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ALASDAIR ROBERTS

Alasdair Roberts

The Fiery Margin

    “Every song that’s nevermore sung/will sound again upon the Evernew Tongue”. Whether we understand the reference in the line, it sums up Alasdair Roberts’ approach as a singer and songwriter, now halfway through its third decade. Down the years, he has devoted himself to the history of traditional songs, playing them forward into our ever-evolving world as their meanings continue to evolve within him. Whether singing the auld songs, using inspiration from a line of text, or taking a time-honoured air as a starting point to a new song, he has pushed the tradition ahead in ways that few other singers and writers have approached.

    Since his first two solo releases, a collection of traditional songs followed by one of original material, Alasdair has followed this pattern more or less over the course of a dozen albums. The Fiery Margin follows 2018’s What News, a collaboration with David McGuinness and Amble Skuse that took eight Scots ballads and focused them through the use of vintage keyboards and modern electronic techniques to make something new that was also in the tradition. Thus, The Fiery Margin is a new collection of originals, some of which draw elements from the songs, singing and thought of the last couple millennia. With that scope in mind, it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone here!

    Alasdair’s impulse to communicate nuanced historical arcana in his music is matched with an ability to do so compactly in song, turning, say, a 1000-year-old Irish text on the mysteries of creation and apocalypse, or the peregrinatory journal of a mediaeval English mystic, into something with which we can all sing along. He’s been doing it long enough and with enough other fine players and singers to intuit what a set of songs might benefit from. On The Fiery Margin, he taps the percussive elan of Alex Neilson and the expansive bass playing of Stevie Jones, who have paired together with him on a couple of previous albums. On their previous encounter, Pangs, Alasdair focused on electric guitar, which gave the music a lean and wild quality that drew comparisons to the British folk scene of the classic rock era. The Fiery Margin has a diverse sound design, moving fluidly from acoustic to electric guitars while adding the nimble playing of Irish violist Ailbhe nic Oireachtaigh to embody and expand the parameters of the material. Additional players bring touches of accordion, pedal steel guitar, saxophone and barbershop vocals (!), aiding Alasdair’s process of excavating the enduringly mysterious roots of our shared music at a consonant, yet still enigmatic depth.

    Recorded by Luigi Pasquini at Anchor Lane Studios in Glasgow, The Fiery Margin has the distinction of being an exceptional recital whose origins could be ascribed to traditional Scottish, Irish and English music, not to mention the sounds of the world beyond. Alasdair Roberts is an underrated talent – one that we imagine will sound even better in the gifted ears of generations to come. As for you, dear citizen of today’s world – don’t wait!

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Rich and enchanting acoustic pieces here, boldened by Roberts' acrobatic vocals and ability for sketching a scene. Obviously influenced by the psych-folk movement, but unafraid to branch into other areas, 'The Fiery Margin' is a wonderfully emotive and fascinating narrative treasure.

    Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse & David McGuinness

    What News

      For his twelfth solo album - ‘What News’ - and his fourth album focused exclusively on the performance of traditional songs, Alasdair Roberts has chosen a typically unusual and eclectic pair of collaborators: Amble Skuse and David McGuinness.

      On past albums ‘No Earthly Man’ and ‘Too Long In This Condition’, Alasdair relied on his deep connection to the songs to anchor often exploratory arrangements that would locate the hundreds-years-old songs in a contemporary milieu. The resulting works are magnetically compelling and have been powerfully acclaimed down the years. For his first project in this vein since 2010, Alasdair was inspired by Scottish singers such as Jeannie Robertson, Lizzie Higgins, Duncan Williamson, Elizabeth Stewart and Sheila Stewart. He had a desire to sing and not so much to play, so he asked early music scholar and Concerto Caledonia director David McGuinness (a previous collaborator) to play keyboard accompaniment for these songs, upon which Alasdair would not be playing guitar.

      This was provocative: Alasdair was counting on David to respond to a counter-intuitive suggestion with surprising, idiosyncratic playing. David was challenged but up to the task. He started with the choosing of appropriate instruments, which he found at the University of Glasgow: an 1844 grand pianoforte and a ‘Mozart-style’ fortepiano of relatively recent vintage - the types of instrument they call in Holland ‘brown pianos’ (as opposed to the ‘black’ sound of the modern Steinway). To these, David added his own circa-1920 Dulcitone, a Glaswegian keyboard that plays tuning forks instead of strings.

      During the process of developing the arrangements, David hit upon an idea for an additional collaborator: sonologist Amble Skuse, whose work involves interactive, electronic performance treatments. This provided a third plane for the project and thus triangulated, they were able to crystallise an approach involving a very open soundstage: David’s keyboard, Alasdair’s vocals and Amble’s structural soundscaping. This makes for beautiful and driven music that has no analogue in Alasdair’s catalogue - for while he has consistently pursued the dynamic fusion of songs from hundreds of years ago in a modern and progressive context, he hasn’t worked with a keyboard as the central instrument. The beauty of the conception is evident throughout, with immaculate engineering capturing all the nuances of David and Amble’s work. Alasdair’s singing embodies previously unheard capacities in his ever-evolving catalogue of song and he also contributes a powerful guitar obbligato and solo on ‘The Dun Broon Bride’ - no doubt in response to the fine work of his collaborators.

      Alasdair Roberts & Friends

      Too Long In This Condition

      The follow up to 2009’s critically acclaimed "Spoils", this new album by the Glasgow based ‘Wyrd Folk’ artist is a collection of traditional ballads and follows a recent front cover feature in The Wire magazine (March 2010).

      Following 2009’s critically acclaimed "Spoils", this new album (his 6th overall) is Alasdair’s third collection of traditional material. Credited to Alasdair Roberts & Friends, it features a stellar cast of international musicians who perfectly complement his raptly personal versions of the songs recorded. Roberts has toured extensively in the UK and beyond, and recently completed a solo European tour opening for Joanna Newsom. This followed a front cover feature in the March 2010 edition of The Wire. "Too Long In This Condition" has been licensed for UK/European release from the Drag City label.


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