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Fiery, exhilarating, textured and artful is the best way to describe the new-school of Scottish traditional music – and Breabach are, without a doubt, leaders of the pack. Although admitting they needed to “detox plans” after winning over the crowd and critics alike at The Woodford Folk Festival, they’ll soon be back in the air on the twenty-odd hour plane journey to play for us again at the Port Fairy Folk Festival.
“Oh, we had a wonderful time over Christmas and New Year, and I can tell you I miss the warm weather – it’s minus four here at the moment!” laughed Ewan Robertson [guitar, vocals and part-time firefighter in his home village of Carrbridge].
“We’ve haven’t been back home for very long at all, but it’s all been happening in Scotland. We’ve had the Celtic Connections Festival which was epic – a huge festival! We’ve played all over Glasgow and even been up to the highlands. We’ve been very busy, but we’re really excited to be getting the opportunity to be coming over again to play such great festivals.”
In what can only be described as a whirlwind run of dates, Breabach will play Port Fairy then WOMADelaide and the Brunswick Music Festival, before crossing the ditch to appear at WOMAD New Zealand. After a short break they’ll travel to the Apple Isle, finally landing at the HomeGround Festival held at the Sydney Opera House.
“We’ve had some fantastic opportunities and we’re very grateful. To travel and meet people from all over, all different parts of the world, that to me is one of the huge attractions of pursuing a career in folk music. That, and there’s not a lot of room for egos in folk music, which is great, because it attracts a really unique and interesting bunch of people that come along to listen to it. Then we get to mingle with all the different people. It’s not like being a pop musician or anything like that!” Ewan remarked cheekily.
Speaking of unique, Breabach have recently joined forces with an eclectic bunch of musicians from Australia and New Zealand to put together a show that will form part of the celebrations at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
“It’s called The Boomerang Project and we’re going to be premiering it over in New Zealand before coming over to play at the Sydney Opera House,” Ewan explained. “It’s a kind of cultural collaboration of Maori, Aboriginal, Celtic and Irish music and dance. We’ll also be bringing it home to Glasgow at an open-air gig for the Commonwealth Games Festival.”
Back at home Ewan was pleased to announce that The Port Fairy Festival was chosen to showcase Breabach’s latest release – their fourth LP, Urlar.
“We chose Port Fairy to celebrate the release of Urlar through Planet Records. Urlar is Scottish Gaelic, which is my native language, and it translates as ‘ground’. We took that name because we felt a heightened sense of foundation when we were recording the album.
“We wrote original music but we also sourced a lot of old/traditional material from our home communities – from family members and friends. That sense of grounding and connection to our roots during the making of the album was inescapable, and we all like the title.”
Urlar’ begins in high spirits with a lively jig, ‘The Poetic Milkman’, and takes you into their world. Combining old and new, Urlar showcases each member’s diversity and skill.
“I think my favourite track would be ‘I’m Proud to Play a Pipe’,” admitted Ewan, who started out young as a piper and fiddler. “It’s an enchanting piece of music, over three-hundred-years old. We’ve taken a very modern approach to it. It’s quite an interesting piece of music and definitely my stand out track.
“I grew up listening to traditional music from a very young age, so it’s always been important to me. But the thing that keeps me interested is the fun we all have while we’re playing it.
“That’s what makes Breabach the main focus for us all, but we’ve all been professional musicians for a number of years and we all have other projects to sink our teeth into. I perform solo and as part of a jazz-folk fusion band. Megan Henderson [fiddle, step-dance and vocals] is also a member of a salsa fusion group. They just got back from Colombia, so she went from Woodford to Glasgow to Colombia!” Ewan added. James Mckenzie, one of our pipers, just started a solo career, while Calum MacCrimmon [pipes, whistles, bouzouki and vocals] and James Lindsey [double bass] play in a funk fusion band – folk funk!” Ewan joked.
“We all keep busy and have loads of commitments but it’s an important part of what we do because it keeps us sharp and motivated, you know? It keeps things fresh. We know we’re so lucky and we just can’t wait to come back – it’s going to be a really good time. But we know we have to be up to it so I’m getting fit, getting in shape as we speak … No more sitting by the fireplace having a pint!”
When&Where: Port Fairy Folk Festival, WOMAD and the Brunswick Music Festival
Written by Natalie Rogers