Monday, October 04, 2021

Celtic Colours: Community beyond Geography

Home: that is a theme that has run through the more than two decades that people have been celebrating the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

That celebration is carried through music, both the unique Cape Breton style that arises from meetings of culture, and connections to those places and histories which have found home on Cape Breton. Scotland is a very strong presence -- Cape Breton is one of the few places outside the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where you may encounter Gaelic as an everyday language.

The Mi’maq First Nations were already on the island before the first Scots set foot, and they continue to share their lives with those whose ancestors came from Ireland, France, New England, and other parts of Canada and the world.

For most of its 25 year history, the Celtic Colours International Festival has celebrated across the island with music at its heart, alongside events including farmers’ markets, community meals, workshops, storytelling, nature walks, and many other events. In 2020 for health and safety reasons, the decision was taken to move the festival online.

That will also be true this year in 2021. It’s once again Celtic Colours at Home.

“I will never forget the generosity of the artists and cheerleaders from the community that were only positive and helpful when we let them all know we couldn’t do the festival as we would normally have done, “ festival artistic director Dawn Beaton remarked as staff adapted to planning how to move the festival online last year.

This year, they are building on what’s been learned. There will be live streamed concerts, along with a series of concerts recorded in venues across the island. These will include the century old Saint Peter’s Church in Ingonish, the chapel at Fortress Louisbourg, the Community Centre in Judique, and the Boisdale Volunteer Fire Department Hall. Those recorded concerts had small invited audiences of people who often volunteer during the festival, as a way to give back to both volunteers and artists.

Having been a television producer myself, I will point out, too, that the people of festival producing partners NovaStream, Sound Source Pro Audio + Lighting, and Soundpark Studio, who handle the audio, video, and recording for the events, really know how to present music in a way that creates and sustains community. They have been live streaming one concert from the festival each evening since 2011, and they’ve well met the increased demands of presenting nine days of music.

In addition to the evening concerts and the matinees, there will be a late night concert one evening, in a nod to the ever popular after hours festival club tradition. The pre show broadcasts at the evening concerts, an unexpected hit of 2020, return also. These are conversations between Dawn Beaton and her sister Margie, both top class musicians as well as professionals working in the Cape Breton arts community, Dawn at Celtic Colours and Margie at The Gaelic College.

“The Pre-show was an unexpected surprise for us both,” Dawn says  “I give full credit to NovaStream for the idea.  They saw the value of being in one spot for all nine days, and creating a spot to nestle in to before the show began.  We have a few ideas on what we will present this year, but you’ll have to tune in to find out!” Conversation about the concerts, musical traditions, and places on Cape Breton, laced with lively humour and the appearance of occasional special guests informed last year’s shows, so it will be interesting to see what the sisters have in store this time out.

All that said, this will not be quite the twenty fifth anniversary celebration anyone at Celtic Colours had anticipated.

“Like last year, it was about adapting to the changing landscape at every turn.  It was about continuing to present and employ artists, that was my priority,” Dawn Beaton says. “As a staff, we have been discussing ideas for the 25th for a few years now, so like 2020 when I was well on my way to programming, it was about letting go of those plans.  Hopefully I can come back to some of those show concepts, but right now it’s about doing the best we can with the hurdles ahead of us.”

All this may prove to have unexpected benefits, though. People who could not ever attend the festival in person will be able to see rising stars and well known artists from Cape Breton as well as guest artists from other parts of Nova Scotia, the US, Scotland, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Manitoba, and Prince Edward island.

Audiences from time zones around the world can join in, and people who are unacquainted with the music of Cape Breton and those places the guest artists represent will be able to explore the music and along the way learn a bit about Cape Breton as well.

There are 18 concerts over nine days. Once a concert has aired, it will be available to watch through the end of October at the festival’s website and through its YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Events I am especially looking forward to include

Festival founders Joella Foulds and Max MacDonald will return for the opening concert, where they will be joined by percussive dancer Nic Gareiss, a former artist in residence at the festival, alongside banjo player Allison de Groot. Coming in by video from Scotland will be the band Capercaillie, who played at the first Celtic Colours and are world renown for their work in both English and Gaelic song as well for as their tunes.

Rosie MacKenzie on fiddle, Margie Beaton on piano, and Patrick Gillis on guitar will make for a lively matinee from Riverdale Community Centre in Lower River Inhabitants. They will be joined by multi-instrumentalist and singer Dècota McNamara along with fiddler Jeremy Finney.

The Chapel at Fortress Louisbourg will be the atmospheric site for another afternoon performance, as Delores Boudreau brings Acadian songs and the trio Papilio adds a mix of Celtic and international instrumentals, original compositions, and folk songs.

Close to the Floor will be an evening where connections between music and dance take the spotlight. Mac Morin, Harvey Beaton, Melody Cameron, Dawn and Margie Beaton, Jenny MacKenzie, and a roster more of players and dancers will be on hand.

There are many more events and artists to enjoy at the Celtic Colours international Festival this year,day and evening and afterwards. Note, if you plan to watch live, Cape Breton is in Atlantic Time, which is how the times are listed at the web site.

Thinking about the festival’s online situation, artistic director Dawn Beaton reflects

“Our priority was protecting all artists, staff, and technicians and I think that was the right approach [last year].That said, our online audience was incredible and didn’t feel too far away. They came through in a magnificent way and made those nine days fly by.  We still have folks coming up to us almost a year later speaking to the event and what it meant to them.”

Will you be part of the online audience for the Celtic Colours International festival this year?

Festival photographs by Corey katz; phootograph of Dawn Beaton by Ryan MacDonald

Celtic Colours at Home is presented by TD Bank Group, with the support of ACOA, Canadian Heritage, the Province of Nova Scotia, and its many other partners

You may also wish to see
Capercaillie’s album At The Heart of It All
Celtic Colours at Home 2020
A tune from Dawn and Margie Beaton is part of this story Geography of Inspiration Music and Place, at Wandering Educators
want to learn a Gaelic song yourself? Here is a place to begin.

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Now More Than Ever: The Katie McNally Trio

Playing traditional music -- whatever the tradition -- requires choices.

How much do you stay with what’s been handed down and taught? How do you bring your own ideas into the music you create?

Those are among the questions the musicians of The Katie McNally Trio navigate on their second album, Now More Than Ever. The core traditions in which they work are the musics of Scotland and Cape Breton.

The trio comprises McNally herself on fiddle, Neil Pearlman on piano, and Shauncey Ali on viola. McNally and Pearlman come from New England; Ali is based in Wisconsin..

They have each loved and learned and studied and played many aspects of Scottish traditional music, and spent time in Scotland as well as in that Celtic Heart of North America, Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.

Just from their geographies you may imagine that they bring distinct approaches to the music. Add in experiences including Latin jazz, Galician music, and bluegrass to name a few, and you’ll expect they have a wide range of musical choices when the three get together to play.

Scottish tradition is at the heart of what they do, though . A lively and creative heart it is.

The nine tracks on the album range from lively sets to quiet reflective tunes. There’s a good helping of originals from each member of the trio, as well as music from the tradition and pieces from contemporary traditional composers.

It’s a well sequenced project, with music rising and falling and taking turns and twists much as a conversation between friends does.

That is another thing at the heart of Now More Than Ever: musical connection, friendship and respect intertwined.

You will hear that in the fast flying interplay between McNally’s fiddle and Pearlman’s piano with dimension added by Ali’s viola on the opening set of the album, which comprises Fletch Taylor/Marcel Aucoin’s/Matthew Robinson’s, tunes composed by New England musician Flynn Cohen, the late Cape Breton master fiddler Jerry Holland, and Pearlman himself respectively.

It is well worth allowing the stories the tracks offer to unfold as the artists and producer Anna Massie have arranged them, as every track is a keeper. Two favorites I’ll point to, though:

John and Maurizio’s Wedding March, which McNally composed for her Uncle John and his husband Maurizio after they got married in Italy. The tune is paired here with Dr. MacInnes’s Fancy by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. It’d be easy to imagine couple having a stately walk/march down the aisle. following on with they and their guest doing some some lively stepping to the pipe major’s tune. McNally, Pearlman, and Ali sound as they are having a fine time playing both tunes, too.

The Acadia March set finds the trio in a reflective mood. The title track of the set, by McNally, came abut when she and Pearlman went hiking in the namesake national park in Maine. As it happened Neil had locked his keys in the car. While they waited for assistance, Katie wrote this tune to pass the time. They pair it with Neil’s Brunch Tune. Both allow the trio to show the graceful and quiet side of their playing.

“Now More Than Ever is very much a story of where we all come from and yet how far we’ve come,” McNally reflects.

The project was recorded in Scotland. There are no guests on the album, but the trio enlisted Anna Massie, whose work you will know from Blazin’ Fiddles and RANT, to produce. It was recorded by Angus Lyon (you will know him from Blazin’ Fiddles too) mixed by Iain Hutchinson, and mastered by Stuart Hamilton.

All that came about as travel restrictions came into effect, and that has also meant limitations on live performance. McNally reflects “With this album, we have grown in confidence to fully be ourselves, musically speaking.  

“The title of the album also reflects a communal feeling among us that we need to continue to collaborate with each other, make music and embark on projects that nourish us. As a band, and as members of the wider cultural community, we need to share our music and cultivate our artform in as many ways as possible during these difficult times.”

Times may indeed continue to be difficult. The recording Now More Than Ever from the Katie McNally Trio is bound to bring hints of joy, reflection, and connection into the times, though, much like a thoughtful conversation with good friends.

You may also wish to see
Katie McNally’s website
The Katie McNally Trio’s debut album The Boston States
Katie McNally’s album Flourish
Learn about Neil Pearlman’s duo album with Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson Burden Lake
Neil Pearlman’s album Coffee and the Mojo Hat
An album from Hanneke Cassel with whom Katie McNally studied (and whose music you have met often here along the Music Road) For Reasons Unseen
Learn about Farsan, another band of which Katie McNally and Neil Pearlman are part

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Scotland's Music: Staran

Staran: in Gaelic, it means path, trail, stepping stones.

It is also the name of a new collaborative group of Scottish artists, and the name of their first recording together as a five piece band.

That is an idea artist Elly Lucas caught well on the album artwork.

John Lowrie, who plays piano, harmonium, and Rhodes and as well a percussion, is the one who brought Staran together. He’d worked with each of the other artists on various projects, but never with all of them together. He wanted to see what they could create. “I think the relationship we have as friends is reflected in the music,” Lowrie said.

Lowrie has toured and recorded with top artists including Siobhan Miler, Blue Rose Code, and Kris Drever. His compatriots in Staran are equally accomplished.

Innes White is in demand as a session and recording guitarist, having appeared on more than thirty albums. He has also been nominated as instrumentalist of the Year at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

Jack Smedley is a founding member of the award winning group RURA, and has released a duo album with flute player David Foley. He ls often called upon for session and recording work as well.

Kim Carnie brings vocals to the Staran mix. Singing is both Gaelic and English, she has performed at the UK’s top festivals, released a well received EP, and composed music for computer games. She often appears as a television presenter as well. Carnie has recently joined the top band Manran as well.

James Lindsay plays bass with Staran, and is known for his work with award winning band Breabach as well as his innovative solo work, which often brings elements of jazz to join with ideas from Sottish tradition. He’s received awards from In Tune With Nature competition of Nature Scot & Fèis Rois and the Martyn Bennett Prize for Composition.

Each of the five brings composing and arranging as well as performing skills to the band, in fact.

Those gifts -- and their gifts for collaboration -- can be heard in each of the nine tracks which comprise their debut album. There much to enjoy for those who love tradition as well as for those who go for innovation.

Dà Làimh sa Phìob opens with a shimmer of drone into Carnie’s nuanced and thoughtful canntaireachd as she and Smedley on fiddle reinvent the piper’s lines on this piece -- the title means two hands on the pipes. The backing from the other three is no less creative and collaborative.

That holds true through the instrumental set Back to Glasgow (and Back to Back Again) which brings together the title tune from James Duncan Mackenzie, a piece from Canadian musician Shane Cook, and an original composition from Smedley. Through the set Lowrie on piano twines a mellow lead line to Smedley on fiddle, who then speeds things up to a fast pace, each aspect well supported by the other members of the group.

Those are just two of the fine pieces of music on Staran’s debut album. In addition to the Back to Glasgow set, there are four tunes. Among them are Lowrie’s reflective composition Little Waves and Casino by Hannu Kella, which in the band’s treatment draws in elements ranging from classical to trad.

There are three more songs as well. In addition to Dà Làimh sa Phìob, Carnie sings two of them in Gaelic, with tasteful backing vocals from Megan Henderson. One has traditional words set to a melody of her own devising, and in the other she extends the traditional story -- a woman singing praise to her cattle, no doubt to bring them home and keep them happy for milking -- a bit with additional words and melody. Her song in English is called Settle, Honey, a blues/jazz inflected originaL from Carnie with a storyline which does not go quite as the title might suggest.

All of it is well worth repeated listening.

With all the projects John Lowrie, Innes White, Jack Smedley, James Lindsay, and Kim Carnie have on the go, it may be challenging for them to find time to continue this collaboration.

Then again, they recorded this album, which was mixed by Euan Burton, at three different studios and in the midst of uncertain travel restrictions, so clearly they are up for more than a few challenges.

Staran the album is a brilliant start for Staran the band. May their path continue.

You may also wish to see
Jack Smedley and David Foloey’s duo album, Time to Fly, is in this story about 3 instrumental albums from Scotland
Breabach; Frenzy of the Meeting
Julie Fowlis: Alterum
Capercaillie: At the Heart of It All

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Monday, May 17, 2021

Scotland's Music: Ross and Ryan Couper

Ross and Ryan Couper grew up in Shetland off the north coast of Scotland, a place with distinct ways of life, music traditions, connections to history, and to the sea.

Theirs was and is a musical family. Ross chose the fiddle as his main instrument, while Ryan went for guitar. Ross follows music full time as a member of the Peatbog Fairies and in a duo with Tom Oakes, while Ryan works in his playing in the band Vair and other gigs around other career commitments.

The brothers had long had the idea of making an album together, but they never could quite work out the time. Then, when the pandemic came, they decided to make use scheduel chnages which opened up.

The result is their album And Den Dey Made Tae.

It’s a fine gathering of original tunes, traditional ones, contemporary music from traditional artists, and a cover of a Billy Joel tune that the brothers love playing together added in for good measure.

It’s evident that they really love playing all these tunes together, in fact. They recorded the album sitting in a room together and playing the programme from start to finish, not unlike, one might imagine, they’ve done in their homes in the past.

The music itself, and Ross and Ryan’s playing of it, resonates with family, friendship, landscape, and creativity.

The set Called The Dance, for example, includes a tune commissioned for a wedding paired with a reel written by the duo’s mother Margaret Robertson, a music educator well known in Shetland and beyond.

There is a set of waltzes which sees a tune by friend and well known Shetland fiddler and composer Chris Stout paired with a piece Ross wrote for the brothers’ nephew.

The tune Sandy Lell Stephen Couper, which manages to be both gentle a lively at the same time, was written by Ryan for his son.

Da Sixty Fathom Reel, a tune by Alex Couper, the brothers’ dad, is part of The Lucky Child set. The brothers frame it with a reel Ross notes as “one of his favourite reels of all time” The Cape Breton Fiddler’s Welcome to Shetland fromm Willie Hunter.

As much as they draw inspiration from family ties, Ross and Ryan learn from others as well. The set Marie Claire’s has “tunes from all over” they say, all over in this case being pieces composed by Jerry Holland, Willie Hunter, and Tommy Peoples. The Falling with Style set includes tunes from other places as well as it begins with a traditional Shetland tune, then moves to tunes by Ireland’s Brian Finnegan and Manchester based Michael McGoldrick.

Ross and Ryan are, as you might expect from Shetland musicians, adept at fast flying tunes. You’ll hear that in many fo the aforementioned sets, as well as in Cara’s Reel, which Ross wrote for his girlfriend Cara Sandison.

The brothers can slow things down gracefully, tool. Ryan’s piece for his daughter Jessi is one place to hear that. So is their take on that Billy Joel tune, And So It Goes.

To bring things to a close, Ross and Ryan invited their sister, Mariann Couper Allan, to join in on piano. Da Foula Reel set comprises tunes their mother learnt from her father, and opens with a bit of archive recording of his playing. These are also the tunes Ross and Ryan played as Mariann came down the aisle at her wedding.

A family circle indeed; top class, creative playing, excellent selection of tunes, original music and arrangement along with respect for tradition, and musicians who clearly love creating music together.

...and, as is said and done often in Shetland, And Den Dey Made Tae, And Den Dey Made Tae. Fix yourself some, and enjoy Ross and Ryan Couper’s music.

You may also wish to see
String Sisters Live
Travels in music: Alasdair Fraser, Natalie Haas, Hanneke Cassel
Katie McNally Trio: The Boston States
Exploring Ireland through fiddle, flute, and guitar, at Perceptive Travel

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Tradition with edge: music from Leahy, Karan Casey, and Project Smok

Tradition and heritage: sources of ideas, inspiration, and challenges for musicians. There are as many ways to respond to tradition as there are artists who draw on it in their work. In albums from Canadian musicians Leahy, Irish singer Karan Casey, and the trio Project Smok from Scotland, there are varied ways of working within, without, and at the edges of tradition to explore.

Leahy is a family band from Lakefield in Ontario. They’ve roots in the traditions of Ireland and Cape Breton as well as the varied musics that make up the sounds of Ontario. There are performing roots, too: the eleven siblings of the Leahy family grew up playing music at home, and performing across Canada and winning Juno awards in the process. Members of the band have come and gone and returned since they first became nationally known in the 1990s; for the album Good Water seven family members join in.

Join in they do, and add new dimensions to Leahy’s music as they do. Though you will hear influences of Celtic and folk in the music they offer on their album Good Water, you will also find rock, pop, and progressive influences . It’s a well and thoughtfully done collection of original music; the songs have lyrics of substance and the two instrumentals offer thought provoking ideas, too. The members of Leahy can play and sing, each often taking more than one role. For their main presences on Good Water, Denise and Julie Frances often take the lead vocalist spot; Siobheann on bass and Frank on drums hold down the steady beat of rhythm; Maria brings in guitar and mandolin; Xavier adds accordion; Erin brings in keyboards and fiddle. Guest artists add edge with electric instruments, strings, and horns.

There is edge, certainly, but edge that serves to define the strong musical, lyrical, and creative foundation of the recording. You just might hear echoes of the energy and creative risk taking that infused Call to Dance, the music which first brought Leahy to topping the charts and touring with Shania Twain in the 1990s. You may hear them going in directions you’d not expect from Leahy, perhaps, but directions full of quality and imagination nonetheless. Listen out especially for the uplifting message and fine harmonies and playing on the title track, Good Water; heartfelt singing from Julie Frances on Friend; and class playing from Erin and Xavier on the instrumental Little Moon.

Karan Casey knows about differing ways of looking at tradition and influence in her music, too. She’s been doing that since her days as a founding member of the groundbreaking Irish American band Solas and for more than two decades of solo and collaborative recording projects. In her album Hieroglyphs That Tell the Tale Casey continues to expand her vision and her choices. There are songs by Americana and folk tunesmiths including Eliza Gilkyson, Janis Ian (from whose lyrics the title of the album comes), Bob Dylan, and Patti Griffin, along with a pair of traditional songs and from Casey’s own writing a song about a little known aspect of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising.

Casey has a lovely voice and knows well how to use it; great musical intelligence is one of the hallmarks of her singing as well as her song choice and her songwriting. From from the low key beginning of Hollis Brown to its intense ending, she illuminates the emotions of the hard told story. That she follows it with the quiet intensity of Down in the Glen, that song about the Rising, serves to make the latter that much more powerful. Sixteen Come Next Sunday is Casey’s take on music and lyrics from the tradition, respecting each of those in her own ways.

“I don’t get into the whole ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ question,” Casey told Sean Smith of the Boston Irish Reporter. “For me, the criteria is, ‘Is it a good song?’ We’re always looking for stories that are sung well and delivered with meaning, and that’s what’s most important. It really has always been about the song, and the story...Your creative center has to be genuine. You have to really want to sing that song.”

Every song on Hieroglyphs is a keeper. It is a well sequenced project too. Donald Shaw produced it. Casey is also supported by long time musical collaborators Sean Óg Graham and Niamh Dunne, Kate Ellis, and Niall Vallely, as well as guest artists including Karen Matheson and Maura O’Connell.

The three men who make up Scotland’s trio Project Smok -- Pablo Lafuente on guitars, Ewan Baird on bodhran, and Ali Levack on whistles and pipes -- are mixing tradition and invention in their work as well. On their debut recording Bayview and at their high energy live gigs (including a memorable one at Celtic Connections 2021 online) it’s clear that these three know how to play, and how to play together.

They had the opportunity to record in Helmsdale in Scotland’s northeast, at the studio of well known punk rock musician and producer Edwyn Collins. That’s a studio equipped with vintage microphones and a classic Neve mixing desk. The band knew this would fit with their plan to record an album which respected tradition while being forward looking.

“Experimenting with vintage and analogue equipment, using the best instruments available, gave us an even greater opportunity to fuse contemporary and traditional sounds to produce something really authentic, which sounds close to the source,” said Levack.

Close to the source indeed: all the tunes on Bayview have some connection with place, including Clashnarrow, which is named after the studio in which they recored, Woodlands Drive, from the place where Levack lives in Glasgow, Viewbank from Pablo’s studio in Airdrie, and Airsaig, a west coast place important to all three band members. It’s a sparkling collection of music, which does well fit the band’s intentions of being connected to tradition while adding in new strands.

Bayview is a mostly instrumental album, but a stripped back version of A Girl Like You, the 19190s hit from Collins, finds him joining in as the band play back up on the classic. A meditative track, Ceitidh’s, finds John Mulhearn, Rona Lightfoot, and Megan Henderson adding a touch of voices to the track. Charlie Stewart on bass and James D Mackenzie on flutes also add to that track, while MIke Vass, Moshen Amiini, and Greg Barry are among those who also sit it. The focus is on the sound the trio, though, and a lively and well thought out debut it is, co-produced by the trio along with MIke Vass.

Leahy with Good Water. Karan Casey with Hieroglyphs That Tell the Tale, and the men of Project Smok with Bayview: all the musicians have clear eyed and creative approaches to ways to take sound and spirit of traditional music forward. Give listen for what discoveries await.

You may also wish to see
One, duo album from Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster
Leahy Live in Gatineau dvd, an earlier version of the Leahy ensemble, some the same as on Good Water, and some different. Step dancing too.
Ships in the Forest from Karan Casey
Meet more musicians from Scotland in my story at Perceptive Travel 7 Ways to Explore Scotland through Music

-->Your support for Music Road is welcome and needed. If you are able to chip in, here is a way to do that, through PayPal. Note that you do not have to have a PayPal account to do this. Thank you.

Photographs of Leahy and Project Smok courtesy of the artists; photograph of Karan Casey at Celtic Connections by Kerry Dexter, made with permission.

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Ireland's Music: John Doyle: The Path of Stones

John Doyle is a top class arranger, producer, songwriter, and guitarist. That may explain why his on solo projects are a bit far between. It could also explain, at least in part, why they are well worth waiting for.

The Path of Stones is Doyle’s most recent solo album at this writing. It’s a project which draws on all those aforementioned skills along with several others. It is the Irishman’s songwriting and singing however which are to the forefront on The Path of Stones.

That said, the opening track and the first single from path of Stones was a song from Ireland’s 1798 Rebellion, about says, Doyle, “a rambling rake from Clare” who eventually escapes to America. County Clare in the Republic, or Clare townlands in County Tyrone in the North? That’s a matter for discussion. Doyle, comes down on the side of Clare in the Republic, though. He made a few adjustments to the melody but otherwise kept to the tradition for the song he’s known for many years. It’s called The Rambler from Clare.

That proves a good starting point for the journey which Doyle leads through the rest of the album, nine more tracks, all of which are of his own composition.

There’s the lively and intrigung tune called Elevenses, which finds Doyle playing high 5 string guitar and mandolin in addition to guitar, joined by Mike McGoldrick on flute, bodhran, and other percussion.

Lady Wynde offers a tale which sounds as though it could have come from long ago, with Doyle’s strong tenor and Cathy Jordan’s haunting supporting vocals adding depth to the story, helped by Duncan Wickel’s contributions on fiddle and cello.

Doyle is a graceful singer and a fine storyteller. For the title track, The Path of Stones, he drew inspiration directly and indirectly, from another Irish artist, William Butler Yeats. If you are familiar with that poet’s work or images, you’ll find how Doyle has drawn from them in the song. If you’re not, you may be inspired to go look Yeats up. The song stands on its own, though. Melody, lyric, image, and story will give you much to think on long after the song is done.

There are other gems on The Path of Stones. All the tracks are well worth your listening, repeated listening in fact. They are by tunes reflective and upbeat, haunting and uplifting, song and tune alike.

Doyle produced the album, which was recorded in Sligo in Ireland and in North Carolina in the US. In addition to singing and playing guitars and mandolin, Doyle plays harmonium, mandola, fiddle, bodhran, bouzouki, and keyboards on various tracks. In addition to McGoldrick, Wickel, and Jordan, he’s joined from time to time by fiddler John McCusker and Rick Epping on harmonica.

