One of the coolest things for us at CeltCast is that we have seen several new bands grow from small beginnings to big shows at
A good example is the band
who we saw opening as a singer-songwriter act for
and is now a 5-piece band opening this year’s Castlefest with only
above them on the bill. Another one is
an Italian band we had not previously heard of and whose CD Alex Sealgaire obtained and passed on to Castlefest. They became one of the most poular acts in no time.
The last example has to be
whom I saw playing long ago at a
gothic and fantasy fair.
They went on to debut at Castlefest together with
and have become a crowd favourite among the Castlefest audience in the last few years.
We at CeltCast think we found another band that could make that journey. A band that has been growing steadily since their debut album in 2012. A band that makes good energetic Celtic folk, has heaps of talent, know exactly where they wanna go and are charming nice people to top it all off. That promising band is
and they just released their newest album Daylight Is Fading.
UNIQUE SELLING POINTS
Every good band needs a unique selling point. Something that makes them stand out from the crowd.
Ye Banished Privateers
have that ‘it’ with their stageshow and their theatre style, Sunfire have ‘it’ with their western folk sound, The Sidh have their unique mix between dance and folk,
have ‘it’ with their unique verson of acoustic metal. And now Pyrolysis has ‘IT’ too. They found an unique sound and style that makes the difference between a nice album and a -what-the-f[censored]-just-happened!- CD. Well done you lot, well done!!!! For me the surprise of the year.
Pyrolysis started out in 2012 as a folk metal band, but several years, a different line-up and three albums later the sound had developed into acoustic Celtic folk. In 2017 it earned them a nomination for the title best album at the
Dutch Bastaard Awards
for their third release called Edges Of The Day.
But Stan Eimers (vocals, bodhrán, mandolin), Tim Elfring (vocals, bouzouki), Laurens Krah, (accordion), Rikke Linssen (vocals, violin, tin whistle) and new band member Joshua Kuijpers (bass guitar) were not satisfied yet, as Rikke told me. So they took their instruments, their songs, loaded it all up and sailed west to the
for some Fieke fairy dust.
-‘ We wanted a more powerful sound.’ Rikke explains. -‘So we ended up asking Fieke van den Hurk. After listening to several of the albums she had recorded we felt she was the right person to give us the sound we were looking for.’-‘ It’s really something to see her work.’ Laurens adds. -‘ Fieke really builds up a sound, layer upon layer. I have never experienced anything like that.’
The result of this collaboration has been turning its rounds in my CD player ever since it arrived, and will probably do so for many more weeks to come. But before I go into Daylight Is Fading, let’s go back to that nominated album Edges Of The Day.
BACK TO 2017: EDGES OF THE DAY
Released in 2017 Edges Of The Day is a solid Celtic folk CD. One we never reviewed at
CeltCast, but as we think it’s a album well worth listening to we make up for it now.
In general Pyrolysis makes lovely uptempo folk on Edges Of The Day, let’s say a cool mix between the bands musical influences
(a band I had personnally never heard of until Laurens pointed them out, but a cool band) with good lyrics that have meaning, good vocals and a big role for Laurens on accordion and Rikke on violin. Throwing out melody after melody to warm your hearts and move your feet.
One of the really strong points of the band is their vocals. It’s not often that a band has the luxury of three talented singers. Stan is the rock voice of the band. He has the strong lungs and that nice bit of sandpaper that you need for uptempo folk songs like Drenchman and Ladies Of The Lochs, but he also has the sensitivity to shine in a ballad like Thank The Devil.Tim’s voice is a bit higher and slightly sharper, a voice that shines as a sensitive singer-songwriter, loaded with emotion. Listen to Funniest Story and you’ll hear exactly what I mean. But he can also uses that strenght in more powerful songs like Novio Magus or the theatrical Captain Cray.
Rikke is the third lead vocalist in the band. Just as Tim she has a more fragile voice that works wonders for putting emotions across, on I Am Crow she sounds a wee bit like
and when she goes into the high notes with her soprano, it really gets an unearthly quality. I’ve really fallen in love with that song during the writing of this review. This song suits her vocal capability so well and it gives the band some extra musical possibilities.
So the variety in vocals is one strong point of the band. The other is their musicality. They are all talented musicians. The band knows how to write a good song and they have two gifted soloists which I feature and praise a lot during this review. But, as with everything, you need a good foundation before the soloists can shine. Well Stan and Tim (who played bass on the Edges Of The Day) lay a more than solid foundation. The cool thing is that, unlike most folk rock or folk punk bands, who come from a rock background and then add some folk elements to their sound, Pyrolysis take traditional folk, play it with traditional folk instruments and than add punk rock power to it. Giving them a unique rhythm and a totally different ‘drum’ sound. As I said earlier, a unique selling point!
In retrospect – after listening to Daylight Is Fading two weeks in a row- it is clear that some songs could have benefitted from a bit more power in the sound, a bit more ‘oomph’ so to say.. ….Enter Fieke van den Hurk (and enter Sander van der Heide who mastered the new CD.)
THE NEW ALBUM
So this is the point where I normally go deep into the music of the new CD with comparisons, examples etc. etc. etc., but not his time, at the band’s request. Rikke explains: -‘ We would love it if the listeners were able to form their own opinion free from the influences of a review.’
Of course I will honour that request. And in a way it’s even cooler. You listeners will all get the same surprise I had when I listened to Daylight Is Fading the first time. So instead of an in-depth review here are some of my highlights of Daylight Is Fading, in no particular order.
First off is The Pilgrim, a lovely ballad, full of emotion, something that, as I said earlier, plays to Stan’s strengths. He has that ‘sandpaper ‘voice that works so well when he wants to bring strong emotions across and there are some pretty strong emotions packed in those few lines of lyrics.I should also mention Rikke’s violin playing here, Not only does she complement Stan’s voice and Laurens’ accordion, but she also plays a lovely duet with a famous guest musician, [spoiler alert] of the well known band [spoiler alert]. A very special guest musician indeed. That collaboration promises something for future Castlefest performances.
Captain Cray is my next favourite, if only for the intro. If the end of that intro doesn’t wake you, I don’t know what will. But there is more to Captain Cray, much more. Tim, shines here as lead vocalist. He has to use all his theatrical singing skills to pull this one of. True Pyrolysis fans will of course recognise this song as a re-recording from the Edges Of The Day album. The basic arrangements of the song stayed the same, it’s just differently recorded this time, adding all the theatrics it deserved from the moment the band wrote it. Captain Cray, in this version, is definitely a favourite among my favourites.
Donald McCillavry, a cover from Silly Wizard, is a folk song with a good splash of dark whiskey over it. It’s built around an accordion riff that is catchy as hell. If this isn’t an instant crowd-pleaser I’ll eat up my kilt. Good vocals too, both the lead melody and the choir doing the chorus. This could be a potential single. Maybe it will be, who knows, but not the first one, that I know for sure.
Why? Well the band has told me what the first single will be and I’m sooo happy they chose this particular one. I do not want to spoil it, but trust me, it’s a good choice. Strong lyrics, really poetic but packed in a catchy melody line, good vocals from Tim again, strong choir in the end, but it’s the Irish reel they worked into it that makes the song for me. During the whole album Laurens throws out one highly addictive accordion melody after another, but this is the coolest of them all! It’s my old time favourite reel and Pyrolysis have it in their first single. I’m soooo glad my Discman has a repeat function.
