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Album Artwork

Why the Speyside Sessions?

“The Scots have the finest folk tradition in the British Isles…. [Their songs are] among the noblest folk tunes of Western Europe.” —Alan Lomax

Why the Speyside Sessions?

Conceived as a “love letter to Scotland,” the more than two-dozen tracks for the Speyside Sessions were recorded in a house on the banks of the River Spey, Scotland’s fastest flowing river. Long synonymous with whisky and song, Speyside is one of Scotland’s most celebrated regions—and for good reason. As the name suggests, Speyside is the the area that surrounds the River Spey, and it is along the river’s 107-mile course that over 50% of all Scotch whisky is produced. Indeed, the waters of the Spey and the grain from the fertile fields that rise from its banks are the primary components of whiskies that have made Speyside the home of the spirit, as well as the spiritual home to whisky-lovers the world over.

For those fortunate enough to hail from the region, names such as Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Aberlour, Tomintoul and many others, were known as the names of castles, river valleys and hamlets well before they graced the labels of fine single malt. It is no coincidence that the long history of craftsmanship and quality of its whisky goes dram-in-hand with that of its music. It is a land of extremes. Sometimes it seems there is nothing to break the silence all day but the buzz of a flyrod reel casting over the river, while at night there is no rest to be found in the explosive, joyous stomps and howls of dancers spinning in a traditional céilidh. It is the breathtaking beauty of the land, the salmon-packed rivers and streams and a stern climate that shapes the hardy souls of Speysiders and it is these things that call them back when they stray too far from its glens and bens.

From Burns to Lomax to Speyside

The Speyside Sessions include a number of songs written by the most famous voice of Scotland, Robert Burns. Now hailed as Scotland’s national poet, Burns wandered throughout the country in the late 1700s collecting the music and oral traditions of various regions. Indeed, many of his most famous works are adaptations of poems and songs found in his travels.

Also on the album are several “bothy ballads,” tunes and tales originally performed by farmhands living in “bothies,” or outbuildings on farms that housed unmarried workers. The often harsh conditions of their lives left them with little outlet for relaxation beyond a bit of whisky, the company of their fellows and songs to ward off the ache of hard labor and nights spent in the bone-chilling mists that rose from the Spey.

Workers of the Speyside region sang of their everyday lives. The songs recount days of toil and hardship and nights spent locked in amorous, if not bawdy, embrace. While many of the songs hilariously catalog wild blowouts and sexual athleticism, they also contain whispered ballads and panegyrics to the land. As such, they constitute not only a musical tradition all their own, but an oral history of the region. It may be said that these workers and their songs shared a kind of kinship with the progenitors of American blues, a fact not overlooked by legendary American ethnomusiclogist, folklorist and archivist Alan Lomax who, like a latter-day Burns, roamed the Highlands in search of its traditional songs.

During his tenure at the United States’ Library of Congress, Lomax scoured the U.S. to create its Archive of American Folk Song, conducting thousands of interviews and creating recordings that gave the American blues a place in music history. It is no exaggeration to say that without his efforts the names of many of the best-known blues artists, whose work went on to inspire virtually all of modern popular music, would have been lost to history.

He brought this same passion and skill to bear when tracking down traditional and folk music in Scotland in the 1950s. In the words of Joan Littlewood , wife of playwright and singer Ewan MacColl (father of The Pogues’ Kristy MacColl), director of the Theatre Workshop and “The Mother of Modern Theater”:

…[T]here is a character wandering around this sceptered isle at the moment yclept Alan Lomax. He is Texan and none the worse for that. He is also just about the most important name in American folk song circles…. He is not interested in trained singers of refined versions of the folk songs. He wants to record traditional style singers doing ballads, work songs, political satires, etc. Introduce him to other Scots folk singers…. You know the kind of thing he wants: bothy songs, street songs, soldier songs, mouth music, the big Gaelic stuff, weavers’ and miners’ songs, etc.

Traveling with Scottish poet and folklorist Hamish Henderson and Gaelic poet Derick Thompson, Lomax met local musicians and residents and interviewed, recorded and gathered songs and voices that otherwise might have escaped preservation. As with his catalog of American blues, his work in Scotland brought greater attention to, and appreciation of, traditional Scottish music as an art form. Its music has long been the very soul of Scotland, and Lomax thoroughly cataloged its heritage and his recordings brought the fiddles and fifes of its people to the modern era.

