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Backshore Productions BKSH002 

It may have taken 17 years, but Orchestra Macaroon is back with its second release - a dozen tracks, 15 musicians and twice as many instruments. Co-leaders Colin Blakey and Philippa Bull direct the collective through a set of modes that range from a light classical ensemble offering rippling melodies to a community trad session to what could be taken for a polka morris band with a dub reggae backbeat. Despite electronic contributions coming in from 10 locations (from Hong Kong to Sligo), Blakey and Bull were able to weave the orchestra’s contributions together to end up with a release that sounds like it could have been recorded off the floor at a multicultural club downtown.

The Orchestra’s all-acoustic sound is held in place with a strong percussion and rhythm unit with folks like James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty) and Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), solid melody lines from English stalwarts like Ben Farmer (accordion) and Carolyn Francis (fiddle), and occasionally joined by folks like Sharon Shannon and Steve Wickham. There is clear musical prowess on the part of all involved, but it sounds very much like a collective effort, with no single player overpowering.

All the pieces are original, composed by the co-directors, inspired by the people and places they have encountered over the last several decades. It is clear that their years in Cumbria had their influence in choice of tune styles, but Argyll (where they now live) is not far behind. Standout tracks include The Ruby Tango, a jaunty dance for a 40th wedding anniversary, the dub reggae on pieces like Tom Nan Casdaich or Come On, Why Not?, and the sprightly summer festival piece, Damson Day.

With the pandemic, it is more important than ever to support your local orchestra – and especially when it spans several continents.

Ivan Emke


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine