Monday, May 25, 2020

Seeing Ireland: 3 music videos

Landscape and the love of it run deep in the heart of the music of Ireland. Whether you are dreaming of, remembering, or imaging a visit to the island of Ireland, here are three music videos that will help you see aspects of the place.

“This is what I believe that we bring to our audiences” says Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh. to her long time friend Moya Brennan, “that they can sense the beauty of this place.” The two are walking in Donegal where they both spent time growing up and where Mairead lives.

They go on share a memory and a song about the lights in the windows you see a at Christmas. Perhaps you are reading this at another time. It is a fine song nonetheless, good to enjoy at any season. As Ni Mhaonaigh and Brennan remark during their conversation, you are going to want to bring a heavy coat with you when you come to Donegal anyway...

You may find the song Soilse na Nollag/The Lights of Christmas, recorded on the Windham Hill collection called The Very Best of Celtic Christmas. You may find more of NI Mhaonaigh’s work on recordings by Altan, and of Brennan’s with Clannad.They each have solo albums out as well.

The Wild Atlantic Way has become the descriptive name for the many landscapes and places you will meet along the west coast of Ireland, all the way from KInsale in Cork to Malin Head in Donegal. There are six regions and, indeed all sorts of things to aexplore and all sorts of great music to hear as well.

Aoife Scott and Enda Reilly wrote the song All Along the Wild Atlantic Way, and with her partner and fellow musician Andy Meaney along for the journey Scott brings quite a bit of the place to life through this video as well as in the lyrics and melody.

You will find the song recorded on Scott’s debut album Carry the Day, and she has a second one out now as well, called Homebird.

There is much of the landscape of Ireland which lends itself to myth and legend, and many stories to go along. The stories may be true or may not, likely some of both in most cases. The song Port na bPúcaí/The Fairy Tune is one such. It comes from the Blasket Islands, which lie off the coast of west Kerry. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh lives in the Dingle peninsula and across from the Blasket Islands.

The song, she says, was given her by her father, who told her the story that a Blasket Islands fisherman heard the music on the wind one night and played it on his fiddle. Some say it was a whale song, others that its origin was from the otherworld. The words are a story of a woman captured by the fairies. There is an otherworldly aspect to the landscape of the west Kerry shore where this video was filmed, and to the sound of the music, as well. Billy Mag Fhloinn constructed (after a concept of Gorkhem Sen) and plays the acoustic instrument called the yaybahar to compliment Nic Amhlaoibh’s singing. You will find the song on Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s recording Thar Toinn/Seaborne.

You may also wish to learn more about
Altan’s album The Gap of Dreams
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s Foxglove & Fuschia
Another Irish musician who draws on landscape in her work to learn about
One of the most loved stories at Music Road: Irish music, Irish landscape

From the Music from Shifting Times series at Wandering Educators
Music for Connection and Contemplation, with music from Aoife Scott, Matt and Shannon Heaton, Cathie Ryan, and others

Photographs by Kerry Dexter, Thank you for respecting copyright.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Scotland's music: The Woods from Hamish Napier

When you walk in a wood, what do you see? Weathered bark and new green sprouts, tall trunks and saplings, mosses, lichens, green leaves, red ones, brown ones, ones which have turned to gold, flowers, evergreen branches, yellow gorse, purple heather...

What do you hear? Bird song, the rustle of a deer as it moves through the wood, the dart of a squirrel, the voices of the waters, your own footsteps over rock and soil and leaf.

Perhaps you sense a whisper of stories of those who have walked this way before you, as well.

Hamish Napier has heard all these things, and more.

The woods he has in mind, and in experience, are those in the Cairngorms in Scotland’s Highlands.

The ideas, and the place, became resources he’d draw on the create the music for his album The Woods. Napier was commissioned to create The Woods by Cairngorms Connect, which is a joint project of RSPB Scotland, Wildland Limited, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Forestry & Land Scotland.

Through the album, Napier and his musical friends offer a journey that draws on music of Scotland’s traditions and ideas from nature, history, and language to create new stories and honour older ones.

