Simply Stunning! Review: A Pocket of Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart

Regular readers will now that I am as passionate about my music as I am about the outdoors. Everyone and then something connects these two worlds together in the most extraordinary way. The new album from Karine Polwart does just that, the effect rather like being discovering the books of Robert MacFarlane for the first time.

Polwart is one of the country’s best singer/songwriters. In recent years the demands of young children have stopped her touring and she has begun to explore more mixed media offerings, mixing song with the spoken word. Wind Resistance was commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival and received rave reviews. Fortunately for those of us who weren’t in Edinburgh this has now been transferred to CD.

The story (or show) focusses around the Fala Moor bog, Sutra Hill and the ancient Salter’s Road in between Edinburgh and the Scottish Border country. The story features migrating geese, love and loss during war and childbirth. Jude Rogers in the guardian described this as “an epic, emotional endeavour and a stunning one too”. She’s no exaggerating.

This might be the most perfect thing to listen to while out wild camping on the hills.

Can you tell, I just love this! 

The Transatlantic Session Scrapped!

Working away at the computer this morning I listened to the latest Mike Harding Folk Show podcast. At first I thought I’d imagined it but Mike reported that Aly Blain and Phil Cunningham had told him, this weekend, that there were to be no more Transatlantic Sessions.

I guess many of us lovers of the Scotland Highlands will have loved this programme if only for the wonderful photography of the Highlands and, of course, the music. 

For those of you who have never discovered the Transatlantic session — I can’t believe there are many of you — the programme (across 6 series) bought together some of the best acoustic musicians from the USA and from the cleric bits of the UK and Ireland. Some reckon the series can a bit over-produced towards the end and certainly the early series were wonderful. But there is very little like this on telly!

Fortunately, much of the archive is available on You Tube. Here are two great pieces which show both the Scottish and the USA sides of the coin.


The Darrell Scott video reminds me of a quite weird experience (in many ways).

I have always wanted to see Darrell Scott live but he has rarely been anywhere near Birmingham. However, the Transatlantic Sessions — and the accompanying tours — mean a lot of the US musicians are often in the Highlands during the summer.

A few years ago I was heading our to Knoydart for some munro bagging. My mate and I sat on the side of the harbour in Mallaig waiting for the ferry. I noticed a kind of home made poster. Darrell Scott (together with legendary bass player Danny Thompson) were playing the next week at Inverie Village Hall. I never knew the village had a hall.

Over in Inverie I discovered what must have been the village hall, a pretty small place. In the Old Forge pub they had another poster behind the bar. I referred to it. Is he any good? I told the barmaid of my lifelong ambition to see Darrell. Oh, I might of then she said.

As chance might have it I was back in the Old Forge a few months later. They were playing Darrell Scott CDs in both the pub and the new café. I guess he had gone down well.

Back home I scoured websites and found the itinerary of the Darrell Scott and Danny Thompson tour of the Highlands. There was no listing for Inverie, which seemed to be at the end of the tour. At the pub I was told a lot of musicians from the US play at the village hall, but I’ve never seen any of these concerts listed either!

It appears that the magic of Inverie stretches to some R&R for musicians our on the peninsular and that it has become something of a tradition to play for the locals.

It was nice to see this music tradition continuing. Kate and I once spent a wonderful afternoon and evening in the Old Forge listening to local musicians who had been joined by a young Canadian couple, who were rather fabulous. The couple told me they’d come over in the hope of hearing some music as the Old Forge had become quite famous. A few years later I was told these sessions were now far less frequent as some of the local musicians were getting tired of the mass of US musicians turning up looking for someone to play with.

Anyhow, time to stop rambling. It is a sad day that the sessions will be no more. Here’s one final memory. The is the multi instrumentalist Bruce Molsky playing with Sharon Shanon. This is the theme tune of the series which has one of my favourite tune title:

“Shove the Pigs’ Foot a Little Further Into The Fire”

(Bluegrass tunes do tend to have great titles. My all time favourite is:  

“Granny Hold the Candle While I Shave the Chicken’s Lip”)


First Time Challengers: Boogie on Down that Trail

Last week I suggested some reading titles that add to your appreciation of the Highlands. many of you, I know, like to carry some music with you to listen to in camp or even as you walk. So, here are some ideas the discovery of which should be appreciated by many of you.

