Sunday, August 11, 2019

Scotland's Music: Breabach: Frenzy of the Meeting

The sound of Scotland’s landscapes, misty glen to rocky coast, mountain path to city street: that is part of what you hear in the music of the band Breabach.

There’s tradition and innovation. There are ideas grounded in Scotland and informed by by seeing Scotland’s people and music in the context of a wider world. All these strands come together in the songs and tunes they offer on their sixth recording. Frenzy of the Meeting.

Prince’s Strand, a tune named after the place on the Isle of Eriskay in the Western Isles where Charles Edward Stuart -- Bonnie Prince Charlie-- first landed in Scotland in the Rising of ’45 invites listeners in with a welcome which is both peaceful and complex. It was written by band member James Duncan Mackenzie.

Peaceful and complex: you could say that of each of the songs and tunes on Frenzy of the Meeting. True, some are faced paced, high stepping tunes which celebrate the dance and invite you to dance yourself, while others come with melody and lyric and in Gaelic , which ask good questions and offer vivid images with which to contemplate those ideas. Yet other tell good stories and suggest ideas for reflection with lyrics in English.

The members of Breabach are James Lindsay on double bass an vocals, Calum MacCrimmon on bagpipes, whistle, bouzouki, and vocals, James Duncan Mackenzie on bagpipes, flute, whistle, Ewan Robertson on guitar, vocals, cajon. and Megan Henderson on fiddle and vocals. Each has contributed original pieces and arrangements to the mix of traditional and original music here.

Each track is worth your attention, and indeed repeated listening. In addition to Prince’s Strand, several cuts of which to take especial note

Birds of Passage: Migration is much in the news these days, as indeed it has been a part of life across the world for centuries. Ewan Robertson wrote this song with his friend Michael Farrell. In it, he sings of the hopes, fears and dreams of people on a migration journey, backed by instruments which also speak of passages and journeys.

...Humble search for sanctuary
Timeless symphony
No borderlines they see...

On and on
through grief and pain
brave birds of passage fly again
as they light
on golden strand
brave birds pf passage
reach our land...

The Oban Ball is an instrumental track based around a nineteenth century pipe tune, married with James Duncan Mackenzie’s tune Thunderstorm on Thunder Bay. Pipes and whistles lead the dance, with bass and fiddle adding depth to the story.

Winter Winds, a song from Calum MacCrimmon also speaks of journey, hardship, and change. As with Birds of Passage, there is hope threaded through, in both word and melody.

So keep a eye on the horizon,
Even when nights are long
Give it time, and the sky will change

Whether falling or flying
We are all moving on
And in the light we can find our way

Knees Up pairs Knees Up in Hanoi, a lively tune from Calum MacCrimmon, with the Gaelic song Dòchas Glan Na Fàire, sung by Megan Henderson, which MacCrimmon wrote with Megan’s brother, Ewen Henderson. This too is a song of journey, of revisiting familiar landscapes and finding new ones. Part of the lyrics translate as

The road must be taken
Living in pure hope of the horizon
Until the day breaks

Òran Bhràigh Rùsgaich is the Gaelic song which the band have chosen to close the album. It speaks of light and shadow moving across landscape, a particular one, in fact. It is “our take on Iain Mac Dhùghaill’s nostalgic poem about the braes of Ruskich to the south of Glen Urquhart, “ the band write in the sleeve notes. “Megan and Ewan first heard this sung by Charlie MacFarlane at one of the legendary ceilidh nights in Glenfinnan House Hotel.”

Journeys across landscapes, facing hardship yet finding hope: in both song and tune, those thread run through the choices on Frenzy of the Meeting, all delivered with thoughtful and top class musicianship. Breabach, who formed in 2005, have been nominated for and won a number of awards; if Frenzy of the Meeting is your first hearing of them, you will quickly understand why.

The album was recorded live in the studio for one week, and then in a further week of work spent with producer Eamon Doorley (you’ll know him from his work with Danu and Julie Fowlis). It is a fine next step for a group of musicians who are at once at the top of their game, while suggesting that there is much ahead for them to explore yet. If ever you have the chance to see Breabach live, you will be well rewarded, too, by seeing a group of top notch musicians who really listen to each other, and who truly enjoy sharing their music with all who come to hear. You may get to see them add a bit of step dance into the mix, as well.

Side note: If you happen to be reading this before mid October 2019, you may have the chance to see Breabach play live (and online) in Cape Breton. Along with Cape Breton artists Beolach (who are Mairi Rankin Mac MacIsaac, Mac Morin, and Wendy MacIsaac ), they have been artists in residence for the Celtic Colours International Festival of 2019. Concerts from the festival are live often streamed at the festival website (and kept available through the following day). Among other appearances (the festival runs 11 to 19 October), Breabach is set to appear in the finale concert of the festival on 19 October along with Beolach and singer Julie Fowlis from Scotland, whose music you’ve met before here along the Music Road.

Further side note: Mention must be made of those who created the cover art and design for Frenzy of the Meeting: The artwork is from the painting Sun In Bog by Somhairle, Struan and Breagha MacDonald, and the layout is by Somhairle MacDonald.

You may also wish to see
Juilie Fowlis: Gach Sgeul Every Story
Capercaillie: At the heart of It All
Music and Horizons” Stories of Hope at Wandering Educators, which includes the official video of Knees Up

Photograph of band in doorway courtesy of the artists; photograph of band on stage at Celtic Connections in Glasgow by Kerry Dexter, made with permission of the festival, the artists, and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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