Just as you experience light and shadow, close up views and wide ones, intricate tracery of fern and flower and boldness of high soaring tree trunks when you are in a forest, so to Napier and his musical friends reveal and share aspects of many aspects of woodlands on their journey

It used to be that children in Scotland were taught the Gaelic alphabet through learning names of trees. That comes into play as Napier chooses names for many of his tunes and draws inspiration for their creation, from different sorts of trees and the roles they play in the forest. Other aspects of woodland landscape, creatures and stories appear from time ot time as well.

Of the opening track, The Pioneer, which is tied to beith, the letter b, Napier writes “A Slow air for the beautiful birch. B is the first letter of the Early Medieval alphabet (the Ogham) which is very apt as it was one of the pioneering species to spread across the barren post ice age landscape 10 millennia ago...”

He goes on to talk of birch across the seasons, and of the uses to which it was put by Highlanders of old. You do not, of course need to know any of this to appreciate the beauty of the tune. It does give context to inspiration, creation, and connection, however. On The Pioneer, Napier plays bamboo flute and piano. He is joined by Steve Byrnes on guitar and drums, Innes Watson on fiddle and strings, Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes, James Lindsay on double bass, Su-a Lee on cello, and there are vocals, so to speak, from natural sounds of woodpecker, chaffinches, and swifts.

The Woods is an album that invites and rewards listening all the way through as the musicians have presented it. Much like a wander in physical woods, though, you can follow markd paths or go along other ways.

That said, several tracks I’d point out to you:

The Capercaille Rant/An Taghan is a fast paced celebration and evocation of the at times dramatic and in Napier’s words, otherworldly bird of the woods. “The giant grouse fly through the Scots pinewood with all the grace of a cannonball,” Napier writes. In nature the capercaillie’s rival is the pine martin, an taghan, “one of Scotland’s most beautiful and beloved predators.”

On The Tree of Blessings, you will hear Napier’s solo piano as he plays in tribute to the juniper. The Tree of Life/The Tree of Lightning is a a majestic and complex tune for the dair, the darach, the mighty oak. Though these days oak are more abundant in the west of Scotland than in the Cairngorms, there is archeological evidence that they were important centuries ago. Individual oak tress may in fact live for centuries. Druids and others considered the oak to be a doorway between worlds, too. More than enough from which to be drawing ideas for a tune...

Forest Folk is a tune at once lively and gentle, with a melody you’ll quickly catch on to. It is inspired by the flowers of the forest, and dedicated to those who go for a wander in the woods. “Find a big tree, lie at the foot of the trunk, and gaze up at the clouds drifting high above the branches,” Napier writes in the sleeve notes booklet, which you may gather from these excerpts I’ve ben sharing it is quite extensive and well worth repeated reading. The booklet also includes outstanding art work by Somhairle MacDonald. Take some time with his drawings, and with what Hamish Napier has written as well. Both will add to your understanding and appreciation of the music.

Hawthorne River/The Witches’ Tree begins with the voice of the River Spey and moves into tunes which, though newly composed, readily evoke Highland music of older times, as well as the presence of the river, the hawthorn, and the blackthorn.

The Tree of the Underworld speaks of the elm tree and draws on a story from 19th century forestry, I’ll leave you to seek that out through the sleeve notes. Suffice it to say that in addition to fine work on the cello, Su-a Lee plays her musical saw to haunting effect.

The March of the Lumberjills, and the letter R, ros for wild roses, give the nod to the Women’s Timber Corps, who came to work in forests during World War II. One of these women was Hamish Napier’s grandmother, who subsequently married and settled in the Highlands. The Regeneration March holds a bit more stately aspect, as befits a tune drawn from the idea of heather and forest reclaiming land which had been changed by both felling and wild fire. Calum MacCrimmon (you will know him from his work with the band Breabach) lends Gaelic singing to The Highest Willows which, though in the style of a lament, is a hopeful piece drawing many threads of the stories told in The Woods together.

There is quite a bit more to unpack and enjoy in The Woods, both in the music and the sleeve notes booklet. Both are well worth repeated exploration.

Here you may find out more about The Woods as well other projects from Hamish Napier.

You may also wish to see
Hamish Napier: The River
Hamish Napier’s album The Railway.
Eddi Reader: Cavalier
The Ledger, an album from Hamish Napier’s brother Findlay Napier and sister-in law Gillian Frame, with their friend Mike Vass

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Creative Practice: spaces between


Musicians -- all artists, indeed -- know that the silences, the rests, the pauses, the time for breath, are right, are needed, are as much a part of the creation, as are the notes, the words, and the voices.

