Rachel Hair is one of Scotland’s finest Harpists, with three highly regarded albums and a fourth, just released, that adds another chapter to her impressive musical story. She grew up in the village of Ullapool in the Highlands, but studied music at the University of Strathclyde gaining a first class degree. Over the course of four albums, Rachel has remained true to her roots, whilst applying the skill and imagination that an honours student can bring, in expanding the horizons of her instrument with great skill and a strong melodic gift. With each album the role of her trio has become more defined and Tri once more features Jenn Butterworth on guitar and vocals, with more recent recruit Cameron Maxwell now filling the bassist’s slot.
We’ll bring you a full feature on the album in due course, but to whet your appetite, our Song Of The Day is Jigs For Mann which you can listen to below:
While the last record added a number of guests, Tri concentrates on the core trio and mixes a number of original compositions from the band, with some well-chosen covers and a handful of traditional arrangements. One or two of the latter are from what you might think as slightly unusual sources. There’s a Norwegian trad. tune used in the closer The Doctor and our Song, or rather Tune Of The Day, is called Jigs For Mann, with the third part of the set coming appropriately enough from the Manx tradition that the title suggests.
It helps to know that, as well as living in Glasgow, Rachel spends a fair bit of time on The Isle Of Man, where she has become a much in demand harp tutor. The question is of course… Why? Rachel was kind enough to take some time out to explain, also giving us a little extra insight into the tune set and how she and the trio work.
Tell me about the Isle of Man. What is your connection and what does it mean to you ?
My connection is that my partner, Adam Rhodes (member of Barrule and Jamie Smiths Mabon is from the island). We met at a festival in Wales and so started my interest in the island!
When did you first visit?
I first visited in 2008, and visited every few weeks to see Adam. Word soon got out that a harp player was visiting and as a result I ended up doing a few gigs, and seeing some students for odd lessons. There’s no Celtic harp tutor who lives on the island so they were really desperate for lessons.
4 years ago now Adam moved over to Scotland, and typically as soon as he moved over I ended up being asked to visit the island once a month to teach Manx harp for Culture Vannin, the government department that funds the Manx language and Manx arts. I’m now there more often than he is! His parents are incredibly kind to me, and put me up when I stay and even lend me a car to use, which makes life so much easier. I’ve really become very involved in the folk scene over there. When I visit, I go out for tunes, and as a result of my teaching, a lot of the new tunes I’ve learnt and arranged in recent years are Manx tunes.
How does it compare to Glasgow life?
They have what they call “island time” over there! There’s a saying in Manx “Traa dy liooar” … time enough, which is the perfect way to describe it. It’s a very laid back island, and things don’t often start on time!
I was brought up in the Highlands but I’ve been living in Glasgow for 10 years now. I used to yearn for the Highlands living there, but now I get my monthly rural “fix” by visiting the Isle of Man every month. It has similar landscapes to where I grew up (Ullapool, in the North West Highlands), and the same kind of community. I have friends my own age there but I also know their parents, grandparents, etc!
What are the inspirations and the musical ideas in the set?
The first two tunes are two of my own jigs, and the last is a traditional Manx slip jig. The first, entitled Saturday Night Club, is named after the winter gatherings I have with my friends on the island. The weather isn’t kind in the winter on the Isle of Man, so when I’m on the island we tend to go round to someone’s house, someone cooks dinner and we sample different kinds of gin (we’re total gin lovers)! There’s something just lovely and cosy about sipping on a good G & T in front of a roaring fire while the rain and wind batters against the window.
In fact, Saturday Night Club is on tomorrow night… I’m on route to the island just now. Delayed at Manchester airport, and seeing as I have lounge access I just had to have a pre-Saturday night club gin and tonic!
The second one I wrote after a huge snowstorm hit the island a few years ago. It’s rare for the island to get snow, anywhere other than the top of Snaefell, its main mountain. I arrived on the island early after my boat was cancelled and I had to book a last minute flight, so I ended up going out for tunes in a village in the west of the island. When it came to drive home it started to snow, and well, it just didn’t stop! The island shut down, and I was gutted as the next night I was meant to be going to a ceilidh in the north of the island for my birthday. Being stranded inside (I didn’t have any good snow gear with me.. it was late march!!) for the full day was starting to get to me, so I had a bit of a laugh on Facebook by announcing I’d be walking to the mountain road the ceilidh in Ramsey. Bless, my friends Ali and Jenn took it too literally and phoned the house in a panic to advise me it wasn’t a good idea! Hence the False Walk (to Ramsey).
How do you approach a set like this? Does each part come separately or does one tune suggest another?
I knew I wanted to write a set of jigs, and after writing the first one, which has a good happy feel to it, I knew that the second one I wanted to write to be a bit darker, to represent the story behind it (and actually the fact that although I can laugh about it, the snow storm was devasting for farmers on the island who lost hundreds of sheep). Knowing that, the melody just came to me. Some of the sets on the album have been joint decisions in the trio about what tunes to play, but this one was really my suggestion.
Once I knew what the melodies would be, we then worked on getting a good arrangement and deciding on the chords and harmony as a group for it.
We’ll bring you more on the album soon.
Trì is released 15th June via March Hair Records
Order it here:
25 July – Rachel Hair Trio: Zileghen Folk Festival, Kasteel van Loppem, BELGIUM
19 Aug – Rachel Hair Workshops: Teaching workshops, 19-23 August, Bardonecchia Harp Festival, Bardonecchia, ITALY
20 Aug – Rachel Hair Solo: Solo harp concert, Bardonecchia Harp Festival, Bardonecchia, ITALY
03 Oct – Rachel Hair Trio: Peel Centenary Centre, Peel, ISLE OF MAN
09 Nov – Rachel Hair Trio: Denmark Tour 9-20 November, DENMARK