Friday, 30 December 2016


CD Review

Fine 'n' Rosy

There seems no end to Liza Mulholland's talent, she is a multi-instrumentalist, composes, teaches, writes, creates radio and television programmes, runs her own production company and thankfully she has brought all those talents into her debut solo album.

Liza Mulholland
The Inverness musician has one of the softest voices around which almost forces you to strain your ears, and if you are of a certain age and her singing sounds familiar, it may be because she sounds remarkably like Nena who had a big hit in the mids 1980s with 99 Red Balloons.
Strangely enough just as Nena's light song contained metaphors for war games, military paranoia and impending destruction, so Mulholland's songs tackle some pretty strong themes such as the opening track Took My Breath Away about abusive relationships.
It's an uncomplicated ballad and superficially sounds very light but with lyrics such as "If I can't have you no one will, is all that you can say. A flash of steel was all it took to take my breath away."
 It's quite a disturbing juxtaposition when you enjoy the lightness of the tune then realise the relationship ends in death.
The title track which follows is of a less dark subject but nonetheless insightful where once again you are almost forced to listen to her breathy, whispery singing which can be so restful.
Her musings on gardens as a metaphor for life is kept very simple with just the guitar and the undertone of the accordion which is then fleshed out by some ethereal vocal harmonies.
Cadal Sàmhach is beautiful and very personal tune from Mulholland about the joy and love she feels for her son especially when watching him sleep.
Her subtle use of the accordion and sparse singing makes this a very restful piece almost a lullaby which could have been designed to put her son in the state she enjoys watching him so much. Mulholland continues with the instrumental for her Kiloran Jig Set of two jigs, The Holm Burn Jig and Kiloran Jig, which are inspired by her native Scotland.
Like her singing the tunes are soft and almost like slip jigs but keep the toe tapping rhythm as lively as it should be.
 At times Mulholland opens her life and heart in this album and On The Road is one such track which was composed from a very dark time in her life and perhaps the creation of this tune was both cathartic and instrumental in rebooting her ability to make music.
Once again the depth of feeling and meaning in this song belies the softness of her tone which could indicate she just wants to tell it how it is without coming across as bitter or twisted by the situations which inspired the song.
Eric Bogle
What follows is an award-winning anti-war song and takes its lead from Eric Bogle's The Green Fields of France. How Many More Willie McBrides? a song which comes from the composer's outrage felt during the ferment and scandal of the Blair regime and the Iraq war of 2003.
Once again her gentle and refined tones belie the seriousness of the subject but that's not to say the lyrics are not cutting.
Mulholland has this style of composing where she keeps her musical composure almost as if she is scared that anything too intrusive will get in the way of the message about which she feels so strongly. It seems Mulholland can draw inspiration from anywhere and Potting Shed Stomp is a tune inspired by a stage at The Tartan Heart Festival.
The tune is good but lacks a little oomph!
Her laid back style, while adding poignancy to other tracks, seems to restrict this tune and you sort of long for Mulholland to open the throttle a little.
Mulholland draws on her ancestry for Mi Le M' Uilinn Air Mo Ghlùin which is a love song from Murdo MacFarlane a highly-respected and influential figure among Gaelic and folk musicians.
Once again Mulholland's luxurious and breathy tones add something to the Gaelic lyrics creating a very thoughtful song, where even though you don't understand the words, unless you know Gaelic of course, that doesn't matter so much because it's worth just letting the gentle sounds wash over you.
The Funk Trunk may seem a strange title for the last track until you realise it was inspired and performed from inside the trunk of a giant, burned out redwood tree in the US.
The musician's first solo album
This is another case where the music seems to understate the emotion which Mulholland expresses in her sleeve notes where she says: "I wrote this tune in celebration of the hilariously joyful, madness of the night we communed with the ancients and bonded with the universe!"
The music is very reserved, laid back and certainly doesn't project any kind of madness, but perhaps it one of those cases where you had to be there.
In many ways this is a very honest and open album into which Mulholland has obviously invested a great deal of her emotions and that's a brave move.
What's most noticeable about Mulholland is the gentleness of her style when dealing with heavy and serious issues, the paradox of the two elements somehow seems to make you listen more intently than you would had it been a series of rants with the music playing angrily over the top. Mulholland is a very talented musician and although this album only really scratches the surface it's a safe bet that she will never not be in demand.

Fine 'n' Rosy is available on the Metagama Productions Label through,, Birnam CD Online Shop,, iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play and Spotify.

You can catch Mulholland in the New Year at Celtic Connections on January 27 where she is on the bill at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £14.

Thursday, 29 December 2016


CD Review


Eddie Seaman and Luc McNally's paths crossed in 2013 from which came an EP, and one that was well received on  the folk circuit. Then after being involved with many other individual projects the pair sat down in a pub and decided to come up with an album and Tirade is it. 

Eddie Seaman
Seaman from Edinburgh and McNally from Durham have been touring with various groups for some time and much of the album is taken from the tunes they have each played while on the road.
Opener Angry Piper's Tirade can easily give the wrong impression that this album is all wailing pipes and exclusively Scottish music, and it's true as you hear the bagpipes fill ready to play and then the drones and chanters come hammering in so it would be easy to dismiss it as such.
However, it's worth persevering because Seaman and McNally are two extremely versatile musicians with an obvious enthusiasm for music, Celtic in particular and folk in general.
Once Seaman has scared you with the highland pipes he relaxes you with his skill on the whistle for Glint of Silver/ Raga Coffee. The pace is quick and the tune is light, dancing over the top of McNally on guitar. With Harry Brewer McNally gets a chance to air his voice and he has one perfectly suited for folk singing. McNally's voice is honest, down to earth, sincere and easy to listen to.
This simple tune backed by Seaman on bouzouki is the essence of folk music telling the tale of ordinary people affected by world war both those in the fray and those left at home.
This is followed by a triplet On A Boat/Trip To Ely/The Eavesdropper and on the subtle jig opener you hear the tune being driven along by the guitar before Seaman adds another layer of character with the whistle this is then further filled out by the pipes.
The lone pipes droning for the opening of  Here's The Tender Coming sets the tone for this song which you know is filled with sadness. Once again McNally's gentle voice tells the story of The Tender which was a boat which recruited men for the navy to fight in foreign wars.
McNally tells the tale of one wife who had to watch her loved on go off to fight.
Luc McNally
He has a wonderfully restful voice as he sings what is essentially a lament and he reminds very much of Martin Purdy from Harp and a Monkey.
Things lighten up with Seaman's whistle for Not Enough Triplets which picks up tunes from Ireland. The guitar underneath Seaman's playing does give it a gentle jazz feel and certainly defies you to keep your feet still as he playful gets the most out of his instrument.
The dignity of the pipes take over for another triplet Johnny MacDonald's which is made up of How Old Are You My Bonny Lass?/Jimmy McGregor/John MacDonald's Exercise.
The pipes do take a lighter tone for second and third parts which are both jigs.
Like so many pipers today Seaman shows how versatile and subtle the pipes can be, moving away from the kilt flying marching to war in the glen style so often stereotyped.
This is followed by one which will be familiar to anyone with even just a passing interest in folk. The traditional Byker Hill is given a very light, dance treatment with McNally's voice cantering through the song with a style reminiscent of George Formby.
Seaman's pipes bring in another triplet with MSR which is 93rd's Farewell To Edinburgh/The Red Coat/The Ness Pipers.
Once again the pipes are very light and laid back and that high-pitched, vinegary harshness so many associate with the instrument is left behind. As the tunes progress you get a sense of Seaman enjoying himself and letting the drones take him where they will. He really let's his fingers do the talking for the final part of the tune seemingly almost in a race with McNally on guitar.
With Infinite Space which starts with Muir Lodge Seaman once again demonstrates his versatility with a lovely and slow paced whistle tune the second part of which brings in the lovely sound of Madeleine Stewart's fiddle. The combination of all three musicians produces a restful and thoughtful piece which soon gets into the imagination.
The duo's album
The album goes out in style with Elsie Marley/Dr James Bruce of Wick.
The first part is where McNally sings of a well-known Durham character noted for her drinking and merriment.
His cadence mirrors the lively ribaldry for which she would have been known.
You can almost hear the tankards and glasses being clinked in time to the lyrics. Amidst all this is a lively, highland pipe instrumental from Seaman which was inspired by his grandfather.
Tirade is a really enjoyable collection of traditional songs and tunes which skip back and forth across the border like a taunting Scots warrior.
The chemistry between Seaman and McNally is obvious and it produces a range of music which is light but not trivial, thoughtful but not oppressive and with just enough fun sprinkled in to make this collection well worth listening to whatever mood you are in.
Let's hope that it won't be too long, in between their many other projects, that they will remember how good they are as a duo.

Tirade is available now through Skye Records

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


CD Review

Hidden Gems (Chp1)

There is something wonderfully eccentric and marvellously theatrical about The Adventures of Captain of the Lost Waves. They throw everything into their music so much so that it's hard to take it all in with just one listen of their debut album.

Captain of the Lost Waves
From the deliciously original artwork of Damian Clark to the music of Murray Grainger, Tony Taffinder and Dave Bowie Jr, Hidden Gems is circus, it's enticingly macabre, it's Gothic, it's eerie, it's playful, it's music hall, hypnotically irresistible and indulgently artistic.
The adventure begins with Grand National with the clear and unmistakable voice of The Captain which uses the analogy of the famous race to create a picture of life where some are winners some are losers and some just run the race and go about their lives.
At will his vocal style switches from singing to chanting, to yodelling to what is sometimes almost rap. He can also bring a haunting quality to his voice which is quite unnerving. Another Planet has a delicious dark quality to it thanks to The Captain who you can almost see as a scary storyteller moving in and out of shadows holding his listeners in his thrall.
Add to this the music which is the wrong side of crazy and you have a track which could be from the imagination of Tim Burton or Roald Dahl. This gives way to the sound effects opening of Happy In Bed which is a cryptic song with the simple surface premise of being too comfortable in bed to move.
But as the song unfolds you realise The Captain has the whole universe with him. Danger is pure cabaret, this time with The Captain vocally camping things up a little like Jim Carrey as Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket.
This is one of those songs where they have crammed everything in, sound effects which along with the music transport you from a Parisienne smoke filled club to a travelling sideshow somewhere in Eastern Europe populated by all manner of bizarre characters in the blink of a note. Like all good mysteries there are deeper messages in there for the listener to tease out.
In some ways Summer seems a little out of sync with the previous songs in that it's noticeably conventional apart from occasionally having the feel of a chant, however the music is powerful, full bodied and races along with The Captain's vocals perfectly.
It segues into Fat Freddy's Fingers which The Captain opens like the howling of a cat and we are back with the atmospheric and eclectic sound of the band. The Captain tells the story of the piano player of the title.
The song is full of marine and fishing references which are reinforced by Grainger's bellows. Again there is so much packed into this song you are in danger of suffering artistic overload, it's like trying to listen to a musical show, watch a film and walk around an art gallery all at the same time.
Edith Piaf
One of the more gentle pieces is This Is A Song with The Captain showing a much softer side to his singing but somehow still manages to keep a hint of menace and mystery in his style which contains a great deal of wordplay.
The song is an epic sprawl which both soothes and keeps you uneasy at the same time especially when it goes out to the sound of an air raid klaxon.
Once again coming completely out of the blue is Don't Miss What's Right In Front Of You which has the feel of a torch song which has been lifted right out of the Moulin Rouge.
As The Captain belts out the lyrics you cannot help but think of Edith Piaf. The band go out with an epic tune, Mr Many Men. which lasts almost half an hour. Using the metaphor of the Mr Men the band outline how complicated people are with their personalities made up of many thoughts, beliefs and characteristics which change through circumstance or need.
At more than 28 minutes long you kind of wonder where this is going then when the song fades out with more sound effects there is almost nine minutes of silence which ends with what can only be described as a reprise of Freddy's but you soon realise there is almost an album within an album as more and more tracks come along.
The debut album
Afterlife could easily be lifted from a West End musical. Strangely enough, although obviously not strange for COLW, there are other effects and songs which could well be the hidden gems.
To use a well worn phrase this is an album with many layers, it's constructed like a concept album in the vein of something from Pink Floyd yet the fractured parts somehow don't really fit that mould.
There are other bands out there such as Ma Polaine's Great Decline and Threepenny Bit who bring a great deal of theatrics into their music but not quite on the scale as COLW have done.
There are all sorts of adjectives and superlatives you could foist upon this album and most of them would fit but it's simpler to say this is more than music, this is theatre and art and great storytelling but it would be a brave man who would wander into the minds of the musicians which created it without the aid of a safety net.

Hidden Gems is available now from the band's website.

You can also catch them live in the New Year on January 29 at Lucinda’s Lounge, The Bloomsbury Tavern (upstairs), London. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £5. Then on February 9 you can catch them at The Cellar Bar, Laughing Badger Gallery,  99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop. Show starts 7.30pm. On February 11 they play The Boathouse, Chirk Marina,  Chirk, Wrexham show time as above. Then it's on to Halifax Playhouse33 King Cross Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire on February 16. Show time as above. The band then head on to cafe indiependent169-173 high street, Scunthorpe, north lincolnshire  on February 17. Show time as above. To round off the month they will play The Surrey Steampunk Convivial, New Malden, Surrey  on February 25. Show time as above.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016


CD Review

Join Forces

Without even listening to Southern Tenant Folk Union's seventh album you have to give the Edinburgh outfit brownie points for producing an overtly politically motivated disc.

Craig MacFadyen, Pat McGarvey, Rory Butler,
Katherine Stewart and Steve Fivey
The tracks inspired by the return to power of the Tories and produced in part during the turmoil of leadership battles in the Labour party, the run up to Brexit and the US Presidential process, this album was born during some serious political ferment.
It opens with Rory Butler's composition To The War which in some ways is an old fashioned protest song about our complicity and financial involvement in unnecessary wars. Butler's voice has a raw quality and with the layers of fiddle, banjo and guitar the whole track has an under-produced feel to it, which is a good thing.
Northern Ireland's Pat McGarvey, who was the banjo player on the opening song,  provides the next track, The Media Attack. The song questions the validity of information and how reliable the media is especially in this digital age. It has a jumpy beat which has shades of sideshow music but with a sinister undertone. Butler's style of singing here takes on a weary tone and there are some lovely gypsy violin inserts from Katherine Stewart.
With the title track McGarvey pulls no punches with the lyrics, going straight for jugular with lines such as "Both may be intolerant, both have bomb making knowledge, Yeah they seem to fit in wherever they go."  The tune has a slightly chaotic sound to it which is all brought together by Butler's singing of how suspicions and fear can lead to all sorts of problems worldwide.
The much softer ballad Ash, which has a clear bluegrass sound, is a cryptic song using tree metaphors for the way society is run. The gently plodding of the banjo and fiddle make this a strangely relaxing track to listen to.
They slow things down even more for the thoughtful My Grandfather's Father where Butler's gentle and distinctive tones spend the first part singing a Capella as he lays out his family history in part, exploring how each of us shaped by our ancestors. The musical side is also kept to a minimum to great effect which somehow makes you listen more intently to the lyrics and it's only towards the end when the cadence picks up and is more jig-like.
Once again the sincerity of modern-day politics is under scrutiny with Were You Faking When You Kissed Her? On the surface it's a light bluegrass tune but as you unravel the words you realise it's quite cynical and cutting in the questions it asks. Once again the use of the banjo and fiddle are used to great effect with the guitar keeping the time as it rolls along.
Carefully Does It is another cryptic song which is open to interpretation and, of course, depending upon the place you are listening from can talk about social conditioning, isolation, insecurity, twisted values and even about being tired of life.
The title of What Would You Give For A Leader With Soul? pretty much does what it says on the tin. If this were a song from the punk era, the cutting remarks would have been spat out or hammered into their audience. But Butler's soft and almost world weary style of singing somehow make the lyrics more poignant and incisive. You get the feeling of someone who has just had enough and with nothing else left to lose might as well lay his cards on the table.
One of the elements which impresses on this track and many of the previous is the sparing use of the instruments. Butler's voice has a really recognisable tone and style which doesn't rely on power or projection and so it would be easy for the instruments to overpower him but the harmony of the group is extremely noticeable.
It was inevitable that after shining the light on the powers that be he should turn the focus on the masses who help keep those powers in place. What Kind of Worker Do You Want To Be? is a song of hegemony and as you see employment rights being eroded, unions being declawed and more and more of the wealth ending up in fewer and fewer hands then the question of everyone's part in the process is called into question.
The song has a juke joint feel to it with the bumping sound of Craig MacFadyen's double bass pushing things along. Once again what you would expect would be an angry song is put across in that gentle, unassuming style which STFU favour and this time with the big finish tagged on. In the midst of all this comes an instrumental Islay Crossing in three parts, Islay Crossing, Badenscallie Swallie and Dealer's Choice.
They all have a clear Celtic feel with Stewart's fiddle getting a good work out and each section taking it up a notch from the previous. The bluegrass sound Our Revolution Will One Day Come, which has the feel of being lifted straight from the soundtrack of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, shows there is still hope of change and that cynicism hasn't take over completely. Adam Bulley's mandolin kicks things off with a travelling beat and the song rolls along at a fair old pace.
The new album
The final track goes out with a sleepy, we-are-now-done feel to it. Happy As We Both Can Be is close to a lullaby and you can almost see the band walking off into the distance as the sound of their singing fades.
STFU have put together an album which is cutting, witty, insightful, questioning, worried and hopeful and they have done it all in a way which doesn't scream at the listener or alienate them with blame. But what does come across is how we are all part of the scheme, we are all part of the problem and we are all part of the solution.
It's only when we stop pointing the finger, take on our responsibilities, and not just exercise our rights, and bring to account those who won't that change will come. The messages which come from the album are worthy of heeding and it bodes well that a group such STFU has decided to make their music political and more power to their elbow for doing so when so many folk musicians have ignored that strand of society .

Join Forces is available now from the band's website, through high street shops and Proper Music Distributors.

The band are on tour in the New Year beginning on January 26 at  Celtic Connections@Oran Mor, Byres Road, Glasgow. Doors open 7pm and tickets are £14. The band will be on stage around 7.30pm as support for Sinderins and they will be playing the Festival Club on the same night. Then the following night, January 26 they are at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, Fife. Show starts 7pm and tickets are £14 and £12. On January 30 they are back to Glasgow for  Celtic Connections@The Hug & Pint171 Great Western Rd. Show again starts 7pm and tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the door.
Moving in to February on the eighth they play Hebden Bridge Trades ClubHolme St, Yorkshire. Doors open 8pm with the band on stage around 8.30pm and tickets are £12 or £10 for members plus a booking fee. on February 9 they are in Bedfordshire, at the Place TheatreBradgate Rd, Bedford. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £12 in advance. On February 10 they appear at Lowdham Village HallMain St, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £12.50. Following that on February 11
they play Bridport Arts Centre9 South Street. Bridport, Dorset. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £12 or £10 with concessions plus £1.50 booking fee. On February 24 they are off to Pontardawe Arts CentreHerbert Street. Pontardawe, Neath Port Talbot. Show starts 7.30pm. Admission: tbc. The following night on February 25 they can be found at South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading, Berkshire. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £15.

Monday, 12 December 2016


CD Review

Northern Sky

There is a whole new wave of Scottish music which has, in a lot of ways, been thriving in isolation but of late more and more musicians from North of the Border have been looking to make their mark on the other side of Hadrian's Wall.

Pete Coutts
One of the latest on the list is Aberdeen singer/songwriter Pete Coutts, who has been around some time; worked with some major names on the Scottish folk and trad circuit, and has now produced his debut album of Doric songs.
Doric refers to the language and culture which is peculiar to the North Eastern region of Scotland.
Multi-instrumentalist Coutts kicks off the album with the tune Allathumpach.
This is a punchy instrumental which is as Celtic as red hair, alabaster skin and a good sense of having the "craic". Coutts' mandolin playing is complemented perfectly by fellow Scot Ali Hutton on the whistles. Hutton himself has recently released an album, Symbiosis, with Ross Ainslie who also plays the cittern on the album. Coutts give his voice the first outing of the album for Sail & Oar which is a ballad about fishing in Scottish waters and is a lively song which tells the tale of fishermen setting out in their boats to find a catch. Coutts singing is backed by Jenny Sturgeon with again Hutton adding little gems along the way on the whistles.
Even by the third track things have hardly slowed down and In & Oot comes in with Coutts light touch on the mandolin which is not unlike Andy Irvine in style. Brian McAlpine brings even more character to the tune with his accordion and with this track you get to hear Coutts' versatility with his instrument as he switches from traditional to more rock orientated riffs during the tune.
Castin' the Peat brings a change of pace with this song from Coutts which is very much in dialect and can be difficult to pick out as he sings about workers out to cut and collect the peat, which in rural areas of Scotland and Ireland, is used as fuel similar to coal or logs.
Coutts goes back to the instrumental for Villa Rosa. It moves away slightly from the more traditional sound of the previous tracks but what it does have is a jaw harp insert which is always a rare treat and comes underneath the strong and precise string play. Coutts goes back to the traditional sound for Belhelvie for what is close to a sea shanty. Even if you don't fully understand all that Coutts is singing, in a very matter-of-fact tone,  the toe-tapping cadence of the tune will carry you along to enjoy it just as much.
Coutts keeps the pattern following with another instrumental, Boink! This is a rich tune worthy of the Transatlantic Sessions and Celtic Connections. Hutton's whistles and pipes add a strong creamy texture and a highland flavour to Coutts' tune.
The musician shows his softer side with the title track and you can hear him pushing his voice over the top of his gentle guitar strumming which keeps underneath Hutton's lilting whistle playing when Coutts is not singing. Once again we are back to the instrumental with Hutton helping to open the haunting sound of Under The Table.
Coutts' debut solo album
The complex tune brings together skills of Coutts, Hutton, Jonny Hardie on fiddle and Martin O'Neill on bodhran. It's the kind of tune which provides a playground for the imagination, there are so many sounds in there you can take your mind wherever you will on the carpet of their music. The strong and slightly gravelly voice of Coutts introduces Will Ye Byde over the top of the subtle droning of the accordion.
You can just imagine Coutts on the edge of the sea with wind in his face as he sings this parting song, as the central character begs his one true love to wait for him to return.
Strangely enough this segues into the final track which, like the opener, is an instrumental. The distinctive boom of the bodhran keeps the pace as he goes out with a traditional sounding dance tune that brings in to play just every instrument they had to hand.
As a debut album Coutts has something to be proud of in Northern Sky. He had brought a strong flavour of the North Eastern sound of Scotland without it being too insular or exclusive and of course it helped that he surrounded himself with an impressive array of artists.
However, what this album shows is Coutts has a great ear and incredibly versatility when it comes to creating a tune and putting together songs.

Northern Sky is on Fitlike Records and available for download through

Thursday, 8 December 2016


CD Review


When you have a pairing of Nordic and Scottish cultures and music the chances are you will get something off the wall, and the coming together of Scot Sarah-Jane Summers and Fin Juhani Silvola doesn't disappoint. 

Juhani Silvola and Sarah-Jane Summers
Widdershins is the duo's second album which brings together the fiddle of Summers and the guitar of Silvola in not so much a clash of cultures but more of a musical dance which makes everyone else on the floor stop and take notice.
Sydänyö opens the album which translates as midnight from the Finnish but the literal translation of the heart of the night is much more enjoyable.
The fiddle and the guitar waltz in the dark under a starlit sky in what is a hypnotic and sometimes chilling piece of music that is beautifully executed by the duo.
The title track has more of a jazz feel to it with the throaty sound of Summer's fiddle playing giving the instrument an incredible vocabulary as the guitar provides the rhythm, and there times where her playing descends into a wonderful madness.
This is followed by a triplet Brevig Reel/Ruairidh Barrach/Bellag the Drover. Showing again her skill and versatility, Summers opens with a hoe down style for the first of the reels where the notes fly off her strings like leaves caught in a swirling autumnal wind.
This gives way to a more traditional Celtic sound with Silvola's guitar providing the toe-tapping percussion part as the dancing fiddle playing takes you through the third part.
The longest track on the album. Vaajakosken Maija. begins with the gentle sound of the guitar and the hauntingly subtle sound of the fiddle.
This is a thoughtful and luxurious piece of music which slides over you like your favourite blanket, encasing you in the gorgeous warmth of the precise notes. With Sister Donna Kelly/Skype-Clype/Kittle Thairm the duo bring another triplet along.
Firstly Summer's playing comes dancing in like a Will O the Wisp, it's light, mesmerising and darts across the psyche, never staying still long enough to be caught.
The three tunes blend seamlessly while each time Summers giving the pieces their own distinctive voices. Silver Spring Reel has almost the feel of the Asian sitar as the clever playing of Silvola and the pizzicato of Summers fire the notes of with the rapidity of a machine gun but with much more precision and subtlety.
A' Cheapach na Fàsach brings a story of murders and tribal clashes and the duo manage to capture the sorrow,  menace and madness of the narrative. It has to be said the duo's virtuoso skills give their instruments incredibly versatile voices and images trip from the strings like a Pixar film.
Events lighten up with another dance tune. The Målselv Reel, penned by Summers, and, as you would expect is a bouncy tune which trips across the mind like a ballerina on stage. The tiny, almost clipped notes give it slightly a comical feel, like the player is having a private joke with the listener.
Silvola's Burning Sands is a brooding tune which carries undertones of the Delta blues, you could quite easily put a Howlin' Wolf stomp in there and it wouldn't be out of place. The subtlety of Silvola's playing is wonderful in how he makes the tune slide in and out like a surfer riding a wave.
There is something really playful about Donald Morrison/Alexander Grant of Battangorm which makes it a shame that it's the shortest track on the album.
It has a dancing cadence which is obviously Celtic but at times has that head bob, strutting feel of tunes such as Pigeon on the Gate and Turkey in the Straw.
The album goes out with Spike on a Bike which is obviously Summers and Silvola having some fun while at the same time showing how even the mundanes of someone riding towards you on a bike can inspire a vivid piece of music.
The tune is more complex than the construction of the bike in question and once again showcases the duo's skill with their respective instruments. Widdershins is a good title for an album that does, for most of the time, go the "wrong" way but it is all the more fascinating for that. The way the duo give such eloquent and articulate voices to their respective instruments makes this album a real treat.

Widdershins is available now on Dell Daisy Records.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


CD Review


You could throw all kinds of superlatives at Ewan MacPherson and they would all fall short of the mark and this latest album is a point in case. The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist has not only written most of the tracks but he has also produced the album.

Ewan MacPherson
With more than an hour of folk music which covers myriad styles and draws on a vast range of influences from all over the world, no one can say they don't get their moneys worth.
Liverpool-born MacPherson's heritage is as eclectic as his range of playing covering most of the Celtic tribes, and he has been plying his trade for more than two decades working with some of the most respected names in Scottish and Celtic music not least of which is band Shooglenifty.
Laying into his mandolin for the first track, Brutus the Husky/MacColl's, he brings a fast-paced opener to the album which carries a Turkish style sound which morphs into the more traditional on the back of Alasdair White's fiddle playing and Aaron Jones bouzouki.
The two tunes never let up but it does eventually give way to The Silver Tongues/Meall an Fhiodhain which has a much slower pace and with its small pipes carrying through the first part of the tune which has something of a medieval flavour. The second part keeps the pace but has a much more distinctive and repetitive cadence.
The jaw harp is so underused in folk music that whenever it surfaces or even takes centre stage it's always a rare treat. It's MacPherson on the harp which brings in the hypnotic Saltus with its mesmerising beat and repeating drone, you can almost see some tribal activity being played out while the music puts everyone in a trance.
The Cherry Tree Reel/Dog's Got An Itchy Nose starts off with the reel in almost a jazz style, a fusion you don't see too often, but then MacPherson doesn't seem to respect the convention of boundaries. The shift to the second part is almost unnoticeable except for the change of rhythm which gains a more jaunty feel.
What follows is a much softer and thoughtful tune Only The Burn Is Not Silent, which gives Ben Farmer a chance to bring in his melodeon skills. The guitar accompaniment gives a restful quality to the piece. Ruchenitza/Red Cyril starts off with a tune which is again Eastern sounding and has an urgency about it created by the mandolin.
A Hardanger fiddle
The tune adopts a more European feel and seems to lighten up for the second part with the high pitched strings keeping it easy on the ear. Coming next is the atmospheric Ranarim's Welcome To Scotland and the strangely titled Icy North Gutter Experiment.
The precise notes from Hannah Read's fiddle playing gives the tune a gypsy edge to begin with and carries with it the quality of a lament.
The second part becomes more undulating and the fiddle takes on a lighter dance-like timbre to carry the tune along.
This is followed by another double tune, The High Surge of the Sea/Caravan Up North. The first part of which starts off calmly but then of course the surge comes in and there is a lovely subtle undertone from the bodhran of Callum Convoy.
The pace slows for the second half as you can imaging having to lumber along with a caravan but it stays at somewhat of a jaunty pace, almost as if the occupants are singing to the tune as they roll along. As April is to Winter comes in very gently with MacPherson's soft guitar picking which creates an almost lazy sound.
Then the ponderous voice of the viola from Lauren MacColl brings a solemnity which gives the tune the style of a lament while at the same time infusing it with a luxurious feel.
There is a complete change with Cedar Dust as the tune hops in with the distinctive sound of the Hardanger fiddle, a complex and incredible looking instrument, which sings out in the expert hands of Sigrid Moldestad.
You can imagine the tune being played at a very refined dance where the proprieties are observed as they slide around to the tune.
There seems to be a mix of the Celtic and the European music for Dead End Glen with the fiddle providing the highland sound and the mandola keeping the sound from further afield.
It's back to the double helpings for Mad Mr MacPherson/Seamus the Camel which add to the list of wonderfully eccentric names.
MacPherson's new album
The melodeon takes centre stage for the first part, gently giving away to the mandolin before the two instruments work in tandem to take it through until the end.
The closing track, Holding the Whippet/The Torrents, on this fascinating album begins with a strong Celtic feel with the strings keeping a toe-tapping pace where you can almost see the tartan clad legs of feet dancing nimble between swords.
If you were not convinced you were surrounded by Celtic culture then in come the pipes to confirm it, picking up the pace and daring you to keep you feet still as the sound is filled out by a whole gamut of instruments.
There is so much packed into this one album that you will be hard pushed to take it all in with just one listening.
MacPherson creates complex sounds which when he has finished with them are extremely easy on the ear and yet provoke so many different images that it's almost alchemy. MacPherson is cosmopolitan, eclectic, clever, mulit-talented, incredibly creative and musically fearless which all really boils down him being a damn fine musician.

