Sowulo – Mann (2019) Review

Cover picture Mann

Just before Castlefest, Mann, the third album of Sowulo, came out and it has been spinning its rounds in my CD player ever since, slowly revealing its inner beauty to me.
Slowly because I have to admit, it took me a while before I finally understood this album. In pop music (and pagan folk is in essence a subgenre of pop music) we are used to albums containing 3 to 5 minute long songs that each tell a story. Sometimes these stories connect together as chapters in a concept. But we still listen to them as individual things. With their first album Alvenrad, Sowulo took a different route. Main composer Faber Horbach made a piece of art, a mix of classical – and Celtic/Nordic music that sounded like a classical folk suite, celebrating the beauty of nature and the neo-pagan festivals. On the second Sowulo album Sol, the music was approached more as individual songs, in the tradition of a pop format. Listening to Mann the first few times I thought the band kept that song-orientated approach. But there is more to Mann than that, wáy more.
Mann is another musical journey, just as Alvenrad was. But this time it is not a journey through the year, a journey through nature, no, it’s an inner journey. As Faber described in an interview we had with him earlier this year, these songs represent his inner four seasons. The different sides of his personality, represented by the warrior, the lover, the magician, and the king. It is a musical expression of these personalities, their struggles, and their growth. But not in the style of a singer-songwriter. No, it goes so much deeper, it is way more primordial. Yes, the album consists of 12 songs, with clear beginning and end, but they are so interlocked that you can only fully understand Mann if you see it as one concept, as one piece of musical art. I think I would describe it best if I said that a ‘normal’ pagan folk album is a collection of poems, whereas Mann is a book, a piece of literature, with the songs being chapters of a bigger thing.
As a piece of art Mann is a strong, a very strong statement. It was born as the soundtrack to a possible movie about a Dutch Celtic tribe in the early Middle Ages. The film never materialized, so Faber decided to use the material he already had for a new Sowulo CD and it became his most personal album yet. The golden moment was when Faber found an Anglo-Saxon rune poem that fitted perfectly with one of the tracks. The concept of Mann was born.

Those of you who have already heard the single Brego in Brēoste will have noticed a big difference in Sowulo’s music. Where Sol and especially Alvenrad were instrumental albums, with the violin and flute weaving beautiful melodies together, representing the beauty of nature, Brego in Brēoste is very much more percussion and especially vocal orientated. It is an intense song, very intense actually.
In our interview, Faber told us he had written this song at a time when major things were changing in his life and the world he knew seemed to fall apart. Well, you can clearly hear that in this extremely powerful song. Some of you may know that Faber is also the vocalist of the Viking/folk metal band Myrkvar, a band that mixes melodic metal in the style of Heidevolk together with screamed vocals and folk influences. It’s clear Faber weaved elements of that particular style into the writing of Brego in Brēoste. He combined the clean double vocals and power of a metal band like Heidevolk with the strong percussion of Heilung and mixed it with the classical harp, nyckelharpa, string ensemble set-up of the Sol album.
The result is intense and pure. Just as Coppelius manages to capture melodic heavy metal in a classical orchestral setting, Faber managed to do the same with Nordic folk metal. The vocals, in particular, seem to come from deep within his inner soul. He pours them out in an epic, theatrical way. For those who like Viking metal, this album is a treat. To those that love the melodic gentle classic melodies of Alvenrad and Sol, I should give a heads up. Although still based on classical instruments like the violin, viola, harp, and nyckelharpa, Mann has a different, more dramatic feel to it. You can see Brego in Brēoste as a blueprint for the whole CD. So if your not sure about that song you might want to listen to Mann first before buying. On the other hand, if you love Brego in Brēoste (and I know many do) you’re in for a treat.

This is also the point where I would normally mention I miss a wee bit of variation, especially in the vocals. They are constantly in that same, double vocal, theatrical, slightly screamy style. The constant driving percussion will only enhance that. Some listeners will find this too intense after a while. (In all honesty, this happened to me too the first times I listened to Mann.) But, as I said earlier, this is not a collection of songs. This is an artist expressing himself through music. This is a composer showing his inner self to the world. And in that case, there is no right or wrong.

Chloe Bakker, Sowulo Having said that, it’s not that there aren’t beautiful songs on Mann. Especially in the second part of the album, there are plenty. Fægru Fara for instance. One of the lovesongs on Mann, although you have to expect a warrior style lovesong. Even in his lovesongs, Faber keeps using those double vocal power chords. It’s the string section -Sophie Zaaijer on violin, Klaartje van Zwoll on viola, Faber on nyckelharpa and Chloe Bakker (right) her harp melodies under it that make Fægru Fara a very nice love song.

There is also Dēoplīcu Ðearf a lovely song with strong vocals, tender moments, but also a lot of the beautiful orchestral parts we know from Sowulo’s previous albums Alvenrad and Sol. One of my favourite songs on Mann. And there are more.
Wulfwiga is another one of them. It starts intriguing with some wood percussion and chant-like singing. But it’s after the intro that the song reveals its true beauty. Strong, almost shamanic percussion, epic vocals and a catchy melody played by the string section, featuring the nyckelharpa. Epic stuff! This is a song you should play loud, just to feel its full impact. I can’t wait to hear this life over a full stage sound system. It’s gonna bee something, I’m sure of that.

