Hamish Napier – The Railway (2018) review



Little did I know what a treasure chest of music I would discover when Mark van der Stelt suggested I should write an introduction to Back of the Moon‘s album Luminosity. Not only was the music by the band itself mesmerizing, but so were the projects that the band were involved with afterward. There is the singer/songwriter extraordinaire Findlay Napier, (go check out his three solo albums and discover the magic of ‘just’ a voice and a guitar), there is the lovely Celtic folk on Pendulum, Gillian Frame‘s 2016 solo album I reviewed a couple of months ago (link), and I haven’t even started exploring the trazillion records Ali Hutton has been involved with. But today I want to focus on the lovely concept folk albums of composer and multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier, something I have wanted to do from the moment I first listened to them on bandcamp. Earlier I combined his two nature-inspired albums: The River (2016) and The Woods (2020) in one review [here], now I will focus on the third solo album Hamish has recorded up till now: The Railway.
portrait Hamish Napier Hamish Napier, to quote the bio on his webpage:
-“ is originally from Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. For over a decade he has been an integral part of Glasgow’s vibrant folk music scene, whilst also touring in Europe and North America with Scottish folk quartet Back of the Moon (‘Folk Band of the Year 2005’ MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards). Gaining degrees in Astronomy and Music when he first moved from his native Highlands to the city of Glasgow, Hamish was then awarded a year’s scholarship to study jazz piano and composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. Hamish now teaches composition and music theory at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and at music schools and festivals worldwide. He has recently returned to his native Strathspey, composing three solo albums The River (2016), The Railway (2018), and The Woods (2020) in celebration of his homeland.
When Hamish performed The River live in Grantown in summer ’16, Karen Blessington approached him enthusiastically after the show, inviting him to compose a soundtrack to her exciting new venture, the Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre. And the rest, as they say, is history. During the making of this album, Hamish talked a lot with former railwaymen Jimmy Gray (then 93), Jacky Hay (then 94), and James Telfer (then 94). The Railway is as much their story as it is Hamish’s.

The record kicks off with The Speyside Line. As on the whole record, Hamish combines his love for piano and whistles with his talent to compose really catchy instrumental Celtic folk songs that are rich in tradition but with a modern, slightly jazzy sound. Those jazzy laid back drums and double bass lines are what make his folk music so accessible. The song is about the Spey line itself, its route never far from the river, sometimes almost hanging over it, and – listening to the music – traveling it must have been beautiful. Hamish – the composer – has this special ability to take a picture in notes, to create a drawing in his melody lines, and on The Speyside Line he makes us re-live every bend of this historic line.

‘A pair of tunes for a pair of steam locomotives’ That’s how Hamish introduces Double Header, the second song on The Railway. And yes Hamish did indeed write a song to immortalize two famous old steam locomotives. Even more actually. For the steam geeks here is the rest of Hamish’s introduction:
‘The first tune is for ‘The Hikers’ of the Highland Railway, the popular ‘Black 5’ (LMS Class 5) which driver Jocky Hay praised as a “damn good engine!” The second is for The Sojer, the Gordon Highlander, the Speyside Line’s most beloved LNER D40. The Strathspey Railway’s beautifully restored Ivatt Class 2 locomotive also gets a wee mention, its British Rail train number ‘46512’ is also the chord sequence in the bridge between the two tunes!’
I love reading those introductions. It really brings the music and story together in a funny and witty way. The song itself starts with some lovely upbeat variations on flute and violin representing ‘the Hikers’ of the Highland railway before the highland pipes slowly ‘merge’ in to represent ‘the Sojer’ of the Speyside line.

Next up is Jocky the Mole and it brings back the glory days of Back of the Moon, with the brothers Napier joining forces one more time. Findlay takes the vocals twice on The Railway: in this song, and in The World Came In By Rail. Both are, as we Dutch say, pearls of Celtic singer-songwriter folk music that would not have sounded out of place on that classic album Luminosity. My first highlight of the CD.
It is followed straight by my second highlight: The Firebox. Don’t ask me HOW Hamish did it, but I can just see the flames licking through the coals as the fire is lit in the firebox. You can feel the engine heating up, you can feel the immense power, that was able to pull all those carriages up the Hills awakening. The steal muscles of the mighty machine gearing up for action. The deep double bass rhythm in the song represents that mighty power, the flute and fiddle variations represent the fire jumping and licking over the coals as the fireman shoved shovel after shovel of fuel into the firebox.



