We asked Treacherous Orchestra about their album Grind.
sound” agrees bagpiper, whistle player and co‐producer Ali Hutton “and we wanted to try and recreate that intensity and power on the new album. Studio performances can often be tamed down because of the environment in which you are recording. We tried hard through the studio process to capture the live edge associated with the band.”
“The new album ’Grind’ ”, says accordionist John Somerville, ”is almost a journey in to the band’s subconscious. We wanted to allow a natural progression from the last album and without any real pre‐determined musical decision on direction the new material seemed to take on a darker more industrial edge.
”The image of the blacksmith is a potent one. It represented for us this idea of industrial vitality. Someone that forges products in a hot, sweaty environment. Lots of drive, movement, sparks, ignition, heat. We wanted these concepts to feed in to our music and the new band image.”
Ali Hutton adds ”Like the Blacksmith, we all came from rural backgrounds to dwell in the city, which helped our musical styles to evolve, individually and as a band! The idea of someone that works hard, someone that’s creative, that forges mentally and physically. We feel like this symbolises the ideals behind the band. I think this is strongly reflected here. There are a lot of tracks that evolve from a very acoustic, natural, atmospheric vibe into hard hitting industrial grooves. The forging of ideas, of sounds, of musical thoughts!!
”The first track is meant to reflect a world where times were a lot simpler, before the industrial era, before the grip of technology. It’s supposed to portray a time when our minds were allowed to think for themselves, before we were told how we were supposed to live and think! It’s supposed to reflect the natural world, the rural areas, civilisations of old, an era of free thinking. This then introduces industrial sounds throughout the rest of the album to highlight the change in technology, the progressive nature of the world and it’s creatures. It’s a structure we’ve used on the opening tracks, Banger, Grind and Numbers, ’what was and what is’. The whole album is a journey from past to present, highlighting good times, hard times, and looking to a brighter future. This reflects our current situation as a nation.
”The main goal with this album was to establish a very identifiably Scottish sound. For us to portray our national identity, and social and musical history through our music. We want people to listen to it and have a s ense of being. We want it to conjure feelings of pride for what we have accomplished as a nation, and what we’ve been through to reach the point we’re at now… A nation of proud, forward thinking beings!”
On stage the players are hugely entertaining, mixing their original tunes up with theatrical anarchic rock attitude. Here is a band that is playing at the next level, technical and impressive, yet impossibly raw, whose shows are always vital and make the audience feel truly alive in the moment. A Treacherous Orchestra gig is quite unlike anything else. The players set a true musical course that continues to build and build. Through their music the band take the listener on a journey through many moods, emotions and tempos often within moments!
Of the new tunes included, fiddler Innes Watson says ”These were all written individually and slowly perfected over the past two years or so. Each track starts with something very simple, the bare bones of a tune. A melody intact, riddled with thousands of possibilities. Think of each track as a perfectly formed object from the smithy and the melodies as chunks of metal. We melt them down, shape a mould, meld them, shape them, Grind them, braze them, solder them, weld them, add leather, wood, plastics, bells and whistles. We galvanise them and polish them. It takes time, many different processes and some serious sweat and blood.”
”The liveliness of the stage show” says bassist Duncan Lyall, ”is, undoubtedly, one of the bands strong suits. The density of the arrangements make it a bigger challenge to capture effectively in the studio. The playing needs to be precise for the different layers to work together. It can’t all be brute force, there has to be finesse. I think one of the things we did right was to aim for faster tempos. Some of the best live recordings we have are of the band playing fast and precise. When we play live the adrenaline kicks in and the juice comes through in the music. Recording the tunes at these faster tempos meant everyone had to dig deep and find the fire that comes naturally when we play live. When all else failed” he chuckles ”whisky seemed to do the trick.
”One of the most enjoyable days we had during the recordings was spent at the Hamilton Mausoleum (just outside of Glasgow). Until recently the Mausoleum held the world record for the longest echo in a man made structure. It’s about 15 seconds. We took some microphones and a few bits of studio kit and recorded accordion, two whistles and two fiddles live. On the title track ’Grind’ there are two tunes played together. We wanted to create different spaces for the two tunes for a really deep soundscape. Rather than just add some reverb in the studio we recorded the slower tune in this building. It was a bit of an experiment but from the moment we opened the door and played a few notes in there we knew it was going to sound great. The whole day was an incredible experience.”
A product of the recent renaissance in Scottish folk music, Treacherous Orchestra are the ultimate eleven‐piece, pan‐Scottish outfit (with one member from Ireland). It’s an aggregation that came together in the musical melting pot that is Glasgow, a location where the individual musicians first developed a strong affinity for each other’s playing.
Each member of the band brings a strong individual sound and instrumental style to this powerful blending of the old with the new. In addition, many of the group are also gifted composers, producers and engineers in their own right and it is these cumulative talents that set the band apart in terms of forging their own unique interpretation of Scottish music.
The recording of this album was possible with the help of Creative Scotland.
About Treacherous Orchestra
The Treacherous Orchestra story is one of many strands, a tale told spanning the length and breadth of Scotland. An un-definable collective force fusing people, concepts, styles and influences, shaping a musical supergroup that defies description. From the North to the South, East to the West they came, converging in the musical melting-pot of Glasgow, trading ideas over beers and playing music with ferocity, verve and passion. This is a tale of musical origins…
These roots and strands – the essence of the band – are the stories of the members themselves, all emerging from their own musical habitat and adding their own distinctive identity. The band is composed of seasoned musicians who are already treading notable paths and reaching international recognition with other bands as performers, arrangers and composers. Those bands that have gone before them, the likes of Martyn Bennett’s Cuilinn Music, Wolfstone, Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty and Salsa Celtica tell the tale of a country full of bright musical minds, ideas, innovation and evolution. It is a tale that continues with the rise of this epic Orchestra.
The sleepy region of Perthshire is where the first chapter unfolds. Unbeknown to them at the time, two young instrumentalists of the local scene were gaining notoriety as the fiercest young pipers of their generation. Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie sat in a small cottage, fire crackling, eyes and ears transfixed by the learnings of one of the true master composers and instrumentalists of the 20th/21st century, the late Gordon Duncan. His style flowing from finger to finger trickled down and infused these two young protégés with a style and sense of harmony, rhythm and composition that no one else can claim to possess.
His passing away in 2005 left the legacy of his music and his influence will never be forgotten. Ross and Ali have since gone on to be heralded as individual instrumentalists in their own right playing in many of the great Scottish acts of the last decade. As the cottage fire crackled in Perthshire it was another “shire” to the north that shaped the identity of three other young musicians.
A one-legged crofter with a fondness for a good malt whisky was the inspiration for accordion player John Somerville. Musical gatherings in his parents house in the crofting hamlet of Abriachan, which lies high above the shores of Loch Ness, held the key to him taking up the instrument. With Angie Forregan in attendance a night of stories was always guaranteed but it was his accordion playing that John took to his heart deciding that the buttons, keys and bellows were for him. Born to a Czech mum and a Scottish father, it would always be difficult for him to completely hide his roots. Influenced by many styles of music, from West Highand Gaelic, to Eastern European, modern Funk to Techno, John developed his own unique style of accordion playing.
Adam Sutherland, was also raised on the shores of Loch Ness. From a small croft near the village of Errogie which sits above the loch’s south shores, he would travel to the north side to be taught under the watchful eye of late Highland fiddle legend Donald Riddle. Three years were spent going between Donald’s house in Clunes and his own amid a sea of half-made fiddles, playful kittens and a treasure of stories and tales. Described by Donald as a “promising” player Adam then went on to hone his skills with the world renowned Alasdair Fraser, embellishing his style and ornamentation. A bizarre combination of choral music and Led Zeppelin influenced his teenage years. Adam has been hailed as one of the pioneering Scottish fiddle players of this generation, always on the cutting edge, experimenting yet retaining the very source of his playing that lay in the traditions of his native Highland home.
Completing this trio of musical personalities is electric guitar player and Highland gentleman Barry “Spad” Reid. Growing up in Kilmorack, near Beauly, Barry started learning guitar from his father at the tender age 11. He would practise between his house and school being driven on by some of the contemporary guitar greats of that period. A rich and varied musical diet of Martyn Bennett, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Goldie, Moving shadow, Mouth Music, Shooglenifty amongst others is responsible for Barry’s style, fusing all these influences with a fine knowledge of his instrument.
So it is here that we leave the Inverness connection and travel, as the crow flies, 30 miles South to the quaint Highland village of Grantown on Spey, home turf to another of the band’s members. We skip to Christmas nineteen eighty eight, with gleaming eyes and full of excitement, six year old Fraser Stone is under the brightly lit Christmas tree unwrapping the beginning of things to come. A plastic drum kit from his parents defined his musical heritage. Long hours and much energy were spent in his bedroom playing his humble collection of pots, pans and anything else he could find lying around. Eventually a fully-fledged kit replaced this, with Fraser constantly adding to his vast array of percussive instruments. He played along to bands such as Wolfstone, Shooglenifty, Santana, Hendrix, Guns n Roses and many of the Motown greats, hour upon hour spent developing his style, trying to emulate the feel of drummers such as Pete Erskine, John Bonham, Carter Beuford and Steve Gadd, the legends of that musical form.
From the West of Ireland, via Dublin, came a Banjo player by the name of Éamonn Coyne. An undeniably huge repertoire of session tunes and a unique deft plucking style were the hallmarks of a man that had travelled wide and earned his spurs playing with legendary purveyors of the instrument such as Béla Fleck and Alison Brown. But his first banjo influences stem from closer to home: a man from Co. Donegal in the North-West of Ireland and another from Birmingham (West Midlands, Englandshire!) via Galway and Mayo.
The Irish influence in the Orchestra was not just felt from the man whose origins lay in the Emerald Isle. Two other members of the band, who share the same surname – although both would decline any notion that they were anything other than musical brothers – also had roots in the West. Kevin O’Neill is an enigma of Glasgow, a man often found fronting sessions in all manner of venues across the city. His style, born of a fusion between Scottish and Irish playing is as fluid and meticulously controlled, as it is exhilarating to listen to. Born in the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen, Kevin is a true Glaswegian character, blending his fondness for the city’s hidden depths with a cartoon-like outlook on life.
Martin O’Neill, a former All-Ireland and All-Britain Bodhrán champion is a character of a different persuasion. A much-lauded musician in both the Irish and Scottish traditions his rhythmical style bears the roots of both these scenes. A random phone call from an unexpected location one afternoon was all it took for Martin to become part of legend Stevie Wonder’s band. Adding to a team of percussionists he toured with the band living and breathing life on the road with a true musical goliath.
The penultimate chapter of the story sees us shift to the Scottish heartland of Dunblane where a boy, fourteen years of age had just discovered a musical toy of a different kind. Duncan Lyall, TO’s bassist, had found at the back of a music room cupboard a four track recorder. This dusty piece of equipment, unwanted and unused would provide an inspiration for the young Bassist. He began recording and experimenting with musical lines, adding slowly, layer by layer, concocting arrangements, fusing melodies, bass lines and rhythms and it was this experimentation and intrinsic understanding of musical structure that paved the way for his future. Duncan has now appeared on over fifty albums and has several production credits to his name.
The final chapter in the Origins story sees us travelling to the very depths of the country. Birgham, merely a stones-throw from the English border, was where Innes Watson grew up and it is this area and its strong musical heritage that he took much inspiration from. At the tender age of four his dad flung a guitar into his hands and Innes, with ease like it was merely an extension of his young frame, began to play. It was this natural ability and enthusiasm for music and life that would cultivate him from learning a few simple notes and chords all that time ago to recently being hailed “Instrumentalist of the Year” at 2011’s Scots Trad Music Awards. Innes is one of many gifted young players that the flourishing Borders scene of the 1990’s produced; itself a wonderful renaissance arising from a sense of pride in the local culture.
And so, they all converged in Glasgow making their way to the bright lights whether it be for study, work or play. Great bastions such as 1159 Argyll St, The North Lodge Hostel, 50 Berkley Street, 10 Cleveland St and 514 Renfrew Street, housed and provided a roof for many. Long nights of playing tunes, composing, and pouring over notes were had, including many impromptu performances in venues across the city. Scarcely a square meal was ever afforded or cooked yet rich in glorious music and culture these strongholds were. Musicians and their compatriots all surviving in some sort of distorted harmony, playing music, and enjoying the freedom that life at that time gave.
And so it was that eventually the idea of turning these origins – these personal journeys – in to one whole came, and at Celtic Connections 2009, the Treacherous Orchestra was born. The electrifying atmosphere of a first gig. The monster was raring, breathing, waiting to be unleashed. A titanic vessel was to break free from its moorings.
What happened next was…
Treacherous Orchestra website: http://www.treacherousorchestra.com
You can listen to Grind here.
Buy a ticket for the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards on Saturday 5th December in Dundee Caird Hall, start time 7pm. You’ll have a great time!