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THE DUPLETS - Tree of Strings

THE DUPLETS - Tree of Strings
Pond Chicken Music CHIK001

This is an auspicious debut album from Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen, two young Scottish ladies who began learning and playing together at the Balnain House Harp Group in Inverness some ten years ago.  Since then they’ve graduated from music courses at RSAMD and Strathclyde University, started on the concert and teaching circuits, and found many supporters in Scotland.  In a crowded market place for traditional music graduates, this harp duo should stand out.  It’s been done before (Patsy Seddon and Mary McMaster of Sileas are listed as inspirations) but not often.

The seven tune tracks on this 46-minute CD are mostly traditional and self-written material - nicely arranged, deftly played with evident enjoyment, while falling short of virtuosity just yet.  Good harp playing is a rippling stream that can’t fail to raise the spirits, and there’s delight to be had from lively three-tune sets like Lillian’s, The Boys, Polkas and The Bendy Set.  They get good support from a backing band of percussion, banjo, double bass and fiddle.  The Green Set (tunes by Angus MacDonald, Diarmuid Moynihan and Kinnon Beaton) is the best example of the ensemble feel, with Gabe McVarish of Daimh and Tam Kinsella of The Unusual Suspects making strong contributions on fiddle and banjo.

There are also five songs on the album. Ca’ The Yowes, The Twa Corbies and The Rigs of Rye will be familiar to most listeners.  Love is a song by their friend Claire Campbell with whom they play in the band Abagail Grey.  And there’s a funky version of Andy M Stewart’s The Queen of All Argyll.  Gillian’s voice is breathily expressive but there is nothing distinctive enough to make the songs more than interludes between the harping.

The final track shows what they’re about.  It’s a serene old Gaelic air Croabh Nan Teud, which translates to the album’s title Tree of Strings.  This is their statement of respect for the growing harp tradition in Scotland and a metaphor for the infrastructure, which has allowed them to learn and play this beautiful instrument.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.