There is yet another potential single on this album, The Pace! It is another powerful, up tempo, catchy folk song with good vocals from Stan and Laurens excelling on accordion again (yes I know it almost gets boring, but he just rocks that accordion as if he was Fieke’s kid brother). But also listen to that rhythm session in the beginning! I promise you another huge party when Pyrolysis play this intro live, the roof will come off, I’m sure of it. That intro, the violin solos, the vocals, the lyrics, the break in between, really everything fits within this song. Just take a minute to really listen to the lyrics and you’ll hear a deeper layer woven into this catchy song. I just love this. My absolute favourite amongst the favourites. Best song on the CD I think.
And there is still more to come. There is Cooley’s Reel. Again a catchy powerful folk song. Instrumental this time with Laurens playing his accordion as if it was on fire. Who needs an electric guitar solo if you have Laurens on accordion. But the best bit is the quirky a cappella choir the band throws out at 2/3th of the sing. Brilliant stuff. Well done!
Witch Hunt has a cool dynamic intro sliding effortlessly into this, mostly, instrumental song. The combination of the bands writing skills and Fieke’s sound engineering skills works wonders here. There isn’t much singing in Witch Hunt but when they do Pyrolysis feature their vocalists once more. A strong choir! And I also love those harmonies and the Celtic percussion under it.
The last song I want to pick up on is Rainy Road. Still without giving anything away, Rainy Road really brings out the best in Rikke’s vocals. The combination of her voice and Tim’s bouzouki alone is enough to get goose bumps, but when the song builds up strong towards the end, it is really a stunner of a ballad. A worthy end to this very good album.
Pyrolysis can be really proud of Daylight is Fading. If you hear the huge steps the band is taking, from In Mountains High I Stand to Edges Of The Day, and again from that album to the present one, Daylight Is Fading, it is really impressive. If they keep growing like this I’m sure that, in a few years time Pyrolysis will be at the top of the Dutch folk scene.
In the meantime,
Ye Banished Privateers, I give you your supporting act for this coming season. And you better bring your A game, ’cause if this CD is anything to go by, Pyrolysis are gonna tear the stage down!!
– Editor: Diane Deroubaix
– Sleeve art picture:Kev L. Smith
– Sleeve art design: Rikke Linssen
– Pictures: Marielle Groot Obbink
The year is 1973, Woodstock, the festival that gave a voice and its name to a whole generation, is already 4 years gone. Three of its most famous children,
Jim Morrison,Janis Joplin and
already passed away, the darker side of a free lifestyle.
The biggest story in the news is that a peace treaty finally ends the Vietnam war, giving the 60’s peace protesters their big victory. In the wake of the 60’s protests, a local protest against underground atom bomb trails in Amchitka, Alaska is turning into a nature protection group called
In the Middle East the conflict between Egypt, Syria and Israel escalates into the Yom Kippur war. The Egyptian-Syrian coalition is supported by some North African countries, Israel by the West. As a result the main oil-producing countries call out an oil embargo against the US, The Netherlands, Canada, the UK and Japan. Which means oil shortages. In Holland cars are not allowed to drive on Sundays. Can you imagine? 1973, just another year in a crazy world that is changing fast.
In the folk world things are also changing. In America the revival of folk music, that started as acoustic protest songs from artists like
Woody Gutrie,Simon and Garfunkel,
Joan Baez and her protégé
is starting to grow into folk rock, with
The Grateful Dead,
and of course
being a few of the great names in that scene.
In England bands like
are doing the same thing and are laying the foundations for what will become the Celtic rock.
is modernising and popularising traditional folk music from Brittany, an influence that can still be felt to this day. (Think of
big 90’s hit La Tribu de dana of the 90’s or more recently the lovely pop folk CD Bretagne by famous French singer
Right amongst all these changes, two things happen that will be significant for the future. One a bit more significant than the other. First of all a little babyboy called Alexander Sealgaire is born May 1973. A small footnote for mankind, a huge step for CeltCast, because he is one of the two founding fathers of this station. Secondly a young Irish band releases their first album, challenging the general opinion that music should be in English, rather than a local language, and that folk music should be traditional. That band of course is
and their music will, in the 80’s, spark a whole new genre, Celtic new age music. A legacy that still lives on to this day.
– One small thing I want to add before I write on. Although Clannad is an Irish band, quite often their names have been translated into English for ease of reading and pronunciation. I considered doing that too. But I decided against it. In the early years Clannad clearly made the choice to sing in Irish, even against the wishes of a record label. That is what set them apart from other bands at the time. So I wanted to honour that spirit. A second reason is that on all the albums I’ve listened to the names of the band members are written in Irish. So again, although I know it’s a bit harder to read, I found I should honour the choices the band made at the time and use the Irish names.- HOW IT ALL BEGAN
So how did it all start? In 1970 three siblings – Máire Ni Bhraonáin, (Moya Brennan – vocals, harp), Ciarán Ó Braonáin (Ciarán Brennan – double bass, guitar, mandolin, piano, bodhrán, glockenspiel, vocals) and Pól Ó Braonáin ( Pol Brennan – Flute, whistle, bongos, guitar vocals) together with their twin uncles Noel Ó Dúgáin (Noel Duggan – guitar, vocals) and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Padraig Duggan – mandolin, mandola, guitar, vocals) started playing music together. Music ran through the family, as father Leo Ó Braonáin was a member of the Slieve Foy band, – an Irish show band -, and mother Máire Ni Bhroanáin (born Ni Dúgáin) was a music teacher.
It will come as no surprise that all the kids were brought up with music, encouraged by their parents to play instruments and sing. Máire as well as her younger sister Eithne, better known as
– were both classically trained singers.
In 1968 father Leo bought a local pub in the village of Meenaleck in the county of Donegal in Ireland. As Leo saw, during the tours with the Slieve Foy band, how the dance halls around the country were closing at the time, he decided his tavern should be a podium for bands. A business plan that would never work according to the local businessmen, bankers, solicitors and others who thought they knew better.
wouldn’t last more than 6 months!. Well it still exists and is run by the second generation of Ó Braonáin!
It was in that tavern that the family band came together. As Clann as Dobhair (family from Dore, a name that was shortened to Clannad in 1973.) they played their first gigs, mostly covering songs like those of
Joni Mitchell and
the Beach Boys.
When they entered a local music competition in 1970, the Letterkenny Folk Festival, they played a selection of traditional Gaelic songs, arranged by them for a full band.
They won the contest and got their prize, a record deal with Philips. And so it was that in 1973 the first Clannad album, simply called Clannad was released by Philips Ireland. An LP filled with 8 traditionals re-arranged by the band, 4 covers and Lisa the only song on the album that the band wrote themselves.
Clannad wasn’t an instant success. The label had doubts that a band singing in Irish would sell, so they didn’t renew the contract. Even in Ireland itself there were sceptics who laughed at the idea that a Gaelic speaking band would be succesful. But, as their father/uncle Leo before them, Clannad believed in what they did and stuck to their guns, so the next two albums, Clannad 2 and Dúlamán
were again in Gealic. This time released by the small Irish
Gael linn label. A label connected to the
Gael Linn organisation, non-profit organisation, founded in 1953 to foster the Irish language and promote artistic events.
