I've seen Mairearad Green (pronounced My-Red) play in various formats over the years. She is well known in the duo Mairearad & Anna, with Anna Massey, and has been part of The Poozies for some time. However she is also building a growing reputation as a composer and singer since the release of her first album "Passing Places" (2009), which was specially commissioned by Celtic Connections.
Now there's an addition to the catalogue with the release of "Summer Isles". This album was inspired by the stories and scenery of the Summer Isles, which are located in North-West Scotland, near Ullapool, and even closer to Mairearad's home on the Coigach peninsula. There's also a family link as Mairearad's great great great uncle, the poet Neil Macleod, worked as a stone mason and would be rowed to the Summer Isles by a girl who was known locally as Grace Darling. We'll meet her again later.
So this is an album that is very personal to the composer and inspired by scenes and stories she has grown up with, yet very few other people have ever seen, and probably represents a way of life that most of us could not relate to. Would it find a resonance with a wider audience?
You can't get much further away from remote Scottish islands, both physically and culturally, than Camden Town and that is where I recently saw Mairearad at The Green Note playing one of only five shows to launch the album. I have to say that I, along with the rest of the very good audience, was utterly entranced.
Of the ten tracks on the album, seven were composed and written by Mairearad and she set to music poems by Jan Kilpatrick for the rest. That gives the album a real sense of whole. It opens with "Island Folk", an instrumental track which has the rhythm of a boat rolling on a gentle sea and shows, of course, what a marvellous accordion player Mairearad is. It sets the tone for what follows with it s very simple chorus "Home to me is this island".
The first vocal track follows, "Star of Hope", which is about a boat and reminds us that islands need a means of communication with the outside world. Mairearad, I think sensibly, chose to bring in King Creosote as guest vocalist and his stronger voice bringing vessel to life.
Mairearad can certainly sing, as she shows on the third track "The Island", which is one of the Jan Kilpatrick poems set to music. Her beautiful, delicate voice means you need to listen very closely to get the full effect of the lyrics but also gives a wistful feeling of a place left only by necessity. However, when the backing singers come in the stronger voices turn the song into an anthem for the area.
The album keeps coming back to this sense of place, somewhere humans have to live with the environment and become part of it. My personal favourite is "A Tanera Talisman", this time with Mairearad accompanying herself on piano with just the lightest backing.
"A garland of lilies, Scratching of the heather
Red throated diver, Brings Tanera"
You can almost smell of the sea.
So on to Grace darling, which was not her real name. She was, possibly, the love interest of Neil Macleod but either way she got him interested enough to write a poem about her "Tè nan Gòrm Shùilean Meallach" (The Maid of the Lovely Blue Eyes). He named her Grace Darling, perhaps because she was so good at rowing a boat. Again Mairearad makes a good choice in asking Hector MacInnes to sing the song.
Incidentally he, along with Ross Saunders, formed the other musicians in the trio for the tour and they impressed everybody with their fine multi-instrumental skills and gave a live sound every bit as good as the album.
I could list the strengths of every track on the album but they're all good. Nothing is a filler and this is a wonderful example of modern traditional Scottish music from one of its finest exponents.
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