March 11th, 2017. On the stage of the Gothic & Fantasy Fair in Rijswijk -now known as the
we find a duo from the Czech Republic. Their name?
Their music? Atmospheric dark pagan folk. During the concert, Michael Zann and Katarína Pomorská intrigued me with their slow, mystical, slightly eerie folk sound. Especially Michael’s acoustic guitar playing and the voice of Katarina impressed me enough for me to buy their second CD Labyrinth Of Druids, an album I would describe as a long dreamy atmospheric yet eerie pagan folk soundtrack. Very intriguing, with its mix of delicate acoustic guitar, female vocals, and carpets of slow symphonic keyboards underneath. This CD would work perfectly as a score for any slightly darker fantasy movie.
Fast forward two years and I found myself in 2019. After publishing the review for
latest album, Mann, I got an email from Michael asking if I would be willing to review their latest record, Urðarbrunnr. Remembering how intriguing I found Labyrinth of Druids I didn’t hesitate to say yes. And Urðarbrunnr didn’t disappoint. The band still makes slow, atmospheric, dark, pagan folk that really captivates the listener, in its own unique way.
As I said, Nemuer was formed in 2014 when multi-instrumentalist/ singer Michael Zann and collegae multi-instrumentalist/singer Katarína Pomorská started putting a captivating mix of dark fantasy, eerie dreams, and mystical atmosphere to music.
From the beginning they have aimed to bring ancient myths and stories back to life, using authentic dead languages and ancient instruments to do so.
Their first album Irenthot’s Dream (2014) was set in the ancient Mayan Empire. Their second album Labyrinth Of Druids (2015) is described by Nemuer themselves as a Lovecraftian music album.
In 2018 they released their third album Gardens Of Babylon during a concert together with the kindred spirits of
The Moon And The Nightspirit.
As the title suggests, Gardens Of Babylon is set in the ancient city of Babylon and talks about the heaviness and beauty of death. The album itself sounds a lot more open and ‘positive’ than the theme suggests. The focus is less on the symphonic keyboard carpet giving Labyrinth Of Druids its special soundscape feel, but more organic, more acoustic. It is actually the folkiest album Nemuer has made to date. And there is indeed a similarity to the music of The Moon And The Nightspirit that fans of that group may find interesting.
And now there is Urðarbrunnr. The band -In 2019 Nemuer grew to a full band with Alex Pantea on Duval and vocals and Martin Kopl doing the programming and live samples- takes us to another period in ancient history with this album. An entirely different part of the ancient world altogether, I may add. Readers interested in Nordic mythology will recognize the album title as the well of Urd, the well as described in the famous Edda, to be found beneath the world tree Yggdrasil. And indeed, true to form, all the lyrics are composed of extracts of the Edda, the old Norse sagas. I just have to mention track titles like: Ymir’s Death; The Binding Of Fenrir; Yggdrasil trembles and Thor’s Final Battle, and the true fans of Nordic folk and folklore will know enough.
The first track, Ymir’s Death straight away sets the tone for what you can expect from Urðarbrunnr. Deep low keyboard samples setting a grim atmosphere and the acoustic sound of the bass tagelharpa- an ancient Nordic lyre type instrument- giving it an authentic touch. You could call it a mix between the atmospheric semi-acoustic sound of
Trobar de Morte
and the slightly sharp, grim, big sound of the early 80’s gothic rock bands. Especially Michael’s style of whispered throat singing that Michale uses throughout the whole record takes me way back to
the Fields Of The Nephilim.
An underestimated Gothic rock band from that 80’s period that I just love, but way, way slower. Bands like
The Sisters of Mercy,
and Fields of the Nephilim used to have a quite danceable, relatively fast beat under it. But Nemuer plays their music much slower. Their drumbeat is more similar to that of Trobar de Morte or even
Compared to the previous Nemuer albums I find Urðarbrunnr darker, less open in production. Quite fitting for the Nordic themes Michael “whispers’ about. Also, the female vocals from Katarína seem almost non-existant on Urðarbrunnr. Again a choice that I well understand considering the current theme of the songs
The second song Snýsk Jörmungandr is again a very good example of Nemuer’s present sound. The drums are slow and deep. With the repeated bass tagelharpa, the female vocals – yes here Katariína makes a vocal appearance- weaving in and out, Micheal’s combined slightly distorted deep throat singing combined with whispered Nordic vocals, and the carpet of keyboards under it the song becomes almost trance-like. But not boring. Just at the right moments a whispered voice, a sudden female vocal or even a tempo change comes in to keep the song interesting, intriguing, 07:34 minutes long.
Not all tracks are that long, but Nemuer do take their time building up a song, as you might expect from a dark, atmospheric, gothic, pagan folk band.
Hel is one of those shorter yet equally powerful songs. A single shaman drum being hit, each new hit several seconds after the other, eerie whispered vocals drawing you in, a single horn-like sample, some keyboards setting the tone. It is all the song needs. Listening to Hel I suddenly realized how well the music fits with the painting on the CD cover. Grey, grim, but not utterly black. Just many shades of beautiful grey (Pun not intended).
