Graham Rorie – The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay: Album Review

Dramatic, evocative suite of tunes from revered Orcadian fiddler Graham Rorie

Release Date:  28th May 2021

Label: Rumley Sounds

Formats: CD / Download

Orkney fiddler Graham Rorie has achieved something pretty special with this, his debut solo album.  The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay is a suite of eleven tunes, all composed by Graham and played with absolute mastery and palpable enjoyment by Graham and his all-star house band.  The tunes and the album’s concept are inspired by the Orcadians who travelled in their hordes from Stromness during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work in the fur trade for the Hudson’s Bay Company, established by the French explorers Pierre-Esprit and Médard Chouart Groseilliers in Northern Canada.  So suited were the hardy Orcadians to the harsh working conditions and the extreme weather of Northern Canada that, by 1800, 79% of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s employees were from Orkney.  The Orcadians of Hudson Bay is a dramatic, evocative and worthy tribute to those who made that perilous journey.

Graham is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he hooked up with fellow musicians Aiden Moodie, Connor Sinclair and Craig Baxter to form the highly acclaimed Gnoss.  He was a finalist at the 2021 Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year awards and has become a highly sought-after performer, composer, session musician and producer.

The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay is the culmination of four years’ research and composition and has been eagerly awaited by all who were aware of his project.  For the album, Graham has assembled a stellar band comprising Graham himself on Orcadian fiddle and electric tenor guitar, Breabach’s James Lindsay on double bass, fellow Orcadian and former BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year Kristan Harvey on fiddle, Hebridean maestro Padruig Morrison on accordion, Kristen’s TRIP bandmate Rory Matheson on piano and the mighty Scottish/Icelandic Signy Jakobsdottir on drums and percussion.  To describe this ensemble as “stellar” or “all-star” is no idle boast.

The band’s instruments interweave and mesh together delightfully. The fiddles and the accordion seem to urge each other on to greater and greater heights, the piano complements the lead instruments delightfully, James’s bass is rock solid and Signy’s percussion is precise and subtle.  Credit is certainly due to Andrea Gobbi, who recorded and mixed that album at GloWorm Recording in Glasgow and to Nick Cooke who undertook the mastering. The sound is clear, mellow and perfectly balanced throughout. And Graham’s tunes are a joy to behold; often dramatic, occasionally complex but always entertaining and so evocative of the scenes, situations, people and trade routes that inspired them that the listener is compelled to research the background to each tune, in order to complete the story that the album paints so vividly.

The album gets off to a great start with Fort Hope, a tune that sets the template for the pleasures to come; frantic fiddle and accordion alternate to evoke rough seas and blustery winds, a pattern that is replicated regularly throughout the album, notable on Babiche, York Boat, The Haven and The Mouth Of The Hudson Strait.  Aglooka is calmer and conjures images of wide landscapes and pine-covered mountains, whilst Isobel and The Last Calling Point are both beautiful, wistful melodies.  Erebus And Terror is a jazzy, dramatic depicture of the plight of the two fated explorer ships that lost all hands whilst searching for the North-West passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific and Red River and Giving Back are both joyful, trad-derived Scottish dance tunes.  And every single tune is marvelous – The Orcadians of Hudson Bay is the perfect soundtrack to the documentary film of this subject that hasn’t yet been made!

I particularly enjoyed delving into the inspiration for each song.  Graham has researched his subject extremely well, and there truly is a fascinating story lurking within this suite of tunes.  As Graham says, “The subject of this project is one that has amazed me since I was a little boy growing up in Orkney.  The historic links that people from my hometown had with the area in which they went to work and how much this is reflected in the culture of both Orkney and Hudson Bay is extraordinary.  At a time when culture wasn’t shared as widely as it is now, the huge movement of people from Orkney to the frozen north has created a legacy of shared cultural influences that can still be felt today and I couldn’t think of a better way to tell this fascinating story than through music.”  And Graham – I have to agree that your music tells this story very effectively indeed.

For my part, I now know that Aglooka was the leader of one of the groups of crew members from the stranded Erebus and Terror, Babiche is a hide strip that native tribes would fashion for use as a fastener or snare, a York Boat is a design of inland boat, built by Orcadian craftsmen and highly favoured by the Hudson’s Bay Company for its suitability on the company’s trade routes and that Red River flows through Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg into Hudson Bay.  Thanks, Graham for tunes so evocative that they prompted me to seek out these fascinating facts.

Watch the video as Graham tells the story of The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay here:

Graham Rorie Online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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