As much as they are a natural part of creation, it often takes patience to see them and to hear them, though, to live through them with attention and acceptance. True in other areas of life as well.

Related ideas and music you may wish to explore

The album Alterum, from Scotland’s Julie Fowlis, in a story here at Music Road

From Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, a recording called The Quiet Room. Learn about why they chose the songs and the name of the album.

At Wandering Educators, Music and Horizons: Stories of Hope, which is part of the Music for Shifting Times series I have been writing there for some time. This story includes music from Breabach, Zoe Conway and John McIntyre, Eddi Reader, Sarah-Jane Summers, and Cathie Ryan. You will have met some of the work of these artists here along the music road too.

From harpist, composer, and singer Aine Minogue, the album In the Name of Stillness, in which, in the sleeve notes and through videos, she pairs her music with words from Irish poet and author John O’Donohue. The story is here at Music Road.

Quiet and reflection: I wrote this for publication a few days before Christmas one year at Perceptive Travel; the ideas work at other seasons as well Christmas, Reflections, Travel.

Photographs are by Kerry Dexter. They were made in County Louth, Ireland. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Ireland's music: Aoife Scott: Homebird

Aoife Scott opens her album Homebird with a song called Another Reason. It’s a song of hope and welcome and celebration, written by Scott and Andy Meaney for the birth of their niece Kitty.

It’s a song both gentle and lively at once. It begins a path into fine and varied storytelling through the tracks which follow.

Scott has a a warm and lovely voice, and well knows how to use the colours of it in the stories she chooses. Whatever sort of story she offers in a song, her love and respect for being a singer and sharing music come through clearly.

There is Ireland’s Hour of Need, in which the singer connects heroes from Ireland’s history to the present. It was written by Barry Kerr. On a somewhat related theme, Scott and Meaney wrote Fuel I Need. The idea there, Scott writes in the sleeve notes “is to know that your own strength and power will prevail,” as you turn anger in a better direction.

Irish Born, which Andy Meaney wrote, has a lively tune with a memorable sing along chorus. The words talk of experiences of the many Irish people who travel and live far from home.

There a gentle contemporary love song in Irish, Do Mhuirin O, and The Night Visiting Song from the tradition.

There a song from another tradition, too: a family tradition. Aoife is the daughter of Frances Black; her aunt is Mary Black; and many other Black family members are musicians too. It was her Granny Black who taught all of them how to sing, Scott says, but it was from her Nana Scott that she learned the sprightly song The Dublin Saunter. In Nana Scott’s honour and memory, she sings it here. Through her rendition you can see a lively atmosphere of a walk in Dublin on a spring day, and perhaps hear a bit of the love and joy Nana Scott shared in teaching the song to her granddaughter.

There are more tracks on the album; all of them are keepers and well worth your listening more than once. Scott brings things to a reflective close with a quiet take on a song by Briege Murphy called The Sea.

Ron Block (yes, that Ron Block, of Alison Krauss + Union Station) produced Homebird. He plays banjo on the album as well, along with Nashville compatriots Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Sierra Hull on mandolin. The contingent of Irish musicians in addition to Scott and Meaney includes Cathal O’Curran on bodhran, Floriane Blanke on harp, and Mary, Frances, Martin, and Michael Black along with next generation Black family members Roisin O, Danny O’Reilly, and Eoghan Scott on backing vocals.

You may also wish to see
Aoife Scott’s web site
Listening to Ireland:Patrick Season
About Aoife Scott’s album Carry the Day
Ireland’s music: Foxglove & Fuschia from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Love Songs, Love Stories

Love is an eternal source of inspiration for artists. Here are five stories about romatic love you may not have heard, or may enjoy hearing again. The stories come with recognition that love holds its own challenges, of varied sorts.

The singer in Fear a Bhàta is waiting for her boatman to come home. That’s not an uncommon theme in songs from older times when, really, nobody knew if a loved one would return, for all sorts of reasons. In this song it is mot clear if th weather, the dangers of the work, or the possibility of change of heart are on the woman’s mind, but nonetheless, the longing is clear, even if Scottish Gaelic is not your language. Karen Matheson sings it here, with the band Capercaillie. You may find it recorded on their album The Blood is Strong. This video was recorded at a concert during the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow.

