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Scots Trio Flying High

A nomination for Scottish Folk Band of the Year in the 2011 Scots Trad Music Awards will tell you that the RACHEL HAIR TRIO are a formidable bunch. For those who have already caught the RHT bug it would have come as no surprise to hear that these rising stars are receiving the plaudits on a national level. For those of you less familiar you can now whet the appetite following the launch of their new album No More Wings. The 11-track compilation is an exciting melange of tunes, airs & songs influenced by not only their native land but also Galicia, Sweden, Brittany, Wales, Devon and even the U.S. A first listen to the album will certainly tell you that this is something very different. Exciting. Rousing. Pioneering

The band’s eponymous character is non-other than leading Harpist and champion of the cause Rachel Hair. To say that she plays Harp is a complete misunderstanding. Since the age of ten the Highland musician hasn’t put the instrument down and as a result of nurturing an obvious talent she has broken the mould and re-cast the Harp-playing form in Clapton-esque territory. A true pioneer.

There’s an audible traditional influence to Hair’s work, evidence perhaps of her early years studying the Clarsach in Ullapool. The west coast port may have left an indelible mark of influence in her understanding and appreciation of the Harp tradition, but the character and feel of her musical output is one of a contemporary world, flush with influences of jazz and splashes of colour from around the world. Indeed the new album could be best described as a musical journey from her traditional roots to bolder destinations and beyond. Fans of cross-over pioneers Flook and Beoga would appreciate this trio’s work with its similar drive, enthusiasm and energy.

Rachel, taking a breather from a busy gigging schedule, reflects on her influences. “After leaving the Highlands to study and work in both Edinburgh and Glasgow I found myself surrounded by a wealth of musical styles” says Hair. “The buzz of city life can generate an energy of its own and playing the pubs and clubs was a fantastic education. Studying music at college also brought me into contact with like-minded musicians, passionate about their craft and extremely dedicated. There was music everywhere in the college. I could hear soulful Jazz notes from the room next door, then rootsy styles from down the hall. I absorbed everything and incorporated those influences into my own compositions.”

Travelling with Hair on this journey are two likewise passionate and proficient compatriots in the forms of guitarist & vocalist Jenn Butterworth and double bassist Euan Burton. Both musicians provide not only a solid and uplifting canvas for Hair to apply creative strokes, but they also lend an edge to the tunes & airs on No More Wings with Butterworth providing equal measures of endearment and solemnity through her voice on several tracks.

“Jenn and myself have studied and worked together for quite a few years now” continues Hair. “Two years ago we persuaded Euan to lend his talents and hence the trio was born. So much has happened in such a short time for us with touring and recording. It’s hard work but we’re delighted with the progress.”

No More Wings provides a little something for all palates. The title track, plus later tracks Cancro Cru and Home and Happy are bright summery airs delivered with poise and accuracy to please the ear. Harsh Feb Reels sees Hair’s harp riffs undulate with Butterworth’s impeccably timed guitar strokes, evidence of well-defined and thoughtful composition. The clever musicianship continues with Fest Noz no. 17’s subtle chord changes and delectable interaction from the harpist.

The Eccentric’s Emporium is a stand-out track, particularly for Hair’s trance-like contribution. The piece also sees Euan Burton make the most of his fretless instrument with jazzy bass runs and clever control of the fret board. “We also had contributions from saxophonist Fraser Fifield and percussionist Signy Jacobsdottir who helped lift this track onto a new plain” says Hair. “We were also lucky to have the talents of producer Angus Lyon, who also played electric piano and accordion on several tracks. We felt like we had to lift our game and thankfully everything gelled for us in the studio.” Indeed you get a sense that the musicians are enjoying this track as it flows and ebbs. Truth is that there’s complexity, structure and style in abundance, an indication perhaps that The Eccentric’s Emporium has not been an overnight composition.

Three songs, sung with charm and vibrancy by Butterworth, help to add an extra dimension to the album. Her self-penned Island, together with Cyril Tawney’s Grey Funnel Line and Jesse Winchester’s My Songbird, serve the trio well as credit to their diversity in musicianship. In an album of delightful charms there’s one track that really steals the limelight. Swedish, a playful and uplifting tune, is the one most likely to register as signature anthem for the Rachel Hair Trio. The album exits with The Birthday Jigs, again evidence that Rachel Hair’s acclaim has not come too soon. Subtle key changes and dexterous instrumentation leave the listener with full appreciation of who this band really is.

“With gigs coming up later in the UK, Europe and North America it looks like a busy year for us” claims Rachel. “We’re very proud of the new album and look forward to promoting it in the coming months.” We can’t wait Rachel. Catch them if you can. More at www.rachelhair.com.

 
Irish Music Magazine, Eddie Creaney (July 2012)

--- Interview with Arperia, Online Spanish harp blog. View the Original Article at www.arperia.com (Translated by Isabel Abal ---

Young Scottish harpist Rachel Hair has just launched her 3rd album, “No More Wings”…

1) First of all, congratulations on this new recording.Tell us, how was the creative process and the recording of “No more Wings”? What do you want to share with us about this new CD?

This is the first cd I’ve done with my current line-up and it is the first cd that has truly been a trio effort. My first album “Hubcaps and Potholes” was a solo cd, and my second album “The Lucky Smile” had a mixture of group and solo tracks on it.

We had a mixture of tracks that we have been playing concerts for several years now and were exicted to finally be able to record them and then other tracks we arranged specifically for the album recording in a week of rehearsals that was done before we went into the studio.
Jenn and I tend to sit and work out basic chord accompaments and arrangements for the tunes and then later Euan comes in and we develop the tunes further with his input.

