Jelly and Icecream for the Jellyman’s Daughter?

Jellymans Daughter top 50 albums of 2014

A while ago I had the great pleasure of recording on the Jellyman’s Daughter’s first album. This young duo, comprising the compositional and songwriting skills of Graham Coe (‘cello and voice) and Emily Kelly (guitar and voice) impressed the socks off me when I first heard them. In places bluegrass inspired, with choppy cello riffs, Graham takes the instrument to places that other cellists cannot go. Emily’s vocal tone and range, and her ability to vocally ‘soar’ with power and grace makes her voice quite unique, and together they combine with a vocal quality reminiscent of the Civil Wars, which is some accolade. Their writing lends itself to stand-out bass playing, such as the track ‘The One You’re Leaving’, which is made up of straight cello chops against a heavily swung, clave-based bass part (listen below), a ‘hold on tight’ live moment! Happily, the album has been heralded as one of the ‘Top 50 Scottish Albums of 2014’ (featured in the picture, just above another great album by Blue Rose Code, which my wonderful bass mentor-guru-dude Danny Thompson played on! Such a small world…). So, the guys will no doubt be celebrating a successful year at the toll of the bells tomorrow – and they deserve to! If you haven’t bought yourself enough music this year, get hold of this album. You won’t regret it!

Listen to ‘The One You’re Leaving’ here

Metta magic – reviewing the reviews

R2 Magazine

Back in June, ‘Damian Helliwell’s Metta’ released their debut album. We received a huge amount of support from the Scottish music press, with inspiring reviews in the Scotsman & Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Living Tradition and more. Songlines (the magazine that all musicians hope to do well in!) said Metta is “beautifully produced, sharp, accomplished…promises to be an intriguing new act to keep an eye on”, and Folkwords described it as “totally engaging…wholly consuming, verging on addictive”. The Telegraph chose the album as one of the “Top Ten Folk Albums” of 2014, stating that it is “infectiously joyous…an absolute treat of harmony and creativity”. But my favourite review was from a very insightful Dai Jeffries, of R2 who, it seems, really ‘gets’ what we were trying to create, and knows a bit about the role of the backline!

“You’ll know Damian Helliwell from Daimh, a band from the remoter reaches of Scotland – this album was recorded on the Isle of Eigg, accessible only by ferry from Mallaig. The Metta project is, as Damian says, the culmination of several years’ writing and a lifetime of playing.

I draw your attention to the location because the music reflects the beauty of the Hebrides, as observed by someone who knows the Isles and loves them. Put from your mind images of grey skies and sleeting rain, and see the land in sunshine with the light glittering off the sea, and that’s what you’ll hear. The first track ‘Tadhghan Steps’ sets the pattern. The music dances and laughs with a theme that sounds traditional and then slips into a more contemporary style. ‘Phi’ picks up on that, and so it goes.

Alongside Damian is Andy Thorburn, whose piano is the bedrock of the sound, alongside Jenny Hill’s double bass and Donald Hay’s percussion, whilst sharing the melody lines with Damian’s mandolin and banjo is Eilidh Shaw’s fiddle. Although Damian wrote all of the pieces, the arrangements are a collaborative effort with Andy and Jenny taking much of the credit for an excellent album”.

R2 magazine, Summer 2014

Hear the album, for those with impeccable taste, buy a copy here

Klezmerised…

Balcony photo 1
Just recovering from a fantastic week of studio work with Gica and Fin Loening, two thirds of the celebrated Scottish Klezmer ensemble, Celter Schmelter. Over its ten year history, Celter Schmelter has followed the path of the true klezmorim – playing everywhere we’ve been asked! – from high brow concerts, to bar/batmitzvahs and weddings, to community celebrations and protest marches. But having been so busy entertaining the masses, we’ve never had a chance to get into a studio and record our set…so last week we took the leap and spent some intensive days at the Eigg Studio, working on our forthcoming album! It was a joy to be focusing on ‘what we do and why we do it’, particularly talking about the cultural backdrop for the music, the importance of being true to the genre, whilst bringing some new non-traditional approaches in appropriate places (including klezmer-swing and klez-meets-scots-trad). Klezmer is described as ‘laughter through tears’ – you can hear this clearly in the lyrical and heartwrenching ‘Doina’ and ‘Forspiel’ pieces. The history of this music is so poignant; the fact that many of the tunes were lost after the second world war – the musicians simply did not survive – so the music was relearned more recently from old wax cylinder recordings that date back to the early 1900s, one of which will be featured on our album. Gica Loening is a rare example of a klezmer specialist fiddler in the UK, and it’s a treat to accompany her! Album and film to follow in due course. Meanwhile, find us on facebook and come along to our gigs at the end of the month!

Damian Helliwell’s Metta – making the band visible

The music industry has changed hugely in the last ten years. Bands now not only need to put out great albums, but also need to have a handle on the ‘visual’ element, marketing their work online, being resourceful about ‘increasing their reach’ and getting to the people most likely to love their music. Damian Helliwell’s Metta is having a good stab at this, and is now furnished with a set of exciting videos, made by Ben Cormack and Damian himself. Not satisfied with the ‘normal’ promotional route however, Damian has also used his music to back videos of his other creations, which tend to relate to green technologies… there’s even one which documents his building of a strawbale house and studio (where we live). Being based on a small hebridean island makes you learn how to ‘invent’ the things you need (usually after some internet research), and it soon became apparent that more people watch youtube videos of ‘people fixing or making stuff’ than music videos; people don’t just want entertainment any more – they’ve been saturated by it – instead people want information and knowledge. Which is exciting for us, because Metta is more than a band, and the music is created and titled to excite people about big ideas. Big, world-changing ideas. And if you want to know more about these big ideas, you’ll have to visit our website!. In the meantime, here’s a film about the making of the album, in said strawbale studio. You can catch us next at HebCelt festival, at Howlin’ Fling Festival and at the Edinburgh Festival (see ‘dates’ page).

Working with Singer Songwriters

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I really do love working with good singer songwriters. It’s my all-time-favourite type of music making and there’s nothing quite like a late night session with a good lyricist, where the lines just flow from your fingers, in response to the theme and the words of the song. When the connection is just right, a bass player can come into their own, using the instrument to ‘paint pictures’ beneath the words, exploring textures and tricks which help the song unfold, bringing it to life, with power and depth. When this happens, the magic in the air is almost tangible… and this is what I live for!

I’ve been priviledged to collaborate with some great singers and songwriters, including most recently, Rory Butler (pictured above at the Queens Hall). I’m now in a really fortunate position to expand this part of my work, with access to a beautiful (and acoustically brilliant) strawbale studio on the Isle of Eigg (where I now stay when I’m not gigging or rehearsing), along with lovely accommodation, stunning scenery and sandy beaches. Fancy it? Get in touch to find out more…

When you stumble across something…

It’s a really nice suprise to find a decent piece of video footage of a gig… This one found its way to me by a very obscure route, but it’s lovely and hope you enjoy it!