It’s been a while now since the Peatbog Faeries released Dust in 2011. Although still very much part of the touring and festival scene since then, studio output has been in drought. This week, however, all that changes with the release of their long awaited seventh studio album – Blackhouse. So, has anything changed in the intervening four years? Well, there’s been a degree of evolution – Ross Couper joins the band the band on fiddle, replacing Peter Tickell, and has been playing live with them for some time. With Peter Morrison at the helm and a collective approach to music that continues to produce excitement and colour, Peatbog Faeries remain the ultimate Celtic fusion party band.
Blackhouse explodes into life with Is This Your Son? Not a sudden doorstep visit from the boys in blue, as the title might suggest, but still the kind of coursing, enlivened opening you’d expect, and hope for, from the Peatbog Faeries. This is the sound that their live audience loves, the beat that keeps them on their feet, as uplifting and energizing as ever. Most of the compositions come from Peter Morrison, and his tunes are beautifully crafted; but it’s what the Peatbog Faeries do collectively when they get their eager little hands on these tunes that make a difference. Tom In The Front is a fine pipe tune but the other instrumental embellishments, the soft vocal chant, all combine to create something unique with more than a hint of the exotic. As expected, these irresistible dance tunes pepper the album and perhaps the most memorable is Spider’s – vigorous, sprightly and written in honour of one of Skye’s liveliest ceilidh venues; but with the usual Peatbog Faeries dance floor credentials: a keyboard-laden frenzy of whistle and fiddle, and a seductive beat.
In addition to the evolution in personnel, the sound and approach of the Peatbog Faeries continues to grow. Among Peter Morrison’s fast-paced reels the band also show an ability to move in new directions – with a sound that places more emphasis on rock than dance. In The Ranch, Graeme Stafford’s Hammond organ and Tom Salter’s forthright lead guitar are backed up by a solid drum and bass combination that would be at home on any Traffic album. Ross Couper’s electric fiddle takes on the role of second lead with a scorching solo. Equally adventurous, even if in more familiar Peatbog Faeries territory, is Angus & Joyce MacKay: more concerned with soundscapes and imagery than melody and dance, the track’s also greatly enhanced by Ross Couper’s soaring fiddle. You’d be hard pushed to find a better example of why the piobroch glories in the name Ceòl Mòr – the big music. At home with either a traditional or electronic approach to his instruments, Ross has made an important contribution to progressing the band’s outlook through his live appearances over the last couple of years. It’s a joy to finally hear him add his own spark to their studio output. Of Ross’s own tunes – Jakes On A Plane is intricate, engaging and accomplished. Fiddle and whistle share the melody before the rhythm section and electronics lead the whole lot off on a lively yet mellow flight of fancy.
The combination of The Chatham Lassies/Strictly Sambuca has been a live favourite during Ross Couper’s live duets with guitarist Tom Oakes for quite some time. For Blackhouse, The Chatham Lassies is treated to an impressive eight minute re-working that opens with the familiar and lively fiddle/acoustic guitar duet and skips along beautifully towards a more sedate pace, but with a full, rich sound. It’s no wonder that Strictly Sambuca is such a favourite with Peatbog Faeries audiences too. This nine minute journey’s a typical Peatbog Faeries party tune; pulsing beats, strong trance credentials and a whirlwind of fiddle and pipe solos. Simply irresistible dance music.
One tune on the album wasn’t provided by Ross or Peter. In The Dragon’s Apprentice, the various flavours that make up Peatbog Faeries; mix of pipes, electronics and flying fiddle solos, snake around a melody penned by nine year old Archie MacLean of Edinbane, in honour of his favourite ride at LegoLand! Living proof that the incredible musical talent that emanates from Skye continues from generation to generation.
What is notable by its absence on Blackhouse, is brass. Very much an element of the Peatbog Faeries production, brass has always added to the overall depth of sound. On Blackhouse, however, there’s a change of direction and it works very well. It’s as if the lads have finally decided it’s time to step forth and arrange the music for a sound that succeeds in being just as big, bold and brazen but is also far more intimate.
With Calum MacLean at the production desk again, we’re assured of that familiar, joyful affirmation that trad and trance is a marriage made in heaven; but that doesn’t mean it’s more of the same for Peatbog Faeries. Almost twenty years since their first release, Mellowosity, with Blackhouse they’ve proven, yet again, that their music, while staying in the same musical vein that keeps live audiences on their feet (and probably brings them to their knees by the end of the night), they can still move the music forward, provide a fresh approach, and keep that audience coming back time and again.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
17-06-2015: Gala Theatre, Durham, England
19-06-2015: Buryfields Festival – Chesham, Bucks England
20-06-2015: Beverley Festival – Beverley, East Yorkshire, England
21-06-2015: 3 Wishes Faery Festival – Torpoint, Cornwall, England
24-06-2015: Hellens Manor, Much Marcle – Hereford, England
26-06-2015: Grand Pavilion, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, England
27-06-2015: Tring Carnival, Tring Hertfordshire, England
17-07-2015: Bute Festival – Isle of Bute, Scotland
31-07-2015: The David Hall, South Petherton, Somerset, England
01-08-2015: Sidmouth Folk Festival, Devon, England
15-08-2015: Guildford Live, Guildford, England
16-08-2015: Boomtown Festival, Near Bristol, England
21-08-2015: Beautiful Days Festival, Escot Park, Devon, England
22-08-2015: Folk East Festival, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
23-08-2015: Folk East Festival, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
30-08-2015: Solfest Festival, Aspatria, Cumbria, England
04-09-2015: Fylde Festival, Fleetwood, Lancashire, England
12-09-2015: Bowfest Festival, Inverary, Scotland
23-10-2015: Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, England
29-10-2015: Band on the Wall, Manchester, England
30-10-2015: Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, Cumbria, England
01-11-2015: Universal Hall, Findhorn, Scotland
Blackhouse is out now
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