Intensive touring over Europe in 1976 and later America in 1979 meant that they slowly gained popularity, but it wasn’t until 1982 when they signed with big label RCA and accepted the invitation to write a song for Harry’s Game, a television drama, that they got their big breakthrough, while still making the music they believed in.
THE DEBUT ALBUM: CLANNAD (1973)
Back to 1973 and the debut album Clannad. There is so much to say about this debut. As with most young bands Clannad didn’t have a fully developed sound yet. Instead the album is filled with songs reflecting the influences and ideas, that would melt together into the band’s signature sound on their second album, Clannad 2. The first album is still a collection of styles, Irish folk, pop folk, a touch of medieval music, a sniff of the Beach Boys and even jazz folk! Jazz folk you say? Yep! It’s a new one for me too, but I really love it.
The opening track on Clannad, Níl Sé Ina Lá, is such a jazz folk song, and straight away my absolute favourite. The very first thing you will notice are the vocals. Máire has a warm, crystal clear voice that immediately stands out. You can clearly hear the years of classical training (Máire was destined to be a musical teacher, just as her mom). But she is not the only gifted singer in this band. The whole family is, so after Máire’s first opening lines, the whole band joins in for a short a cappella intro before the percussion picks up the rhythm and we are drawn into a lovely Joan-Baez-meets-Irish-folk-type of mid tempo song. Or so you think. As I’ve written earlier, Clannad does Irish folk their own way. To be honest, Níl Se Ina Lá is not a folk song at all. It’s a jazzy late 60’s pop song with an Irish folk feel to it. First there is the choir in the chorus that reminds me of the Belgian band
the Wallace Collection
and their big hit: Daydream. Then there are the solos, those are also not the typical cheerful folk melody lines running up and down the musical ladder. No, they are laid back, almost improvised jazz solos of flute, guitar and even double bass. The moment the band drops down to only a double bass and percussion is pure jazz. The whole song can be described as, ahm, lets say
(a late 60/early seventies psychedelic jazz rock band.) meets Joan Baez meets the Wallace Collection to do some groovy folk tunes.
Luckily there are more of these jazz folk songs on this album, cause I really like them. Siúbhán Ní Dhuibhir. is one. A jazzy melody line played by Máire on harp. Again we hear a lovely laid back flute solo, in this case reminding me of
the Moody Blues.
The jazzy harp sound returns on An tOileán Úr. This song really takes me to that late 60’s psychedelic jazz sound, especially with that Wallace Collection type choir running all along the song.
Besides these jazzy psychedelics there are many more surprises on Clannad. There is Brian Boru’s March for instance. Brian Boru was a High King of Ireland, who on the 23th of april 1014 defeated the Viking king Sigtrygg, who ruled over Dublin at the time. Brian won the battle, although he himself got killed. The battle made the Vikings relinquish their claims on Ireland, and had turn their focus more on Scotland and England. Legend has it that this tune was first played as Brian’s men carried his body to its final resting place.
The song starts with some rather dark percussion and double bass sounds. A sound similar to Hinter Der Brombeerhecke from
Even after the intro this dark slightly jazzy traditional keeps showing similarities with Waldkauz. Come to think of it, this song would nowadays surely be called instrumental pagan folk. A tantalising mix between (psychedelic) jazz folk, a waltz, medieval influences and, because of the way the mandolin is played, Greek folk music.
There is one more song on Clannad with this medieval/baroque chamber music feel to it, the instrumental Mrs. McDermott, people who like
music might want to check this song out.
Clannad-the album- is not only filled with late 60’s folk crossover experiments, it also contains some beautiful contemporary ballads, honouring the bands Irish roots, and featuring the beautiful voice of Máire. An Mhaighdean Mhara for example is a lovely ballad sung by Máire, only accompanied by acoustic guitar.
The Pretty Maid is the first English spoken song on Clannad, and is a duet between Máire and one of the lads with some gentle guitars as accompaniment. A lovely song. Actually all the ballads are tastefully done. Máire has, as I said, this beautifully trained, crystal clear voice. She constantly reminds me of the equally brilliant Joan Baez. Fun fact, just as with an old 60’s album I have of Joan Baez, you can hear that the microphones at the time were not capable of handling those powerful high notes that both of them could sing, making them sound even stronger.
My favourite ballad comes at the end of the LP and is called Morning Dew. It’s a lovely pop folk ballad, originally written by
But the Clannad version is equally beautiful. Early Clannad at their best.
Clannad performing An tOileán Úr, at the Embankment Tallaght, Dublin in 1978GENTLE POP FOLK BEAUTY: CLANNAD 2 (1974)
So,the initial idea was to make Clannad -the album- our first CeltCast Classic. But after listening to it a few times I just knew there was way more to come. Don’t get me wrong, Clannad is a charming album with some brilliant moments on it. But it is also clearly the album of a young band. In the end I just had to discover how this went on, so within a week I had bought Clannad 2 and Dúlamán, the third album Clannad brought out, both by Gael Linn records. Conveniently Gael Linn re-released both albums as a double pack CD in 2010 and this is what I chose as our first CeltCast Classic.
Both recordings are must have albums if you like 70’s Irish folk music. Both albums I would describe as pop folk. The songs follow the normal ‘rules’ of pop music arrangements, guitar, bass, drums, vocals (most of the times) and a nice solo at two third of the song. The folk part is in the instruments they play. Bodhrán instead of drums, flute solos instead of electric guitar and double bass instead of electric bass. It’s also in the song choice, many Irish traditionals and of course in the Gaelic language that is used. Clannad 2 has more ballads on it and therefore has a more relaxed, evening feel. Dúlamán is in general a bit more up tempo. But let’s dive into them in more detail, starting with Clannad 2.
The opening song on Clannad 2, An Gabhar Bán is a feet stomping, hand clapping sing-along kind of balfolk favourite that will get you going every time you hear it. Especially Pól Ó Braonián’s flute melodies and solos will put an instant smile on your face. There is nothing like an Irish flute player to make you happy. It will work nowadays just as much as it did back in the day. It is instantly clear that this sound is much closer to traditional folk than the jazz folk that opened the first record. Not that it matters, An Gabhar Bán is just as strong an opener as Níl Se Ina Lá was on the first record! I have to say, Clannad are good at that, picking the right song to start with.
With second and third songs Eleanor Plunkett and Coinleach Ghlas An Fhómhair we get into the ballad part of this CD. Especially Coinleach Ghlass An Fhómhair is a lovely, lovely song. Folk pop at his best. (So good Clannad decided to record it one more time on their breakthrough album Magical Ring) Máire excels in this wonderful love ballad, but I also love the arrangements, the subtle guitars, giving this ballad a singer-songwriter quality. And then there is that wonderful 70’s stereo effect, the guitars come at you from both the left and the right, really drawing you into the song. I just love that old stereo sound, makes me wonder why it nowadays it is done so rarely. Such a shame. But I digress. I was sifting through my favourite songs on this CD and this is clearly one of them.