Tha mo Geal a Aird a Chuain/My Love is on the High Seas, is also a song of waiting for a man who works on the waters to return. This one has a bit of a more defined ending, though, which Julie Fowlis, who sings it here, talks about in the clip. The baby Julie is cradling in the story is a big girl now, but it is still a lovley way to see and ehar the song presented. You may find it on the album Mar a tha Mo Chride/ As My Heart Is.

There’s a swirl of hope, a challenging of invitation, a suggestion of strength, of passion, of the power of love in the face of heartbreak and danger; a lot going on in a few short minutes of the song What’s Closest to the Heart. Cathie Ryan sings it, and she also wrote the song. You may find it on her album The Farthest Wave.

There’s certainly a mystical aspect to the tale of King Orfeo and his lady, whose happy life together is disrupted in an unexpected way. The power of music, and the power of love, brings things right in the end, however, in this song which comes from Shetland in Scotland’s Northern isles. Emily Smith sings it here, and you will find it on her labum Echoes.

Scotland’s far north plays a part, at least through the visual aspect, in the song. Thugainn, It is by the band Mànran and it is part of the soundtrack for a forthcoming film on Scotland’s North Coast 500. The director of the film made this vidoe to go along with the song. Thugainn means Come with me in Scottish Gaelic.

At Valentine’s Day and beyond, may you.enjoy celebrating love through these songs.

You may also wish to explore
Capercaillie:At the Heart of It All
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain
Music for a New Year at Wandering Educators
Seven Ways to Explore Scotland through Music at Perceptive Travel

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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Celtic Connections: 11 Choices for the Third Weekend of the Festival

As the Celtic Connections Festival heads into its final weekend of 2020, there is a packed schedule of concerts and workshops.Artists from Finland, Mali, the United States, Ireland, and other places as well as musicians of Scotland from Shetland to the Borders will take part.

Early on Thursday evening, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach will present work they created while on a sailboat journey to some of Scotland’s uninhabited islands, including the Shiants and Saint Kilda. The project is called Air Iomall/On the Edge.

During the 18th and 19th centuries more than 80 percent of Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company workers came from Orkney in Scotland’s northern isles. As the Company marks its 350th anniversary, fiddle and mandolinist Graeme Rorie offers a new piece drawing on stories of these Orcadians, at the Mitchell Theatre.

Old time and American specialist Joe Newberry is well loved by festival audiences. For this return, he comes to the Strathclyde Suite at the Royal Concert Hall in partnership with Ottawa Valley step dancer, fiddler, and singer April Verch. It’s a collaboration at once high energy and thoughtful, which was a hit with audiences at the Celtic Colours International Festival this past autumn. Opening for them will be The Ledger, a trio project in which Findlay Napier, Gillian Frame, and Mike Vass, who explore a selection of Scottish songs drawn from a ledger kept by a Napier family connection.

At the Mackintosh Church, fiddle and guitar duo Hannah Fisher and Sorren Maclean offer song and tune as they open for a highly anticipated gigi from Isobel Campbell. The combination of acts should make for a Highly creative evening all round.

On Friday, the fiddles, guitar, and mandolin of Kinnaris Quintet bring their passionate and creative approach to string music to the New Auditorium.

Earlier on the Friday evening, Chris Stout and Catriona McKay offer an intimate acoustic take on their fiddle and harp music at the recital room at City Halls.

On Saturday, the four fiddlers of Rant return to the Mackintosh Church, where they recorded their recent album Portage. Svang, from festival featured country Finland, will open with harmonica music ranging from blues to classical.

Also on Saturday, Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan bring Americana influenced songs from their duo project Small Town Stories along with Scottish material from their back catalogue. They open for Dirk Powell, whose musical creativity includes Celtic, Cajun, and Appalachian music.

Sunday will find the band Rura heating things up at the Old Fruitmarket as they celebrate their tenth anniversary in the company of special guests.

Two Sunday traditions at the festival are in place this year, too. The finals of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year will see six finalists perform. It’s always a great chance to celebrate Scotland’s rising stars.

