REVIEW: Blas 2017
Lauren MacCol'sl The Seer
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by Margaret Chrystall
LIKE The Brahan Seer’s circular adder stone which helped him foretell the future, the circle of musical life fostered by Feis Rois was there for all to see at Blas’s Lauren MacColl’s album launch on Tuesday.
Lauren revealed during the evening that she and many of her chosen musicians in the line-up – Megan Henderson (fiddle, piano, vocals); Rachel Newton (vocals, clarsach, viola); Mairearad Green (accordion, border pipes); Anna Massie (guitar) and James Mackintosh (percussion) – had met as youngsters through Feis Rois. Later, as they performed the Seer, It was exciting to think where those early days had led as you watched the professional musicians play in front of you.
But an added reminder – if you needed one – of how important it is to foster young talent was presented with the four musicians from Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail who opened the night.
With Sean Clark on guitar, accordion-payer Kim MacLennan, fiddler Ruairidh Gollan and Duncan MacLeod on voice and keyboards, their sets and songs were introduced with confidence and just the right amount of background by all four.
There were quirky sets that included the odd weird time signature, nods to the musicians of The Seer’s line-up to follow – as with a song performed by Gaelic song group Cruinn (which includes Rachel Walker) and Mairearad Green’s Passing Places – and a Gaelic version of Robert Burns’ I’m O’er Young To Marry Yet all in the mix.
The arrangements meant each musician had lots of chances to show off their talents, while a beat-perfect set of stop-starts at the end of the set also proved how well-rehearsed – and intuitive – they were.
Lauren introduced The Seer with a phrase which summed up her response to being asked by Feis Rois to write a full-length suite of music for ensemble – "a lovely ask, but a daunting task".
Judging by the increasingly enthusiastic applause from the crowd as the 10 tracks progressed, the challenge had been well-met. The changes of mood and pace in The Seer, the stunning photos by Somhairle Macdonald that set the scene and the pure pleasure of watching the interplay of the six musicians, made the live experience exhilarating.
The contrasts of the 10 different pieces added colour. The "dark strathspey" of Coinneach Odhar with its springing-bowed strings and accordion in unison set the scene for the music that would follow. Loch Ussie’s dancing rhythm saw a seated Lauren’s feet skipping on the floor in time as she played fiddle, while the plaintive sound of Mairearad’s border pipes at the start of And Sheep will eat Men built into a driving tune eventually powered by the momentum of the whole line-up. Melancholy oozed from eighth track Drumossie which expressed the Brahan Seer’s devastating prediction about Culloden and for the live show, the final piece was changed from the order of the album where An Unkindness of Ravens sees Rachel Walker sing the Seer’s story to the more upbeat theme Lady Isabella, a decision that felt right on the night.
Now, as Lauren explained in a final thanks to all concerned, she will teach the music to Feis pupils and other youth groups who will carry on not just the music, but importantly for her, she said, the story of the seer.