Good lord, 50 years? Founded in 1968, it’s hard to fathom the dedication it must take to remain at the top of the musical heap for full-on 50 years, but the Tannahill Weavers have achieved this remarkable feat. For a half-century, they’ve been Scotland’s premiere folk band, marrying the raw, unvarnished power of the Highland Pipes and Scotland’s fiddle-sprite dance tunes to homely, earthy songs.
To celebrate their Golden Anniversary, the “Tannies,” as they’re affectionately known, have invited back many of their friends, colleagues and ex-band members to join them on their new album, Òrach, from Compass Records. Special guests include the legendary Dougie MacLean (himself a Tannie from the early days), bluegrass banjo queen Alison Brown, Old Blind Dogs’ Aaron Jones, Spanish Asturian band Llan De Cubel, a host of bagpipers like Davie Hunter, Duncan Nicholson, Iain MacInnes, Kenny Forsyth, and Colin Melville, and ex-Tannies including Hudson Swan, Les Wilson, John Cassidy, Mike Ward, and Ross Kennedy. You’d need a history degree to keep track of all the guests and friends on this album, but surprisingly it all makes for a cohesive sound – perhaps a bit larger than the Tannahill Weavers normally would be on stage, but the arrangements are satisfying and well thought out here and keep everybody on track. The four main full-time members of the Tannahill Weavers – founding members Roy Gullane (guitar, lead vocals) and Phil Smillie (flute, whistles, percussion), with longtime member John Martin (fiddle) and resident young ‘un Lorne MacDougall (Highland pipes, Scottish smallpipes, whistle), remain at the forefront, leading the charge with good humor and easy musicianship.
The tunes on the album are a delight, ranging through the usual mixes of reels, strathspeys, and jigs, but making time for more stately fare like the off-tempo composition “Augstunden,” which made my fingers itch longingly for a fiddle to try it out. Indeed, if you manage to keep your toes still, your whistling lips unwet, and your fingers untapped while listening to this album, you’re a stronger person than I, and perhaps should get your pulse checked. Of special note, the highland pipes are mixed wonderfully with the other instruments, no small feat for such a loud and rowdy instrument. It seems the Tannahill Weavers were the first professional Scottish folk band to add the Highland pipes to the stage, so it’s nice to hear it still sounding so well, even in subtler situations that call for more nuance than the instrument usually offers.
The songs are a mix of older ballads, new compositions, and old Scottish poems set to music. The poems are one of the more surprising parts of the album. Namesake poet Robert Tannahill’s “Jessie the Floo’er of Dunblane,” is rendered in a thick Scottish brogue with a light and airy melody, and Robert Burns’ “The Battle of Sheriffmuir” is quite a bit wordier, and heavier with the scent of battle and the brash call of the bagpipes. It’s tricky to push a poem into a song, but each instance here, including also “Fragment of a Scottish Ballad,” again from Tannahill, brings new life to the old words. “Jenny A’ Things,” written by Scottish folk revivalist Matt McGinn, has a softer touch from the old poems, lightly blending Gullane’s gentle vocals with the gruff voice of another founding member, John Cassidy, and a beautiful set of harmonies in the chorus. “The Jeannie C” brings the greatness of Canada’s Stan Rogers to the Tannahill Weavers wheelhouse, while the recently composed “The Ghost of Mick McDonnell” would have sounded as great in an Edinburgh folk cafe in the 60s as it does today.
For all the concert halls they’ve seen in fifty years, the Tannahill Weavers never left the ol’ pub behind, as evidenced by the lovely instrumental “Christchurch Cathedral,” which came from weekly sessions at an Edinburgh pub between Tannies’ John Martin and Shooglenifty’s fiddler Angus Grant Jr. (who wrote the tune). The Tannies came out of a pub session in Paisley, Scotland way back in 1968, and they’ve kept that play-all-night drive to their music for all these years. They’re clearly still having a blast on this album, trying out new songs and playing and singing with old friends. After five decades, you’d think they’d at least have the courtesy to sound a little tired on this album, but they sound like they’ve been up all night drinking coffee and playing tunes, and they plan to continue to the break of dawn. For a band celebrating their golden anniversary, they show no signs of slowing down.
Òrach is available now for pre-order HERE.
07 Sep – Flagstaff AZ – Coconino Arts
08 Sep – Tucson AZ – Berger Performing Arts
09 Sep – Prescott AZ – Trinity Presbyterian Church
13 Sep – Oceanside CA – Oceanside Public Library
14 Sep – Ojai CA – Ojai Concert Series
15 Sep – Pasadena CA – Pasadena Folk Music Society (Caltech)
16 Sep – Berkeley CA – Freight & Salvage
21 Sep – Colorado Springs CO – Stargazer’s Theater
22 Sep – Denver CO – Swallow Hill Music
23 Sep – Atlanta GA – Redlight Cafe
25 Sep – Dunedin FL – The Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation
26 Sep – Jacksonville FL – Mudville Music Room
27 Sep – Columbia SC – American Legion Post 6
28 Sep – High Point NC – High Point Theater
29 Sep – Charleston WV – Footmad