London Folk Magazine and News
Artisan Row “Wild Winds“ Album Launch
Debut album from London-based traditional/folk quartet Artisan Row, recorded, mixed and mastered by four times Grammy nominated producer and musician, James McMillan.
Release date: 10 April 2017 LoLa Records LL007
Artisan Row launch their debut album ´Wild Winds´ on Friday 21st April at St Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate (near Baker St), Glentworth St, London NW1 6AX and the album is already available to preview and buy at https://artisanrow.bandcamp.com
Celebrating the timeless melodic beauty and strength of traditional Irish music and more, Artisan Row brings together four well-known figures from London´s traditional Irish and folk music scenes: Conor Doherty (guitars, vocals), Elma McElligott (sax, flute, low whistle, backing vocals), Pete Quinn (piano, keyboard, backing vocals) and Karen Ryan (banjo, mandola, fiddle, low whistle).
Both as solo performers and members of other groups, the quartet’s collective musical CVs include performances at Cambridge Folk Festival, Glastonbury Festival, The Roundhouse, Temple Bar TradFest, Ronnie Scott’s, the Barbican and the Royal Albert Hall, as well as radio (BBC Radio 3’s In Tune, RTE’s Today with Sean O´Rourke) and TV (TG4’s Féilte, Geantrai and Hup!
Exploring the full range of traditional tunes and songs, from effervescent reels to emigration ballads, the quartet uses its rich textural palette – including the pairing of McElligott’s sax and Ryan’s banjo, which they were inspired to dust off after a memorable weekend of music in Alsace with Shaskeen – to set the material in striking and ear-catching ways while always respecting the primacy of the melody.
Although they only performed together for the first in this combination in 2012, at the Ennis Trad Festival – launching Ryan’s acclaimed solo CD The Coast Road (Cló Iar-Chonnacht, CICD188) which features both Quinn and Doherty – the musical friendships that underpin Wild Winds have profoundly deep roots.
The husband and wife pairing of Quinn and Ryan performed together for 15 years in The London Lasses, recording four albums in the process. Their current projects include The McNamara Céilí Band, The Trad Gathering, plus a forthcoming trio CD with the legendary Tulla accordion player, Andrew Mac Namara. Ryan and McElligott perform together in the current incarnation of the Lasses, while the musical relationship between Quinn and Doherty stretches back to their first meeting as postgrad students at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the late 1990s.
The musical ties in the band go back further still, to the mid-1990s, when Doherty and McElligott both studied music at University College Cork – albeit a year apart – under the tutelage of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin.
"What you´ve got is two sections of the band that really gelled long before we ever got together,” Ryan says. “Elma and I have always enjoyed playing tunes together and really lock in. Conor and Pete have an incredibly wide range of music to draw on, yet are completely rooted in the tradition and what sounds right with the tune. They’re able to jump on any rhythmic or textural ideas that we have because they’re so skilled and knowledgeable."
One expression of the quartet’s close musical ties is the brace of tunes co-written by McElligott and Ryan – the opening reel ‘Doras de Rían’ (‘Rían’s Door’) and the slip jig ‘Mill Hill Turning’. Played on low whistles, the reel was composed during a rehearsal at the Quinn/Ryan household in Wood Green, as Ryan recalls.
“We needed an opening reel to go before ‘The Scolding Wife’ and ‘Miss McLeod´s Niece’. We started messing around, sat on the floor with Rían (Elma’s then three-month-old son), trying to keep him happy while we played. The plastic whistle case entertained him for about a minute. Before we could think of something else to entertain him, he was bashing the tune out and was happy as Larry. The reel came together very quickly and just needed a little bit of fine-tuning.”
‘Mill Hill Turning’, the concluding tune in a jig/slip jig set, also saw McElligott and Ryan making good use of their time, penning the tune during a break in a band rehearsal at Mill Hill Music Complex in North London.