The same could be said of another tradition of the final Sunday afternoon: the Big Sing. The third weekend of the festival is when daytime workshops focus on song. This year the two days will offer chances to learn songs in Gaelic, explore beat boxing, hear and learn song of Scotland’s places, pick up some lullabyes, try out singing in chorus and more. At the conclusion of the weekend, late afternoon of the Sunday, participants are invited to gather at the main staircase at the concert hall to share a song or two or three. It’s always good fun, whatever your plans for later on the final evening of the festival may be.

You may also wish to see
Scotland’s Magic Year of Coasts and Waters
Emily Smith: Echoes
Cherish the Ladies: Heart of the Home
Celtic Colours: Heritage and Heart on Cape Breton

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Celtic Connections 2020: 7 Concerts to explore on the second weekend

Celtic Connections: it is a gathering of musical talent, inspiration, and collaboration which lights up the winter in Glasgow from mid January through early February. There is always a range fo events from which to choose each, some from well known artists, some from people perhaps less high profile, and usually one off collaborative projects you’ll rarely see anywhere else. There is still a great deal to come as the festival is in its second week, and plenty of time to join in.

Here are ideas to explore during the packed second weekend of Celtic Connections. If you happen to be reading this at another time, seek out the work of these artists anyway, live or recorded. You will be well rewarded.

At the Old Fruitmarket on Friday evening, there will be two reunions of sorts. Flute player, uilleann piper, and composer Michael McGoldrick marks 20 years since the release of his album Fused, a creative leaps which saw tunes from Celtic tradition infused with and infusing musical ideas from funk, jazz, ambient and work music. The artists who played on the album gather again. Singers Karan Casey and Karen Matheson will join in.

Sharing the bill with McGoldrick and friends are Dochas, a six piece ensemble who rarely perform together these days as they’ve gone on to top solo carers and participation in bands including Blazin’ Fiddles. Offering top class playing and Gaelic song are Jenna Reid, Eilidh MacLeod, Carol-Anne Mackay, KT Boyle, Martin O’Neill, and Julie Fowlis.

Also on Friday, at the re-purposed church that is Oran Mor in Glasgow’s West End, it promises to be a lively evening as the Paul McKenna Band offers their take on Scottish and Irish tradition with rock and pop accents, and fine songwriting and singing. Not to be outdone, The East Pointers, from Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada, offer Celtic song and tune enlivened by bluegrass element and touched with a fresh Atlantic breeze.

Robert Burns will be celebrated on his day, Saturday 25 January, as Eddi Reader joins the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to perform her choice of pieces from their collaborative project from 2003, Eddi Reader sings the Songs of Robert Burns. Karen Matheson, Jarlath Henderson, and Shona Donaldson will add theirs takes on Burns music to the evening at the main auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall as well.

Coming from different musical geographies, Les Amazones d’Afrique, a female supergroup whose founders include Angelique Kidjo and Mariam Doumbio, take the stage Satuday at the Tramway. Their support act includes festival artists and groups representing five of Glasgow’s diverse communities, a finale to the new Celtic Connections in the Community strand, presented in partnership with BEMIS.

Two other geographies join the mix as group Cimarron, from Colombia in South America, join up with acclaimed Welsh artist Caitrin Finch, united by their love of and expertise with the harp. They will take the stage at the Fruitmarket on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, Lauren MacColl brings it back to the Highlands with an early evening program of haunting fiddle music, at the REctal Room at City Halls. Later that Sunday evening, Aoife Scott comes rom Ireland to premier her second album, Homebird. She travelled to Nashville to work with Ron Block of Alison Krauss and Union Station to produce the album. Block returns the favour for this concert, joining gifted singer and songwriter Scott and members of her band. They will share the bill at the New Auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall with firm festival favourites, the ever creative fiddle and cello duo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.

Seven fine concerts to explore during the second weekend of Celtic Connections -- and that’s just a taste of what’s on as the weekend infold with concerts, workshops, sessions, and other events across Glasgow city centre.

Also, there’s another whole week of Celtic Connections ahead: the music goes on through 2 February. Ideas on what to expect in the third week coming up soon...

You may also wish to explore
The album Abundance from Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas
Eddi Reader’s album Cavalier
Celtic Colours Festival: Heritage and Heart on Cape Breton

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