The Binding Of Fenrir is another one of those beautiful repetitive grey songs. Again that slow, deep shaman drum sound captivates me. The start I find almost minimalistic by nature, and slowly, ever so slowly building up to an epic track with strong choir-like vocals, an electric guitar, picking up the melody in such a way, that for a moment I’m sure that I’m listening to the violin on a track from Turn Loose The Swan, that legendary album of
My Dying Bride.
But not long. The horn section coming in takes me right back to Nemuer’s own specific style. Michael’s throat singing vocals are the finishing touch on this wonderful epic, dark song.
I’m quite aware that Urðarbrunnr will not be everybody’s cup of tea. But I personally love songs like: Odin’s Quest For Wisdom; Heimdallr Blows Gjallarhorn; The Allfather Dies -with a nice bit of overtone singing from Michael- or Thor’s Final Battle. They all are beautifully dark, slowly-played, gothic songs, drawing me deep into the Nordic mythology. Michael and Nemuer play very cleverly with the contrast between the mystical electronic samples and the clarity of the acoustic instruments and the sudden shifts in tempo like on Odin’s quest For Wisdom -I love the tribal ending of that song – regularly add interest, preventing the music to become boring. And there are more of those clever arrangements to be found on Urðarbrunnr. In songs like the -almost- cheerful Freyr’s Lovesickness, or my favourite song Yggdrasil trembles, with that lovely low tagalharpa sound that makes me think Faber Horbach (Sowulo) joined in.
If you like your clothing dark, and if you share my love for:Nordic folk; atmospheric folk bands like Trobar de Morte; slow, almost doomy songs that keep drawing you in a trancelike state; and gothic acoustic rock, then check this Czech band out. Nemuer made a very strong -and within the limitations of the genre- even varied album. For the true connoisseur of dark music.
-Editor: Sara Weeda.
cover art: Kuba Vaniš
-Cliff de booy,
M’anam – M’anam (2019) review
When I think of Ireland I think of the obvious postcard pictures: The rugged coastlines, the misty moors, the ancient ruins, the monks that travelled to all the corners of the medieval world. I think of foggy greens, rainy blues, and cloudy greys. I think of mystery and adventure. And I think of the ambient sounds of
the first introduction to Celtic music I heard on the radio as a young lad, many years ago. Well, now I also think of
for the music they make, the music
(the artistic leader of ANÚNA) wrote for this collaboration with members of the Dutch a capella singing group
The Olga Vocal Ensemble
and the male voices of
takes my heart to ancient Eire. The times when the Tuatha Dé Danann could still be seen as shadows in the mist. The days when the footsteps of the great hero Cúchulainn still shook the earth. The times when the Morrigan was still flying over the dark battlefields and the dark nights when the druids were still leading their ceremonies within the ancient standing stone circles, waiting for the solstice sun to arise. But also to medieval times, when the Irish monks spread over the known world and shared the knowledge of the antique world that was almost gone.
With their deep full voices, M’ANAM takes me with them to those long-gone days, in a more than stunning way.
You would think there is no way I could do a review about M’ANAM without mentioning Micheal McGlynn, the founder, composer and artistic leader of ANÚNA since 1987. Michael is named as the artistic leader of M’ANAM, he co-produced the album, he contributed to almost every song, so it would be easy to think M’ANAM is just another Michael McGlynn project. But it is NOT!!! To use Michael’s own words: “M’ANAM is very different. It’s a band of brothers! It’s a true band – like any other – and they act like a band. My role in M’ANAM is that I am a composer and someone who inspires others to create for themselves. Nothing more.”
Talking to Michael McGlynn about M’ANAM it became very clear to me he doesn’t want to be the leader of them. He wants them to shine and wants to help them with ideas and their talents in any way he can. M’ANAM is a true band and Michael just happens to be one of the members.
The idea for M’ANAM started when Michael discovered a Dutch a capella group on Youtube that sang one of his pieces. He was really taken by the quality of their version. That a capella group was the Olga Vocal Ensemble and Michael got a chance to meet them when ANÚNA gave a performance in The ir hometown, Utrecht. Philip Barkhudarov, a member of the Olga Vocal Ensemble describes them all coming together as follows: ” In a way, the development of M’ANAM and the connection of ANÚNa and Olga Vocal Ensemble were inevitable. Our shared love of the ancient and the commonality of the rugged Icelandic landscapes and culture put us on a collision course long before we knew anything about it. It was this shared interest that first drew us -the guys from Olga- to perform some of Michael McGlynn’s ANÚNA songs, which eventually led to us meeting up. And things just took off from there.”
Not taking anything away from any member of the Olga Vocal Ensemble, who are all very talented singers, Michael was fascinated by the voice of Bjarni Guðmundsson who has, as Michael explained: “a strange and ethereal tenor sound that I really wanted to write for” In March of 2017 Bjarni joined ANÚNA and together Michael and Bjarni selected a song that would showcase that unique voice of the latter. That song became Gunnarshólmi. A song that would, in the end, prove very influential for the direction in which M’ANAM’s sound would develop.
