Dlù – the Gaels adept at re-skinning the cat into feisty new directions.
Release date: 25th February 2022
Label: Arc records
I was going to start by musing over how many ways you can rejig and reinterpret tradition, reviving ancient forms for the modern day. Which would be missing the point entirely, as the Scottish Gaelic tradition has never seemed stronger and more alive, at least in the field of music. And this new band has written near every note here themselves, even if the style is familiar. I guess my point is there are that many alternatives takes on the old tropes as to leave the market at near saturation, again, this lot confounding that view with new perspectives and new vantage points., proving that fiddle-led folk musics still have the range and capacity to surprise.
Dlù, rhymes with blue, is the abbreviated Gaelic for closeness, Dlùth in the full word. That could mean close-knit, as in a fabric, which they certainly seem, but it could more so mean ‘tight’, in the rhythmic and musical sense, which they certainly are, their cohesive playing belying their youth. Students all from Glasgow’s first Gaelic School, Schoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, they not only received their education in that language, but gained a solid grounding in the traditions of their forbears. A lineup incorporating fiddle and accordion is matched by the propulsive engine room of drums and bass, electric guitar bridging those disparate entry points. Largely instrumental at this stage, they have a solid vocalist in Moilidh NicGriogair, who also is the fiddle player, only revealing her voice towards the end of this album, the other few vocal duties carried by guest, Joseph McCluskey. Zach Ronan plays accordion and Aidan Spiers the guitar, with Jack Dorrian and Andrew Grossart on bass and drums respectively. Moch, or Dawn, is their assured debut, by chance also the name of my favourite iteration of the Caol Ila malt whisky, from Islay.
An ominous drone opens the album, ahead of chiming guitar and then the peal of fiddle soars overhead, sounding almost like uilleann pipes. A couple of bars and the rhythm section chug in, with a driving metronome, rocking from side to side, like the train making its way from Fort William to Mallaig. This infectious rhythm carries the tune to a mid-point junction, a pause and some increasingly choppy accordion takes over a different melody, the bass building up a further head of steam over the steady again percussion. Unison to close, and it’s a great intro. Am Politician follows, starting as a more intricate piece, with some pizzicato violin and guitar the bed into which an accordion tune dances away, with the underlying rhythm almost Latin. A middle section evokes the electronic passion of Niteworks, I am not quite sure how, before it all goes eastern, with a frenzied fiddle and accordion breakdown, sounding more Szegerely than Eriskay. The latter being, of course, where the wreck of the SS Politician, of “Whisky Galore” fame, lies, as well as being the name of the island’s only pub.
The first song, featuring Joseph McClusky, is the traditional Ràcan , which starts at a funereal pace, textures building above the squeezebox drone, becoming a jaunty pairing of accordion and fiddle, with a kick of bass and drums to add more welly. A brief pause and the bass becomes positively funky, flicked strums of guitar and fiddle adding a dancehall feel that wouldn’t normally be the perfect setting for a classic puirt à beul. But it is here, the marriage of differences a joy, especially as the pace steps up, the guitar doing most of the subsequent support, the accordion playing the part of a prog keyboard. Allowing you to catch breath, the next tune, Bàgh Dubh, is an accelerating triad of tunes starting off not being too far amiss from Wolfestone or Mànran, with then again some more Balkan influences straying in, presumably a legacy of Ronan’s accordion teacher, Djordje Gajic. Taobh na Mara offers some more pristine playing from NicGriogair, more violin than fiddle, using the Ric Sanders sense of that word. With barely more than some mood-setting swells from Ronan, this is a glorious melody, the rhythms section sliding in unobtrusively towards the close. Kate’s Jig picks up on the skeletal core of that tune, using it as a launchpad for an excursion into more prog meets folk territory, lots of builds and lots of structural swerves.
Anmoch starts in the same style, the bass and drums then letting you know you’re going to have to dance for your supper, with a distinctly jazz-infused further balkanisation leaving all bets off as to how it will end, each player chucking every influence in the pot, one by one. It’s a wondrous stew. You might need a rest, but the band don’t, back now in funky town, albeit with a box and fiddle instead of the horns, this being Blue Reef. Multiple meanders off into uncharted territories abound here, some baroque string fusion, some space rock guitar, some ambient trance noodling, all the while building momentum for the frantic reprise that never quite comes. A beguiling paradox of a tune, as baffling as it is brilliant.
Still in need of that sit down? It’s not happening any time soon, with Aiseirigh starting with an intoxicating chatter of guitar, over which the main lead instruments joust, Dorrian slamming down paving slabs of bass, before the unison play lopes into gear, Grossart’s drums worth a specific mention on this one. More signature changes than King Crimson make for an attention-holding ride, keeping you on your wits. Standard folk rock this ain’t.
Donalda’s is dedicated to the school’s headteacher, Donalda McComb, who must be inordinately proud of her erstwhile pupils and their prowess, as they lurch geometrically through her tune, a jig in jazz rock time, that has me, extraordinarily, thinking of Roxy Music as it slows down toward the closing clash of cymbal. Penultimate track, Anthem, is fiddle and picked guitar that extends that Roxy vibe, before again hurtling toward Eastern Europe, a touch of Transylvania in the fiddle and the foreboding accordion drones. Which, of course, puts you in mind for some wah wah guitar? Well, in this parallel universe anything goes and everything fits, the prolonged accordion solo a gallivant. With all this clash and grab of influences, all sinuously weaving together, it should be no surprise that the final track should echo the vocal sound of peak Clannad. Bràighe Loch Iall is the second song and a second traditional one at that. NicGriogair reveals she has a pleasant and strong solo voice, not unlike Moya Brennan’s, with the rest of the band and McCluskey harmonising around her. McCluskey takes the next verse, his voice a good foil for hers, before a very Gilmouresque guitar solo holds your breath and attention. This is a stunning way to close the record, and one that has me wishing they had found room for a greater vocal presence elsewhere. Maybe this is for the future, and I am sure, on this demonstration, this vibrant young band of talents has one to look forward to. Crack open the Moch and put Moch back in the player.
Here is that epic closing track: