Originally from Liverpool, multi-instrumentalist Ewan MacPherson moved to Scotland in 1999. As well as providing mandolin for Shooglenifty since 2014, and a founder member of the excellent Salt House with Lauren MacColl; Ewan’s long, long list of album credits includes work with The Battlefield Band, Bella Hardy, Inge Thomson and Treacherous Orchestra. At last Ewan has stayed in one studio long enough to record an album of his own music and his debut solo album, Fetch!, is the result.
As you’d expect, it’s a lively opening for Fetch! A pair of tunes, Brutus The Husky/MacColl’s, sees Ewan’s mandolin joining Aaron Jones‘s bouzouki and Alasdair White‘s fiddle in a sprightly Mediterranean outing that quickly scurries towards North Africa with a light step. This galloping start to the album sets the tone for what proves to be a selection of delightful, imaginative tunes – all, with the exception of three, written by Ewan himself.
Not that all the glory for this thoroughly absorbing collection can go to Ewan. As evidenced by the by the opening, Ewan’s able to call in some well-known talent, but also has an eye on the future with up and coming Bodhrán player Callum Convoy joining the set. The same trio make their presence felt in The High Surge Of The Sea / Caravan Up North; which opens as a slow reel before cantering of into the wild and is, perhaps, more reminiscent of the Shooglenifty groove than anything else on the album.
Ewan’s wide-ranging musical associations, though, have helped ensure that Fetch! comes across as a series of sessions with a wide range of musical and geographical influences. What would any contemporary folk album be without, for instance, a little Bulgarian folk dancing? In Ruchenitza / Red Cyril, Chris Wright provides the string rhythms to back Ewan’s Moorish tones in a dance that’s as complex as it is mischievous.
The pace is as varied as the regional influences on the album. Although the emphasis is on strings throughout, The Silver Tongues / Meall an Fhiodhain opens with a slow march from the pipes of Fin Moore with a rich indulgence in the layers of pipes and Ewan’s guitar as Fin’s musical partner Sarah Hoy joins on fiddle with glorious harmonies, for something more akin to a polka.
In Saltus, Ewan’s virtuoso jaws harp melody is taken up by Sigrid Moldestad‘s Hardanger Fiddle, for a Nordic box of delights that ventures beyond melody and harmony. The Scandinavian influences are also clear in the gently stirring rhythm of Cedar Dust, where Sigrid once again displays her mastery of the Hardanger as its keening tones seem to strive to escape from the rhythmic constraints.
The Cherry Tree Reel/ Dog’s Got An Itchy Nose is one of the merriest sets you’ll hear, with a touch of swing from Ewan’s guitar and light, colourful detail cascading from his mandolin.
Ewan’s guitar is also well suited to taking charge when the pace is slowed down. As April Is To Winter evokes Scandinavian seasons as slowly picked guitar passes the sombre melody to Lauren MacColl’s viola. And there’s the beautifully intricate Only The Burn Is Not Silent. Guitar is joined by a hint of birdsong and the quiet drone of Ben Farmer’s accordion until it picks up the slowly flowing, quietly exultant melody. It’s a quiet doze on a green hillside, protected from all signs of civilisation, and one of the most enchanting pieces of music to emanate from Scotland this year.
The album closes with a chorus of fiddles in a melody I can see Rant and Blazin’ Fiddles getting into a cat(gut) fight over who gets to cover it first. In Holding The Whippet / The Torrents, guitar hustles the pace to prepare the way for another burst of Fin’s pipes. Those fiddles, though, are well up to the task and soon show the reeds what strings can achieve, before they all dance off together in a joyful whirlwind of excitement.
Fetch! is an album to lose yourself in again and again. There’s a hypnotic element to the music, with its Nordic winds and Mediterranean rhythms, that can set the feet tapping, the pulse racing, or the heart soaring. Ewan MacPherson’s abilities as a tunesmith, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and collaborator shine through in a delightful album that should be essential listening for anyone who embraces the multi-cultural influences and contemporary folk music.
Fetch! is Out Now on Shoogle Records
2017 Tour Dates
THU 9 FEBRUARY – Eastgate Theatre & Arts Centre,Peebles, UK
FRI 10 FEBRUARY – Resolis Community Hall,Dingwall, UK
SAT 11 FEBRUARY – House Concert,Ellon, UK
THU 16 FEBRUARY – Acoustic Music Club, Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Club,Kirkcaldy, UK
FRI 17 FEBRUARY – Old Bridge Inn,Aviemore, UK
SAT 18 FEBRUARY – Knoydart Village Hall,Knoydart, UK
SUN 19 FEBRUARY – Glenurquhart Hall,Drumnadrochit, UK