Ryan Young – Ryan Young
Self Released – 11 August 2017
With multiple nominations for both BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 2 awards, fiddler Ryan Young has been making his presence felt on the Scottish trad music scene for a few years now and continues to impress audiences all over the UK. His imaginative use of traditional melodies and a playing style that references a wide range of influences have also earned him a Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award. At the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards in December 2016, the audience was delighted to see Ryan named ‘Up and Coming Artist of the Year’. This month, Ryan continues to build on his reputation as a musician of impressive calibre with his eponymously titled debut album.
Ryan loves old tunes and finds most of his inspiration among the famous collections of traditional melodies such as the Skye Collection and the Simon Fraser collection. It’s clear to see just why Ryan describes The Skye Collection as his favourite book, right from the start of the album. The opening pair of strathspeys in the album’s first set comes from that great resource; The Back Of The Change House and The Nine-pint Coggie offer a smooth start where Ryan displays the same light, lilting touch as Irish fiddler Martin Hayes – one of his major influences. Accompanied by the soft and richly toned piano of James Ross, it’s notable how Ryan’s own voice, that has singled him out for so much praise, comes through. As we’re led in gentle dance steps, the lighter piano tones come through alongside Leo Forde‘s gently percussive guitar. There are gentle hints of transatlantic influences in the second part of the set, John Of Badenyon/Och Is Duine Truagh Mi (Oh I am a poor man). Leo’s guitar offers a harmonic back beat, the Irresistible dance flows. By the time the sound widens into the Gaelic reel the listener is inevitably caught up in the rhythm, and utterly charmed by Ryan’s switch to a lighter, flowing delivery; peppered with quiet flourishes, sparsely delivered and made all the more pleasing for it.
There’s a lot to take in throughout that opening, and it’s a joy to re-visit the track for new discoveries. The same can be said for the entire album.
Unlike many of today’s finest traditional musicians, Ryan, from Cardross on the River Clyde, he didn’t grow up in a musical household, so there was no ‘from the cradle’ influence and guidance. Rather than viewing this as a hindrance, Ryan cites this lack of direct influence as one of the reasons he felt free to follow his own interpretations of the melodies he learned to love hearing the likes of Aly Bain and Eilidh Steel play. As a young learner, the academic route to follow his heart was of paramount importance. Ryan won scholarships to attend both Junior and Senior schools at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. While there he studied under a host of well-known names, including Sarah-Jane Summers, Kirsty Cotter, James Ross, Alistair McCulloch, Marie Fielding and Phil Cunningham. After graduating with an honours degree, Ryan went on to complete his Masters at the Royal Conservatoire.
Two more Skye Strathspeys come together for The Rothiemurcas rant/Mrs Robertson Grishornish. The Rothiemurcas Rant is a tune Ryan loved playing with guitarist Dennis Cahill at Feakle Festival, County Clare. A strathspey with a gentle soul, but a strong sense of purpose that’s emphasised as Leo’s guitar enhances the rhythm and quietly shadows the melody towards the perfectly matched Mrs Robertson Grishornish, and its interchange of light and bold steps.
Jenna’s Jig/Stop Thanking Me/Dennis is a set that introduces some of Ryan’s own compositions and bears witness to his enthusiasm, and respect for, the people around him – both teachers and contemporaries. Piano sets a gentle mood that’s immediately contrasted by a lighter melody from Ryan. The melody seems to glory in the sunrise while piano echoes the gloomy pre-dawn, before an inevitable surrender to the light. Waves of clouds and light, refreshing rain follow and by this time its clear how much Ryan loves to play with a melody, teasing ever more endearing twists and turns from its soul. Another of Ryan’s compositions takes a darker turn, Ryan’s Despair. Although we deplore the thought of anything bringing this talented and sharing soul to despair, sadness, there certainly is; and it’s a heartfelt grief that perfectly displays the ability of the fiddle, in the right hands, not only to charm but to access the darker emotions.
There are times when Ryan’s choice of set content seems nothing short of inspired. Lamberton Races/ Col. Renton’s Favourite / The Oyster Wives rant / Rinettan’s Daughter is a set that opens as a stately reel where Ryan’s Irish influences ring clear. But there’s a feeling of the coiled spring about the opening solo as we move forward, guitar and piano conspiring to increase the pace towards the merry and enticing reel to close. A brace of tunes can offer as much adventure as a set of four, though. The gentle swagger of Airidh Nam Badan opens a set that takes the listener on a stroll along a familiar landscape, but in a new light, as The Lads in the Kilt takes melodic liberties that bring both Alasdair Fraser and Martin Hayes to mind.