The lovely ballad Gunnarshólmi, solo vocals by Bjarni Guðmundsson.
Touring with a vocal group like ANÚNA and working so extensively together unavoidabley means that colleagues become friends. And having so many artistic talents together in a group of friends almost organically leads to them make music together. And that is what happened with M’ANAM. A band formed from friendship and the wish to make music together. The final touch was when Philip Barkhudarov from the Olga Vocal Ensemble joined the M’ANAM idea with his deep rich Russian bass sound. Bitter Wind and Deyr Fé were born, and with it the distinctive M’ANAM sound.
Philip’s thoughts on it:” It was a huge collaborative effort – the inspiration and stories behind the songs come from all of us, and each singer’s unique sound and vocal/instrumental skills can add to the sound in surprising ways. Some of the songs didn’t take on any kind of recognizable form until we’d spent a good while experimenting in the studio and finding out what the song actually was. When I went into the studio to work on Bitter Wind for the first time, I had no idea what it would end up being. But with some experimental input from the singers, and with a few epic layers of percussion from Noel Eccles, it became something greater than any of us had anticipated.”
With ANÚNA being an Irish choir (with their own unique twist to the genre. Hopefully I can come back to that in an ANÚNA review) and The Olga Vocal Ensemble being an a capella singing group with a Nordic influenced record under their belt: their second album Vikings!– it would be obvious to think that M’ANAM would be a mix of the two, and in THIS case, it IS actually true.
M’ANAM -the album- is a lovely mix of the choir influences from ANÚNA and the acapella sound of the Olga Vocal Ensemble, making it an album that sounds classical, yet free-spirited and very Celtic at the same time. Which in a way is a funny comment because the first song, Celeuma actually is a poem describing the rhythm of the Roman oarsmen beautifully put to music. The strength of the low voices makes it almost mystical and the different melody lines weave together effortlessly, even if you’re not used to listening to choir-like vocal music.
As I said, most of the music on M’ANAM has a Celtic background, mostly putting old Irish, Scottish or English texts to music or rearranging old traditionals and the M’ANAM singers were clearly involved in it. The Hound’s Cry, for instance, is co-written by Cian O’Donnell, and the English traditional The Sheep Stealer is rearranged by Fergus Cahillane and Michael McGlynn together.
Fergus Cahillane also had the lead voice in Ardi Cuain, a song full of longing and melancholy, and I love his voice. So pure, so warm, it really struck a chord within me. The choir behind him even enhances that melancholy and do I hear a bit of overtone singing there too?
It wasn’t until I read the blogs on Michael McGlynn’s personal webpage that I understood what makes Ardi Cuain -actually the whole album- so special. Fergus doesn’t sing the solo as a classically trained tenor, which I would expect from a classic choir album. No, he uses his normal voice, well-trained of course, but still, his voice stays as it naturally is. And I suddenly realize that with the added amount of technique you put in a voice, you lose some pure, raw emotion. Not so in Ardi Cuain. It’s pouring over with emotion. A lovely blend between the old Clannad, a Gregorian choir and a touch of pagan folk with the overtone voice. You can just feel the mist drift over the Irish shore while you listen to this. Easily one of my favourite songs on the album.
On the fourth song, Bitter Wind, M’ANAM manages to keep this ancient mystic atmosphere, this pure rawness of strong emotions. The intro sound is already creepy, indeed a bitter wind comes out of my speakers. As I already told in the intro, this time Philip Barkudarov has his moment to shine. His voice has that deep rich Russian sound and he makes the most of it. Especially the way he actually holds back to make it sound even deeper, even stronger, sounds so impressive. But I shouldn’t focus on him alone here. The group as a whole makes the most of their deep male voices. Agreed all the layers of a male voice are there, high and low, as you would expect from a choir or acapella singing group. But the focus is on that low, rich, deep sound, with another bit of overtone singing just as icing on the cake. Another stunning song.
Tenebrae comes a bit closer towards what I would expect from a male choir. But in this case, it is Gavin Brennan’s subtle saxophone which adds that touch of difference. that extra touch of beauty that pulls you in. It’s those touches that make the music accessible for people who have never listened to classical choral music before. If you are interested in discovering this type of music, M’ANAM is an ideal album to start with.
With Deyr Fé we go into those dark deep voices again. Bjarni Guðmundsson is the lead vocalist on this song, and his high tenor cuts right through the wall of low chords the choir is laying down. That moment where acapella singing, meets new-age choir singing, meets the intense power of the Icelandic landscape in this 10th-century Viking text put to music by Michael McGlynn.
The lovely Icelandic ballad Gunnarshólmi; the English traditional The Sheep Stealer -with its strong Celtic folk feel the most acapella style song on M’ANAM- ; and the title song M’ANAM are all also beautiful slow choir songs that are like balm to the soul. If ever there was an album you could totally unwind on, this would be it.
Bandó Ribineann (video above) is one of the very few upbeat songs on M’ANAM, the tone goes up in the direction of the tenors and it feels like spring just sparkled through your window. Another one of my favourite songs.
Keen eyes will now have noticed that I missed out three songs, The Hounds Cry, Ag Iascaireacht and La Chanson De Mardi Grass. There are not bad songs, not at all. Ag Iascaireacht is a cheerful Irish melody made even more cheerful by the upbeat bodhrán under it. La Chanson De Mardi Grass sounds to me like Gregorian chant (I know it isn’t actually Gregorian at all, it just sounds that way), meets French African country singing. And The Hounds Cry is a seriously catchy Celtic pop song gone choral, especially with the electric guitar melody in it. But, the thing is that they, for me, feel out of place.
The overall feel of ancient mystique, those strong impressive vocal songs, they catch me emotionally and take me back to times long gone by. That overall feeling clashes with these three songs. It’s like watching a thrilling episode of Twin Peaks and suddenly having three scenes from Who framed Roger Rabbit cut right through it.
Again, I do like the songs themselves, but for me, they would only work if they were put in a different place on the album. I would suggest after Bandó Ribineann so that there is a more natural flow of music for me. But that’s only a small glitch on an otherwise impressive album. Something that wouldn’t bother people who are less emotionally involved while listening
All in all, M’ANAM is a powerful, impressive album. One of the M’ANAM members mentioned that although most songs are slow songs, ballads, there aren’t any love songs on the album. At that point, I don’t agree. Granted, there are no traditional love themes to be found on M’ANAM. But the whole album is filled with love. A love for music. A love and respect for each other as friends and singers. And a love for the land and its history, not only of their (adopted) homeland Eire but also for Island, two naturally rich and rugged countries with stunning landscapes, one wild and ancient, one young and turbulent. Two sister countries that in their history are so intertwined.
M’ANAM managed to capture that in their songs, in their performance, I could clearly feel it. People who love the music of ANÚNA, the early Clannad, or the wave of new age albums from the late 80’s – think Gregorian chant or
will love this album. People who are new to choral music, this truly is a lovely CD to discover its power in all its beauty.
Editor: Sara Weeda
Nadia Birkenstock – Whispering Woods (2019)
A harp is a beautiful instrument. It can be imposing like the sea, it can sparkle like a waterfall, it can dance like a butterfly or it can be sad as the rain on a grey morning.
On A La Source, the first song of Whispering Woods, it is caressing my ears, flowing and sparkling through them like a young stream over small rocks on an early spring morning, the sky full of pastel colours, relaxing yet energising every single ounce of my being.
It’s only one harp I hear, nothing more, she is delicate and soothing, yet she has the power to take me away to those happy moments I’ve spent hiding in the morning mist with my camera, the sun starting to turn the water into diamonds, a wren defiantly hopping around me, closer and closer, as I was waiting for a kingfisher to flash by. This, dear readers, is the beauty of a harp.
I’m listening to Whispering Woods, the ninth album of harpist and singer
Whispering Woods is a title well chosen for this solo harp CD, as the delicate tones of this lovely album indeed take me away to the woods my girlfriend spent hours in during her youth. The place I’ve also learned to love. A place not far from the birthplace of Nadia actually. A small stream flowing through the forests surrounding the Scharpenacker in the hills above Wuppertal and magically called the Murmelbach.
Nadia Birkenstock herself was born in Solingen, Germany a town quite nearby. She started playing the piano at 5 and she started singing with various choirs and vocal ensembles during her teenage years. She first discovered the harp during a concert of the legendary Scottish harp duo
At the age of 16, she started to play the harp herself, first teaching herself, later taking lessons with classically trained teachers including masterclasses with
in the USA and Scottish harp player
Nadia earned herself a one-year scholarship in the USA and got her first vocal training during her stay at the
in Connecticut. She continued her vocal training at the
in Düsseldorf, Germany.
During her vocal studies, Nadia created her first solo performance for Celtic harp and voice and she never looked back, touring the world, playing festivals like
the Southeastern harp weekend (North Carolina, USA),
the Sentmenat harp festival
the Rencontres Internationales de la Harpe Celtique
in Dinan, France and the
in Italy among many, many others.
In 2001 Nadia released her first solo album: Emerald Isles. She herself describes this CD as a mix of Irish harp music, Celtic songs, dance tunes, and original compositions. A CD that got her positive reactions from
and Celtic world radio in Australia.
Wondering Between The worlds was released in 2003, followed by Winter Tales in 2006, a lovely Celtic folk Christmas album that indeed mixes the magic of Christmas with the beauty of Celtic harp music. You can find it on Spotify here.
In 2007 Nadia released another themed CD, one I haven’t listened to yet but which sounds really interesting. A mix of lullabies from around the world called Les Berceuses De Coline.
The next album, Strange New Land, came out in 2008 and Nadia sees that as her songwriter debut. In 2011 she did another very interesting project that came out in two languages; The Enchanted Lake (English) and Der Verzauberte See (German). According to Folk World it’s a mix of exquisite harp music and outstanding storytelling by Dublin actor
Mick Fitzgerald and I’ll happily take their word for it. This combination of Celtic harp music and fairytales earned Nadia Birkenstock the global music award 2011.
