The SIDH – Another Way To Fly (2018)



Every now and again Alex and Arjan, the founding fathers of CeltCast, like to throw a curveball at me. But when Alex pushed the Sidh‘s Another Way To Fly CD in my hands, saying he would love me to write a review on it, I felt seriously out of my comfort zone. Not that I suspected the music to be bad, 5000 plus people going nuts while watching the Sidh turn Castlefest into one big dance party can’t be wrong. No, it’s more that I’m a hardrock/metalhead at heart and when I was young, you either where ‘metal’ or ‘gabber’. The two didn’t mix that well. Only occasionally did I pick up on some dance acts, the latest ones being The KLF, Daft Punk, Dance 2 Trance and Faithless, all ’90’s Eurodance/trance acts. You can safely say the whole electronic dance scene passed by, without me paying attention to it. To get a dubstep album pushed into my hands, even if it has folk elements in it,…well…Let’s say I needed some convincing.
And boy did the Sidh convince me, did they ever!
But first I had to figure out what that was, dubstep??? So I spent a nice couple of hours on Wikipedia and YouTube doing research.
Dubstep started in London’s underground dance scene around 1998. UK Garage deejays started mixing their dance music with reggae style rhythms and percussion. First it was dub remixes that went on B-sides of singles, (versions of the songs without the vocals.), later it became a style of its own. The early UK style dubstep was relatively slow and really reggae like in feel. Just as in reggae the bass lines and percussion rhythms were inregular and broken, with the emphasis on the uneven beats, especially the third, although you almost won’t hear that on Another Way To Fly. What you will hear, is another feature of early dubstep, a real low, pumping sub-bass sound, or as a early flyer once said: ‘A bass sound to make your chest cavity shudder.’
In 2005 dubstep was getting mainstream, being picked up by two BBC DJ’s. Around that time some dubstep producers started to work less with sub-bass and more with mid-range sounds. One of them, Rusko, was influenced by Swedish and Finnish producers who had a dance style with simple synthesizer leads and basslines with funk, r&b or soul rhythms, a sound that has become known as Skweeee (yep, really, no kidding.)
American producers picked up on this new style of dubstep and added robotic vocal effects and metal-like riffs, producing a way more aggressive sort of dubstep, normally called brostep. Skrillex is one of the best known producers of this style of dance music. Listening to the music on Another Way To Fly I would say it is mostly influenced by this later UK and American style.

Getting back to the Sidh, they are an Italian band, with an interesting line up for a dance act. It starts with Federico Melato. As it is to be expected he plays the synthesizer, but also piano and percussion. Michael Subet plays the bass, also not that weird in a dance act. But then we have Salvatore Pagliaro on guitar and Iain Marr on whistles, bagpipes (?!) and guitar. That is what makes the Sidh stand out. They are as much a live band as they are a dance-act, and you can hear that in their music.
In 2012 their first CD Follow The Flow came out. A nice album where the Sidh first introduced their own unique style of dance music. You can hear the band experiment with the energetic Irish folk music on one side, and the English style dubstep beats on the other. Despite the electronics used, it has an open, in parts acoustic-, sometimes even a rock feel. It’s as if Soar patrol‘s guitarist Steve Legget and piper Chick Allen stepped in the studio with Harmony Glen‘s flutist/piper Gilian Hettinga and they would have Rusko as a producer.
The second album Nitro came out in 2014. On this album the Sidh managed to further blend the two different styles together, leaving us with eight upbeat folk/dance songs and one lovely instrumental ballad called Believe. (you have to look up that song, it is beautiful) Compared to Another Way To Fly, Nitro still sounds really open, Mostly because Iain uses the flute as his main solo instrument, just occasionally the bagpipe comes out.

Now there is the third CD, Another Way To Fly. And where Nitro sounded happy this CD really kicks you in the butt. The folk influences are just as Irish and cheerful as on previous albums, but the dubstep beats pack a real punch this time, taking the best of the heavy American brostep style and the old skool UK sub-bass beats.
Those beats are immediately apparent in the opening song Shake That Bagpipe. It starts with a pumping baseline, followed by Iain’s whistle kicking off the first Irish tune. After that the Sidh throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, flute, bagpipe, breaks, slow dubstep sections, cool percussion, fast pumping basslines, catchy hooks, and all that in just 3:48 minutes. This is a wake-up call, as strong as two litres of Italian expresso. No way you are gonna sit still on this song!

Now that we are awake The Silk Road ‘eases’ us into the album. It starts in a way that is reminiscent of the Sidh’s first CD. A calm intro with acoustic guitar and a friendly flute tune, the bassline doesn’t ‘kick in’ this time but blends in and the string section helps to make this a mellow midtempo song, getting you in the flow of the album after the mindboggling start of it. It is, aside from the beats, a really lovely Irish tune. The Sidh carefully build layer upon layer to tell a musical story, proving that electronic dance music isn’t always a bunch of beats thrown together, but can be beautiful and touching as well. It’s also one of the few songs that are only leaning on the flute. The Sidh have discovered the raw power of the bagpipe and are using it to its full potential on Another Way To Fly. It’s the leading melodic instrument in almost all of the 14 songs.

