Duncan Chisholm, The Gathering at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh brought to the stage as part of this year’s Tradfest 2018 programme (running at many venues across Edinburgh from 26th April to 6th May) not only the “gathered talents” of Jarlath Henderson: (uilleann pipes/whistles), Su-a Lee (cello), Innes Watson ( guitars), Hamish Napier ( piano, keys & flute), Donald Hay (drums & percussion) and Megan Henderson (violin), but also music from Duncan’s just released (April 27th) new album “Sandwood”.
“Sandwood “ has been two years in the imagining and making and is Duncan’s emotional response to the beauty and isolation of the bay, which can rightfully lay claim to hold the finest hidden and least accessible beach in Scotland. Sandwood is situated within the far reaches of the north-west coast of Sutherland, and even getting there means going by foot over beautiful countryside for over an hour. I have not been fortunate enough to visit this bay, but with a musical project built up over 8 visits to it, Duncan Chisholm paints in music a picture of somewhere very special that on one hand I feel I should visit, yet on the other hand feel should be left to its natural isolation.
Some places seem to not only exist is their own secluded time, but somehow capture something very elemental and ancient for those who are willing to listen to the winds and the nature around them. Duncan Chisholm is obviously one of those people willing to listen to what Sandwood has to say, and opening the set with the first three songs from the album – “The Pilgrimage”, “The Light of Tuscany” and “Haze Across the Sun”, it was obvious that this special place had not just gotten into Duncan’s music, but his very soul.
“Sandwood” is though not only an exploration of the nature of an beautiful and special place but other influences on Duncan as a musician – poet Norman MacCaig (Summer Farm) and musician Donald Shaw being quoted by Duncan as inspirational to this work too,
This evening was predominantly about the music of “Sandwood” and Duncan’s justifiable pride in what he has created here, but other music filled the air tonight too, including some from “The Strathglass Trilogy”.
Irrespective of what genre of music they are playing, watching musicians of the standard on stage for “Duncan Chisholm, The Gathering” is always a pleasure, and an enthusiastic audience must have left Duncan in no doubt that his latest work is receiving the response that it should be getting from audiences.
Sandwood is a very special musical project, and I just hope that it does not get labelled and filed away under “folk or traditional music” by those with the power to give it airtime, or to sell it. It is magical music that should not be defined into little marketing niches.
A big thank you I think is due not only to everyone at Tradfest and “Soundhouse”, but also to David Heavenor of DHM music (tonight's promoters) for continually bringing a wide variety of musical talents to Edinburgh, and helping very much to keep music live, as it should always be. Of course, I have also to include in this list The Queen’s Hall staff too for their never ending role in promoting and bringing to stage the widest variety of music that I can find anywhere in one place in Edinburgh. To continue doing this though, everyone mentioned needs your help in supporting them, and Tradfest is facing large funding cuts to its 2019 programme, so that support is needed now more than ever by all of us who enjoy listening to live music.
Review by Tom King