Although Ryan’s focus is mainly on Scottish music and very often neglected melodies, his influences range further afield. The style County Clare fiddlers such as Bobby Casey, Paddy Canny and, of course, Martin Hayes feature widely. The Cross Of Inverness/The Bob Of Fettercairn offers a fine example of Ryan’s ability to bend a tune to his own will, though. He’s described The Cross of Inverness as ‘a little too happy’ and presents it as a fiddle melody with some gentle bass notes on guitar. It’s a gentle stroll along a familiar track when the night is late but the reel that fills your mind still holds the promise of fun around the corner. Ryan and Leo are happy to skip lightly towards the fun in a way that inspires a mental image of Neil Gow making his way from one gathering to another.
In the set Traditional Reel/Smilin’ Katie/The White Houses of Shieldaig we’re back in Highland Perthshire for a solo trad reel that’s as merry as the sound of the title that follows it. For Smilin’ Katie, guitar joins with a percussive beat, and the mood is certainly one of celebration. A celebration that’s moving at full pace for The White Houses of Shieldaig, where you can almost hear Ryan’s heart sing for joy as he explores the possibilities offered by such a heart-warming pipe tune.
There are two sets on the album that perfectly illustrate how melodies can combine to build pace and excitement. What Pain I’ve Endured Since last Year/Caber Feidh/To Chase The Goats Off The Rocks opens with a melancholy fiddle and the occasional sympathetic sigh from piano before Caber Feidh brings a note of positivity. Fiddle and piano cavort around a familiar favourite, then close with a touch of fire, in a reel with an almost vocal joy. In John MacColl’s Farewell/Willie’s Auld Trews/The Harris Dance, the sombre pace of the slow air is softened by Ryan’s light touch and the piano’s quiet accompaniment. That gentle spirit is mixed with short bursts of turmoil until Willie’s Auld Trews takes a more melancholy approach before meandering towards the light of The Harris Dance; a pace building session favourite where guitar and piano both pick up the lighter step. Familiar melodies presented in a new light.
Towards the album’s close, Ryan moves further away from the rarer, discovered melodies he so clearly, and carefully, treasures, to one of the best known Scots fiddle tunes. The Highland Laddie is out on a bold adventure, though, so prepare for a familiar face in exciting, unfamiliar territory. In yet another example of Ryan’s remarkable gift for innovation, the whole piece sways between soft contemplation, lively exploration and, in time, back towards more familiar ground, with our hero footsore and homeward bound. Bringing the album to a conclusion, James Ross’ piano opening for The Irish Girl presents tumbling seas as takes up a slow air with a hint of a waltz and James’s piano at its most expressive.
“My only real ambition with music is to try and play from the heart. It’s all about the music really – The tunes are all there in these old collections; I’m just giving it a voice” – Ryan Young
Grammy winning Boston music producer and cellist Jesse Lewis, whose U.S. credentials include work with The Silk Road Ensemble, Yo-Yo Ma, Bela Fleck, Jan Vogler and Brooklyn Rider, made his first trip to the UK to record Ryan’s debut album. Other than an occasional overdub, all the tracks were recorded in single takes with the musicians playing together. I doubt if the natural, warm flow of the album could have been achieved so successfully any other way. It’s tempting to say that we can expect great things from Ryan Young in the future. His quiet success to date and open, exploratory style is evidence of an impressive, budding talent. That future has already begun to open up, though. Ryan Young’s debut is a remarkable and fascinating album that no fan of traditional fiddle should miss.
Order Ryan Young’s debut album here: http://www.ryanyoung.scot/shop.html
Ryan Young Dates
Thu 10th Aug – Feakle Festival, County Clare, Ireland, ALBUM LAUNCH with Dennis Cahill
Sat 12th Aug – Feakle Festival, County Clare, Ireland with Dennis Cahill
Sun 13th Aug – Levi’s Corner House, Ballydehob, Co. Cork, Ireland
Tue 22nd Aug – National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Thu 24th Aug – Merchants Hall, Edinburgh
Sun 27th Aug – Merchant’s Hall, Edinburgh (Two performances [1pm & 2:15pm] Accompanied by Jenn Butterworth on guitar)
Fri 1st Sep – LMN
Sat 16th Sep – Ceol Cholasa, Colonsay (Accompanied by Jenn Butterworth on guitar)
Tue 14th Nov – Leith Folk Club, Edinburgh (Accompanied by Jenn Butterworth on guitar)
Photo Credit John Burton
Album Cover by Artist: Carol Dewart