Every so often a collaboration bears fruit that is at once startlingly original and yet exactly what one might have anticipated, if only you’d had the vision to think of it! Marit Fält and Rona Wilkie began playing together when both were studying in Newcastle, seeking out the musical and cultural common ground from their backgrounds in Scandinavia and Scotland. The results immediately found an appreciative audience and the duo won the prestigious Danny Kyle Award at 2012 Celtic Connections and Rona was voted BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year. Marit went on to join Patsy Reid and Catriona Macdonald, forming the Vamm trio (read the FRUK interview here). Marit and Rona’s joint adventures have now resulted in this debut album, produced by Mary Ann Kennedy and her husband, Nick Turner, and released on their Watercolour label. The label aims to seek out brave new ideas in Gaelic music and writing and it’s hard to imagine a release more suited to furthering that aim.
Rona, originally from Oban, has been recognised, since her childhood years, as an outstandingly talented fiddle player in both traditional Highland and classical circles. Working with Marit has led her to develop a technique for the Hardanger fiddle, a traditional Norwegian instrument, the 4 bowed strings being supplemented by another 5, tuned to resonate with the played strings. She also adds viola on some tracks. Marit hails from Norway, with Swedish parents and her primary instrument is the låtmandola. Not a traditional instrument but one developed in Sweden in the 1980’s and made for her by luthier Christer Ådin. Describing a låtmandola isn’t all that easy, maybe it’s sufficient to say it’s an octave mandola with an added 5th string pair to extend the bass and, in some instruments, a few quarter tone frets to access notes common in Swedish fiddle tunes. On Turas, Marit also plays cittern and hits objects ranging from piano to cymbal. Percussion is also added by Allan Òg MacDonald on bodhran. Both Marit and Rona take vocal lead and completing the line up of musicians are a classical string quartet, The Cantilena Quartet, and Mary Ann Kennedy providing backing vocals.
The opening track, Fhuair Mi Pòg, is a great introduction to the variety of musical flavours and textures that are such a pleasing feature of the album. The track is a set of two tunes and a brief song, opening with a traditional, energetic Norwegian dance tune. The pace and rhythm are first set by the låtmandola and Rona’s fiddle picks out the melody, a change of time signature and it is the låtmandola that takes up the melody of a tune written by Marit. For the final part of the set Rona’s voice takes the lead with brief but effective lyrics sung to a traditional piobaireachd. Throughout, there is a progression of pace, volume and percussion that satisfyingly builds the 5 minute piece to its climax. It’s thoughtfully constructed but it is the interplay between the 2 lead musicians, changing roles at each stage, that really delights. In contrast Bodach is a much shorter track based around 2 short songs, one Swedish, one Gaelic, sung separately and then overlaid, highlighting their rhythmic similarities and emphasising the linguistic as well as musical facets of the collaboration.
[pullquote]Listen to this album with undivided attention and fascinating aspects emerge from all of the tracks[/pullquote]Listen to this album with undivided attention and fascinating aspects emerge from all of the tracks. Kilmartin is a village in Argyll, north of Lochgilphead, and a site rich in prehistoric artefacts, folklore and mystery and, for me, the site of many a grand night in the Kilmartin Hotel. The tune, Kilmartin Glen Campsite, written by Rona, evokes all of this, an apt celebration of a special place. Finally, I can’t help but mention Rory’s Dinosaur Jumper, not only for the pleasure of that splendid quirky title but also to highlight the irrepressible way the set progresses from from Rona’s waltz in celebration of the jumper to the liveliest of traditional reels
Juxtapositions, of melodies, instruments and languages, are at the heart of Turas, and the possibilities they have opened up seem to have inspired Marit and Rona to explore not just their personal roots but to look further afield, with tunes from Finland, Quebec and Nova Scotia finding their way into the mix. This is a thoroughly satisfying album, filled with an eclectic mix of elements that entertain, surprise, and may well inspire others to seek out equally productive collaborations.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Released 24th February (via Highland Distribution)