The third song, Khan, picks up on The Silk Road‘s theme with Marcin Ruminski doing some impressive, Mongolian style throat singing. Marcin is the founder, vocalist and whistler of the Polish folk band Shannon. Again it’s a catchy tune telling a story, the sound of the melody reminding me of an old Italian space synth band I used to like called Koto. It is a nice upbeat song, although I have to say, after the really strong intro with the big drums and the throat singing, I was hoping for a wee bit more adventurous middle section with more of a Mongolian feel and instruments. Now the Sidh drop back to ‘just’ bagpipe and flute. Why not go all the way? It would make the album more varied and therefore even stronger.

By the time we get to the fourth song Alba, it’s clear what the recipe for a good the Sidh composition is. It starts with nice catchy intro, mostly with flute, then the beats kick in. The intro becomes the hook where the song is built around. One or two breaks are build in to open up the music and make the beats sound stronger. And under it all there is always that powerful combination of sub low bass and bagpipe. It may sound a bit dull written out like this, but not to worry, the Sidh do this so well. The power of this this recipe is in the quality of the melodies used. They are well composed, full-on Irish folk tunes. Iain is a gifted flute and bagpipe player and he is fast, seriously fast. Quite often he equals Perkelt‘s Paya Lehane in speed. Impressive stuff. Where the American brostep style focusses on aggression, the Sidh bring something new to it, positive vibes. You hear the heritage of the old Italo-disco sound in there, and the folk tunes are the perfect way to carry that through.
Alba is a good example of how cool a dancetrack can be, played the Sidh way, a mellow upbeat Italo-disco/trance melody on flute or synth, with the low bassline and bagpipe under it to give it some oomph. One of my favourite songs on the album.

And so we come to my favourite song on Another Way To Fly. The best song of the Sidh in general I think. One of my favourite songs of the last few months actually, IRIDIUM!
It starts with an impressive synthesizer organ creating a wall of chords. When, in the second bar, the bagpipe and bass join in, this wall of chords just blow you away. The song is built around a cool bagpipe hook, catchy as anything. I just love that hook and, oh joy (!), they keep repeating it! again and again! it’s just magic! When the electric guitar kicks in, shooting off fast metal riffs I’m already gone..No stopping me getting to that dancefloor. What a song. Haven’t heard such a strong dancefloor filler since the KLF’s Last Train To Trancentral. Love it!



After this wall of sound we get our first breather. I Can’t Let Go is a ballad sung by the second guest musician Tim Chaisson. He is a Canadian folk/pop singer songwriter. I Can’t Let Go shows the sensitive side of The Sidh. Two suggestions came up while listening to this song. First I would have loved the song to be a bit longer. It stops rather unexpectedly and abrupt. Secondly, after the adrelin rush caused by Iridium, I personally would have loved to dance a bit more, before having this breather. Around song nine I would say. But i’m nitpicking now, I Can’t Let Go is a lovely song with a quality singer, no question about it.

The pace is picked up again with Sileadh and Vault. More cool bagpipe folk hooks with upbeat flute solo’s cutting through the wall of sound. The feel of folk- and trance chords cheering you up, as the dubstep bass makes sure you don’t stop dancing for a second.
I have to say, I love this album. I really do. My only wish for the next album is that the band go a bit bolder with the production. With a sound as orchestral as Another Way To Fly, I would have loved to have had more surprises in the production to keep me on my toes. The ultra heavy metal-guitar-with-low-bass-break in Vault for instance. How cool would it have been if those riffs had been shooting in my ears from left to right . I think I would have gone mental if they had done that. Don’t get me wrong. It is a heavy song as it is and on a brilliant album but treats like that would have been the icing on the cake.

Well there is nothing more to say really, besides that the Scottish piper and folk composer Ross Ainslie joins the Sidh on Heroes and that Goldie’s Goldie seems to be a homage the flute builder Colin Goldie. He makes the flutes Iain Marr plays on and is featured on this song.
Another Way To Fly is the Sidh’s strongest album till now in my opinion. The band has found the perfect blend between all the different influences, making it their own in a style I would call Sidh-step! If you are just as much at home on the dancefloor, as you are on the Castlefest fields, then this is the CD for you. The ‘Sidhstep’ dance they play will get you going time and time again. If big beats are not your thing, you might want to check their first album Follow The Flow. It’s a ‘lighter’ dance album. More flute, more folk orientated with less of the heavy powerbeats. More the old skool dubstep and therefore easier to listen to.
And what about me, the old metalhead? Well I’m converted. I’m so glad Alex put this CD in my hands and pushed me out of my comfort zone. The Sidh definitely got me hooked on the dubstep sound. Thanks guys for opening up another musical world to me.



Cliff

editor:
Diane

photo Credits:
Photographer Ruben Meuwese.
First picture taken at Keltfest 2018, other pictures taken at Castlefest 2018.
All pictures posted with kind permission of Vana Events.

Paya Lehane – Oppidamus (2018)



-‘OK, I didn’t see that one coming.’These words were the first I wrote down while listening to Paya Lehane ‘s first solo album. And I really didn’t. I did expect the CD to be different from the music Paya makes with Perkelt. What sense would there be in doing a solo album if you are gonna play exactly the same music again. I imagined it to be a lot slower, but still pagan folk, still with the flute as a main instrument. How wrong I was.
The first notes of Bohemia reveal a synthesiser combined with harp and Paya’s voice doubled into a choir. The music is calm, soothing, a real mix between Celtic pop and pagan folk. Then we hear real percussion mixed with programmed drums. As the song continues the sound becomes more and more complex, carefully build layer upon layer, a sound we know so well from Enya ‘s music. It’s grand, orchestral yet soothing. Wonderful music, and not a recorder or flute in sight! As I said, I did not expect that! But what a pleasant surprise.

In the second song, Oppidamus, Paya’s trademark instrument, the recorder, makes its entrance, but again the electronic synth sound comes to the foreground. The flute is recorded clean though and sounds Native American, electronic drums give a nice dance feel to the song and the doubled vocals glide through it all on a blanket of sythesiser. Overall Oppidamus sounds like the perfect marriage between Enya, Adiemus, acoustic pagan folk and the beats of Deep forest, and I can’t help myself but dance to it.
Another thing that I’m starting to notice is an unknown language. At first I though it to be Czech, (Paya was born in the Czech Republic), but no. It’s a fictional language that she uses in the same way that Adiemus composer Karl Jenkins does, creating a new world. In her own words: ‘You might come across a few songs with a language you are not able to place, that is because it is a unique fictional language created to evoke an ancient world which can be found only in your imagination.’ And it works. The voice becomes an instrument that carries a mood, that carries emotions. And as a listener you flow with it.
Sometimes Paya gives a small clue where to go, as she does with the title of Waiting For Dawn, the third song on the album. The sound of the ocean is the second clue she gives here and this sound pulls you into the music. In your mind you can feel yourself standing on that beach, the waiting, the anticipation, then the warmth reaching your face and your body, the wind stroking your hair. It’s all captured in the music and those enchanting vocals.



Betrothal is the first wake-up call on the CD. A strong medieval/Adiemus style choir gets you alert and then the drum and bass (!) rhythms programmed by Paya’s husband Rick Lehane get you dancing for sure. The song itself has a real Moorish/medieval feel to it, it makes me think of Irfan. The way Betrothal is recorded is really clever, the vocals and melody sound old, ancient in a way, a real contrast to the modern dance beats under it, and it works, it just works. I love it.

Memento keeps that Moorish feel going, the song is pure pagan folk, tribal, enchanting and such a contrast to the dancebeats of Betrothal just before it. The beauty of Oppidamus as an album is, that it has this perfect balance between the dreamy soundscapes that are so important for new age music and the pure raw energy of acoustic pagan folk. It can be a flute cutting through a mist of vocals and synthesiser or it can be a whole pagan folk song with a sprinkle of new age, as Memento is, but in both ways it keeps the music fresh and crisp. It makes me feel not only comforted like a new age album should, but also happy to be alive. This is happy music. And as I am writing this alinea the first English spoken song, Winter Nights, weaves its way through my ears, as a warm bath of music. Just to prove my point.

Pan’s Delirium is the next surprise. We have a genuine dance song here. The Sidh meets Robert Miles. Compared to the Sidh, Paya and Rick could even have been a bit braver with the beats maybe, creating even more contrast but hey, I’m dancing, so why am I even nitpicking?

Normally when I prepare for a review I listen to an album many times, trying to reveal all the small surprises hidden within the music to share them with you. This time I won’t. It would just spoil Oppidamus. It would also spoil the whole idea Paya had while writing this beautiful CD. It’s a musical treasure trove of emotions there to be discovered by you, the listener. A whole new world of music to be found. And with the last song, the beautiful ballad Raven’s Tale playing as I write these lines, I am going to stop talking, I will put the CD player on repeat and step into Paya’s world again to explore it even more. Don’t wait to long too get this album and join us. Oppidamus is so worth it.