My next favourite is another ballad called, By Chance It Was. Everything I said about Coinleach Ghlass An Fhómhair is true of this song too. Máire is a pleasure to listen to, the flute solo is lovely and delicate. Fans of
flute player Remy Schreuder, or of
Koen van Egmond or, of course, the vocals of
need to listen to this song, you won’t regret it.
The sixth track, Rince Briotánach starts with a gentle slow guitar riff so I settle in for another lovely ballad. Not so! Just as I concluded for myself that Clannad chose to discard the jazz influences that were so predominant on the first album, the guitar picks up speed fast and the song turns into a cool, full speed, instrumental, jazz folk gavotte. Clannad learned this song from the Breton group
who most likely played it a lot more traditional. But this version is fine by me, I just love this unique jazz folk sound, for me personally the highlight of Clannad 2. Period!
Or is it ? Dhéanainn Súgradh makes me doubt that statement straight away. I actually can’t decide. Originally Dhéanainn Súgradh was a choral work song from Scotland sung by women when refining coarse cloth. Ironically the lead vocals of Clannads jazz folk version of this traditional are sung by a man! The harp intro is lovely, the chorus a definite earworm, but what makes the song for me is the last part. A sophisticated slightly distorted electric guitar crawls in followed by Pól on flute. Together they go into a cool, jazzy, late 60’s improvised solo, mixing the best of Jethro Tull and the Moody Blues in their own sound. Cool, just cool.
And these highlights just keep coming. If Dhéanainn Súgrad is an instant earworm, then Teidhir Abhaile Riú is even worse, this must have been a crowd favourite during concerts in those days. It makes me wish I could speak Gaelic, so I could truly sing along, not mumble half-heartedly as I do now because I know I will sound silly. Not only that, I would love to really understand the lyrics because it is a song where the parents of a young girl are pleading with her to come home again and marry an eligible piper. Now that is a conversation I’d like to hear.
A last ballad, Chuaigh Mé ‘Na Rosann closes this album in style. As I said, overall Clannad 2 is a relaxed CD full of wonderful ballads, with some nice uptempo moments in between from a band that luckily hadn’t compromised their musical ideas for quick succes. An album that will appeal both to fans of Irish folk and, at times, to those that like melodious pagan folk, played by bands like
THE SIGNATURE SOUND IS FORMING: DÚLAMÁN (1976)
Speaking of pagan folk, the title song of the third Clannad album Dúlamán was of course made famous in the pagan folk scene by
on their Live Religion EP.
Clannad’s version, the first track of their third album, features the band’s strong points right away, the ones I already mentioned several times before: the strong classically trained vocals, the lovely harmonies, the tender guitar chords and the mysterious flute solos. Add that up and you get a really lovely rendition of this classic Gaelic song. The a cappella start is particularly impressive. Where I can normally compliment Máire on her vocals, it’s this time a male voice that shines. All in all a lovely strong traditional start to this third LP.
Where Clannad’s second album is more ballad orientated, on this third album they pick up the pace much more. Sometimes unexpectedly even, with Two Sisters for instance. It’s a song I know well from Emian’s Le Due Sorelle. So when I saw the lyrics I was automatically expecting a ballad, just like Emian did on Khymeia. But no. Clannad wrap this song of greed and jealousy in the most cheerful, upbeat of folk tunes, in the way only the Irish can.
And then there it is! Finally! On track 4 of their 3rd abum, Éirigh Suas a stóirin. What you ask? The famous Clannad choir of course! I was waiting for it. For me as a music enthusiast and reviewer it’s really interesting to hear how a band grows and evolves. How a typical sound is developed by a band and how it fits in with the scene they are in. Well the big feature of Clannad’s big hits, Theme to Harry’s Game and Robin are the layered vocals with the big effects on them. Using the choir as a single instrument. It is so typical of the later Clannad sound that I was hoping to find traces of it in their earlier work. And there it is, in Éirgh Suas, A Stóirin, used as an intro into the song. A small hint of their future sound. My inner geek is satisfied!
Come to think of it, thát is the real power of Clannad’s music. Their ability to take the folk music they grew up with and add new elements to it, be it the psychedelic jazz sound of the 60”s, the harmonies as you hear them here, or the new keyboard and studio technology later on with their brakthrough albums Magical Ring or Legend. In that sense you could call Clannad a progressive folk band.
The song itself is a lovely pop folk ballad. Máires lovely voice, the gentle guitars, that mesmerising Clannad choir starting and ending it, what is there not to love about this song.
As I feel I’m starting to repeat myself, I’ll just pick up a few more highlights. The Galtee Hunt is a nice little balfolk tune featuring Pól Ó Braonáin on flute. He continues with another lovely flute melody in Éirigh Is Cuir Ort Do Chuid Éadaigh. In this song Clannad combine the old and the new. A lovely jazzy double bass solo we’ve come to know now, that famous layered Clannad new age choir that is new to their sound and Máire’s harp hopping cheerfully through it all.
Next up is my favourite Clannad song of all. Siúil A Rúin. A wonderful ballad that brings everything I have come to love about Clannad to the table. Máire’s beautiful voice, the gentle guitar notes of the lads, uptempo bits, the lovely tender breakdown to the chorus. This is pure folk heaven! So beautiful.
And then we get a lovely ‘Castlefest’ folk treat. Mo Mháire. It starts with Ciarán playing a cheerful little riff on his double bass, then Pól joins in with a slightly quirky but oh-so cheerful flute tune that I know so well from SeeD. You just have to smile when you hear it. And the happy jazzy groove just makes it even better. The a capella dTigeas A Damhsa and the cheerful Irish jig Cucanandy/The Jug Of Brown Ale end the original recording of Dúlamán.
On this re-release Gael linn have added a bonus track that comes from a split single the label released in 1975 in conjunction with the 1975 pan Celtic contest in Killarney. The B-side features the song
by the influential Irish folk singer
as an early warning on environmental issues, while the A-side features the winning entry by Clannad, An Bealach Seo ‘Ta Romham. It’s a nice uptempo song with that ever so slight medieval feel due to the mandolin in it. This bonus track not only finishes this lovely CD, it also finishes this introduction.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS BY JOE HENNON
After the release of Dúlamán in 1976 Clannad went on tour over Europe, part of which found their way on the 1979 album In Concert. In 1980 another family member, Eithne Pádraigin Ni Bhraonáin joined Clannad for a brief time, a family member we now know as
who left the band again just before they recorded their break-through album Magical Ring. But that is a story for another time.
Now for those famous last words that conclude any review or introduction. In this case they are not by me, but by a famous guest from the (pagan) folk scene. He is an acoustic guitar player that played with
Omnia and lately SeeD. He is, of course, Joe Hennon. Being Irish himself. I asked Joe if he was willing to write a few words on the influence Clannads early albums had on him and the folkscene in those days. Joe was quite willing to respond:
-‘When I was getting into music in the 1970s I was mostly listening to rock and metal, but then three Irish folk bands appeared which just blew me away and got me into folk music for the rest of my life. They were
The Bothy Band,
and Clannad. I loved the sense of history and heritage in their songs and their music was of a standard that was something completely new.
