"Sandwood" - Duncan Chisholm

Duncan Chisholm’s playing is utterly unmistakable.  This is fiddling at its very best – light of touch and cram-packed with expression.  I have followed him from the early Wolfstone days in the 90s (quite literally, we followed the Wolfstone decal’d van round the Hebrides and up and down the West Coast one summer in our ancient old Citroen ZX) through the Strathglass trilogy and beautiful Glen ‘Affric’ in particular, to this, possibly his finest work yet.

Ross Hamilton, who has become one of the stalwarts of the Scottish music scene over the last twenty-five years and Duncan’s one-time bandmate in the Noughties, is responsible for the crisp excellence of the sound production and I am sure for many of the more funky, programmed elements of the recording, which only add to the overall quality of the production.

Standout tracks:  ‘A Precious Place’ and ‘The White Bird’

My favourite part:  the segue into ‘The Perfect Storm’ – whistle blends into fiddle and leads in to simple yet perfect piano.

Hamish Napier’s own heart-breaking slow air ‘Bagh Seannabhad’ brings the album to a fitting close.  Hamish co-wrote five other tracks on the album and was thrilled to work closely with Duncan and play on the subsequent tour saying: 

‘Duncan is a masterful fiddler and landscape composer and has been a huge inspiration to me for as long as I can remember. He seems to possess a kind of musical sixth-sense, never losing sight of the subject in hand, and developing the music with great skill, style and sense of taste. It’s kind of tricky to put it into words, but when you hear him play live or listen to his albums you feel it and understand.’

Sandwood has a similar effect on the curious visitor.  It is a feeling as much as it is a place and it was no mean feat to find the music to capture such an elusive yet powerful atmosphere.  The melancholy tone of ‘The White Bird’ does it for me.  Duncan’s playing becomes a gannet or an albatross soaring over the waves just off the coast, with the stack to the South West, the grey, heaving ocean and the salt spray on my face.  I close my eyes and I am there.

Having been a regular visitor to the area over the last few years, I can assure you that this album truly does the place justice.  The long trek out is always worth it for that view from the top of the last rise overlooking the dunes, Sandwood Loch and the bay itself.  We were once rewarded with a Golden Eagle sighting just as we breasted the final rise.  It truly is a magical spot.

However, if the locals are to be believed, it is not a place to stay overnight.  There have been several sightings of the Sandwood ghost down by the loch and in among the ruins of the old croft, a hunched and haunting figure looming out of the gloaming to send visitors on their way back along the path to peat fires and civilisation, such as it is up there in the far North West. 

Now, where are my car keys?  I’m away up.  Life is too short to live it in the city.  Away you go up to Sandwood and see for yourself, in fact, I’m heading that way, jump in, I’ll give you a lift.