In 2010 another interesting collaboration started, this time with Welsh percussionist and gong makerSteve Hubback.
The two played the opening concert at the international harp festival at Sentmenat, Barcelona in 2010 and kept making music and playing concerts together culminating in the 2013 album The Glow Within, an album that combines Celtic folk music with more freer, experimental pieces.
Finally, to conclude Nadia’s more than impressive biography she also plays concerts together with the German string quartet
In these concerts the five ladies focus both on Nadia’s own compositions and on traditional Celtic songs and dance music.
And now there is a new album, the first one from Nadia’s hand that made it to CeltCast HQ, but it certainly won’t be the last one! Whispering Woods came out in October 2019. Although it still has one or two pure Celtic songs on it -including my personal favourite; The Musical Priest, with a lovely sparkling harp arrangement may I add- most of the songs have a timeless beauty to it. Purely featuring the beauty of the harp and the skills of Nadia as a harp player and songwriter. There are no vocals on Whispering Woods and it’s almost completely done solo. Only occasionally, percussionist and guitarist
who also recorded and mixed Whispering Woods– joins in to assist Nadia. You might think that there is not too much to say about a pure harp album, but how wrong you would be then. Whispering Woods presents gem after gem. I already mentioned the sparkling opening track A La Source and the Celtic folk classic The Magical Priest, but there are many more.
The second track on Whispering Woods, The Lady Of Gollerus is a bit calmer than A La Source, it has a more gentle melody. But just as in A La Source, Nadia plays really cleverly with stereo effects and different layers in her arrangements, she together with producer Thomas Vogt also added small musical touches all over the CD to enrich the music. Here it is mainly the waves of harp chords sprinkled like fairy dust over the main melody. It may sound like a small touch, but it is so important to keep the music interesting and is therefore really smartly done.
Spesbourg starts with some strong harp chords, going into a fragile almost classical harp intro. If I close my eyes, I can easily see a single ballerina floating over a dark stage. And then suddenly there is Thomas Vogt on percussion and the song turns into a cross between Celtic folk and the kind of instrumental singer-songwriter music
played so expertly well on her latest CD Touches. I love the catchy melody. I also love the layers of percussion, harp chords and the harp lead voice laid over each other. I deliberately say harp voice, of course I know it is a lead melody, but Nadia has the ability to make her harp sing. I never knew pure harp music could be so catchy.
Nadia keeps that Celtic pop-folk feel with Toccatta. I can hear hints of the sound of
Pagan Folklore sound in the intro -people who love Jenny’s Naked Harp album should really check this CD out, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise- but soon Toccatta flows into another lovely combination of Celtic harp, pop-folk and flashes of classical harp solo. Nadia Birkenstock officially called her CD Whispering Woods – Celtic Harp solos, but that title doesn’t fully do justice to the music. These tracks are far more than just harp solo pieces. They are true songs. With intent and purpose. Just like Jyoti Verhoeff, Nadia is a singer-songwriter by heart, who decided to let her instrument do the singing. And what an amazing voice her harp has. I can’t begin to imagine what would happen if she and Jyoti happened to meet up and start a project together. It would – most likely- be stunning.
Enough of this daydreaming, back to Whispering Woods. As I said this album keeps giving and giving. The Glow Within is another tender ballad ‘sung’ by the beautiful harp voice. It’s amazing how this album works in both ways. You can listen to it as I do now, through headphones, with full attention and you’ll find it’s intriguing, captivating music. But played as background music, it will flow through you. Calming. Relaxing.
This album will show you what happens when a gifted artist becomes one with her instrument and with the music she is playing. It becomes true beauty.
We are not even halfway through the CD, and there are many more gems to come. Be it fragile tender harp solos, beautiful ballads, lovely midtempo instrumental singer-songwriter tunes or up-tempo Celtic folk classics, but I’ve said all I need to say about Whispering Woods. Every extra syllable added would just take away from the music. any extra word more would only be reviewer blah blah blah.
With this album, Nadia has inspired me for pure harp music. She has shown me the versatility of this impressive instrument. And I thank her deeply for that.
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
pictures: Thomas Zydatiß
Twigs & Twine – Long Story Short (2019) review
Twigs & Twine started as a good excuse for a group of friends to play music together, but it quickly grew into a fully-fledged folk-pop band with original material.‘ Never was the first sentence of a biography as spot-on as this first line written by
Twigs & Twine.
Somewhere further in the bio the band state: ‘For our music, we use a huge variety of instruments as well as different languages, but most importantly, lots of humor, even in songs that are really about death and tragedy.‘ Again so, so true. Twigs & Twine’s debut album is oozing with good vibes, humor, and positive energy which make it a joy to listen to. So let’s get acquainted with this fun bunch of young musicians.
Twigs & Twine’s story started when five friends:
-Eef – vocals, piano, and bodhrán
-Iris – vocals, cajon, djembe, bodhrán
-Lian- vocals, piano, autoharp, violin
-Luca – vocals, ukelele, lute guitar, mouth organ
-Marijke – vocals, low whistle, tin whistle
came together under the name twibv, short for ‘Tot We Iets Beters Vinden’ (‘till we find something better’), to play Irish folk together. Soon they started incorporating their own material in their music, with lyrics influenced by mythology, old manuscripts, poems, nature, and their own experiences.