While Planxty and The Bothy Band mostly played songs in English as well as powerful instrumental sets, Clannad were different. Hearing songs in Irish (Gaelic) sung by native speakers was a revelation and so was their music. Clannad incorporated elements of jazz and progressive rock into traditional songs and their first two albums – I would say especially Clannad 2 which is regarded as their classic- made a huge impact on me and the folk scene in general. Their use of harp, flute, bass and harmony singing set them on the path to fame and inspired a whole new generation of Irish musicians, me included.
And Clannad’s legacy lives on. Joe Hennon took the inspiration he found in Clannad’s music with him into the music of Omnia, a band that in its turn inspired a new generation of pagan folk bands like Waldkauz, SeeD and Emian. And so the early music of that young Irish band, going against the stream, still rings on in the music we all love so much, making Clannad 2 and Dúlamán just as relevant now as they were when they were first released 45 years ago.
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
Shantalla – From The East Unto The West (2019) review
This winter my girlfriend knitted me a new sweater. Beforehand I feared it would be itchy and scratchy, but no, the minute I put it on it just felt comfy and warm, nothing pulled or tugged, it was as if I’d had this sweater for years and years. It just felt snug and safe. It instantly became my favourite comfy sweater.
Well that’s exactly how the new
album made me feel. Within the first 3 songs the music felt like that new sweater that Anna gave me. Nice, comfy and warm. And around The Cameronian Set, track 8 on the album, I wrote another small line in my notebook: ‘this music feels like coming home’.
It really does. It is this happy feeling that always goes with Irish folk, the variety of song choice, the quality of the music, the lovely ironic humour in the liner notes, everything fits on this album. So much so that after two listens I already wanted to start writing this introduction. So here it is.
Shantalla’s ‘From The East Unto The West’. But first, let’s do a proper introduction of the band.
Do I really need to introduce Shantalla? Ever since their first gig in 1997 and the release of their debut album Shantalla, way back in 1998, the Irishmen Kieran Fahy (fiddle, viola), Joe Hennon (guitar, vocals), Michael Horgan (uilleann pipes, flute, whistles) and Gerry Murray (accordion, whistles, bouzouki, piano) and Scottish Helen Flaherty (vocals, bodhrán, shakers) steadily made a name for themselves, growing out to be a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Irish folk scene, but also in the balfolk and the fantasy festival world. Their second album Seven Evenings, Seven Mornings followed in 2001, and again got a good reception in the folk world.
In 2005, the band took a temporary break, focussing on other projects. Among them
The Helen Flaherty Band,
In 2009 the band reformed, adding bouzouki and guitar player Simon Donnelly -yes also Irish- to the line-up. In this formation work began on their 3rd album Turas, which was released in 2011. Again the reactions were really positive.
After a period of touring it became somewhat quiet around Shantalla, until the good news came out earlier this year that the band was back in the studio. The fruits of their labour, the 4th CD From the East Unto The West is going to be released in the coming weeks. The presale is running as I write these words. From The East Unto The west is recorded by
over at Folk Studios and
at Elle Studios.
-Comment from Shantalla: “Now that you mentioned Pascale, she has been our live sound engineer for over 21 years, it would be nice to thank her for that!-
To finish of the credits, From The East Unto The West was mixed by Philip Masure and the artwork was done by
Now the big question is: “Was From The East Unto The West worth the wait?” The answer: a resounding “yes!”
THE ALBUM: FROM THE EAST UNTO THE WEST
The first song, Captain Ward, sets the mood. Within seconds you know what to expect from this album. Good quality, Irish folk, traditional, but with a Shantalla twist, and cheerful, oh-so-cheerful. It’s the accordion flute and rhythm guitar that get the folk party going.
After this typical folk intro Captain Ward eases into a mid-tempo ballad from the 17th century about a pirate captain capturing a ship sent by the king of England to catch him. Of course Captain Ward has to brag about it and he wrote a letter to the king of England stating that His Majesty might be the king on land, but he, Captain Ward, is the king at sea.
This traditional ballad flows easily into the second part of the song called Paddy Goes East written by Gerry Murray. And yes the sound of the lead melody, together with the slightly different rhythm, does make the second part of Captain Ward sound as if good old Paddy had taken his accordion and fiddle on a wee tour of Eastern Europe.
The mood then switches for the first time, in the intro of the second song. An accordion solo reminding me a bit of
Wouter en de Draak
and their more French approach to folk music. The tone even gets a bit dark, when the rhythm guitar and violin creep in, made even stronger by the sound of crows in the background. The stage is set for a dark slow song, so it should not have surprised me that Helen Flaherty starts to sing Twa Corbies, but I really didn’t recognise it from the intro.
The track notes accompanying this song are also really cool:
-“The Twa Corbies is a cynical Scottish parody of a 17th century English song
The Three Ravens.
In this dark version, the corbies (crows) say that the dead knight’s hawk and hound have forsaken him and are off chasing game, while his lover has already moved on to another knight. Since no-one knows or cares where his body lies, the corbies talk in detail about the meal they will make of him, plucking out his eyes and using his hair for their nest. That’s recycling folks!” What was that about the Scots being cynical!?
The third album track, Ynis Avalach will take some doing from the balfolk dancers, I’m sure of it! It starts with a tricot, named as such in Brittany because it knits an andro and a hanterdro together. Then the music turns into a slip jig called Dever The Dancer, before it ends in two classic reels called Toss The Feathers #1 and Toss The Feathers # 2. Good luck dancing to that guys!
The good news is that Ynis Avalach is a really nice medley of songs. The first part Ynis Avalach, is a song Shantalla know from
You can see them perform it on
together with Fiona in the video below.
the album version again has that slight French Wouter en de Draak feel to it before the flute adds a lovely Irish flavour. That French feel is mostly there because of Joe Hennon’s subtle guitar work. I’ve been a fan of the way he plays for years. Actually from the moment I heard the live version of the Sidhenearlahi Set on Omnia’s Pagan Folk album. Yes he is mostly a rhythm guitarist, but he puts all kinds of nice twists and turns in his playing. Squeezing in all kinds of variations on the theme he plays and I just love that.
But he’s not the only one shining in this song, so do all the instrumentalists. In the
Shantalla uploaded on their website to introduce From the East Unto The West, Joe mentions it himself, that thát is one of the strengths of the band, the many lead instruments they can use. And he has a point. let’s take this song for instance. So in keeping with folk tradition it starts with a nice guitar rhythm and then the violin slides in. I just love how Kieran Fahy constantly does that. So subtle. But anyway, with the flute joining in, you think that this is it. A flute/violin duet. But no. It’s flute with another flute doing the second ‘voice’ while the violin keeps sliding in and out for added flavour. Michael’s uilleann pipes follow in the flow with Simon’s guitar now picking up the melody as well, then the accordion joins in, making the sound even fuller and richer.
In the second part Dever The Dancer, the violin takes centre stage, joined by the flute for a lovely cheerful slip jig, but again a low whistle, guitar and accordion step in and create a strong rich sound. The uilleann pipes lead us into the last part of Ynis Avalach, followed by some lovely bodhrán /guitar rhythms, before the whole band joins in to finish it all. I love instrumental folk if it is done like this. Such a rich and strong sound, so much variety. This just has to put a smile on everyone’s face.
here is Shantalla performing Ynis Avalanch together with Fiona at Castlefest 2014
On to the next song! Lead vocalist Helen Flaherty’s voice fits perfectly in Shantalla’s sound. She has a warm, strong voice full with emotion that she uses to her full advantage in the first ballad of the album, A Band Of Gold. A lovey story about a romance that was not to be….
