Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of fresh Scottish folk talent. Acts like
Maeve MacKinnon, or
are proof that the Scottish folk scene is as vibrant as it has ever been. Another star, starting to shine high and bright in the Scottish folk sky, is
Since 2015 this talented singer has been building up an impressive musical catalog. With this review, we are going to introduce her music for the first time, but it will not be the last, I can assure you that!
Away From My Window, Iona’s first full-length album, is a treat! From the very first note to the very last. A must-have album for every folk fan. Want to know why? Just follow the
and find out!
Year One; the lovely debut album of Angelika Abend.
‘- I received something really special! A CD, a real handwritten letter, and dried lavender. The energy splashed off this present that I received a few days ago in the mail.’
With this post by Jyoti Verhoeff on Facebook a lovely journey started. The lady sending this present was
, and she just published her debut album Year One under the name Ivy Leaves.
Just as Jyoti’s album The Sky Of You, this album came at exactly the right moment. I hád to write about Angelika’s debut. I wanted, no HAD to tell about it! I had to share my enthusiasm about what I was hearing! I just loved it instantly. Listening to the album and talking with Angelika about her music; I was reminded why I actually started writing reviews.
At CeltCast we hear quite a lot of music, most of it beautiful, all of it made with a lot of love and passion.
It’s a true blessing that I am allowed to share all this beautiful music with you. That I am able to tell about the new albums of the big bands, but even more special that I can acquaintance you all with music from lesser-known artists. Musicians with talent, with passion, that would normally disappear in the big pile of releases.
Our scene may be a small scene, but it is one filled with talent, with free spirits and open-minded, caring people, fans and artists alike. Being allowed to be a part of this scene is huge blessing. Being able to help (young) artists find an audience is an even bigger gift!
Listening to Year One, writing the review for it and then talking with Angelika about her music, her heart and soul made me realise that again. And THAT is the gift Angelika gave me. Thank you, Angelika, for that. And now let’s get that link to the review out. I give you : Year One
Iona Fyfe – Away From My Window (2018) Review
– ‘Hello folk radio DJ‘. With this email,
introduced herself to our station. And with this email she also sent us a pile of music files. A pile that has become bigger and bigger over time, as Iona releases new music on Spotify on a semi-regular basis. Four singles in 2021, three in 2020, a six-song EP in 2019. This lady has been busy. The initial idea was that I would start the story with Iona Fyfe’s first full-length album Away From My Window, released in 2018, and then continue from there. But once I started listening to Away From My Window there was so much I wanted to say about it that I had to decide otherwise. I’ll come back to the 2019 EP Dark Turn Of Mind, the 2015 debut EP The First Sangs, the 2016 EP East and the 2020/2021 singles in other reviews somewhere in the near future. (Which doesn’t mean you can’t listen to those albums and singles beforehand. I highly advise it, actually!!)
What do we know about this talented singer whose albums impressed me so much? If you look Iona up on Wikipedia, the accolades are so numerous that they will be tumbling from your screen: semi-finalist of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2016; finalist of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award in 2017 and 2021; Scots Singer o the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2018; Young Scots Speaker o the Year in 2019 at the inaugural Scots Language Awards, Scots Performer o the Year in 2020, and Scots Speaker o the Year in 2021.
Quite a pile of accolades for someone who just turned 24!
So who is Iona Fyfe? She is a Scottish folk singer-songwriter from Huntly, Aberdeenshire. As a child, she found a love for poems in the Doric dialect (the popular name for the dialect spoken in the mid-northern region of Scotland), a love that she has kept till the present day. Attending singarounds, ceilidhs, and competitions from the age of five, Iona became an accomplished singer with a huge love for the Scottish folk repertoire. It was in those days that she met many revivalist singers such as
who influenced her ballad and bothy ballad style.
(Bothy ballads are songs sung by farm labourers in the northeast region of Scotland. In order to entertain themselves and the other members of the town, the young men of the bothy would hold musical evenings, the bothy nichts, with the music provided by their own impromptu band, the bothy band. A tragic song might be followed by a joke or a story, then a humorous song. Only rarely would a servant girl be present at these events, and musical instruments were also rare according to Wikipedia.)
Iona Fyfe’s love for Scottish traditional music and the Scottish language only grew while she was studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, so it may not come as a surprise that she graduated with a first-class honours degree in Traditional Music and holds an FLCM from London College of Music (a Fellowship of the London College of Music.)
To make her biography even more impressive, Iona Fyfe is also an active voice in the bid to get official recognition of the Scottish language, as well as raising a voice against sexual harassment. She champions equality within the music industry as well as fair pay for music streaming, and she is a member of the Scottish and Northern Irish brand of the musicians union.