The Old Ways is:
[quote] ‘a slow 6/8 march written in honour of the traditional skills, trades, and ways of life lovingly preserved by historians and enthousiasts[…][..]celebrating what is unique and special about our culture.’
Up The Hill starts as a lovely song with a mesmerizing flute solo that gently eases your mind into a state of calm. If you would tell me that it is about hanging in a grass field with a strand of grass in my mouth, chilling while I am looking at the clouds passing by overhead I would have believed you. But… …the second part of the song O’er Drumochter would not fit at all, so it can’t be. And indeed it isn’t. It is about the climb to Drumochter summit, the highest part of the Scottish railway, and the struggle the old steam engines had getting up there. The story is captured wonderfully in the booklet, told by the old railwayman Jimmy Gray. As I said, this is as much the old railwaymen’s story as anything else. And Hamish is a master in capturing that.
This is proven best in Helen’s Song. A heartfelt ballad that Hamish composed in memory of Jimmy Gray’s wife Helen, who was with him for 63 years. Starting as a beautiful piano piece, it is Patsy Reid and her string skills that make Helen’s Song an exquisite homage to a lifetime of love.

But this album is not only the story of the railwaymen, in Dr. McGugan’s and Cheery Groove the story gets a true personal touch. The first song is an air written as a gift to a close friend, the second song a slip jig composed for his parents, in memory of all the great house ceilidhs -social gatherings- with friends and family over the years. In an interview, Hamish said that he finds it extremely important not to separate the ‘folk’ from the music and that is the power of this beautiful CD. The magic of it lies in the combination of music and the story told in the booklet, which was sometimes witty as the old railwaymen told their anecdotes, sometimes interesting as Hamish went into the history of the line itself, sometimes touching and beautiful as proven in Helen’s Song. I loved reading it.



This is one of those albums that got me writing as soon as I heard the first notes. Not to outdo The River,which I love, and The Woods, also a strong and unique Celtic folk album, I arguably consider The Railway to be Hamish’s best record yet. (This is a purely personal opinion though, so feel free to disagree.) Gems like Diesel, Jocky The Mole, and Helen’s Song have helped this album find its way into my CD player time and time again.
Together the trilogy of The River, The Railway, and The Woods is a true homage to the Cairngorms, the place where Hamish Napier grew up, the place he now calls home again. On the postcard that goes with the CDs it says:’ Hamish Napier; Scottish Highlander – Folk Musician – Composer – Tutor. To put it in THAT order is a clear statement! Through ALL of Hamish’s his solo work you can hear the love and pride he has for his home country, for the people that live in it, for the history of the land, for his beloved Highlands! And the best thing about it? He is not done yet! The fourth album is already on its way. I can’t wait to hear it!

– Cliff

-editor: Iris de Wolf
-pictures: Hamish Napier

If you would like to support Hamish Napier you can find him on:
Bandcamp
Facebook or
Patreon

Hamish Napier – The River (2016) / The Woods (2020) Review



The Cairngorms, a rugged mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland, nicely nestled in between the cities Inverness, Aberdeen, and Dundee. For me, it is one of my bucket list places to go. Ever since I was a kid the Highlands have had a magical attraction on me. Don’t ask me why a young Dutch kid would dream of hiking in the Scottish mountains, but I did. And that longing for anything Scottish never stopped, hence my utter joy when the last few episodes of BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and Winterwatch were all recorded within the boundaries of the Cairngorm national park.
The Cairngorms, not only are they one of my favourite spots in the world; not only are they the stage for one of the best real-life nature programmes ever made; but they are also the home of former Back of the Moon multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier. And just like the BBC Springwatch team sparked my love for the region even more with their wonderful camera work, Hamish managed to do exactly the same with his music. The River (2016), The Railway (2018) – an album I will introduce in a separate review- and The Woods (2020). are dedicated to this wonderful bit of the Scottish countryside.
As this review will be about two records and I have a limited amount of space available to do so, I’ll leave introducing Hamish Napier for now and go straight into the music itself. If you want to know more about this talented Scottish folk composer and multi-instrumentalist, just follow this link to the review of The Railway, where I do have the space to introduce him properly.

