New Welsh Review

Breabach: Taliesin Live, Swansea

Daniel Snipe enjoys cultural depth, intimacy and Celtic revival at a night with this Scottish folk quintet

PUBLISHED ON: 03/06/20

CATEGORY: Blog

TAGS: Celtic, Swansea, folk, music, performance

This post is free to all website visitors

For access to the full New Welsh Review archive, become a subscriber today.

Subscribe

On 27 February, I made the trip to the Taliesin Theatre to see the Scottish Folk group, Breabach. Breabach have performed together for fifteen years, and travel the world sharing their brand of Scottish folk. Early on in the night, the band’s five members (Megan Henderson on fiddle and vocals; James Lindsay on double bass and vocals; Calum MacCrimmon on bagpipes, whistle, bouzouki,  and vocals; James Duncan Mackenzie on bagpipes, flute and whistle, and Ewan Robertson on guitar, vocals and cajon) introduced one another in quirky intervals between songs.

The group opened with ‘Google This’ from their most recent album, Frenzy of the Meeting, which was released in 2018. This song, sung in Scottish Gaelic, perfectly established the tone for the night’s set. Breabach combines elements of folk music and contemporary themes to produce an experimental, yet distinctive, sound. The inspiration and thinking behind the songs’ creation was explained by band members, adding to the depth of cultural experience as well as creating an intimate atmosphere. For example, ‘Night Crawler’ was written as a result of one of the band members tendency to sleepwalk. Another member joked that the lyricist had wound up in the beds of every member of the band on nights on tour, a story, among many, that was delivered with classic Scottish dry wit.

The songs alternated between English and Scottish Gaelic. Folk music in particular has the potential to help revive languages that are in danger of becoming extinct and breathe new life into them. Breabach are clearly aware of this and are doing their bit to contribute to the revival of Celtic languages today.

Setting language aside, instrumentals also featured, giving each band member a turn to showcase their musical skills. Whether it was the combined efforts of Calum MacCrimmon and James Duncan Mackenzie displaying how passionate the bagpipes can be, or the impressive instrumentations of Megan Henderson’s fiddle, every member impressed the audience with their skill.

On several occasions, band members would walk away from their standing positions to where a band mate was standing and play off one another or combine forces to produce some energetic sounds. One particular moment put a smile on my face when guitarist, Ewan Robertson, and bagpipe player Calum MacCrimmon had a musical showdown with their respective instruments in the centre of the stage.

The group predominantly played music from their most recent albums, plus a few of their favourites from earlier in their career. Breabach have gathered many influences from all over the world, with one member mentioning that they had travelled to countries such as Norway and Australasia with open ears to the local music. The origian of one of the songs performed was even attributed to the band’s tour of New Zealand.

The band walked off stage for the first time after finalising their set with some beautiful songs with attention to the skills of the bagpipe players. After a standing ovation from the audience Breabach were welcomed back on to play one final song. The group thanked the audience for a warm return to Wales and said they would play one of their favourites to conclude the night. After another excellent song from the group, they were rewarded with yet another standing ovation.

To celebrate their fifteenth year, Breabach have released a single malt whiskey: the perfect coronavirus-proof treat or present.

 

Daniel G A Snipe is this season’s Swansea Cultural Digital Correspondent in a new partnership with Swansea University’s College of Arts and Humanities.