The Skirlers’ Cutting the Bracken

Take Lorraine Kelly and Marion Storey both on fiddles, add Allen Bowling on highland and border pipes, Bob Smith on vocals, mandolin, guitar, tin whistles and bodhran, Chic Judge on highland pipes and vocals, and Tom Docherty on guitar and vocals, and there you have it — Celtic folk music blended in a single malt style. But is this the real thing from Scotland? Err, not exactly — the album was recorded live at The Golden Lion public house in Prittlewell, Southend, Essex. However, I have to admit to being slightly biased to liking live recordings. For this is how folk music is, and how it should sound: live. This may not be to everyone’s taste, because the quality of what you hear is not the same as a studio enhanced recording. Getting a good balance of instruments and the vocals over the top is not an easy task, I know from my own experience how difficult this can be. However The Skirlers have managed it quite well — full marks to their sound man Chic Judge. Unfortunately, the album cover is light on song notes or other details about the band. This is the sort of thing a lot of bands send out to prospective venues and festivals when looking for a booking. This may account for there only being eight tracks, rather like it was in the old days of vinyl LPs.

The choice of songs falls into the easy listening category. A lot of them are now regarded as folk standards and everyone’s favourites. The album starts with the title track ‘Cutting The Bracken’, a lone piper, and gradually building to a crescendo with the whistle, guitar and finally the fiddles. This followed by tradition songs ‘The Bonny Lass ‘o’ Fife’, ‘Lizzy Lindsay’, ‘Mingulay boat song’ and ‘Mountain Thyme’. The other tunes include some fine piping on ‘Border ballad’ that pins the song ‘Roddy McCorley’ nicely. The other instrumentals are ‘Skirlers Hornpipe’ and ‘Floral Dance reel’.

True, some of the songs or tunes are not without the odd nervous mistake, but this does not matter one jot. You’ll be hard placed to spot them anyway! And that’s part of the charm of the album. I have a feeling this album is just a taste of what the Skirlers are like live, and as their Web site suggests that is the best way to sample them.

(Zebra, 2003)

[Update: The Skirlers website is no longer available, the group seems to be no more, and we couldn’t even find an album cover photo for this one, but Peter’s review lives on.]

Peter Massey

Born in 1945, Peter Massey, Senior Writer, is now living in the city of Chester, England with his wife Sandra. Now medically retired he worked for 35 years in the shoe business. He has been a semi-professional musician and singer performing mainly traditional / contemporary folk songs for over 38 years as part of the duo (and sometimes trio) 'The Marrowbones'. His musical interest started at the age of 14 with Rock 'n' Roll and by the time his seventeenth birthday came along he was already playing rock 'n' roll and R&B in and around the local dance venues and clubs such as the Cavern in Liverpool. Thankfully he was saved from the evils of rock 'n' roll when he discovered real music and folk clubs. His collection of recordings houses over 3500 folk songs alone. Other interests and hobbies include Computers and Amateur Radio (he has a class A G4 call sign) His latest project is 'The Little Room Studio' dedicated to making 'live' recordings of folk artists and producing their work on to CD using a portable digital recording studio. To date he has written and composed over 12 folk songs and co-wrote with Gordon Morris another 10 that have been recorded on CD. The song writing has continued and they have another 10 songs in the pipeline not yet recorded to CD. Favourite music / bands at the moment are Steeleye Span, The Battlefield Band, Little Johnny England and Fairport Convention, (in that order), and much admires the work of Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson, Roy Bailey, Vin Garbutt, and Bob Fox, to name but a few! You can visit the crummy Web site here and read about The Marrowbones and how to get your free songbook.

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