The Making of Fragments in Time: The Debut Album from Rhona Stevens & Joseph Peach

📷 by Orla Stevens

Our album ‘Fragments in Time’ has been out for just over a month now, which after three years in the making, is still quite hard to fathom!

We took the very first steps towards the project way back in May 2020. A couple of months into the first of the Covid-19 lockdowns delirium was setting in. We were incredibly lucky to be able to be at home and safe from most of the health risks that existed at that time, but we were truly climbing the walls of that wee Ibrox flat. 

The length of that first lockdown was almost exactly the same amount of time as we had lived together – Rhona having moved up from London and taken over a then-vacant room in Joe’s flat. Before that, we hadn’t played music together (or really hung out that much), since we were at music school together – almost ten years previous. Thankfully, settling into locked down life as flatmates, we got on like a house on fire. 

Like for all folk who might be self-employed and connected in some way to the world of events, the first few weeks of lockdown were quite insane: Rhona was nearing the end of the final year of her music degree, with an honors project of self-penned indie bops for herself + band still to record, and Joe was gearing up for a year which was set to contain upwards of 80 shows across multiple continents. For us both, there was a period of weeks of re-arranging, re-arranging again and then trying once more, before accepting that life as we knew it was going to be on pause for the foreseeable. 

Initially, we coped with that in different ways. Rhona made one thousand paper cranes (yes, it was really one thousand – she counted), and Joe compiled and released the Braw Sailin’ Collection – a compilation of original tunes from members of Tannara, Westward the Light and Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. With those projects complete, our minds both seemed to turn collectively back to music. 

At that time, Joe was a member of a small production studio just a stone’s throw away from the flat. Once we established that it was legal for us to travel from the house to spend time there, we started doing so frequently. Not with any particular ideas in mind, but rather just to re-engage with the act of creating. 

One of those early studio days led us to a common ground in the writing of Violet Jacob. She was a Scottish writer, alive between 1863 and 1946, who wrote across mediums and languages. We discovered we had a shared love of her Scots poetry. Her work brims with themes of nature, place, longing, loss, grit, determination and the passing of time – all of which were particularly salient in those early, uncertain pandemic weeks.

Fellow folkies will definitely know a couple of her works previously set to song – The Wild Geese (also known as Norland Wind), and Baltic Street. 

Our journey with her work for this album started with what ended up being the 4th track – Lirk O’ the Hill, or to give it its full and proper title – The Field By the Lirk o’ The Hill. Rhona had set this poem to music a number of years previously, and taking her original melody, we piled a whole bunch of ideas in. Working mainly in Ableton, that early draft was a washy, electronics and sample-based soundscape. To us, it worked. Working quite quickly we found a number of Jacob’s other poems that suited being re-made as songs. 

The music we made in those initial steps in the project was very tactile and exploratory. It was quite new to us both and really exciting to be building soundscapes around songs – using found-sounds and making new sample instruments to draw out themes and ideas present in Jacob’s lyrics. 

That process quickly grew further arms and legs again. We happened upon a number of ideas and sounds that while really exciting on their own, were not working in the context of the songs. These turned into instrumental numbers, which we were thinking of almost straight away as interludes. Sculpting those bridging tracks brought us to the realisation that we could aim to make this body of music (we still weren’t thinking about it as an album at that point) a straight-through listen. 

The end of 2020 brought with it a first draft of the Fragments in Time album. Left-field and experimental, it would never have stood up as an album release, but it was certainly unlike anything either of us had made before. 

At the turn of the year, moving flat, starting new “we can’t be musicians so what else can we do for the moment” jobs, and a couple of other changes meant the project was shelved for almost 12 months. 

Returning to it, the delirious time in which the music was made shone right through. We were amazed, and slightly horrified at some of the creative decisions we’d taken – there were a lot of weird synth sounds! 

But there was something about it that merited more attention. Over a few months of listening to the demos, and a huge rake of other stuff, and chatting influences and ideas, we settled on an approach that kept some of the original idea, but that also contained a path to making something “finished”. 

The bones of the album are as they were in late 2020 – underpinned by hardware synths, sampled instruments and natural world samples. Given Rhona’s background in Indie stuff, and having listened to a lot of 60s-70s big band, soul and jazz stuff, we were really keen to see if we could get more of a core “band” sound coming through, with some of those bigger sweeping string textures you’d hear on an Etta James record. 

So with that, we set out to re-make the album, with a band and instrument list comprising: vocals, piano, harmonium, rhodes, various synths (those are the bits we played); and string quartet, saxophone, kit, bass and backing vocals. 

One of the first steps in the project’s transition from left-field experiment to the album was in developing our use of natural world samples. Our first draft drew heavily from the BBC’s sound effects library, an amazing bank of samples gathered by the BBC over a period of decades. These were only placeholders though. Aside from licensing challenges to use those sounds commercially, for the real thing, we felt it was essential for us to be more connected to the sonic world we were creating. 

Happily, soon after reaching this decision, we set off to walk the Camino Frances. A 700km hike from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, through the Pyrenees and then heading West, crossing Spain to reach Santiago de Compostela. Along our way we captured a huge range of sounds, which went on to form the bulk of the samples used on the record. Aside from being a big ol’ trachle, the walk was quite a transformative experience for us both, so it’s been wonderful to be able to bring that into this album in a really tangible way. 

