Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Manran and The McDades: moving tradition forward

The range of Cetic tradition and new dimensions for its present and future: all that is part of the work of the musicians of The McDades, based in Alberta in Canada and Maran, based in Glasgow, Scotland.

It’s always g balance to draw inspiration from music of a tradition, play song and tune handed on and handed down, while putting your own mark on it, at the same time staying true to this spirit of those who have handed it on.

Another way to do that, one that arises naturally from loving and being immersed in traditional styles, is creating new music which respects and draws on tradition, while placing one’s own voice within its story.

Manran and The McDades, in differing yet related ways, are really good at this. The tradition, in the case of both bands, is mainly music of Scotland, with touches of other influences of several places and sorts now and again.

Manran: Urar

Manran has been part of the Scottish traditional music scene for elven years at this writing. Known for high energy trad rock that has listeners up on their feet as often as not, the seven member group is also well skilled at interpreting and creating quieter, more reflective pieceso.

Both these aspects of the band’s music arepresented in their album Urar. That’s a word in Gaelic which means flourishing. That well suits the character of the music on offer.

The material is largely written or arranged by members of the band, with each artist contributing to the project. Founding member of Manran Gary Innes plays accordion. Ewen Henderson is on fiddle, Highland bagpipes, vocals, piano, and synths. Ross Sanders handles bass guitar and Moog. Ryan Murphy is on uillean pipes whistle, and flute. Mark Scobie adds in drums, Aidan Moodie brings in guitar and backing vocal, and Kim Carnie is on vocals.

Kim and Aidan are the most recent members of the band, having both joined in 2019. Urar is the first Manran recording on which both of them appear. They joined up to create the song Crow Flies, which they co-wrote over distance during lockdown. The substance of the song is about supporting one another during uncertain times and being willing to take risks.

Those are ideas which recur in varied ways across the music on Urar, in tune and in song and in Gaelic and in English. Each of the band members knows well how to create and to collaborate in telling stories through music.

There is Manran’s trademark high energy present as part of such storytelling.

While that may at first seem an unlikely way to treat a song of grieving those lost at sea, the song Ailean proves an excellent way to appreciate this aspect of the band’s creativity. The Black Tower set, comprising a tune written by Ewen paired with a piece based on ancient legend and geography written by Mischa MacPherson, offers another way to appreciate how well these artists use instrument and voice both tell story..

The tunes are equally engaging. In addition to that first tune in The Black Tower set, listen out especially for the reel Creamery Cross, named by Ryan for a place near his mother’s home in County Clare in Ireland, and for The Loop, a set of three tunes, one from Ryan, one from Gary, and another from piper Peter Morrison of the Peatbog Fairies.

There is a set of Puirt, a song in Gaelic about a ridiculous pair of trousers, a tune in tribute to a favourite surf beach, a Gaelic song from a poem by Ewen honoring the tradition fo planting saplings for those who are gone too young, a song in English celebrating connection across distance, and other musical adventures to explore..

To draw things to a close, the band chose Griogal Chride. This is lament dating to 1570. Again it shows the fine way Manran works as a band to honour music and story, briging together ideas they’ve been sharing across the music on the album, with excellent playing and a memorable lead vocal from KIm.

The McDades: The Empress

The McDades well know how to honour story through their music, too.

The heart of the band are brothers Jeremiah McDade, whose instruments are whistles, guitar, bansuri, saxophone, and and vocals, and Solon McDade who is on bass and vocals, and sister Shannon Johnson, whose instruments are fiddle and voice. Alongside the siblings are musical friends Andy Hillhouse on guitar and vocals and Eric Breton cajon, darbouka, and other percussion.

The McDades are known for being based in Celtic tradition and for drawing on other styles on genres for inspiration and exploration.

That’s true of what they offer on The Empress.

You will find, for example, a lively version of the traditional song Willie Reilly.. It finds Shannon telling the tale about star crossed lovers and a man’s day in court with her lead vocals, alongside creative and fast paced percussion and instrumental backing.

The energy continues and picks up pace a bit with the original tune The Oak, Ivy and Ash, which may well have you up and dancing, or at least, tapping your feet as you listen.

Sundown, written by fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot, is a classic of contemporary folk song. It stands up well to treatment by the McDades which both honours that aspect of the song and intersperses the verses with breaks which include jazz flavored saxophone lines.

Blues and jazz come into play as The McDades offer a haunting cover of Plain Gold Ring, which was written in the 1950s by Jack Hammer. They head back into Celtic direction at first with the title track The Empress, but if you want to name other genres The McDades include in their music, you will find several of those in the tune as well.

About that title, The Empress? There are reasons behind the choice.

The heart of the band is the collaboration among Jeremiah, Solon, and Shannon. In the tarot, The Empress is the third card, meant to represent power and productivity of the subconscious, and said to open doors for creative and artistic energy. The band points out in press material about the album that they were drawn to these ideas, to the symbolism of the number 3, and to connections to the ideas of creativity growth, and expression.

With both of these albums, you will find stories directly and indirectly drawn from earlier times. You will find instrumental creations and collaborations as complex as any you’ll find in classical or jazz. Engaging and expressive singing carries the stories and traditions forward as well.

Manran and The McDades each offer material for inspiration, reflection and celebration -- musical journeys well worth the taking.

You may also wish to see
Urar was produced by Calum MacCrimmon. You will know him as a member of Breabach
Ewen Henderson has a solo album out Steall/Torrent.
Kim Carnie is also lead singer withe the band Staran. Learn about Staran’s debut album Kim has a solo album out soon as well, bout which more to come.
An earlier album from The McDades, Bloom
Shannon Johnson has produced many of Maria Dunn’s albums, including the Juno winning Joyful Banner Blazing. Jeremiah and Solon play on this and other of Maria’s albums as well.

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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