Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Shires Oran Mor

The Shires entertained us with big-hearted memorable songs and warm smiles!
I first noticed The Shires single on radio Scotland a few months ago, for its strong melody and vocals and upbeat vibes.
 After only a few shows things have taken off for the pair and they were signed to Decca Records in 2014 and to Universal Music Nashville, The Shires are singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes.

The audience were all ages here tonight in the busy hot venue. They started their set tonight with the energetic fun of their debut single 'Nashville Grey Skies'. They followed their upbeat opening tunes - Ben took the tempo down on piano with some touching country ballads  - 'Think I'm Falling in love with you', 'Statements' (their next single), 'Let Me Be The One' and Made in England.’.

After which they took the energy up with several country rock pleasers and their single 'Friday Night' had the packed audience singing along. For their last song 'Tonight' – ‘Your mine I'm Yours’, they divided us into two sections to sing the two parts and they were thrilled on their return on stage for their encore to be greeted with the audience singing the song back for them!    

For the encore they sang 'When It's Real Love' the first song Ben played for Crissie and a popular cover of the Bee Gees love song 'Islands in the Stream'. 

Crissie looked the part with her golden locks and she sang with pure country tones and strong harmonies that added that extra sparkle. Ben is a touching, smooth musician and songwriter who made it all feel effortless. This duo has songs people remember. The Shires are the first ever UK country act to be signed to a major Nashville label. Their debut album Brave in 2015 made the UK top ten.   

*This was a two for the price of one event and the show was started by another fun country duo on guitars - two entertaining Americans John and Jacob, who had the crowd cheering and dancing along. They played with pumping guitars, some well chosen covers and their own songs. They are hit-making Nashvillle songwriters and their new singles have attracted Radio 2 airplay. Worth watching out for these guys too!

There appears to be a resurgence in interest in country music today. It has shaken off its over-produced days and gone back to basics with more authentic, striped back arrangements. My favourite country musician is Jerry Douglas, who is such an expressive and dynamic player of the resonator guitar and he plays at Celtic Connections here every January. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Ladies of Laurel Canyon

There was a new freedom for women, the women were being reborn in the 60s and 70s.  (In the UK education for women began in the late 19th century and from 1892 Scottish universities admitted women students when St Andrews pioneered with an arts degree. ) Then came the introduction of the The Pill - first approved in 1960 in the US - brought tremendous gains for women’s freedoms and led them to feel they could achieve outside the home.

In an excellent Vanity Fear article in March 2015 with quotes from many of the players of Laurel Canyon, it was interesting to read that the women were the heart of this new movement in music in California. The core players were Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass Elliott, when musicians descended on their homes. Joni lived at first in a street called Lookout Mountain.

Other women of the new movement  were - Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Michelle Phillips, Maria Maldaur, Carole King, Emmylou Harris. According to Michelle Phillips said that ‘The women actually held that whole scene up there together. The Troubadour venue was also a main place to hang out.

The most talented musician of them all was Joni Mitchell. David Crosby discovered her singing in Florida and brought her back to California – he writes that she was not only the best songwriter of them all, but also the best musician.

Joni Mitchell & David Crosby

The California sound blended together a mix of folk and psychedelic rock.  – of blues, rock n roll, Latin, country, psychedelia, bluegrass, folk – and the forerunner of today's Americana sound. 'The vibe of that music, the way it makes you feel when you’re driving in a car – it’s a landscape. ‘ Adam Levine of Maroon 5.
At this time the draft for the Vietnam war sent many Americans up to Canada and brought the Canadians down to the US – such as Neil Young and Joni.
The Mamas and the Papas
The big guns were the two talent scouts from New York  David Geffen and Robert Elliot who were also young and hungry for the new scene here. Within a few years they started Geffen-Roberts management and made 3m a year. Geffen began his record label Asylum Records. Robert managed Neil, CSN, Joni.  

 When two guys (Glen Frey and Don Henley) were asked to be Linda Ronstadt’s backing singers on tour, they were busy watching, learning and taking notes of the big guys Crosby Stills and Nash (CSN), Poco and others bands developing the four part harmony country rock. They became The Eagles and were ultimately bigger than anyone.
‘We watched what they did right and what they did wrong.’ The Eagles were also about both the music and the business.

In the end movements shine only for a short time and the magic of the hillside canyon was changed  eventually.
First of all by drugs – while pot and psychedelia had fuelled creativity but when they turned to cocaine and heroin, everything changed.

According to Phillips the summers of free love came to an sudden end with the Manson murders in '69 – and after that everything changed. ‘The nail in the coffin of the freewheelin, let’s get high, everybody's welcome – I never invited anybody over to my house again after that.’
Carole King
New artists today influenced by and following on from these sounds – singer songwriter Laura Marling, LA band Haim, Dawes, Wilco, Mumford, the Avett Brothers  and others.
Crosby, Stills & Nash

Scenes aren’t meant to last. They sparkle with activity, flourish then burn out. The California music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s fell apart because of drugs, money, success. Altamont, money, drugs, burnout and new musical trends.’ Vanity Fair. April 1015.
Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Finlay MacDonald

Recently Scottish musician and composer Phil Cunningham presented a fascinating 2 part TV program on the Pipes called 'Pipe Dreams'. He travelled to hear pipes and pipers play worldwide - from Ireland to India. – to inspire his new composition for the pipes. 

In January I attended the brilliant opening concert of Celtic Connections 2015 - the orchestral debut of Scottish piper Martyn Bennett’s last album GRIT. The range of dynamics , tones, energy, emotions, fun – play the tune on the chanter!

I wrote in my review of the music - This album offers a musical journey - producing pounding bass rhythms, hesitant strings, gradual and also unexpected crescendos, brass epic grandeur, haunting Gaelic voices, thematic stirring pipes and also humour. The Grit album is about pushing the boundaries and limitations.

Liam O’Flynn of the Irish folk band Planxty, who plays the uilleann pipes, spoke of the importance of valuing traditions, ‘ To find a secure place to be part of a tradition. Hard won thing to be part of a tradition and its important to be aware of that.’

The uilleann pipes, have a lovely colour and emotion
In the 50s there were only abut 100 players and today there are over 6,000 players of the uilleann pipes worldwide. 

At a Canadian pipe school the children were told, ‘We hope you have fun and work hard – fun and work - .work WINS, fun never wins!  Excellent instruction! 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Irish Voices

Good Vibrations Record shop
Belfast, in the most bombed street in Europe, Terry Hooley opened a record shop where he offered a little corner of hope when punk challenged those hateful and destructive tribal identities.  Live bands played there and the band The Undertones from Londonderry were played by independent DJ John Peel and the punk energy had come back again. 

Then, in Dublin city the 80s, the rock band U2 emerged, with their song Sunday Bloody Sunday and the band sang about, not only of the deep wounds of the past, but also of a new tomorrow and of a modern Ireland no longer down-trodden and one that looked outward over the Atlantic to their America cousins. I will always remember first seeing this fresh young band's first video for New Years Day on MTV.  

All four of U2 attended a Dublin non-denominational school and clearly they were interested in crossing borders and divides. Their first song, Pride, was about Martin Luther King. The Irish had often had to look for a new life in America. America understood Celtic passion. Their most famous album Joshua Tree is a letter to America. 

I remember hearing an Irish folk band called Spud (!) at a folk club years back and they were so much fun! I had noticed that Irish music often expresses an upbeat vibe, that made me think of Irish dancing. Those river dance high jumps and toe tapping - by comparison to the heavier or more varied tempos of Scottish dancing.  
There have been many outstanding folk musicians out of Ireland – Planxty, The Cheiftians, The Dubliners, Cara Dillon and more.  The Celtic traditions of Ireland are closely connected to Scotland historically.

I visited Dublin once - home of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Yeats and others and the Irish Writers museum was inspiring to visit. I had thought I'd find the city of music here - but instead it was the city of poetic words, slightly off-centre colours, a large open heart and.... a singing bus tour guide of course!  
Dublin has rich deeply contrasting colours - the Black and Gold of Guiness beer; the emerald green hats; the beautiful and intricate Celtic designs of the Book of Kell; the  dusty high dark shelves of Trinity College library which looks like a movie set for one of those dark thriller books, alongside the rather pale stately buildings.  At the Dublin airport there was instantly an impression of shambolic chaos when we arrived!
Dublin colours
My father sang Irish tunes such as Galway Bay and the Londonderry Air - which were full of sympathetic romantic melody and words.  Nothing quite hits those emotional hot spots like the Irish song of longing for home Danny Boy - Calling from glen to glen and down the mountainside.

Perhaps the Celt's (both Ireland and Scotland's) love of preserving their history, their passions and the power of the human spirit is what Ireland is really all about...... 'and if you ever go across the sea to Ireland ... then I will ask my god to make my heaven, in that dear land across the Irish Sea. '
 The Irish have a shambolic madness, creativity and open friendliness! They have the gift of the gab, enjoy a good song when they hear it and are fearless. And as the Irish say - ‘May the road always rise up to meet you’