My absolute favourite song is Slincan Snīcan. It combines everything that is good about Mann. It starts with a lovely atmospheric intro played by Faber on synthesizer and Chloe on harp. Like morning fog hovering over the music. Faber’s vocals work wonders here. I really like those Anglo-Saxon lyrics and never knew they were so closely related to modern Dutch. Then suddenly Faber opens up his full lung capacity for a vocal climax in the song, even enhanced by the powerful orchestral string section. This is Faber, the composer, at his very best, making full advantage of the talent of his fellow musicians, and the song is wonderfully mixed by Fieke van den Hurk. Really something special.

The last song I would like to pick up on is also the most ‘extreme’ one, Berabeorn. In this song Sowulo comes closest to an acoustic version of Myrkvar. This is pure acoustic Nordic folk metal and probably not everybody’s cup of tea. But honestly, I love it for its pure emotion. The start is especially raw, distorted and rather disturbing in a way. Yet it is beautiful, actually because of that. This is the point where music becomes art. It will not be for everybody, but that’s not the intention of this album anyway. Mann is not about recording 12 joyful folk tunes. This is about an artist expressing himself in the purest form.

As I said at the start, this review took me a while. I had to learn to love this album. At first, it was too much for me, too strong, too much raw emotion pouring out for me to handle in one go. It was one looong epic scream with heavy percussion under it. But listening to it again and again, Mann started to grow on me. Starting with the songs that are a bit ‘ lighter’, Wōhs Wildum, Slincan Snīcan, Dēoplīcu Ðearf, Hēahlufu and Wulfwiga. I started listening to what was behind those power vocals. I started recognising the individual songs and started hearing the beauty of the melodies under them. I also started reading the lyrics with the songs, and in that way deepened my understanding of the music Faber composed. In the end it all started to make sense to me.
Mann will always divide people. I’ve seen a lot of responses from people that love it for its power and its intensity, and I can fully understand that now. I can also understand that for some it’s too much. All I can say is give this album time, open yourself up for it and start discovering its beauty even if it is one song at a time.
I for one know that this album will keep me busy for quite a while to come. And I’m actually looking forward to that. Mann intrigues me, it grabs me way more than I thought it would the first time I listened to it. It has gotten deep under my skin. It provokes me every time I listen to it. Just as a good piece of art should do.

– Cliff

Editor: Diane Deroubiax
sleeve art: Jasper van Gheluwe & Samiye van Rossum
photography: Wolfgang Schmitt

Drowsy Maggie – Nú Trad (2017) Review

The coolest thing about working for CeltCast is that you never know where you will end up next! By now I’ve discovered some lovely local festivals that have become regulars on my musical calendar. The latest one on this list is Folkerdey. A really cool, cozy folk festival in Ratingen, Germany. It started out as an idea by 2 members of the folk band Drowsy Maggie and two youth centers in the city of Ratingen and is heading towards its 14th edition next year.
In 2019 it featured folk bands like Stout, Wait For June and Sunfire, the pop-folk hurdy gurdy player Patty Gurdy and, as the headliner, the Irish folk band Drowsy Maggie. Never heard of them? Well, that is about to change. Their performance at Folkerdey was so good I found myself buying their CD the minute the show ended and it did not disappoint! Nú Trad is filled with upbeat Irish folk with a twist. With a lot of twists, actually. Drowsy Maggie added a whole bunch of musical flavors to the songs they recorded. It keeps the album interesting right to the very, very end. But I’ll come to that. First things first. Who are Drowsy Maggie?
Drowsy Maggie Headlining the Folkerdey festival 2019

Drowsy Maggie are a German folk band based around Düsseldorf. The band was formed by accordionist Alex Otto and guitar player Thomas Gurke. Later on drummer Christoph Zimmermann and vocalist/fiddler Sebastian Zimmermann completed the line-up. Their repertoire is filled with classic Irish folk songs, part traditionals and partly works from the likes of Christy Moore; Michael McGoldrick; Richard Thompson (whom we know from Fairport Convention); Gordon Duncan, (a bagpiper/low whistle, composer known -amongst other things- for his work with the Dougie Maclean band); the Irish band Kila (a cool band who mix Irish folk with the energy of gypsy- and Latin American music, think Santana goes folk) and -wait for it- Metallica !!! Did you just say Metallica? Yes! Coming from a pop/rock background Drowsy Maggie play acoustic Irish folk, but they do give it their own energetic twist, just like some of their influences, making Nú Trad a pleasure to listen to. So let’s dive into their music.

The opening track Broken Pledge starts with the deep sound of the floor tom, some intriguing mystical guitar effects and a staccato fiddle that has Cesair’s Diex, Nox Et Omnia written all over it. Alex Otto’s Accordion is fast to follow with a lovely catchy accordion melody, that could have easily come from a Wouter en de Draak album. To my pleasant surprise the band takes their time with this intro, it’s only after 2 minutes that the beat kicks in and the song turns into a catchy Irish jig with the cheerfulness of a Shantalla or Finvarra. Everybody who loves Irish folk will be hooked after this song alone, trust me.

With the second song Drowsy Maggie take on a real classic: Christy Moore’s I Wish I Was In England. And again the band convinced me in every way. Sebastian Zimmermann has a warm and really pleasant voice – with some imagination you could call him an Irish version of The Belgian singer-songwriter Milow – and I can only compliment them on their interpretation of this evergreen. Especially with that French style folk accordion solo thing at the end. Lovely stuff.