– Cliff

– pictures by Paya Lehane
– editor Diane

P.S. Normally I weave the technical info into a review, but in this case the music just would not let me! It felt totally out of place, so here we go.
Paya Lehane was born in the Czech Republic and has been playing the recorder from the age of four. She graduated from the academy of music in Brno ánd the Conservatory Pardubice in wind instruments and history of music. She is a founding member and lead composer of the pagan folk band Perkelt, known for her fast yet enchanting flute solos. On Oppidamus she not only played her trusty recorder and whistle, but also harp, synth and several percussion instruments. Besides her musical career she is also a gifted Modern artist
Her husband Rick also had a big part in the realisation of Oppidamus. Not only did he play bass, mandoline, synth and percussion, he also did all the drum programming and mixed the album. The production of Oppidamus was shared between Paya and Rick. As on any solo Cd there are musical friends that are quiet willing to help out. In this case we can hear Gwendolyn Snowdon on Bouzouki in the song Bohemia.
Sophia Kinston from the Australian electro/neo folk band Tailor Birds on electric violin and Perkelt friend David Maurette on drums, both in the song Waiting For Dawn.
Last is London composer and cellist Matt Constantine who can be heard on Winter Nights.

Waldkauz – Mythos (2017)



Some albums deserve a special treatment. And Mythos, the second CD of the German band Waldkauz, is one of them. When it arrives, and believe me you’re missing out on a nice pagan folk album if you don’t get it, so when it arrives, do NOT put it in the CD player straight away! Trust me on this! Be patient, do your normal things, let the day pass, maybe look into the booklet a bit, (impressive sleeve art and booklet by the way) but leave the CD until the dark of the evening. Then, and only then, when the kids are in bed, the pets fed and the dishes done, light a candle. Only one. You want the flickering light to play with the shadows on the wall. Now turn on your best stereo system, go sit in the middle of the room for maximum stereo effect (or use headphones), crank up the volume and finally press play… Zwielicht, or ‘Twilight’ in English, is probably the best intro to a Pagan Folk album I have ever heard. It pulls you right into the world of the Fae, of witches and dwarfs or the dark ancient woods of the Balkan. It is a stunning beginning to a CD that has lots more to give.

Their second album Mythos already came out in April 2017, but now that Waldkauz will perform at Castlefest for the very first time, we at CeltCast thought it was about time to finally introduce the band and their music to you.
The story of this band begins in 2010, with Gina and Lennart Klause working out the first musical ideas for what would become Waldkauz. They were soon joined by Gina’s brother Peter on percussion. The band’s official starting point is in 2013 with their first public performance, making 2018 the year of their 5th anniversary. Something they are going to celebrate with a special performance in October.
After meeting Gina, Lennart and Peter at Castlefest(!) in 2014, Nina and Niklas (old friends themselves) joined the band. The following year saw the birth of their first album Komm mit. It earned them performances on the stages of MPS, das Mittelalterlich Phantasie Spectaculum (Medieval Fantasy Spectacle) that tours Germany every year.

When you start reading the booklet of Mythos, it soon becomes clear that it isn’t just a name. The CD really is a collection of myths and fairy-tales put to music. From the old king of the dwarfs to the witches of Eastern Europe and the old gods of ancient times, they all find their place in Waldkauz’ music. Most of the lyrics are by either Nina or Gina, with Niklas adding two texts as well. All the music is written and arranged by the whole band. Guest musicians on Mythos are Fieke van der Hurk ( Dearworld studio), on hammered dulcimer, Sophie Zaaijer (Cesair, Shireen, Sunfire) on cello, Jule Bauer (Triskilian) on nyckelharpa, Shawn Hellmann (Killkenny band) on acoustic guitar, Niel Mitra (Faun) doing a remix version of Waldlandreich, one of the bonus tracks on the album, and the public of Minden, Germany hand-clapping and in frenetic jubilation.

I already mentioned the stunning start of the CD with Zwielicht, taking you straight into a mystical world of myths and legends. It effortlessly flows into Mati Syra Zemlya, a song celebrating the Slavic ‘mother of the moist earth’, the oldest of the Slavic deities. The song itself is best described as Irfan meets Omnia‘s Steve Evans -van Harten. It shows the first of the pillars that make Waldkauz’ sound so special: Nina’s flute playing. She plays the recorder, tin whistle, low whistle and the seljefloyte or overtune flute, made famous in the Pagan Folk world by Omnia. One moment she sounds like Steve Sic, the next it reminds you of Faun, but she can just as easily sound like Perkelt‘s Paya Lehane. Just listen to her eerie elvish flute solo on Ringaloo Ya Merry-o, the instrumental Raigan Dannsa or the beautiful solo on Leshy, with Triskilian’s Jule Bauer joining her halfway through on nyckelharpa. I could name almost every song, the nice Perkelt style solo in Vom Wassermann for example, but I won’t. I’ll just mention one more: Baba Jaga. It starts with a wonderful flute solo which Nina picks up on again later in the song.

Baba Jaga also features another quality of the Waldkauz sound, the percussion. It is strong, fast and keeps driving the songs on. I cannot sit still when I listen to Peter playing the combination of drums and djembe. Not only in this song, his percussion skills in Mati Syra Zemlya, Am Wegesrand, Ringaloo Ya Merry-o, Mond Und Sonne and the mighty drum-rolls on Raigan Dannsa, even the ‘basic’ rhythm of Dimna Juda, all stand out because they are fast, varied and rhythmical. And it’s not only on drums. Xylophone, glockenspiel, finger cymbals, he throws everything but the kitchen sink at it, even an anvil!



The third pillar of the Waldkauz sound are their vocals. The band is blessed with three strong vocalists, Nina, Gina and Niklas, and they are equally good. Separate or in harmony, their voices just work beautifully. Just listen to their voices blend in Dimna Juda, Ringaloo Ya Merry-o or Father Of Stone, a more orchestral choral song where Niklas takes the lead. Leshy with some cool spoken word sections reminding me of the late Robert MilesDreamworld album. Mond Und Sonne has some quality polyphonic singing, even ending in a cool canon. But the best song on the CD has to be Waldlandreich. Beautifully sung, both by Nina solo and the three of them together. I also have to mention those spoken word sections again. In this case in the dark Cuélebre style. Such a beautiful song. With the flute solo, the build-up from fragile ballad to a powerful Pagan Folk song, even with distorted bouzouki riffs in the end almost giving it a Folk Metal feel, my personal favourite.

By now it must be clear what the fourth pillar under the Waldkauz sound is, its variation. Waldkauz’ sound is found somewhere in the middle of Faun, Emian and Irfan, with touches of Omnia and a bit of Cuélebre to add flavour. As said earlier Mati Syra Zemlya is Irfan meets Omnia. A bit in the style of Dil gaya. Am Wegesrand is more Omnia’s Prayer CD meets Faun’s newer work. A catchy up-tempo Pagan Folk song with real hit-potential. Ringaloo Ya Merry-O cheerful, almost commercial start takes us to the British Folk scene but soon mixes into a darker sound, fitting with the text itself. Father of stone then goes much darker, Wagnerian. It is almost a traditional Metal ballad turned acoustic. It has this strong powerful arrangement, the choral low singing of Niklas and the ladies, I could easily see Epica or Therion use this on one of their albums.

Mythos keeps giving like that. Waldkauz have the ability to give every song that special flavour, that special sauce it needs. A staccato guitar in Leshy to make it darker. A ‘displeased’ banjo to create a Ennio Morricone kind of feel for Hinter Der Brombeerhecke. Distorted instruments or a brass section to put in little accents in the music? Waldkauz will do it. That’s the real power of Mythos. The songs are all catchy ear-worms with the right arrangements to get the best out of those songs. With the percussion and vocals as the real strong points. At first you have the impression the album is just filled with danceable cheerful songs. There is nothing bad about that, but when you start to listen more closely you hear this dark undertone hidden in the lyrics and the music. Just as there always is a dark note in the myths and fairy tales that Mythos is inspired by.

Reading back I notice that I didn’t mention Niklas and Gina that much. As if they are not that important in the overall Waldkauz sound, which of course isn’t true. Quite often they take the supporting role, an underestimated part, but oh-so important. The flute solo starting Mati Syra Zemlya for example, wouldn’t really work without Niklas and Gina supporting it.



Not to worry, Gina and Niklas get plenty of room to shine too. Just listen to the beautiful intro Niklas plays on Waldlandreich or the duet between Gina’s Celtic harp and Nina’s recorder starting Am Wegesrand. The song Ringaloo Ya Merry-O is of course built around a cool harp riff from Gina and last but not least, Woods Of Ukraine, the intro song to Baba Jaga is a beautiful duet between Niklas on bouzouki and Gina on Celtic harp.

All in all I am left with just one conclusion: Mythos is a really nice album. Well worth having for everyone who loves quality Pagan Folk music.

-Cliff

-pictures by Marielle Groot Obbink
-editor Diane


Datura – Gratus et Optatus (2016)


Anno Domini MMVI (In the year of the Lord 2006), Nynke Glazema, Tom Haage, Francesco Scafidi and Lies Sommer formed the Dutch band Datura. Their aim was to bring authentic medieval music to life, wearing the right clothing and each playing the instruments typical of the time:

Nynke : viella* and vocals
Tom : Spanish lute, flute, shawm* and vocals
Francesco : davul*, darbukka*, tambourine, saz* and vocals
Lies : harp, hurdy-gurdy, shawm and vocals

They studied the old manuscripts on the subject: songs collected by King Alfonso the 10th of Castilia y Leon (1221-1284); songs of devotion collected in the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat; the red book of the monastery of Montserrat around the 14th century; and the most famous collection of them all, the Carmina Burana.

