There are a great many bands and artists out there who, for one reason or another, have yet to enjoy the kind of widespread attention their music merits. Skyhook are one of these bands and their latest album, At the Stringsmith’s Forge, is an attention-grabbing collection of favourites that feature in their live shows, given a studio makeover, and presented in a collection that must surely result in some wider recognition.
Skyhook are Cath James, Martin Harwood and Eoin Teather. Together they deploy a brace of fiddles and guitar combination that can take your breath away, to deliver their own songs and tunes along with traditional and contemporary fayre from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton. Their eponymous 2008 debut album offered the best of a band that had been wowing audiences since 2005.
At the Stringsmith’s Forge is their second release and takes its name from the workers in South Yorkshire’s medieval iron forges who operated the water-powered hammers. In addition to fiddle and guitar; Cath, Martin and Eoin add viola, bouzouki and vocals to the album and have been joined in the studio by Andy Seward in the producer’s chair and on double bass, Ciarán Boyle playing bodhran and Sue Cain on backing vocals.
The opening set, Snowing Up the Hill, is immediately enlivening, and typical of the warm, appealing style for which Skyhook are best loved. Miller Of Drone has been variously attributed to Nathaniel Gow and James Scott Skinner, but sings straight out of Perthshire whatever its origins. It’s followed by two tunes from Cath James that should be enough to tempt anyone to the dance floor.
These sets of tunes form the back bone of the album and are delivered with a, seemingly, effortless precision and professionalism that makes every one a thing of joy and wonder:
Caber Feidh includes a pair of reels from the late Jerry Holland of Cape Breton, a sensational outing for the fiddle pairing of Cath and Martin, with Eoin’s bouzouki providing the flawless structure. In One Brown Trout, three tunes by Cath bring a wedding celebration, some fine fishing and, in Stringsmith’s Reel, the skill of the eponymous craftsmen.
It’s not all fire and fury of course. Eoin sings a clear and spine-tingling Bonny Light Horseman in memory of Sheffield’s Hugh Waller. With Cath’s viola in plaintive response, this can take a proud place among the countless renditions of this immensely popular song. Later, Eoin sings Bill Staines’ wedding celebration, Roseville Fair, with passion and joy in a number that Skyhook’s live audiences have been enjoying for some time. The reel on the end, Kissing is the Best of A’, is a perfect choice for a wedding reel.
Indeed, as well as a compelling vocal ability, Eoin seems to have an endless capacity for fascinating arrangements – Taylor Ryan takes a Cape Breton reel on a short, gentle stroll for just under two minutes of stringed serenity. And instrumental arrangements, whether of their own music or from traditional and contemporary sources, seem to be the strongest of the many impressive strings to Skyhook’s bow.
Bothy Reels is a fantastic set that make the most of Cath & Martin’s fiddle pairing. Celebrating, and written in, bothies in the West of Scotland this set’s as lively and refreshing as a coastal breeze. Featuring masterful bodhran from Ciarán Boyle. In a fitting follow-up, New Year’s Day brings more coastal inspiration. Opening with a rich cocktail of viola/bass/bouzouki for a hangover cure, and closing with a bright and breezy return to the waters off Ardnamurchan (and who wouldn’t!).
Ciarán makes a few welcome appearances on the album; in the opening jig for Tom’s Thumb he sets a pace to stir the soul and that soaring, joyful fiddle pairing once again lifts the heart.
In Skyhook’s return to the scene, At the Stringsmith’s Forge, we’re treated once again to a musical collection that delights the listener and generously rewards their attention. A selection of the very finest reels, jigs, strathspeys and songs from both sides of the Atlantic, delivered through musicianship of the highest standard and given arrangements that result in a sound as rich and authentic as anything you’ll find on offer. Go on, treat yourself!
Review by: Neil McFadyen
At the Stringsmith’s Forge is Out Now, order direct from: http://www.skyhookmusic.com/