We were chuffed to get this excellent review from Folk Radio. It really encapsulates what we were trying to achieve.
TÌR: Highland Life & Lore
Anam Communications – 18 September 2018
Brian Ó hEadhra & Fiona Mackenzie have been writing and recording together for over twenty years. As members of highly respected groups Anam and Cruinn they’ve recorded a range of imaginative and beautiful music, with Cruinn’s Manus Mo Rùin earning them a nomination for Best Traditional Track at the 2015 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. This year they’ve been working, for the first time, as a duo in their own right; and after spending the summer recording on Lewis and in Glasgow, have released TÌR – Highland Life & Lore.
TÌR opens with a lively clapping song, An Long Èireannach. It’s a waulking song with an even lighter heart, as layers of lilting voices join guitar, bass and percussion and a gentle, almost Nordic, tribal chant. It’s a song full of warmth, and a fine example of the compelling charm and inclusiveness of Gaelic song. In a similar vein Fiona’s vocal with Brian’s harmonies in Cha Bhith Mi Buan (which also features vocals from singer/piper/actor Anna Murray) carry a youthful strength of feeling among an expanse of sound and Nordic rhythms.
TÌR, though, is more than an album, it’s a project that combines music and visual art to highlight aspects of historic and contemporary highland life. Inverness artist Rachel Cush, of Crafty Marten Art, has created beautiful illustrations inspired by the songs, available as a booklet, postcards on the album’s web site (http://www.oheadhra-mackenzie.com/tir.html). The music is as carefully crafted as the artwork, of course. With acclaimed musician and composer Mike Vass as producer, there are mesmerising sonic textures to accompany Brian and Fiona, along with Keith Morrison (Keyboard, Double Bass, Percussion) and Innes White (Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin).
As well as traditional song, the album features original work from both Brian and Fiona, in both Gaelic and English. Fiona’s beautiful and haunting Maria was inspired by a painting of a 19th Century Italian refugee in Scotland; while Cauldron utilises light strings and deep drums to draw a sinister line from Lewis to Nigeria, charting the biological weapon tests carried out by the MOD in the 1950s.
‘Porton Down’, you’ve called our name
Your secrets of shame burn deep within
The death and pain you brought us near
Obanaghoro can you hear
The Isle of Gruinard weeps through time
The devil has landed with his mines
With anthrax soil you’re past repair
The wrath of the people; ‘Dark Harvest’ is here
More familiar is an ethereal re-working of In O, originally from Anam’s 2002 album Tine Gheal / Bright Fire. Driven gently by acoustic guitar and percussion, In O conveys a strong sense of the Nordic flavours that pepper the album. Brian also wrote the sprightly Togamaid Bothan, a soft, lilting, song that celebrates life on the land and in the wild; and there’s a direct contrast in the waulking rhythm of his Chan Ann Ach Thu (paired with the traditional Mo Chraobh Ubhla Dhubh), with Mike’s soundscapes as a contemporary canvas to paint a picture of the stresses of modern life.
The duo have also reached into the past for TÌR; with songs originating from the famous Carmina Gadelica folklore collection, compiled by Lismore-born Victorian folklorist Alexander Carmichael. Much of that collection came from Gaelic devotional song, and in Deus Auribus/Glèidh m’ Anama Fiona sings in both Latin and Gaelic in a perfect illustration of the passion and power of the music; with a quiet, ethereal splendour to the Latin psalm, alongside a rich, earthy and plaintive Gaelic prayer. Beannaich a Thriath nam Flath Fial features Brian’s soft, dark vocal with Fiona’s light harmonies in a song that must surely originate from the dawn of Christianity in Gaeldom, with a prayer for protection that calls on far older spirits. Tha Mi Dol Dhachaigh Leat is a comforting, rather than lamenting funeral song, with a rich depth to the vocal, guitars and mandolin.
TÌR comes to a conclusion with Brian and Fiona’s tribute to Fiona’s mother. Opening as unaccompanied song, the duo take the lead for alternate verses while the song grows in stature from a soft celebration to a gently anthemic conclusion. The opening verse seems to encapsulate all the beauty and spirituality of the Hebrides…
Mar an fhiadh a bhios mi
Mar bhan-dia a bhios mi
Mar ghuthan nam mìltean
A’ seinn gu h-àrd, gu treun
Like the deer, I will be
Like a goddess, I will be
Like the voices of the thousands
singing loudly, strongly
Referencing the past, present and future; calling on voices from the Highlands, the Islands and across the seas that lead there, Brian Ó hEadhra & Fiona Mackenzie have drawn on their wide musical experience and a passion for their native land, history and culture to produce a work that is destined to become a classic of contemporary folk music. TÌR – Highland Life & Lore is an inspired, beautiful album.
Neil McFadyen, Folk Radio
28 November, 2018