In 2016 The River, an instrumental concept folk CD celebrating the river Spey, was released. Hamish’s explains
: -“The river brings to the surface vivid images of occurrences, past and present, along the mile-long stretch of the Spey that flows past my childhood home. One of my brothers fished it, the other canoed it, my uncle Sam photographed it, my friends and I swam in it, my mother paints it and there’s my father’s daily fascination with its erratically changing water level. It will always symbolize home and a strong connection to nature.

That connection to nature is clear from the very first song on this album, called Mayfly. Mayflies are aquatic insects closely related to dragonflies and damselflies. For the best part of the year, they live a secret life as nymphs underwater, but for a few warm days in the late spring, they hatch in their millions. Only living for a couple of hours – days at best – the whole purpose of the adult mayfly is to mate. The males will ‘dance’, flying up and down above the water to attract a female. Having so many insects do that at one time is a magical sight and Hamish Napier managed to capture that beautifully. The sound of the keyboard and flutes weave and wave through the song, just as the mayfly would do above the water. Listening to the music, you can really see the spectacle before your very eyes. A moment of calm in the music may represent a salmon rising up or a gust of wind pushing the mayfly down, and then a final tin whistle solo pushes the song to a powerful climax. This Proves that Hamish is not only a talented soloist, but also a skilled composer.

This is a skill he proves again with the second song on this album, the title track The River. The music is so well-composed that you only have to close your eyes and you will see the water. You will feel the water pass, you will see the sparks of light blinding your eyes as the ripples of water reflect the sun. You will sense the birds nesting in the reed along the banks of this beautiful river.
That magic is retained in The Whirlpool. Once again a lovely flute melody takes you by the hand and leads you deep into Hamish’s youth. Come to think of it, THAT is exactly how this album sounds: like childhood memories put to music. In every note, Hamish manages to capture the beauty of the Spey, the nature around it, and the people living around this Scottish river. The result is magical. The music just sparkles from beginning to end. A CD that will appeal to the fans of pagan folk and Celtic folk alike.



It is not all jolly times and happiness though. Like almost everything in nature, a river not only gives but sometimes also takes, and the river Spey is no exception. Drowning of the Silver Brothers is a poignant tribute to the dangers that lie hidden in the depths of the river. It is a beautiful duet between flute and piano, and one of the highlights on this album.
Musically, The River is a cool mix between traditional folk solos (mainly on the flutes), a touch of chamber music piano, and a modern easy listening bass/drums rhythm section. The jazziest of them all are the songs Floating and Huy Huy!. Two lovely Celtic flute themes put over a Shakatak kind of jazz guitar/bass/piano groove, one theme sliding effortlessly into the other.
Iasgairean Nan Neamhnaid (The Pearlfishers) is the last song on The River that I want to mention myself. A strong musical statement against the destruction of nature. The last word on The River I give to Hamish Napier, in a musical way. Here he is performing the last track of the CD: Spey Cast part 2, The Raft Race.





HAMISH NAPIER – THE WOODS (2020)

cover The Woods (2020)

While The River is overflowing with powerful musical memories, The Woods is different, mainly because of the main theme Hamish choose for it. Instead of going for the ‘obvious’ main subjects (the majestic green skyline, the morning choir of songbirds; or the rut of the red deer), Hamish went for a different approach. Whereas he used to view “the woods” as a single, impressive entity as a child, he now sees all the different ‘actors’ that make up the woods; the mighty oak, the pioneering birch, but also the smaller bushes, the all-important insects, even the humble mycorrhizal fungi have found a place in Hamish’s songs.
The Gaelic alphabet was traditionally taught to children through the old names of the native trees, and this is the theme Hamish picked up again for his musical interpretation of the Woods, making the CD sound a wee bit less impressive from what I had assumed beforehand, but this concept definitely brings out the best in Hamish as a contemporary folk composer.

Again Hamish manages to captivate you from the very first notes of his CD. Again that ‘sparkling’ positive feel is in his playing. The Pioneer is not only a song about the first letter of the early medieval alphabet: the B, but also about one of the first trees to spread across the post ice age landscape, one of the first trees to open their leaves in spring, the Birch. It also sounds like the start of spring, the start of early morning, so it is in many ways the perfect start to The Woods.