I have to say, Helen shines on this. She is such a beautiful singer. Powerful, in full control of her voice, she sings this ballad with so much emotion, you can feel every ounce of despair, regret and loneliness in it. Pure beauty.
Shantalla are masters in contrast. After the intense loneliness of A Band Of Gold they could not have produced a greater contrast than by putting Magic Happens after it. The tin whistle intro cuts right through the intensity left by A Band Of Gold. Lovely, just lovely. The first part is a jig, again written by Gerry Murray. This jig is in the good old folk tradition, using just guitar and tin whistle, (ok, doubled tin whistle to make the sound richer.) The fiddle and accordion then take over and play us a composition of
The Three Wishes. As the set finishes with
Charlie Lennon’sMorning Sunday, with the uilleann pipes and accordion taking the lead, my notebook says; ‘an upbeat version of
. And I’m almost surprised the band kept the instrumentation so ‘simple’, but that is one of the strengths of this band, knowing what to add or not add, and when to do that.
ADDING ANOTHER MUSICAL STYLE
From this instrumental balfolk song we move on to The War Of The Crofters and a totally different musical genre. This song is originally written by the Scottish singer-songwriter
It is because of that diversity in not only songs, but also genres that I really enjoy From The East Unto The West. The album combines old traditionals, instrumental balfolk tunes and some singer-songwriter pieces. All three types of songs have their own style and feel. And it is the combination of those styles, tied together by Shantalla’s craftmanship that make From The East Unto The West such a joy to listen to.
I also have to mention Helen again. On this song you clearly hear her Scottish tongue. Now if a Scottish person talks, I always feel they are already singing. It is in the way they pronounce the words. There is just so much melody in the Scottish accent. To hear that melody back while singing, it is just a joy for the ears.
next up is Farewell To Charlemagne, the second song that has you stop in your tracks. It is a touching low whistle solo composed and played by Michael Horgan.. A touching, personal song about…. no, I shall not tell thee, in this case you have to look yourself into the track notes so the band themselves can tell you what it is about.
Track eight, The Cameronian Highlander is a well-known barn dance as specified in the track notes and it is indeed a mid-tempo dance tune played on accordion and flute. With a wee bit of imagination you can hear the clogs stamp on the wooden barn floor. But then the tempo speeds up considerably and the barn dance whirls into three reels, The Killavil Reel, The Bag of Spuds and The Carracastle Lass. All lovely uptempo folk tunes to cheer your heart and lift your feet. Irish folk music isn’t the most complicated style in the world, but played by gifted musicians, the instruments themselves start dancing, as if the notes themselves swirled around each other in variation after variation. Luckily Shantalla has such gifted musicians. So The Cameronian Highlander, again, is a joy to listen too.
THANK HEAVENS THEY INVENTED THE REPEAT BUTTONJamie Raeburn then shows the other side of folk music. Quite often they tell touching stories full of longing for a love once lost, grieving about a home now lost or telling about the hardship of life. Jamie Raeburn and the next song, Midlothian Mining Song, are no exception. And, as I already said Helen has the perfect voice to tell you those stories. You feel them when she sings. The delicate touch of Simon’s guitar compliments her voice perfectly. Just listen to this beautiful combination in Jamie Raeburn. The icing on the cake then comes from the touches of fiddle and viola and the subtle low whistle solo in Jamie Raeburn, or the lovely accordion, viola and flute melodies on Midlothian Mining Song.
Talking about lovely rhythm guitar, the first part of the last song on this album, Breaking Wind, has plenty of those. But it’s the touches of fiddle that make this song into something truly stunning. Almost classical in style, the fiddle sound gently slides into the music. It’s our last goosebump moment before Shantalla goes full out in this balfolk grand finale. A worthy end to this must have album, that finishes way too fast. Thank heavens they invented the repeat button. You’ll need it, you’ll need it a lot!
Editor: The ever so lovely Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve design: Robin Dekker
Studio Pictures: Shantalla
Live pictures: Kees Stravers
Wouter en de Draak – Wouter en de Draak (2018) review
it is kind of costumary that we start a review with an nice intro. Something funny or of interest. I could, for example, ponder a bit over why the band is called
Wouter en de Draak
(dragon). Is it a nice play on words on the story of George and the dragon? (In Dutch the story is actually called Joris en de draak, and the bandmembers are called Wouter and -indeed- Joris ). Or did Joris do something odd to get this nickname? A million ideas come up.
I could also mention some of the song titles. Now I know that folk people have this tradition to give their instrumental songs odd names, but Dieseldrone, Tosti, or Vliegende Graafmachine (Flying excavator)?? Those surely are amongst the strangest I’ve seen in a long time.
Another option is to make a more serious remark, for instance how fitting it is that I write this review right after
Hush The Wolves.Hush The Wolf being the CD you would play at the height of a party, when everyone is swirling and dancing, and how Wouter en de Draak -the album- is the perfect follow-up. The music that you would play when the night is coming to its end, but nobody wants to leave. The moment you pop open the first bottle of wine, as a friend starts some deep conversation that you know will take you deep into the morning. I could write about all that. But forget about it! This time I’m skipping the intro! There is so much I want to tell about this album, that I’m just gonna leave the whole intro thing be and get right to the music.
Wouter en de Draak are Wouter Kuyper (diatonic accordion, recorder, on the right) and his dragon companion Joris Alblas (acoustic guitar, left side). They invited Isaac Muller (Irish flute, second from right), Frank van Vliet (Flugelhorn, trumpet) and Roeland Uijtdewilligen (percussion, second from left) to join them as guest soloists on some songs. Together they made quite an interesting instrumental balfolk CD, that includes 3 waltzes, 2 Scottish , a hanter dro (a dance from Bretagne), a cercle, 2 mazurkas, a jig, a bourree and a gavotte. In their bio Wouter and Joris describe their music as: [quote] ‘Balfolk with a bigger roll for the guitar, a touch of Irish folk and a big love for the music from Bretagne.’ Well I can safely say this is true. As I was watching them play on this years
I was instantly transported to France, even as hailstorms that were constantly coming over and dropping their loads. The rain and the cold didn’t stop the Balfolkers to dance upon W.e.d.D.’s tunes. That in itself says enough. On CD the music gets an extra dimension, a deeper layer, you can hear the care and the intensity they put into the recording. It are not ‘just’ balfolk tunes they play, no it are instrumental chansons. That is what makes Wouter en de Draak -the album- so good. But i’m getting way ahead of myself again.
As I was listening to the first notes of Vliegende Graafmachine, it just happened, that I was sitting in the metro with the morning sun on my face and a clear blue sky above me. Now I don’t know if it was the warmth of the sun or the melancholic sound of Wouter’s accordion, but the music took me right back to a summer camp about 30 years ago, when we were backpacking in an area just south of Paris. Back to a night we slept under the open sky, just as clear as today, somewhere alongside the Seine. Some of us were brave enough to sleep on the grass, some of us under a bridge -just in case it would rain- but all of us too lazy to pitch our tents.
