Peatbog Faeries – I See A World: Album Review

Rocketing to 30, no signs of let up, no signs of let down. Peatbog Faeries release I See A World.

Release Date: 4th August

Label: Peatbog

Format: CD / Digital

There is a famous compilation sampler record called ‘The Indestructible Beat of Soweto’. With this, release number 11, if you include the cassette that launched ’em and live outings, Peatbog Faeries might consider subtitling this the indestructible sound of Portree. Bursting onto the nascent trad fusion scene in 1991, Peter Morrison’s monster has just never stopped giving, always finding some new nuance to slip into their mix of traditional, rock, jazz, world and dance musics, even as members peel away and others join. (I fully appreciate that a rapid turnover of members might seem off-putting, but far from it, particularly if you embrace the idea of the band being almost more a brand, a collective, as is often the norm across the Scottish musical landscape, combos often co-terminous with each other, with individuals in many different units, availability dictating who, where, which and when).

Morrison, the piper and whistle supremo and, de facto bandleader, and, if not leader, certainly the focus, is one of two original members, along with Innes Hutton on bass, but the colourful figure of Tom Salter, and his township jit-jive guitar, has been around since 2003. The current line-up is rounded out by Ross Couper’s fiddle, celebrating his decade with the band, and new drummer, Stu Brown and keyboards/sax man, Norman Willmore. An honorary addition has been of the mercurial polymath, Innes Watson, veteran of many a Scottish ensemble, on acoustic guitar and extra fiddle. There is a smattering of guest appearances, to include the novelty of song, an extremely rare Peatbog occurrence.

We are out the door with some programmed electronic burbling, a lone female voice keening in the background. Gradually a mesh of percussion and stringed instruments builds, ahead Couper’s fiddle leading the direction apace, a sturdy rhythm propelling his strings and Morrison’s whistles, in unison. Normal service, then, with the electronic textures more to the fore than of yore. (Drummer, Brown, as seems increasingly the way, is responsible for those textures, much like Elephant Session’s Greg Barry). Heather MacLeod and Gina Rae, aka the Bevvy Sisters, or two of them, rise up through the mix, the keening becoming a tribal wail. Dropping into a gentler middle section, that pastoral interlude is then set aside as the reeling gradually returns. A cracking start, all the myriad infusions and influences cooking up a treat.

Humours Of Ardnamurchan picks right up from where that ends, a frantic stramash of guitar, fiddle and keys, the Sisters adding further vocal heft. With an infectious melody, swapping between Couper and what I guess to be Watson’s wildfire acoustic picking, I am liking this new approach. I hope the vocalists get to join them live, as an actual song takes shape, with words and a chorus. (Keen students of the band will recognise this song, a live version having debuted on 2016’s Live @ 25 outing, albeit the vocals were then recorded rather than live, and much deeper down the mix, without then any discernible words.)

I Haven’t Smoked For Days is a much mellower piece, almost gentle by the band standard, whistle and fiddle ducking and diving around the other, over a broadly acoustic background, albeit with a drumbeat for ballast, gradually becoming more intricate, Hutton’s bass taking a melodic canter that adds a conrasting lilt to the fiddle dexterics. And is that bagpipes creeping in for the first time? (Yes.) Some electronic trombone style sounds end the track with panache. Darcy’s comes straight from a trance euphoria mould, sequencers doing what they do over a constant pulse of percussion, electronic and manual. Fiddle, or fiddles, drive in, whistle close behind, the bass and guitar adding a flickering bedrock to stretch the sonic horizon. All manner of bleep and booster slot in and if you ain’t dancing, you ain’t listening. One senses the band have been paying attention to fellow Portree locals, Niteworks. There is extra percussion on this one, from Krishna Kishor, and it shows.

The Sister Of Moses is damn near a ballad, a slow swaying song that touches on horrors in Afghanistan. Salter shows himself to have a decent enough voice, effective and apt to the narrative, aided and abetted by MacLeod and Rae’s additional backing accompaniments. Wafts of saxophone drift in and out, more than one, with another guest, Helena Kay, adding hers to Willmore’s, with a sax and fidddle chorale rounding out the song. (Who’d’ve ever thought the band would be adding songs at this stage in their journey?) Innes Drinks The Bru whets up more folktronics, Kishor again percussing powerfully, as pipe and fiddle duel with electronic keyboard textures. Some repeated “heys” in the background give a feel of a cossack dance party, showing their sans frontières approach continues to have little regard for territory or genre.

Ann Robertson’s Kitchen has terrific brass to usher it in, with the Sisters back on vocal duty, another song with discernible words, almost a chant, with a hooley erupting alongside, including the unmistakeable peal of some uillean pipes. These come from final guest, Ryan Murphy. The combination of sax and uillean pipes is a heady combination, the track becoming a high watermark for the expanding charms of this band. You singing along, yet? “Be here now, all we have is now, now is all that matters, living for the day.” Salter then gets to peel off some evocative guitar for the opening of Ortiguera, which, for those who come here for these, and are pining, some glorious highland bagpipes to carry the balmy windswept melody. The inspiration and name comes from Spain’s wild celtic fringe, Galicia. The saxophone is then perfect, Helena Kay once more the provider, abetting that of Willmore. There is a bouncy element in the rhythm section that makes it, well, just bounce along. It is paired saxes that introduce The Poozies Visit To Carbost, with dubby echo effects to give even more ideas, if left unturned until now, and all the more welcome for that. Lifting samples from the Poozies’ own ‘Soaking The Bathtub’, Hutton adds some dubtastic bass lines, as the saxes squawk. Wonderful stuff, with Murphy’s pipes still around to add lustre to the kitchen sink approach.

The party ends with some of Salter’s gleeful afro-picking guitar and horns, on the paired tunes, Clunie Road/The Winning Bid. Couper, and, I suspect, Watson, then swoop in with paired fiddles, a jiggy bass carousing in the basement room, before Morrison’s bagpipes join. Kishor’s tablas occupy a central position, whilst Kay parps away with abandon, and rhythmic chants have you, vaingloriously, try to guess where this is all going. Or has been, but the destination is then made apparent, the second tune occupying as close a traditional pipe air as these guys ever offer, not that the arrangement sticks long to that template. A helter-skelter of sounds, the saxophone picks up on Morrison’s intent, taking a jazzily roundabout turn to the rousing finale, all pushing forward together, the last couple of bars a cheeky beat that!!

This could be their best record yet, and is certainly amongst their most exciting, displaying that the last thing on their collective mind is to be coasting or just playing more of the same. 28 years in and still evolving. Can’t wait for their 30th, bring it on!

Here’s The Poozies Visit To Carbost.

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