John Doyle's web site

Photograph of John Doyle with green scarf courtesy of the artist,photograph of John in performance made at The Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow by Kerry Dexter with permission of the festival, the venue, and the artists. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
The Alt, a recording John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary
John’s album Shadow and Light
John’s album with Karan Casey, called Exiles Return.
John often collaborates with Cathie Ryan. Learn about her album Through Wind and Rain

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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Scotland's Music: Doddie's Dream

Music is about celebration, community, dreams, hope -- and fun. All those things have come into play in the creation of the tune Doddie’s Dream.

Who is Doddie, what’s his dream, and why will you enjoy this music?

Doddie is Doddie Weir. He is a rugby legend in Scotland and points beyond.

Several years back he started a charity called My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to help people who, like Doddie, have Motor Neurone Disease, and to fund research toward a cure for this as yet incurable illness. This past January the foundation had a challenge called Doddie Aid, which encouraged people to run, walk, or cycle to rack up miles for their chosen geographic district to raise money.

When he’s not playing music or presenting on the radio, Bruce MacGregor of the band Blazin’ Fiddles loves to cycle.

“Whilst cycling out by Loch Ness as part of Doddie Aid,” MacGregor recalls, “I had this idea of doing a charity single with a whole host of fellow musicians playing along with me and the Blazers.”

He wrote a tune which has “a real positive lift to it and hopefully it fits in with that amazing collective spirit that was on display during Doddie Aid,” he says.

His bandmates in Blazin’ Fiddles Angus Lyon, Anna Massie, Rua Macmillan, Jenna Reid, and Kristan Harvey quickly signed on to join in and before long they’d recruited what amounts to an orchestra of Scottish folk top liners, and a few surprise outliers too.

Each of the artists and all involved in tech and promotion of the music gave of their talent and time pro bono, too, and artists recorded from their own locations as under current conditions they could not safely gather together.

Participants include fiddle and accordion duo Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, top Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, acclaimed composer and fiddle player  Duncan Chisholm, musician and composer Donald Shaw, BBC Take the Floor Presenter and member of Mànran Gary Innes, Megan Henderson, Ewan Robertson and James Lindsay of  Breabach,  Skerryvore’s Martin Gillespie and Scott Wood, BBC Radio Scotland Young Trad winner Ali Levack, piper and whistle player Ross Ainslie, fiddle and cello duo  Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas,  Iain Sandilands on percussion, harp and fiddle duo Iain MacFarlane and Ingrid Henderson, Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty on fiddle and cittern, multi-award winning concertina player Mohsen Amini, member of Treacherous Orchestra and Session A9 Adam Sutherland and Scots fiddle maestro Paul Anderson. 

Acclaimed accordion player Sharon Shannon of Ireland joined in too, as did top dobro player and long time Transatlantic Sessions co-director Jerry Douglas from the US. So did native Scot and well known classical violinist Nicola Benedetti.

It’s not the first time Benedetti has joined up with fellow Scots for a musical project; her album Homecoming, in which Bain, Cunningham, Chisholm, and Fowlis took part is one example of that.

“It is a total honour to perform with such an incredible line up of folk musicians and for such an important cause, “ Benedetti says. “All the proceeds will go to Doddie’s Charity which helps fellow sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease and funds much needed research into this cruel illness. I hope everyone enjoys our wee tune and helps us to raise awareness of MND.”

Doddie himself is thrilled. “What a beautiful piece of music – it really is special, and I am so humbled to think these world class and brilliantly talented musicians have all been part of this.,” he says. “If ever we needed some uplifting music, it is now, and my old teammate Stewart Campbell has produced a fantastic film to accompany the music. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.”

Here’s the trailer for the project, produced by Campbell's firm Tigershark.TV

The track will be available to buy & download on Friday 12 March 2021 with all proceeds going to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.


The single is available to pre-order on iTunes and pre-save on Spotify, buyers can go to for more information.

Here’s where to contribute directly to the foundation contribute directly to the foundation

Photo of Blazin Fiddles by Sean Purser; photo of Nicola Benedetti by Andy Gotts; photo of Bruce MacGregor courtesy of Innes Campbell Communications

You may also wish to see
7 Ways to explore Scotland through music, at Perceptive Travel
Music & horizons: stories of hope at Wandering Educaotrs which includes one of my favourite tracks from Breabach
Scotland’s music:Still Time from Karen Matheson

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