As an aside, the sample which perhaps features most prominently on the record is of Joe’s great granny Kate Shaw. In the 1960s, Dr John MacInnes spent time in Joe’s native Achiltibuie, recording the local stories, music and language for the School of Scottish Studies. Dr MacInnes made almost 30 recordings of Kate, discussing everything from place names, her day to day life, legends, and the supernatural. All in her native, very distinctive Gaelic. We thought long and hard about including spoken Gaelic on an ostensibly Scots language album, and settled on the conclusion that while separated by language, the themes and heart of both VJ’s lyrics and KS’s chat are deeply shared. 

Returning from the Camino, our minds turned to writing string parts and recording our instrumental parts. At its heart, this is a very home or close-to-home made album, almost all of that took place in the home-studio corner of our living room – this is also where all of the music videos were shot. 

Largely, we didn’t have to travel far either to record the other musicians who so beautifully lent their talents to this record. It was a mere hop and a skip down the road to the Sherbrooke Mosspark parish church for strings recording. Our quartet: Laura Wilkie, Chloë Bryce, Eilidh Randall and Alice Allen made an incredible job of bringing the parts to life. 

Percussion and bass gurus Mattie Foulds and Charlotte Printer beamed themselves in from their home studios, coming up with the goods with total ease. And our apologies to Matt Carmichael for coming round to the flat for what we wouldn’t be surprised to hear would be the least professional recording session of his career. He spent the day sandwiched into our homemade “sound booth”, consisting of a pile of duvets piled up on Rhona’s bed in front of an open wardrobe. We also owe him our sincere thanks for absolutely knocking it out of the park, despite the circumstances!

A notable exception to the close-to-home theme was in making the cannonball run up to Ardnamurchan for the day to record Annie Grace’s backing vocal for Baltic Street – the final song on the album. Making this trip was the realisation of a long-held ambition of Joe’s, who since re-making the melody for the song, had been sure that Annie and Rhona’s voices together would be the finishing touch that would bring the song together.  

We were delighted to discover that this was exactly the case. After much back and forth on diaries, we managed to find a time to grab Annie’s vocal three days before the album was due to go to mix. She very graciously made time for us on her lunch break, and we tracked the very last piece of the album in her living room. It works wonderfully, and if we could change one thing about the album it would be to have Annie on there throughout. 

In post-production, we were lucky to have the ears of Mattie Foulds on mix. We both love working with him – he’s done a couple of Rhona’s recent singles, and this album represents the 14th release he’s worked on with Joe. He really made the sound of this music the best it could be. Katie Tavini added the cherry on top with a sensitive yet punchy master. 

The visuals for the album: cover, photography and videos, and animation were made by Scottish (but Berlin-based) artist Orla Stevens. Her approach and artistic vision aligned really well with the feeling and themes of our project. Orla is also Rhona’s older sister, so it was a great excuse to get to spend some time together and collaborate! 

And after all that, Fragments in Time launched on 29 September, the day after Rhona (and Joe’s mum’s!) birthday! We’re incredibly proud of it, and it’s wonderful (if slightly surreal) to finally have it out in the world. 

In making all of that happen, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the funders who supported the project. Creative Scotland, the Marchus Trust, Fenton Arts Trust and Hope Scott Trust’s investment in this album allowed us to take it from something which existed as 0s and 1s to something tangible. 

Making this album has been a huge constant in three incredibly turbulent years. Working on it kept us (somewhat) sane, creative and inspired. Crafting this music was an escape from the upheaval and uncertainty facing the rest of our professional and creative lives, and to boot we’ve ended up with some lovely music!

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Fragments in Time is available here

Rhona & Joe’s socials:
Instagram – Rhona | Instagram – Joseph | FB Page – Rhona | FB Page – Joe

THE VALUE OF TRADITIONAL ARTS – by David Francis

As cuts to culture funding continue to hit the headlines it’s worth reflecting on the importance of the traditional arts to communities and to Scottish culture in general. 

Folk arts are the source of human creativity and value worldwide, but the living flow of traditional song, music, dance, and story enjoys a prominent place in Scottish culture.  In them people find meaning and connection. They are part of what allows us to express and share an inclusive Scottish consciousness, and are an important part of our image throughout the world.  It is also that very distinctiveness which gives us the security to accept what is unique in other cultures, and to explore what we have in common.

These traditional arts can illuminate contemporary experience, as well as our history, and link directly into regional identity and the three indigenous languages, Gaelic, Scots and English, as well as the cultures and languages of new Scots. They are a collectively created and re-created expression of people’s encounter with geographical, historical, psychological and social circumstance, including the processes of settlement, relocation and dislocation. They are in short what unite collective identity, sense of place and cultural memory.

In practice the arts of tradition are inherently accessible. They enable artistic participation for all levels and abilities with the potential to provide an entry into wider artistic activities.  The traditional arts can support renewal and innovation and are an important source of cultural energy and confidence.

This cultural energy also derives, in large part, from the way the traditional arts in Scotland are structured and supported.  At their base is a strong voluntary and community effort, focussed on teaching and learning, local festivals, and informal social events.  Those who work professionally in the traditional arts acknowledge their debt to this base, and, especially when teaching or working on community projects, never lose contact with it.  There is a continuum between voluntary and amateur activity, through to professional, commercial activity, and people will find themselves at several points on the continuum (sometimes simultaneously) at different times in their creative life.  

The model for the development of the traditional arts embraces, therefore, five key ideas: Knowledge, Access, Practice, Advocacy and Sustainability: the interlocking of access to the traditional arts for people as creators and audiences, addressing existing and latent demand; an infrastructure for the development of skills; the cultivation of excellence in teaching and performance; support for the traditional arts’ place in Scottish culture, their sustainability and their potential value to communities.

The Traditional Music Forum’s hope and intention is that the value of traditional arts continues to be recognised and that they continue to play a full part in Scottish life.

FIXED ASSETS – by Seán Gray

📷 by Hamish Macleod

“Digging into the Politics and Poetry of Ayrshire Mining Communities.”

Fixed Assets is an album collaborating with Lallans Scots poet Rab Wilson and explores the lives of Ayrshire coal miners. The idea for the album came about in 2016 after I was commissioned by Celtic Connections to write a piece of music for their New Voices concert series. The music was based on the subject of Ayrshire coal mining and the industries surrounding that.

I had briefly met Rab Wilson some years prior to that at a festival in Muirkirk run by John Moran (Deaf Shepherd) called The John Lapraik festival. The festival is a celebration of the work of Muirkirk poet John Lapraik (1727 – 1807) as well as other poets from Muirkirk and the surrounding area. After hearing Rab perform at the festival I knew that he would be the person to contact when looking for Ayrshire mining themed material in my own native Lallans Scots.

If this collaboration already seems like the ‘folkiest’ thing you’ve heard of in recent times, consider that along with growing up speaking this language, I also apprenticed as a mechanical engineer at Allenwest Wallacetown which, in years past, provided much of the equipment for the miners who are the focus of these poems, stories and songs; that my grandfathers both worked in the mines; and that Rab Wilson left the pits in 1984 following the Miner’s Strike, after his apprenticeship with the National Coal Board.

“The wheel o village life spun roond the Pit, When they taen awa’ the hub, that wis it.”

Although the prevailing memory of deep coal mining will always be the miners strike and the devastating effects of pit closures by the Conservative Party, I have tried to convey some of the good times and the sense of pride and community associated with the work. Ex miners always say that they would do anything for each other, absolutely anything. Everyone would know what everyone was up to, they’d look after each other’s kids. If someone was ill, they’d be completely taken care of. They really look back fondly at this time and community.

Regarding the strike poet Rab Wilson pulls no punches in describing the situation.
“In reality the 1984-’85 Miners’ Strike was a civil war. Tearing communities and families apart. The scars from this war are still with us today,”

“The few deep coal mines that survived the 1984-’85 Strike were condemned to a slow lingering death. By the year 2000, the vast majority of mines had closed and only a handful remained; the last deep mine in Britain, Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, closed in 2015. It is highly unlikely that coal mining will ever be revived as a viable industry in the UK. Attitudes to fossil fuels have completely changed. Worldwide targets on pollution mean that human reliance on carbon-based energy sources will, in the very near future, become a thing consigned to the dustbin of history.”

It is my hope that Fixed Assets helps to preserve some of the history of Ayrshire coal mining. The only way to do this effectively, and to represent the miners and communities honestly, was to do so in their own native Scots language. A living breathing language.

********************

Fixed Assets
Released 25th August 2023
Available from bandcamp
seangraymusic.com

AN IRISH-SCOT LOST IN THE BALKANS – by Chris Lyons

📷 by Chris Scott for Hidden Door Festival

I will be playing Bayan-accordion and possibly some other instruments at the Bulgarian-Scottish fusion dance and music event Thistles and Sunflowers on 22 August at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. As an enthusiast of Bulgarian musical culture, being involved in this event is extremely interesting for me. Like many non-Bulgarian musicians, my first taste of the music was discovering performances by ‘the world’s best clarinet player’ Ivo Papazov and being utterly stupefied by how fast and accurately the band could play the irregular time signatures in this style. This started a fascination that has led me to running several (mostly impractically enormous) Balkan-style bands in Scotland and Germany. It was at a memorably sweaty and very over-capacity performance by the Blue Giant Orkestar that I met Ariana Stoyanova, leader of the Bulgarian dance ensemble Hop-Trop who will be performing as part of Thistles and Sunflowers. Interestingly enough, this collaboration with Traditional Dance Forum Scotland emerged after performing at another of their events, at which I was playing the Oud (Arabic-style lute) with a Chinese dance troupe who were performing an Egyptian-Scottish fusion piece while a German artist live-drew the performance in real-time (!)

The rehearsals so far for this event have been interesting. Angela (Rodan), the singer, is based in the States and arrangement plans have been made over Zoom. Meanwhile I have transcribed some very fast and elaborate tunes that would terrify most players and had to find some of the most fearless musicians in Scotland who are willing and able to play them (it’s no joke trying to book musicians to play fast dance tunes in 13/16). The band will also include one of Scotland’s most multi-tradition fiddlers in Morag Brown, Borders-based percussionist Frazer Watson and Romanian cellist Anoukia Nistor. Working with the dancers is fascinating but it’s not always easy as nearly everyone involved has full-time jobs and finding rehearsal venues in Edinburgh is almost impossible around the time of the fringe. The rehearsals have so far been taking place in the abandoned Debenhams in Ocean Terminal and which has now been turned into a quirky community space.

The main question for me has been how to realise what the performers who are actually from this culture want, but how to do this with the resources I have at my disposal. I dont have kaval or gudulka performers and a lot of the music has to be given as sheet music rather than taught by ear but hopefully, the result is authentic enough! I always enjoy arranger/orchestrator type work and this one is unusually challenging.

