Peatbog Faeries – Live @ 25
Peatbog Records – 8 December 2017
There’s a very good reason Peatbog Faeries have twice been voted Live Act of the Year in the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards; as I’m sure anyone who’s ever attended one of their gigs would confirm, this is a band that relishes live performance. Next month (8th December) they release their second live album, Live @ 25. Over the last 25 years the line-up of the Skye-based band has evolved, but under the guidance of founder members Peter Morrison and Innes Hutton, that evolution has seen them earn a worldwide reputation as the ultimate Celtic fusion party band. In the autumn of 2016, Peatbog Faeries embarked on a 25th-anniversary tour and in order to best capture the essence of those live shows Live @ 25 (with the exception of the closing track) features highlights from performances at Much Marcle, Herefordshire and the Hebridean Celtic Festival.
Kicking off with Tom Salter‘s extended guitar intro there’s a sense of the coiled spring about Dun Beag. With low whistle taking the lead it’s a big, but gentle sound; an opening reminder that Peatbog Faeries mellow-out just as effectively as they party. Later in the album Fishing at Orbost is just as relaxed, the soft piano introduction and subsequent fiddle melody introducing a gentle hint of jazz and evoking idyllic coastal settings, while Peter Morrison‘s pipes add a sense of movement, of changing light. Fiddler Ross Couper joined the band in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2015’s Blackhouse (reviewed here) that he was able to bring his own tunes to the studio, with Jakes On A Plane. In this live arrangement, the track loses none of its shine, as samples and beats over low whistle set the scene for a fiddle outing that’s every bit as gentle as it is intricate. Undoubtedly laid back, but still with an irresistible groove and a rebellious voice in the fiddle. Strictly Sambuca is a Couper classic of a more lively nature, providing Peter with the perfect opportunity to show his wild side on whistles, and he doesn’t disappoint. In performance, it’s one of those Peatbog Faeries numbers that proudly references the influence Martyn Bennett had on their music from the very start.
In a studio setting PeatBog Faeries approach their more laid back numbers with incredible attention to detail. Those same pieces played live, though, offer a chance to catch your breath, a moment to chill. What Peatbog Faeries do live is party, and their audience invariably party with them. The Ranch is a typical crowd pleaser as the rich bass sounds of Graeme Stafford‘s keyboards share the initial groove with Ross’s fiddle. Just in case anyone’s left standing still, Peter’s highland pipes join in around the half-way mark, as fiddle takes on a transatlantic accent and a healthy dose of reverb. The Naughty Step is another floor-filler, a magnificent whirligig of a tune, where fiddle and whistles lead the band on a fast-paced adventure. There’s a rebellious wail in the fiddle and a hint of discord as the pipes warm up for a crescendo and an ecstatic response from the crowd. There’s another memorable pipe/fiddle duet for the joyous stomp of Tom in the Front.
The musical accents are varied, of course. Innes Hutton‘s sure, steady bass and Stu Haikney‘s percussion introduce a touch of dub for Marx Terrace, which morphs delightfully into a dance number in the best club tradition, and degrees of separation between ceilidh and rave are reduced to nil. With a flaming hot fiddle melody to inject some pace, before long electric guitar and whistle have joined in on the dance floor, and that trance opening has given way to a thumping beat. There’s no soft intro for Spider’s, though, it’s a straight to the floor number; fiddle-led, awash with electronics and keyboards; and clearly going down a storm with the crowd.
Although the bulk of the tunes are from the last two Peatbog Faeries albums, Dust and Blackhouse, there’s still plenty room for old favourites in the 25th Anniversary set. Peter’s whistle keeps up the pace for a Peatbog Faeries standard – Shifting Peat and Feet, but The Folk Police is a track that helped firmly establish the band as ground-breakers on their second album, Faerie Stories. Peter’s pipes take his own melody to the dance floor alongside a stomping beat, a primal wail of guitar, and bewildering bass. It’s a tremendous energy builder that never fails to take the audience right along, as pipes and snares come out loud and clear together before the closing excitement of the interplay between pipes, fiddle and keyboards. The closing live track on the album was recorded in Stornoway, at the HebCelt Festival. The Humours of Ardnamurchan is new track available on CD for the first time. It’s an absolute belter of a polka (listen below) written about the experiences of recording in Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan; home of keyboard player Graeme Stafford. The whole event is wrapped up with a reference to popular Scottish trad from another generation, with a 1960s recording of Lewis native Calum Kennedy singing Skyline Of Skye.
Just as with their 2009 live album, Peatbog Faeries have succeeded in capturing, as much as anyone possibly can, the essence and excitement of their live shows in a CD release. Since 2009 there have been a few changes in personnel, two more studio releases, and probably a significant number of new fans; so it seems fitting for them to celebrate their 25th anniversary as a touring band with a new live album. It was a surprise to discover this album is 80 minutes long; like any Peatbog Faeries album, or gig, it’s an immersive and enormously enjoyable experience that seems to be over all too soon. Peatbog Faeries are a band that continue to delight their fans both live and in the studio, playing the most intricate arrangements with apparent ease. Providing more energy than a tanker full of Lucozade, 25 years on they sound every bit as fresh and, above all, enthusiastic as they did when they headed out from Skye all those years ago. Live@25 is an exceptional live album, Peatbog Faeries are an exceptional live band.
Live @ 25 is out on 8th December.
Peatbog Faeries are performing at this year’s Celtic Connections on 28 January 2018 with special guest Vieux Farka Touré.
For more 2018 dates visit: www.peatbogfaeries.com/