Future dub from ancient Scotland is what it says on the tin, and it is duly delivered. Tom Spirals and Euan McLaughlin take the journey a little further.
Release Date: 17th March 2023
Label: Self-released (bandcamp)
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
The dub dance is the translation of the band’s name, hiding also a little visual pun, at least to my teuchter eye, with dub, the written word, a whisper away from dubh, the spoken word, and, in the Gaelic, it means black. The pronunciation differs, but let’s ignore that truth. So is it the black dance, too? I don’t know about that, but, loosely, very loosely, this is where Gaelic song gets the treatment the morris got from E11.
Tom Spirals and Euan McLaughlin created both the band and the idea. With Spirals being both a dub singer and producer, and McLaughlin a fiddler entrenched in the tradition, their mutual love of dub and roots reggae saw fit to consider a fusion. After an initial foray with a well-received EP, they have now expanded into a full band, with Nicky Kirk, guitar, Maxi Roots, bass, and Ben Parkinson, drums, Spirals also picking up flute, competently at that.
Embers starts with a chanted muttering vocal; rap sorta crossed with Christy Moore, over an infusion of mystical sounds, as if to waken the day. Echo effects, of course, loom large, as this brief opener introduces what is to come. Which is Blue Dream, a ghostly shimmer of fiddle and flute, before a reliable saunter of skank kicks in, to propel further those lead instruments and lighten their way. The drums pace about furtively, with keyboard squelches and squiggles cutting in. A faultless blend of genres, the slow jig is just the job for the lazy rhythm. Individual players dip in and out, enhanced by the mix, effortlessly bringing them up, off, under and everywhere. A lovely start. Golden Thread then has some familiarity about its fiddle-led melody, the vocals then sweeping clear your mind, as a honey toned Cian Finn guests on vocals, with some smooth harmonies backing him, sending you, instantly into a reverie of sun kissed beaches and seaswept shores. Luskentyre, surely, if only at the height of summer? Green and gold, the colours, get mentioned frequently in the lyric, two of the rasta trirumvirate, and it feels very JA, deceptively so, until you suddenly remember who the band is. Masterful stuff. Finn, should you wonder, and I did, is a, mainly, reggae artist from Galway Bay, of mixed race, hence, at its most simplistic, his affinity for the genre, yet is also the son of the late Alec Finn, the bouzouki maestro of De Dannan.
An Gobhainn is a choppier affair, with an edgy beat. With flute first in the frame, McLaughlin quickly wrests the spotlight offering a vibrantly fluid solo. Parkinson’s drums gallop away in the middle section, dubby moods percolating around him. The bass, naturally, lopes languorously in the basement. More fiddle and it’s off again. The rhythm section are alight all over this one. Sparks has an almost middle eastern feel to it, of dervishes dancing in circles, ever the faster, that Arabian filter racked up further by the hand drums and spiralling fiddle. It makes for a surprising change, all the more joyous in the unexpectedness thereof.
Lana Pheutan is the second guest, a Gaelic broadcaster and writer, last heard of with Valtos, reviewed here. She starts to sing the traditional ballad An Nighean Nan Geug, with all manner of extraneous sounds washing about her, including what sounds disconcertingly like a cow, mooing. McLaughlin steers the backing into a woozy complement to the singing, a slow tap of percussion keeping an eye on the road. The odd reverb heavy thwunk of treated drum adds lustre. Strangely, there is still an eastern, even Indian, vibe hanging into this one, and it would sit well within Claud Challe’s Buddha Bar ambience. Kirk adds some nice touches of guitar, releasing him from a purely engine room experience. Flew The Arrow, the third and final guest singer joins next, for My Blood Runs Deep. Aka Lee McGilvray, he is an Ayrshire folksinger and acoustic guitarist, whose repertoire might not automatically assume a kinship with the bent of these guys. But you’d be wrong, his burr comfortable atop the rocksteady steps laid down by Spirals and co. Indeed, this swiftly becomes a favourite.
The Sheiling opens with more of Kirk’s guitar, studio swooshes firing off beside him, with flurry of flute and dimly echoed keyboard/bass. Spoken word, a heavily accented Spirals, perhaps, or an outside source, and we are off into a reggae reprise, dub abounding, and the flute and fiddle inspiring dance. A middle eight is more emphatic in opportunity for some light Hiberno-Caribbean riffage. A lively number, it could be a calling card for the band, merging so well the congruent influences. Which only leaves a single then double, possibly treble-tracked Pheutan to lead off with some puirt à beul for Seoladh, singing in her native tongue. As she fades, the band welly in, taking up her pace with a courtly and mellow insistency. Once again Kirk adds little cascades of notes, leaving Parkinson and the well named Roots to control the direction of flow. McLaughlin and Spirals, meanwhile, don’t/can’t stop their infectious joint play and this last selection is a top way to end this smile inducing session. I am sure there is some melodica in there somewhere too, more appearing in the mix at each repeated listen. No small part of that whole will be the exemplary recording and mixing skills of Spirals and McLaughlin, aided and abetted by Andrea Gobbi, the doyen of trad transformation, and Ross Saunders.
You may be unfamiliar with the name of the band or their music; as yet they seem to have had precious little exposure, although anyone lucky enough to be at either Knockengorroch, Lakefest or Lindisfarne Festivals this summer, well, you could do a lot worse than check ’em out. Alternatively, you could buy this, play loud and pretend.
Here’s My Blood Runs Deep, the official video. (The spoken intro is not on the album, should that be a concern?!?)