I quite often get asked how it is that I ended up playing these styles of music and/or instruments. I dont really have a good or exciting answer except that I have always been fascinated by collecting and learning new instruments and try to be involved in as many different styles as I can. I am a classically-trained pianist and violinist and have been gigging as a jazz musician since I was around 14 but later on I gradually picked up other instruments and now my studio is a pile of Ouds, Sazes, Banjos and various Lauotos and Lyras. I run or co-run the only two Balkan-style Brass bands in Scotland as well as a project performing traditional Greek music. One of these (Blue Giant Orkestar) can be seen performing at La Belle Angele on Saturday 12 August with admission at 11.30pm. 

Things I am working on at the moment include: the Leith New Music collective (a local forum for composers to get their works heard and which had its first sellout event last month), Hegeduk (a very prog multi fiddle folk band which has an album written and yet to be recorded), a couple of new jazz related projects and the recently-recorded and Creative Scotland-funded Blue Giant Orkestar record which is currently being mixed and is jam-packed with guest musicians from all over the world. Apart from that I compose classical pieces. You can see some examples of my playing here on this channel: Chris’ YT.

To anybody reading this who is wondering whether to go to this event, I would say: make sure you do! To ‘Western’ audiences and musicians, Bulgarian music can seem fearsomely complex; a lot of Bulgarian pieces are in time signatures such as 15, 13 and 11 and are taken at breakneck speed, but it’s very fun and spectacular. In some ‘music geek’ cultures, this sort of thing can become a bit of an obsession so to actually get to play this music with traditional dancers and see it danced is fantastic! Although it’s a bit wilder and weirder than a lot of other traditions, it’s extremely fun and very worth coming to see as it’s not something you see all the time. Plus this an event with dancing and singing and also even some of Scottish-folk fusion elements as well.

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Chris Lyons is a Scottish-Irish multi-instrumentalist, composer and teacher. He is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and is an in-demand freelance composer and performer. Chris is a prize-winning composer, having won the Broadcast Music Incorporated prize for composition and has composed for BAFTA nominated films.

LAND OF EDEN – by Lucie Hendry

Land of Eden – Debut Album Released 16th June 2023

📷 by Justyna Krzyżanowska

For years I have dreamed about recording a solo album but never could I have told you that it would turn out like it has! Land of Eden is the fulfilment of past visions and dreams, and the beginning of new ones.

At the end of 2020, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to move to Denmark. At the time I was ready for some new inspiration in my music work and I moved feeling hopeful of new beginnings and opportunities to come. Although the move wasn’t intended as permanent in any way and I still plan to return to Glasgow at some point, I didn’t set myself any dates for moving back home. So here I am 2.5 years later, sitting in Copenhagen writing this while enjoying the festivities of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

I moved to Esbjerg on the west coast of Denmark and quickly got connected with the community from the Danish National Academy of Music which is the equivalent to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. There I attended weekly concerts absorbing so much new and inspiring music, primary jazz, jazz fusion, jazz rock, indie and electronic. Being my first time moving to another country and quickly learning that I had to start from scratch (realised after rejoicing over a solo return trip to the food store) in creating a life, friends and community, I had to create some kind of daily/weekly structure. I realised that I needed a long term project to help focus me through the initial stages of moving and settling so I made a goal to create and score a tune each month for harp, record and video a performance of the tune to share on Youtube, sell the music from my website, and in doing so, build up my social media audience. I decided this would be a year long project which I named Hygge Tunes. ‘Hygge’ is a Danish word that has connotations of feeling cosy, enjoying good times with friends and family. I went onto create a music book for harp with all 12 tunes and this is available in digital & physical format from my website.

Without realising, the Hygge Tunes series was the start of my album as it generated a lot of material that I went on to record later. After a successful project which exceeded my expectations in terms of the outcome and response, the idea was suggested about recording my own album. I went on to receive some funding which kickstarted the whole album planning process at the beginning of 2022. This was just the project I needed at the time and it really felt like ‘Phase 2’ of my Hygge Tunes series. At that time I had already started working a bit with two inspiring jazz musicians: Christoffer Skovhus (drums) and Dennis Iversen (electric guitar). My folk world had previously never joined forces with the jazz world and I was really excited and curious at the potential of working with these two musicians.

I had an idea in my head as to the sound of the three instruments and when we first took my music to the practice room to figure out everyone’s role within the music, it quickly became evident the ‘sound’ that we should create. I never wanted to score Dennis and Christoffer’s parts exactly, but rather I wanted to give them space to respond to the music and make choices as to what they felt would be most appropriate. Of course we worked together, fine-tuning the arrangements but I really wanted to feature solos and improvisational elements so we created space for this. I am so happy with how the music turned out and I feel that the process definitely unlocked a whole other musical world for me and the harp; a space that I’ve been wanting to access musically but not knowing how to previously.

I have definitely questioned the ‘genre’ of the music that we have created throughout the process but I think in doing so, it has instilled in me a greater sense of my musical identity, and made me realise without doubt that I am firmly rooted in Scottish traditional music, which will always be a part of me. The result of the album is original Scottish music, intertwined with Danish jazz and electronic effects. Broadly speaking: neo-folk. I have always been inspired by the artists who fuse and defy their genres, particularly Afro Celt Sound System, the late Martyn Bennett and Kate Bush. Genre fusion music has always fascinated me and fuelled my drive to unlock new possibilities in music. It has also triggered the desire to explore new ways with the lever harp and to widen perceptions of harp music in general.

The album is not solely about the music but also shares an important theme for me. It has given me a voice to express my environmental concerns. As we are all experiencing the realities and threat of a changing environment and world, I wanted to acknowledge this through my music while envisioning a renewed future and environment or a ‘Land of Eden’. The sleeve notes in the CD share more of my thoughts on this.

We have toured the album this summer with performances at festivals Godtfolk Festival, Copenhagen Jazz Festival and Aarhus Festival. We will be touring the album around Scotland between the 14th – 28th October, as the Lucie Hendry Trio. Check out my website and socials for gig dates and I hope to see you at one of our concerts!

📷 by Philip Skovgaard – Land of Eden album cover

BRAVING THE FREELANCE LIFE – by Amy Laurenson

📷 by Nicky Murray

This year life took a turn as I won BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2023 award. Fresh out of RCS last June, the time leading up to the competition was spent juggling working in a pub, teaching and working on music projects. Just a week before the Young Trad final I decided to hand in my notice to the pub and brave the life of a full-time musician, actually winning the award following this felt like a strange twist of fate.

Life has had a change of lane since winning the award and I’ve been so lucky to receive opportunities which have allowed me to develop and perform new solo and collaborative material. A highlight so far this year was heading home for the Shetland Folk Festival which felt like a total homecoming. Coincidentally the Folk Festival had planned a BBC Young Trad Showcase and had invited previous winners Ali Levack, Michael Biggins and Eryn Rae up, leaving an empty slot for whoever the 2023 winner may be. It was class to collaborate with Ali, Michael and Eryn for the Young Trad Showcase as part of the festival, and we managed to arrange some two piano nonsense (which almost fell through due to a bunged grand piano – Shetland Arts managed to call in a piano tuner just before doors opened and all was well at the end of the day).

A focus over the past few months has been with my new trio which I formed with Lea Søndergaard Larsen (Bodhran) and Rhona MacDonald (Double Bass). I managed to tackle the post Folk Fest Shet-lag and The Amy Laurenson Trio was debuted the weekend after Shetland at Edinburgh Tradfest. I’m looking forward for some exciting gigs with the trio over Summer as we head up to Eden Court’s Under Canvas Festival, and support Flook at this year’s Newton Stewart & Minnigaff TradFest.

Another project I’ve been busy with is my duo with Miguel Girão (guitar). We joined Live Music Now Scotland earlier this year and have been loving being part of the great organisation. Both having had classical training, it’s been class to explore and create new music which fuses our traditional and classical influences. We’re heading to Fogo Kirk in the Borders on Sun 16 July, and Miguel is also joining me for a gig shortly after at Cambridge Folk Festival on Fri 28 July.

Myself and Miguel are also part of a recently formed Scandi/Scottish Folk band, ‘Tern’. Forming the rest of the band are Lea Søndergaard Larsen (Bodhran), Rose Logan (Fiddle) and Kristina Leesik (Fiddle). We released our first single Shetland Reels earlier this year alongside a music video shot in the Pianodrome by the stunning Nicky Murray. Also earlier this year we were one of the winners of the Danny Kyle Award as part of Celtic Connections. The final Danny Kyle showcase took place on Sun 5 Feb which happened to be the same night as the Young Trad Final… it was a bit of a hectic day! After playing first at the Young Trad final in City Halls, I managed to rush over to the Concert Hall to play with Tern for the Danny Kyle showcase, and made it back to City Halls in time to find out I’d won the Young Trad.

This year I’ve been trying to secure funding to record my debut album. Recently facing a rejected funding application was a bit of a reality check after the highs of earlier this year, but a humbling experience and reminder that rejection is a normal part of freelance life that we all have to face and deal with. I’m hoping to secure funding soon and really looking forward to releasing my music whenever that time comes.

Outwith my own music, I’ve been spending time recently getting inspired by the thriving Scottish Music scene and all the exciting projects that have popped up so far this year. Some recently released and upcoming music I’ve been enjoying/looking forward to includes Dave Milligan and Simon Thoumaire’s album ‘Portraits’, the soon-to-be released album from Fraser Fifield, Tom Bancroft and Paul Harrison – ’Secret Path’, and a lush new collaboration between Norman Willmore and Corrie Dick.

I’m looking forward to summer and exciting gigs, you can follow along with what I’m getting up to & see my upcoming gigs through my website linked below. Hopefully catch ya out there!

📷 by Lakota Clubb

https://amylaurenson.com
https://www.facebook.com/amylaurensonmusic/ https://www.instagram.com/amylaurensonmusic/

Tern – buy Shetland Reels from bandcamp

… And along came two in quick succession! – by Iain Fraser

📷 by Somhairle MacDonald

Kōterana

When the Rev. Norman McLeod set sail on the Barque Frances Ann from Ullapool heading to Cape Breton in 1817, he couldn’t have known that he would end his long life in New Zealand having led one of the nineteenth century’s largest privately organised emigrations. I came across his story while visiting Waipu museum in New Zealand’s north island and was struck not only by the scale of the endeavour but also by the commitment of this Gaelic speaking community of some 800 people. They had already spent 33 years in Cape Breton when they invested immense time and money building 6 ships to follow McLeod to New Zealand. The full story of the journey and the eventual settlement of the community in Waipu is full of adventure and some tragedy. For me, seeing the objects and artefacts that came with them, such as a pair of moccasins, or a Gaelic Hymn book, created a lasting impression and I left the museum in Waipu with the vague idea that it would be great to write some new music inspired by McLeod, his followers, their lives and their culture. 

When the 150th anniversary of the death of McLeod was reached in 2016, these thoughts, which had been rumbling around in my head for some years, took more shape and I started work composing new music which also incorporated some older melodies such as Chagair, Chagair a’ Ghruaghach, found in the Rev Patrick MacDonald’s collection of Highland Vocal airs, My Brother’s Letter transcribed from one of the earliest Cape Breton Fiddle recordings and a couple of older pipe tunes composed in New Zealand. Working with the Auckland Scottish Fiddle Club, we performed this new piece, named Kōterana, which is the Māori word for Scotland, in Waipu in December 2016 and in 2018 it was also performed at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Aberdeen, in partnership with the Scottish Culture and Traditions organisation. However, it always felt to me that there was a more developed version lurking somewhere in my head and in January 2022 I successfully applied to Creative Scotland for funding to extend and record a full album with musicians contributing from Canada and New Zealand as well as here in Scotland. 

Although there is a chronological aspect to the re-telling of the story in that the 4 named sections (movements?): Scotland, Canada, Australia & New Zealand reflect their actual migration route, much of the music on this recording came from considering how they might have felt as they experienced new landscapes and tholed the repeated upheaval as they moved from unsettled to settled. Their feelings of belonging, of culture and land being linked, of dùthchas, would have been woven into their hearts and it must have been utterly heart-wrenching for them to have to break these links. 

I’ve been exploring a number of musical ideas over the last few years, for instance, featuring instruments traditionally thought of as being in a supporting role, such as the viola, by giving them the tune sometimes, and breaking the convention of writing only 8 bar sections. I also love adding in irregular bars every so often and setting music in less common keys. Call me radical! 

With 18 musicians involved, Kōterana is certainly the biggest recording project I’ve been involved with and I’m very grateful to Barry Reid for not only his amazing studio engineering skills, but also for managing to make sense of and bring together multiple takes from 5 different studios in 3 different countries! 

Gneiss

Album releases are a bit like waiting for a bus for me – nothing for ages then along come two in quick succession! Last year my album Gneiss was released by Fèis Rois to celebrate 30 years of The Adult Fèis – an annual teaching festival which I have been fortunate to have been involved with since the first year. The music of Gneiss similarly touches on notions of landscape and place and takes as a theme the idea that our lives are lived on the rocks upon which we stand. 

Both albums are available as a CD+ booklet package and digital download from Bandcamp. You can also find me on the following social media pages…

Bandcamp: https://iainfraser.bandcamp.com
https://feisrois.bandcamp.com/album/gneiss
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Capontreemusic
Twitter: @iphraser
Instagram: @iphraser
Youtube: @IainFraser

CAOIR: Making an Album in Covid Times – by Joy Dunlop

📷 by Euan Robertson

My name is Joy Dunlop and I’m a Scottish Gaelic singer and broadcaster. I grew up in the small village of Connel, outside Oban. I was brought up immersed in the traditional music scene of Argyll but also, listening to pop music on Radio 1 and Atlantic 252! I think that it’s because of this mix that I grew up loving artists that combined the traditional with the new; think Capercaillie, Croft No. 5, Peatbog Fairies, Shine, Treacherous Orchestra, whilst being obsessed too with the more traditional side of Gaelic song. I’m still listening to all of the above, whilst also enjoying newer acts like Niteworks, Project SMOK and Elephant Sessions – all combined with a healthy side of cheesy pop and songs from the shows!

How did Caoir come to be? Honestly, a new solo album was long overdue – my last one was released in 2013 and although I’ve collaborated with others on many different projects since then, it had been looming greater and greater in my mind! I had been thinking for a time that I wanted to try something different with my music and was quietly exploring how to achieve a bigger and bolder sound that could fill festival stages or large venues. I’ve always loved music that pushed the boundaries of what was considered ‘trad’, without losing the soul of the songs and as a Gaelic singer, I’m always trying to make my music accessible to even those who don’t speak the language. I was also aware when showcasing that many festivals / larger venues were looking for a bigger band, one that would fill their stages and this fitted in well with my idea of expanding my current 3 piece line-up. I had also noticed that it was often male lead acts who played these types of gigs, and that the gender balance at festivals was often skewed as a result. Whilst this wasn’t a driving factor, it did give me a push to try to do something to correct that. If you’re not part of the solution…

I decided to bring together a group of amazing musicians whose playing I loved; Ron Jappy on guitar, Mhairi Marwick on fiddle, Gus Stirrat on bass, Euan Malloch on electric guitar and Ifedade Thomas on drums. What started as a jam session, soon grew into something more: a selection of music that we all loved and a real friendship and bond between us all. That mix of trust, creativity and drive for exploration eventually immerged as Caoir – an album that will hopefully resonate with both trad fans and those who just love music. The word caoir (pronounced koor) can mean many things, including firebrand / a blaze of fire, fiercely burning, accompanied by noise / rapid torrent / gleams, flames, flashes. I hope that listeners will also be able to hear this in the music. It’s predominantly traditional Gaelic songs that I’ve recorded, although 2 newer songs also make an appearance. One is a slightly older song, Cadal Cuain, composed by Ceitidh Morrison and Kenna Campbell and the other is a newer one by Alasdair Mac’IlleBhàin, called Bàs na Cailliche Bèire. He created this from a recording that he found on Tobar an Dualchais containing a snippet of a traditional song that had been lost. I love mixing the old and new, traditional and contemporary, so this felt like the perfect fit.

