Monday 11 October 2021

Spiorachas – A High Place: Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach

Spiorachas – A High Place; Charlie Grey, Joseph Peach

Spiorachas – A High Place
; Charlie Grey, Joseph Peach

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 October 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Scots Gaelic tunes, a traditional music background, contemporary improvisation and more mix in these engaging and evocative takes on Gaelic songs from the young fiddle and piano duo

Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach are a pair of Scottish folk-musicians, performing on fiddle and piano. On this new album, Spiorachas – A High Place, which is the duo's fourth album together, they perform contemporary improvisations on a variety of Scots Gaelic tunes, both traditional ones and ones written themselves.

A musician and composer, Charlie Grey grew up playing traditional music on the fiddle with influences from his friends, his family and granny (legendary 'Gaelic diva' Ishbel MacAskill), and some of Scotland’s leading folk musicians. Outside of folk music, He has spent time studying and exploring Gypsy Jazz, Bluegrass, Blues-fiddle music, before mastering his aesthetic of liberated improvisation. Joseph Peach, a pianist and composer, hails from the town of Achiltibuie, in the north-west Scottish Highlands. Graduating with a Masters degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, his musical studies also include classical and jazz, and a passion for Scottish pianist/composer Ronald Stevenson.

History is woven into the fabric of these evocative melodies.

Cailleach is based on the traditional song Cailleach a’ Ghobhainn, inspired by the field recordings of a woman local to Joseph’s home village of Achiltibue, is a prime example of Pruit à beul (Mouth Music), a traditional song form which set lyrics to instrumental tunes and which developed in the 18th century after the British government forbade the use of traditional Scottish instruments. Ghruamach draws on the traditional folk tune A Chollie Ghruamach. Originating from 1820’s Nova Scotia, the celebrated Bàrd MacGilleathain composed the song to portray the hardships of the pioneering Scottish settlers having arrived from across the Atlantic Ocean.

Joseph Peach's Gathan-grèin draws inspiration from evening sunbeams off the coast of Scotland, whilst Charlie Grey contributes Còig Peathraichean Chinn Tàile. The music moves between the sound of traditional fiddling and something more modern, with elements of jazz creeping into the improvisations, yet we never stray far from the Gaelic homeland. 

Whilst the music is rooted in tradition, the disc is full of warmth and spontaneity, as well as a sense of young musicians reinventing a tradition which has thrived on this direct transmission. The sound-world and inflection of Grey's fiddle playing is clearly traditional, it couldn't be anything else other than Scots, but he and Peach add a freedom and a freewheeling approach to the material. Rather than being constrained by tradition, they are freed by it.

The music is largely melancholy and evocative (though we do get a terrific reel too), the image of the lone piper on the hillside playing a pibroch isn't too far away, whilst the speaking quality of Grey's playing adds a vocal element to the music. The sound quality of his fiddle is intriguing, in fact Grey is not playing a conventional fiddle but a hardanger fiddle. This is a traditional Norwegian instrument which in addition to the four strings that are played has a set of sympathetic strings. And Grey's instrument is an alto version with five playing strings and five sympathetic ones, dubbed a hardanger d'amore. Made by Salve Håkedal, you can read more about it on Håkedal's website.

Spiorachas – A High Place   
Kintail - Còig Peathraichean Chinn Tàile by Charlie Grey
Ghruamach - A Choille Ghruamach by John MacLean
Cailleach - Cailleach a' Ghobhainn
Gathan-grèin - Gathan-grèin gu h-òr-bhuidhe ri dòrtadh air gach taobh by Joseph Peach
Forest of the Red Stags - Frìth nan Damh Ruadha by Donald Fraser
The Hunter and the Owl - An Sealgair ‘s a Chomhachag
Mairi - Faca sibh Mairi nighean Alasdair
My Vision is Blurred - Chaidh Moill air mo Lèirsinn by Fearchar Mac Iain Òig
Misty Corrie - Cumha Coire Cheathaich by Duncan Bàn MacIntyre // Unknown Air
Asainte - Cur Cùlaibh ri Asainte by Alasdair MacLeod
Glen Cuach - Iain Ghlinn Cuaich
Reel - S toigh leam fhìn Buntàta 's Ìm // Tuireadh Iain Ruaidh
Griogal - Griogal Cridhe
Mo Mhàthair Mo Mhàthair by Neil MacLean
Charlie Grey (Hardanger D’Amore)
Joseph Peach (Piano, Harmonium)
Recorded by Mattie Foulds at Castlesound Studios

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