Fetch is out now on Shoogle Records. MacPherson will on tour during February 2017.


CD Review

Songs for Christmas

Christmas albums can be a thorny subject when it comes to integrity. They can be treacly, self indulgent, patronising, preachy and often just an excuse to rehash old songs.

Emily Smith.
Pic courtesy of Archie MacFarlane
And songs which proclaim the real meaning of the season beyond the greed and commercialisation of the festive period put together on an album which is packaged and sold on the back of Christmas is a noticeable irony.
However, this aside, Emily Smith's offering is a good blend of traditional Christian carols, good folk music which is produced well and a showcase for Smith's crystal-toned voice.
Scottish songbird Smith is a seasoned entertainer whose vocal style is eminently enjoyable to hear and lies somewhere between Dolly Parton and Cara Dillon - who has her own Christmas collection Upon A Winter's Night out now.
Smith opens her festive album with Find Hope which paints a picture of many of the triggers which get most of us in the Christmas spirit.
She blends the Christian meanings of the time of year with the commercial imagery of corporate Christmas. Following on from this, Christ Has My Hairt, Ay is overtly the biblical story familiar to many about the birth of Jesus.
It's a sound arrangement from the hands of Jamie McLennan and Brandon Bell of a traditional song which never gets self indulgent, it doesn't sound particularly Christmassy which is part of its strength the most of which lies in the words.
Kate Rusby does wonderful Christmas songs but Smith's smooth and modern version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is both thoughtful and evocative and should be part of anyone's celebrations this year.
Heard From Heaven Today is a lovely addition to this album and is the sort of song which can tug at your heartstrings. The rasping viola and accordion along with the lighter fiddle really give it depth of character.
Much lighter but sticking with the story of Mary and her baby on the road, Little Road To Bethlehem skips along with a jazz beat like the lambs Smith sings about. Merry Christmas To All and Goodnight is all about the sentiment of the season.
The gentle ballad, which is done in light bluegrass style, vividly creates the imagery most associate with Christmas and how we would like the world to be all year round and not on just one day.
Many will be familiar with The Blessings of Mary, it has been done many times and is also known as The Seven Joys of Mary.
Smith gives it a modern treatment. Her version with the beating guitar and again jazz style fiddle may rankle some feathers but it's a good offering with her gentle vocals giving it a real homely feel.
She gives firm Christmas favourite Silent Night the country treatment and there is nothing wrong with it. The musical interlude on the fiddle is a nice touch.
Winter Song is Smith's own offering and shows what a lovely and thoughtful voice she has. The simple guitar accompaniment reminds of Joni Mitchell and her lyrics paint a vivid picture of the coming of winter and the passing of the season.
Emily Smith's Christmas album
It gets a little saccharine with Santa Will Find You but what the song does do is show the strength, character and quality of Smith's voice. Like most things at Christmas it's a little indulgent but who doesn't indulge at this time of year? The song is easy on the ear especially after a long day.
The penultimate track The Parting Glass has been done by pretty much every folk singer at some stage, one of the most recent being Ange Hardy's version. Here Smith sticks to the traditional version and her voice lends itself to the song perfectly.
You get a feeling of genuine emotion in her singing which adds to the character of the track.
The final track on the album is a genuinely fitting way to end a Christmas album.
A Life That's Good is a song about realising what's important in life and not to be blinded by possessions and the pursuit of more and more to the detriment of what's really important.
It's a covertly religious song so is easier on the ear than some preachy style tunes.
Smith has a voice that is worth listening to anyway so that's always a bonus. As a Christmas album this is not a bad offering and is not sickly sweet, overly preachy or bible-bashingly annoying.

Songs for Christmas is out now on WhiteFall Records

You can see her live on December 9 at The Queen's Hall. Doors open 6.30pm and the show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £16 for adults and £10 for children and all sales will incur a £2 booking fee, even if buying in person, with an additional £1 admin fee for booking online or over the phone.  The following night December 10 she plays Inchberry Hall, Fochabers. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £13.33 for adults, £11.21 with concessions and £6.96 for 16s and under, all prices include the booking fee. Then on December 11 she will play Woodend Barn, Banchory. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £14.50 or £12.50 concessions and £5.50 U-16s in advance or £15.50, £13.50 concessions, £6.50 U-16s on the night. She moves to Dumfries on December 15 to play The Theatre Royal. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 and £12. The it's on to McMillan Hall,  Newton Stewart on December 16. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £10. Unfortunately her concert on December 18 at Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill is sold out. Although it may be worth contacting the box office on 01387 253383 on the off chance there may be some returns or no shows. Smith will also be joined on the tour by multi-talented mucisians Jamie McLennan, who co-produced the album, and Anna Massie.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016


CD Review


Merry Hell are part of the modern tradition which was arguably started by Fairport Convention in that amalgamation of acoustic and electric folk to produce the bigger than life sound which was carried along by bands such as the now defuncted Bellowhead.

Lee Goulding, Neil McCartney, Bob Kettle, John Kettle, Andrew Kettle,
Virginia Kettle, Andy Jones and  Nick Davies who are Merry Hell
This fourth album shows the full-on sound the band can produce but so much more. One of the first things you notice is that occasionally just how much they sound like Show of Hands both in their sound and in their ability to compose relevant and politically motivated modern folk songs.
John Kettle provides the first of the offerings with We Need Each Other Now, himself sounding not unlike Richard Thompson. The rousing song, one of a few on the album, is a clarion call to let people know that if they want to change things then it's down to each of us to play a part for each other. If you hadn't noticed the mess that has ensued by leaving our lives in the hands of bankers, politicians and captains of industry then this song should be a wake up call.
This is followed by the more traditional sounding title track from the pen of Virginia Kettle. The song opens with what could be thought of as war drums from Andy Jones and there are some fascinating lyrics in this such as "sit awhile in the branches of your family tree" and "You're woven like a tapestry, all bound together". V Kettle's strong and clear voice lets the listener know they are part of and shaped by history both as a nation and as individuals. Neil McCartney makes his presence felt on the fiddle adding real character to the strong song.
Bob is the next Kettle to get in on the act with his tub-thumping offering which is a valiant effort to big-up England and lays out, a slightly skewed view the country's past. The band propose it as an alternative to the National Anthem, which let's face it is as boring as waiting for WD40 to loosen a rusty nut. You can see it being a massive rabblerouser live as they bang out their antidote to the naysayers and fascists which seem to be coming out of the woodwork since the Brexit vote.
Coming Home Song is another from B Kettle and is very effectively sung almost a Capella bringing with it a sound reminiscent of the brilliant Fisherman's Friends. The song switches between individual members singing the solos and then fills out with the whole band adding a great deal of character on the refrains. All the Bright Blossoms although penned by B Kettle and Lee Goulding could just as easily have come from Phil Beer and Steve Knightley the sound both groups produce is remarkably similar, and none more so than on this occasion. It is a catchy tune with thoughtful lyrics open to interpretation and could easily fit into the vein of Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
V Kettle provides a gently ballad in When We Are Old, with her voice softened for this musing about lasting love and the passing of time we must all endure. Once again McCartney provides a lovely, gentle undertone on the fiddle.
It goes back to the rousing song with Stand Down which whether you are patriotic or not, the jingoistic and tribal-style drumming will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It's an optimistic song which puts its faith in the positive side of human nature while sending out a warning to the world's leaders.
The band again shows its more thoughtful side with the wonderfully gentle and emotional ballad, Sailing Too Close To The Wind. McCartney's offering Chasing A Bluebird brings a country strand to the album with its cryptic use of avian analogies to create a story of separation and longing.
The band go back to the sound which has made them stand out with Over The Wall. Once again the rabblerousing nature of the song talks about people with nothing to lose set in the narration of deportees realising by working together they can taste the sweet air of freedom again. There are hints of The Polyphonic Spree with Under The Overkill.
The song dances lightly thanks to V Kettle's clear voice, which along with the refrain, gives it a Sixties-style undertone.
The new album
The penultimate track A Man Of Few Words is a very poetic and likeable tune from Goulding and it has the structure of a tune which will be picked up by other bands, it has a cadence which is easy to get to grips with.
The band leave the best to last and see the group go out with a real blast of fun.
There is a great tradition in folk music of bawdiness and ribaldry and Sweet Oblivion is loaded with so many sexual euphemisms that it makes the Carry On films look like Songs of Praise.
V Kettle lashes out this lusty ballad of a couple going at it hammer and tongs which is just a great way to end an album.
Bloodlines shows, perhaps more so than their previous albums, the band's range, versatility and creativity in producing incredibly likeable and thoughtful tunes which can still carry a political edge without being preachy, patronising or full of self importance. If there is a void left in the folk world for a slightly out of control band which can produce a blistering sound then perhaps Merry Hell should stand up.

Bloodlines is out now on Merry Hell Music and available from the band's website

Merry Hell will be touring in the New Year and you can catch them on January 13 at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room where they will be showing the acoustic version of the band. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £13 and there is a 7.5% booking fee if buying tickets online or over the phone. The following night they play the Rock 'n' Blues Venue, Barnsley. Doors open 6.30pm and the show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £11 for Over-18s and £5.50 for U-18s. Then on January 27 they play Darwin Library Theatre where doors open 7pm and tickets are £8 in advance and £10 on the night. The to round January off they play The Turnpike Gallery, Leigh. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £11.