Up in The Air’s Moonshine & Gavin Marwick’s The Long Road and the Far Horizon

imageGavin Marwick is a talented and prolific Scottish composer and fiddle player. He’s in or has been in bands including Cantrip, Bellevue Rendezvous, Journeyman, Iron Horse, Ceilidh Minogue and Up in the Air. I’ve seen him perform (with Cantrip) and reviewed his Bellevue Rendezvous outings. So of course I was happy to offer to review these two CDs when offered. I’m just sorry it took me so long to listen and write!

Up in the Air features Gavin on fiddle along with former Old Blind Dogs members Jonny Hardie (on fiddle, guitar and vocals) and Davy Cattanach (on percussion, guitar and vocals). (Yes, I have seen the Old Blind Dogs perform more than once and have all their recordings.) The Moonshine CD runs 52 minutes long and includes a dozen tracks. The package is a coverstock foldover with the CD in one pocket and brief liner notes in the other. The liner notes source the tunes, explain how the band members learned them, and offer lyrics to the four songs. Most of the instrumental tracks are medleys, a very common arrangement on traditional Celtic recordings. While several of the compositions are traditional, most are written by members of the band or by people they know or know of.

When I listened to this, I noted that it’s quite amazing how much sound three musicians can make. It’s not quite a wall of sound, but it’s still pretty impressive. As usual, I much preferred the instrumental tracks to those with vocals. Neither Hardie nor Cattanach was the lead singer for any version of the Old Blind Dogs, and there’s a very good reason for that! That said, they are all excellent at playing their instruments, and that’s what really matters. As I listened to these, I could practically see Gavin playing–he has a very distinctive way of holding and bowing his fiddle.
Iam re-listening to track 3 as I write this paragraph. Now there’s a dance tune for you! It’s a two-tune medley, ‘Culduthel House’ and ‘Eileen Curren’s’, although the changeover is so subtle I hardly notice it The liner notes attribute the first tune to Captain Simon Fraser of Knockie and explain that they have arranged it as a strathspey that shifts into a reel before further morphing into the Irish traditional reel known as Eileen Curren’s. Jonny learned this tune from one of the members of the Belfast band Craobh Rua. I always find the origin stories for these tunes fascinating!

imageDavy based his composition ‘The Witch of Findrack’ (track 8) on a collection of stories by the Aberdeen historian Fenton Wyness. It’s a good ballad, if a bit morbid–of course it’s about a burning!

Although it appears at first to be a solo outing for Gavin, The Long Road and the Far Horizons is really a collaborative effort, as well. Jonny Hardie engineered the double CD, and it features guest appearances by a number of talented musicians whose names I immediately recognized: Ruth Morris and Cameron Robson from Bellevue Rendezvous, Davy Cattanach and Fraser Fifield from Old Blind Dogs, as well as several other folks playing accordion, flute, cittern, bouzouki, border pipes, saxophone, button concertina, piano, and nyckelharpa.

This package is also a coverstock foldover, although this one has three sections, two with CDs and one with VERY brief liner notes. The Long Road and the Far Horizons features 27 tracks and runs a whopping two hours and ten minutes long, so those liner notes are both abbreviated and in VERY small print! They provide somewhat idiosyncratic explanations of the origin of the tunes (in terms of Gavin’s encountering them), but nothing about their composition (which are traditional and which contemporary) or arrangement (who plays what where). A note on the back of the package suggests that the music can be found on a tunebook called ‘Horizons,’ available on Gavin’s website, but I couldn’t find it there at all.

But enough quibbling about details! This is an excellent sampler of really excellent traditional and neo-traditional Celtic tunes, with a decent smattering of stuff influenced by Eastern European and Nordic sensibilities. No vocals here, yea! Compared to Moonshine,The Long Road and the Far Horizons offers longer tracks, more medleys and more complex arrangements, with different instruments moving in and out of the audio spotlight over the course of a single piece.

My notes indicate that track 1-3 (‘Balkan Red’) has a slightly Middle Eastern sound, with sax and percussion adding a lot of texture. The liner notes indicate that it was inspired by a trip to Slovenia, which certainly explains a lot. ‘Desert Reel’ (track 1-7) is mysterious and exotic, with a sound that seemed to be a clarinet, although that instrument is not credited. Track 1-8 (‘Samarkand/ The Plate Smasher’) shifts from something equally mysterious and exotic with a mouth harp, two fiddles and a piano into a very fast tune that the liner notes equate with a Greek wedding reel, if you can imagine that! Track 1-12 (Marstein/Lammermuir) is a sweet tune with hand drums and guitar that according to the liner notes was inspired by a boat ride across a rough North Sea.

Not to be outdone, the second CD is equally strong. Track 2-1 (‘Horse and Rider/The Underdogs/Left at Werewolf’) has chimes as a percussion accent, along with that mouth harp again. My notes remind me that I hard pipes on one of these tunes, as well. Track 2-2 (‘The Valley of Stairs/Reves de St. Chartier’) starts with a lovely slow air with a slight Middle Eastern feel and a very memorable tune that I found myself humming later that day on a walk. Track 2-9 (‘St. Christophe/Along the Coast of Norway/The Jar of Olives’) opens sweet and soft, sounding like a fast waltz more than a reel.

Typical for me, I wasn’t crazy about most of the slow airs, and a good number of the tracks on The Long Road and the Far Horizons were slow airs. Still, overall these CDs are a pleasure to listen to! I will revisit them soon!

(Up in the Air, 2012)
(Gavin Marwick, 2014)

About Donna Bird

I am a former lecturer of Sociology at the University of Southern Maine in the beautiful Portland area, where I have lived since 1992.

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