Let’s get off to a good trail boogie/stomper.

The Band from Rockall

Calum and Rory MacDonald are/were the main songwriters of the Scottish band Runrig. The Band from Rockall revisits a number of early songs that never made records and mixes them with new material. The recording of these song seems to have ben a family affair but the songs are amazing. There was a BBC 4 Documentary produced last year about the making of this album and if you get a chance to see this at some point, don’t miss it. The songs — a mixture of gaelic and English recall not only Runrig but some of the best stompers from the Proclaimers. Listen to songs like When I Walk Among these Hills and you are transported. I wish this had been m phone last ruing stormy Monday. These are all newly recorded songs but there is amongst them a clever nostalgia or reflection back to many of the musical styles that influenced the brothers over the years. I defy you not to enjoy this! Contemporary and retro at the same time. Great rock and Scottish!

Julie Fowlis Uam

Julie is the Queen of gaelic singers at the moment and this her best album to date. Lovely, haunting, songs that are just perfect for long nights stuck in the tent as the rain pounds down. They are probably also great songs to listen to on balmy nights when you are sitting outside and gazing up at the skies (well you can always hope).

Lau — Race the Looser

Lau are one of the best of the new Scottish bands that have emerged over recent years. This is traditional music but a contemporary take on traditional music.

Tony Macmanus — The Makers Mark

Tony Macmanus is one of the finest contemporary guitar players in the world today. This is a collection of wonderful tunes from all over the world but which, of course, includes a good number of tunes from his native Scotland.

Karine Polwart — Traces

The Queen of Scottish singer/songwriters Traces includes a wonderful song that demolishes Donald Trump. This might be a tad over-produced in parts but this is a wonderful collection of songs. Probably not one for the right wing nutters of the Challenge though. King of Birds and Salters Road are two of my favourite songs of rent years.

No doubt the team can add to the list! Remember, connections to the Highlands please!

A Winter Quickie: Getting Lost Again!

Lost Again …













Mist on the Moor

Those of you who live in rural areas, especially the hills, give a thought for those of us baed in towns. Not only are the winter days short but we have to spend time getting to our walks. Ah, to be able t open the door and stroll out onto the hill …

Yesterday I was in the mood for a day of walking. For some reason the Malvern Hills seemed a reasonable belt; I love walking down into the town in twilight, the lights illuminating the gloom and somehow setting off the regency architecture just right. I hunted out my map and set off to the train station. I was greeted by that devastating phrase “Replacement Bus Service”. So, Malvern was out.

At about the same time as Malvern Train should have left there was a train to my beloved Shropshire; I nipped on. I had no maps with me but then these are hills that I know like the back of my hand (and I’ve been known to look at the back of my hand occasionally).

I tend to leave Shropshire for the week days when I can have the hills to myself. At Shrewsbury Station the cafe was crammed full of ramblers, so many that I had to abandon my plan to buy my lunch there. A stroll into Church Stretton to Mr Bun the Bakers would provide me with a far better lunch but would necessitate a change in route.

On the station platform one of the ramblers was strolling around in shorts, his fellow travellers looking at him as though he was from another dimension. His upper body was glad with one of those Ray Mears Green Fleeces and his rucksack seemed to be one of those Mears sacks was additional side pockets. In truth it was not quite as cold as the BBC had threatened but I did notice that he seldom stopped still for long. He made several excursions in my direction, no doubt fancying a chat about gear and stuff, but I wasn’t in the mood.

The rambler group disembarked with me at Church Stretton. I climbed over the footbridge and as I descended to the opposite platform I noticed that the rambler group was all huddled together under the small platform shelter. It was an almost surreal site, twenty walkers huddled in a shelter. It wasn’t raining.  They looked as if they were waiting for their great leader to make a decision: where to today? The rambler with the legs was huddled in as well. Why, oh why did I not take a photograph?

