The Rough Island Band are a folk band that hail from a “tiny scrap of wind-carved rock, gorsey downland and fine sand dropped 28 miles from mainland Cornwall” – St Agnes, Isles of Scilly.
This month will see them release their third album ‘On All Sides‘. Whilst their songs are rooted in their community’s history and stories they point out on their website that unusually for a Celtic outpost, St Agnes has no surviving indigenous music. This doesn’t hold them back as they draw on a wealth of personal experience from their individual projects and from performing as members of Bellowhead, The Spooky Men’s Chorale and the Maddy Prior Trio. They also borrow and adapt traditional Cornish music, all of which provides a very unique and contemporary sound making ‘On All Sides‘ a sure winner to my ears.
The opening First Day On The Mainland captures the band in full swing, a fine selling point if you ever fancied visiting this lovely outpost. ‘Pulling a Rope‘ follows, the first of a few nautical songs which features some gorgeous chorals that hooked me straight away.
Many of the tunes on this album have a great feel…if music could wear a smile than Duke Of Cornwall’s Reel The Tenants’ March would be a glowing one. What starts as a traditional sounding tune gets into a fantastic groove part-way through. This music is made to be danced to, no shadow of a doubt.
There are more plaintive songs as you’d expect from a Celtic band and none are more lovelier than The Garden On Gugh , the neighbouring island to St. Agnes which is joined by a sandy tombolo known as “The Bar” at low tide. Played on guitar and flute there is a surprising moment when there is spoken-word about bringing fertility to a remote land, with a back-drop of tranquil waves washing against the shore the words become poetry…”gardening on a knifes edge…confirmation of life”.
Other landmarks are celebrated, lovers words On Periglis Sands and Sevenstones which I assume relates to Seven Stones Reef, a treacherous area for ships where HMS Lizard was wrecked in 1747 with the loss of one hundred lives. Many more ships were wrecked here as late as 1976…the list of wrecks is surprising.
For any island nation the sea will always feature in their songs…they also sing a great Sea Shanty which has a contemporary twist that will delight many in a live setting. The album ends with Midsummer Bonfire Tansys Golowan, a Cornish tradition of celebrating Midsummer with the lighting of bonfires and fireworks and another setting for a love song.
In amongst their own work is a lovely cover of Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’ which they also recently made a live video for:
The album was recorded over a week in a small cottage on St Agnes and features guest-contributions from the UK members of ‘The Spooky Men’s Chorale’ (A Fistful of Spooks) and Giles Lewin (Maddy Prior/Albion Band/Bellowhead), and was mastered at Abbey Road.
The band are:
John Elliott – Joe Keelan – Piers Lewin – James Sills and Guest Fiddler – Giles Lewin
This is a great album and one that I’m really looking forward to adding to our Folk Radio UK playlist.
Saturday 19th April Old Town Inn, St Marys, Isles of Scilly Folk Festival
Friday 2nd May Tiller Flat Folk Club, London. The Golden Hinde, St Mary Overie Dock, London Bridge
Saturday 3rd May The Scandinavian Church, Liverpool. 138 Park Lane, L1 8HG
Sunday 4th May Walkley Community Centre, Sheffield. 7a Fir St, Sheffield, S6 3TG
August 8 – 10th Isles of Scilly Summer Tour Dates and venues to be announced soon!