Wednesday, 10 August 2016


CD review


It doesn't matter where you are in the world or where you come from, be warned, if you listen to this album you are at serious risk of being compelled to wear tartan and prefix your surname with Mac. This album is deliberately as Scottish as the foundations of Edinburgh Castle and fresh winds stirring the heather in the highlands.

Ian Smith, Alain Campbell, Andrew Findlater
and Seonaidh MacIntyre who are Trail West
Trail West is Alain Campbell, Andrew Findlater, Ian Smith and Sonaidh MacIntyre who all originate from the Hebrides and it's their roots on the isles of Tiree and South Uist which has inspired their love of ceilidh music.
This is not the album for those who like the sedate lifestyle, this is a collection of mostly blood stirring, toe-tapping, cobweb-blowing music. It's there to make people want to get up and dance right from the title track which opens the album. Smith's skill on the accordion is the lead for Rescattermastered which comes at you like the Flying Scotsman and it's best if you jump on for the musical ride.
Smith really gets a chance to show of his impressive finger skills with a pretty much solo performance, roughly halfway through the track. It's backed up by the strong percussion of Findlater.
MacPherson's Rant is a great traditional tune telling the story of James MacPherson, a feared outlaw who was captured by, of all things, a blanket and is said to have composed the tune the night before he was hanged.
The ballad is pretty upbeat for such a macabre tale of death and the percussion gives it a militaristic feel. This gives way to a much gentler ballad sung in Gaelic, Eilean Uibhist Mo RĂșin. Once again the accordion leads the way with the whistle adding a very subtle hint of colour. The band pick the pace up again for Iain Lamont's which is a triplet of tunes  Bernard Smith of Tiree, Chalky Langley of Tiree and Old Toasty.
The last tune was taught to the band by Lamont which is why they named the suite after him. Once again it's dance time with the fast-paced ceilidh tune gathering momentum as it progresses, pushed along by a range of instruments not least of which is the bagpipes. John Henry is a touch of Americana that will be familiar to many people. It been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger. It's a traditional tune and tells the story of man versus machine.
John Henry
Trail West's version puts a Gaelic twang to it and could hold its own against any previous versions. This is followed by a set of four traditional tunes under the banner Sing-A-Long GĂ idhlig Waltzes which pulls together a host of musicians and you get the feel of  an impromptu session which was great craic.
Another triplet comes along for On The Tear! with Richard Dwyer's, The Goat Island and The Harsh February. This died-in-the-wool ceilidh with, once again, the accordion taking centre stage drives the tunes over the top of the percussion with such gusto you can almost see the locals flying around the community dance hall.
Another song covered many times, perhaps most emphatically by The Fisherman's Friends. The difference is Trail West's version is as much about the music as the voices. The tune has some real meat as the percussion hammers it along defying you to keep your feet still. As if to give the listener time to get their breath back, Homes of Donegal slows things down as the ballad is a simple song about the people met along life's journey.
The words are set to a very familiar and traditional tune. Once again the listener is given four for the price of one with Highland Schottische (sic). The tunes are once again the staple of dance nights for lovers of the traditional ceilidh they do exactly what they say on the tin with Smith's accordion leading the way.
You can forget any stereotypes of the Scottish being stingy as Trail West generously lavish tune after tune following with another triplet under Here We Go Aflat.
These come at you with the bagpipes marching at the front like they are off to battle. MacIntyre gets his chance to shine and keep everyone on their toes with rapid tune.
The new album
Maraiche Nan Cuantan is another Gaelic song this time from the beautifully soft voice of Kathleen MacInnes. The thoughtful ballad is dedicated to the composer Flora MacPhail who taught three of the band members.
The album ends with what starts as a gentle and upbeat tune, Close To Home where the band are joined by the composer Malcolm Jones. Gradually it builds to the big finale with what else but the bagpipes leading the way, just in case you had forgotten this is an album about Scotland.
Along with bands such as Skerryvore, Trail West are part of a resurgence in traditional Scottish music which seems to reaching further and further with each new album that is released, and is carrying the banner on from groups such as Capercaillie and Runrig.
What's more the "new wave" of musicians who are keeping their roots strongly in the traditional music are doing what many thought was impossible - making bagpipe music cool.
Trail West are without doubt fine ambassadors for traditional Scottish music which comes from the deep roots of their country.

Rescattermastered is out now on Tyree Records.

You can see the band live throughout August at Islay Show Dance: Bowmore Hall, Islay on the eleventh. The music runs from 10pm to 1am, admission is £8 and under-18s must be accompanied by an adult. Proof of age will be required at the door. Then on August 19 McCaig’s Return, Oban followed on 26-27th at Cowal Highland Gathering, Dunoon.

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