The fruit of their studies were recorded for the first time in 2012 with Fieke van den Hurk, and collected on a magical disk-like mirror. A ‘mirror’ they called Alpha et Omega. The songs on Alpha et Omega were partly recorded in two churches and Fieke used the acoustics in there to her full advantage, therefore giving the listener a feel for the sounds of old medieval times. When minstrels would grace the courts and castles of medieval lords and kings. When their music would fill the big halls during elaborate dinners. Where the nobility would stride elegantly in couples to the sound of the music. They strode, because hopping and dancing was for the common people. That´s how Alpha et Omega feels when you listen to it. Elegant, sophisticated and well crafted. A real view into the noble courts of the 12th to the 15th century.

In 2016 Datura visited Fieke in the studio again. From the first notes it’s clear she gave Datura a different sound on Gratus et Optatus. More direct. Where the first album was for the nobility, this ‘magical mirror’ is meant for the common people. It invites you to dance and stomp and sing along. We are not looking into the medieval world anymore. We are right in it! In the midst of it. The travelling musicians are right there in front of us, on the market square, playing their first song Bacche Bene Venies. With Bacchus, the god of wine, standing next to us, giving us another glass. Bacche Bene Venies is a cheerful uptempo drinking song, coming from the Carmina Burana, that gets us listeners going straight away. A musical party to get our skirts swirling and our feet flying off he ground.



The second song, Winder Wie Ist Nu Dein Kraft, is a ballad composed by the 13th century Bavarian minnesinger Neidhart von Reuental written in old German. I quote from the booklet: “He turned away from the refined ethos of courtly, romantic love and wrote in a sarcastic but quite comical manner, mostly about the lower classes.” In this case the song is about the advantages and the disadvantages of marriage. It has all the goodness of a Datura song. Beautiful harp playing by Lies Sommer, a lovely violin solo and last but not least the wonderful combination of their voices. In this case of Nynke Glazema and Francesco Scafidi. Both have really strong voices and they work so well together. One of my favourite songs on the album.

La Rosa Enflorece is just as beautiful. This time Datura visits the courts of Andaluz, in a time when the Moorish courts ruled there. Also a time of the Medieval idea of convivencia (in English coexistance), the idea that all religions can live and work together in peace. Something we ‘modern’ people could learn something from. The song indeed has an Arabic feel to it and is sung beautifully by Tom Haage. He puts so much emotion in this love song. You feel a real sense of longing for a long-lost love.

Riu Riu Chiu is a cheerful uptempo song. Here all the voices of Datura blend together so well, driven by Francesco´s cheerful percussion. The fun shawm tunes makes this song into a real crowd-pleaser. Branle Des Chevaux is another fun dance song. In the booklet it is explained that this song should be danced in a horse-like manner. Well, you can definitely hear that in this instrumental song.

Dei Patris Unice is an a cappella song by all Datura members. Alle psallitte cum luya is also often sung a cappella by Francesco and Tom during the live shows. But in this case it’s given a beautiful intro solo by Anne Dekker on her viola da gamba*. The melody is taken over by the shawm, before the men bring out their impressive a cappella harmonies and canons. Another personal favourite!

The instrumental song Virgen Santa Maria takes us back to the Moorish courts ruling parts of 13th century Spain and Portugal for the second time, as Datura play this Galician song with Moorish style improvisations. Especially Tom’s intro on the Spanish lute is particularly lovely.

Schoonlief is a ballad based on a song found in ‘Het Antwerps Liedboek‘, a songbook from the city of Antwerp. Now a Belgian city, it used to be part of the Netherlands in the 16th century. As Datura describe in the booklet, it is a song with cheeky lyrics. A young man from a poor family tries to conquer the heart of a young noblewoman. Not one dirty word is said…., but for those who listen the message is clear enough!
The song itself is a duet between Tom and Nynke. Again those voices blend so well together. I also have to mention the lovely intro, a duet between harp and viella. Or the interlude, another duet, this time between Anne Dekker’s viola da gamba and Tom’s flute. To end it, we get a last beautiful flute and viella solo. Datura’s best song on Gratus et Optatus!

Alas, we get no time to dream about strong handsome young men or beautiful noblewomen. The shawms shake us up for a cheerful Virelai (a type of old French rhyme, the others being the ballade and the rondeau) called Douce Dame Jolie. I know this song in many versions, most of them instrumental. And I have to say that I really like this vocal version. Another cheerful dance song for the common people to jump on, or for the nobility to strode. Just what takes your fancy.
We keep on dancing with Zou Een Meiske Gaan Om Wijn (Should a girl go out for wine). A fast uptempo song with almost a rock feel to it. It gives a fair warning in it’s lyrics, which is explained by Datura in their booklet. Almost every song gets an extensive explanation about its history and subject, making it really interesting to read it all. I happily used a lot of that knowledge in this review.

