The Gordon Duncan Experience and Eabhal

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Perth Concert Hall
Sunday 17th June 2018


Perth Youth Arts Festival was rounded off in great style with a feast of Trad music served up by the young musicians of The Gordon Duncan Experience supported by Eabhal, a foursome of wickedly talented young players, who demonstrated with flair that Celtic roots music is alive and thriving.

Eabhal, named after a hill of North Uist, from where the band draws its roots, are Megan MacDonald (Accordion), Jamie MacDonald (Fiddle), Nicky Kirk (Guitar) and Hamish Hepburn (Bagpipes, Flute and Whistles). The band were recent victors at the Hands up for Trad Battle of the Folk Bands 2018 . The set included traditional compositions and pieces penned by the band, demonstrative of an artistry and skills that belie their tender ages. ‘The MaSÌm’ was written by Jamie MacDonald for fiddler Simon Bradley of Asturian folk group Llan de Cubel, and with nods at Iberian rhythms, is echoic of that wider pool of Celtic music. Cadences of ferocious fiddle-work make a mesmerising piece to kick off a set with.

Eabhal were accompanied by the mellifluous vocals of Kaitlin Ross for some simply beautiful traditional Hebridean walking songs and mouth music. Kaitlin’s sweet and pure tones made ‘Aoidh Na Dean Cadal Idir’, a simple lullaby from North Uist, at once tender and wistful. The foursome have already released an eponymous EP and have been in the studio preparing a soon-to-be-released long player. If the sample tune performed, ‘Pangaea’, was a taste of what is to follow, then it should be a collection worth looking out for.

The second half of the evening showcased the fantastic young talents of The Gordon Duncan Experience. I remember hearing this youth Trad orchestra first play at the Gordon Duncan Memorial Concert in 2010. The band members may have changed a fair bit but the sheer enthusiasm of this ensemble is still as strong today, matched by some real talent too. The GDE started off with three sets from Duncan’s “The Circular Breath” album, under the masterful lead of Steven Blake. Superb piping was matched by equally skilled horns, woodwind and percussion to give a crisp, snapping rendition of Duncan’s intricate compositions. With ‘Clan meets Tribe’, the band dived into woo-woo ethno-trad mode. This must be what the skirl of bagpipes in a rainforest sounds like. The musicians clearly had as much pleasure performing as the audience had listening.

‘Pressed for Time/Earl of Seaforth’s Salute’ is one of those compositions that lies somewhere in the collective Scottish unconscious – play it and toes start involuntarily tapping out its maniacal rhythms. Given a big band treatment, it was still that instantly familiar yet totally novel little gem. I would humbly suggest that Gordon Duncan’s legacy is well cared for in the playing of talented young artists like The Experience, respectful of the traditional while having fun stepping to its sides. Horsecross Arts deserves praise too for the ongoing support it gives to this great project. There were hints of a further concert some time in the near future. How much better, when you are as good as this, is it possible to get?

Mark Mackenzie

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