I don’t know if it’s the lovely acoustic guitar intro, the slightly melancholic sound of the accordion or the laidback feel of the song, but I can’t help drifting off to that wonderful time we had in La France. But in any case, Vliegende Graafmachine (flying excavator !?) is a lovely introduction to Wouter en de Draak’s first album.
Hanterko (a hanter dro from Bretagne) has a French feel to it as well, this time with clear Celtic influences. Especially when Irish flute player and guest musician Isaac Muller shares the lead melody with Wouter Kuyper. But it’s not a clearcut whizzing and swirling Irish folk song. Again the musicians take a more laidback approach. Wouter en de Draak build their songs up slowly, taking their time to let the melody flow. They really understand the power of a small pause, a moment of silence within the music. All of this makes Hanterko a beautiful ballad.
The next song, the cheerful slightly jumpy Scottish Werkelijk Waar?! (Really?!) keeps me in a reminiscent mood and takes me back to another childhood memory. When I was a kid, a barrel organ pulled by horse, would come through our street on its way to the market. I would always rush to the window to listen to it. The way Wouter plays his accordion at the start of Werkelijk Waar ?! takes me back to the sound of that barrel organ, and when the percussion starts to sound like horse hooves the memory is complete. The cool flute solo from Wouter suddenly gives my memories a weird twist. As if Peter Pan himself is flying through my memories. At a certain point Werkelijk Waar !? becomes a wee bit jazzy and that’s the point where I really drift off towards a good place. Werkelijk waar!
I keep being in this chill state of mind during Davy’s Waltz.Yes it’s a waltz, but more than that it is a beautiful piece of calm acoustic guitar music accompanied by accordion. A singer-songwriter type song but without a singer. The music of Wouter en de Draak doesn’t need a voice anyway. The part of the voice is shared by all the instruments. Sometimes it’s the delicate touch of the guitar, sometimes it’s a beautiful solo from the accordion and sometimes it’s one of the guest soloist that tell the tale. It’s this variety that makes this album such a pleasure to listen to. The diversity, not only in instruments, but also in dances, in tempo, in the way the music is arranged. From small and subtle to grand and powerful. Those contrasts are what makes this CD so interesting to listen to.
The fifth song, New Horizon, New Adventures is a Cercle that gives us that positive, cheerful French/Irish connection again. It’s the interplay between the accordion and the Irish flute that catches my ear in the beginning, but the best part of the song starts halfway through when, one after another, all the soloists get their moment to shine. A lovely song that keeps growing on you the more you hear it.
The mazurka Zon Op De Glijbaan (Sun on the slide) is a gentle accordion piece accompanied by guitar. Lovely and calm. Again it’s Isaac’s flute that becomes the icing on the cake. It’s almost a shame that Zon Op De Glijbaan is the last song he is a guest on.
But not to worry, on Ballon/Tosti (yes you did read balloon/ tosti) we get introduced to a new guest soloist, Frank van Vliet on trumpet. The song starts with a fast guitar chord that takes me straight to Spain. But when Wouter joins in on is accordion I am drifting even further away, over the big ocean towards Argentina and its famous tango music. Tango music is all about passion and drama off course, something you won’t find in that way in this scottish. But a tango is also about love and melancholy, it is a story put to music, and in Ballon/Tosti Wouter En De Draak do the same. It’s the combination of classical guitar, played in that typical Spanish style, and the accordion often used in Argentine tangos that does it for me, in my mind Ballon/tosti becomes a Scottish with the sound and the feel of a tango. When Frank finally joins in with his delicate trumpetsolo, I am truly convinced this song was recorded during a Argentine summer fiesta.
Now that I have this tango comparison in my head it’s really hard to get it out again. He’pter is a ballad and a waltz, so realistically as far away from a Argentine tango as possible , yet that melancholic accordion sound and the Spanish sounding acoustic guitar are so characteristic that my mind keeps coming back to the same conclusion.
Witte Tony/Witte Danny is cheerful song. A nice jig that just flows into the ears. Nothing more, nothing less.There is a bit more to tell about Dieseldrone/Menage A Trois. It starts Spanish again, with a nice guitar solo from Joris, accompanied by Wouter on his accordion. Roeland Uijtdewilligen’s percussion gives the music that latin feel, and when Frank van Vliet joins in with his trumpet we are ready for a lovely Latin American musical mix. Fast Spanish guitar lines, some delicate Mexican trumpet and the French accordion. This is Folk music, but from a totally different part of the world then we normally hear on CeltCast. The cool thing is that the guest musicians are not just there to add some musical flavour. No, they are allowed to share the spotlight, to help enrich the wonderful music Wouter and Joris have written. I also really admire the way the album builds up, and by that I mean the order that the songs are put in. Most of the times bands put their fastest, best songs in the beginning, slowing down towards the end. Not Wouter en de Draak. They do it the other way around. They start delicate and now, almost at the end of the CD, with Dieseldrone/Menage A Trois you hear their most energetic, powerful song. Not a bad choice, not bad at all.
With Monsieur 7 we go full circle. This delicate accordion solo takes me back to France again. Back to Paris. And back to my imagination. In the late evening sun an old Frenchman is sitting on une terrasse, in front of an old cafe in a quartier close to the famous Montmartre. The cafe sits in one of those small alleys you only find if you go wander around way off the beaten path. Our Frenchman, let’s call him Pierre, is playing his accordion. The knobs shining golden in the fading sun. We stop and have a listen. You can hear his life through the tender beautiful sound of his accordion. It was a good life, full of joy and love. You can hear it. You can feel it as you listen. Your heart warms to the nostalgic sound of the music and the taste of a dark red wine you are offered. You know this is a perfect end to a lovely day. As it is a perfect ending to this lovely CD. With the last fading note the story is told.
The last song? I’m pretty sure the band will stare at that line with a bit of amazement, pointing out a small, but not insignificant detail to me: ‘You do realise that there are twelve (!) songs on this album Cliff, not eleven????’ Yes Wouter and Joris, I do. But with Monsieur 7 you two have recorded such a perfect end to this beautiful CD in my ears, that I have started considering Gavotte De Grenoble as a bonus track. Even if it isn’t really true. *) And very nice bonus track if I may add. Again it has this contradiction in it, as it is a slow song, a touching French chanson, danced as a gavotte. And still I have that tango feel again, that hidden passion, that melancholic story underneath. Something that just runs through this whole album.
With this last song I finally figured it out! Wouter En De Draak play Argentine ballads. And they are seriously good at it. I cannot point out a single best song. This CD itself is the highlight. It is an album of consistent high quality. And it was a pleasure, a real pleasure to listen to. Although I used the word ‘melancholic’ a lot it’s not a sad CD. On the contrary. Yes it makes me nostalgic, but in a good way. Remembering summers filled with fun and laughter. In an odd way it makes me feel at home. It feels like a warm musical bath in which I can unwind and relax. This is not a ‘simple’ CD filled with balfolk tunes. This is a listening experience that will give you many a enjoyable moment. Well done, gentlemen and thank you. Merci beaucoup. Merci pour la très, très belle musique. And now if you will excuse me, I’ll be off, play the CD again and have another glass of wine with Monsieur Pierre.
*) In his reaction to the review Wouter told me it ís true. Gavotte De Grenoble was indeed ment as a bonustrack.
