Tuesday, 17 January 2017


CD Review

Driftwood Harp

The harp has to be one of the oldest instruments known to man, perhaps that's why it carries with it such a historic way of speaking music along with a magical and ethereal voice, so much so it could be argued you can't fully play the harp if you are only a musician, you have to be a storyteller too.

Pippa Reid-Foster
Pippa Reid-Foster has something of an unfair advantage as coming from Argyll she has all the inspiration of the Scottish scenery and Celtic legends at her fingertips.
Something you notice from the first track, The Selkie, is that while keeping the traditional sound of the ancient instrument alive she also invests it with a contemporary feel.
The lilting notes do give you a sense of undulating water as the music creates a feel for the mythical, seal-like creature which can take human form. You can almost feel the changes in the creature as her strings bring the narrative to life.
This gives way to a couplet of Colours of Autumn/Pip's jig where the gentle yet crisp sounds of her strings ease you softly into trying to visualise the colours and sights of the season. This gives way to the lighter and playful second part of the piece.
The island of Iona has it's own history, legends and myths and what better instrument to give a taster of these than the harp.
Reid-Foster keeps a gentle sound for Iona, Straid nam Marbh which is The Street of the Dead. There is an obvious respect in her notes for this sacred site but there is also, as you would expect, a melancholic tone to parts of the tune which almost force you to reflect on the transience of life.
This moves into the lighter tones of Steam Boats on Crinan/The Herring Lassies of Argyll. First it is a tribute to the "Puffers", which were flat bottomed boats that used the tides to both moor them and move them as they brought supplies, especially fish, to remote parts of Scotland. The second part, which is more dance-like, mirrors the activities of the women who worked manically when the steam boats brought in the herring shoals.
The harp is a wonderful instrument for unlocking and stimulating the imagination and the use of its distinctive voice in the hands of an exponent such as Reid-Foster can speak into the mind and spirit, creating images just as a painter does on a canvas.
A puffer boat which finally went
out of use in the 1990s
This she does with Elements 1 where she uses the precision of her playing to conjure up the characters of earth, air, water and fire.
On this track she sets the scene musically and then almost invites you in to fill in as much or as little of the detail as you choose until the dying embers of the notes fade away.
You can't really get harp music without faeries appearing somehow and Kintraw is it for Reid-Foster.
Like all the music of the album, it is inspired by the history and stories of the harpist's native Argyll and Kintraw is a small village which stands in the shadow of two cairns and a hill where it's believed there have been fairy abductions, so be warned.
The quick pace of the tune gives the impression of people going about their everyday business unaware of any danger and yet you get a sense there is always one eye kept on the land which is surrounded by myths.
The premise of  The Mermaid Song is a traditional folktale but one that never gets old or dull. The mermaid sings of her loneliness and how she misses her human husband as she returns to the sea. Such is Reid-Foster's skill that you do get a sense of the harp telling the tale in it's own language.
There is a sadness in the notes as the tune gently unfolds and once again the Scottish musician draws in your imagination to let you create the scene.
The penultimate track is a triplet starting with Kilmartin Glen Campsite then moving on to Kilmichael Glen and McGoldrick's No1. All three of these jigs lightly dance across the mind and, like all the previous tracks, there's no harshness about them.
The harp is a soothing instrument and Reid-Foster never allows the music to trample over the listener but creates an atmosphere where they want to go and stay awhile, a little like the allure of the sirens of myth but without the danger.
the album of harp music
The final track, Deidre in Dreams, is perhaps the most melancholy of the album.
The slower and almost broken pace of the tune takes it to a new level of ethereal and pondering. It does have a modern feel to it but again, through the player's skill, it has that traditional feel deep within it.
It's a very thoughtful piece and you get a sense it's a very personal piece.
It's a wonderful track to go out on and just reinforces the sense that Reid-Foster has produced an enchanting album.
Like most artists Reid-Foster can only lay down the music in a form that creates the narratives she is looking to convey, the rest must then be left to the listener to interpret or envisage in their own way. This is an imaginative collection of songs which have been inspired by her personal experience of her surroundings and their culture and turning that understanding and vision into the language of music for others to try to see and hear what she is saying is no mean feat, but Reid-Foster has given the listener all they need to connect with the sound of her harp playing, so much so that the only limit is that of the listener's imagination.

Driftwood Harp is available now from the artist's website and birnamcdshop.com, Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

No comments:

Post a Comment