Speyside Called Us Home

In March 2012, the remains of Europe’s oldest stringed instrument—a piece of wood believed to be the 2,300 year-old string bridge of an ancient lyre—was unearthed just hours away from Speyside in a cave in Skye and it is this long tradition of musical performance that lives on in the Speyside Sessions.

On any given night in Speyside a keen ear can hear the echo of centuries of voices raised in song, bows raised to fiddles and glasses raised in a celebration of the Scots spirit that remains unbroken. What began as a gathering of a group of old friends in an old house on the River Spey over the winter holidays quickly evolved into a project that spanned the history of Scottish music.

This labor of love is given voice in Kevin McKidd’s rendition of the beloved song “For These Are My Mountains.” The lyrics recount the classic tale of a man eager to escape the confines of his small town to seek his fortune in the wider world. After years of travel the protagonist returns to his childhood home with his hard-earned wealth to find, “They’re less than the pleasures I first left behind.” It is clear throughout his performance that the song holds special significance for Kevin and the final lines of the song may as well have been written for him and the Speyside Sessions: “At night by the fireside old songs will be sung,/At last I’ll be hearing in my own mother tongue.”

The participants in the Speyside Sessions are proud to add their voices to the perpetual session that has endured since their beloved Speyside was first filled with song those many millennia ago.

– Matt Markovich, Oakland, CA

10 questions for… The Speyside Otter!

 

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m a semi aquatic carnivorous mammal. I seem to have acquired the derogatory nickname ‘The Speyside Otter’ these days… but my pals call me Tarka.

2. What is your weirdest quirk?

Unlike most of my otter pals, I cannae whack shellfish. Gie’s me the boak so it does, I prefer yer traditional Scottish fayre like mince ‘n’ tatties so I do. Didnae see any o’ they scoundrels at the Speyside Sessions offering me any though did ye? Selfish folk…

3. How did you get involved with the Speyside Sessions?

Well it wasnae like I was asked or anything. I’d been warming masel by the fire for years before those smelly folkies came up and caused such a din! I hadnae much say in the matter!

4. What is your proudest moment ever?

I’ll no deny- like most of these Speyside Session numpties- it has to be the birth of my children. All 45 of them! What can I say? Otter TV is rubbish…

5. What Speyside Session tracks did you perform on?

I wasn’t all that interested in performing on the album, there was so much booze flying aboot that I just took to that like an Otter tae water. I’m more a musical theatre performer you see, so I gave my card to that Nicky Webber to pass onto his faither… needless to say, it’s been a case of “don’t call us, we’ll call you”…

6. What is your favourite track on the album?

If I had tae choose one then it would be the last one. Aye, the very last track on the album- cos then I knew it was all over and I would get some peace and quiet! Don’t think me cold or anything (though before I was stuffed I did spend most of my time swimming in freezing waters so go figure), I mean I know it’s for charity and all that- but it’s no exactly for ‘Save the Otters’ is it?

7. What is your abiding memory from the sessions?

Probably watching all those folk swan at the feet o’ that Kevin McKidd… Kevin McWho if ye ask me.I starred in ‘Ring of Bright Water’ for goodness sake – not a single person asked for my ottergraph!

8. What is your favourite album of all time?

Don’t have any favourite albums as such but I’ve waggled my wee tail along to ‘You Otter Know’ by Alanis Morissette often enough. The late wife and I (bless her unstuffed heart) used to love that song by Old Blue Eyes himself- ‘I Get a Kick Otter You’… always makes me smile.

9. Do you have any regrets?

Not many to tell the truth, I just go on instinct ye know? Animal instinct. Though I regret not asking that wee doll Delane Morrison-Wallace out for a drink to be honest. See her in that mini-skirt? Ooft!

10. Most extravagant thing you’ve ever done (or bought)?

Well like I said, I’m faither to 45 weans, so what’s the most extravagant thing I’ve ever done? Probably when I took the family out for a fish supper. That was just after I did that Harry Potter film, but even then I was struggling. I tell ye: ‘Save the Otters’- that’s the charity ye want tae endorse!

