Heisk – HEISK: Album Review

Joyful, vibrant and highly exciting – a stunning debut from Scotland’s funky female folksters, Heisk.

Release Date:  20th August 2021

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD, Stream, Download

The 2021 festival season is starting to show its first signs of blossoming.  COVID seems to be on the retreat, at least for the time being, and social restrictions are being tentatively lifted throughout the UK.  That’s all excellent news for festival goers and, hopefully, for Scotland’s Heisk, a six-piece all-female ensemble who, by the evidence presented on their debut, self-titled album, are the ultimate festival band, guaranteed to get a field-full of happy revellers up on their feet, jigging and reeling along to their fantastic music.

Heisk are Becca Skeoch on electro harp, Catriona Hawksworth on keyboards, Lauren Macdonald on drums and percussion, Megan Macdonald on accordion and Rosie Munroe and Sally Simpson on fiddles.  The ladies came together from all over Scotland, via Glasgow’s buzzing music scene, and the sound they make is a joy to behold!  Their tunes are a blend of traditional influences from Scotland and Europe, all spiced up with healthy and enjoyable servings of funk, soul and unadulterated pop . The result is breathtaking, compulsively foot-tapping and expertly played.  Heisk is a band – and an album – that will hold you spellbound!

And, incidentally, according to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, the band name is an Orkney dialect word that means ‘Nervous, excitable, agitated or flurried ‘- a pretty apt description of the musical storm that they cook up!

The ladies had perceived that their gender was somewhat under-represented in Scotland’s traditional music scene and they’ve been careful to ensure that their debut album was put together in a way that enabled a few of the many female operatives within Scottish music to demonstrate their creativity – Heisk arranged all the tunes, the album was mixed by Grace Banks and mastered by Katie Tavini. 

As harpist Becca explains: “After a number of years of writing and performing together, we felt it was time to record our debut album that showcased our festival party vibe and celebrated the awesome women in the creative industries.  Created, performed and engineered by women, the album highlights the talents of under-represented professionals in the creative industries.  We are proud to have collaborated on our debut release with a female producer, photographer, videographer, mixing engineer, mastering engineer, manager and promoter.  This is girl power at its best.”

The results speak for themselves.  HEISK is a wonderful album.

Things get underway with Kayak, a lively tune in which accordion and fiddle lead the way against a background of disciplined, restrained percussion.  The tune is rapid and strewn with obstacles, much like a kayak course, and perfectly sets the scene for the joys to follow.  Grethy is also an appropriately titled tune – the Shetlandic word for ‘winds’.  The tune blows along gustily as, first, fiddles, then accordion take the helm whilst the synth grumbles ominously below.  The pace keeps going with the funky Angus; keyboards provide the dance rhythms whilst the fiddles and accordion continue to soar away.  This is wonderful!

A Scandinavian flavour is introduced with the free, joyous Fløteren.  A rocked-up version of the tune that will be familiar to followers of Norway’s Annbjørg Lies, it’s yet another foot mover that brings in a few jazzy touches, without loosing sight of its trad roots.

The album’s first single, released on 13th August, is the dreamy, ethereal Ailsa.  It’s a bit of a departure from the energy and excitement of the opening four tracks, but the sheer beauty of the harp-led intro reminds us that we’re in very capable hands here, and it’s not long before the liveliness starts to creep back!  With its funky seventies dance beats, Disco has already been identified as something of a stand-out track, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Keyboards establish the funky groove, the other instruments fall effortlessly into it, and the snatches of fast reel on the accordion fit perfectly!

There’s more quickfire accordion to enjoy on Faces, a tune that takes on an almost military aspect as it reaches its climax, before the three-part Charlie takes us up to an even higher level.  Charlie is probably my favourite track on this excellent album. It seems to have just about everything – a beautiful fiddle air, highlighted with subtle jingly keyboard notes, a bit more fun with the accordion, all topped off with a slow-building lament in which every instrument has a chance to shine.  A breathtaking piece of music.

Moving on, Rushin is a frantic fiddle jig with a rocky, riffy backing – a tune that displays HEISK at their festival-pleasing best, before Andina, an enjoyable polka that stays true to its Bohemian roots draws things to a close.  What a brilliant album, and what a brilliant band!  Heisk is a name to remember; if they’re playing anywhere near you, any time soon, don’t miss them.  And don’t miss this debut album – it’s a corker!

Get a taste of the delights that Heisk have to offer with this clip of them performing at Showcase Scotland/Celtic Connections in early 2019:

Heisk Online: Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Bandcamp/ YouTube

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