Jun 252015

Shooglenifty UntiedGraham Stephen reviews the album by Shooglenifty, ‘The Untied Knot’.

In the 1990s Scottish music exploded out of the buttoned-up confines of strict-tempo and village ceilidhs into the arena of dance, rave and world music thanks to innovators like Shooglenifty, who along with other maverick experimentalists such as Martyn Bennett and Afro Celt Sound System, gave Celtic music a much needed skelp in the lug, adrenalising the traditional by adding irresistible grooves and beats to jigs and reels.

On their seventh studio album, The Untied Knot, Shooglenifty celebrate their 25th anniversary by adding another dimension, the ethereal vocals of Mouth Music’s Kaela Rowan.

Diehard fans should be reassured that the recognisable Shoogle components are all basically intact. The jingling mandolins, tinkling banjos, swampy guitar breaks and the free-flowing fiddle of Angus Grant are all grounded by the rhythmic empathy of drummer James Mackintosh, whose importance in modern Scottish traditional music is immeasurable.

Tunes like the enigmatic, eastern flavoured ‘The Scorpian/Devil’s Breath Hornpipe’, the dancy, funky drive of ‘The Highway Carpark’ and Ewan Macpherson’s hypnotic ‘Somebody’s Welcome to Somewhere’, all create familiar multi-layered soundscapes of intricate instrumental interplay. The latter is particularly enhanced by the invaluable guest appearance of Ross Ainslie on pipes, whose whistle also delivers the poignant slow air of the title track.

Yet it is Rowan’s vocal input that defines the album, ‘Peaches/Monkwell Road/ Meal Do Bhrogan’ shows how effectively her voice can be integrated into the established band sound, becoming another instrument, rhythmically winding melodies around the groove, adding a human edge to the cascading tunes.

Perhaps the novelty of having a singer means that her voice is a little overused, with occasional drifts towards bland Capercaillie territory, where a little more cross cultural edginess would be more intriguing. However, any reservations are more than compensated by tracks as strong as former member Luke Plumb’s uplifting ‘The Arms of Sleep’ and Grant’s closing stirring Antipodean creation ‘Fitzroy Crossing’ with its archive Gaelic samples, electronica and more telling whistle from Ainslie.

Shooglenifty’s twenty-five years have been a meandering collaborative adventure, valuing gigs in rainforests and village halls above stadiums and huge commercial success, and all the more interesting for that. This latest album, presented in a very fine John Byrne cover, is an intriguing development of their sound and as strong a studio set as they have released.

Listen/Purchase here – Shooglenifty – The Untied Knot (Shoogle 15015)

Apr 232015

Mark Olson featWith thanks to David Innes.

In another major coup for Martin Raitt of the city’s Almost Blue Promotions, Americana giant Mark Olson will grace The Blue Lamp stage on Sunday 26 April.

Olson is the founding member of pioneering country rock legends The Jayhawks, who are universally cited as being among the most influential bands from the 1990s with their albums Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass high on the must-have lists of Americana fans.

Olson’s new album, Goodbye Lizelle, is his first solo project for five years and features his Norwegian wife, Ingunn Ringvold on vocals.

It has been attracting hugely favourable reviews, and Mark’s visit to the city displays Alost Blue’s determination to bring the highest-quality acts to the NE, reflected in online interest and impressive ticket sales.

Opening the show is Stonehaven loon Colin Clyne, now back in the NE after a 10 year stay in Southern California where he built a sizeable following. Clyne combines Scottish influences with his love of American music, and has been recorded and produced by Grammy award winning Engineer Alan Sanderson, best known for his work with The Rolling Stones and Burt Bacharach.


cahalenandeli new picAlmost Blue’s May gig will feature Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, no strangers to the NE, but who seem to love coming here and putting on ever more skilful and uplifting shows.

Simply put, they are two of the most innovative and subtle roots musicians touring and recording today.

Their music draws from old folk sources, but it sounds vibrantly alive.

Cahalen Morrison writes songs that sound like a Cormac McCarthy novel, simple, beautifully-crafted, and giving the impression that they’ve been formed from raw natural elements.

Eli West brings jagged, angular arrangements based in bluegrass and old-time, but refracted through a 21st century lens. Like Ansel Adams’ photography, their music is instantly accessible and built from the simplest materials, but at the same time seems to transcend its base fundamentals.

Together, Cahalen and Eli tap the root of the old country and bluegrass duets. As the sparse landscapes of Cahalen’s vocals reflect the warm glow of Eli’s voice, it’s clear that this duo was made to sing together.


