The Tannahill Weavers – Orach

Album Review | Compass Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Named for Paisley’s historic weaving industry and local poet laureate Robert Tannahill, The Tannahill Weavers performed first in 1968, recording their first album “Are Ye Sleeping Maggie” in 1976, the first release on Plant Life Records, a label owned by Steeleye Span’s Nigel Pegrum. Along with Blowzabella, The Tannahill Weavers represented the labels biggest seller. Fifty years of playing live has led to Órach their eighteenth and crucially Golden Anniversary album. The band might have moved on from their uniform of waistcoats, Victorian shirts and Status Quo denim jeans that they wore on their first album sleeve, but founder member Roy Gullane, original roadie turned band member Phil Smillie, John Martin (neither Island Records singer songwriter and guitar wizard or the 19th Century Romantic Apocalyptic Landscape painter) and Lorne MacDougall, with a supporting cast of well-wishing collaborators have delivered a half century album that is a masterpiece of traditional Celtic music and a summing up of the band so far. First track Órach is a classic set of Tannahill Weavers tunes. The playing through the set is beautiful without being overwhelming. The Weavers are joined on this mix and much of the album by Aaron Jones on Bass and Russell Hunter on piano. “Jenny a Things” is a sweet romantic song with lush vocal harmonies care of Roy, John Cassidy and the band. Harmonies or counterpoints the vocals are sublime, carried by some gently bubbling music. Christchurch Cathedral written by John Sheahan of The Dubliners, learnt from Shooglenifty’s late great Angus Grant Jr, is a sublime tune played more for listening than for dancing. The Tannahill Weavers have a lightness of touch with the fiddle, whistles and guitar that makes everything float and glide. That same lightness and space makes “The Jeanne C” skip and bob, while the band’s warm vocals swing with their playing having an airy grace. “The Northern Lights” is a chance for some beautiful whistles Flute and pipes playing. The band work through the set gradually shifting up through the gears from misty and gentle to more frenetic. Soft or driven the playing is always atmospheric rather than mechanical dance music. “Oh No” sung by Les Wilson, is a Humblebums era Billy Connolly song that The Tannahill Weavers rehabilitate with their lush almost Eagles Country Rock vocals bringing out the lyrics emotion and finding the beauty. No disrespect intended to the legendary Big Yin or the mighty Humblebums. “Sunset over the Somme” is an achingly beautiful, stop and listen heart in the mouth tune. Guitar, whistles and an ethereal choir of voices and pipes make something that stops time and makes you really listen. Former Weavers Dougie MacLean, Colin Melville, Kenny Forsyth and Ian MacInnes add to the wonderful atmosphere. Les Wilson provides the rich vocal on “Fragment of a Scottish Ballad” a Robert Tannahill lyric with excellent support from Weavers old and new. The Asturian Sessions are a set of tunes that demonstrate the international and interconnectedness of traditional and Folk music, featuring musicians from the Asturian region of Northern Spain and Dougie MacLean’s didgeridoo. As well as an exotic World Map it’s also a fine listen. Track Ten “The Ghost of Mick McDonnell”, is written by Daithi Rua, with whom The Tannahill Weavers first recorded the song. “Like Sunset over the Somme” it links to World War One, like that track it is finely played and atmospheric. “Like Sunset over the Somme”, with its fine vocals and melancholic music it is an album highlight. “Jessie the Floo’er O’ Dunblane” is another Robert Tannahill poem, bought beautifully to life by the Weavers. Vocals are by 80s band member Ross Kennedy. “The Battle of Sheriffmuir” is an evocative Robert Burns, John Barclay poem, delivered like a traditional Highland rap over some fine music. The album closes with the Gordon Duncan Set a deftly played swirling instrumental closer. Órach manages to flow into all points through the 50 years of the band’s existence. Musically and spiritually it connects all the players, Robert Tannahill himself and through the playing demonstrates that the music is still moving onwards, never frozen looking backwards. A celebration of spirit that is never just nostalgia. Golden indeed. As good a point as any to get on board if you haven’t already.