These two songs were just a prelude to one of the biggest surprises on Nú Trad and at the same time one of the best and most original songs on this CD. The song is called Superflying Popcorn Drive and the title is just as positively weird as the music itself! Just as Clannad many decades before them, Drowsy Maggie mixes their Irish folk with a jazz flavor! As in the sound of a jazz big band! From the first notes of the bassline, you know you are gonna going to be in for a treat! When the brass section – Avelina Thole on trumpet and Will Wilzek on trombone – step in I am thinking Dizzy Gillespie, Glen miller or – more incoming with the Castlefest style – Berlinkski Beat. And it does not stop there, Sebastian throws in a lovely gypsy style fiddle solo while Otto’s accordion is still insisting to take you down to France. After two and a half minutes the band switches tune and the popcorn really starts to fly. That accordion and fiddle combo is sooo freakin’ catchy, by now I’m bouncing and dancing around the room.
But we are not done yet! The musical flavors change one more time as the brass section goes into marching band modus, including the obligatory drumroll on the snare drum, while the accordion is still cheerfully popping musical popcorn all around my headphone. I know it sounds like an impossible mix to put together, but not for Drowsy Maggie. They manage to get all these crazy ideas into one song and somehow make it work. In the end, you still listened to a folk song. An extremely danceable, cheerful and weird one, but folk nonetheless. 10 out of 10 for originality and musical talent!

And there is more to come. Drowsy’s Bar, for instance, starts as a delicate gypsy solo played by the fiddle, but unexpectedly the song picks up speed and goes into a French folk song with Spanish percussion, still with that gypsy feel although that ends abruptly! After one last chord from the accordion, the song continues as an uptempo Celtic folk tune from Brittany. It isn’t long before the flavor of the song changes yet again, into bluegrass this time! Really?! Yep, no problem in the Drowsy Maggie world.

With Tell God and The Devil the band throws another twist at you. This song is best described as uptempo pop-folk, with some gypsy influences, a heavy bluegrass feel, sung by the Belgian singer-songwriter Milow. Just as the Irish band Kila, Drowsy Maggie seems to throw all those different influences in a blender, put the machine on full speed and just flow with it. It shouldn’t work, but out come the most upbeat and danceable pop-folk songs that you ever heard, by no means traditional, but very, VERY cool.

Want me to describe another one of those musical cocktails? Well, it comes right after Drowsy’s Bar and Tell God and The devil. It’s called The Barre and again it features that typical marching band sound I mentioned before. In Germany, you have something called a musikkapelle , a (small) marching band playing really melodic brass evergreens. (In the link you’ll find a video of the muzikkappelle from Ratingen.) Somehow Drowsy Maggie managed to capture that typical German sound into their folk music and make it feel fresh, young and cool. Don’t ask me how but they did it but it works sooooo well! By the way, did I already mention the band is actually playing a bit of Metallica here? No? Well, they do and it actually works!! French accordion meets German brass section on a Celtic folk album playing an adaptation of a metal song. Only in the Drowsy Maggie world can you fit those four together. It gets even better, after the Metallica-goes-folk-brass-section, Drowsy Maggie push up the beat, pull out a wah-wah guitar, throw in a lovely accordion hook and eventually pull out some groovy disco vibes as well. Seriously? This even beats Clannad’s early 60’s acid folk experiments on their debut album and I’m only halfway through this CD! Now I could go on like this for the next seven songs but that would spoil it all, so I’ll stop here and let you discover the remainder of this album by yourself.

I can imagine that after reading this review you might think this album sounds like a patchwork blanket, but it doesn’t. The album is surprisingly coherent considering all the different styles and that is because of two very good reasons. The first one is that under all those nice quirky ideas it’s all still upbeat, really danceable Irish folk music. Admittedly, with a big wink towards Brittany, but it always returns to those Irish roots.
The second thing that keeps this whole album together is its fresh, spontaneous sound. All the songs were recorded in two live sessions, one of the 29th and one on the 30th of October. And you can hear that. It is clear that the band prepared themselves well for these two sessions and it’s that freshness, together with the originality and quirkiness of the band that makes Nú Trad such a good album. But don’t take my word on it. Go listen for yourself!! Preferably with a suitable dance partner. Because with half of the album filled with upbeat cheerful reels and jigs this is just as much an album for the balfolk enthusiasts as it is for the fans of fun Irish folk. Now let’s get these guys back to Elfia ! Or on the stage of Keltfest . They so deserve it!

– Cliff
Editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
Sleeve art: Andreas Heller
photo credits: Andreas Heller

CeltCast Classic
Cara – Yet We Sing (2016)

We didn’t focus that much on pure Irish folk CDs in this review section yet, Gwendolyn Snowdon‘s Three Strand Braid, Shantalla‘s From The East Unto The West and of course Clannad‘s early works are the only ones I can think of. But that is about to change. A while ago I got the request from Ilona to review one of her favourite bands, together with a pile of music to listen to. The band is called Cara and the music doesn’t get more Irish than this, even though Cara are a German band. Since their origins in 2003 the band produced 7 CDs, toured the better part of Europe, became successful in the USA, even being voted best new artist of 2009 and top group of 2010 with the Irish Music Association. They were also nominated for a best record award three times. In 2007 in Germany for the CD In Between Times and in 2010 Long Distance Love was nominated, not only in their homeland Germany but also again with the Irish Music Association based in the USA, so you can safely say that Cara have had a successful career up till now. It was almost Inevitable that they would be the second band featured in the CeltCast Classics series. So let’s introduce Cara a bit more.

