In our recent interview Kris Drever, described the recording of the Mareel EP as a way of introducing himself to his musical neighbours on Shetland. In such circumstances, it’s probably good to have a bit of musical clout up your sleeve and although Kris has plenty to spare in his own right, his partnership with Éamonn Coyne proved the ideal vehicle to anchor the sessions. So with invites sent and the RSVPs all in, they settled on the Shetland Mareel Arts Centre and cinema complex, which proved a suitable place to gather everyone together. The five tracks came very quickly, with just three days of actual recording and the results speak for themselves.
One of the main attrations of using the Mareel arts complex was the size of the main auditorium, with the benefit of smaller rooms and booths off to the sides. Given the size of the ensemble used, Kris feels it was the only place on Shetland fit for purpose. The main attraction of Mareel, however, was the sound quality that the venue is known for and as well as packing in the other players, this was the key consideration.
Kris, as per usual plays his guitar and sings, taking credit for the overall production, but also laid down drum tracks, proving he’s no slouch behind the kit in the process. Éamonn plays his trademark banjo and also tenor guitar, while contributing to the arrangements of the traditional tunes on the album. The duo also called up, Louise Thomason and Freda Leask on vocal duties, Graham Malcolmson on Double Bass, Margaret Scollay on Piano, Maurice Henderson and Ewen Thomson on Fiddles and Ross Couper on Fiddle and Snare Drum, so you can see the need for extra space.
There are two songs and three tune sets. Of the songs, the first is Wintermoon, here given the subtitle Mareel Version, as it first appeared on Lau’s Arc Light album. Kris’ assessment was that the song was worth revisiting and that the version that they’ve come up with is sufficiently different to stand scrutiny in its own right. He’s right on both counts of course and Lau have their own distinctive version of this haunting song, which in this version is given extra oomph all round. The additional voices of Louise and Freda sweeten it considerably, while the rhythmic drive and full bodied production threaten to bring out the inner pop song, albeit one that deserves an alt prefix with its opening lines, “Beyond repair one dismal morning, redemption waiting in the afternoon.” It’s a glorious way to start the getting to know your process.
The other song is Ewan MacColl’s Moving On Song, which bemoans the fate of the travellers and itinerant workers, who are never welcome to settle and always being hurried along to elsewhere. The song’s narrator is a newly born infant, who has had the nerve to be born in one inconvenient location after another, drawing the same response from the powers that be each time. It was originally written for the Travelling People, which was part of the Radio Ballads series produced for the BBC. It’s an unusual but good choice that deceives with an intro, which draws breath from Appalachian air, although once again a full bodied treatment pushes it to a musical setting of its own.
Isle Tunes sits in between those two and is a set comprised of three parts, Anon, The Lady On The Island, The Cambridge, all credited as trad and arranged by Kris and Éamonn. The first Starts as a lovely guitar piece with a wistful air and beautifully played as well. Éamonn’s banjo joins about half way through, eventually taking the lead, which in turn it passes to the fiddle, while the bass plots a steady beat. A piano introduces the second part as the banjo picks up the pace and finally the third part takes flight with a full scale fiddle frenzy only for the banjo and guitar to lead us home with a brilliantly executed drop down of picking precision.
Na Ceannabháin Bhána, Scartaglen and Up And About In The Morning are the three parts of Three Jigs-ish, which although not as expansive or as long as the first set are great fun. The wry title suggests they’re dance tunes and they certainly have that tempo, although the arrangement is a little more held back, even if the tempo isn’t. The final set which contains an original segment from Kris (Da Crab An Da Capstan) and Éamonn (Da Nippin Grund), wedded to the Murice Henderson arrangement of the tune that gives the set its title, Oot An’ In Da Harbour, is somewhere between the two in tenor and tempo. All three sets are brilliantly played and a joy to listen to.
On the evidence of this we might all benefit from a chance to meet the neighbours. Realistically, however, few of us would ever be likely to produce anything quite so memorable, or with such musical merit and sheer joy locked into its creation. Still with a tot or two sealing the introductions at Mareel, who knows what a drop or two of the right fuel might help us achieve. We might at least have some fun finding out.
Review by: Simon Holland
New Live Session
We also have a new live video from a session filmed in Nottingham by our good friend John Gray, a Producer/Director at BaylisGray:
Capernaum (Not on EP)
Kris Drever & Éamonn Coyne ‘Mareel’ EP (Reveal Records)
Mareel is out Now
Sep 11 – The Platform, Morecambe,
Sep 12 – The AtkinsonSouthport,
Sep 13 – Forest Arts Centre, New Milton,
Sep 14 – Kings Place, London,
Sep 16 – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham,
Sep 17 – Phoenix Arts Centre,Exeter,
Sep 18 – Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham,
Sep 19 – Folk House, Bristol,
Sep 20 – South Street Arts Centre, Reading,
Sep 21 – Arts Centre, Paisley,