Sunday, June 02, 2019

Ireland, Scotland, and Story: Allt from Julie Fowlis, Eamon Doorley, Zoe Conway, and John McIntyre

Music is story. Story told in word, stories held in melody and harmony, through voice, instrument, and language. Those are aspects of music that Julie Fowlis, Êamon Doorley, Zoe Conway, and John McIntyre investigate and respect in their recording Allt.

The stories they choose to explore for this recording come from the traditions of Ireland and Scotland. There are songs and tunes from history, alongside songs with words from contemporary and historic poetry for which the musicians have made new music, and new compositions of their own creation drawing on traditional style.

That may sound like quite a bit to pack into a cohesive whole on a recording of eleven tracks. It is, and if anyone is well qualified to take that on, it is these four.

Each of these musicians is well known for a particular aspect of their creative gifts. Those come into play here -- and they each go beyond those to share other aspects of their talents. Julie Fowlis is known as a lead singer; here she sings harmony and plays whistles as well. Êamon Doorley’s work on the bouzouki has marked him as one of the best on that instrument in the Celtic world. Here he sings and plays fiddle as well. Zoe Conway is well known and much in demand for her work on Irish fiddle and on classical violin; for this project her lead and harmony vocals and her skills on the whistles also come into play. John McIntyre, best known as a guitarist, steps up to sing here as well as adding in his piano skills.

As the recording opens, each takes it in turn to lead the music, and they each step in to support the others as the music progresses. Fowlis sings lead on Port Dannsaidh Hiortach the lively Saint Kilda Dance Song, which is paired with Deora Dé, a tune from Conway. You can hear Conway’s singing on Faoiseamh a Gheobhadsa, a gentle, searching ballad with words by Máirtín Ó Direáin whose title means I will Find Solace. McIntyre steps up for a song called An Ghaelige, which as its title might suggest is in praise of (and in part lament for) the language. This is followed by a set which sees two tunes by Doorley bookending one by Conway.

Those descriptions do not begin to do justice to the thoughtful, insightful way these stories are told through music, and the way the musicians support each other. Clearly these are artists who are deeply grounded in their own gifts and tradition, and well able to focus and listen to each other as the tunes unfold.

Add to that the way this project was recorded.

"Êamon and I were fresh from recording with Calum Malcolm,” Fowlis says “and I couldn’t see past working with him again!  I enjoyed working with him so much.  He is such an intuitive engineer and enjoys recording live, and in different settings.  As a quartet, we were keen to make this a live, honest and spontaneous recording.  And that’s what happened.  Calum set it up in such a way that we felt comfortable and inspired to play.  We used vintage mics, and recorded in the round. "

The project began from conversations between the two women.

Conway comes from and still lives in County Louth in Ireland. So does McIntyre. The two are married, as are Fowlis and Doorley, who come from Scotland and Ireland respectively, and make their home in the Highlands of Scotland.

Along with Irish musician Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Fowlis presents Port, a television series which traces connections among Celtic music and musicians. “Zoe and I worked together on one of the Port series on BBC ALBA.  She came to Ross Shire in the Highlands as a visiting artist, and it was then we really got chatting (and playing!) together,” Fowlis recalls. “Our paths had crossed before, on one of Bill Whelan’s performances in Belfast for example, but this was when we really got to know one another.  Sometimes you just really click with someone, and we both said that it would be great to do more together after that shoot.”

The pair stayed in touch and began discussing ideas. They liked the idea of writing new music together, and of honouring the languages and traditions of the landscapes they knew and loved. Support from Creative Louth, The Arts Council Of Ireland, and Iomairt Columcille allowed the four musicians time to research traditional and contemporary poetry they wanted to frame with new music, and to compose that music as well. “We searched out poetry to set music to, and ideas for tunes between us and started sending ideas back and forth,” Fowlis says. “We love the tradition but also the idea of adding to the store of songs and tunes and so we quickly settled on the idea of composing new music in a traditional style.”

There are fine lively pieces -- Dúirt Bean Liom in Irish paired with the tune Ríl Eóin and Na Hú Bhithinn paired with Hó Ró Na Priobaidean in Scottish Gaelic show the musicians’ joy in picking up the pace. A more reflective piece is Air an Somme, with words by Donald MacDonald.

There are instances of fine harmony work through many tracks on the project. This comes to the fore especially on the closing piece, An t-Earrach Thiar, a title which translates as spring in the west.

Bringing together tradition and inspiration, along with respect for language, history, and place: Julie Fowlis, Êamon Doorley, Zoe Conway and John McIntyre have created a lasting legacy with their work on Allt. "There are such beautiful poems out there, some hundreds of years old, some contemporary, and we felt really inspired to set these words to new music to bring them to life as songs, " Julie Fowlis says.

You may also wish to see
Julie Fowlis and Muireann Nic Amhloaoibh made an album exploring connections between songs in Scottish Gaelic and Irish called Dual.
Alterum from Julie Fowlis
Êamon Doorley is a member of the band Danu. Learn about their album Buan.

Photograph of Zoe Conway and John McIntyre and Julie Fowli courtesy of the artists. Photograph of Eamon Doorleys by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Scotland's Music: Hamish Napier: The Railway


Perhaps you ride one every day on your way to work or school. Maybe you take a lighthearted ride at holiday time. Perhaps you know trains mainly from children’s toys or pictures in books.

Trains hold a combination of grit and romance. They pass through landscapes, and are part of them. Trains help create community, and communities. Trains and train tracks are of the present, and evoke stories of other times.

Whatever way you’ve come to know trains, you will find much to enjoy in Hamish Napier’s recording The Railway.

He draws from the stories of one specific railway line in one specific place and time, the Great North of Scotland Railway in the Speyside region of Scotland’s Highlands. To research ideas that would inspire his music, he read accounts of the railway’s history. He interviewed three men who had worked the railway, all now in their nineties and with many stories to tell. He walked the landscapes the trains had traversed, and drew on his own memories of growing up in the Speyside area.

That grounding in specifics allows the tunes and songs to reach beyond the Great North Railway’s story and draw in the imagination of anyone who has ever taken a train journey, or dreamed of taking one.

Hamish Napier is a composer, performer, and music tutor who grew up in the northeast Highlands of Scotland. His main instruments are the piano and the flute. He has supported musicians including Gary Innes, Eddi Reader, Karen Matheson, and Donald Shaw, appearing often in concert and on more than forty recordings. His own recording The River explores and celebrates landscapes, experiences, and people along the River Spey.

When he was performing music from that recording in a series of concerts across Scotland, the new owners of Grantown East: Highland Heritage and Cultural Centre came to one of the shows and knew that Napier was just the person to compose the soundtrack to go along with their project, the restoration of the Grantown East Railway Station into a place marking this history of this Highland railway line, which had ceased operation in the 1960s.

The music on The Railway indeed takes listeners on a journey -- several journeys, rather. The opener, The Speyside Line, draws one in to a musical journey with cadences which suggest Highland landscape. The Firebox, as lively and flickering as its title may suggest, draws on the history of the steam powered trains and the stories told to Hamish by driver Jimmy Gray, driver Jocky Hay, and signalman James Telfer. So does a tale of races between trains back in the day called Jocky the Mole, which is a song with lyrics Hamish’s brother, Findlay Napier.

Fire and water, smoke and steam
A train is like a living thing
Driver, engine, fireman
It takes us three to make her sing

Findlay sings in the chorus as the story unfolds.

The lighthearted tune Cheery Groove pays tribute to Hamish and Findlay’s parents and their home at Number 2 Cherry Grove, where it’s said many great house ceilidhs were to be had.