The varied backdrops provided by Doherty and Quinn present another strand of the quartet’s shared musical approach. “Working with Conor is an absolute joy,” Quinn notes. “We seem to intuitively feel pulse, texture and dynamics in the same way, and it’s been huge fun developing the work we started on The Coast Road.”
In addition to the co-composed tunes and one or two others which they penned separately, Ryan found ‘The March To Kinsale’ in Tommy Peoples’ remarkable book Ó Am Go hAm (‘From Time to Time’) – Tutor, Text and Tunes by Tommy Peoples. “It’s a wonderful tune”, Ryan notes, “and we’re very grateful to Tommy for giving us permission to record it.”
With all four members of the quartet being long-standing fans of the ground-breaking Planxty, the asymmetric rhythms of Balkan music – first introduced into Irish music by Andy Irvine – are heard in two of the album’s instrumentals: the Bulgarian ‘Chetvorno Horo’ and the ‘Macedonian Oro’.
The album’s four songs include the fabulously titled emigration ballad, ‘Monk McClamont´s Farewell to Articlave’, which Doherty found in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People and which – in an entirely fortuitous way – references both his own and Quinn’s respective home towns of Derry and Liverpool, plus a powerful interpretation of ‘Mary and the Soldier’ which once again nods to Irvine’s influence (specifically the classic album Paul Brady/Andy Irvine).
For the brace of original songs, Quinn turned to James Joyce’s early collection of poetry, Chamber Music, and set ‘Sleep Now’ and ‘Dear Heart’ to music. With the former a gentle lullaby which urges sleep as a means of finding peace and becalming an ‘unquiet heart’, and the latter speaking of the impending dissolution of love, the introspective nature of the Joyce settings provides a pleasing counterbalance to the more forceful approach of the other songs.
Wishing to explore slightly larger textures on a couple of the album tracks, the jig ‘Helvic Head’ and the concluding set of reels ‘The Dawn Chorus/Blackbird Hill/The Pigeon on the Gate’ (the first two written by McElligott and Ryan respectively) sees the quartet joined by two of the most in-demand UK jazz musicians, bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Dave Ohm, to create an ‘Artisan Row Big Band’ sound. ‘Helvic Head’ is also graced by the presence of four times Grammy nominated producer and trumpet player, James McMillan, who recorded, mixed and mastered the album at Quietmoney Studios, Hastings.
Advance praise for Wild Winds
“Having delighted in listening to this album by Karen, Pete, Elma and Conor, it brings to focus for me why I love traditional Irish music and have never felt the need to find sustenance outside of that genre. These four musicians present a variety of tune types, moods, and rhythms in their choice of melodies and songs with strength, delicacy, history or harmony as the spirit moves. They are at ease on many instruments and bring me back through many years and many magic music moments to appreciation of a gift freely given by a very generous and big-hearted people.” Tommy Peoples
“Wild Winds is a beautiful collection of tunes and songs that glimmer with hope, compassion and elegant sophistication. The breadth of musical influences and range of instruments played by the multitalented line-up are seamlessly fused to create an expansive sound that is authentic and fresh, and one that basks comfortably under the umbrella of traditional Irish music. Gorgeous harmonies abound throughout, as in the jig ‘Paul Rodden’s’, where the sparkling, watercolour piano ostinato is interwoven with the striking banjo melody. The juxtaposition produces an effect that is both exotic and familiar, earthy and ethereal. ‘Sleep Now’, a graceful setting of one of James Joyce’s poems from his collection Chamber Music which urges sleep to soothe ´an unquiet heart’, could just as easily be an exquisite lullaby for our times. This is music for the heart and soul.” Christine Tobin
“This is a multi-faceted recording. A very fine collection of traditional and newly composed tunes and songs from four well-seasoned and adventurous musicians at the top of their game, on which they also pay homage to some of their musical heroes. I wish them every success with this recording.” Máirtín O´Connor
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