Album: Steer By The Stars
Tracks : 14
Skipinnish have come a long way since Andrew Stephenson on bagpipes and Angus McPhail on accordion first started playing together in 1999. Twenty years on and the band are now one of the most sought-after live bands on the trad circuit. Steer By the Stars carries the story on and finds the current line-up on top form. Joining Andrew and Angus are Norrie MacIver on guitar and vocals, Alasdair Murray on pipes, whistles & bodhran, Rory Grindlay on drums, Angus Tikka on bass, Alastair Iain Paterson on keyboard and the legendary Archie McAllister on fiddle. There is also some great electric guitar work by special guest Malcolm Jones.
Everything you would expect from a Skipinnish album is here. Cracking pipe tune sets mixed with excellent songs in Gaelic and English, all performed with a vibrancy and dexterity.
When Norrie MacIver was first announced as the bands new singer there were some raised eyebrows but his vocal style has merged seamlessly with the Skipinnish sound. This is richly demonstrated on the re-working of Land Below the Waves which has been given a new lease of life.
Angus’ song writing skills are accomplished and masterful, none more so than on the poignant Wishing Well, written after the death of Barra teenager Elidh MacLeod in the Manchester Arena bombing. It is an emotional song filled with a sense of loss but offering hope for the future. Last of the Hunters is another McPhail masterpiece, telling the story of the decline of the once massive fishing fleet. As well as managing to mention over thirty different fishing ports in Britain and Ireland, it also contains some poetic and evocative lines. “Quiet now the harbours, where the distant echo rings. Eriskay and Scalpay where the herring men were kings. Laden deep for Stornaway, the Skipper’s chair a throne. Legends of the sea and still the boats are sailing home”
The Gaelic songs on offer include a cracking Puirt set, a new song, Coire Bhreacan and a translation of Home on the Sea called Thar Sail. Among the tune sets, there is a nod to the early days with the 20th Anniversary Jigs, which start off with accordion and fiddle before the pipes kick in to give that trademark Skipinnish feel and the stomping Atholl Set with the great highland bagpipes to the fore. There is also a lovely version of The Youngest Ancient Mariner by Phil Cunningham with some fine fiddle work from Archie McAllister.
Over the last couple of years Skipinnish have cemented their place at the pinnacle of the Scottish music scene and with this album that position is strengthened even more. Steer By the Stars is bursting with excellent music and is already one of my favourite albums of the year.