2) How was your life from the moment you decided to study harp? How did you start and who were your teachers?

I was born and brought up in the village of Ullapool, in the Highlands of Scotland. There was lots of traditional Scottish and Celtic music in the area so I was surrounded by it from a young age. I begun harp aged 10 after attending a summer school in traditional music called “Feis Rois”, where the teacher was Corrina Hewat. I really enjoyed myself so my parents hired me a harp and I started weekly lessons with the Americian, now living in Scotland, harpist Bill Taylor.
When I was 16 my family moved to the city of Edinburgh and I got lessons at school from Charlotte Peterson and Margaret Collins.
Throughout my school years I still attended “Feis Rois” in my holidays and had many harp teachers there and also loved playing alongside some fantastic traditional musicians there.
A big turning point for me was when I was accepted to study music at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. It was a unique course where traditional Celtic musicians studied alongside jazz, classical, rock and pop musicians. This opened my mind to many different styles of music which have each influenced my playing in their own way.
During this time I studied with the world renowned Scottish harpist Corrina Hewat. She was very influential to me as she taught me to develop my own style of playing.

3)Which is the main difference between “No more wings” and your past CDs? How can you describe the evolution of your music?

No More Wings is the first album that I have recorded with my trio, and it is very much a “trio” album, as we all play on each track. Jenn is a fantastic singer so we have been able to record some songs on it too.

We’ve been playing together for around 3 years now and are very comfortable and confident with our music and I think this shows in the cd.

It also isn’t what you’d expect from a normal harp cd. There are lots of upbeat tunes and not so many big slow airs!

4) What can you tell us about the other two musicians in your trio? How long have you been touring together? What about the other guests artists on the cd?

Jenn and I studied at University together and have played with each other on a casual basis for years. She “officially” started playing with me 3 years ago after my previous guitarist Paul Tracey moved onto different projects. Euan has been playing with us for around 2 years. He used to stand in for our previous bassist James Lindsay when James was busy playing with his other band Breabach. It was only natural that when James became full-time with Breabach that Euan take over and join us on a permanent basis.
Euan comes from a jazz background, so that’s been fun to experiment with on the new album.

On the album we also have our produced Angus Lyon who plays accordion and Rhodes on a couple of tracks. I’ve known Angus for years so it was great that he was able to play on a few tracks. Fraser Fifield is a well-known Scottish musician famed for his cross-over between Scottish and jazz music. We were very excited to have him play soprano Saxophone on some of the tracks.
Signy Jackobsdottir is a Scottish percussionist who is originally from Iceland. She is incredibly creative with her percussion and helped make some of tracks even more interesting.

5) In the track list we can see  there’s a combination of tunes from very different backgrounds, some of them are traditional from different countries, an another  few were composed by you and also by Jenn or other composers… How did you make the selection?

In the trio it tends to be me who chooses the tunes(melodies) we play and Jenn chooses the songs we play.
For some of them, I wrote them specifically for the album, and I had a certain style in mind that I wanted to write them in. Others are tunes that we really like to play, and we’ve then tried to find other tunes that go after them. A few tunes (the Swedish tunes and Alistair m’ annsachd) I sourced from collections of old folk tunes. I like to spend time playing through these old collections and finding old tunes that haven’t been played for a very long time, so that we can help bring them to life again.

6) How many harps do you own? Which are your favourites for recording or when and which for playing live?

I own two harps, both “Glenelle’s” made by Starfish designs, who are based in the village of Ballachulish, 2 hours north of where I live in Scotland.
One is in Walnut and one in maple. They have both been hollowed out inside to make them lighter, and easier to travel with.
I actually used both of them for the recording. The maple harp has a richer sound where as the walnut one has a brighter sound. I tend to use the walnut harp when playing live as it is 2kgs lighter that the maple one and easier to fly with .

I love playing starfish harps as they are perfect for my style of playing. Starfish are also very supportive to me as a musician and I work with them in the development of new harps and accessories, such as the flight case they have made making it a lot easier for me to fly with my harp (it only weighs 20kg in it!)

7) In “No more wings” you have recorded an interesting version of “Cancro Cru”, a tune composed by Anxo Pintos (Berrogüetto). When did you first listen to this tune, and why did you decide to include it in your repertoire?

I was taught “Cancro Cru” by Irish harpist Laoise Kelly about 7 years ago now. We were taking part in a special concert at Celtic Connections festival called “Master and Apprentice”. Laoise was my master so we worked on some new tunes together. I fell in love with the tune and recorded it on my debut solo album. When I begun playing with Jenn and Euan they also fell in love with it, so we have re-arranged it for the trio. Its one of our favourite tunes to play live so we really wanted to record it again for the new album.

8) Which harpists are your role models? Do you know any Spanish harpist?

I have many harpists that I admire… Corrina Hewat, Laoise Kelly, Catriona Mckay and many more. I have really being enjoying playing with Breton harpist Tristan le Govic over the past while. We performed a dup concert at the Dinan Harp festival in Brittany and the Lorient Interceltique festival last year. I love Breton music and really enjoy playing with Tristan as he’s such an energetic player.
I’m afraid I am sad to say I have never heard any Spanish harpists live! I do know of Xabier Gomez and his work.

9) What’s your opinion about the current situation of the celtic harp and its role in the Scottish folk music?

The harp is a popular instrument now in Scotland although there are few professional male players…. They are all female! The players in Scotland are very innovative and many, such as Catriona McKay, are pushing the boundaries of the harp, showing it in a new light and performing new music on it using many innovative techniques.