Almost Blue gig listing 2015

Mark Olson supported by Colin Clyne
The Blue Lamp, Sunday 26 April

Cahalen Morrison & Eli West
The Blue Lamp, Wednesday 6 May

JP Harris & The Tough Choices
The Tunnels, Saturday 23 May

The Red Dirt Skinners
The Blue Lamp, Friday 7 August

Greg Trooper
The Blue Lamp, Tuesday 22 September

Ben Rogers
The Blue Lamp, Friday 23 October

Tickets for all shows are available from See Tickets, Aberdeen Box Office or www.almostbluepromotions.com


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Sep 262014

carpenter n mayBy David Innes.

It’s quite a coup for local Americana promoter Martin Raitt’s Almost Blue Promotions to bring scintillating roots duo Carpenter & May to The Blue Lamp.

Attracting such a prestigious act is proof that in just over a year of existence, Almost Blue is punching above its weight and becoming the go-to outlet for PRs and promoters eager to promote their acts in NE Scotland.

The Gallowgate gig on Friday 3 October is the final date of the duo’s eagerly-anticipated eight-date Scottish tour.

Both experienced and busy musicians, Fred Carpenter and Tim May have impressive CVs, having variously worked with, among others, Emmylou Harris, Barbara Mandrell, George Strait, Patty Loveless and Charlie Daniels.

Their debut CD Carpenter & May was released four years ago and topped the Folk Radio airplay chart on its release.  It continues to delight fans, four years on. The critics were effusive in their praise…

“It is obvious by the end of the first song on this new album by Fred Carpenter and Tim May that the virtuosity expected from these two wonderful musicians is in full effect. This album is fun, powerful, and superb.” – Bluegrass Unlimited

“Anyone seeking an alternative to blazing bluegrass and slick Nashvegas sounds could find what they are looking for right here. Everything is impeccably understated and without pretension.”  – Driftwood Magazine

“It is easy to see why Fred Carpenter and Tim May have had a great deal of success beside some of the biggest names in country music. It’s time for them to step out and shine individually.” –  Sing Out!

Witnessed live, the duo has attracted fine reviews too, and not only from the critics…

“Fred Carpenter and Tim May play roots music at its best. Using guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bass, and vocals, they can mow down backyard bluegrass, tug the Celtic heartstrings, or even croon a jazz standard.” – Tim O’Brien

“Fred and Tim are a one-two punch: two virtuosos who share a passion for acoustic music from many different traditions. Both have a musical maturity and depth of phrasing that instantly complement and play off each other. From achingly beautiful ballads, through celtic airs, jigs and reels, to hot jazz and fiery bluegrass, they bless us with their talent, their vision and the generosity of spirit with which they play.” –  Kathy Mattea

The Lampie’s clientele is in for a treat, then. It promises to be one of the year’s best city gigs.

Tickets will cost £8 in advance, or £10 on the night. Advance booking here: http://tinyurl.com/ovfjrqc

Keep up to date with Almost Blue news here www.almostbluepromotions.com

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Sep 192014

Wrigley SistersThe Tarland Food and Music Day Festival is set to take place on the weekend of 26th and 27th September, offering a feast for all the senses.

The programme is extensive and it is advisable to book tickets in advance for some of the events, as they will have number restrictions.
In fact, you would be advised to stay in Tarland for the weekend, so as not to miss anything!

The weekend kicks off on the evening of Friday 26th September with a rare opportunity to hear the Wrigley Sisters, supported by Paul Anderson and some members of his extensive musical family.

Please spread the word to your friends and family. This will be a special evening, and a busy weekend.

Born and raised in the northern Scottish Orkney Islands, the twins began performing together when barely into their teens; Jennifer on fiddle, Hazel on guitar and piano. A decade or so later, their fan-base stretched around the world, built up through a hectic schedule of concert tours and festival appearances in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East.

The universal audience appeal of Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley reflects both the calibre of their music, a sparkling blend of traditional, contemporary and original material, invigorated with jazz, blues and ragtime flavours – and the effervescent charm of their performances.

The Wrigley Sisters will be performing at the MacRobert Hall, the Square, Tarland, AB34 4YL on Friday 26th September, starts at 7.30pm and the admission is £12.00. The gig is licensed, and your ticket price includes some lovely nibbles.

Tickets can be booked by emailing: tarlandfoodandmusicday@gmail.com
or: s.lithgow67@btinternet.com
or can be purchased from Strachans shop in Aboyne,
or from Sheila Lithgow, Tel 013398 87367

Further info including the full programme of events here.

Feb 272014

rannok_photoA very special collaboration is happening in three North East town this month. With thanks to Shona Donaldson.

Danish folk duo Rannok are making the trip to Scotland for joint concert’s with well-known traditional fiddler Paul Anderson and singer Shona Donaldson.

While studying at The Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, Southern Denmark, Michael Graubæk and pianist Theis Langlands started the Rannok duo, playing what has been described as ‘a masterly blend of fiery folk music, authentic traditional tunes, and original compositions which give that contemporary touch’.

Rannok released their first album in 2010, dedicating it to both the Danish folk music tradition and to innovation.

Since then the duo have played at venues and festivals in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and all over Scotland, where they have met with particular audience approval. In fact Rannok’s first album was partly financed by Scottish fans who thought it high time they produced a cd.

“When we are composing our own music”, Michael says,

“we are influenced by the traditional sound of Danish music and the Scots as well. Theis is married to a Scots girl and has lived in Scotland, so we know the music. A couple of hundred years back, the Danish and British traditions were closer than they are today, and that’s the sound we’re aiming for”.

Paul Anderson, who is based in Tarland is already something of a legend in the time honoured fiddle tradition of Scotland. During his competitive career he won most of the traditional fiddle championships in Scotland and in 1995 won Scotland’s premier fiddling event ‘The Glenfiddich Scottish Fiddle Championship’. A regular on TV and radio, Paul has recorded 9 solo album and guested on over 40 CD’s.

Hailing from Huntly but now living in Deeside Shona Donaldson is one of Scotland’s best known young traditional singers. In 2009 she won the coveted Scots Singer of the Year Award at the Scots Traditional Music Awards. She has a particular enthusiasm for the songs of the North East and as well as singing plays the fiddle.

The collaboration between two of Denmark’s most acclaimed musicians and two of Scotland’s best known traditional musicians is certainly not to be missed. It promises to be a great night of music and song!

Rannok, Paul Anderson and Shona Donaldson will be appearing at Tarland Primary School in Tarland on Friday 14th March and the concert starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £7.

On Saturday 15th March Rannok will be leading a music workshop in the Village Hall in Braemar at 2pm and all instruments are welcome to learn from two of Denmark’s most acclaimed musicians. The workshop will cost £10.

The concert in Braemar will be in The Village Hall at 7.30pm and tickets are £7.

On Sunday 15th Rannok will again be leading a workshop in The Gordon Arms Hotel in Huntly at 2pm with all instruments welcome and it is £10.

The concert on Sunday night will be in The Gordon Arms Hotel, Huntly at 7.30pm and tickets are £7 on the door.


Paul Anderson

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Feb 072014

By Bob Smith.
800px-Pete_Seeger2_-_6-16-07_Photo_by_Anthony_Pepitone lopro

Last wikk we lost a legend
Pete Seeger wis his name
The chiel he wis aged 94
Fin oot wis snuffed his flame
Awa back in his young’r days
The lad he wis a commie
Atween him an yon McCarthy
There wisnae much bonhomie
A folk singer o warld renown
An an activist forbye
Supportit the Spanish Republicans
In a war far mony wid die
A singer fa fair protestit
The arms race an Vietnam war
He supportit the Civil Richts
An wis agin the colour bar
His singer sister Peggy
She mairrit Ewan MacColl
A bet at faimily githerins
They wid hae hid a ball
A freen o Woody Guthrie
An a early backer o Dylan
Fin Bob wint aa “electric”
Pete didna fin es thrillin
A lover o the environment
Tae es life he wis a giver
An got thingies fair stairted
Tae clean up the Hudson River
A ca’ed the chiel a legend
O es a hiv nae doot
A singer o folk sangs
An an activist tae boot
Seeger, Guthrie an Dylan
Protest lyrics wis their thing
Sangs fer the common man
Wis fit es three did bring
©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014

licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
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Nov 082013

He Ain’t No Good, the Locust Honey String Band’s debut CD, drew loud noises of appreciation on its release in Autumn 2012. Those who have maintained interest in this Asheville, North Carolina trio were pleased when a UK visit was announced, and Northeast fans were delighted when Glenbuchat Hall on beautiful Donside was among the venues booked to host the Honeys. David Innes’s trainspotterly local geographical knowledge was called on as he set off to review the show for Voice.