Mixing respect for history with love for the land and its people and regret for some changes seen, there’s another song with lyrics from Findlay called The World Came In by Rail...

We walk along the railway line
Among birch and wild rose
And all that’s left are outposts
Of an empire no one knows

A different look at a related idea is found in the tune The Old Ways, a slow march written to honour those who respect and keep up the traditional crafts, stories, language -- and music -- of, Napier writes in the sleeve notes “what is unique and special about our culture.”

Those joining Hamish Napier on the recording include Fraser Stone on percussion, Gillian Frame on backing vocals, James Lindsay on double bass, and Patsy Reid on fiddle. There are also cameo appearances by the sounds of a fireplace, Broomhill sheep, and whistle, brakes, wheels, and other railway sounds. Andrea Gobbi co-produced the album with Napier and recorded and mixed it. You will also enjoy the album artwork and design, which are by Somhairle MacDonald.

There are many more gems among the music -- every track is a keeper, and the journeys of history, music, landscape, and reflection are well worth the taking as Hamish Napier has organized them. He draws things to a close with The Railwayman, and three part suite inspired by the story of driver Jimmy Gray’s career on the railway.

Take the journey on The Railway. Take all of the journeys offered through this music. You’ll come away with much to reflect on and much to enjoy.

Also of note: at this writing word comes that Hamish Napier is at work on his third album, to be called The Woods.

You may also wish to see
Hamish Napier: The River
Eddi Reader: Cavalier
Scotland’s music: Sarah-Jane Summers: Solo

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ireland's Music: Cherish the Ladies Heart of the Home

Joy and sorrow, light and shadow, tears and laughter: al these find their places in the music of Ireland. Indeed, you might say that songs and tunes and stories which bring all these in are the substance of Ireland’s music.

A fine place to hear this on the recording Heart of the Home, from Cherish the Ladies.

Heart of the Home opens with a set of tunes composed by flute player Joanie Madden to honor her father’s home town in East Galway. The Portumna Workhouse tells a tale without words of reflection on the darker side of things during the famine years, while the The Hurling Boys of Portumna takes a lively an lighter tack, It is for, Madden said “All those might men who brought tremendous glory to the town through sport.”

Singer and guitarist Kate Purcell, from Clare, steps in to join the band for the song Glenties. An image filled reflection on a small town in Donegal, it was written by musician Maurice McGroth while he was staying in the town. Purcell and the band combine for a graceful, atmospheric performance which is one of the standouts on the recording. Listen out especially for Nollaig Casey’s fiddle as the band backs Purcell on this track.

Cherish is a class act: Heart of the Home. is their seventeenth album. More than than thirty years ago, Joanie Madden, who plays flutes and whistles, and Mary Coogan, whose instruments are guitar, bouzouki, and banjo, were founding members of the band. Joining them these days are Mirella Murray on accordion, Kathleen Boyle on piano, and Nollaig Casey on fiddle. In performance and on record they often invite guests to join in

As you might suppose from the title, the idea of home and well loved places runs through the music chosen for this recording. Another highlight of Heart of the Home is Ambletown, the song of a seafaring man longing for home. That home, in the song, is in the north country, so it is fitting that the Ennis Sisters, who come from Newfoundland in Atlantic Canada, join in as the voices.

Ways of thinking about home take twists and turns. Kathleen Boyle joins a Turlough O’Carolan piece with a tune she wrote for some of her former students in The Murphy Boys set. The Letty from Cavan set includes a tune Madden wrote for her neighbors along with tune fro Ed Reavy and Martin Mulhaire, both Irish musicians who emigrated to the United States. There are several sets with tunes the women found in Irish tune books from the nineteenth century which allow them to have great times telling stories as their instruments converse with each other. Farewell to the Catskills is a lyrical tune Madden wrote about a place in New York state which has often welcomed people with ties to Ireland. Galway balladeer Don Stiffe steps in to sing Shadow of a Singer and his Song, in which songwriter Dermot Henry looks back at the changes and challenges of his early days in music, finding among hardships a sense of home in the connection between performer and audience.

There is the title track, Heart of the Home, written by Andy M. Stewart. Not long before he passed away, songwriter Stewart suggested that this would be a good piece of Cherish the Ladies to take on, and indeed they did, inviting Irish country singer Nathan Carter to sing the lyrics for the recording and the video. On tour, Purcell often sings the lead; they each add distinctive presence to the song, with the instruments from the band weaving in and out an through their singing.

When Cherish began, there were very few well known Irish women musicians. A whole band of top class women musicians? That was unheard of. Cherish the Ladies did, however, make themselves heard. Through the years they have played with top class musicians from symphony orchestras to country musicians to the best in Irish music. Time in Cherish has been part of the careers of many top class musicians as well, among them, fiddler Eileen Ivers, dancer Jean Butler, singers and songwriters Cathie Ryan and Heidi Talbot, and singer Aoife Clancy.

Heart of the Home is a fine next step of Cherish the Ladies. If you know their work you will certainly want it; if you’ve not yet met them, this is a fine place to make their acquaintance. They tour extensively, too . As the music on Heart of the Home suggests, you will certainly enjoy seeking out the chance to see Cherish the Ladies in performance.

Photographs of Joanie Madden; Nollaig Casey with Mary Coogan and Mirella Murray; the band on stage are by Kerry Dexter. They were made at the Celtic Connections Festival In Glasgow, with the permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Eileen Ivers Beyond the Bog Road.
Cathie Ryan Through Wind & Rain
Cherish the Ladies storytellers in music, which talks about their winter holiday albums

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Celtic Connections: Seeing Music, continued

In January every year, Glasgow light up with performances and other events from Celtic Connections. Celtic Connections is one of winter’s largest -- and most interesting -- festivals. It is held across nearly three weeks beginning in mid January every year in Glasgow, with most venues near the city center. The heart of it is music -- there are more than three hundred official concerts during the festival -- and there are talks, workshops, walks, and other events.

Continuing to share what a bit of what Celtic Connections looked like this winter past

Breabach shared music from their recent album Frenzy of the Meeting, as well as a few favourites form their back catalogue A lively night at the Old Fruitmarket, with standing ovations callng the musicians back to the stage.

American singer songwriter Gretchen Peters had a solo gig at King's Theatre, and a few days later took part in Transatlantic Sessiosn, an always highly anticipated evening where musicians from both sides of the Atlantic share the stage. Among the songs Peters offered was her classic hit, Bus to Saint Cloud ,p.

Award winning bluegrass guitarist and singer Molly Tuttle also took in the Transatlan tic Sessions concert. As of this writing, she is just about to release her first album

Phil Cunningham is a mainstay of the house band at Transatlantic Sessiosn -- and you will oftne find him performing in other part s of the fetival, too.


Eli West and Olav Mjelva offered a lively and interesting conert at the new Auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall, in support of Siobhan Miller

You may also wish to see
Scotland’s music: More from Celtic Connections
Ireland's music: Cara Dillon : A Thousand hearts
Molly Tuttle: When You're Ready
Another view of the American West:Gretchen Peters

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Scotland's Music: Eddi Reader: Cavalier

Through music, through lyric, and through ideas, you can always count on Eddi Reader to lead a journey worth the taking. On her recording Cavalier that includes travels to ancient texts, a song that reminds of a 1940s ballroom, a song about fishing -- and so much more -- and many other pathways, byways, and excursions. Through it all Reader’s gorgeous voice and poetic choices guide a journey which makes a confident whole.

“Star light, star light, how long did it take you to get here tonight...” Reader sings in a song by Boo Hewerdine that will have you imagining a night sky filled with stars as much as it will have you thinking about how light -- from stars and otherwise -- passes by. There is a song in memory of hr former partner that is filled with image and story and poetry.

Do you remember the song Perfect? In the late 1980s when Reader sang with the group Fairground Attraction, it was their big hit. Reader still often sings it in concert. The song Wonderful, which is on this recording, draws from that same well of uplifting emotion with substance backed by a melody you will find yourself listening to and perhaps singing along with, as well. Reader and her husband John Douglas wrote it.

There are more gems in the sixteen tracks -- that song about fishing, for one. Go Wisely arose from Reader’s experiences as the parent of children who were becoming adults. Meg o’ the Glen is a lively re-imagining of an older text, something Reader does elsewhere on Cavalier. Take especial note of Pangur Ban, a story with words drawn directly from a medieval poem from Ireland, as a monk contemplated the similarities between the work he did hunting words and the work his cat did...hunting mice.

It’d hardly be an Eddi Reader recording without a reference to Robert Burns. She draws the music on Cavalier together, and to a close, with a quiet, conversational take on A Man’s a Man for A’ That. It, like all the songs on the album, invites more than one listen.

It is certainly Reader’s voice and vision which anchor the music. Reader and Douglas invited a number of musical friends along, however, to help them realize that vision. Among them are folk you’ve met here along the music road in the past, including John McCusker, Phil Cunningham, John Joe Kelly, Siobhan Miller, and Euan Burton.

Photograph of Eddi Reader at Celtic Connections by Kerry Dexter, made with permission. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Singer, poet, Scotland: Eddi reader and Rober Burns
Scotand's music: Emily Smith: Echoes
Eddi Reader sings the songs of Robert Burns

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Celtic Connections: Seeing Music

Celtic Connections is one of winter’s largest -- and most interesting -- festivals. It is held across nearly three weeks beginning in mid January every year in Glasgow, Scotland. The center of it is music -- there are more than three hundred official cocnerts during the festival, as well as talks, workshops, walks, and other events.

Here is a bit of what Celtic Connections looked like recently. I invite you to stay tuned for more to come...

Rhiannon Giddens, who appeared backed by a bespoke Celtic orchestra in a moving and uplifting performance

Siobhan Miller (with Meghan Henderson on fiddle) who offred a lively and gracious set of tunes new and old, original and traditional -- and it turned out, was celebrating her birthday as well

Appearing with the eclectic Blue Rose Code, Eddi Reader was as always in fine voice and having a fine time. One of the high points of the evening at City Halls happened when she got the whole hosue singing the chorus of her hit song Perfect along with her

The four women of the Gaelic a capella group Sian collabrated with Malian singer and ngoni player Basseyou Kouyate to the audience's -- and their own -- delight

Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley offered a set at times introspective, and times sharing humor, always filled with good stories spoken, sung, and played

You may also wish to see
Scotland’s music: Emily Smith:Echoes
Ireland's music: Cara Dillon: A Thousand Hearts
Singer, poet, Scotland:Eddi Reader and Robert Burns

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Listening to Christmas

Winter. Whether Christmas is your holiday or not, it is a time which invites connection and reflection, solitude and community. Here is music to go along with those ideas... take a listen.

Here’s a song in Irish -- it is called Don oíche úd i mBeithil/That Night in Bethlehem. Perhaps you will not understand the words, but you will get the idea of reflection and hope. It is performed here by Altan, whose most recent album is The Gap of Dreams.

To pick up the pace a bit, here is Emily Smith with the lively Little Road to Bethlehem. You may find on her album Songs for Christmas.

The song Fine Winter’s Night draws on the idea of cold nights which yet hold bright stars, and darkness which draws us in to gather and connect. You may find it recorded on the album called Fine Winter’s Night, by Matt and Shannon Heaton.

You may also wish to see
Christmas, Reflections, and Travel at Perceptive Travel
Further thoughts (and music ideas) thinking about December at Wandering Educators
Candles in the window at Christmas time here at Music Road

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