Breabach – The Desperate Battle of the Birds

Scottish folk music finds its place in my musical lexicon with this rousing and emotional album from Breabach.

If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be waxing lyrical about a (to my ears at least) pretty straight up folk record, I’d probably have laughed you off – I’m not one to instantly dismiss music by genre, but folk had never really entered onto my musical consciousness and I didn’t really know much about it beyond the odd moment of folk-punk from the likes of Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly or Frank Turner.

Well two years, and two Sark Folk Festivals, later and things have definitely changed.

At the 2011 festival I had the pleasure of seeing the Scottish band Breabach take to the stage, armed with an array of pipes, whistles, flutes, string instruments and some great voices, to play a set which demonstrated to me why different styles of folk are named after types of dance, because that is just what this band made me want to do, even after a couple of nights in a tent!

As The Desperate Battle of the Birds began I was taken straight back to that field on the north-west coast of Sark and, as I drove along listening, all I wanted to do was dance once again.

Many of the tracks on this record combine variations of contemporary folk music and traditional tunes into what are essentially medleys, however as a listener this was not obvious as the individual pieces were clearly all chosen, arranged and played in such an expert way that they all flowed seamlessly into each other within the confines of the individual track.

Other songs stood alone, particularly the songs rather than the tunes, which adds a great sense of variety across the record.

The five piece band all demonstrate expert musicianship and vocal skills across the range of instruments, which include some new ones to me – I didn’t previously know there was such a thing as a 5-string fiddle, but I can assure you on this record that, and even the bagpipes, sound fantastic.

On the bagpipes front there was only track that felt like it over stayed its welcome, penultimate number The Waterhorse’s Lament, which was a bit too heavy on the pipes for my ears – though I admit this may be due to my being unaccustomed to that particular sound as a lead instrument.

As well as the tunes to get you dancing Breabach also demonstrate the more melancholy end of the folk spectrum on several of the songs which serves to balance the record very well and it never feels like it jumps from one extreme of feeling to the other but at the same time never feeling like it is stuck in one emotional state for too long – certainly, this is no mean feat.

I would heartily recommend this album for any newcomers to folk music who want to explore something that sounds traditional but that is modern enough in feeling and recording to sit comfortably in the ears.

Although I would add if you can see them live do that as well – if you like upbeat music to dance to you won’t be disappointed!

Take a look at my photos from Sark Folk Festival 2011 on BBC Guernsey.

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