Locust Honey String Band 177a

Chloe Edmondstone (fiddle), Ariel Dixon (banjo) and Meredith Watson (guitar) Pic: https://www.facebook.com/GlenbuchatHall

The choice of venue is interesting. There seems to be a new circuit developing for up-and-coming touring acoustic acts in the Northeast, with The Tin Hut, Gartly and Portsoy’s Salmon Bothy becoming established as intimate but lively venues where local friendliness and fine hospitality help attract promoters and artists.

Gigs are invariably well-attended, a sign that these often-forgotten communities are appreciative that acts are making the effort to bring their music to the people.

Co-operative community values are what drive the volunteer management of these venues, and that gladdens even this bitter old cynic’s excuse for a heart.

By the time that Chloe Edmondstone (fiddle), Ariel Dixon (banjo) and Meredith Watson (guitar) took to the Glenbuchat stage, around 120 old-timey fans had arrived, to the delight of the band and organiser Steve Cameron.

Armed only with their acoustic instruments and a single condenser microphone, the Honeys demonstrated why a community will turn out in such numbers on a frosty November Monday to gather in a remote glen in the Cairngorm foothills.

Barely stopping to draw breath, Meredith and Ariel incessantly created driving rhythms atop which Chloe’s expressive old-timey fiddle lines danced. The entire Glenbuchat turnout was loudly expressive in its approval. When the Honeys gathered around the microphone in two or three-part harmony, the effect was glorious, whether offering their own songs, ‘When The Whisky’s Gone’ and ‘How You Must Have Felt’ or their takes on others’ material.

Locust Honey String Band177b

Ariel Dixon (banjo)

Of the latter, The Mississippi Sheiks’ ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ and the marvellous travelogue ‘Banjo-Pickin’ Girl’ were standouts.

These are players comfortable with each other.

Their enjoyment is as palpable as the audience’s.

The music is introduced and supplemented by self-effacing humour and a stock of anecdotes.

We heard about their innocently singing an impolite song about policemen when busking, and being eyed by the officers of the law; about ill-fitting charity shop dance shoes, and Ariel’s suffering for her art as she demonstrated her Green Grass Cloggers steps; and a child’s description of Kitty Wells’s definitive ‘Walking After Midnight’ as ‘weird’, after he’d feasted on the He Ain’t No Good version.

By the time the raffle had been drawn and the t-shirt competition (yes, really) completed, Glenbuchat was dancing.

Literally, as a dozen or so twitchy-footed Buchateers stamped some sort of jigging/flinging/hot-stepping Terpsichorean improvisation at the back of the hall.

With the news arriving by text that the Dons had just gubbed Partick Thistle 4-0, I was almost tempted to join in.

That this can happen on a cold Monday night in a remote Aberdeenshire glen is a tribute to admirable rural community values and the stirring tunes and affable charm of The Locust Honey String Band. Haste ye back.


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Oct 042013

An Optimistic Sound – The Songs of Michael Marra, Dundee Repertory Theatre, 28 September 2013. David Innes reviews.


It’s difficult to believe that almost a year has passed since Michael Marra was taken from us, and the world was deprived of a supremely talented writer, artist and performer.

The affection and respect which poured out from fellow artists, fans and friends in October 2012 validated his status and the esteem in which he was held.

Such was this esteem that Celtic Connections, only three months after his death, featured an evening of celebration of his music and influence entitled All Will Be Well.

Quite what he would have made of this we can only guess; but as a fiercely proud Dundonian writer and performer, one can imagine that a further commemoration, An Optimistic Sound, played to a sold-out Dundee Repertory Theatre, would be the finest accolade that he could imagine.

Whilst the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall event was emotional and celebratory, by contrast the Dundee event had a more relaxed feel. It was as if Michael’s ‘bairns’ The Hazey Janes, with son Matthew on bass and daughter Alice compering and performing, and wife Peggy, had invited friends round for the evening to sing a few songs and share an anecdote or two.

That spirit of inclusion extended to the audience, loudly appreciative of every artistic effort extended for our entertainment.

Whether it was Rod Paterson telling of Michael’s generosity in completing a muse-deserted Paterson song overnight, Peter McGlone blowing heart-rending saxophone, or Saint Andrew declaiming Woodwork Woodwork  and revealing that its refrain was based on the late Gus Foy’s school timetable, standards of performance never fell below outstanding.

Could Muscle Shoals have assembled a more soulful backing chorus for Eddi Reader’s white-hot Here Come The Weak than Alice Marra, Karine Polwart and sisters Fiona, Gillie and Eilidh Mackenzie?