Gatus et Optatus ends with three more songs. Two ballads, Belle Qui Tiens Ma Vie and Je Nus Hons Pris, a song written by Richard the Lionheart, ending with a last happy dance song, the Danse Moresque.
All in all Datura did way more than just record a piece of history on this CD. They really brought the old medieval songs to 21th century. The music has the same cheerfulness and energy as many a Pagan folk band we can see on the big fantasy festivals. It is as much part of our history as the old Celtic myths and music. It will make a fine musical soundtrack for a wonderful Balfolk night. And I’m sure it will appeal to those who like the classical and eastern influences of a band like Cesair. So if you see them announced, go pay them a visit. Enjoy their music, their spirit and afterwards get one of those magical silver mirrors. Or better yet, buy them both!



– Cliff


– Studio photo’s courtesy of Datura
– live photo courtesy of Andre Willemse



* some explanation of the different instruments:

– A viella is a medieval violin. similar to the modern one. It has a somewhat longer and deeper body and 3 to 5 strings.
– A shawm is a wooden double reed wind instrument, that ends in a flared bell, somewhat like a trumpet. It also sounds a wee bit like a trumpet. Nowadays there are often bagpipes added to the shawm to make it even stronger/louder. Corvus Corax and In extremo are well known for making this version of the shawm popular.
– A davul is a type of big drum carried in front of the player.
– A darbuka is a small goblet formed drum you play with your hands. It looks like a small djembe. It originates from the middle eastern region and eastern Europe.
– A saz is a Turkish guitar that looks a bit like a lute.
– A viola da gamba is a string instrument that looks a wee bit like a cello but is actually a relative of the guitar, most popular in the renaissance and the baroque era. The bow is also held differently than a cello’s. You hold it like you hold the bow of a nyckelharpa.



Harmony Glen – Live at Elfia (2018)



I love live albums. They capture that moment when the creative spirit of the musician meets the energy of the crowd. And when that connection is there, a band will feed off the energy to give their very best. It does not always happen, but every time when that connection ìs there it gives me goosebumps. I’ve been to several concerts where that electric energy was there between the band and us, the crowd and I remember them to this day. To catch something like that on a CD is just magic! When I heard that Harmony Glen was releasing a second live CD/DVD, knowing the cool positive energy they bring to the stage, and hearing that it was recorded at Elfia one of the bigger fantasy festivals in Holland, I was really looking forward to this CD. Did it live up to my expectations? For a big part it did, a very big part. But I’ll come to that later.

Harmony Glen has become a household name at medieval- and fantasy festivals all over Europe and even North America. Dressed as a steampunk band their shows are [quote]: “An Irish folk extravaganza!”[unquote] and as their biography is right on the nose, I will quote it a bit more: [quote]: “Harmony Glen is a Dutch feelgood-folk group founded in 2005. The music is based on Irish-Celtic folk but regularly sounds from all over the world get woven in. The goal of the band is to stand out not only through their music (which is a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes) but through their stage presence as well. Harmony Glen’s shows have been described as ‘a powerhouse of Folk’ and people who attend can’t seem to stand still as the energy is always on a maximal level.”[unquote]

Until now they recorded 6 studio and one live album called Live In Bremen. So Live At Elfia is their second live album and already their 8th CD overall. Quite an impressive discography. Most of the songs on Live At Elfia are taken from their latest studio album Start Living Today, so people already owning Live In Bremen don’t need to worry, there are just two songs that appear on both CDs.

The artwork of Live At Elfia looks stunning. That alone makes buying this album worth all its money. Niels Duindam did a wonderful job on it. The Liner notes accompanying the songs are something special. I’m not gonna give anything away but they are seriously hilarious. And with Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art they got themselves a quality photographer who made absolutely stunning pictures during the show. They not only grace the CD/DVD artwork, but we were also allowed to use them in this review. So a big thanks to Hans-Heinrich. But reviews are supposed to be about music, not photographers, so let’s put that silver disc in the player.

After the intro tape, that is sadly recorded a somewhat dull so it kinda loses its impact, Harmony Glen kicks off with Dave’s Lament which flows over in Slieve Galleon Breas. Dave’s Lament is a really nice instrumental piece. It is carried by a catchy melody played by the flute and violin. Driving bass lines and strong drums give the song some ‘oomph’, making it a really cheerful dance song, especially when halfway through the song the band picks up speed, turning it into a lovely Irish jig.

