she brings in other influences alongside the expected Scottish folk, with touches of jazz and blues.

Hannah Rarity: “A second album is a daunting task for any artist, and To Have You Near has been born out of a turbulent, difficult time in the world. Which I think is reflected in  the freshly penned songs and my choice of poignant covers. Artistically and stylistically, I wanted it to be an intimate experience for a listener, tackling more complex subject matters along the way and experimenting further with production techniques and sounds – still grounded in traditional folk song but allowing space for other influences to permeate.”

Rarity’s own songs (whether her solo compositions or collaborations with co-songwriter, Gordon Maclean) explore themes such as home, friendship, insecurity and dementia, the latter taking the form of a touching song called ‘Kaleidoscope, based on Rarity’s work bringing music to residents in care homes through the Live Music Now initiative.

Covers include the 19th century parlour song, ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’, a cover of Tom Waite’s ‘Take It With Me’ and Julie Matthews’ ‘Comes The Hour’, originally written for a BBC Radio Ballads documentary.

To Have You Near is produced by long-time collaborator, Innes White, who also provides acoustic guitar, alongside John Lowrie (keyboards), James Lindsey (bass) and Scott McKay (drums and percussion). Lush strings courtesy of Seonaid Aitken, Katrina Lee, Patsy Reid and Alice Allen give the album additional depth and sensitivity.

Still a name to watch and still as captivating as ever, Hannah Rarity has created a thing of beauty with this, her second album.

Released: 3rd June 2022

https://www.hannahrarity.com/

Related reviews:

EP review – Hannah Rarity ‘Beginnings’

Album review – TMSA ‘Young Trad Tour 2018’

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 – 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

Folk: album review – Rachel Newton & Lauren MacColl ‘Heal & Harrow’

Witches have been in the news of late, with Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issuing a formal apology to those who were executed under Scotland’s sixteenth and seventeenth century witchcraft laws.

Sturgeon’s apology was in response to the ‘Witches of Scotland’ campaign which has sought to obtain an official pardon for those, mainly women, who were persecuted as witches. The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft has pulled together a comprehensive database of known prosecutions taking place, between the first execution in 1479 and the final one in 1727, revealing that at least 2,500 people were killed.

It’s not only in the Scottish Parliament where the plight of those persecuted has resonated. Acclaimed Scottish traditional musicians and composers, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, have been equally moved by this dark period in Scotland’s history. Collaborating with author and academic, Mairi Kidd, Heal & Harrow is an album of original music, songs and readings drawn from Kidd’s specially-commissioned writing.

Kidd writes in the accompanying booklet: “Heal & Harrow is a dream project for a writer, but a challenging one, too. Choosing ten women from the thousands persecuted for witchcraft was a daunting task, never mind selecting also from the legion of sister who experienced less extreme versions of the same forces.”

The result is a haunting but compelling album that honours the memory of women who fell victim to that lethal combination of misogyny, superstition and paranoia which gave rise to the witch-hunts. Women like Lillias Addie, who is commemorated in the opening track. She was accused of witchcraft after being shopped by a neighbour but died before her trial. Escaping the horror of being burned to death she remains the only person in Scotland that was accused of witchcraft to have a known grave.

Newton’s  harp, stark and slightly other-worldly, and MacColl’s fiddle, brooding and melancholy, are the dominant sounds on the album, providing a beautifully evocative backdrop for Newton’s pure yet fragile-sounding vocal or the duo’s soft, gentle spoken-word interludes.

Sorcery and witchcraft have been a recurring theme in folk for centuries but amidst the melodramatic, cartoon-like portrayals it’s sometimes easy to forget the horrendous human tragedies that resulted from society’s obsession. Heal & Harrow redresses that balance and gives a voice to those so accused. A stunning album.

Released: 4th February 2022

https://www.healandharrow.com/

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/

Alt-folk: album review – The Daughters ‘Golden Shore’

Acoustic alt-folk duo The Daughters is a recent collaboration between two Scottish singer-songwriters Martha Middlemiss and Mary Moira McKay. Although the two had been singing together informally for a number of years, the quirks of lockdown and the arrival of socially-distanced walks into our day to day vocabulary led to things being taken a step further.

Songs began to materialise as the two shared their regular walks along Scotland’s Tyne River. An initial single ‘The Mountains’ was released in Spring 2021, which celebrated the beauty of Scotland’s landscape and the determination of those who sought solace, inspiration and escapism from conquering its peaks during the unsettling times as the pandemic took hold.

Soon enough songs began to materialise and Golden Shore is the result: twelve delightful original songs exploring themes around the great outdoors, love, faith and life dilemmas.

The duo’s charmingly quirky harmonised vocals are a real delight and Middlemiss and McKay have turned out to be the perfect fit for one another. Indeed, the pair’s voices are so alike that at times during the sessions even they found themselves struggling to tell one from the other.

The pair are backed by a talented collection of guest musicians each of whom deliver both charm and empathy to the collection of songs. These are Alice Allen (cello), Calum McIntyre (percussion), Chris Amer (acoustic and electric guitar), Duncan Lyall (acoustic and electric bass) and Martin Lee Thompson (euphonium).

An uplifting album and a new creative partnership borne out of the adversity of the pandemic Golden Shore has certainly helped put a spring in my step.

Released: 5th November 2021

https://thedaughtersmusic.com/

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/