Dougie McLean has thankfully preserved a song, never recorded, which Michael would sing in his early performing days at Blairgowrie Folk Club, and took obvious delight in performing it.

These are merely a few highlights among many. The whole was indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

Michael had always shied away from stardom. As our national Makar Liz Lochhead reminded us, he once said, ‘I don’t want my name in lights; I want my name in brackets’. Ever the songwriter. His generosity was well-known and he would have been proud, without doubt, that all profits from the evening are to go to Optimistic Sound, a Michael Marra Memorial Music Trust for the young people of Dundee.

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Sep 132013

Itinerant Scots have been accused of many musical misdemeanours. Musicologists have built careers tracing the global paths that Scottish traditional music has wandered along, injecting swing into cowboy music, adding Hebridean angst to the blues and a hint of bothy life into bluegrass. Since the heady days when The Old Blind Dogs linked New Deer with New Orleans there’s been a consistent interest in setting traditional Scots tunes against global rhythms. Along those lines, and on the face of it, this looks like an interesting CD release from Huntly’s Deveron Arts, reviewed by Graham Stephen.

CeilidhcatuBrazilian musician Allysson Velez, inspired by ceilidh music, recognised rhythmic links with his own tradition and its African slave roots. He teamed up with Omar Arif, a West African musician living in the area, and a handful of local musicians, including fiddle maestro Paul Anderson. The result is Ceilidhcatu, promoted as ‘a transcultural community of art’.
What I expected was a cross-cultural stew of shared enthusiasm with musicians sparking off each other’s playing and musical styles.

This may well happen in a live situation, but much of this recording lacks a dynamic spark, sticking to repetitive, unadventurous arrangements and never quite matching its ambitions.

Too often it sounds like two styles brought hesitantly together, shyly inter-mingling, but happier to stick to familiar territory. That, you may argue, is itself a fundamental tradition in the NE.

Not that there is anything wrong with the performances. The musicians play well, which is frustrating, because at times the formula works, giving hints of the possibilities. The relentless African drum patterns, for example, enhance the gloom and menace of Twa Corbies.

Driven by Anderson’s strong fiddle, The Devil In The Kitchen set threatens to take off, demanding to be pushed into overdrive by some strong percussion. When the drums arrive, however, they stick to a repetitive groove regardless of changes in the tunes, where subtle shifts and textures would have brought the set to life.

Opening track Scotland The Brave also suffers from this sense of deceleration, giving a feeling that the two elements have been brought together separately, rather than being a natural bonding. The traditional songs and tunes chosen are also very familiar. Perhaps a choice of material beyond the standard session repertoire might have enhanced the project.

Significantly, the strongest tracks are duets featuring only Velez and Afif, their hypnotic Maracuta rhythms echoing the legacy of slave trade links between Brazil and Africa. Set against this, an unexpected unaccompanied version of The Rovin’ Ploughboy, perfectly sung by Shona Donaldson, somehow encapsulates the aching soul of the NE bothy ballad while Steve Brown’s pipes on Farewell To The Creeks sit well in natural sound effects.

NordEste/NorthEast (Deveron Arts)

Aug 302013

Woodend Barn Box Office and Marketing man David Officer brings Aberdeen Voice readers news of three upcoming shows featuring some of the finest folk talent around.

Jonny HardieOld Blind Dogs

Old Blind Dogs barely need any introduction to north-east folk fans. Jonny Hardie’s group have been wowing audiences around the world for over 20 years and show no signs of stopping.
We’re delighted to welcome them back to Woodend Barn on Friday Aug 30th at 8pm and can guarantee good times!

Tickets are going fast for this and we strongly recommend buying in advance.

Jenna Reid and Kevin MacKenzie

We’ve got a brilliant concert on at Tarland’s MacRobert Hall on Friday 13th September at 8pm with Jenna Reid and Kevin MacKenzie.  Shetlander Jenna will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Blazin Fiddles in the last few years but she’s a fantastic fiddler when on her own too.  She’s accompanied by guitarist Kevin MacKenzie for what should be a fantastic evening of traditional music.

Luke Daniels and Lauren MacColl

Luke Daniels and Lauren MacColl join forces on Friday 20th September at 8pm to present a night of expressive and inventive traditional music from two of the most gifted players around just now. Not to be missed.

Looking further ahead, we’ve got State of the Union (Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams) appearing on Friday 4th October at 8pm, and a very special evening with Rachel Sermanni in the intimate surroundings of Migvie Church in Logie Coldstone on Saturday 2nd November at 8pm – a concert which will have limited tickets available.