This is a major trademark of Harmony Glen. Take a simple but really catchy violin or flute tune, get the rhythm section under it so it becomes a lovely dance song, play variations on the first theme, maybe mix in a second theme and let the song pick up speed halfway through. Almost all instrumental songs on Live At Elfia are build up like that and quite a few vocal ones as well. The Phoenix, for instance, is built around a nice violin line by Mike Bruinsma, with Dominique Bentvelsen putting some really cool bass lines under it.

Wasting Time starts with a laid back violin melody by Mike, quickly joined by Gilian Hettinga on flute. Just crack open a can of beer, lean back and let yourself be drifted away into a lazy summers evening. Mary And Thyme again starts with a lazy summer festival tune, this time by Gilian and now it is Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij on banjo who leads the band into a much faster pace. Just listen to that crowd join in halfway through the song. Easily one of my favourite songs on this CD.

Lazy Sunday also has that same build, this time I can pick up on the drums of Niels Duindam. He really adds that ‘Oomph’ I was talking about. All of these songs just ooze out a laid back summer festival feel. Just try playing them one after another, it’s impossible to sit still.

A different kind of instrumental song is Stardazs. Mike Bruinsma gets his chance to shine with a lovely delicate violin melody, only to be interrupted by Dominique Bentvelsen. Probably he got a bit bored and therefore throws in his best Darth Vader impression on his double bass. Mike is not flustered and keeps up his tender violin lines… ending it… …with a bit of the Star Wars theme! Stardazs keeps being like this, moving violin solo meets Star Wars theme meets eastern European uptempo gypsy tune. Halfway through the song the band really starts goofing around, making me wish I was reviewing the DVD instead of the CD, but just as easily they pick up the frantic pace of the gypsy solo again. Without dropping a beat! You can hear years of practise and playing together right there.

As I said earlier Dave’s Lament flows into Slieve Galleon Breas. We hear the second trademark of Harmony Glen, Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij. Together with Dominique Bentvelsen he is the positive vibe of the band personified. One minute he is a clown playing with the audience, the next a gifted singer with a warm powerful voice. A pleasure to listen to. On Slieve Galleon Breas Sjoerd unleashes all this positive energy. He is clearly ready to make it the best gig ever. Maybe he has a bit too much energy actually. On stage Sjoerd uses a headphone as a mic, and the microphone is a wee bit to close to his mouth to handle all this energy without a slight distortion. A problem that keeps popping up during the whole CD. Especially with the announcements and cries during the songs to get the crowd going.

Putting that point aside, Sjoerd really has a good voice. It’s warm and powerful with just the right amount of sandpaper in it to make the Irish folk sparkle. Two of my favourite songs on the album are sung by him. Someone To Dance With and Caledonia are beautiful ballads. You can hear Sjoerds warm voice in all its glory. You can also hear how nicely Nienke Bijkers soprano blends in with his voice. In a ballad those two really work well together.

This also brings me to an aspect of Live at Elfia where unfortunately I have to be honest: the female lead vocals. Nienke isn’t a powerhouse soprano. Her voice is more of the fragile angelic kind. On the studio albums she weaves delicate melody lines together that are like intricate lace. It reminds me a lot of Joan Baez’s voice. (For younger readers who don’t know her, check out the old Woodstock albums.) When she takes the lead on stage in The Golden Vanity or Cecile En Lazare I keep asking myself if a brittle voice like hers really works together with the uptempo powerfolk that the band unleashes on stage. I personally don’t think the tempo and the power really work for her voice, but listen to those songs and judge for yourself. The issue I’m driving at starts later on in the CD with the songs Hold On and Black And White. I don’t know if Nienke was out of breath, could not hear herself that well or was losing some of her technique trying to keep up vocally with the power of the band behind her, but especially in the highest parts she sounds shaky, uncertain and at times she really misses the higher notes. It’s a shame really, because straight after Hold On Nienke starts Rest My Little Son singing a capella and suddenly she sounds like the vocalist we hear on the studio albums. Her voice becomes fuller, she regains her technique and is hitting every high note on the head. It makes me wonder how a live album in a more balladesque setting would work for her. Listening to the studio albums I think it would suit her voice much better.

But that’s my only point of critique with Live At Elfia. The band finishes strong with the crowd favourite Engel, a Rammstein cover. I’m still amazed at how much power an ACOUSTIC folk band can produce. It really sounds as heavy as Rammstein themselves. Impressive! Commander Keen is the last of the catchy instrumental folk songs, full speed from beginning to end this time with Gilian starting it on pipes. The ballad Caledonia is a beautiful ending to a CD which is overall very enjoyable. Harmony Glen is the ultimate feel-good festival band and they prove it here.

Now the question is: “Would I buy the CD myself?” Honestly? Knowing that 50% of the fun of a Harmony Glen show is Dominique, Sjoerd and Mike goofing around with either the crowd or each other, I would straight away go for the DVD. Entertainment guaranteed and you get a free CD extra! 🙂





– Cliff

– Pictures courtesy of Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art








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