Monday, April 24, 2023

Scotland's music: Breabach celebrates nature and hope with Fàs

Fàs: in Gaelic, it is word that means growth, developing, and sprouting.

It is also the name Breabach have chosen for their recent album. Both musically and in outlook, those ideas are good descriptions for what they’ve been exploring

The music most often holds connection to the natural world and ideas of change. That parallels a bit what is going on with Breabach’s musical evolution, too: staying true to their love of and expertise with tradition, they continue to take tradition forward and add to it in thoughtful and creative ways.

The five members of Breabach are well qualified to do this individually. One of the fine things about listening to the tracks on Fàs (and seeing the band live, too, which you need to do if ever you have the opportunity) is enjoying their excellence at collaboration, too.

Breabach are Calum MacCrimmon on Highland pipes, whistles, bouzouki, vocals; James Lindsay on double bass, Moog, vocals; Ewan Robertson, who plays acoustic and electric guitar in addition to singing; Megan Henderson on fiddle and vocals, and newest member of the band (this is his first time recording with the group) Conal McDonagh, on Highland pipes, uilleann pipes, whistles, and vocals.

The ten tracks on Fàs find the band offering a fine mix of trad and original music, with song in both English and Gaelic, balanced with a good range of tunes as well.

The opening set, The Old Collection, holds three traditional tunes along with one composed by Calum. It offers good introduction to the band’s way with honoring tradition as well as adding their own spark. That’s lightly done, adding just a t touch of something a bit different to the band’s imaginative work.

Part of that spark comes out now and then through touches of synth from guest Keir Long and percussion from Inge Thomson, too -- just enough to add in to mix at times. Thomson produced the album, and given her fine ear for connection electronic and acoustic elements in her other work, it’s no surprise she does it well here.

Ewan Roberson wrote and takes lead voice on Revolutions. which he remarks was inspired by reading about renewable energy and making a visit to a wind farm. “A love song to a wind turbine,” he calls it. It is that, and there’s more thoughtful stuff going on in its lyrics, too and in the video the band has made to go along as well.

Megan takes lead for the Gaelic song Eadar An Dà Bhraigh, written by her brother Ewen Henderson. It’s to celebrate the sustaining of a woodland ecosystem just south of the Cairngorms. That might not at first sound a likely subject for a lovely song, but in the writing of Ewen and the voices and instruments of Breabach, it becomes just that.

Another favorite is the set Brog to the Future, which comprises three tunes celebrating the promises of nature and of the coming generations. There’s one from Cape Breton fiddle player Kinnon Beaton, one from Megan, and one from Conal, to make a lively and engaging set.

Megan composed the title tune after taking part in a Fridays for Future march with Ewan and their young daughter at the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow. Brog means shoe in Gaelic, and Conal’s tune also has to do with shoes, while Kinnon’s is a reel for a school graduating class. Steps to the future, perhaps.

Another excellent set is Dear Green, with tunes composed by Megan in honor of Glasgow and its green spaces, and by James in honor of the Global Seed Vault in Norway, which also provides hope for future. Not subjects every musician would choose or would be able to bring off, but these two, along with other band members and guests Long and Thomson, do it with class.

Class is a fair description all that’s going on in Fàs, There’s the title track, which brings together trad and contemporary in good style, Megan’s fine singing in a song sourced frm Cape Breton, a cover of a Jim Malcolm/John McLellan piece, and a march from Calum.

To draw the album to a close and to draw the threads of ideas of nature and future together, Breabach offer song from Calum -- he takes lead voice, too -- called Changing World. This thoughtful and thought provoking piece was inspired by Calum’s reflections during lockdown, looking out his window and seeing natuee flourishing in the absence of human activity.

Fàs is an album weLl worth the listening, worth repeated listening. Every time you do so you will hear new colors, voices, and ideas. It is a great next step for the top class musicians of Breabach.

...and in case you were wondering about sustainability, the disc comes in a sleeve of FSC certified stock, printed using all vegetable inks.

You may also wish to see
Another album from Breabach, Frenzy of the Meeting
A video of the title track is part of this story at Wandering Educators Music for the new year: possibilities of hope
A look back at one of Inge Thomson’s concerts at Celtic Connections
Another recording that celebrates nature, The Woods from Hamish Napier

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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