10 questions for… Shona

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m 26 and originally from Huntly in Aberdeenshire but now living with my husband Paul Anderson, our 2 wee lads and a dog in Tarland. I started playing the fiddle aged 9 and started singing traditional songs when I was about 14 after hearing great bothy ballad singers like Geordie Murison, Jock Duncan and Joe Aitken at festivals. After I finished school in Huntly I went to Glasgow to study Scottish Music at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

2. What is your weirdest quirk?

If I turn around in a circle I have to turn the other way to “unwind” or I feel a bit weird and I speak to myself constantly!

3. How did you get involved with the Speyside Sessions?

Angus Robertson had contacted my husband Paul and asked if he wanted to come along to the sessions. I just tagged along!

4. What is your proudest moment ever?

The birth of my two lads, Hector and Roderick. Musically, being voted Scots singer of the year in 2009 at the MG Alba Scottish Traditional Music Awards.

5. What Speyside Session tracks did you perform on?

The Muckin’ o‘ Geordie’s Byre, Charlie is ma Darlin’, Achanachie Gordon, Raggle Taggle Gypsy, Westlin’ Winds, These are my Mountains.

6. What is your favourite track on the album?

I loved recording The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre. Hopefully when folk listen to it they’ll get a sense of how much fun Kevin, Garry and myself were having! I also love These are my Mountains and Diane of Pitgaveny.

7. What is your abiding memory from the sessions?

My cousin, Diane Lunan, had her birthday during the sessions and Paul composed a tune called Diane of Pitgaveny for her. When he played it to her she was just overjoyed. Paul and Ali ended up recording it for the cd and whilst they were recording Diane and I sat on the sofa grinning like Cheshire cats the whole time! Just a lovely moment.

8. What is your favourite album of all time?

Have too many but stand outs would be Ye Shine Far ye Stan’ by Jock Duncan, Attention all Personnel by Croft No 5, Faultlines by Karine Polwart and anything by Doris Day. Everyone needs a bit of Doris in their lives!

9. Do you have any regrets?

Not sitting my driving test before I moved to Glasgow to go to university. I’m going to start lessons again and I am going to pass my test before my provisional licence runs out in 2 years!!

10. Most extravagant thing you’ve ever done (or bought)?

I haven’t done and bought anything extravagant but I do buy far too many books!

10 questions for… Jason

 

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m Jason. I’m 35. I grew up here in Elgin but left for the big smoke. I’m a drummer in two bands (Cuddly Shark with Colin Reid, and Le Reno Amps). I’m tall and funny lookin..

2. What is your weirdest quirk?

I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like the Pixies!

3. How did you get involved with the Speyside Sessions?

Jamie Reid is an old mucker (and Colin’s brother). Over a year ago, he asked me, Colin and my girlfriend what we thought about this idea he had, and if we would be involved in it. The premise was like the Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions album so I thought it would be a fun challenge to be a part of.

4. What is your proudest moment ever?

Dunno. Really proud of my dog though.

5. What Speyside Session tracks did you perform on?

Nothing that made the final cut (thanks for that…)

6. What is your favourite track on the album?

Charlie

7. What is your abiding memory from the sessions?

The countdown at the Hogmanay party.

8. What is your favourite album of all time?

Ridiculous! No way I can answer that!

9. Do you have any regrets?

Yes.

10. Most extravagant thing you’ve ever done (or bought)?

Nothing. I’m a struggling musician. Looked at one of those mortgage things once.

10 questions for… Kevin

1. Tell us about yourself.

I am from Elgin – Bishopmill to be precise – a true ‘bishy boy’ as we call ourselves. I went to Seafield primary school before going to Elgin Academy where Jamie and a bunch of pals formed a 60′s covers band called “Plan 9″ after Ed Wood’s ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. We drank a lot of tea, ate a lot of biscuits and jammed in Colin’s mum and dad’s front room ’til we got good enough to play gigs in the local area . To much acclaim I may add, until the day we tried to write our own songs – that didn’t go down so well! Jamie and I thought up the “Speyside’ project to showcase local talent and for me personally to pay homage to my late grandfather Geordie Runcie – he was a great performer and could hold a packed pub of bevvied locals enthralled with his story telling and singing – I dedicate this record to his memory.

2. What is your weirdest quirk?

When I am ‘thinking’ or deep in thought, I sniff my fingers – weird right?