I decided to take a fast route over the find and dawdle for a bit in the woods on the other side seeing what part of winter I could capture with my camera. There were patches of snow above the tree-line. As I climbed snow fell. I took a route that I’ve taken literally hundreds of times before.

As I reached open moorland I was enveloped with a thick mist. Not only was visibility poor but there was enough snow settled for basic features of the landscape to be obliterated. I turned east on a footpath that I suspected was an earlier turn than I normal would have taken. Never mind, it would take to a major path I knew. I trowed off weaving along a narrow path that (I presume) cut through the heather. I checked my position with my phone’s maps and compass a couple of time and reassured myself that I knew where I was. Keep heading east.

Eventually a rocky sculpture emerged out of the mist — one that I could not have remembered seeing before. A phone map is OK but it really does not work like a real map. I took a few more paces and a huge chasm opened up. My path was there in front of me, just several hundred feet below me. I really had come off my initial path far too quickly. Retracing my steps I had in mind some cross country rather bashing but it gradually dawned on my the visibility was consistently poor enough to play real tricks on the mind. Without that map I really was not comfortable at all with what I was doing.

After a while I decided the best thing to do was simply retrace my steps. Funnily enough (or not strangely as it might be) the path back seems to differ significantly from the one that I had taken out. Except that I was allowing my own footprints. There was only one set of tracks and they were mine, but I could have sworn this was a different path.

Oh well, enough of this nonsense. It was time to call it a day. Just then I met a fellow walker who I reckon was really lost. I showed him where we were on the map. I knew where we were but somehow this intellectual reality seemed to be wrong and my gut instincts told me different. My fellow walker decided to walk with me back down and off the hills and as I we walked I’m glad I had encouraged him to do so. He was looking more than a bit worried.  We descended along features paths where only my prints gave any clue to the route. As we talked we had one of the most bizarre and barmy chats about gear I have ever had. The man was clearly unbalanced, either that or he was a regular reader of Trail. I suspect he had fancied walking in the snow for excitement without rally preparing for, or considering, what might be ahead. I shall write about the gear conversation at another time.

Back down in the valley the temperature seemed remarkably mild and the sun was even beginning to break through. My original route had been up and over Caradoc and Ragleth Hill (before I turned to Mr Bun for lunch). Annoyingly, those hills stood out crisp and clear without so much as a dusting of snow on them.

It had been a shortish walk but there was more that could be done with the day and somehow even this brisk walk had left me in a better frame of mind with which to tackle it.

There has been quite a lot of chat on the net recently about getting lost and how even well known areas become confusing in poor visibility. Take these concerns seriously. On high open ground in this country carry a map, particularly when the weather is variable. Of course, I had my iPhone with me which carries a 1:25 map of the area. But as I consulted the phone and fixed my position I never really felt that confident that I actually knew where I was. Retreat was not only the safer option but probably the more pleasurable!

Damn that replacement bus service!

Donald Trump and Karine Polwart

Sitting here listening to what I (and many others) think was the best album of last year, I thought I’d better share it with you ib case you’ve missed it.

The album is ‘Traces’ by Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart. This is a wonderfully constructed, played and sung album. Karine is a bit of a radical but, hey, that’s OK around here!

The first track on the album, “Cover Your Eyes” is kind of dedicated to that lunatic Donald Trump. The song is Karine’s response to the famous golf course development. A section of lyric:

The tide still ebbs and flows 
where the Ythan meets the ocean 
And not even God himself 
could can stop the northerlies from blowing 
You can tear these dunes asunder 
Pound this wonder into dust 
with your cruel hands and crooked hearts 
laden with lust and expensive lies 
But the haar will stumble in to cover your eyes 
The haar will stumble 

Great stuff.

Here’s a You Tube clip of this song being played during the Celtic Connections Festival.



As I said, this is my album of last year, achingly beautiful. You can get it here: 


Listen to This — New Find!

A bit off topic this but I know there are a number of mussos around here and I thought I’d share this new discovery with you.

Last night I trotted up to my local folk venue to watch one of my heroes Martin Simpson. He was being supported by a young couple David Newey and Christi Andropolis. Both (I think) are graduates from the Sage in Newcastle and (I hope) they have a great future in front of them. Dave is from the UK and Christi from New York State (via. Stockton I think!).

