The slide and slur of the American continent; the bagpipes stressing a Danish traffic jam to reaccelerate; the staccato of the Swiss Alps. After a year of cultural modulation, the last place you’d expect to find one of Scottish music’s biggest exports is a minute village on the West Coast of their motherland.
Arrochar. Buchlyvie. Meigle. Places only familiar to the inhabitants, or the well-travelled. The wood-fortified, immaculate interior of the Arrochar venue receives a mishmash of instruments: bagpipes, bass guitar, mandolin and fiddle, a trilling high hat, guitar strings which are confidentially visible in the tiny space. The band is Skerryvore and the atrium miniature, close air magnifying the sound of the Small Halls Tour.
Their symbolic namesake and melodic birth situated in tiny Tiree, Skerryvore’s return to the congenial settlements for their winter tour of 2013 seems illustrative of their beginnings. After eight years of musical and aficionado foundations, the band’s current travels seem gratuitous to their dedicated enthusiasts. “The idea was to go back to where we began by playing people’s local halls,” says frontman Alec Dalglish. “Some of our favourite performances are still the small and intimate gigs with our home crowd.”
Recently releasing a deluxe version of their latest offering, World of Chances, there is a marked difference between the overtly rural, Scottish sound of their youth and the extended, brighter melodies of today. Although the fiddle swaps descant tones behind Dalglish’s burning vocals, the tartan bellows surrender to the pop-fired melodies. “As a band and as individual musicians we are constantly changing and developing,” Dalglish explains, conceding that their traditional sound has evolved; brighter, thoughtful and fresh, yet intrinsically Scottish. “We always find it hard to describe our sound because it really is just a mix of all the things we like as musicians. We will always retain our folk music background – it’s a huge part of the reason we’ve had any success at all. What we want to do is to write great songs regardless of what ‘style’ they would be labelled with.”
Skerryvore’s debut West Coast Life, an accentuation of Caledonian jigs and laments, located them on the Celtic map. Labelled Album of the Month by BBC Radio Scotland, the boost moulded their members, fused genres and traversed expectations, whilst also developing the band’s identity. The breakthrough knocked in 2010, their self-titled third album garnished with accolades and acclaim. Writing melodies soon transcended into creating lyrics, with Alec Dalglish painting all but one of the sweet scenes on the newest album. World of Chance’s artwork renders the musicians in monotone, perplexed, amused or searching, sentiments that continue in the lyrics. Serendipity and luck are central chords: “Don’t be ashamed,” “Being happy isn’t a crime,” “Let’s go up, up, up and away,” becomes the buoyant breath of self which is sometimes suffocated by life’s complications. The minor tones evoke the emotion. The rhythm speeds and keys rise. Feet tap. Worries are forgotten amid the potent presence of the song.
For Skerryvore and their followers, the seasons fall from “that summer high” down to winter’s “flooded roadside,” the darkening nights an incentive to brighten the Scottish sensibility with soaring melodies. The group are set to realise this, with festive dates around Falkirk and Dalmally, culminating in the habitual Inverness Hogmanay fling. In the first blinks of 2014, fireworks snap, voices sing and instruments tune up. “We plan to record at the start of the New Year. I think this album will offer something different again… perhaps a heavier influence on the accordion, fiddle and pipes? Who knows though, it’s really too early to tell!” Dalglish says as he rolls the noir and crimson dice towards the next square of life’s checkerboard.
Photo credit: Kris Keisak
Find tour dates here: http://skerryvore.com/gigs/