I love the second song. It’s not about a tree and also not a letter of the Gaelic alphabet, but about one of the many creatures living in the Scottish Highlands, the Capercaillie. Hamish says the following about it: “The Capercaillie is an otherworldly creature. The male birds are as giant as they are cantankerous and famed for their clicks, pops, and flutter jumps at the ‘lek’ during mating season. With Egyptian eyeliner, a Japanese fantail, velvet green neck plumage, and a fierce hooked beak, the giant grouse fly through the Scots pinewood canopy with all the grace of a cannonball. Capercaillies have been known to take on foes several times their own size, including stationary Land Rovers.
This quote is taken from the extensive booklet going with The Woods, a booklet filled with information about the featured trees, mixed with some local stories, a bit of Gaelic folklore, and of course Hamish his own personal memories, all brought together through the stunning pen drawings by Somhairle MacDonald.
The song The Capercaillie Rant / An Taghan, itself is a cheerful Celtic tin whistle/Highland pipe melody in a lovely contemporary pop jacket. Think of the style of the German band Cara on their Horizon album or of course Hamish’s old band Back Of The Moon.

The Tree Of Blessings is a lovely short piano piece dedicated to the juniper bush, and is a strong, rather pop-like song. The same goes for The Tree of Luck, (pop meets Celtic folk ballad). Just as The River, The Woods is an instrumental folk CD. But despite it being 66 minutes long divided over 21 tracks it has enough variation to keep you fascinated till the very last note.
Describing al 21 tracks would be rather pointless, so I’m just going to pick out some personal highlights. The first of them the jazzy folk ballad Mycorrhiza/The Tree Of Life. A lovely composition.
Another one comes immediately after that: track 6, called The Tree of Life / The Three of Lightning. It’s about the mighty Oak tree and its smaller neighbour, the holly. In folklore, the Holly King and the Oak King used to overpower one another at the solstices, with the Oak King dominating the summer and the Holly King the winter. Starting small, this song quickly evolves into an instrumental power ballad, clearly inspired by this age-old battle of the seasons. This is a relatively short, powerful song that will be loved by people who are into Celtic folk and pagan folk alike.

The Tree of Knowledge is a lovely, tender piano ballad, inspired both by the hazel, a tree that according to the Celts represented wisdom and poetic inspiration. It was also composed in honour of Rosie Fisher, a family friend of the Napiers who made two wood sculptures, one depicting Pan, and the other depicting the American naturalist, writer, and philosopher Thoreau. These inspirations, rather than the obvious ones, are what make The Woods such an interesting CD. You clearly hear the poet, the philosopher, the sculptor in this song. As a folk ballad, The Tree of Knowledge is already lovely, together with the story in the booklet it becomes magic.

Forest Folk is another one of those songs with a twist. Listening to it, it is a lovely cheerful tune, an instant earworm actually. Hamish explains this track is about all the small flowers, shrubs, mosses, and lichen you find in the woods. It is also dedicated to all those who wander in the woods, looking at all the wonders of the forests, those who take the time to find beauty in the small things in life.

You will probably realize by now that this album is actually a musical adventure. Just like the forest at first glance, appears to be a sea of green, this album at first glance seems to be ‘just’ an instrumental pop/folk album. But don’t be fooled. Take your time with and this record will ever so slowly reveal its inner beauty, bit by bit. Just as the forest will reveal ITS magic to all of us who dare to wander deep into its dark, green, but oh so majestic heart.
If you love Celtic music; focussed on flute and piano; with delicate splashes of pipes and guitar; firmly connected in tradition but with a modern sound; and if you happen to love nature as well, then The River and The Woods are an enrichment of your music collection. No doubt about that!



