Monday, 22 May 2017

SKIPINNISH

CD Review

The Seventh Wave


Scots band Skipinnish is looking to tap into the power of legend and folklore with their new album The Seventh Wave. The story goes that the seventh wave is the biggest and strongest of any which have gone before.

The band Skipinnish
It’s certainly true their seventh album is packed with class music and they create a full bodied sound, going for the big production while keeping the elements of their traditional music at the forefront.

Band members Andrew Stevenson and Alasdair Murray are part of a movement which has done what many would have thought impossible and made bagpipes cool bordering on rock ‘n’ roll.

The opening track, Alive, comes in with the gentle tones of Norrie MacIver but is soon pushed into life with Rory Grindlay’s drums. It’s a taste of what’s to come with the big sound hitting you full on right from the start and with more than a few hints at the versatility and diversity of sound they put together.

If you had any doubts this band was borne out of Scottish traditional music then medley, The Hag, should dispel them as a tidal wave of pipe music comes thundering in. Four tunes give you plenty to get your teeth into and give an insight into the range of this much decried instrument.

In complete contrast comes the mellower tone of Harvest of the Homeland, written by Angus MacPhail and MacIver whose whisky smooth voice provides the thoughtful lyrics backed by his co-writer on vocals. The song builds up slowly to go out on the packed sound they do so well.

It’s hard to think of an album of Scottish music being conceived without the mention of a body of water somewhere and Skipinnish do not disappoint.

Ocean of the Free is a fast-paced and contemporary folk tune from MacPhail and Robert Robertson. The fiddle playing of Archie McAllister dances lightly under the vocals as Grindlay’s powerful drumming pushes the rhythm along.

There is another change of pace for The Iolaire which is a thoughtful and poignant song of longing to be back home. MacIver’s voice is filled with emotion as he sings towards the finale where the haunting voice of Caitlin L R Smith, backed by a full choir, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
The band in concert

Another track from MacPhail and Robertson, December, manages to create some powerful images through the lyrics. The sound leans more towards the country style but the accordion and the pipes keep the Scottish roots evident.

The Old Woman is another medley which brings five tunes together and this time the whistle’s bringing in the lively sound. From this the blend of accordion, whistles, drums and the final introduction of the pipes never really let up on the listener and, if by the end of it all, you are not at the very least tapping your feet then make a doctor’s appointment - something is clearly wrong!

MacIver has a really smooth voice which carries a touch of melancholy in everything he sings and you can hear it clearly in the The Island (Intro) which gives way to the full body of the song while picking up the pace to bring an uplifting and bouncy tale of reminiscing about younger days gone by.

Home on the Sea is another song of longing to be home. It’s one of those songs you can easily see seeping into the local consciousness and being sung in pubs up and down the highlands.

Alba is probably the most contemporary sounding track on the album and apart from the strong accents in the vocals doesn’t really put its Scots credentials on display.

With Walking on the Waves you are brought back to the quiet shore with the distinct sound of the accordion. The song is soon filled out with the hammering of the drums just in case you thought the pace was too slow.

The album goes out with two traditionally arranged tracks. Starting with McNab‘s Set coming with four tunes which let the pipes off the leash. The skills of Stevenson and Murray are given free rein on these tunes, and they take full advantage.

They save the longest track until last with Crò Chinn, t-Sàile. The tune is given a haunting and melancholy timbre by the gentle accordion play and the lone pipes add to the atmosphere.

The new album
It’s almost as if they are creating a farewell to the listener as you see the band drift gently off and being gradually engulfed by the mist covering a perfectly calm highland loch. If you are going to end an album with a notable track, then this is the way to do it.

You cannot underestimate the popularity of this band and if you want proof then bear in mind it has already reached No.25 in the main-stream UK download charts and hit No.1 in the World Music chart, the people have spoken.

The Seventh Wave is out now and available from the band's website and distributors Highland, Gordon Duncan and Skipinnish Records.



If you want to see them live then on May 27 get down to The Bearded Festival, Derby. The following night, May 28, they play Biggar Rugby Club. Then on June 2 you can see them at Oban Live, followed on June 24 at Strathpeffer. Then on July 1 they will perform at Arran Whisky Festival moving on July 7 to Moonbeams Festival, East Yorkshire. On July 14 and 15 they will bring their sound to Tiree Music Festival.











