Portobello Ceilidh Band - “Spider Stomp” - SWACK Records SWK301

The Portobello Ceilidh Band originates from Edinburgh (as the name suggests) and is made up of musicians who now live and work in the area.  The current members are from all over Scotland including Inverness, Shetland and Dumfries and the line up is fiddle, accordion, bass and acoustic guitars, bodhran and vocals (the bodhran player is also the caller).  This is the band’s debut release.

The band’s greatest strength is that the music is not dominated by any one instrument.  In many ceilidh bands, the accordian (or the fiddle, or the guitar ...) drowns out everything else but this is definitely not the case here.  In the set of two steps for example (track 3), the accordion and fiddle are given equal exposure and an equal place in the mix, which gives the band a balanced sound.  I can’t confirm whether this is the case in the live act but I would hope so!  I have to grumble a little that it’s quite difficult to hear the bodhran on many of the tracks, although the rhythm is punched out quite adequately by the acoustic and bass guitars.  Despite the proliferation of bodhran-player jokes, it would be nice to ‘ear this one ‘ere.

The CD contains a mixture of sets from jigs, two-steps, reels, waltzes to songs.  The songs do not, perhaps, merit their place on this CD as well as do the tunes, but this set is full of fine musicianship, perhaps most notably in the Virginia Reel set where the playing is lively, energetic and does not contain the “Do we have to play this AGAIN!” sound that can be heard in many Ceilidh bands.

This is a very good Ceilidh CD which, like any Ceilidh CD, I would not buy for casual listening of an evening,  but it would be certainly be useful for use (a) in a small Ceilidh where no band was booked or (b) for an impromptu knees up in the back garden.  It is also clear that if you book this band your Ceilidh will go with real hooch!

Paul Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 45 of The Living Tradition magazine.