 

 
Arperia Blog Interview (May 2012)

No More Wings Reviews :back to top

Rachel Hair is never one to rest on her laurels and with this third album, she reinvents herself with characteristic aplob. Joiing her on this outing are guitarist and singer Jenn Butterworth and Euan Burton on double bass.

On her previous album, the sonds were in Gaelic. Now they are in English and Butterworth's delivery coupled with her driving guitar style suggests a more mainstream popular approach. What shines through as ever is Hair's sparkling and brilliant harp playing. There are some wonderful instrumental set. A couple of Swedish tunes romp along joyfully, with Fraser Fifield on soprano sax moving everything up a notch. The most appealing track is Home and Happy, a great original tune which is preceded by a lovel slow air from the Simon Fraser collection.
Taplas, Delyth Jenkins

This is the third album from a young Scottish harpist working hard to popularise the harp.

Here she is accompanied by regular trio members Jenn Butterworth (guitar & vocals) and Euan Burton (double bass), plus special guest musicians Fraser Fifield (soprano saxophone), Angus Lyon (rhodes/accordion) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion).

Rachel's fingering technique makes her plangent harp sound like a rippling African kora. The crystalline smoothness of her playing is exhibited to full effect on her unaccompanied performance of the traditional Gaelic air Alastair M'annsachd and on the hypnotically beautiful Galician tune Cancro Cru by Anxo Pintos.

There are a number of Rachel's own compositions on the album, including the joyous, uplifting Eccentric's Emporium with its laid-back loping rhythm and gloriously soaring soprano saxophone. The saxophone also joins the traditional Swedish set, to delightful, clarinet-like effect. And the Reels set really lifts when (guess what?) the saxophone comes in to accompany Jamie Smith's File Under Biddley and Rachel Hair's St James Lasses. The mellow texture and light jazzy rouches of the Rachel Hair trio really suits the addition of saxophone. Rachel, please, is there any chance of the saxophone becoming a permanent addition to the band, and the Trio turning Quartet?

I should also mention Jenn Butterworth's pop/country-style vocals, which are brought into centre stage for Cyril Tawney's Grey Funnel Line, Jenn's own song Island and My Songbird from Emmylou Harris's repertoire.
fRoots, Paul Matheson

The harpist Rachel Hair, weary of the angelic associations of her instrument, determine with her third album to reveal another side of its nature. Hence the title No More Wings, and this set of wicked tunes. They range widely - there are Breton ridees,  a Quebecois waltz and 'Alastair m'annsachd', a gorgeous slow air from the Captain Simon Fraser Collection, a treasury of Scottish tunes, as well as material from the Swedish Gotlandstoner collection.

But this is by no means a collection of traditional music: as well as three of Hair's own compositions there is 'Cancro Cru', a lovely tune by Anxo Pintos, from Galicia; 'Harsh Feb Reels' includes on by Scottish accordion maestro Phil Cunningham and 'The Birthday Jigs', which rousingly rounds off the album, features a melody by Breton guitarist Soig Siberil. Nor is it entirely instrumental. Guitarist Jenn Butterworth sings Jesse Winchester's ' My Songbird', a song of her own, 'Island', and Cyril Tawney's 'Grey Funnel Line' (the sailor's name for the Royal Navy).

Euan Burton's fine double bass completes the trio. It is augmented here by Angus Lyon on accordion and Fraser Fifield's saxophone. These instruments, as conventionally diabolical as the harp is angelic, work well in what is almost a jazz combo, the fluid squeezebox and round reediness of the sax complementing the plangent harp. I was surprised, though, given Hair's desire to escape the angelic, by her recourse to wordless, dreamy vocals. A musically ironic heavenly choir, perhaps.
Songlines, Julian May

Scottish group, Rachel Hair Trio, is a brilliant folk ensemble with a full-range of vocal melodies and instrumental delights. The music is inspired not only from Scotland, but Galicia, Brittany, Sweden, Wales, the USA, and other places with string and folk traditions.

The eleven musical morsels are steeped with evocative harp, rhodes, accordion, sax, percussion, and jig-friendly guitar stylings with a hint of double bass to beef it up a bit. The rather acoustic and intimate feel of the album is not an accident. The whirling sax on "Swedish," signifies an almost Klezmer approach to jig music. Jenn Butterworth's smooth, folk-centric vocals on "Grey Funnel Line," takes on a slight Shawn Colvin resemblance amidst the folk guitar, light percussion, and harp.

Fans of harp and folk music from Europe will love the contemporary musings of the Rachel Hair Trio. This album may be titled No More Wings, but it still soars away with happy melodies and compelling instrumentation.
Matthew Forss, Inside World Music

For her third album release, Glasgow-based harpist and composer Rachel Hair joins forces with her trio for the first time on record. NO MORE WINGS features a selection of sophisticated instrumental arrangements blending Scotland's rich heritage of vibrant instrumental music with one or two songs beautifully sung here by singer/guitarist Jenn Butterworth including Cyril Tawney's Grey Funnel Line, Jesse Winchester's My Songbird as well as her own Island. The trio is completed by East Kilbride's Euan Burton on double bass, with guest appearances by Fraser Fifield on sax, Signy Jacobsdottir on percussion and Angus Lyon on Rhodes and accordion.

Rachel, from the Highland village of Ullapool, is a highly disciplined exponent of the Scottish harp (or clarsach), a musician who has been playing the instrument from the age of ten, working her way through Scotland's Fèis movement, under the tutelage of such leading musicians such as Corrina Hewat, Bill Taylor, Wendy Stewart and Alison Kinnaird. The songs and tunes on NO MORE WINGS demonstrates that none of this has gone to waste. A beauty.

 
Allan Wilkinson, Northern Sky

Proving to be increasingly versatile and innovative, Rachel Hair returns with her third recording, this time placing the harp in the midst of a dynamic trio, featuring the double bass of Euan Burton, alongside the guitar and vocals of Jenn Butterworth. Even in this company, it is the shimmering character of the harp and the unequivocal passion of Rachel’s playing that forms the backbone of the recording, flooding the senses with its bold and frivolous spirit one minute, and with its nimble subtleties the next.

Jenn Butterworth adds guitar that is assured but never overshadows, and the resonant depth of Euan Burton’s bass is a perfect foil for the more delicate harp. Jenn provides lead vocals on three numbers: a lively, contemporary reading of Cyril Tawney’s ‘Grey Funnel Line’; a soaring rendition of Jesse Winchester’s ‘My Songbird’, where she proves to be quite the songbird herself; and also on her own evocative composition, ‘Island’. Notably, it is Jenn’s layered vocals that bolster a couple of instrumental tracks with an alluring vocalise alongside the instruments, resulting in a sensuous, ethereal sound.

Other carefully selected guests contribute to the diverse flavours. Fraser Fifield’s soprano saxophone brings a brisk fluidity to which Rachel’s harp seemingly gives chase with an exhilarating fervour on ‘Harsh Feb Reels’, whilst the ever-exemplary percussion of Signy Jakobsdottir, serves to heighten the contemporary sound.

It is when the harp receives most prominence that this listener is most beguiled, and the two tracks that close the album showcase the contrasting moods that Rachel so effortlessly harnesses: ‘Home And Happy’ manifests heartbreaking serenity in the most tender and moving manner, whereas ‘The Birthday Jigs’ conjures up sheer, unbridled joy.

In Rachel’s hands the possibilities are endless, and the harp knows no boundaries; her relentless energy and appetite for exploring the possibilities that are open to her instrument ensure that hers will always be an interesting journey to follow.
Mike Wilson, Folk Radio UK

Does the title of the album refer to breaking a Red Bull habit? Maybe, maybe not, the truth is the trio’s music is delivered with plenty of pep.

Rachel’s trio includes herself on harp, Jenn Butterworth on guitar and vocals and Euan Burton on double bass. They keep it simple, lively and fun, add in guest musicians on a few tracks on tenor saxophone, percussion and accordion and the sound is filled out very nicely indeed

The second track is called Swedish, it’s a catchy tune, from the recently re–published Godtlandstoner collection, and lest we forget a large part of what is now Scotland was for a few hundred years effectively Scandinavian. The musical connections are easily made

The big hey what’s this? moment comes when Jenn Butterworth sings Cyril Tawney’s Grey Funnel Line. You may recall the version by Mary Black. Personally my abiding memory of it is below deck on a barge in the River Humber where Tawney entertained a small crowd with it in 1998. Here, Rachel Hair has taken the song and given it a good shake. Yes the words are melancholic but Jenn Butterworth injects them with a youthful begrudgery. It is bloody mindedness re-phrased in melody, it’ll get the purists talking for ages. The tunes sparkle, the arrangement are crisp and clean and the selections have been carefully thought out, for example. Rachel’s own Home and Happy follows a gorgeous solo slow air from the Captain Simon Fraser Collection.

The Breton selection Fest Nos No 17 is emphatic and hypnotic in turns, the harp running a melody over percussive guitar chops until the accordion swings in to add some fluidity like melted butter on a morning croissant.
I’ll let you into a secret. The title is about the harp itself, all explained on track one. Often stereotyped as an angelic instrument, Rachel adds some devilment to the detail and her robust playing will make you reconsider its roll as backing to the choir invisible. The tune has phrases that remind me of the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood and yes there is a chorus of voices humming in the background, but angelic it isn’t.

Seán Laffey, The Irish Music Magazine

We finally got around to listening to “No More Wings”, the new album from Scottish harpist Rachel Hair. An eagerly awaited album in which we had placed high hopes ever since we listened to her last project, “The Lucky Smile”. It has fulfilled all our expectations, confirming that Rachel and her trio project are no longer a promising sensation but a solid project, a consolidated project worth of being considered inside the harp scene. “No More Wings” follows the path started with “The Lucky Smile”: Rhythm, intensity, energy and punch all packed into a sound that, fortunately, is far away from the archetypal image of the harp as a bucolic and relaxing instrument.

The selected repertory involves us in a journey through a wide range of musical cultures: songs from Scotland, Sweden, and Brittany, as well as original songs, all of them sifted through the Rachel Hair Trio trademark. Also, in the middle of it all, we find an odd treat: a surprising and delicate cover of “Cancro Cru”, a song from Anxo Pintos (member of the galician band Berrogüetto) who, in these past few years, has made himself present in the repertoire of harpists such as Rachel Hair or Jochen Vogel, and who had already been recorded in Rachel’s first project, “Hubcaps and Potholes”.

Special mention deserve the guest artists present in this CD, artists that give an extra and surprising dose of color and improvisation. On another note, the other two members of Rachel’s trio, Jenn Butterworth and Euan Burton, show themselves as two multifaceted elements that come and go as needed, giving the perfect overtone and adding a variety of elements that are more than inviting. It’s particularly important to mention the rhythmic character that both of them give to the accompaniment, as well as the interesting use of the voice that the multifaceted Jenn, who not only sings in a couple of songs but also contributes with soft chorus in many others, does.