Monday, 15 May 2017

CORMAC BEGLEY

CD Review

Cormac Begley


Award-winning concertina player Cormac Begley produces music on an industrial scale, that’s not to say they are churned out but they have real power, guts and you feel the strength in the tunes he plays. This said he also has a lightness of touch which can make the sound of the instruments, he so expertly uses, dance on the passing wind.


Cormac Begley
There are times on this album such as with the opening reels, The Yellow Tinker/Ril Mhór Bhaile An Chalaidh, where it sounds like he is firing up a steam traction engine. Then at other times, such as the following track, Frenzy Polka, his deft touch makes his bellows sound more like a harmonica than a concertina.

Kerry man Begley’s wonderful skill with his instruments, which encompass bass, baritone, treble and piccolo concertinas, brings an amazing vocabulary to his bellows to where you could almost have a conversation with the tools of his trade.

So much so he is in great demand with fellow musicians and he has created a series of concerts called Tunes in the Church and set up a residential arts school on the Dingle Peninsula called Airt.

On this his self-produced debut album he creates such a wide range of tunes such as the wonderfully Celtic sounding Joe Bane’s/The Streamtown Jig with the infectious foot-stomping rhythm of his baritone bellows. This blends beautifully for the jig, An Cat Is A Máthair. You can hear the treble bellows gasping for breath as he pushes the notes out for this lively dance.

This is followed by a gentle air, Rocking The Cradle, and even though he is using the bass instrument he still gives it a refined and light touch. There is something incredibly nostalgic about how he plays he seems to be able to create images and memories with his music which you can never quite put your finger on.

Paddy Canny’s Pigeon On The Gate/The Dairy Maid are a superbly executed pair of reels which fly out of the instrument and defy you not to get caught up in the dance. At times the layers of sound he creates seems like he is playing more than one instrument at once.

This is followed by a triplet of Schottisches, opening with high-pitched but light dancing sound of An Siog. This gives way to Bonnie Scotland where he seems to swirl a new set of notes into the first tune.

He finishes with Bill O Malley’s, the bridges between the tunes are almost imperceptible but their subtlety is wonderful.

His Dipper Bass is brought out for the melancholic sound of the Air Beauty Deas an Oileain. The doleful sound he produces makes it seem like the instrument struggles to tell the tale such is the depth of emotion it conveys.

Begley brings back the polkas with Polka John/Camino Polka to lighten the mood. Once again the clear treble scale at times makes the instrument sound more akin to a harmonica as he loads the space with a highly infectious dance tune.

The strong Celtic feel is back for The Fermoy Lasses. The reels draw you as it builds up like the definite and unstoppable movement of an old steam train gathering speed. There is even an incidental where if sounds as if the note has dropped off the scale.

Donncha Ó Loinsigh’s/The Wounded Healer keeps the dance pace going but this time with a slightly lighter touch where you can almost see the dances skipping slightly across on tiptoes.

The penultimate track is a couple of slides. Merrily Kiss The Quaker/The Lisheen Slide where Begley makes them sound almost like practice pieces keeping the music pumping out with each bar pushing the previous one into the ether.

Begley's debut album
Begley takes the album out with a couple of reels in John Dwyer/McGettrick’s. The playful intro dances in so lightly and at times feels like it’s just about to break the human hearing range as he tests the scale of his piccolo concertina.

Once again it has that lovely nostalgic feel to it, like you heard it when a child as the theme tune to some distant childhood programme on the TV or radio but never being able to pin it down.

The concertina seems to be stepping into the limelight more on the folk circuit, especially the more unusual or lesser known varieties, and when they are played as superbly as Begley does you can understand why.

Begley does more than play tunes his gives voices to his instruments and allows them to sing the stories they hold in a way which is enthralling and thoroughly entertaining.


The album is available now through the artist’s website.











Tuesday, 2 May 2017

INDIA ELECTRIC COMPANY/CHRISTY SCOTT/ REED

CD Reviews

EC1M


Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe, who are collectively India Electric Company (IEC), are both clever and engaging musicians who seem to enjoy bringing every element of their experience into their music in some form.

India Electric Company
EC1M is the first of three EPs they intend to release with the juxtaposition of the urban and the rural.
The exploration is a parts work but why they should do it in three discs rather than one album is unclear.
This aside the duo do have some serious talent and if their debut album didn’t convince you then this should.
Opener Farmiloe is inspired by somewhere they lived and scene of some of the recording process.
The track's style is very much in the vein of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin but with the distinctive sound of O’Keefe’s accordion playing which sounds like he is playing the notes in reverse. Whatever he does it makes it stand out against the polished tones of Stacey who sounds, on this occasion, like rising star Dan Whitehouse from the West Midlands.
Their music is intricate, colourful and full of nuances which can catch you unawares.
Stacey’s voice has a mournful character with an undertone of anger which is more noticeable on Parachutes.
O’Keefe’s sawing fiddle playing gives a brooding feel and builds your expectations.
Camelot comes in full of atmosphere and cleverly uses the instruments and electronics almost as a third voice. As you listen you feel you are being taken on a journey without being sure why or where you are going.
There is a broken cadence of the free jazz variety behind the King of Rome. It has this stop-start feel to it and it’s almost as if Stacey is having to fit his lyrics into whatever music he hears coming along. The song never lets you settle into it which, strangely enough, makes you listen even more intently.
Castles In Spain is the final track where Stacey’s singing takes on a harder edge over the layers of sound which keep coming at you like flicking through the eclectic pages of a scrapbook.
IEC create intricate songs which have wide appeal and where they can either be listened to as simply good music or they can be picked apart to get a deeper sense of their talent, either way the enjoyment level is there for the taking.

EC1M is released on May 5 on the Shoelay record label and will be distributed by Proper Music.



Christy Scott


Glasgow singer/songwriter Christy Scott is a busy woman, not only has she taken the time to put together her debut EP Amaranthine, but she is also studying music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in her home city.

Christy Scott
Her vocal style as she opens with Hearts Collide has a drawn out quality and although she has a definite folk accent she seems to hover occasionally on a style closer to classical.
Scott's tones are wonderfully clear and now and again she sounds remarkably like the incredible KatieMelua.
Potion has something of a gallop in its cadence. Scott’s voice seems muted and in contrast with the previous track the clarity of her voice is lost in the speed at which she sings.
The sprawling intro to Another Song About Another sounds like it’s going to a be a country sound but it settles into more of a ballad.
Scott’s voice is somewhat lost among the strong instruments and at times she seems to be outreaching her vocal range making it sound slightly strained. There is a retro feel to Scott’s singing on Flaws To Uncover where her voice lies somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Mary Hopkin.
She seems to have found her level on this track but once again it sounds more like she is in competition with the instrumental backing rather than it complementing her vocals.
With the final track, Hope Street, there is a tremble and vulnerability in her voice.
The clarity is back; her vocals float over the top of the instruments and you get a better feel for the depth of her voice.
As a debut EP it’s something Scott should be proud of and there’s a sense that her clear tones and her vocal style, when fully developed and comfortable, will be stunning.

Amaranthine is available now from Christy Scott Music.


Reed


Reed is a very relaxed folk trio who like to keep things traditional. Sasha Mason, Alan Lane and Tom Rouse exercise their talents on an impressive array of instruments.

The Trio Reed
Their first EP, Maja’s Tree, is a slightly ethereal and soothing offering of four tracks which starts with Ted’s Song.
Unfortunately what you think is the intro is the entire tune with the flute playing of Mason being too long, too repetitive and simply feels unpolished.
Also talking over the tune in a poetry style reading, however sincere, is something of an unwelcome cliché and rarely works.
With the shaky start gone, Inshea has a much more sound footing. The renaissance feel of the tune is very welcome and extremely relaxing.
The harmonies are certainly more professional sounding and you get a sense you are hearing the core of what they do best.
The light skipping sound of Breton is extremely pleasant and the central insert of Donkey Riding is straight out of the book of memory evoking folk tunes. It dances beautifully from Mason’s flute which has a touch as light as a butterfly’s feet.
The final track Shadow has a brooding sound with Lane’s guitar keeping a heartbeat rhythm while Mason’s vocals have a retro feel to them and they are given a deep undertone by Rouse’s strings.
For a first EP, Reed is a laudable effort with a few wrinkles to ironing out but this aside they produce a memorable sound which is very pleasant on the ear, and with the skills they have displayed they may even consider a niche sound such as Ian Pittaway has done.