Aérokorda – Hush The Wolves (2017)
Joie de vivre! That was the first thing that came to mind as I was listening to Hush The Wolves, the debut album of the Belgian instrumental folk trio
The second thing that came to mind? How incredibly fitting this music is to this time of the year. Now that the spring equinox is past us, the first flowers are showing their colours, and my winter clothes are pushed away deep in the back of the closet for yet another year, I was longing for some cheerful, positive music.
And Aérokorda’s music fits right in. It’s the musical explosion of spring colours, the celebrational music of Ostara and -here it comes again- the soundtrack of joie de vivre! This is music filled with energy, it is music that keeps on giving. I can easily see Aérokorda playing the village stage on
and the whole balfolk community in front of it, swirling and curling on a warm summer afternoon. The field filled with bright coloured dresses, all of them spinning and turning, as the dancers stir up clouds of dust, celebrating life in a kaleidoscope of light.
OK let’s introduce the band shortly, Aérokorda is the project of Davy Cautaerts (middle in the picture), Adriaan van Wonterghem (right side) both Belgian, and halve Belgian halve Bulgarian Violinist Pavel Souvandjiev (left).
Adriaan is a classic trained guitarist who created his own almost romantic style of guitar playing that he not only shows in Aérokorda, but also since 2001 in the Belgian folk band
Violinist Pavel is also classically trained, and listeners could already know him from the Belgian duo
Les Bottines Artistique.
A duo he formed with chromatic accordion player Guus Herremans. The duo released their first album Summertime in june 2017.
Davy Cautaerts is Aéorokorda’s Irish Whistle and octave mandolin player. He specialised in Celtic music for several years now, he also plays in the folkcore band
Ithilien describe themselves as a mix between traditional Belgian folk music and modern metal music like deathmetal and metalcore. A cool band judging by the video’s on their site, that the fans of the harder tpes of metal will most likely appriciate.
As a trio Adrian, Pavel and Davy also play in the bands
and the new band
a septet that brings together world music with a folk rock feel.
But this review we focus on their balfolkband Aerokorda. As Aerokorda they play: ‘Folk music with influences from the Irish and the Balkan cultures completed with our own touch and ideas.’as they say so nicely on their own
And Hush The Wolves is their first album, which came out in june 2017.
Listening to Hush The Wolves you can safely say you get what it says on the package. The first song FYC starts with a strong Spanish classical guitar chord, followed by a nice flute intro by Davy Cautaerts (left). Then the song itself kicks in. It is, as all the songs on Hush The Wolves a own composition , mixing a lovely traditional sounding Celtic folk melody with Eastern European violin influences. During FYC the violinist Pavel Souvandjiev (right) and Davy divide the lead melodies amongst each other, with guitarist Adriaan van Wonterghem (middle) keeping up the tempo with his passionate Spanish guitar chords. An impressive start to Hush The Wolves, that made me instantly eager to hear more of this album. Hoping I would find more gems on it.
Well, I can assure you, it does not disappoint. The next song I pick up on is the third track , Ontdooi -Dutch for defrost-. On this song Aérokorda take back the pace for the first time. Guitarist Adriaan van Wotherghem starts with a lovely, almost breakable melody line that is the backbone of this song. Over this, Pavel, who wrote Ontdooi, lays down the loveliest of violin melodies. It’s not so much a solo, no, he uses his violin as a voice to tell a beautiful story. A story I pictured as a lovestory. But actually, as the band told me, inspired by how nature thaws after a cold winternight. a lovely theme for this song, a beautiful marriage between violin, guitar and octave mandolin.
Talking about imagination, the next song The Cliffs Of Moher is what inspired me to write the intro of this review. The song is a lovely -and I really mean lovely- piece of cheerful Irish dance music. So full of joy, of energy, I keep putting it on repeat. Adriaan on guitar starts it up, and as is common in Irish traditionals, both the flute and violin join in together to play a tune so catchy and fun, you just must dance to it.
Aérokorda cleverly build the song up, using small breaks before continuing again with a new variation on the tune changing height, melody or lead instrument ever so slightly, adding more and more energy to the tune, something I know the dancers will pick up on when played live. Heck they had me dancing, whistling and waving my hand with every curl and swirl of the melody. (which looks rather ridiculous on a bike, judging by the looks I got from the other people around me in the morning traffic.Not that I care, I’m enjoying myself too much with this album to be bothered.)
After the frantic cheerfulness of The Cliffs Of Moher, the next song Mist is a nice change of pace.
It’s a nice upbeat cultural mix-up song. As if a Celtic flute player met a gypsy violinist during a balfolk dance night and they started to play together. Improvising and reacting to each other as the go along, blending their music together. With a bit of imagination you could say it sounds like Vivaldi playing some variations on Celtic music. And… it works.
By now I think it’s clear I am loving this album. It’s well played, well composed and so catchy. This is a CD made to spread fun and joy, made to dance upon and enjoy life. Aérokorda Jig, the sixth song on Hush The Wolves is, again, positive Celtic folk meets Balkan dance tune. Flutist Davy Cautaerts starts it with a nice upbeat melody. Pavel picks up on it again and the jig becomes yet another beautiful ‘duel’ between flute and violin. Balfolk people will love this music. But not only them, There is enough quality and variation in each song to fully enjoy this from the luxury of a couch as well. If you can keep yourself from getting up and swirling through your living room that is.
With Ashokan Farewell we get our breath back, as the soft touch of the guitar strings is leading you into a gentle ballad, a duet between guitar and flute, later joined by Pavel on his violin. A lovely calm moment to get your heartbeat down again. Also the first moment on the album where guitarist Adriaan van Wonterghem – most of the time weaving his rhythmic melodies into the music in a supportive role- steps into the floodlights to play some delicate guitar solos. Something he does again on slaapzacht (sleep well), a gentle solo piece for guitar, but so song orientated, that I only noticed it was a solo piece the 5th time I listened it. That is actually a feature of the whole album. There are a lot of solo-esque moments in there, but it never becomes a show of skills. It is always in service of the melody, only done to enhance the beauty of the song.
The best example of that is Backstage Andro. It starts with a catchy but oh so calming guitar riff. The violin solo that Pavel Souvandjiev puts over that guitar is pure magic. It starts small and gentle but boy does he open up halfway in a powerful full on solo melody. Trust me, with his violin Pavel can say more in one song than I can say in a week. But it remains a song. Without doubt the best one on this album. Just put your stereo a wee bit louder, -not to much it will become loud enough as it is-, lean back and let the music embrace you. Stunning!
This is also the right time for me to compliment Adriaan on the way he recorded and mixed the CD.
He did it in a really clean way with only subtle stereo effects, really getting the best out of all this lovely music.
Now I could go on and on about Hush The Wolves, but I won’t. It’s time for the customary conclusion of this review. On Hush The Wolves the three members of Aérokorda give you the lush, cheerful music of Eire, the traditional guitar chords of Spain and the pure beauty of Eastern European musical heritage.They can be gentle as a raindrop in summer, or grand like the ocean waves. Everybody who loves traditional instrumental folk, has a heart for Eastern European music and ballfolk or appreciates a bit of classical chamber music should have this album in their collection. This is a must have CD. Period!