Celtic influences and nuances meet from either side of the Irish Sea, with joy and dancing compulsory.
Release date: 6th May 2022
Label: own label
Format: CD / digital
There is something so wonderful, as Spring formally ushers in the promise of Summer, to play and listen to music like this, which veritably reeks of the outside and of making merry in the extending daylight. Call me easily pleased, as I can think of nothing better, it tending to make me yearn for my tent and sleeping bag, still tucked up in the garage for winter. Sarah Markey is a name new to me, yet there is nothing new here. Adept on flute and harp, Markey is a native Scot, a near Weegie from Coatbridge, but of Irish stock, with music instilled and infused into her very being, and this is her debut release.
At a time as all the Celtic folk bands seek a fusion to pin their tail upon, this is unashamedly retro, smacking of the second great wave of Celtic folk music, Ireland, 1970s, with Planxty, the Bothy Band, Altan and Dervish, and many more, all beginning to make a name for themselves, songs and tunes all propelled with a similar swaggering lope. That lope needs a precision team, and Markey has that here, again names not leaping off the page in remembrance, other young talents, each providing as vibrant a racket as you could find either side of St Patrick’s Day. The usual subjects of fiddles, banjos, guitars, uillean pipes, bodhran, and, of course, given that Irish influence, bouzoukis aplenty, by now an instrument more redolent, as a rhythmic accompaniment, of Shannon than Santorini.
Put together in recognition of her Granny (Sarah) Grant, from Lurgangreen, County Louth, who emigrated to be with her husband John Grant, as they made a start in the Scottish central belt. Both fans of traditional music, they were Sarah’s introduction to the genre and filled within her love and ambition that led to her becoming a 2019 finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year. But it isn’t only that journey that spills into this project, it is also her own pilgrimages to Spain and Italy, living in each country, that add their particular wider European influence. And the presence of a Ruben Bada. Also on bouzouki. More of below. Veteran desk man (and pianist) Angus Lyon engineered and mixed the project in Lamington, South Lanarkshire, with bodhran parts dialled in from across the Irish sea.
The project opens with the reassuringly steady step of the title track, which starts as a pleasing flute-led melody. This first is Sarah’s own writing, segueing into a pair of traditional tunes, each of which rattle along at just the right speed, never rushing, yet integrally rolling. Follower, The Chicken’s Gone To Scotland isn’t, at least overtly, another reference to Granny, being rather more a further convenient traditional tune, on to which a further pair are conjoined. The ensemble playing here is exceptional, but the pipes of Calum Stewart peep out especially provocatively in the middle tune. Eamonn Nugent’s bohdran is also quite fine, and should have this played to any who still thinks they are but big tambourines.
The Star Of Sweet Dundalk is a song, teased together from a broadsheet ballad lyric and a melody researched out of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, the whole to reflect the feelings her Grandmother may have had, on leaving her home country. Here Markey introduces her sweet and unsophisticated vocal quite charmingly. Her flute literally billows over the collected strings. Estrellas brings in the Castilian theme, and, if I am not wrong, is the name of a Spanish beer. Harp is brought into a first play, with flute and strings soaring over a piano anchoring line. A tune that sticks, and one that will have you wistfully playing late at night, as a melancholic nightcap. Spain gets a further clout from the next trio of songs, Licor de Cafè, drawn together by Markey and Bada, the aforementioned Spaniard, the pair meeting at Piping Live in Glasgow, and staying in musical touch. The mix of cultures melds a treat and is a fascinating juxtaposition, two traditional Spanish tunes with the third being via a well known Asturian folk musician, Xuan Nelson Expòsito, played as if in a pub session where the flags are green.
The Spark Among The Heather again allows Markey to extend her mastership (mistress-ship?) of her flute, and is a second song, the whole redolent of De Dannan. Counter-intuitively jaunty, it is actually a Scottish song about the highland clearances, a gulp as you concentrate, maybe belatedly on the words. Another lovely track, whichsoever, as is Brighter Days, which starts by bringing the double bass playing of Charlie Stewart, solid throughout but a joy on this track. The second half of said tune is a gorgeous pipes and flute unison incantation, seemingly enough until a further third “half” is embarked upon, these two being Markey originals, the first in tandem with Jack MacRobbie, who plays guitar on many the tracks.
Did I say on many tracks? One of those where he is best represented comes next, Blackrock Wall, near a duet, as it starts, between his picked guitar and Markey’s flute. Another cracker of three tunes, the first of which, The Beautiful Goldfinch, by Marcus Hermon, lingers longest, he being an all Ireland champion flautist and flute maker. As we wend to the close, main banjo and bouzouki man, Marty Berry, chips in with a lively march, the first of two paired tunes. The second, Off She Jumped, another Markey original, being the shared name for the piece, and gives possible rise as to what happened after the long walk wherever, hoping all ended well.
The mood does wind down for the last track, a misty end of the night reflection, in turn upbeat and then more thoughtful, the arrangement conspiring elegantly to conflict the two. Which is cleverer than it seems. The title, Late Night In Glasgow, perhaps offers the solution to the conundrum, the sadness at the end of any evening in that city often and purely because it has ended. A great end to a good album, and one that should hopefully offer Markey a place on the people to watch in the future.
Here is Off She Jumped: