• James Harvey

Album Review - Skipinnish - Steer By The Stars - 2019

For my first review from my new home in the Outer Hebrides, I want to talk about the Gàidhealtachd band, Skipinnish, and their new album, ‘Steer by the stars’.

This seven-piece traditional Scottish folk band, are no strangers to the folk scene, with their latest being their tenth full release (including their live albums) as well as their twentieth anniversary. While I could talk for hours about the other albums, as they are without a doubt some of my favourite folk albums by any band, I’m just going to try and focus on this one.

Their latest offering is a strong fourteen track album with over an hour’s runtime. It kicks off with ‘Anchors of the Soul’, an emotionally stirring folk anthem, that really sets up what you’re in for over the next hour of musical bliss.

‘The Lads of Mull’ follows on, an instrumental that is as every bit as stirring and fast paced as the previous track, invoking images of the rugged, wild landscape that inspires this group of musicians. ‘Steer by the Stars’, changes the basic speed of the album, while being a slower song, Skipinnish, still manage to reflect with ease the very land of its origin. In its way, it’s the sunshine between the wild storms that cross the mountains in their homeland. The weather, changes so fast here, it’s hard to pin down the feeling, unless you are Skipinnish, as they seem to do it with ease.

‘Coire Bhreacain’, is the first of the Scottish Gaelic tracks on the album. It means ‘Cauldron of the Speckled Seas’ and is better known as the Gulf of Corryvreckan. The song, like the treacherous whirlpool littered narrow strait that inspires it, is lively and mysterious.

‘Last of the Hunters’ and ‘Land Below the Waves’ continue the patchwork pace of the album as well as the strong links between the Isles and the seas/oceans that surround them. The connection continues with ‘Thar Sàil’, a Gaelic version of their song ‘Over the Sea’.

‘The Atholl Set’ is another instrumental, that combines a number of traditional pipe pieces into a rousing, dancing track, if this fails to get you up and moving to the beat, then you’re probably dead; sorry to be the bearer of bad news there!

‘Wishing Well’ seems to come from nowhere and is like nothing else on the album in regard to the pace, but still holds that mysterious, haunting sound that they have carefully crafted. ‘The Youngest Ancient Mariner’ by the legendry Phil Cunningham, follows this, not much you can say other than it’s a beautiful moving piece of music.

‘Puirt Set’ will sound familiar to theses of us who have listened to Gaelic music before, indeed, Skipinnish, has forged a number of trational folk songs into one incredible track. ‘Still we Run’ latches onto the upped pace set by the pervious track and takes us on a journey through life. As upbeat as it is truthful.

‘Farewell’ is just that, a goodbye from the album and a reflection on all they have done before. Ending the album, we have the ‘20th Anniversary Jigs’, nothing really to say but put on a good set of headphones, turn it up loud and dance along with them.

In the last twenty years Skipinnish, have become one of the greatest gifts Scotland has given to the musical world. Given that Scotland, culturally, has and does, inspire huge swathes of folks from all over the world, that’s no small thing.

‘Steer by the Stars’ is by far Skipinnishs’ greatest achievement to date and is a way in for new fans to discover and explore this amazing band as well as being a huge reward of old-time fans of theirs. Not only is it a perfect way to end the first twenty years but also a great start to the next twenty!

Skipinnish are currently on tour across the UK, you can find more info and tickets on their website here: www.skipinnish.com

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