David Christi.jpg

During their second set Christi sang this song she’d written — The Winter Soldier. It was inspired by the Iraq Veterans against the War website and their Winter Soldier section. Here servicemen and women tell their stories, sometimes in small bites and sometimes in long pieces. Anyhow, these short stories inspired the song. It is one of the best original songs from a young songwriter that I have heard for a long time. I thought you might be interested!


I hope they don’t mind me sharing this. Links to their websites (and more their music) are found at the bottom.

Dave and Christi sing a mixture of original and traditional songs (from both the UK and the USA) and traditional fiddle tunes from the North East (where they are based) and the USA.

They’re gigging around a lot at the moment and Dave also works with legend Tom McConville. I know a lot of you are in the NE — this young couple are worth checking out!

If David and Christi find this post (through Google Alerts or whatever) — keep going !!!


Christi Andropolis — My Space (more songs here)

Dave Newey Website

Dave Newey Facebook

Festival — the Main Artists

Berry Punks !

Not sure who this young group were, but they played the music of Berry with the style of the Pogues!

Natasa Mirkovic

Natasa Mirkovic from Bosnia — she played wine glasses like they were a percussion instrument!

Matthias Loibner

Matthias Loibner, from Austria, Natasa’s musical partner.

Valentin Clastrier

Valentin Clastrier, an amazing Hurdgy gurdy player who played with a jazzy touch. He was introduced as a musician who never compromised for commercial success. Not everyone’s cup of tea but an intriguing musician. Much influenced by the music of Asia.

Carlo Rizzo

Carlo Rizzo, percussionist with Clastrier. An amazing style, he close mics the drums and plays them with his fingers, tabla-like.

And finally, members of the Damien O’Kane band.

Damien O'Kane

Damien O’Kane

Dave Kosky

Dave Kosky

Cormac Byrne

The totally amazing Cormac Byrne.

Julian Sutton

Julian Sutton.

Lunch Time Serenade

I mentioned this in my main Rencontres post, but this was a lovely picnic experience that it is nice to re-live (and nice to share).


Gentle Serenade

It was a glorious day and this was a pleasant,shady, spot in which to relax and have a picnic, of wonderful produce bought at a series of small negociant stalls. The woman in the photo played while we leisurely ate and the girls in the photo dozed. A couple got up from the tables and began to dance …

… perfect.

Allez Mes Jolies BÅ“ufs …

Mic Baudimant

The main in the centre of the group (with the mic) is Mic Baudimant who was being honoured this year by the Rencontres festival. Mic is a local folklorist who has dedicated his life to breathing life into the musical traditional of Berry — the traditional name for the region in which Saint Chartier sits. The day before this photograph was taken Mic opened the festival with a concert performed by a number of very talented, young, musicians. The tradition clearly has a future. But this event looked back to the ancient art of ‘le briolage’.

You won’t find ‘briolage’ in any French dictionary, at least not one that you are likely to have knocking around the living room. Here in Berry the briolage refers to the traditional chants and songs of the men and women who ploughed the fields with their oxen. They sang to not only keep the rhythm of the plough but to encourage the animals to keep moving. ‘Allez mes joilies boeufs’ was a traditional cry which I guess could be translated as ‘come along my lovely girls …’.

For Mic these chants and songs provide us with a glimpse of the world of the very first settlers in this part of the world. The group on the stage were all singers of the briolage. Mostly they sang songs of the region but one or two gave us examples of similar traditions from Switzerland and Belgium.

I’m always fascinated by ancient musical traditions. Listen to this music and you are literally hearing the sounds of a thousand and more years ago. The briolage would seem to be a French equivalent of the aboriginal songlines of Australia, stories and tunes that reach back into the darkest reaches of time.

Typically these songs are preceded by chants and poems. These are often decorated with quite dramatic shouts which are uncannily like crack of cowboy whips. Might it be that the cowboy sound of North and South America might have its origins in the briolage.

I recorded a piece by one of the youngest and finest singers of the group. You can hear the passion and the drama of the ploughman. I think you can hear the excitement of the worker as he sets out to tend his fields!