– Cliff

– editor: Iris de Wolf
-Picture: Hamish Napier

If you would like to support Hamish Napier you can find him on:
Bandcamp
Facebook or
Patreon

Myrkur – Folkesange (2020) review

Myrkur - Folkesange cover

Myrkur on CeltCast? Really? If someone had told me that I would be writing a review of a Myrkur album, or that a Myrkur song would become a Monthly Marker, I would have laughed you straight in the face. Loudly actually! Up till now, the black metal Myrkur played was as far away from the CeltCast format as artistically possible. It was one of our photographers, Andre Willemse, that tipped us off that Folkesange, Myrkur’s newest record, was totally different. So the music team gave it a go… ….and totally fell in love with this exceptional Scandinavian folk album. Because that is what Folkesange is. Gone are all the blast beats, the battering guitar riffs, and the extreme black metal screams. Instead, we have a peaceful acoustic Scandinavian folk album. I can imagine the surprise on some metalheads faces when they heard this record for the first time, but from the CeltCast point of view we are quite happy that, the artist behind Myrkur, showed yet another side of her diverse musical personality.
Researching Amalie’s musical history gave me one of the most interesting stories I’ve seen in a long time. Amalie was born in Denmark in 1985 and she released her first record ‘Amalie Bruun‘ which she wrote together with her father in 2006. In 2008 she recorded the theme song for the American reality show Paradise Hotel. The single, If You Give It Up, is actually a quite catchy pop song with a lovely Indian theme hidden inside. Following this first success she went to New York later in 2008. At that same time she recorded the EP Housecat, a very nice mix between alternative pop and singer-songwriter material. As if BjörkHuman Behavior– met EmiliaBig Big World – on a Suzanne Vega party. I’m definitely going to try to get my hands on this interesting EP. Housecat won Amalie the New York Songwriters Circle International Award. In 2010, still under the name Amalie Bruun she released the EP Branches, less Björk, more Emilia, still catchy as hell, her future in the American charts seemed certain.

But Amalie (picture with kind permission of Daria Endresen) decided differently, starting an interesting journey through music land, which tells me that she has a really broad taste in music and the ‘balls’ to go her own way.
After working together with producer Mark Saunders and Rapper R.A. the Rugged Man, she ends up the band Ex Cops, with whom she recorded two albums, True Hallucinations (2013) and Daggers (2014). Their sound combined the sound of the Cardigans with electro-pop tracks and ,again, splashes of Bjórk. The Ex Cops broke up in 2015, and by then Amalie was already working on a secret project for Relapse Records: a black metal (!) project under the name of Myrkur, miles away from the singer-songwriter/alternative pop/rock music she was making up to that point.
Now I have to admit that black metal is one of the few genres of music that just doesn’t do anything for me, so I will not comment on any of the 2 EP’s or 3 records she has released under the Myrkur name, other than that it sounds rather melodic for a black metal band, and reading the internet comments she seems to have divided the black metal community slightly. With some calling her the fresh breeze of air the scene needed, and others expressing their dislike in the nice ‘polite’, ‘constructive’ manner that seems so ‘normal’ on the internet nowadays (NOT!) But now we have Folkesange, an acoustic Scandinavian folk album that again is a 180-degree twist in style that will, I am sure of that, raise even more discussion within the black metal world.

Will we do that too? Well no! First of all I fully understand why she did. Why do artists always have to bind themselves to one style? There is so much music to be explored. Why should fans decide what music an artist should make?
And secondly, Folkesange is actually a really good album that we all love at CeltCast HQ. Alex even insisted I should write this review. And no wonder. What binds all of Amalie’s music together is her ability to write and record really catchy music, and Folkesange is no exception.

First to open the new album is the single Ella, a song written by Amalie herself, and straight away she lays her first artistic trump card on the table. Her beautiful voice with just a beat under it. A voice that is strong and captivating. This is followed by her second trump card, an orchestra of ancient Scandinavian folk that sweeps you away to times gone by. A really impressive start to the song ánd to the whole cd. During the song the arrangements become more modern, drifting towards the choral sound of Adiemus, tying together the modern with the old.



Fager Som En Ros is just as catchy, upbeat, and with a prominent place for the ancient Swedish instruments: the nyckelharpa, and the stråkharpa. giving the song a nice deep sound with Myrkur’s voice floating above it. Kaunan meets Kati Rán would probably be the best way to describe this song. Halfway through the song Myrkur throws in her final trump card: a powerful yoik cutting through the deep harpa sound. Mesmerizing. That yoik will return a couple of times more on Folkesange and was actually the trigger to buy the album myself.

Leaves Of Yggdrasil is a touching ballad, mixing the modern new-age sound of Adiemus and Clannad, with the ancient feel of Scandinavian folk and the angelic sound of the Sami yoik. Christopher Juul, ( Euzen, Heilung) as always, did a wonderful job recording it all. Together with Amalie, he created an album that sounds cold and white, which takes you deep into the fjords and woods of the Scandinavian peninsula. A sound that trembles ancient history and yet is as fresh as the first snow in early winter.

This feeling is even more present when listening to Tor I Holheim. I still remember the first time I heard someone singing a yoik. It was one of a few some small documentaries highlighting ancient traditions on Discovery Channel , and featured a Sami lady, with her colourful traditional clothing, who was filmed in a stunning white and green world that make up the beautiful pine forests of the deep Arctic north. She was explaining about her life, about how she traveled with the reindeer, the animals that still provide the Sami livelihood. And then she sang. An angelic high chant. A chant without words. A chant only meant to evoke or reflect an animal, a place, or a person. It fitted so perfectly, it gave me shivers down my spine. I’d never again came across a vocalist that had the same impact on me as that young Sami singer in that documentary. Until now that is! Listening to those first notes of Tor I Holheim, bringing back that beautiful memory, was enough to hit the buy button right there and then. Stunning, just stunning!



I could go on and on about Folkesange, but why would I. Every song is a beautiful mix of old Scandinavian folk in all its beauty combined with a modern new age choral sound that makes the deep sound of the old Scandi instruments sound even richer. The deep rich sound of Svea or Ramund (seen above), the medieval-sounding ballads Harpens Kraft and Gammelkäring, (a duet between the Strakharpa and Myrkur’s beautiful voice), the Joan Baez tribute House Carpenter, or the angelic piano ballad Vinter they are all beautiful songs celebrating Amalie’s childhood. Folkesange is Myrkur’s tribute to the music of her youth. It is, as stated on her website: – “a journey into the very heart of the Scandinavian culture that marked Amalie’s childhood.” The album is recorded in a contemporary way, but with so much respect for the age and history of this music. In short: a CD that swept us all away, and we hope it will do the same with you!

– Cliff

Editor: Sara Weeda
Picture: Daria Endresen

Finvarra – Lanterne (2020) review

cover Finvarra-Lanterne

Always quit while you’re ahead! Well, the Dutch folk band Finvarra took this old saying literally, announcing that the band would stop playing together in the very same message in which they talked about the release of their latest mini-CD. That is one way to get my attention. In the words of the band:
“- We are and will remain good friends but in the last two years we all went our own (musical) ways and we are happy with that. We had a very nice time with the band and are proud of all we have achieved, the great concerts we gave, all the nice people we’ve met and of the two CD’s we have released. We would like to thank the bookers who put their faith in us and made concerts possible on the most adventurous locations. And of course we thank the photographers who captured these concerts so we could share them with the world. Last but not least, we would very much like to thank YOU, our loyal fans, for your support, love, and for dancing to our off-count songs 😉. Here’s to friendship and music!!”
So Lanterne is not only Finvarra latest CD, no it is also the last album the band will make together. And yes just as you, I secretly – as secret as you can be writing it out right here- hope there will be a reunion somewhere in the future. Listening to the quality of music on the record, I am left craving for more. A lot more!

But let me introduce the band first. Finvarra are the Dutch musicians Dieke Elfring (vocals, bodhrán, percussion); Gwendolyn Snowdon (vocals, Indian harmonium, bouzouki); Patrick Broekema (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, low whistle, backing vocals); Corné van Woerdekom (violin, backing vocals, percussion) and Evert Willemstijn (double bass). Their origins go way back to 2010 when Dieke and Corne, both studying at Leiden University, met Patrick and Gwendolyn at folk sessions held every two weeks in Cafe the Tregter in Leiden at the time. (Sessions that owner Marius van der Ploeg kept organizing until 2017 when he finally retired after 25 years.) The four band members found each other in their love of Celtic folk, but from the very start were not afraid to incorporate new styles and instruments.
You could say the band was an instant hit in the folk scene, playing on the Folk Battle finals and at the Midwinter Fair both in 2011, only a year after their first official band picture was published. Followed by Summer Darkness in 2012 and 2013, the Gothic & Fantasy Fair in Rijswijk 2013 (now known as the Fantasy Fest) , Keltfest and Elfia, Arcen in 2014 and to top it all off their first Castlefest in 2015!

