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GRAHAM RORIE - The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay 

GRAHAM RORIE - The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay 
Rumley Sounds RUMS02CD 

Christmas has come very early for Gnoss fans: hot on the heels of the band’s second album comes this fine solo offering from the band’s fiddler. When I say solo, it is actually arranged for a sextet, James Lindsay on double bass, Kristan Harvey (another fiddle), Padraig Morrison (accordion), Rory Matheson (piano) and Signy Jakobsdottir (drums and percussion); Andrea Gobbi is on production duties.

As the title suggests, it is a concept album, each track being based around some aspect of the recruitment of Orkney residents to the Hudson Bay Company in the late eighteenth century and beyond. There are extensive notes, introducing us to such characters as the memorably named Magnus Twatt, and perhaps most interestingly the cross-dressing female trader Isobel Gunn. Surely there is potential for a film here?

It might have been intriguing if Graham had chosen a rousing tune to celebrate Isobel, but the piece named after her is a haunting melody for violin and piano (making good use of the fiddle’s lower register, almost a viola tune) – and it is one of the standout pieces on the CD. The track Erebus And Terror is a real contrast, bordering on a kind of Celtic jazz-rock at points, doubtlessly meant to illustrate the drama of the ‘fate of Franklin’ tale.

On first listening, the arrangements, mostly for full band, do not reveal their true subtlety. It is only on a closer listen that one realises how cleverly put together these pieces are. Moments of thinning out to just fiddle and piano (with or without bass and drums), for example, are handled in varied and effective ways. Do also listen out for the very sparing use of what I think is a glockenspiel.

In line with its origins with the Celtic Connections festival, the album should be seen as a concert piece and listened to as a whole. It is an impressive piece of work altogether; my compliments to Graham Rorie and all involved.

Paul Mansfield


This review appeared in Issue 140 of The Living Tradition magazine