You almost wonder how Iona managed to find the time to record any album at all, but she did. In 2015 she released her first EP called The First Sangs. A mini-album filled with 4 lovely folk ballads, partly recorded live. This EP was followed by a second mini-CD called East which was released in 2016. Away From My Window, Iona’s first full-length album, came out in 2018, and what a gem it is
Guise Of Tough is the song that starts this album, which is mostly filled with beautiful ballads. Guise of Tough itself is a more upbeat bothy song. To give you some advice straight away: don’t listen to this as background music! Get your headphones out. There is so much hidden in all these songs, the music is so well arranged and the musicians so good that it would be a shame if you missed something. Of course, Iona’s voice is the main feature of this album, but I want to focus on the instrumentalists first, as they can go unnoticed so easily, yet are so delightfully good. Just notice the notes of the acoustic guitar, the fiddle and the mandolin doing their wee ol’ dance around Iona’s crystal-clear voice. The beauty of the musical arrangement becomes even more apparent in the solo break. Jani Lang on fiddle takes the lead here, but there is so much happening throughout the whole song that it truly feels like a spring day caught in music.
Glenlogie is the first of many ballads that fill up this lovely CD. Again the guitar notes dance with Iona’s beautiful voice. The years of singing in competitions have given Iona an immaculate technique. Her voice has a natural beauty to it. It can be strong and powerful when needed but has an angelic side as well. In a way, Iona’s delicate emotional, yet strong style of singing reminds me ever so slightly of
Back Of The Moon
days. Not that weird, as they also recorded their own version of this traditional song. Both versions are one of a kind, but share a delicate tenderness. Both feel like they are gently caressing your ears. Both are clear favorites of mine.
With the third song Banks Of Inverurie, we leave the feel of spring in the music and enter the summer. Iona sings this a bit lower and I can’t help but notice how much depth her voice has gained since her debut EP. Trust me, her vocal abilities on the debut were already impressive, Iona just got even better over the years. I can’t help but close my eyes, stop typing and listen, drawn in by her song. And with those closed eyes I enjoy the soft repeated chords of the piano, suddenly appearing on the right side of my headphones, even more. (I warned you you should wear those, didn’t I?). As I said earlier, the arrangements on this album are just amazing. I am loving every note I hear. Although most of the songs are ‘old’ traditionals, steeped in history, the music sounds fresh and vibrant. Most likely because Iona gathered a talented group of young folk musicians around her, and you hear their youthful energy sparkle in every note they play.
The Swan Swims is the second more up-tempo singalong on Away From My Window. Again the band places that ‘hidden’ piano in my right ear. I can’t help but get a huge grin on my face every time I hear that. And that grin keeps getting bigger as the song progresses. I love the harmonies, the way the song develops – from a tender ‘duet’ between Tim Edey’s acoustic guitar and Iona’s crystal-clear voice – to a grand singalong. The border pipes kicking in after three minutes are just the icing on this Scottish folk cake.
Title track Away From My Window is the second change in feel. The song is darker, even feels slightly eerie with the ‘haunting’ strokes on the violin and the spoken text starting the song up. The lyrics of Away From My Window are pure poetry, as are most of the lyrics on this album. The words are full of pain and grief, but never say why. Every sad note leaves plenty of room for your own interpretation. Pure poetry in music. A stunning song.
I have to mention the liner notes at this point. One of the first things you will see is a list of sources where all these ballads came from. Something you normally see in a scientific article, but not in a booklet of a CD. It says a lot about the sense of history that Iona has. The love of her Scottish musical heritage and the Scottish language as well. As does the fact that Iona asked for a segment of Lizzie Higgings’ original 1969 recording of Boony Udny to open her interpretation of the song.
Most of the songs on Away From My Window are traditionals. Take Me Out Drinking is the first of the more modern songs. A lovely ballad, originally called When These Shoes Were New, was written and recorded by
in 1980. Iona shows a different side of her music in this song. Although still folk, it leans slightly more towards Americana; a style that fits her just as well as the more traditional folksongs or bothy ballads. Come to think of it. At no point did I even consider comparing her voice to that of another singer. It says a lot about the vocal talent that Iona is.
And So We Must Rest is a beautiful lullaby, written by Aidan Moffat for his young son. It is a warm caress put to music. Its chorus is a lovely duet between Iona and Cameron Nixon, who does all of the backing vocals on this album and I’m loving the synergy between these two here. This lullaby leaves me feeling all happy, open and warm, the perfect way to set me up for the full impact of Banks Of The Tigris.Banks of the Tigris is the only song on this album from Iona’s own hand, but what a strong song it is. This is what Iona herself wrote about it: ‘- Most of the headlines during my teenage years centred around the conflict in Syria and the Middle East… …I wrote this whilst feeling profoundly emotional after reading an article.‘
The contrast between the feeling of safety of And So We Must Rest and the haunting reality of Banks Of The Tigris is poignant. And it works. The message comes across loud and strong. With a hair-raising power equal to classic protest songs like
Goodnight Saigon or
Christina Stürmer’s Mama Ana Ahabak. I applaud you, Iona, for choosing to tell this story as well. I also applaud the arrangements on it:
The Eastern-like strings, drifting in and out of the song in the most eerie, breathtaking way.
The constant ‘dropping of spaces’ in the music with Iona’s voice cutting through, poignant, piercing.
The Middle Eastern male vocals and -instruments sliding in and out, disturbing, beautiful.
The contrast between Iona’s high, crystal-clear vocals and the dark ‘threatening’ drone always there in the background.
And that last eerie note, raising every single hair on my body! Well done Iona and Jani Lang on those arrangements. They are breathtaking!
Banks Of The Tigris could have easily been an impressive ending to this stunning CD, but Iona decided otherwise. It feels like she wanted to leave us with a cheerful note, not a sad one, so we get one last song as an encore.
So Pit Gair ends this album as it started. With a lovely up-tempo dance song. A cheerful end to a stunning album. Everybody that has a warm heart for folk music needs to have this CD. There are no ifs or buts about it. This is a must-have CD. And I’m so looking forward to introducing more of this talented lady’s music in the near future. But for now, enjoy Away From My Window. It is well worth it!
Cover art: Louise Bichan
pictures: Elly Lucas
Ivy leaves – Year One (2021) review
A couple of months ago I saw a post by
on her Facebook page. In that post, she mentioned a gift from Germany: a CD had arrived with a personal letter attached to it. She continued by saying:
-‘Of course, I started listening and was immediately taken into a majestic forest. It was so clear that her creation came from a very magical place. This gifted goddess, nature lover, teacher, and dreamer is called Angelika Abend. She took an insanely brave step to release her own work straight from her soul!’
Needless to say I was instantly intrigued and looked up this artist myself on Spotify. And just as Jyoti I was touched, even though I was listening to the album on a crappy mobile phone speaker while at work. So that evening I contacted Angelika Abend aka Ivy Leaves and within days a small package arrived. In it was Year One, the debut album of Angelika, with it a personal letter attached:
-I hope the music will bring you relaxation, thoughtful moments. energetic vibes and natural satisfaction. Every song comes from the heart. Best wishes and green pagan vibes. Angelika Abend/Ivy Leaves.’
Well, dear Angelika, it did! This is exactly what Year One is: A meditative, sincere and ‘happy’ instrumental pagan folk CD. Straight from Angelika’s heart.
So who is
? Well, on her Facebook page she describes herself as a nature lover, musician, teacher, and dreamer. Going through her posts I discovered she is indeed a school teacher and a nature-loving pagan as well. Inspired by artists like
she started writing music on harp, several types of flutes, hammered dulcimer, piano and harmonium.
Angelika Abend: -‘ In January 2020 that creativity was given a huge boost when I started working with
as a producer. He did the recording, mixing and mastering of the final album. Year One was recorded in July 2020 in a cozy wooden recording studio. It was followed by several listening sessions in October.’
And then on the 18th of May 2021 Year One was officially released. As a ‘musical interpretation of the repetitive cycle of life. With all its brightness and all its darkness.’ The album
Listening to the first song Stone Cold a couple of words pop up: ‘majestic, calming, happy, positive and serene’. I think those words quite nicely sum up Angelika’s music in general. As Angelika herself told on different occasions that she was influenced by bands like OMNIA and Waldkauz, and the music itself is indeed flute and harp oriented pagan folk you could think this album to be a cross-over of those two bands. But no it is not. Year One has a very own unique sound. It actually leans more towards the orchestral sound of Alvenrad, the first album of
but with a refreshing native American flute feel over it. Angelika used a whole range of traditional flutes while recording Year One, including one of my favourite wind instruments: a fujara (Angelika: -‘To be precise a hybrid overtone bass fujara’). She also uses an overtone flute in A, reedpipe, wooden whistles, a raven spirit flute and a Kiowa love flute to create that feel. Don’t expect the fast soloistic way of playing we know from OMNIA’s Steve Sic. No, she uses the flutes as calm, soothing voices. Think of a pagan folk version of
(A famous Native American flute artist from Lakota/Irish decent, well known as the guest singer and soloist on Creek Mary’s Blood by
That calming, meditative effect is enhanced by the use the hammered dulcimer and the harp as accompanying instruments.
The third layer of Ivy Leaves music, the ambient part, partly comes from the clever recording Adrian Magler did. He gives Ivy Leaves a sound that comes really close to a band like Sacred Spirit. I especially noticed this, in the percussion. So much so that I initially thought it was programmed, but Angelika assured me that most of them are real percussion instruments, so my compliments to Adrian, as the sound really works. It gives the music of Angelika its heartbeat, its pulse. In the second song, Sleepy Lake, we hear that pulse for the first time. It is still a lovely gentle instrumental ballad, hovering somewhere between ambient pagan folk and new age music. But songs like: Satyr Endeavour, Haily Rain or Waiting For You To Decide all have a really nice build-up from gentle ballads to upbeat ambient dance songs. Satyr Endeavour for instance is quite a catchy song, with a cool dark base melody supporting it. Haily Rain is another really catchy song, in this case, led by the harp. Another favourite of mine is the song Waiting For You To Decide. Starting off as a beautiful fragile ‘ballet’ between harp and flute, it gradually evolves into a full-on dance ballad. One of my highlights on this album.
Music, flowing with the season
I also need to compliment Angelika on the sequence of songs. The clever bit is that at this point of the album the colour and atmosphere of the music changes.
Combining an acoustic guitar with the harp already gives the intro of Festival Song a different flavour, but it is halfway through the song that a surprising appearance of didgeridoo and percussion and an increase in tempo really pushes the music into a cool pagan folk dance direction. It sounds as if Mich Rozek and Luka Aubri were invited in the studio for a small jam session. The lighter feel from the start of this album returns one more time with the song Always Keep That Feeling, (Angelika’s homage to OMNIA’s Steve and Jenny), but from that moment on the feel of Year One returns to being a bit darker, a bit more autumny so to say. A deliberate choice as Angelika explained to me after she first read the review:
-‘The sequence of songs is also designed to be coherent with the months and seasons of the year. Stone Cold represents January, Sleepy Lake is February and so on. My approach was to not only capture the moods of the different natural states but also combine them with emotional situations and a holistic personal story. All this within the course of one year, represented by the 12 songs.’Apocalooper Flute reminds me a bit of
music, most likely because of the cool didge vibe and the low hoarse sound of the bass overtone flute dancing over it. It is that change in feel, that change in colour of the music that makes Year One such a catchy album from beginning to end.
In the last three songs: Falling leaves, Where Do We Go When It’s Dark Outside and Rebirth, you can hear the influence Jyoti Verhoeff has had on Angelika’s music. It is now much more piano orientated and the general feel is way more in the direction of Jyoti’s last album The Sky Of You or the OMNIA songs Wheel Of Time and Sing For Love.
Stories of personal development
Now that I mention this ‘darker edge’, I found an interesting contradiction between Angelika’s music and the explanations in the booklet accompanying the CD. Normally I tend to hear the things artists write about in the songs themselves. With Angelika, most of the time I don’t. The texts in the booklet are deep, dark, slightly gothic even in feel. Yet I can only describe her music as positive and happy. I think that comes from who Angelika is. although I don’t know her personally. Reading her posts on Facebook and seeing the pictures she uploaded, she seems a happy, positive person. A dreamer maybe, a thinker as well, but in her heart positive and good. And you hear that back in her music. I know the project is called Ivy Leaves, but it is so clearly Angelika’s heart and soul that went into all of it, that I find it really hard not to name her as the artist all the time.
Angelika: ‘-If you look at the texts as a whole you might find that they represent a story of personal development and becoming. A deep fall is followed by the strive to get back up again, live life, find the right path, fight the struggle and in the end, find inner peace within oneself.’
All in all, I’m loving Year One. It is a charming debut, with an artist clearly finding her own voice within the pagan folk genre. Lovely Ambient pagan folk with a good dose of Native American new age spirituality. Congratulations on this lovely debut Angelika. What a way to start the new year!
Album cover: Angelika Abend, Adrian Magler
Pictures: Angelika Abend
The gift of music; Introducing Zonnewachter, the new album of Wouter en de Draak
With Christmas fast approaching we also meet that final big challenge of the year: ‘What to give to your loved one who already has everything??’ May I suggest the gift of music? And while I am at it, may I then suggest the newest album of
Wouter en de Draak.
Three years after their debut album
Wouter en de Draak;
an album filled with lovely instrumental balfolk tunes bursting with influences from Celtic Brittany, Wouter Kuyper, and Joris Alblas return with their second full-length CD: Zonnewachter. And just as their debut CD, this new album makes a perfect gift to both the balfolk dancers and the instrumental folk lovers amongst you. I think it says enough that I added 5 songs to my personal
CeltCast Spotify list!
Do you want to know more about this lovely CD? Then follow
and dance with me. Let’s celebrate Yule and/or Christmas as it should be done, balfolking through the living room. Shove your furniture to one side, press play, and dance until spring returns again. Let’s celebrate life together with Wouter, Joris and their musical friends. Let’s celebrate it with the sound of their new album Zonnewachter.
Merry Christmas and a blessed Yule