In 2013 Finvarra released their first album, simply called Finvarra, filled with eleven lovely European folk songs. European, because the band combined well known Celtic folk traditionals like The Well Below The Valley and The Cliffs Of Moher, with more Balkan influenced songs like The Wind That Shakes The Barley or Jovano Jovanke/Ciuleanda, and even their own interpretation of that famous Led Zeppelin song: The Battle Of Evermore.
In 2017 the band announced they would be back in the studio, and then it went rather quiet around Finvarra. A silence that was suddenly broken early this year with the message I quoted above, announcing both the birth of the new album and the end of Finvarra as a band.

Lanterne starts as a warm blanket. The first song Banks of The Edisto is a touching ballad, featuring not only Dieke’s warm, slightly jazzy vocals, but also Patrick’s pleasant guitar and Corné’s lovely violin solos. The original is by the American folk singer-songwriter Dayna Kurtz, recorded on her 2006 album Another Black Feather…For The Wings Of A Sinner. (An album well worth listening to if you love American folk music, with touches of jazz, Americana, and the occasional influences of raw 60’s protest songs, but I digress.) Dayna Kurtz recorded Banks Of The Edisto as a ‘small’ banjo and vocal ballad, Finvarra made it sound much richer, more orchestral and gave the song a real Celtic folk feel. Both, I have to say, are lovely versions.

With Finvarra’s Song, we keep that strong Celtic orchestral feel. Finvarra, together with Alain Labrie (also known for his flamenco band Labryénco), who recorded and produced the album, really managed to give Lanterne an overall wonderful and rich sound, very cleverly working with stereo effects and delicate touches of musical decorations at unexpected places to achieve that. Gwendolyn’s powerful welsh folk voice cuts right through all this richness, creating a wonderful contrast within the song that makes it even more powerful. Listening carefully I can’t help spotting the slightly Spanish sounding acoustic guitar chords, some Mediterranean flavours crawling in or the clear Eastern European violin solos spicing up this Celtic folk song. Something that clearly continues on the instrumental A Bruxa/Flatbush Waltz. The guitar and violin melodies lead my mind to a place somewhere between northern France and Andalusia. On a warm evening under a star-filled sky.

This is actually the main difference between this record and Finvarra’s first album. On the first CD, the different influences were clearly divided over single songs Some sounding Celtic, some French, and some clearly eastern orientated. On Finvarra’s latest record all those influences have gelled together into one single sound, making Lanterne sound much more coherent. Another difference is the lead role Dieke took as a singer. Besides Banks Of The Edisto she also sings the lead on the Spanish sounding True Unfaithful Love and the absolutely beautiful ballad Motherland, a true gemstone in my opinion. Easily one of my favourite songs on Lanterne. Dieke’s low, warm and jazzy voice works SO well with the European folk style Finvarra is now playing. listening to this I can’t help but hope that somewhere in the future Finvarra will come together one more time, either to play live for us all or even to record new music. The way the musicians fit together in these songs is pure magic.

The instrumental Whiskey & Ouzo tells it all actually. On Lanterne Finvarra successfully blends the Celtic world with the Mediterranean, giving true meaning to the term European folk.
I have nothing more to say really, this is a must-have album for all who love folk music. It is as simple as that. Still hesitating? Put on the title song Lanterne and let Gwendolyn win you over herself. Another wonderful song on a wonderful record of a wonderful band.
It is so sad to see them go, but I am so happy they leave us while they are ahead. Best giving away present I have had in a loooooong time.

– Cliff

editor:
– Anna Schürmann
pictures:
Eline spek, early band picture (2010)
Duane Teske, official band photo (2013)
– Finvarra studio picture
– Finvarra

In Vino Veritas – Grimorium Magi (2019)