To sum it up, this is the confirmation of a project that aimed high and has become a reality.
Arperia Blog (english translation by Isabel Abal)

When a trio is made up of three musicians you know to be capable of leading their own bands you do sometimes wonder at the wisdom of bringing them all together, then you hear an album like this and wonder if they weren't touched by Athena. Rachel Hair, naturally, Jenn Butterworth and Euan Burton should be congratulated on the way they've put "No More Wings" together

Three very different string instruments, harp, guitar and bass, are brought together for an album of life and vitality, where egos are the door and musicianship invited in to spend some time in the snug to warm by the fire. This is an album full of pleasant surprises and sprightly twists. Predominantly instrumental albums have a habit of doing that to you.

The first sprightly twist comes in with "Swedish" an instrumental set that draws upon a couple of tunes from Gotland that celebrates the continuing links between Scotland and it's Scandinavian neighbours across the sea. The first real surprise comes with the next track, "Grey Funnel Line", one of the few vocal tracks on the album and a fascinating cover of mariner, Cyril Tawney's "Grey Funnel Line", totally unexpected and wonderfully re-imagined.

Where vocals make their way onto the album, they are eloquently supplied by Jenn Butterworth, who also penned a couple of songs on the album. Rachel Hair is by far the biggest contributor of material, though as you would anticipate there are a number of new arrangements of traditional tunes.

Predominantly instrumental artists tend to be more generous with their tunes often dedicating them to friends and events in their lives and that's the case here. In the final set of tunes, "The Birthday Jigs", the last jig, "The Birthday Cow" was written for fellow musician Joy Dunlop, whose brother bought a pregnant cow instead of a present for his sister. Siblings beware tunes have a long life and are a revenge neatly served.

Another tune in that set "Folkus" celebrates the ability of a certain car to be able to carry a trio of musicians, all of their instruments, p.a., merch and suitcases, Ford take note.

"No More Wings" is a highly enjoyable and entertaining album. It has a spring in its step and seems to bring light into the room. The Rachel Hair Trio seem to be a cup running over with talent. Great Fun.
Neil King, Fatea

One of my earliest experiences of performance harp was by ‘Harpo’ Marx in the film “A Day At The Races” and again in a film that the title escapes me. The only reason I mention this is at the way he exploited genres such as classical, folk and jazz to make the music accessible to the widest possible audience.Maybe the cross-over from folk to jazz (or vice versa) isn’t as dramatic as it sounds for here is proof positive in the more than capable hands ofRachel Hair (harp), Jenn Butterworth(guitar/vocal) and Euan Burton on double bass.

Opening with her own self-penned title track “No More Wings” Hair sets the listener up for a bright and breezy show of digital dexterity that would have the angels smiling in Heaven. With the addition of Butterworth’s vocals and softly slapped guitar chords the jazz-tinged interpretation of Cyril Tawney’s “Grey Funnel Line” pushes the lyrics at a brisk (but not outrageous) pace and in my opinion makes the song all the more enjoyable.

With the aid of tasteful breathy vocals (think Clannad or Enya) on several tracks adding a dynamic splash of colour to proceedings this music will bath you, in Radox metaphorically speaking without the merest hint of being kitsch. It surely won’t be too much longer before they add these talented artists to the roster of the Transatlantic Sessions…here’s hoping.
Pete Fyfe, ukfolkmusic.co.uk

The Lucky Smile Reviews :back to top

Scotland is producing a bumper crop of innovative harpists lately, and another one is Rachel Hair. Unbelievably---after all, we ARE talking harp here---she has a style all her own that is very, very tasty. The girl can play, and she is solid to the ground. She knows her music, all right. If you like harp, you'll love this! Welcome to the big leagues, Rachel!
Bill Margeson
, www.liveireland.com

Rachel's impressive debut album, Hubcaps & Potholes, explored the harp as a solo instrument, in a collection that showcased the instrument's versatility, from its poised and delicate beauty, through to its enigmatic, expansive flourishes. For her second album, The Lucky Smile, Rachel showcases the harp, or clarsach as it is also known in her native Scotland, within a band setting, further considering the appeal and adaptability that this beautiful instrument can hold.

There are some very obvious musicians on the folk scene that Rachel could easily have called upon to provide accompaniment on The Lucky Smile, but it is testament to her musical inquisitiveness and ingenuity, that Rachel chose to seek some less obvious companions to work with on this project. Infiltrating the Scottish jazz scene, Rachel has commandeered some of Scotland's most lucid and innovative musicians -- Paul Tracey on guitar, Andy Sharkey on double bass, and Scott MacKay on drums. Added to this mix is Paul Jennings, one of Scotland's foremost percussionists, whose supple rhythms add to the energy of the whole ensemble. To the musically attuned, just the thought of this combination is enticing -- when you listen to The Lucky Smile, the reality is absolutely enthralling.

Many of the compositions here are Rachel's own work, alongside a few traditional tunes and compositions by fellow musicians. The albums begins with the ensemble in full swing on the set "Back Home," comprising two compositions by Gordon Gunn and Karen Tweed, sandwiching the traditional tune, "Flora Macdonald's." Andy Sharkey's languid double bass provides much depth, whilst Paul Tracey's guitar adds supple textures. Rachel's harp races away frivolously, leaving a trail of the most glorious, colourful notes, whilst the drums of Scott Mackay attempts to tame the rhythm.

