Iain MacDonald and Iain MacFarlane
‘The First Harvest’
Brilliant virtuosity from two of the country’s most renown musicians, this long awaited debut is one of the most exceptional albums yet of Scottish Music. Iain MacDonald and Iain MacFarlane have played both professionally and casually for many years, growing up not far from one another in Moidart.(Glenuig and Glenfinnan respectively) MacDonald has already lent his musicality and technical precision to some of the better recordings of the genre, whilst a part of Ossian and the Battlefield Band. Iain MacFarlane has quickly become one of the most sought-after fiddlers in Scotland, in association with Blazin’ Fiddles and as a teacher and session player.
Together they are testament to how exciting trad.music can be in the right hands.
In a scene with a tendency to constrain it’s palate to the sonic equivalents of either tartan-wrapped bon-bons or illicit substances(in similar gaudy packaging), MacDonald and MacFarlane show us another way. No such stuff requiring purgatives for them; this is an album of strong tea, casket fresh lager and a few carefully selected, smoky drams.
The set absorbs and integrates a myriad of influences between Scottish standards, extractions from old manuscripts, Irish tunes, and originals from Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland, P/M GS MacLennan, and, of course the Brothers Three (i.e. Iain, Allan and Dr Angus MacDonald of Glenuig). A welcome difference for an album of essentially Scottish music, MacDonald gives most of his attention here to the flute and whistle. This offers equal footing to MacFarlane’s fiddle, and their collaboration is impenetrably tight, right down to variations and single ornaments.
The arrangements themselves are rich and textured without ever descending into busyness, thanks especially to the tasteful and complementary backing of Ross Martin and Ewen Vernal. There is a great proliferation of musical contrasts and movements between them, such as where the brooding of ‘Moms Jig’ on track 8 is bowled over by the swing of ‘Annie’s Carafe’. Another highlight is the slow air penned by Allan MacDonald, ‘Fagail Dhuneidinn’, where the lead instruments trade parts providing an expanse of space and a chance to really take in the players’ control and expression.
As a bonus, the album features the soulful singing of Kathleen MacInnes on two tracks of waulking songs. What could have been left as just two fine renditions of Gaelic song has been crafted into dynamic ensemble pieces, without affecting the hypnotic simplicity of the main vocal line.
“The First Harvest” is a musical cornucopia and a feast for the ears
Will Lamb, Am Paiper.Dec 2002.
Iain MacDonald & Iain MacFarlane
Roshven Records RRCD001
13 Tracks 47 minutes.
If you’re serious about Scottish traditional music, you have to hear this CD. The fiddle, pipes and flute duets are magical, the solos are awesome, and the whole thing is simply world class. The two Iain’s have impressive CV’s in Scottish music, and there are echoes of their previous lives on many of these tracks; hints of Battlefield on tracks 1 and 4, Boys of the Lough on tracks 5 and 11, but no hangovers from Iain MacD’s brief sojourn with Wolfstone.
The winning formula behind this recording is extremely simple, Iain MacFarlane sticks to fiddle and Iain MacDonald divides his time between Highland Pipes and wooden flute. There’s muted backing from other instruments on most tracks, and there are two songs from the rich dark voice of Kathleen MacInnes, but aside from a little double tracking there’s very little technical mucking about. The result is a pure sound with the main protagonists to the fore. Even the two Iains’ singing doesn’t muddy the mix too much!
As well as the undoubted brilliance of MacDonald and MacFarlane, it’s the rich variety of music here that keeps the listener rapt. Drawing on the best of three hundred years of Scottish music, we are treated to unsurpassed versions of The Clumsy Lover, The Pitnacree Ferryman, The Road To Skye and many other classic tunes. Add to these the modern compositions of Blair Douglas, Allan MacDonald, Iain MacDonald himself and a handful from Jerry Holland and the musical cake is well iced. The Iains even throw a few Irish cherries on top; a set of these irrepressible Kerry Polkas, Jigs of course, and a great reel in Cuz Teahan’s.
I haven’t even mentioned my favourites yet; the set of heavyweight pipe tunes ending with The Rejected Suitor, the pair of flashy hornpipes, The Steamboat and Thomond Bridge, and the swaggering romp that is The Battle of the Braes.
Get your copy and tell me if I missed anything.
Alex Monaghan, Living Tradition Magazine. April 2003
From Glenuig and Glenfinnan respectively, the two Iains have taken their pipes, flutes, whistle, and fiddle skills on to the world stage with Ossian, Battlefield Band, Blazin' Fiddles, and Boys of the Lough, while always remaining firmly rooted in their richly musical Moidart heartland. This recording, discussed and now finally seeing fruition, has all the virtues expected: first-rate musicality combined with warmth, intimacy, huge verve, heart, and character by players who know and show their love of these strathspeys, reels, and airs in every note. Just to emphasise the album's living tradition nature, among the fine contributions by friends and colleagues is the comely Gaelic singing of Kathleen MacInnes, who makes an auspicious debut indeed.
Rob Adams The Herald
Scotland On Sunday: Record Review ....and I hardly ever give five-star reviews, I must be going soft in the head! -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Iain MacDonald and Iain MacFarlane 'The First Harvest' Roshven Records RRCD001 ***** From Glenuig and Glenfinnan, these guys have taken their pipes, whistles, flute, fiddle, and big-hearted musicianship round the world in bands like Ossian, Battlefield, Blazin' Fiddles and Boys of the Lough, but here they've crafted a jewel of a recording that stays at home in the traditions of Moidart. With a rake of friends - including Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, Ross Martin, Phil Cunningham, Allan and Ingrid Henderson - beautiful tunes and impeccable playing, they've created one of the finest albums to come out of Scotland in the last decade
Norman Chalmers Scotland on Sunday
Ears of barley decorate the disc of The first Harvest by Iain MacDonald and Iain MacFarlane, piper and fiddler respectively,and the theme is repeated in arty out-of-focus pictures of a reaped field. However, the crisp in-focus photo of the lads in a very’ hielan’ Public bar brings us back to the dimensions of real life, which in this case is a succession of high-quality tracks showing off their instruments and their talents to perfection with largely traditional tunes that will appeal to any Scot who admires the music that generations grew up with.
On this showing, these two men of Moidart are going to be big –not that they are exactly unknown already, thanks to spells with Ossian, Blazin’ Fiddles, and The Battlefield Band. I wish I could tell you more to make this a more three dimensional review, but their web-site refused to speak to me, and the current vogue for sleeve notes in miniscule type makes life a tad difficult for anyone who does not have a microscope handy.
Alasdair MacLean The Scots Magazine Feb 2003.