Caoir was recorded in late summer / autumn 2022 but in all honesty, it’s been a Covid labour of love! We originally started working on material back in late 2019 early / 2020 but when the pandemic hit, the project was stopped in its tracks as we couldn’t meet up; let alone make music together. Once it was safe to reform, we reunited once more and juggled schedules to free up time to work on new material and create the album. Then late summer / autumn last year, we finally recorded the album. It’s been tricky logistically but so worth it! Due to everyone’s schedules filling up with rescheduled commitments and new projects, it was tough to find blocks of time that everyone could make. We instead worked over a couple of months, finding / creating time together and doing whatever we could, when we could, to make it happen. This was definitely an unexpected challenge but one to which we all committed and gave our all and I’m so gratefully to the other musicians for making it happen.

We recorded the album in Solas Sound, Glasgow with Gus Stirrat, who also plays in the band. It was really lovely to be able to record and mix in Gus’ studio, as it gave us the flexibility to try out ideas and record together as live, or break into smaller groups when needed. This low-pressure approach to recording feels much more natural to me and I loved being able to feed off the other musicians and to be able to naturally react to each other. Gus is also a musical genius and very generous with his expertise, which I think brought out the best in everyone. Despite the addition of bass and drums, the words are always front and centre and my goal is always that the sentiment of the songs come through, even if you don’t understand exactly what’s being sung. It’s a very different sound for me and one that I hope will pleasantly surprise people. I finally sent the album to Peter Beckmann at Technology Works for mastering, to add the final finishing touches and extra sparkle!

All musicians know that creating an album isn’t just about the music – there’s a huge amount of admin to make it happen, some of which is more exciting than others! I always love creating a visual concept for an album and this time, I worked with photographer Euan Robertson in the images for the album, who I can’t praise enough. He perfectly captured my essence of Caoir and I love how the photos relate to the theme. He also provided the perfect disco soundtrack for the photo shoot, which helped me twirl and prance round his studio much less self consciously! The look of the CD itself is also very important to me and I worked with Lewis based designers LOOM on the CD design. I wanted to include lyrics, translations and background information for all songs and they managed to produce a 24 page booklet that was also easy to read – not a simple task. I’m really happy with how this side of the project turned out, even if the bilingual proofreading nearly killed me!

The album was released on my own record label, Sradag Music and recently launched in Cottiers, Glasgow; where we performed it in its entirety from start to finish with the full band. This was an absolute joy and reminded us all why we do it: there’s really nothing like launching your new music to a packed audience of family and friends, old and new.

So, what’s next? I’m looking forward to seeing what future projects arise for Caoir; we have a few exciting performances planned for the end of the year and a tour of China in August/Sepetmber time. I also hope that we’re able to bring Caoir to new audiences – particularly festivals and largerer venues across Scotland and further afield. I often here the words “we don’t do Gaelic” or “our audiences don’t have Gaelic, so won’t enjoy your music” but I really don’t think this is true. Music is universal and whether or not you understand the words or not doesn’t matter. I look forward to combining performing and media as much as possible and seeing what exciting new opportunities are out there.

Official Website

DIALOGUES – by Su-a Lee

📷 by Elly Lucas

“Dialogues” – Debut Solo Album release – December 2022

Having been a professional musician for 30 years, many people have asked me why it has taken me so long to make a solo album. Quite simply, playing solo has never been my thing…I like playing with other people and collaborating. I have recorded on over a hundred albums with orchestras, chamber groups, bands and singers, but have never once had the urge to do it myself.

When the pandemic first hit in early 2020 and all work stopped overnight, I was locked down in the Highlands with my partner Hamish and he suggested that I did exactly that. 

At first I was horrified at the idea, but after a long walk in the woods, I made the first phone call that set the ball rolling on this project which lasted for the next two and half years!  

The premise of the album brings the voice of the cello to the fore. It celebrates elements of my non-classical career and the connections with some of my favourite folk musicians from around the world who I have worked with over the years. It is a series of 15 duos whereby each duo collaborator has carefully chosen a tune or song that is close to their home and heart, and one that also celebrates their connection with me. Many are original compositions, written especially for the album, while others are fresh arrangements of traditional tunes. 

The album also explores the role of the cello in folk music. In fact, the cello is the original Scottish folk rhythm section instrument – famous Scots fiddlers of the 18th century, like Neil Gow, Peter Milne and James Scott Skinner were regularly accompanied by a cellist. However, the cello went out of fashion for a century or so, in favour of guitar, piano and other instruments. 

The cello is currently undergoing a revival in the folk world, particularly through influential mavericks such as Natalie Haas, who is featured on track 3 of my album in an original composition dedicated to me… Waltzska for Su-a. There is already a wealth of wonderful cello talent which has surfaced in Scotland over the past few years including Alice Allen, Ellen Gira and Juliette Lemoine… all definitely names to look out for. I am keen to build on the use of more cello in trad music and am hoping this album will help to create repertoire to inspire other cellists. 

Among those featured on the album are: Pekka Kuusisto, an amazing Finnish violin soloist, chamber musician and conductor; Donald Shaw (Celtic Connections and Capercaillie) on piano and harmonium; Gaelic vocal star Julie Fowlis; and ace Scottish US-based harper Maeve Gilchrist. 