In 2015 their first EP, Snippets, came out. In 2017 they won a Dutch street music festival called
‘De Gouden pet’
(the golden cap) and they played the major Dutch festivals:
The Midwinter Fair,
In 2019 the band found their way into the studio to record their debut CD.
So here we have it, Long Story Short, the first album by Twigs & Twine and I have to say this is a charming CD. It contains13 fun songs that the band wrote and arranged themselves, carving out their own little niche in folk music I would call theater folk.
All members of Twigs & Twine have a healthy sense of humor and the best example of Twigs & Twines’ sense of humor comes straight away with the first song, Nehalennia. When I first heard it I thought it was an old text put to music, just as it is common in the Medieval/pagan folk scene to do, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The band wrote a song about the ultimate climax between two lovers, and then translated that into Latin! And the best thing about it? it is not a cheese gimmick; it’s really well written. The lyrics are truly poetic, and the music is also well-composed, making Nehalennia a lovely song.
The second song, The Trail, is another pleasant folk-pop song, this time dipped in a wee bit of country sauce, mainly through the vocals. It’s followed by Baídín Fheilimí, a well known Irish children’s tune sung quite often in schools. I love the interpretation of Twigs & Twine. Lian has a lovely voice that blends really well with the piano, low whistle, and autoharp but also with her fellow musician’s voices in this tender ballad.
It says a lot about the band that Lian went to her old Irish teacher to work on her ‘accent’ for this song. The songs and explanations in the extended booklet, (the band actually wrote a separate book for the liner notes called Long Story Longer, as they became too big to fit in the CD), may look witty and fun, but Twigs and Twine do take their music seriously.
‘t Witte Wiefje is a song in Dutch about a farmboy who got caught in a deadly dance with ‘een Witte Wief’ , a cross between a witch and a ghost found in the mist, mostly known in legends in the east of Holland. The whole arrangement of the song sounds so Dutch to me (in a good way though!). In Holland, we have a long tradition of cabaret. Cabaret is a type of comedy similar to stand up comedy, but in cabaret the comedian usually has a general storyline or a main theme flowing through his show, binding the jokes together. Quite often the comedian will also sing some songs that are more serious, more meant to make you think about what the comedian is trying to say with his jokes. Those songs used to be influenced by french chansons, but evolved and became a specific theatrical style of their own, and are usually either voice and piano, or the comedian singing with a small duo or trio of piano, guitar and double bass in the background. For a non-Dutch/Belgium/German reader, think of the song Edelweiss in The Sound Of Music. That comes pretty close to what I’m describing. Many of Twigs & Twine’s songs carry the same ‘klein Kunst’ DNA as songs made by well known Dutch artists like
Acda En De Munnik
Claudia de Breij.
Messe Ocus Pangur Bán is the next song with a clear klein kunst DNA. The ukelele and cheerful flute make it a song that could easily be in the repertoire of Dutch comedian
Just a fun little song to fully enjoy. I really love the bluesy mouth organ in it. And saying all that about a song that is actually a 9th-century poem by an Irish monk put to music. Talking about making a song your own!
The Nightingale is -again- an older text that got the Twigs & Twine makeover. It’s an adaptation of a poem from Brittany, the general melody makes me think a lot of the Dutch folk band
but with that clear Twigs & Twine sauce poured over it.
Maiden in the Mor Lay is probably my favorite song on Long story Short. A song Twigs & Twine found in the back of a book about Middle English. It features all of the beautiful voices of Twigs and Twine, Luca taking the lead in this one and all the others following suit, only accompanied by guitar and cajon, making the song almost a capella and very reminiscent of Omnia
in this specific case. It is sung really beautifully.
As is the next track: Song of the Exiled. A lovely ballad in the style of
with some beautiful harmonies: one of Twigs and Twine’s standout trademarks.
Which brings me to the only downside of Long Story Short. I wish that the band would have gotten a better sound on this album. For some reason the studio engineer and mixer decided to use a lot of reverb on the voices, making them sound very indirect. Sometimes there is so much reverb that it seems the microphone is standing in the middle of the room, with the singers standing some meters away from it. I have to be honest, I am not a fan of that sound. In my opinion, it takes away a lot of the beauty of the voices and the fragile yet beautiful piano, harp or guitar arrangements the band so carefully thought out which is such a shame. Songs like This Is Fun, the stunning instrumental Epiphany In D, Mirie It Is or indeed songs like Nehalennia and The Trail could have sounded so much better with a more direct mix.
All in all Twigs & Twine have made a lovely debut. Their Klein Kunst (theater) folk is positive, vibrant and full of energy and I really enjoyed listening to it. People who enjoy the music of AmmA, Omnia’s Poetry album, or the music of theatre acts like Claudia the Brey of
will most likely enjoy Long Story Short too. I myself am already looking forward to the next album of this young band.
– Editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
– bandportrait: Marlike Marks
CeltCast Classic – Back of the Moon – Luminosity (2005)
The last months we started a new series of reviews that we call the CeltCast Classics. In this series, we feature older albums that we feel deserve to be in the spotlight one more time either because of their importance, their influence on the scene, or just because they are stunningly beautiful. Now the collective CeltCast record collection will be quite enough to keep us going for a good while, but we felt it would be way more interesting if we would ask well-known people from the scene to nominate a CeltCast classic. The very first we asked to do so was no other then
creative director and one of the masterminds behind
Mark van der Stelt.
His answer came swiftly:” I’ve narrowed it down to 3 options,
Back of the Moon
It’s gonna be Luminosity by Back of the Moon, that’s the album I play the most. The first time I heard this CD I knew I wanted to invite this band on one of our podia. The music comes together perfectly. Delightful timing, and the voice of the singer is brilliant.
Sadly they split up. It would be really something if they would be willing to grace Keltfest for a one-time reunion concert!”
So the research began. Who were Back of the Moon? What did their music sound like? What are the band members up to nowadays? And most importantly, can we still get a hold of their music?
Well, Back of the Moon are a Scottish band that formed in 2000, first under the name Gillian Frame & Back of the Moon. The founding band members were Gillian Frame (fiddle, vocals), Simon McKerrell (border pipes, uillean pipes, whistle, vocals) and Hamish Napier, (piano, vocals). In 2001 Findlay Napier (guitar, vocals) was asked to join the band and with that line-up, the band released their first album Gillian Frame & Back of the Moon on the
Foot Stompin’Records label.
In 2003 their second record Fortune’s Road came out. A lovely Scottish folk album, mixing Scottish instrumental folk songs with traditional sounding vocal songs. At that point, they shortened the band name to Back of the Moon.
Fortune’s Road won the band their first accolades, winning Best Up and Coming Act at the
Scots Trad Music awards
back in 2003 and Best Celtic Group” at
Festival Interceltique de Lorient.
After that Simon McKerrell left the band and was replaced by Ali Hutton (border pipes, whistle, Bodhrán) and in that formation Back of the Moon recorded Luminosity which was also released by Foot Stompin’Records in 2005 and is still available through them as digital album. (for information click
With Luminosity, Back of the Moon won the title of Best Folk Band with the Scots Trad Music awards. A well-deserved reward! Sadly, in November 2007 the curtain was drawn for the last time, as Back of the Moon played their very last gig at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC.
As far as I can see only Luminosity is still officially available with Foot Stompin’, but CD’s are still regularly available second hand through eBay and Amazon, and that is how we got our copy of this brilliant CD, ’cause I can already tell you this really is a gem. So let’s dive into it!
Wow, that opening stands. That’s the first thing I thought as I heard the powerful first piano chords of Lumsden’s Rant. This sounded more like a pop album, a bit like
actually, not like the Celtic folk I was expecting. Not for long though. Soon enough the pipes, violin and whistles join in the fun for a good old Gaelic dance tune, full of energy, full of cool variations in the melody. Still, it’s not in your typical folk style, the piano chords and pop arrangements under it give it some extra dynamics, as if Keane indeed started playing Scottish folk. Back of the Moon has me wide awake after this strong opener.
I actually expected the band to carry on with that same full-on energy but no, they change down gears all the way with the second and third song; Glenlogie and Nine Stone Rig. Both are beautiful ballads that wouldn’t look out of place on any good singer-songwriter album.
Glenlogie is – according to the booklet – one of the few traditional Scottish ballads with a happy ending and it features the beautiful voice of Findlay Napier. You can compare it to Belgian singer-songwriter
Findlay has the same pleasant, friendly tone that Milow has. Your mind instantly calms down when he starts singing. Mesmerising. And Back of the Moon had two such those voices! As you can hear on Nine Stone Rig, Gillian Frame is blessed with an equally mesmerising voice, a wee bit like
It’s rare for a band to have two singers of this calibre and luckily Back of the Moon makes full use of them.
Both Glenlogie and Nine Stone Rig are lovely calming ballads, played ever so tenderly, weaving a blanket of soothing notes around the vocalists, making them sound even warmer and softer than they already are. The lovely trumpet ‘solo’ in Glenlogie or the flute improvisations in Nine Stone Rig are the icing on the cake. What a wonderful start to this album.
Back of the Moon performing The Brewer lady at
the Philadelphia Folk Festival,
The fourth song, Eggs In The Kitchen, is the second of the six instrumental folksongs you’ll find on Luminosity. This time it starts more traditional, a gentle violin melody opens this song, named after a remark grandpa Napier once made:’There are eggs in the kitchen!.’ Well, it must have been scrambled eggs, cause when the pipes come in the tempo accelerates fast and Eggs In The Kitchen becomes a tasty mix of Celtic folk meets upbeat pop music. I actually love the pop arrangements Back of the Moon added to their instrumental songs. It gives them something extra. A bit of extra punch.