Even when flying solo on the splendid slow air, "Blue Hills Of Antrim," Rachel delivers the most heartbreaking and spellbinding performance, harnessing the most subtle and expressive aspects of her harp, in an arrangement where the carefully measured silences contribute to the intensity just as much as each resolutely plucked string. With "I Lost My Harp In Barcelona," Rachel well and truly soaks up the Spanish ambience -- you can almost smell the paella and taste the sangria, with the cajon of Paul Jennings instilling an exotic rhythm.

A couple of tracks feature guest singer, Joy Dunlop, who contributes her crystalline Gaelic vocals, sounding all the more classy when delivered over Rachel's sublime, rippling harp. "A Fhleasgaich Oig As Ceanalta" is one of the most beautiful Gaelic love songs you will hear, sung by Joy with a palpable longing, whilst Rachel's harp accentuates the drama. The harmonium of Angus Lyon gives a rounded swell to underpin the arrangement, and Paul Jennings' percussion lends contemporary spirit.

Elsewhere, one can find slow reels, marches and jigs, all fleshed out by the jazz sensibilities of the accompanying musicians. It's this subtle fusion of genre flavours that makes The Lucky Smile so appealing. You don't need to be a fervent admirer of traditional music to 'get' this -- it's brimming with spirit and vitality, with a unique and undeniable appeal. It would be easy to lose yourself in each and every track on The Lucky Smile. It would be easy for me to wax lyrical about each and every note, describing the subtle nuances and the mesmeric arrangements... but I've probably said enough now. You really should buy yourself a copy of this album and get drunk on its intoxicating charms
Mike Wilson
, www.folking.com

Rachel Hair has that uncanny knack of picking just the right tunes to take her audience on a spectacular acoustic musical tour.

For instance the highly syncopated opening track 'Back Home' which, given a great jazz feel propelled by her accompanying musicians Paul Tracey (Guitar), Angus Lyons (Keyboards), Andy Sharkey (Double Bass) and Scott Mackay on drums brings her into Deborah Henson-Conant territory.The following track 'Kilmartin Sky' ably demonstrates Hair's own compositional skills with a beautifully crafted slow air joined by the smile-inducing jig 'Francie's'. Joy Dunlop adds haunting Gaelic vocals on a couple of tracks with 'A Fhleasgaich Oig As Ceanalta' reminiscent of the soundtrack to the film 'The Wicker Man'.

This is a very enjoyable recording that will capture the hearts of listeners with splashes of tasteful jazz colourings and is a must purchase for those who like their 'folk' with a bit of attitude.
Pete Fyfe,
 www.folkandroots.co.uk

Following on from her assured and highly acclaimed debut, Hubcaps and Potholes, harpist Rachel Hair has now demonstrated a true coming of age. WIth much original material and some influences from Ireland, the Traditional music of Scotland is evident in terms of material and style, as in the pipe marches The Lochaber Gathering.

Caution is sometimes needed when adding double bass and drums to harp, but the mix here is perfect, raising the already persuasive harp playing to another level. The full band sound is heard on Back Home, a joyous set of reels, and on her own Tsunami Jack, with its Grappelli-like fiddle. There's also space for solo harp, Blue Hills of Antrim, learnt from an early Altan recording, is beautiful. Add in a couple of songs with vocals from Joy Dunlop and you have a perfectly formed album.

Hair's style is original, confident and inspired. A hugely enjoyable album.
Delyth Jenkins, 
Taplas Magazine

Harpist Rachel Hair builds on her promising solo debut release, Hubcaps & Potholes, with this more expansive and subtly jazz-inflected disc. It is built around a basic trio featuring her harp, Andy Sharkey's double bass and Paul Tracey's guitar, with additional contributions from drummer Scott Mackay, percussionist Paul Jennings, producer Angus Lyon's harmonium and Fender Rhodes, a solitary fiddle outing from Graham McGeoch and two Gaelic vocals from Joy Dunlop.

The harpist's decision to go with players who are also involved on the Scottish jazz scene pays rich dividends, adding a touch of improvisational fluidity and both harmonic and rhythmic subtly to the music without sacrificing its traditional folk appeal. Her own playing is excellent, and her choice of material mixes attractive original compositions with well-chosen tunes from both traditional and contemporary sources.
Kenny Mathieson, The List

Talented Harpist Rachel gained numerous plaudits for her debut CD, 'Hubcaps and Potholes', and her second album - produced by Angus Lyon - looks set fair to build upon that success.
Recorded in partnership with acoustic guitarist Paul Tracey and double bassist Andy Sharkey, the trio also perform here with singer Joy Dunlop, fiddler Graham McGeoch, percussionist Paul Jennings and drummer Scott Mackay to present an exemplary and refined collection of Scottish and Irish influenced airs, reels and jigs.
'Tsunami Jack' is a lovely tune and evokes lightness and liberation while 'I lost my Harp in Barcelona' illustrates, via its intricate phrasing and reflective melody, why Rachel is so respected as a harpist and composer.
A joy from start to finish and destined to generate further acclaim for Rachel from her growing audience and within.
Musician magazine

The Lucky Smile is a sparkling recording centred around Rachel Hair's pristine, beautifully detailed harp-playing, the tune selections by turns lively and emotionally expressive. The collection showcases the possibilities of this Celtic instrument in a thoroughly modern setting; Hair's Starfish harp is surrounded on several tracks by acoustic guitar, double bass, drums and percussion, harmonium, Rhodes electric piano and fiddle, and it all works beautifully. This particular combination of instruments allows for some satisfyingly jazzy arrangements, particularly on the livelier sets 'Back Home', 'Tsunami Jack' and the 'Midge House Jigs'. Ullapool born and of Irish ancestry, Hair's playing successfully combines the heady rhythms of Scottish folk music with the more soulful melodies of the Irish tradition. Listening is a pleasure on a couple of exquisitely unadorned tracks, especially the emotion-rich air 'Blue Hills of Antrim', whilst the dazzling 2/3 pipe march 'The Lochaber Gathering' is delivered unaccompanied, bursting with rhythm and melody and rich in detail.

Acclaimed Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop contributes her crystal clear, pure-sounding vocals to two of the album's ten tracks.
Hair's own compositions are superb, inspired by student life (she is one of a raft of successful graduates of Strathclyde University's Applied Music BA degree course), and by people, landscapes and places. 'I Lost my Harp in Barcelona' is a humorous reminder of the time her harp didn't arrive in time for a Spanish festival (fortunately Catalan musician Josep Maria Riballes was on hand to lend her his). Hair's consistently supple delivery is imbued with a lively sense of playfulness, and with this fine recording, she stamps her authority as one of the UK's finest contemporary Celtic harpists and tunesmiths.
Debbie Koritsas, Songlines

Hubcaps & Potholes Reviews :back to top

Subtitled ‘Scottish, Irish and Original Harp Music’, Hubcaps & Potholes marks the recording debut of one of the most innovative young musicians to have emerged over the last few years. Of mixed Scots and Irish parents (her mother is from County Antrim), Rachel hails from Ullapool, up in the far northwest of Scotland and has already gained a deserved reputation for the sheer vivacity and technical expertise of her performances.

The harping traditions of both Scotland and Ireland have been well documented, but listening to this debut album reveals a harper who is both imbued by her musical heritage and willing to exploit the potential of both her chosen instrument and her own imagination. In that sense Rachel follows in the footsteps of Máire Ni Chathasaigh, Alison Kinnaird and Laoise Kelly, but also has much in common with the wonderful and oft overlooked Ursula Burns (from Portaferry via Belfast).

Which hand Rachel uses to pluck her harp’s melodies is unknown, but, like Ursula, Laoise and Michael Rooney too, she has that uncommon ability (and agility) to provide wonderfully syncopated chordal accompaniment via the other. For evidence look no further than her own sprightly composition, the title track, while her adroit rendition of the polka Art O’Keefe’s reveals extraordinary dexterity and an innate rhythmic sense.

Of course, harpers are always judged by the quality of their airs and Rachel provides ample evidence of her skilful sensitivity in the form of the traditional Scottish tune Eilean Aigas. However, it’s the sheer perfection of the subsequent set of jigs, kicked off by her own Starry-Eyed Lads and culminating in The Rolling Waves (usually entitled singularly and associated with both Willie Clancy and Tony Mac Mahon), which resolutely catches the ear. Harpers can often be too smooth, basically too damned dulcet, but here Rachel’s playing encapsulates all the essential jerkiness of the jig tune’s form.

Though much of the album is played solo, three tracks feature Douglas Millar, a formidably sensitive accompanist while the album’s tenth cut witnesses the arrival of flute player Peter Webster and another startlingly original tune, Chandni Chowk, in the unusual time signature of 7/8.  Additionally, the closing track, the self-penned Charmed, somehow captures the spirit of the music hall or the pianists who once accompanied silent comedies and provides a jaunty confirmation of both Rachel’s skills and her sense of humour and is guaranteed to leave a smile lingering on the listener’s face.

Harping albums are often ignored by followers of traditional music, but the captivating Hubcaps & Potholes is guaranteed to provide thorough enjoyment and heralds the arrival of a major new talent.
Geoff Wallis, The Irish Music Review

Rachel Hair began to learn clarsach at age ten, and graduated with a first class degree from Strathclyde University, her final solo honours recital winning her a prize. With her family hailing from Scotland and Ireland, you begin to appreciate the album’s sub-title, ‘Scottish, Irish and original harp music’. Rachel’s original tunes include the lively, cheerful ‘Starry-Eyed Lads’ and ‘Charmed’, and the very gentle ‘Marie’s Tune’. Rachel has clearly worked hard in arranging and producing the album herself, and she’s certainly succeeded in her desire to ‘show the harp’s strength and strong rhythmic capabilities as a solo instrument’.

Seven of this album’s eleven tracks feature solo harp, and allow Rachel to demonstrate the clarsach’s expansive, voluptuous sound to beautiful and sensitive effect. The bright melodies are always countered by resonant bass notes. She interprets tunes written by other musicians beautifully including Gordon Gunn, Anxo Pintos, and Ishbel MacDonald. Of real note is ‘Da Day Dawn/Gillians Waltz’, just under nine minutes long, the latter tune featuring Douglas Millar’s sensitive contribution on piano. ‘Canco Cru’, by Berrogüetto’s Anxo Pintos, pays attention to rhythm and structure. Peter Webster contributes flute on ‘Chandni Chowk’.

In case you’re wondering, Rachel called her album ‘Hubcaps & Potholes’ after writing a tune to ‘celebrate’ bursting two of the tyres on her mum’s car a week after passing her driving test – it’s a breezy, jaunty sounding tune with more than a hint of menace in the bass notes – so perhaps it’s very aptly named!

This highly accomplished album is a pleasure to listen to, and warmly recommended to those who enjoy hearing the harp beautifully played. I picked up a few clues as to where Rachel’s musical career is heading from the letter accompanying her CD – she appears keen to explore the duo potential of harp and piano with pianists Douglas Millar and Michael Rose.
Debbie Koritsas, The Living Tradition

Scottish-Irish musician Rachel Hair is a superb player of the clarsach, the traditional Scottish harp, and this debut album is hugely welcome. In fact, it would be difficult to find another Celtic music debut album of such consistent quality and beauty. The 19 tunes over 11 tracks consist of seven Scottish and Irish traditional tunes, six of Rachel's own compositions and six by others.

From the lively opening track "Castle Grant" to the joyful concluding "Charmed," Rachel's playing is fresh and appealing. She creates a clean and expansive sound while exploring every nuance of the instrument. "Da Day Dawn" holds your attention for almost nine minutes, moving from a lovely traditional Shetland tune welcoming in the New Year to Gordon Gunn's excellent "Gillian's Waltz." The latter features rich piano accompaniment from Douglas Millar as also heard on two other tracks. The title track introduces the first of Rachel's distinctively contemporary and original compositions, which also manage to sit well with the traditional tunes on the album.

One of the album's highlights is Rachel's "Marie's Tune," which is a plaintive number in memory of her Irish grandmother. It is a master stroke to follow this in the same track with the traditional Irish polka "Art O'Keefe's," which is such a celebration of life. "Cancro Cru" by the Asturian fiddler Anxo Pintos suits her playing well given the similar types of subtleties to her own compositions. Peter Webster plays flute on "Chandni Chowk," a typically varied track with both a reel and a jig together with Rachel's fine composition about a walk through a market in Old Delhi.

The CD is excellently packaged with attractive photographs and informative notes. Sit back at the end of a busy day and lose yourself in this gorgeous music!
Andy Jurgis, www.rambles.net

An accomplished and enjoyable debut from one of Scotland’s brightest young harpists. Her deft and sensitive playing displays a pleasing freshness and rhythmic vitality as well as notable technical prowess.

The album is mostly solo clarsach, with piano accompaniment on three sets and flute on another. The Ullapool-born musician is of mixed Scottish and Irish descent, and that is reflected in her choice of material here, with several of her own compositions and her interpretation of a tune from Asturias thrown in for good measure. ****
Kenny Mathieson, The Scotsman

Live Reviews :back to top

ON A warm and unseasonably balmy late-September evening in the Scottish capital, the autumnal sounds of the Rachel Hair Trio provided a stark contrast to the weather conditions outside The Pleasance.

Indeed, Hair’s music is more likely to conjure up images of falling leaves than palm trees; nevertheless, the Ullapool-born harper has a canny knack for blending traditional and contemporary Scots-Irish tunes (and songs) to suit the right environment. And so she proved.

Aided and abetted by Jenn Butterworth (guitar and vocals) and jazz musician Euan Burton (double-bass), the trio had just come off the back of playing 18 concerts inside 10 days during a jolly jaunt to Norwegian schools. However, if battle-fatigue was a factor, it certainly didn’t show during a sprightly 90-minute set bestowed upon a healthy – but by no means large – audience.

Hair sits/stands just to the right of the boards, allowing Butterworth to take centre-stage. Why she doesn’t position herself front-and-centre might be due to Hair’s admirable modesty or Butterworth’s height. One would suspect stage logistics is a more likely answer. That said, it was the fashionably-dressed Butterworth whose songs stood out most during the first half.

‘The Grey Funnel Line’ – a wordplay on the Royal Navy’s steamship lines of yesteryear – proved “raking through my dad’s record collection” can unearth a rare gem. A tender number about “trying to reach someone that’s just that little bit too far away” (‘Island’) also managed to touch the heart as well as the head. Butterworth, though, let it be said, must be one of few musicians to have her own iPad stand (one presumes for reading lyrics as opposed to trawling the web).

Hair, on the other hand – who, as a harpist, discovers no shortage of problems when carrying a Clarsach halfway around the world – did provide a fine tale to go along with the self-explanatory ‘I Lost My Harp In Barcelona’. A mesmeric tune that refers to the time her harp got left behind at Gatwick airport, as a piece of music; it’s just as beautiful as a stroll down Barcelona’s La Rambla.

But let’s not forget Euan Burton. Despite suffering a crack in his double-bass (the East Kilbride jazzer used a vice to stop it from making a buzzing noise) this was one of the rare occasions he got his own microphone. His witty repartee ensured the audience received their fair share of laughs (“this is the first time I’ve had a pillar [onstage] to prop me up after a few pints of Guinness”), and given his sensitive playing it’s little wonder folk musicians are recruiting so many from the jazz world of late.

Later on, then, and after a flurry of funky jigs and other, ethereal-sounding tunes, highlights included ‘Marie’s Tune’ (originally featured on Hair’s first album, Hubcaps And Potholes) and a sing-a-long to Allan Taylor’s ‘Roll On The Day’. A somewhat romantic-sounding ode to someone Hair had never met before (‘Francie’s Jig’) was a nice surprise. However, a more groove-orientated track dedicated to Hair’s Uncle Jack – who came from the rough streets of Glasgow’s Govanhill – certainly had a touch of ‘Walking On The Wild Side’ about it.

Rachel Hair might be one of few harp players to lead her own band, but it’s a refreshingly welcome one. If her warm presence around these parts can produce equally warm weather during the autumn months, then let’s hope she embarks on a Scottish winter tour once her new, forthcoming album is completed. Even if she doesn’t, her friendly grin, animated playing-style and endearing music will no doubt receive warm smiles wherever she goes.
Barry Gordon, Northings