Monday 12 December 2016


CD Review

Northern Sky

There is a whole new wave of Scottish music which has, in a lot of ways, been thriving in isolation but of late more and more musicians from North of the Border have been looking to make their mark on the other side of Hadrian's Wall.

Pete Coutts
One of the latest on the list is Aberdeen singer/songwriter Pete Coutts, who has been around some time; worked with some major names on the Scottish folk and trad circuit, and has now produced his debut album of Doric songs.
Doric refers to the language and culture which is peculiar to the North Eastern region of Scotland.
Multi-instrumentalist Coutts kicks off the album with the tune Allathumpach.
This is a punchy instrumental which is as Celtic as red hair, alabaster skin and a good sense of having the "craic". Coutts' mandolin playing is complemented perfectly by fellow Scot Ali Hutton on the whistles. Hutton himself has recently released an album, Symbiosis, with Ross Ainslie who also plays the cittern on the album. Coutts give his voice the first outing of the album for Sail & Oar which is a ballad about fishing in Scottish waters and is a lively song which tells the tale of fishermen setting out in their boats to find a catch. Coutts singing is backed by Jenny Sturgeon with again Hutton adding little gems along the way on the whistles.
Even by the third track things have hardly slowed down and In & Oot comes in with Coutts light touch on the mandolin which is not unlike Andy Irvine in style. Brian McAlpine brings even more character to the tune with his accordion and with this track you get to hear Coutts' versatility with his instrument as he switches from traditional to more rock orientated riffs during the tune.
Castin' the Peat brings a change of pace with this song from Coutts which is very much in dialect and can be difficult to pick out as he sings about workers out to cut and collect the peat, which in rural areas of Scotland and Ireland, is used as fuel similar to coal or logs.
Coutts goes back to the instrumental for Villa Rosa. It moves away slightly from the more traditional sound of the previous tracks but what it does have is a jaw harp insert which is always a rare treat and comes underneath the strong and precise string play. Coutts goes back to the traditional sound for Belhelvie for what is close to a sea shanty. Even if you don't fully understand all that Coutts is singing, in a very matter-of-fact tone,  the toe-tapping cadence of the tune will carry you along to enjoy it just as much.
Coutts keeps the pattern following with another instrumental, Boink! This is a rich tune worthy of the Transatlantic Sessions and Celtic Connections. Hutton's whistles and pipes add a strong creamy texture and a highland flavour to Coutts' tune.
The musician shows his softer side with the title track and you can hear him pushing his voice over the top of his gentle guitar strumming which keeps underneath Hutton's lilting whistle playing when Coutts is not singing. Once again we are back to the instrumental with Hutton helping to open the haunting sound of Under The Table.
Coutts' debut solo album
The complex tune brings together skills of Coutts, Hutton, Jonny Hardie on fiddle and Martin O'Neill on bodhran. It's the kind of tune which provides a playground for the imagination, there are so many sounds in there you can take your mind wherever you will on the carpet of their music. The strong and slightly gravelly voice of Coutts introduces Will Ye Byde over the top of the subtle droning of the accordion.
You can just imagine Coutts on the edge of the sea with wind in his face as he sings this parting song, as the central character begs his one true love to wait for him to return.
Strangely enough this segues into the final track which, like the opener, is an instrumental. The distinctive boom of the bodhran keeps the pace as he goes out with a traditional sounding dance tune that brings in to play just every instrument they had to hand.
As a debut album Coutts has something to be proud of in Northern Sky. He had brought a strong flavour of the North Eastern sound of Scotland without it being too insular or exclusive and of course it helped that he surrounded himself with an impressive array of artists.
However, what this album shows is Coutts has a great ear and incredibly versatility when it comes to creating a tune and putting together songs.

Northern Sky is on Fitlike Records and available for download through

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