It always sounds so easy, recording a Gaelic jig or reel, but it actually is really hard. First, you need a catchy tune, then the talent to keep the variations interesting and lastly the imagination to give it the arrangement that makes it stand out from all those other dance tunes out there. Back Of the Moon combined all those talents. This includes the cool stereo effects in Eggs In the Kitchen, the lovely melodies and variations in songs like Lumsden’s Rant, Eggs In he Kitchen or Goodfellas, or the lovely pop arrangements and trombone halfway through the latter song. Back of the moon has it all.
With Joey Beauty and Voodoo Chilli, the band even recorded two instrumental ballads! And good ones at that. Joey Beauty, for instance, is a beautiful love song, sung not by vocals, but by Gillian on fiddle and Hamish on flute.
Now that I’ve mentioned them, ballads are the speciality of Back of the Moon. I already mentioned Glenlogie and Nine Stone Rig, but there are way more gems like that on Luminosity. Gillian’s beautiful voice (and also Ali’s lovely whistle melodies) shine once more in The Final Trawl.
Brewer Lad is a positive upbeat folk song, sung by Findlay Napier, reminding me a lot of the German band
who we featured in our previous CeltCast Classics. I especially like how Findlay and Gillian’s voices blend together here. A match made in heaven.
I’ve saved the best for last though. A song that is also Mark van de Stelts favourite: Ship In A Bottle. It starts with a stunning violin and flute intro that made me totally tear up the first time I heard it. I still get goosebumps all over when this song starts. Findlay’s voice is absolutely beautiful in this touching ballad of what could have been but never was. One of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long while. Celtic singer-songwriter folk at its very, very best! I fully understand why Mark nominated Luminosity to be a CeltCast Classic. This song alone makes this album worth that title. You may need to search a bit to obtain it, but it will be so worth the effort. Luminosity is a wonderful pop-folk album. I can only hope that Mark manages to make his wish come true and that Back of the Moon will grace the stage one more time. I know that I’ll be standing right there, front row, taking it all in. Guaranteed
-editor: Diane Deroubaix
Special thanks to Mark van der Stelt and Diane Deroubaix for providing me with the music and inspiration.
After the breakup of Back of the Moon, all bandmembers remained extremely active within the Scottish folk scene. Here is a small summary:
– Simon McKerrell
now has a PhD. To quote his biography: ‘Dr Simon McKerrell is a Reader in Music and Society at Newcastle University and has previously worked at the Universities of Sheffield, Glasgow and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He is interested in the social impact of music and the creative industries. His current research focuses on music in the creative economy in rural areas and takes an interdisciplinary and mixed methods approach to the relationship between culture and policy. He is the author of Focus: Scottish Traditional Music (Routledge), and the Co-Editor of both Music as Multimodal Discourse: Media, Power and Protest (Bloomsbury) and Understanding Scotland Musically: Folk, Tradition, Modernity (Routledge).”
He is also still actively playing the pipes.
More info on that can be found on his website: https://simonmckerrell.com/
– Ali Hutton has been extremely busy since 2007 sharing his talent with numerous folk acts and bands, building up a discography that counts well over thirty records! Among them are
with whom he has the
Ross and Ali
project, which at the moment is BIG news in the UK and the band
Old blind dogs.
He is also a founding member of
the Treacherous Orchestra,
which, according to Findlay Napier, is a HUGE band in the British folk scene -and I’ll gladly take his word in it.
For all info:
– Hamish Napier has been just as active as Ali Hutton, working as a tutor; a composer; a producer and co-arranger a solo artist and a live performer. He does that as part of the duo
with fiddler Adam Sutherland; withDuncan Chrishom’s ‘gathering’;
as well as the
Jarlath Henderson band.
He also works together with Ross Ainslie in his
Next to that, he has received many more accolades over the years. Among them, Best composer and Best tutor of the year with the Scots Trad music awards, AND has his own
out. The lovely albums The River (2016) and The Railroad (2018). Both cd’s I’m sure will find their way to my review table at some point in time.,/br>
-Gillian Frame, just as all other former Back of the Moon members, has been an active contributor to the Scottish folk scene, as a tutor but also a session musician with acts such as
The Unusual Suspects,
Mairearad Green and
Anna and Duncan Lyall’s infinite reflections.
In February 2016 she released a solo album called
a CD of which she herself says:
‘This is a collection of songs and tunes that have cemented themselves into my repertoire over the last 15 or so years. Favourites from both performing and teaching contexts and arranged here with the support of the wonderful Mike Vass, Anna Massie and Euan Burton. ‘
Together with her husband Findlay Napier she has also been active in the
Findlay Napier Trio
and a soon to be launched new project called
More info is found here:
– Last but not least is Findlay Napier, who has also been busy, releasing three solo albums,
VIP: Very Interesting Persons in 2015; the mini CD
very Interesting Extras in 2016 and
Glasgow in October 2017.
Furthermore, he is touring with The Findlay Napier duo, trio, quartet or band, depending on the wishes of the venue. he is about to launch a new project with his wife Gillian Frame called The Ledger; he also became a tutor just like Gillian and Hamish and organises the
Glasgow Songwriting Festival.
More info on Findlay Napier is to be found here: https://www.findlaynapier.com/