May 20, 2019

“Electric Folk” To Sit Down and Listen To

Young Scots bringing traditional and original tunes to Crooked Tree, Petoskey
By Ross Boissoneau | March 9, 2019

The Scottish band Heron Valley is performing for the first time in the region on March 17 at Crooked Tree Arts Center.

The group is comprised of six friends from Argyll: piper/guitarist/whistle player Euan McNab; banjo player and drummer Nick Hamilton; keyboardist Arlene Mackechnie; her brother Alex Mackechnie on fiddle, accordion and guitar; bassist Callum Cronin; and guitarist/vocalist (and fiddler) Abigail Pryde.
 
Pryde explained that they came together organically. “Alex and Arlene are brother and sister. Euan went to school with them. Nick is their cousin. I knew Arlene from high school. Callum and I went to music school together,” Pryde said.
 
So it’s a six-piece band, but when they play abroad, they do so as a five-piece. Alex Mackechnie has a full-time job in IT for a financial services firm, so he doesn’t travel. According to Pryde, that doesn’t greatly impact the band’s performance.“Here in Scotland, everyone learns two or three instruments. You pick what happens to be needed in a band. At home I play guitar and sing. So in the States, I fiddle and don’t play guitar. Callum plays some. It doesn’t change our sound.”
 
Heron Valley officially formed in 2014, playing traditional tunes. The group soon began to work on original material, and the next year released its debut single. “Pressed for Time” was accompanied by a music video, which juxtaposed scenes of the band performing on a boat with a more traditional performance on land.
 
A year later, Heron Valley released its second single, “Home,” again with a video. This time, the band set off at 4am to climb up Beinn an Lochainn, a hill on the west coast of Scotland in the area where all the members had grown up. The video showcases the group’s journey from bottom to top and shows them playing on the mountainside. It garnered an impressive 173,000-plus views.
 
Next up was a full album: The band is now touring behind its debut album Roam. “It’s a mix of music,” Pryde said of their show. “Probably 80 percent is from the album.”
 
Asked how she would describe their sound, Pryde thought for a moment before calling it “electric folk. “She explained how the Scottish traditions are being enlivened with other genres. “It’s lively Scottish folk music. The traditional scene was always part of our culture. Now people are doing different things: Electric, rock, jazz.
 
“We kind of started off as folk. We’d do ceilidhs (kay-lees) for dancing, birthdays, weddings. It evolved — we began incorporating other genres, like bluegrass and modern folk. I think (now) we’re more in pop traditional,” she said.
 
She said whatever the label, the group draws on numerous traditions and styles. “It’s easy to dance to. It’s catchy songs and traditional songs.” She’s quick to add that both their music and their taste encompass many genres. She and Cronin both study classical music and embrace popular sounds as well. “Pop music, Pink Floyd — we don’t listen just to traditional,” she said.
 
Pryde said a difference between their shows in their home country and in the U.S. is that those at home are primarily dance-oriented, while the shows in this country have been concerts. “We had never once played a sit-down concert in Scotland,” she said, noting the group was more used to rowdier crowds “getting up, being drunk and dancing. Here [in Scotland] we could scream, and they’d scream back.
 
“When we first came to the USA, we did a lot of sit-down concerts,” she said. The audience response was jarring at first. “We felt people weren’t enjoying it,” Pryde said. As they grew used to it, they began to relish the difference. “It’s really humbling to have people sit down and listen.”
 
Whatever the style and wherever the audience, Pryde said the band’s goal is the same. “We sing songs, tell stories. Music gives people joy. I don’t think that’s different anywhere.”
 
Tickets for the 7:30pm show are $20; $15 for Blissfest members. Go to www.blissfest.org.

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