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SIMON THOUMIRE ORCHESTRA "Celtic Connection Suite"
Tartan Tapes CDTT1005

KEEP IT UP "Keep it Up" Foot Stompin' Records CDFSR1701

Behind the names on these CDs lurk some of Scotland's finest traditional musicians: Simon Thoumire is joined by Eilidh Shaw, Kevin MacKenzie and Malcolm Stitt to make Keep It Up, and his orchestra includes Kevin again, Dick Lee, Iain Copeland, and the vocally challenged half of Battlefield Band, amongst others.

The Celtic Connections Suite was commissioned from Simon Thoumire for the opening of the 1998 festival (I think). Its first movement captures the zanier side of this event, with bags of percussion and jazzy/Latin sounds overlaid on a small-pipe melody. There's some wonderful clarinet breaks from Dick Lee, but basically this is a scene-setting piece.

The second movement is a medley of Scottish musical themes, with some particularly nice slow fiddle from John McCusker. The final movement is inspired by pipe band music, starting with an amusing evocation of the behind-the-scenes action and featuring some flash piping and drumming from Mike Katz and the STO Drum Corps. Stirring stuff.

The suite runs to forty-nine minutes, and the rest of this sixty-two-minute CD contains two tracks of catchy Thoumire tunes and a very flash set of reels. "The Gravy Waltz" is a swing number on which the STO let off steam, "John Thoumire's Castle" is an engaging air, and the final five minute Thoumire/McCusker reel set is probably worth the CD price on its own.

Keep It Up (53 mins) is a recording of pretty much traditional material played in a fairly straight style. The most notable thing about this CD is its extremely relaxed pace. We're used to hearing most of these musicians playing at blistering speed, but here almost everything is slowed down to an almost soporific tempo.

The opening set of jaunty jigs is taken at a leisurely 82bpm, and subsequent tracks get progressively slower, culminating in the haunting song "Mo Chaoin Chailin" and the slow strathspey and very slow reel "Simon Bradley's" and "Alex C. MacGregor". Two exceptions to this down-tempo mood are the set of reels beginning with "Tail Toddle" and the "St Kilda Wedding" medley. Here we are treated to some fancy fingering from Keep It Up, particularly on pipes and concertina.

There's lots of interesting stuff here, including bluesy mouth music from Eilidh Shaw, a lovely fresh take on Donald MacLeod's jig "The Duck", and some great slow strathspeys. (The "Unknown" tune is called "Jim Ward's No.9", by the way.) If you like your music a lot slower than usual, with the emphasis on the blue end of the spectrum, then Keep It Up is for you, although you may find that the occasional quicker piece jolts you out of your reverie.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 32 of The Living Tradition magazine.