It all started in 2003 when Gudrun Walther (vocals, fiddle and accordion, left on picture), Jürgen Treyz (guitar, right on picture), Sandra Steinort (vocals, piano and flute) and Claus Steinort (uilleann pipes and flute) formed Cara. Shortly after Rolf Wagels (bodhrán) joined and in this formation the band recorded the studio albums In Colour (2004) and In Between Times (2007) followed by a live CD and DVD called In Full Swing (2008). From 2007 onwards Cara did several tours throughout America, gaining more and more success. It was in these years that Cara won the two Irish Music Awards. Also at this point Sandra and Claus Steinort couldn’t mix the busy tour live with their other obligations and decided to leave the band.

In the video above you see the original line-up playing Please Be Peter – taken from their second CD In Between Times – live at Bonfeld Folk im Schlosshof 2008.

They were replaced by Jeana Leslie, winner of the BBC radio 2 young folk awards (vocals, piano and flute) and multiple all Ireland uilleann pipes champion Ryan Murphy. You could call it a winning line-up. The result was Long Distance Love that came out in 2010.
In 2013 Jeana Leslie started studying *) and in her place Scottish singer/songwriter Kim Edgar joined the band. In that line-up the band recorder Horizon (2013). In 2014 Ryan Murphy had to leave the band due to his busy schedule **) and he was replaced by German uilleann pipe player Hendrik Morgenbrodt. With this line-up the band recorded the albums Yet we sing (2016) and their latest CD Live (2018). Shortly after that long time member Rolf Wagels left the band and Aimée Farrell Courtney was welcomed in the Cara family.

The debut In colour

With all those line-up changes you would think that the sound of the band changed tremendously over the years, but actually it didn’t. It’s still lovely Irish folk music, featuring female vocals, uilleann pipe, flute and violin. All in a clean, calming and almost fragile way. I didn’t hear any distorted instrument or forced singing note on any of the CDs. From the first notes of the opening track on the debut CD In Colour it is clear that the strongest point in Cara’s music are the stunning vocals. The voices of Gudrun Walter and Sandra Steinort are beautiful, crystal clear and work really well together. (As does the combination of Gudrun together with Kim Edgar on later albums.) The harmonies between the two ladies are beautiful. The clean sound of the guitar, violin and uilleann pipes even enhance those lovely voices. Track one, The King And The Fair Maid, is a cheerful introduction into Cara’s music that made me eager for more. Luckily there is more, a lot more actually. You have Three Ravens for example. A beautiful ballad that is a bit in the tradition of Twa Corbiez. The way it is sung reminds me a lot of Gwendolyn Snowdon on her album Three Strand Braids. Or listen to There Is Light, the last song on In Colour. It starts as a lullaby, so tender and fragile with a lovely piano accompaniment – not to mention the acoustic guitar solo in it – but it ends as a grand acoustic power ballad.
From the CD In Between Times (2007) I could name the uptempo, slightly eerie Poisoned Peas with it’s lovely harmony singing and the fast pace of the guitar and uilleann pipes in it, I could name the strong ballad The House Carpenter or I could mention The Maid Of Whitby a nice upbeat song, with a slight country slide guitar in there and a lovely violin solo. This song makes me think of an acoustic version of the Corrs. Both CDs are lovely examples of Irish folk. They have an almost 50/50 balance between instrumental – and vocal songs, all well played. Both In colour and In Between Days will not look out of place in any folk collection.

Cara playing Odd Rhythms a song written by Jürgen Treyz, taken from the 2013 album Horizon

Now I didn’t have the pleasure to listen to In Full Swing (2008) or Long distance Love (2010) yet, so I pick up the story with the 2013 album Horizon. For me the odd one out. On this CD Cara chose a more pop orientated production, with a electronic keyboard sound at times and a strong bass guitar. It turns the feel of the music in a mix of folk and soul/jazz, even funk/jazz in some songs. Just listen to Master Of Consequence or Odd Rhythms, both instrumental songs sound like funk legends Shakatak gone folk music. It takes a bit of getting use to but it actually works. Good examples are the upbeat jazz/folk instrumental Big Jigs or the pop-like Be Gone. Other highlights on Horizon are the beautifully sung ballad Blood, Ice And Ashes -think Matt Bianco meets Irish folk – and the more country orientated ballad The Bonny Lad. Cara are sooo good with their ballads, it is really one of their strong points.

Yet We Sing, The CeltCast Classic

With the 2016 album Yet We Sing, Cara pick up their old sound again, losing the pop/jazz production of Horizon. Opening A Leaf For A Sail is another one of those beautiful ballads that Cara are so well known for. With a theme and a feel that takes me back to Sandy Denny‘s The North Star Grassman And The Ravens and a feel that reminds me a lot of Gwendolyn Snowdon’s interpretation of that song on Three Strand Braid. The Elfin Knight could also have been on Three Strand Braid. Kim Edgar has the same tone of voice and the same style of singing as Gwendolyn Snowdon. There is yet another similarity between Cara and Gwendolyn Snowdon. Their ability to tell a story. Cara clearly stepped away from the traditional call and response type of folk songs that made up the majority of their first two albums to lean towards modern popsongs, with strong lyrics telling a story, sung solo by either Kim Edgar or Gudrun Walther. Cain’s War for instance is a pure protest song, making a powerful statement against fanatism, religion and weapons, Cara I fully agree! Anchor In The Sky and Yet We Sing are two more beautiful ballads. I keep mentioning those, I realise, but honestly, the vocal quality of Cara make buying all of their CD’s worthwhile.

