Friday, June 02, 2023

Lossan: Ruth Keggin & Rachel Hair explore music from the Isle of Man

Lossan: that’s a word in Manx Gaelic that means shimmer, flicker, particles of light in darkness such as you might glimpse when looking at light reflecting on water at night.

It is also the title that Ruth Keggin and Rachel Hair have chosen for their duo album.

“It felt very fitting to title the album this way,” Ruth said. “The word also has connections to sea and sky and it’s these things that connect us both and are so important to our homelands.”

Ruth is a singer, native to the Isle of Man, and an artist who has played a part in the resurgence of interest in the Manx Gaelic language in recent times.

Rachel Hair’s instrument is the harp. She is from Scotland, currently based in Glasgow. Her music has taken her as far afield as Japan, the United States, and Australia. She’s been visiting the Isle of Man for a number of years to teach and play.

Ruth and Rachel met more than a decade ago at an after hours session one night on Man. Off and on since then, they have been playing together, including a gig at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival.

“For years now I have been inspired by the culture on the Isle of Man and its music, song, and language,” Rachel said. “I’m so grateful to those involved in the cultural scene on the island for welcoming me.”

Ruth’s and Rachel’s collaboration on Lossan adds to the creativity of Manx music in both song and melody -- and there are a few tunes from Scotland and Ireland in their set list as well, tunes which help illuminate connections among Celtic traditions, and the work of those who bring those traditions forward.

The whole of Lossan is well worth repeated listenings; indeed the balance of intricacy and simplicity that marks the duo’s arrangements and choices of music readily invites that.

That said, tracks to listen out for especially include

Graih Foalsey is a traditional song from the Isle of Man about about a lover who has proved false to her man. If you know other Celtic tales of false lovers you might hear hints of those in word and melody both. In this tale, though man knows of the circumstance, he remains hopeful. That likely explains why the song is reflective in tone rather than angry or sad It’s a piece Ruth and Rachel each enjoy performing when they are working on their own, so it made a natural choice to include in this duo project.

For the Tri Nation Harp Jigs Set, Rachel features on her own with a set that moves from a traditional Scottish tune to a Manx one to one from Ireland; Ruth similarly has a track on her own with an a capella take on the traditional Manx song Arrane Saveenagh, a song which has similar lyrics in the same vein as Rock-a-bye Baby.

You might at this point be wondering a bit about Manx Gaelic and Manx music and where they come from. They’re Celtic: if you have Scottish Gaelic or Irish a few words might catch your ear .

The Isle of Man lies in the Irish Sea, about halfway between Ireland and Scotland. Through history it has had connections and influences to the cultures of both countries, and to the Nordic lands also, as it made a good way station for traveling Vikings.

The Isle of Man has remained its own country, though, and being an island a bit out on the sea, has developed its own languages and culture from all those elements.

Another set to listen out for on Lossan is Eubonia Soilshagh, which comprises a lively collection of drinking songs, several with trad Manx lyrics set to contemporary melodies by Manx musician Annir Kissack. This is also a track on which guests join the duo: Adam Brown on bodhran, Adam Rhodes on bouzouki, and Isla Callister on fiddle.

The whole of Lossan offers a way to explore an aspect of Celtic music and Gaelic song that’s perhaps lesser known than others.

It also offers a master class in how singer and instrumentalist can work together to explore song and melody.

All that comes together especially in another track: Arrane Oie Vie, also known as the Good Night Song. It too is a traditional Manx song, one which is often used to end an evening of music.

Ruth Keggin and Rachel Hair have chosen this song to draw their duo album Lossan to a close, as well.

There’s much more to enjoy on Lossan. Take time with what Ruth Keggin and Rachel hair have created; you will be well rewarded.

Ruth and Rachel each have other albums in release, which you may find out about at their respective websites.
For English language lyrics of the songs on Lossan, go to the media tab of Ruth’s website.

Photographs of Ruth and Rachel by Amore du Plessis Photography

You may also wish to see:
A Celtic autumn celebration on the Isle of Man
Alterum from Julie Fowlis, with songs in Scottish Gaelic
Thar Toinn from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh with songs in Irish

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