Alasdair Roberts & Mairi Morrison will be making a special in-store appearance Rough Trade East on Monday 19th March, 7pm. Don’t miss your chance to catch them performing live and to buy their new album ‘Urstan’ ahead of its official release on 24th March!
The Gaels of Scotland are a Celtic people, related to the people of Ireland, the Isle of Man and, more distantly, to the people of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany in France; they share cultural and linguistic similarities with them all. As with their Celtic neighbours, the Gaels are the keepers of an ancient and noble folk tradition, one which the American folklorist Alan Lomax referred to (in a letter to the Scottish poet Hamish Henderson) as “the finest flower of Western Europe.” The Scottish Gaelic tradition is incredibly diverse for such a small country – each area, each island, has its own repertoire of songs and tales and many towns and villages formerly had their own ‘bards’ and storytellers. Mairi Morrison comes from Bragar on the Isle of Lewis, one of the furthermost parts of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd – almost as far west as one can go in Scotland before reaching North America. Of all the Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland, Lewis is culturally one of the richest. Mairi now lives in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, but she carries the Lewis tradition in her heart and her voice. Alasdair Roberts is a non-Gaelic speaking Lowlander, a folk singer and writer of songs with a growing interest in the Gaelic culture tradition of his homeland. Ceol’s Craic, a Glasgow-based club devoted to promoting Gaelic arts in the city, brought Mairi and Alasdair together to make Urstan, which takes its title from a Lewis-specific word for a celebration held at the birth of a new child – a dram of whisky, basically. Most of the tracks are traditional Gaelic songs, with a few Scots songs and self-written tracks too, all played in new, forward-facing arrangements by an ensemble including Stevie Jones (bass), Alastair Caplin (fiddle) and Alex Neilson (drums). Urstan features guest appearances from such Glasgow music scene luminaries as Michael John McCarthy (Zoey Van Goey), David McGuinness (Concerto Caledonia), Ross MacRae and Richard Merchant (Second Hand Marching Band), Peter Nicholson (The One Ensemble), Mike Hastings (Trembling Bells) and Gaelic song and piobaireachd authority Allan MacDonald.
The combined efforts of these talented young singers and musicians transcend the density of explication here – this is no po-faced unearthing of dusty old songs! Rather, Urstan presents a spirited and innovative musical re-imaging of a number of classic traditional Gaelic and Scottish numbers and one original tune each from Mairi and Ali. There’s fastidious notes included in both Gaelic and English, but the compulsive rhythms and moods conjured by the band will leave you little time to read while the music plays – Urstan is a physically absorbing experience, filled to abundance with color and the love of life. And so to Mairi and Alasdair and the band, we say – “Urstan!”