Up till now didn’t mention the instrumental songs much, although 50% of the albums are filled with them. The instrumental songs on the first two Cds are nice Irish folk tunes, mid tempo Jigs and reels played to perfection in the pure Irish way. Nice duets between Violin, flute or uilleann pipes. They may not have the adventurous arrangements as some of the vocal songs, but therefore are islands of calm between the vocal escapades. I love Songs like Reels For Hecki, the balladesque Buddleja, the gypsy style And Off He Went -all found on In Colour– or the almost Arabian sound of C’mon Tiger – found on In between Days- and fans of traditional folk will find many more instrumental gems on the first two Cara albums. As I mention earlier Cara leave the traditional approach of the instrumentals on the CD Horizon, opting for a more groovy jazz approach.
On Yet We Sing I notice a wee bit of a difference in those instrumentals. Although returning to the traditional style of folk Cara played on the first two albums, on Yet We Sing they start adding little twists and improvisations that make music so interesting for me.
There is Heroes, a nice upbeat collection of jigs and reels, with the third section going into a reggae rhythm (!?), just to spice things up, as the band writes themselves in the CD insert. Now that got my attention! Land Of The Midnight Sun is folk meets chamber music, while The Legend of Lisalway, with a lovely uilleann pipes melody, takes us back to the jazz influences on Horizon for a moment. The Naked Man In The Whirlpool starts as a lovely guitar piece and continues as an instrumental ballad instead of a traditional Irish dance. A Wee Dobro Tune is indeed written as a dobro solo piece, with some additional piano and violin. All in all I love the instrumentals just as much as the vocal pieces on this album, making Yet We Sing a clear CeltCast Classic!

So we come to the traditional conclusion and I can tell you that the more I listened to Cara’s music, the more their music grew on me. If I would compare them with a bottle of wine I would describe their music as a mature, yet supple, easy to drink red wine with a lovely bouquet of exquisite vocal harmonies. The instrumentals give the music a lovely vanilla tone with notes of surprising melted dark chocolate especially on the later CDs. fans of the early Clannad albums – especially Clannad 2 or Shantalla really should give Cara’s music a listen, and Yet We Sing is the perfect CD to start that journey.

– Cliff
– Pictures by Gregor Eisenhuth , taken during the Yet We Sing release tour in 2016

PS. I started listening to Cara’s music and writing this introduction in the spring of 2019. Since that time Cara released a new single called Móran Tang. A really touching story that actually says a lot about Cara so I’ll quote Kim Edgar from the Cara site:
“As some of you will already be aware, my dad, Derek Edgar, sadly died of cancer in March 2017. He was an extra-ordinary man: creative, gentle, positive, loving, and determined. He remained just as extra-ordinary in facing cancer of an unknown primary source, for which no successful treatment could be found. In the last week of his life, I wrote him a thank you card, because I wanted him to know how grateful my brother, myself and my mum were to have him in our lives. He challenged me to take the words of that card, and turn them into a happy song – he knew/knows I find writing happy songs difficult! And he has always tried to encourage me to keep developing my skills. And that’s the song, Mòran Taing. The title is in Scots Gaelic, and the chorus means “many thanks, goodbye for now, fare you well for now, many thanks”.
And with this beautiful homage we end this review. Knowing Cara’s musical story still continues.

*) Jeana Leslie is now part of the Scottish folk band Fara
**)Ryan Murphy is now a member of the Scottish folk band Imar

Rapalje – Scotland’s Story (2019) review

cover Rapalje-Scotland's story

There is not much that Rapalje didn’t achieve in their long, extensive career. Their origins going as far back as 1994, they’ve become a household name at the big Dutch and German festivals, with fans as far away as Brazil and Chile. They have 12 albums under their kilt (including the early cassette album Celts In Kilts) a live DVD and even their own festival called Zomerfolk. You could easily say they are the most successful Dutch Celtic folk band. And the cool thing is that they built that name upon the continuous high quality of their music, an always open and friendly approach to their fans and a totally laid back attitude on stage. In a way they are still the street musicians that got together playing in pubs so many years ago.
Their last album, Hearts, dates back to 2014 so a new album was anxiously awaited by the fans. The fact that fan favourite Flatlands already featured as a teaser on the promotional mini CD that Rapalje shared with the crowd at last year’s Castlefest only enhanced the anticipation among the fan groups on Facebook. But the wait is finally over. About a month ago Rapalje released their 13th album Scotland’s Story and yes, the album is all we have come to expect from David, William, Dieb and Maceál. Everything and a wee bit more.
Rapalje Do I really need to introduce the band? It’s hard to believe that it all started out as a symphonic rock band formed in a pub many many years ago. They didn’t play that type of music long though, after seeing a Celtic folk band in their local pub, Maceál – vocals, squeeze box, mouth organ, gitouki, bodhrán, snaredrum – and Dieb – Vocals, violin, tea chest bass, mandolin – carried on as a folk duo called Ruk and Pluk. At that same time Maceál was also active as a street musician, playing up to 11 instruments at once. On the other side of the street a certain William – vocals, gitouki, tea chest bass, bodhrán – was also making a name for himself, as a talented and charming street musician with a good voice. To ‘eliminate’ the competition Maceál introduced William to Dieb, and from that moment on there were three. William is first heard as a guest musician on the 1997 debut album Celts In Kilts, but became a permanent band member soon after.
David – Highland pipes, uillean pipes, tin whistle and low whistle – joined the band several years later. Half Scottish, half Groninger he started playing the bagpipes with the Clan MacBeth pipeband where he is still an instructor. He is also an instructor with The Islanders. Rapalje discovered him during a Scottish festival, where he stood out, as they say: ‘because of his obvious talent and melodic way of playing.’
Since their humble beginnings in 1995, Rapalje have brought out one cassette album called Celtic Folk Music, 12 CD’s, one of them being a compilation containing three of the four first albums called Rakish Paddies (2000), and a live DVD. Furthermore they organise their very own festival, Zomerfolk since 2014. A festival that has become one of the firm favourites on the Celtic folk calendar.