Dialogues contains a diverse range of tunes and songs. Virtuoso tango bandoneón player from the Netherlands, Carel Kraayenhof has made his own special arrangement for me of a Piazzolla milonga. 

Mill O’ Tifty’s Annie, is an old Scots ballad about a real-life tragedy from the 1670s, which has a personal connection to Hamish’s family. Karine Polwart and I really enjoyed making a new arrangement of this 20-verse ballad (distilled down from 52 verses!) 

The Wedding, which features accordionist and composer Phil Cunningham, is his slow air from his 1987 album The Palomino Waltz. We gave it a new lease of life to celebrate the fact that I proposed to Hamish in September 2020. 

The album ends with a solo track, a beautiful arrangement of Ae Fond Kiss by Kevin McCrae, a talented musician and composer and also my late friend and colleague in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra cello section. Although this is not strictly a duo collaboration like all the other tracks, it is a meaningful nod to my dear friend and a ‘thank you’ to him for giving me a lifelong appreciation of Scottish folk music.

The album has a 36-page booklet with actual dialogues between me and my duo partners discussing our relationship and the inspirations for each chosen piece. It is playfully laid out in the form of a theatre play with acts. 

📷 by Elly Lucas

 

A full list of my duo collaborators can be found here on Bandcamp:
https://sualee.bandcamp.com/album/dialogues 

And here are some links to websites and social media pages etc…

Personal website: www.sualee.com
Bandcamp: https://sualee.bandcamp.com/album/dialogues
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sualeecello1
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sualeecello/?hl=en
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sualeecello?lang=en-GB
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuqIsPQPhn_P-GJi0EZr-Dg 

THE DAWNING – by Graham Mackenzie

📷 by Somhairle Macdonald

January 2020 and rehearsals had begun for my second studio album ‘The Dawning’ in the living room of my Glasgow flat. The music was coming together nicely, the studio was booked and I had finally cracked the availability code of five extremely busy musicians. And then we know what happened… Fast forward 18 months and I gave the album another push after waiting on restrictions to be lifted. However, during that time I was able to reflect on my initial ideas, develop them and try to envisage the final product a little more. I’m delighted that the outcome has been extremely rewarding for me musically.

It’s now six years since I released my debut album ‘Crossing Borders’ which was originally written for the New Voices series at Celtic Connections 2015. I had a clear vision for the project drawing on my influences from both classical and folk music worlds. Looking back, I have learnt a lot from the writing and recording process which has helped me to direct this new project.

Crossing Borders was essentially a concept album, drawing on my influences of the Scottish, Irish and Cape Breton fiddle traditions and weaving them in amongst my own compositions and arrangements. The Dawning was built on repertoire I’ve been playing over the past ten years as well as recent compositions I’ve written mainly inspired by the Scottish landscape. This is the format I would have liked for my debut album, however it just so happened with the timing of the New Voices opportunity that that was going to be my first release.

The Dawning features an incredible line up of musicians I’ve admired throughout my career. Jim Molyneux (piano, keyboards) and Innes Watson (guitar) worked with me on my debut album. Both of them are extremely versatile and bring so much flair and creativity to my music. James Lindsay (double bass, bass guitar) is in high demand as a session musician as well as member of Breabach and was a great addition to the creative process. Having not had a producer for Crossing Borders, I knew that was going a role I would benefit from this time around. I had approached Mike McGoldrick to play on the album as well as act as producer. Mike has inspired me for many years whether it be his playing or his compositions. Having his knowledge and expertise was essential in the album process.

I had never envisaged adding brass to my arrangements at the very beginning however it was something myself and Mike talked about once the tracks were beginning to form. Neil Yates, who has recorded on Mike’s albums, ‘Wired’ and ‘Aurora’ in particular, was an obvious choice to have on the album. Neil worked on four of the tracks and completely changed the direction with his innovative arranging. After hearing this new sound take shape, I asked saxophonist Matt Carmichael to join on one of the sets to add some brass melody.

The majority of the album was recorded at Gorbals Sound with Kevin Burleigh. In 2019, I was recording music for the ITV period drama, Sanditon in Gorbals and I knew then I would like to work with him and record my album in the studio. Kevin is not only a fantastic sound engineer with extremely good ears but he is easy to work with and has a real calming presence during the recording process. After the initial recording we spent the best part of 10 months on and off editing and mixing the tracks. It was then mastered by Jim DeMain in Nashville, an engineer who has worked with the music industry’s top performers including Dolly Parton and Robert Plant.

I feel I have a vision when it comes to the music side but when it comes to artwork for an album I don’t know where to start! Artist and photographer, Somhairle Macdonald and I travelled up to Loch Ard, an area I was familiar with having spent some of lockdown cycling around, to take photos for the front cover, with the title ‘The Dawning’ in mind. I think we have captured it well even if it did mean leaving Glasgow at 5.30am!

Birnam CD and Innes and Campbell Communciations helped with the production and PR for the album, two very important parts to any CD release.

I would like to thank both Creative Scotland and Friends of Highland Music for their financial support as this album would not have been possible without them. With their help, I was able to add so many layers to the recording and go into great detail to make sure it was an album I was proud of. The launch at Celtic Connections in the New Auditorium a few weeks ago with the full line up will be one of my career highlights that I’ll never forget!

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grahammackenzie.bandcamp.com
www.grahammackenziemusic.com

Album artwork by Somhairle Macdonald