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SKELBO "Skelbo" Skelbo Music SKMCD001

Skelbo is the station between Cambusavie Halt and Embo on a now-defunct light railway, a ruined castle and the crofting area to the north of Dornoch in Sutherland, where you may savour the spectacle of the aurora borealis in late autumn and early spring. It's also a band, a website, a record label and the title of the first release on the aforesaid label. The core of the band is Veronique Nelson (fiddle, viola) and Iain Strachan (guitar, vocals), but they're joined on their eponymous début by Eddie Scott (spoons, bodhran), Erik Knussen (double bass) and Frank McConnell (stepdancing, percussion).

Nelson, a founder-member of Curlew, wrote her thesis on Galician pipe music. Strachan is working with Scottish National Orchestra player Knussen on the CD of his songs which will be Skelbo's (the label, that is) second release. Scott runs a popular spoons workshop at Celtic Connections, whilst McConnell is a former Dancer In Residence.

With talent of this calibre, it's difficult to see how Skelbo could fail - and they don't. "Skelbo" is a most accomplished foray into the crowded world of recorded traditional music; it also includes material written in the traditional style by the likes of Tom Anderson and, of course, Strachan's songs. These adopt an original approach to the age-old themes of love and leaving, and Burns' 'The Banknote' is presented as you've never heard it before, in Strachan's singular setting. It's a pity the lyrics aren't on the inlay, because sometimes they're slightly indistinct, and they're worth hearing - still, you can always get them from the website! The traditional tunes range from 'Daldownies Reel' to the Breton 'Sonerezh Eus Breizh'.

Bands like Skelbo are a reminder, certainly, that the tradition is in safe hands, but also that it is being constantly reinvented with skill and sensitivity.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.