And now there is the 13th album Scotland’s Story. Fans of Rapalje will feel right at home from the very first notes they will hear. It has all the characteristics of Rapaljes music, good voices, lovely Celtic melodies and a sound as warm and comforting as Scottish whisky. This is Rapalje as you want to hear them. Opener Long May You Run is, to my surprise, a Neil Young cover. Originally played by the Stills-Young band . I say to my surprise, because Rapalje re-arranged the song in such a way, that I didn’t recognise the Neil Young style at all. William is the star in this song, I really love his voice. It is strong yet full of emotion and has that wonderful sandpaper edge you want in a lead voice. Long May You Roam, in the Rapalje interpretation, is a lovely mid tempo folk ballad with Dieb’s violin solo flirting ever so slightly against American country. A lovely start to the album.

Fans of bagpipe music are in for a treat with Standfast – The Mason’s Apron. A lovely combination of Scottish traditionals, showcasing all of David’s talents. Although the main ingredients are ‘just’ a bagpipe solo, a gitouki rhythm (the gitouki is a cross between a guitar and a bouzouki that Maceál invented) and a Bodhrán beat, Rapalje somehow managed to contain the energy of a Scottish marching band into a catchy pop song. Quite an achievement.

Rapalje's William and Maceál The start of the album is an accumulation of highlights. The third song is a firm favourite of mine in Rapalje’s live set and again sung by William. Skye Boat Song is the song where I think he really excels. Just listen to that voice as he starts the first lines of Skye Boat Song completely solo. Only his powerful voice, fully expressing every inch of longing for a life gone by written in the lyrics. Goosebumps all the way. Especially when Dieb on violin and David on bagpipes accompany him.

The title song, Scotland’s Story, is another modern cover originally by the Proclaimers. It starts as another ballad by William but David takes over halfway through with a lovely bagpipe melody. A good mood guaranteed for everybody who loves bagpipe orientated Celtic folk.

Then follows a cover I know very well. The Great Song Of Indifference by former punk singer Bob Geldof. It is this song that pulled me into folk rock when it became a hit in 1990. Actually the whole Vegetarians Of Love album is a classic in my book.
The Great Song Of Indifference, in it’s original form, is a energetic, upbeat folk song, with the lyrics being cynical in a way only an Irish person can write or sing. It’s acoustic folk rock with a good punch of punk attitude. Rapalje took a totally different, much more jazzy approach to the song. They re-arranged the solos, took turns singing the lyrics and in that way made The Great Song of Indifference their own, just as they did with the other two modern covers Long May You Run and Scotland’s Story. Although I personally miss that contrast between the upbeat melody and the cynical punky attitude that gave the original its powerful message, the Rapalje version is growing on me and I’m sure the fans will fully enjoy this version.


Dieb from Rapalje Leezy Lindsay is a mid tempo ballad with lovely violin lines from Dieb and the warm, slightly low voice of William both taking centre stage. The song is a love story from a time where it wasn’t a good thing to be a Highlander. But Leezy Lindsay, although hesitant herself, was encouraged by her loved ones to go with a Highlander Laird who made her the lady of a great castle.

An interesting part of folk music is that they quite often take a tragic or gruesome story and pack it into the most cheerful of tunes. Step It Out Mary is a good example of that genre. The melody is up beat, cheerful and really invites you to sing along and clap. The lyrics tell a totally different story, a love-not-to-be with a tragic end. Dieb proved years ago with The Bog Down In The Valley-O that he is a wonderful storyteller and this song is no exception.

maceál and David from Rapalje The Strayaway Child had me surprised the first time I heard it. It’s a flute solo by David on the low whistle, an instrument often used in the pagan folk scene. And indeed a big part of the song has a real pagan folk feel to it. That feel is enhanced by the low accordion chords (and is that a cello I hear next to it?) accompanying David’s slightly mystical notes. In a way those instruments take over the role that the slidgeridoo has in many pagan folk bands. A lovely, enchanting surprise. Towards the end of the song the Celtic heritage finally takes over though, the rhythm changes slightly and a nice violin melody turns this pagan folk ballad into a Celtic folk duet for low flute and violin. One of my favourite songs on Scotland’s Story.

Dieb in his role as singing storyteller takes the lead again in Tippin’ It Up To Nancy. In its essence it’s an a cappella song, accompanied by a single bodhrán, telling another sinister story of betrayal and adultery in the most cheerful of tunes. With just the right amount of trickery and treason to keep us entertained in the verses, the chorus is fun and cheerful, a perfect sing along song during concerts.


Flatlands is already a firm favourite among the fans during the live shows and now the most powerful song on this mostly mid tempo album. Written by William in a way it tells the story of Rapalje. But the best part is David playing the chorus on Highlander pipes. As a young lad I went to a taptoe as we call it in Holland, with Dutch marching bands and one of them was a Scottish marching band. I still remember to this day the first time I heard Scotland The Brave played by those bagpipes and it still brings shivers to my spine. I even watch the Edingburgh tattoo every year to hear the marching bands play it as they leave the castle. And guess what, thát is the tune Rapalje put in the chorus. During live shows the best part always is when David walks of the podium straight into the crowd, creating a gigantic polonaise behind him as he criss crosses through the audience. Maceál managed to capture a big part of that energy in the album version of this song, making it a worthy conclusion to this lovely CD.

