Thursday 24 November 2016


CD Review


If you are going to pair up a couple of Scottish musicians for an album then you could do a lot worse than find two with the combined pedigrees of Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton. The fact the pair have been involved and played with more bands than a six armed roadie tells you not only are they good but their peers think they are good too.

Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie
Their combined talents coming together on a single album bodes well for all those into folk music in general and Scottish trad music specifically.
You can't let them take all the credit though, for this fine collection of music they were more than ably abetted by Duncan Lyall, Martin O'Neill and Gus Sicard.
For that little section of blinkered people who may still think Scottish music is all banging drums, flailing kilts and wailing bagpipes, then Symbiosis will gently remove the scales from your eyes.
The album eases you in with Sisters which is a duet of tunes by Hutton with both the artists choosing to play whistles and strings. The opener Aliyah's slides in like a gentle wind with the deep sounding whistles keeping a nice light pace with each other. It slows down for the second part and becomes more languid while keeping that deep resonance of the whistles.
This is followed by the triplet Smiler, which is brought in by Ainslie on the cittern swiftly followed by Hutton on the whistle, the opening section is Fraser and Rachael's Wedding Waltz composed by the whistle blower. This gives way to the Ud the Doudouk which picks up the pace considerably where the pair seem to be almost racing each other to the end.
The final part, again from Hutton, brings in a deeper sound on the whistles but the pace is not lessened and washes the light music over you as you listen.
Never ones to skimp on giving the listeners' their moneys worth, what follows is a run of doublets the first being under the heading Grans and starts with Mrs Jane Kennedy of St Anne's, Methen which is a gentle strings tune from both musicians. It isn't long before Hutton brings in the highland pipes and drums but maintains the subtlety of tune. Bodhran and pipes slide into the second part India with the whistle joining in to push the tune along. Fourth, which is Sam I Am and Fourth-Floor, comes in with a wonderfully dancing whistle tune and bodhran which brings memories of Canned Heat's Going Up The Country.
Canned Heat
This gives way to the much more traditional sounding second part with the whistle doing battle with the bodhran in a wonderfully fast pace dance.Pongu which is Chris Grace's Joy and Mairi's Tune, both from Ainslie this time, goes straight in with the border pipes which, even if you are not an aficionado, is pitched higher than the previous pipes and, while a little more shrill, in the hands the composer they remain fluid and enjoyable. The second part features the strings of Hutton which give it a contemporary feel. The next set of tunes Loch, which are Love at the Loch and Gibbo's Number 1, is the pair stripped down to their base instruments with Hutton on guitar and Ainslie on whistle. Here they show you don't need any embellishments to create a lush and rolling tune which is easy on the ear and almost carries you on a wind of sound.
They pick up the pace with the second part with a toe-tapper that has a jazz tinge to it where the guitar provides not only the strings but the rhythm section too and Ainslie seems to be really enjoying blowing out the tune.
Wan, which comprises The Long Count and Gobbi Wan, opens with a brooding feel but then slides into a much more contemporary, almost electronic sound before the highland pipes come to remind you this is pure Scotland.
The new album
As you listen to the drones you can almost see Hutton's fingers working like fury as the hard strokes of the guitar provide what is close to a drum beat. The penultimate track Ruby, which is Sheila and Rick's Ruby Wedding and Happy Harry, starts with a beautiful throaty and gentle tune on the whistle with highlights added along the way by the cittern strings.
The strings pick up the pace for the second half while the whistles add more of a dancing tempo to the bring it to a close.
The final double tune is Gaelic which is composed of Elizabeth's Trip to Perthshire and Hug Oiridh Hiridh Hairidh.
The thrumming strings bring in the tune almost providing the sound of a cajon, with the gentle whistles taking some of the edge off the hard rhythm it provides.  The pair give a modern coat to the traditional sound which makes up the second part of the tune. The whistles have one final dance together as they skip around the guitar and bodhran.
Ainslie and Hutton have been involved with music since before they were teenagers and they have developed into masters of their art. They are part of a growing group of Scottish performers who are making the once shunned bagpipes cool, while at the same time showing the diversity and subtlety the drones can display when in the hands of experts. More and more the type of music displayed on this album is taking pride of place on the Scottish trad scene and, perhaps more significantly, the wider world of folk which means we could be seeing a real musical symbiosis.

Symbiosis is available now and you can buy the album from or

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