Musical imagination: Matheu Watson
You can hear the sea and the wind and the light of the Western Isles through Matheu Watson’s music, whether he’s playing a tune he composed himself, one from the tradition, or one he has met on his musical travels.
Those travels have been fairly extensive, taking him from the Baltic states to Spain to Ireland, and seeing him travel in company of folk including innovative piper Fred Morrison, Scottish Latin fusion band Salsa Celtica, and the always surprising Treacherous Orchestra. It was to Berneray in the Western Isles that he went, though, to record the tracks for his self titled album..
It was an inspired choice, and one close to home for Watson, who attended school and college on Skye and Benbecula. His first instrument was the fiddle, and for this recording he offers especially intriguing and insightful work on fiddle and guitar, and plays tenor banjo, whistles, mandolin, bouzouki, and a few other things as well. He brought along gifted friends to sit in with him, too, and listening to the result you have to think they had a very fine time working out Watson’s vision on jigs, hornpipes, and slower tunes.
Ali Hutton, late of Back of the Moon and now of The Old Blind Dogs, played highland bagpipes, practice chanter, and an improvised on the spot Highland Bombard. Legendary artist Martin Simpson added slide, banjo, and ebow to several cuts. Sean Og Graham played button accordion, always creative percussionist Martin O’Neill anchored the beat with bodhran, and Kris Drever added his thoughtful style on guitar. These men have all held center stage on their own, deservedly so, and they well know when support and collaboration is called for, too. That’s what they offer here. A nod too, to engineer Will Lamb, who gives space and presence to the men and their music.
It is Watson’s imagination and style which center things here, though. You can hear those western seas crashing on the opening tune, Maggie the Rafter, which Watson wrote, and he pairs it well with a French Canadian tune called Homage, which he learnt from flute player Brian Finnegan.
Well constructed parings are a hallmark of the dozen sets on the album. Especially worth noting in addition to that opening pair are the Picnic set, which finds Fred Morrison’s The Incredible Journey set alongside two of Watson’s tunes, The Picnic Waltz and Picnic in the Sky. Another standout set is Drying Out, a reflective set which sees a tune from Castile, in Spain, paired with a piece composed by Irish American Liz Carroll. Glencalvie, another quiet piece, is also a real standout. It was written by Watson’s father Douglas, about a place in Sutherland which, he says, holds history.
All of the sets are equally well thought out and well played, making a project worth repeated listening. It is Matheu Watson’s debut recording, a fine and forward looking album of itself, and one which surely sets the stage for more good music to come.
you may also wish to see
Music Road: Scotland & Cape Breton: tradition and innovation
Music Road: Shannon Heaton: The Blue Dress
Music Road: Dual: Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
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