3. How did you get involved with the Speyside Sessions?

Jamie Reid and I thought the idea up over a few pints in London one day – it took about 2 years to organise the session – a lot of cajoling emails to all involved. The session became a bigger thing than we first expected , much to our surprise, most people we asked wanted to contribute.

4. What is your proudest moment ever?

The days my son Joseph and daughter Iona were born.

5. What Speyside Session tracks did you perform on?

I played DADGAD guitar and vocals on most tracks except the Gaelic song Carron sings with Jamie. I sang lead vocal on “The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre’ ‘ Now Westlin’ Winds’ ‘ The Water is Wide’ and ‘ These are my Mountains’.

6. What is your favourite track on the album?

I love them all but I feel most proud of ‘These are my Mountains’ and ‘The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre’. The first I feel proud of ‘cos most trad players thought it was a sentimental song and not a true folk song. But once we had recorded it Paul Anderson (who is a dyed in the wool trad player) expressed to me how impressed he was with our rendition . On ‘Muckin..’ I feel proud because just to get through the song without bursting out laughing is an achievement. It is a very funny song to perform.

7. What is your abiding memory from the sessions?

Abiding memory is the amount of laughter in the session, in the room and out. We all had massive communal dinners which my mum, Jamie’s mum, Iain Robertson, Jessie, Jane and Angus Robertson prepared. We all shared, sort of, the dish washing duties. I remember when my mum stormed into the recording room mid track, rubber gloves on hands, and yelled at everyone present that “we are not your slaves, everyone clean up your dirty dishes after yourselves, OK!”. We all felt suitably dressed down and regressed into feeling like naughty school kids again. Nothing like your mum to bring you all back down to earth eh?.. Also seeing my son Joseph sit in the sessions and watch the light bulb in his head go off as he witnessed the outpouring of live music was very important to me. On our return to LA, he decided to set up his own band – I like to think soaking in the sessions inspired him to do that.

8. What is your favourite album of all time?

Tough one. Maybe Jimi Hendrix – ‘Are you Experienced’, Van Morrison – ‘Astral Weeks’ or John Martyn – ‘Solid Air’. So many….

9. Do you have any regrets?

What do you think?…

10. Most extravagant thing you’ve ever done (or bought)?

When I was really skint, I paid for the neon sign in Piccadily Circus to show a message to Jane, my wife, announcing to everyone our marriage. I paid for a car with a massive opening roof to take us down Regent Street to see it at midnight on our wedding night.

10 questions for… Lynsey

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m 34. I grew up in Elgin and used to sing and play fiddle in local traditional music festivals. As a teenager, I left all that behind for the glamour of amateur dramatics. I’ve been away from home for a long time but recently moved back to the area and this project has really helped me to re-discover my musical roots. I work at the local college as a disability advisor/student tutor and split my spare time between the beach and the pub.

2. What is your weirdest quirk?

My memory for things like postcodes and registration plates. I should probably exploit it somehow but I’m too lazy.

3. How did you get involved with the Speyside Sessions?

I’m good friends with Jamie Reid’s brother, Colin, as well as a few of the other Speysiders. Jamie visited my boyfriend and I last Hogmanay and asked if we’d be a part of all this as we were at the first open-house session a couple of years ago.

4. What is your proudest moment ever?

The moment I finally get myself out of bed every morning.

5. What Speyside Session tracks did you perform on?

I was in the crowd for ‘Barnyards o’ Delgaty’ (other tracks didn’t make the album cut).

6. What is your favourite track on the album?

If I had to choose it would be ‘Both Sides the Tweed’ as it was the first song that I watched being recorded and the atmosphere in the room was electric! I hadn’t known how all this would come together so I was blown away by everyone’s talent, and it’s such a beautiful song, the sentiment of which is especially relevant for Scotland at the moment. So many of the tracks stand out to me though for various reasons.

7. What is your abiding memory from the sessions?

People talking in Irish accents (Dan’s fault!), a crackling fire and a legendary Hogmanay party.

8. What is your favourite album of all time?

Radiohead – ‘The Bends’.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I always regret buying biscuits…

10. Most extravagant thing you’ve ever done (or bought)?

I’ve never been one for material extravagance so it would probably be my six month New Zealand trip when I was 23, which cost me all the money that I had at the time and more. One of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself though!