With Scotland’s Story Rapalje added yet another fine CD to their already impressive discography. As always it is full of quality Celtic folk. It’s an album filled with warm comforting music, played in that typical, slightly laid back, Rapalje style. A joy to listen to and I can only hope that it won’t take another 4 years before they record the next album cause this CD already gave me an appetite for more. Oh and I have one other request. That band portrait in the middle of the sleeve art! The one with the eyes! Can we get that as a poster?? I need to have that as my new wallpaper! It’s hilarious!!!!

– Cliff

editor: Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve art: Dieb
Photo’s: Cliff de Booy

Rob van Barschot – Home (2018) review

There is no denying it, Rob van Barschot is, as the Dutch would say, a musical centipede. He studied music at the Fontys Art School, graduating in improvisation, jazz, latin and afro. He played drums and percussion in a jazz choir; a Foo Fighters tribute band and, of course, his former band Omnia. He was musical leader in jazz jam sessions and worked together with Fieke van der Hurk on the 2018 Wickerman ritual on Castlefest, leading the percussion section. He gives well-received drum/percussion workshops. He makes dance music with his friend and partner in crime Daphyd Sens under the name ThunderCrow. And now his first solo album Home is out through Bandcamp featuring the GUDA drum. Rob wrote most of the music himself or co-wrote it, adding the words ‘solo-artist’ and ‘composer’ to his already impressive CV.
Rob explained to me that the idea for this solo album started during the recording of the first ThunderCrow CD Drop It.
– ‘2 years ago, with ThunderCrow, we decided we would like to add a ‘handpan’ sound to the recordings of Drop It. I found a second hand GUDA drum on the internet with Omnia logos on it. I thought that was funny, so I bought that one. When the developers of the GUDA drum found out I bought a drum with my own logos on it, they also thought it was funny, and gave me a second drum for free! That’s how my collaboration with GUDA DRUM by ZEN PERCUSSION started. 2 years later I have several GUDAs at home for teaching private and group lessons, all in their own size and scale.’

So, what is a GUDA drum? It is a hybrid between a tongue drum and a handpan. A tongue drum would be a drum originally made from propan tanks with tongues cut out that give the drum its tone. Handpans are drums where two metal shells are glued together and fields -I would call them dents- are worked into the instrument which produce several harmonious tones when hit.
Rob van Barschot on Guda drum A GUDA drum is also made of two half shells glued together, but has tongues cut out instead of the ‘dents’ that you can see on a handpan. It is usually played with the fingers by tapping the tongues and creating a melody like that. Despite being a ‘steel’ drum I find the sound of the GUDA drum warm, mellow and comforting where a handpan and several other tongue drums I heard are bit more metallic sounding. The music on Home reflects that sound. It’s relaxing, soothing, yet rhythmical music. The album is firmly rooted in the new age tradition with touches of ambient beats cheering you up. But there is a big difference. Where most new age music has this carpet of violin or keyboard smoothing out the rhythms, giving it a bit of a nostalgic of melancholic feel, the melodylines played on the GUDA drum are part of the rhythm, giving the songs on Home a special groove, and a real positive vibe. It sounds a lot more grounded, and less dreamy than most other new age albums.

Rob:‘The album is called Home, because I recorded everything in the relaxing environment of my own house (except Nomad, which is a live recording from a theatre). The reason why it sounds so great is because Fieke van den Hurk (Dearworld Studio) mixed and mastered my home recordings in her studio. If you listen carefully you can hear breathing, walking and nature sounds on the album because we chose not to hide any ‘extra sounds’ we made during the recording process. The girls from Guinevere (picture above) recorded their parts in their own homes and of course Tineke Ogink (second from right) wrote the lyrics for Fox and Bird. Besides Fieke and Guinevere I had help from Wouter de Belder aka “Het Belders Strijkorkest” -violin, alto-violin, double bass- and from percussionist Gijs Anders van Straalen -garrapata, udu, pandeiro, caixixi, quinto, conguita-‘
Rob himself plays three GUDA drums on Home; the GUDA F Custom, – G Enigma and – Freezbee A African, as well as cajons, shakers, bells, marimba, bongos, cymbals, tammorra, darbuka, floor tom, tambourine and the Logic drum machine.

The first song on Home, La Vita, starts with Rob playing a melody on a single GUDA drum and the beauty of the instrument becomes clear straight away. Wouter de Belder’s low bass sound really complements the bell like sound of the GUDA drum. And with the addition of the percussion, the alto violin and the repetition of the main melody, a real gentle, almost hypnotising song emerges. Rob really proves himself to be a strong songwriter.
Now when you happen to know (like I do) that Rob’s girlfriend is called Vita, you probably, just like me, expect La Vita to sound like a love song, but it doesn’t. It feels comforting, safe and reassuring like a warm bath in winter, a glass of wine in a late summer breeze, or a long hug from a best friend. That sort of safe. 100% spot on says Rob.
– ‘I have written this song for my girlfriend Vita. She needs me to play some GUDA tunes in the evening so she can relax before she goes to bed. I’ve added the word “La” so the title has a more general feel (and of course Vita IS a big part of my life.)
What I particularly like about La Vita is all the extra bits added to the song. Little bits of percussion, the strings supporting the GUDA drum melody or the electronic beats in the end giving this new age song that bit of ambient sparkle, that touch of jazzy groove. A wonderful start to this album, I have to say.

