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Album review: Boreas “Ahoy Hoy”

February 2, 2016

‘Ahoy Hoy’ is a remarkable collaborative album which respects its roots in the folk music traditions of Scotland and Norway while making good use of innovative and contemporary approaches. The result is a unique and absorbing blend of old and new, exploring both the differences and similarities between the two cultures in innovative and accessible ways.

Click here to read the whole review at Folk Radio UK

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Cover of Ahoy Hoy by BoreasAhoy Hoy is the debut studio album by Boreas, a collaboration between two Norwegian and two Scottish musicians which, although it draws on the folk music traditions of each country, also encourages exploration of the spaces between the two different yet connected cultures. The result is an eleven track album which showcases the four women’s instrumental talents and writing skills, adding vocals to the mix according to the music’s demands.

Although two discrete tracks, the opening instrumental compositions ‘Sidvoss’ and ‘Sillery’ sit well together, forming a vivid and evocative sound picture which calls to mind the sun rising, burning through the early mist. ‘Sidvoss’ stirs like the waking morning over the quiet drone of Britt Pernille Frøholm’s hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle) while Lori Watson adds flurries of pizzicato fiddle. Rachel Newton’s clàrsach (Gaelic harp) joins Irene Tillung’s trekkspel (chromatic accordion), whirling gently around each other like fallen leaves on the quayside, gradually building momentum through ‘Sillery’. Deeper bowed notes resonate like the turning over of trawler engines, with fiddle and accordion adding to the anticipatory bustle before the fishing fleet gathers itself and chugs out to sea.

The nautical theme finds resolution in the third song, a reworking of Ewan MacColl’s ‘North Sea Holes (Come All You Gallant Fishermen)’, from the Radio Ballad Singing the Fishing. Its description of fishermen from Norway, Scotland and England, pursuing the day’s herring catch in the North Sea, is accompanied by an eye-catching video comprising extracts from grainy monochrome newsreel and documentary sources. Lori and Rachel’s harmonies ring out across the icy waters ahead of a powerful instrumental break by Britt and Irene over what sounds like electronically treated samples of breathing. A strong arrangement of a great song, it’s easy to see why it was selected as the album’s lead single and is a definite highlight.

Written by Britt and arranged by Boreas, ‘Bjørnen (Facing the Bear)’ is also accompanied by a video, a beautiful if somewhat trippy production by Ruth Barrie of Waltzer Films. The bear in the title seems to me to be a metaphor for our fears and self-doubts – I could be completely wrong, of course! – and the music reflects the struggle to overcome those negative thoughts. Broadly structured in three parts, the swaggering bravado of the introduction gives way to a calmer, more introspective middle section before the ending ties the threads together to bring us back to the beginning, whole and ready to take on whatever the world may throw at us.

Based on a song credited to Alasdair Grant and Charlie MacFarlane, ‘Is Truagh Nach Robh Mi Còmhla Riut (Would That I Were With You Now)’ finds Rachel’s harp easing its way out of some almost discordant, treated sounds from Britt’s hardingfele in a short, bittersweet instrumental which encapsulates the mood of desolation experienced by separated lovers better than most words could.

The downbeat mood is thoroughly lifted by ‘Happy Set’, a medley of four traditional tunes – ‘Hamburger Etter Lars Lefdalsnes’, ‘Bat’ an Tàilleir (The Tailor’s Stick)’, ‘The Shepherd’s Crook’ and ‘Geld Him Lasses, Geld Him’ – none of which I’m familiar with, I’m embarrassed to say. The whole proceeds at a rattling good pace, from its opening instrumental section (‘Hamburger Etter Lars Lefdalsnes’) of Irene’s trekkspel and Britt’s hardingfele ahead of (I think) Lori’s sweet and confident vocals introducing the charmingly loopy ‘Bat’ an Tàilleir’. This segues seamlessly into ‘The Shepherd’s Crook’ before the giddy ‘Geld Him Lasses, Geld Him’ treats us to virtuoso displays from both Britt and Irene in the riotous hornpipe that closes this astonishing (in a good way!) medley.

Derived by Britt from traditional sources, ‘Samueline (Waltz for Hilda and Lars)’ offers a short respite from the revelry of the previous tune but turns out to be one of the strongest pieces on the album. Although driven by its strings with Rachel’s harp duetting on the melody line, it’s Irene’s steady yet ornate trekkspel which really stands out on this gracefully assured highlight.

‘Braw Sailin’ On The Sea’ was collected in both Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads and Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads and has been covered by several artists, notably Ossian, Eileen McGann and Kris Drever, Old Blind Dogs and, most recently, the Songs Of Separation ensemble in their live set. Lori’s arrangement draws on the words collected by Ord and reflects the song’s traditional roots with a sparse introduction featuring her voice over the almost churchlike drone of Irene’s trekkspel, joined midway by Britt’s simple, clean hardingfele lines. It’s a lovely melody of itself and this arrangement’s rootsy simplicity is particularly appealing.

The last three compositions on the album are all medleys, each drawing on different aspects of the band’s backgrounds and musical visions. The first of the three, ‘Claret’, combines two traditional tunes – ‘Springar Etter Lars Kroken’, a Norwegian folk dance in 3/4 time, and ‘New Claret’ (possibly inspired by the 18th century poem Gude Claret?) bookending Lori’s own ‘Ursus, Philosopher’, reworked from her 2006 solo album Three. Each of the musicians steps forward throughout this uptempo compilation before coming together for the final section and it makes a fine showcase for the band’s combined sound as well as their individual instrumental skills.

The medley ‘Rudl’ combines two self-penned compositions, Rachel’s ‘The Three At The Back’ leading into ‘Rodula’ by Irene. The two pieces spotlight the band’s more reflective side and make a nice bridge into the closing ‘Lullaby’. Combining two traditional lullabies, one Gaelic (‘Nam bu leam Fhìn thu Thàlaidhean thu’) and one Norwegian (‘Bånsull’) the effect is restful rather than soporific, bringing the listener back gently from her reverie and sonic exploration of some of the less expected spaces and links between the new and traditional musics of Scotland and Norway.

Ahoy Hoy is a remarkable collaborative album which respects its roots in the folk music traditions of Scotland and Norway while making good use of innovative and contemporary approaches. The result is a unique and absorbing blend of old and new, exploring both the differences and similarities between the two cultures in innovative and accessible ways.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (02 February 2016)

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