A BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award 2015 Semi-Finalist and currently studying Traditional Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Iona Fyfe released her début solo EP, The First Sangs, last year. This July she’s matched her fine voice with an equally fine band to release the début EP from The Iona Fyfe Band, East.
East celebrates the rich balladry of Aberdeenshire, primarily through the collections of Grieg/Duncan, Robert Ford; and pays homage to traditions bearers such as Jeannie Robertson, Belle Stewart, Jim Reid and Rod Paterson. There’s a distinctly contemporary edge to the music, with Iona’s beautifully clear voice singing melodies driven along by guitar, fiddle, bodhrán, and bass.
Other than the driven beat of fiddle and bodhrán, the first thing that stands out about East’s opening track, Sleepytoon, is the purity and precision of Iona’s voice as she relates the ballad of a farm labourer’s encounter with an unscrupulous employer. Then there’s a beautiful fiddle bridge before the guitar starts trading the beat and a detailed fingerstyle accompaniment.
Along with Iona on vocals, piano and shruti box; the band are Christopher Ferrie (guitar, bodhrán) Charlie Grey (fiddle, tenor guitar) and Callum Cronin (double bass). It’s Callum’s bass and Christopher’s guitar that provide the pace, as Iona’s voice displays incredible confidence and maturity in her imaginative, lively reworking of the lament Pride of Aberdeen. With a western twang in Charlie’s fiddle, the song takes on light transatlantic influences.
Queen Amang The Heather is a song instantly associated with the north-east of Scotland. An eerie drone opens the iconic song, made famous by the singing of Jeannie Robertson and Belle Stewart. Piano and fiddle enhance the pathos behind each perfectly executed note, each precisely elucidated word. Iona’s in no hurry to tell this tale. The skillful use of space and time provide clarity to each verse, and it is utterly haunting.
Even without accompaniment, Iona’s voice is as finely tuned, precise and eminently enjoyable an instrument as you’ll find, as exemplified in Cairn o’ Mount. The combination of Iona’s voice and delivery holds us spellbound throughout, hanging on every detail of the story.
“Oh lassie, ye maun think a while
My lands are far and wide
I’ve gold in banks and ships at sea
Sae come and be my bride
My faither left me lairdships twa
A hoose at my command
I’ll mak’ ye lady ower them a’
If ye’ll gie me yer hand”
Earl Richard is the lone direct representative of the Child Ballads on East, and Iona’s only trip down to the borders. Inspired, however, by Rod Paterson‘s singing of the ballad, Iona takes the song to her homeland as a duet between Charlie’s fiddle and Ross Millar‘s smallpipes swings the song to a close.
To bring this short, but memorable collection to a conclusion, Bonny Udny opens with vocal and piano, before fiddle takes up the accompaniment. As guitar joins towards the closing chorus, the song takes on a wider, more anthemic sound that’s enhanced by a final burst of Ross Miller’s pipes.
Listening to East, you’d think this was a group of musicians who’d been playing together for a considerable length of time; the instruments so well matched and the pace so perfectly set. East is an excellent taster of what Iona Fyfe and her band have to offer, and I can’t wait to hear more at one of the string of live dates still to come in Scotland.
East is Out Now
For Tour Dates visit: ionafyfemusic.com/events