The second song Nomad has a more African feel to it. The GUDA drum here reminds me of the sound of a kalimba. A small African ‘thumb piano’ made from wood with metal keys. Together with the added percussion instruments it takes my imagination right into the savannas of southern Africa. Rob:Nomad is a solo piece I wrote while I was touring in Bratislava, Zlin and Prague. This live version comes from my last theatre tour with OMNIA. A nice memory from 7 years of touring the world.’

The third song, Neal Creek Resort, again has my imagination sparkling. The title suggests a remote place in the desert and the music took me on a fun journey figuring out where that place was. In the end I settled for a Creek somewhere in the Australian outback, but I was wrong this time.
Rob: Neal Creek Resort is a song I wrote while I was in the USA, in the most beautiful resort I have ever seen. We were able to see the sun set together with the lovely people that own the resort. The repetitive melody will get you into a nice relaxing mood. Later in the song you will hear a lot of different melodies crossing each other which represent the drops of water in the creek.’
Those melodies come in after a minute or two and they are beautiful. As one melody climbs over the other in a repetetive way, one variation flowing into the next I’m strongly reminded of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, or even more of the album Incantations by the same artist.

Talking about Mike Oldfield, the next song Bali Suite is a three part song that could easily be on one of his albums. It starts with the sound of waves. Through the waves you can hear the monks tap their Buddhist gongs. Yet another way to use the GUDA drum. As the song progresses you hear the jazz influence creeping in again. The GUDA drum and the percussion play with each other, react to each other in a way you would expect jazz instruments to interact, bringing a new dimension to the already varied sound on this album. And yet the mellow new age atmosphere remains no matter what. Even in the third part of this suite Bali Volcano, where the jazz rhythms become a bit too improvised for me to understand them, leaving me a wee bit lost. But not for long, after a minute or two the lead rhythm -or should I say melody- of the GUDA drum picks me up again and brings me back to the mellow chilled out state of enjoyment I have all the way through this album.
Rob :Bali Suite is a three part song. I wanted to record a song with Gijs, and we had so much fun that it turned into a complete suite.The first part is called Bali Ocean.You will arrive at the beach, and travel into the jungle of Bali.
Bali Jungle is the 2nd part of the Bali Suite. In this part we go further in to the mainland where we start to hear more sounds from the jungle. The garrapata, GUDA and dun dun solos were all done in one take!
Bali Volcano is the 3rd and final part of the Bali Suite. You will hear yourself walking closer and closer to the volcano until it erupts !!!! The enormous drum in the end is called Blanka, and she represents the volcano.

Fox And Bird is the odd one out on Home, it’s a vocal pop song that Rob wrote together with Tineke Ogink, one of the members of the female vocal group Guinevere. The four members of Guinevere also studied at the Fontys Art School, hence the connection as Rob explains.
Rob:’ A song that we wrote with Guinevere, a mystic pop vocal group. I’ve met these girls when I was studying in Tilburg. We didn’t see each other for 8 years or so, and suddenly we bumped into each other again. For the inspiration of this song I have to send you to Tineke Ogink, who wrote the lyrics after I sent her the melody.’

Tineke Ogink:‘Fox And Bird is about two lovers who, despite their desire to be together, just can’t be. It actually started out as an idea to just put the four voices of Guinevere underneath the beautiful, serene sound of the GUDA drum, kind of like a bed. Because the drums all come in different keys and Rob wanted to use two of them, we had these two chords to start out with. Once I started getting ideas for a melody, the words started to flow. The sound of the Guda Drum brings clear visions of nature to me and I’ve always been a fool for a love story, even when it doesn’t end well like this one. It would be against the nature of a fox and a bird to be together, they just don’t belong, they are too different. But still the fox and bird in this story try. And, sadly, they fail. It’s a story that happens in real life all the time. Two people loving each other and willing to do anything to stay together, even when they just don’t belong. Beautiful, but sad..’
The song itself is beautiful. Guinevere in its essence is a a capella group, blending their wonderful vocals together as I remember of the R&B group Shai and their big hit If I Ever Fall In Love Again. The ladies have that same soul in their voices. Together with the harmonies of the GUDA drums and the bass under it Fox and Bird is a wonderful ballad to end the album.

Overall I love Home. It has a real laid back feeling, the ideal music to put on if you want to relax and unwind. It has this mellow summer night feel all over it, yet, Rob experimented a lot with this intresting instrument which was totally new to him. Going from new age to ambient, from African Kalimba to Buddhist gongs, with that ever so slight jazzy approach to it all.
Rob:‘Yes, I’ve written a lot of different songs to find out what’s possible on the GUDA drum. 2 songs that didn’t make the album (maybe the next one) are a drum ’n’ bass and a jazz song. Because it’s so easy to amplify GUDA drums, I’ve had several effect pedals attached to them to see what the limits are and I hope the GUDA drum will be seen as a diverse instrument that has unique acoustic – and digital options. Working together with other artists was a blast, you won’t believe how fast Tineke finished Fox and Bird after I sent her the melody. Gijs van Straalen has the quality to add something nice to everything I write. And Fieke, well of course it was nice with Fieke. We have worked on a lot of music together -ThunderCrow, Contrebrassens, OMNIA, etc- and I hope we will work on a lot more!’


Editor: Diane Deroubaix


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