I came into the magical world of Castlefest, Elfia, MPS, and all the music that comes with it through medieval re-enactors. Even before I met my German girlfriend I already had a love for the Mittelalter metal of In Extremo and the medieval rock of Schandmaul, so it was a no-brainer that Anna took me to a Mittelalter market as soon as she had the chance.
It was on those markets that I discovered the cheerful sound of bands like Wirrwahr and Dopo Domani. Medieval street musicians playing jaunty songs on big drums, shepherd’s pipes, hurdy-gurdy, and violin, quite often with funny stories in between, entertaining the crowd and the re-enactors alike. Since then I have discovered that every re-enactment scene in every country has those bands. I’m thinking of bands like Datura in the Netherlands, Virelai in Denmark, or In Vino Veritas in Italy. And it is the latter band that this review focuses on. Their 2014 album Baccabundi is a pure celebration of medieval fun, filled with classics like Ai Vist A Lo Lop, Tourdion, Bache Bene Venies, and Saltarello, but also original material such as my personal favourite Dracodanza. So when I received my copy of Grimorium Magi, I was getting myself ready for another bit of fun medieval time travelling. Well, not this time, not quite.




Ai Vist A Lo Lop by In Vino Veritas from their third album Baccabundi

In Vino Veritas are a medieval pagan folk band from Carrara, Italy. The band formed in 2010 and since then they have recorded 3 albums and a DVD: the sold-out debut album Ludicantigas, the also sold out DVD Bestiarium, the 2014 record Baccabundi and the new CD Grimorium Mari. The band calls themselves a medieval pagan folk band and indeed, on those early albums you will find original compositions as well as medieval traditionals, focusing on pagan themes and the goliardic tradition *).
On their DVD and live show Bestiarium, In Vino Veritas push their concept one step further, stating themselves that: ‘Bestiarium is our new show about beasts and mythological animals, inspired by the medieval bestiaries and by the tradition of the itinerant masked bards, reminding of the traits of gargoyles sculptures.
While introducing the new album In Vino Veritas already warned their fans that it would be something different. ‘A new sound, both ancient and modern, psy folk, trance folk, pagan folk, world fusion, and much more!’
Well, you can’t say they didn’t warn you. 🙂

The first bars of Serpens Mundi are what we are used to: a cool violin riff, hurdy-gurdy, and ‘normal’, although modern-sounding, drums. But then comes a modern bass guitar and odd spacey keyboard effects, giving the song a totally different vibe. Still cheerful and fun, but modern, very modern. As I’m listening Serpens Mundi is drifting between medieval music and Eastern European / Arabian world music, with a very strong dance vibe.
Precatio Terrae continues in that style: a strong bass guitar riff, modern drums, mixed with a traditional melody reminiscent of the Renaissance played on the nyckelharpa, and Latin lyrics. You could call it Renaissance disco music and, although it sounds so wrong, it works. I never knew it, but the energy of medieval dance music and that of modern Italo disco fits like a glove. The Alain Stivell-like harp solo halfway through the song is just the icing on the cake.

This band mix the two worlds together so very cleverly. In Danza Del Troll for instance: a lovely nyckelharpa and flute melody, again totally Renaissance in feel, where the sound of the keys of the nyckelharpa become part of the rhythm section under it. So clever. A trick the group uses again in Benandanti. In Vino Veritas does with medieval music what The Sidh did with Celtic folk, or Instinkt did with Scandinavian folk, fusing it in a very clever way with modern dance music. It might be a shock to the system for the purists, but let them headline at any pagan folk or medieval festival and you’ve got a huge party on your hands.

I am not gonna pick up every song on this album, that is up to you, but I can guarantee that you won’t sit still listening to songs like Taranis (medieval folk meets 70’s disco), or Mabinogi (Swedish folk meets Italo disco), the slightly jazzy Mezunemusus (hello Shakatak jazz saxophone), or my favourite on this CD Gargoyle (medieval folk meets dance classics).



With Grimorium Magi, In Vino Veritas did exactly what they promised they would: create a musical adventure ride, a unique balance between old and modern dance music. The songs are catchy and fun, inviting you to dance and sing. Renaissance Italo disco made to party. And as I party on I invite you all to do the same thing. Get this album, open up your windows and doors and let this music fill the warm summer air. If we can’t have a festival season this year, why not create our very own all together? Let this record be the soundtrack under it.

– Cliff

Editor: Iris de Wolf



*) according to the Encyclopædia Britannica Goliards were: “wandering students and clerics in medieval England, France, and Germany, remembered for their satirical verses and poems in praise of drinking and debauchery. The goliards described themselves as followers of the legendary Bishop Golias: renegade clerics of no fixed abode who had more interest in rioting and gambling than in the life of a responsible citizen.






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