Mac Ìle – The Music of Fraser Shaw
The Fraser Shaw Trust
Joy, just pure joy. That’s the first word that springs to mind as the sheer exuberance of the musicians and their deep love for the music shines through in Back To Islay, the opening track on Mac Ìle, The Music of Fraser Shaw.
Glasgow born piper, whistle player and composer Fraser Shaw started playing the pipes at the age of 6, studied music at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye and moved to Islay after forming the successful band Cluanas, with Mhairi Hall, Kathleen Graham and Ronan Martin. There he spent happy years performing, composing, establishing sessions, festivals, and The Maverick Angels with John Somerville, Kevin O’Neill and Innes Watson. Two years after moving back to Glasgow in 2009, Fraser was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and he returned to Islay. By 2015 his illness had developed into progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) and he passed away in May of that year.
A group of friends established The Fraser Shaw Trust in his honour, to raise money for the relief of multiple sclerosis, particularly in Argyll, Scotland, through a series of projects and events celebrating Fraser and his music.
To that end, we have this wonderful, truly heart-lifting album, Mac Ìle. Back To Islay provides a sparkling introduction from mandolin and guitar before low whistle comes gliding across the waves. The sound expands to embrace fiddles and a gentle interplay of fiddle, accordion and whistle before the spirited second jig.
Despite his illness, returning to Islay was indeed a source of comfort for Fraser and the elation he felt on returning to this beautiful island is palpable in the music he wrote there. It’s difficult to imagine a more appealing celebration of music than the fast-paced marches of Pipe Set, with its continental opening and rousing finish on a packed dance floor. Islay Skies opens on a light breeze from piano and fiddle before guitar and fiddle hover eerily over the turbulence in search of a melody, and whistle brings a shower of rain to herald a magnificently stormy close. The exuberance of Slumberlands is driven along by keyboards and percussion but peppered with mellowing mandolin before flute blows the set back to the dance floor with a refreshing sou’ westerly, a stirring skirl of pipes and a wayward twinkle.
The album also relishes its more reflective passages, though, striking a more sombre note with the beautiful Clachan Uaine; a mesmerising vocal and piano duet from fellow Cluanas members, Kathleen and Mhairi. Gently kissed by Duncan Lyall‘s bass, neither piano nor vocal ever resorts to extravagant decoration for effect. All the craft and emotion is in the melody and the lyric. In Air Chail, solemn strings herald a plaintive whistle melody, from a recording of Fraser himself. Strings sigh and whistle wail among barren, cloud-catching peaks.
Through Innes Watson‘s tenor guitar and Lori Watson‘s impeccable voice, In Friendships Name brings us back to song, and the sense of community that is the life-blood of Mac Ìle; as multiple voices join the chorus before a perfect brother/sister vocal duet. The closing chorus is an image of filled glasses, a roaring fire and warm hearts.
Fraser’s Glasgow influences are never far from mind either. There’s a string quartet feel about Trip To Glasgow, with fiddles shepherding an excitable accordion and mandolin on a day trip. Cashback and G&T Set provide more lively reels; and Cairn’s Set opens with Adam Sutherland‘s Memories of Fraser Shaw, before whistle and fiddle take the melody on an adventure full of wild, exciting flourishes. Again, joy and exuberance shine through in an irresistible toe-tapper.
Rarely able to resist a good pun, Fraser’s piece in honour of a favourite Glasgow residence, The C-Side, sees flute, accordion and whistle lead the way for sweet tenor guitar and mandolin, before they all dance gently around each other towards an elated, excited and extended crescendo.
Even for someone like me, who finds new joy in music on a daily basis, the unsurpassed sense of delight and commonality in Mac Ìle is nothing short of exhilarating. It’s as if there’s freedom among Fraser’s melodies and memories for this jubilant collective to express themselves like never before.
If there’s music in your soul, you simply could not avoid being charmed and even moved to tears by this wonderful, heart-warming tribute.
Mac Ìle – The Music of Fraser Shaw is out now via https://www.frasershawtrust.com/
The Islay Sessioneers on Mac Ìle, The Music of Fraser Shaw are…
Adam Sutherland – fiddle
Eilidh Shaw – fiddle
Gráinne Brady – fiddle
Lori Watson – fiddle/vocals
Innes Watson – fiddle/guitar/vocals
Angus MacKenzie – highland pipes/border pipes/whistles
Calum MacCrimmon – highland pipes/whistles/vocals
Kevin O’Neill – flute
John Somerville – piano accordion
Laura-Beth Salter – mandolin/vocals
Ross Martin – guitar
Jenn Butterworth – guitar/vocals
Tina Jordan Rees – piano
Duncan Lyall – double bass/electric bass/vocals
With very special guests:
Kathleen Graham – vocals
Mhairi Hall – piano
Ross Couper – fiddle