Three Adventures in Celtic Music

Isle of Man Windy Corner Road by Andy Radcliffe

Guitarists from three very different traditions of the Celtic world give a concert together at a festival in France and like their collaboration so well they make an album. Two brothers join up with a friend to play informal gigs around their home province of Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada, and things go so well they are now at the point of releasing their second recording. Across many miles of ocean, three friends begin working on making songs in an almost forgotten language and playing tunes that draw on stories from their home and heritage on the Isle of Man off the coast of Scotland, and they too now have a second album done. Ideas from Celtic lands, communities, and history enhance each of these collaborations. Each trio in its own way also leads you on journeys to places and music you may not have explored before.


Soïg Sibéril comes from the Breton tradition of the west coast of France. That is a tradition which has its own Celtic nature, and Sibéril draws on that. He has also added in ideas from Ireland’s music, especially using open tuning on his guitar as he explores Brittany through music. Dylan Fowler brings in jazz, Balkan music, and music of Scandinavia to his finger style guitar playing. He also loves to explore the music of Celtic lands and that of Celtic peoples in distant lands, and especially the music of the country of his own heritage, Wales. Ian Melrose is a Scot, whose thoughtful playing and creative ideas have led him to bands including the Kelpies and Talking Water, and to work with artists including Clannad, Mary Black, and Carrie Newcomer. It must have been quite a time when these three shared a stage at at the Festival Inter-Celtique in France and then went on to make a tour of Wales. Their creative time together led to the album Celtic Guitar Journeys, which has generous helpings of music from each guitarist — and will likely male you want to travel to the places that they draw on for inspiration and to seek out their individual solo projects as well.

From the name you will know that Ten Strings and a Goatskin are coming at their music with a bit — or a lot — of edge. Guitar and fiddle are the ten strings; the goatskin is percussion by way of bodhran and the beat is added at times by way of cajon, tapping feet, and other instruments too. Brothers Rowan Gallant and Caleb Gallant play the fiddle and bodhran respectively. Their friend Jesse Périard is the guitarist. They all sing, and each plays other instruments at times. That diversity is part of musical life in Prince Edward Island, itself a meeting place of Scottish, English, and Francophone cultures and a melting pot of folk, pop, rock, country, singer songwriter, songs of the sea, and other sorts of music. The band brings all of these strands into their distinctive sound and energy: they make music based in PEI’s folk traditions, with a drive and perspective that blow the cobwebs of any outdated view of folk music well offshore.

Their second album, just about to be released at this writing, is called Auprès du Poêle , which translates as around the woodstove. Sharing music at the fireside and around the kitchen is part of the tradition of music, especially in the Maritimes, and that was one of the ideas which inspired he record, and the title track. The tradition of making music for dancing is also apparent, notably in the set Ingle. There is plenty of fine singing and great harmony going on as well. Coal Not Dole might bring to mind Appalachian songs of coal towns in changing times, while The Town, an original from Caleb, would fit well in several folk traditions. Guests include producer Leonard Podolak and his band mates The Dukhs, Les Poules a Colin, and Zakk Cormier, but it is the playing, singing, writing and arranging by the three men of Ten Strings and Goatskin which focus and anchor the music — music well worth your exploration.

maughold head lighthouse isle of man by andy radcliffe

The Isle of Man is a twenty first century place, to be sure — an international motorcycle race is one of the year’s big events — and it is also a place steeped and invested in legend and myth. It is said to be ruled by the Celtic god of the sea, Manannan mac Lir. When he chooses he can cloak the island in mist so enemies cannot see it — equally, stories say, he can turn into wheels of fire and roll down the mountains to drive those who mean ill away. A powerful legend, indeed, and one of the reasons the three men of Barrule chose to call their recording Manannan’s Cloak.

They open the album with a set called The Wheel of Fire, too, which has a haunting and dramatic beginning that will get you right into the spirit of things.

Fiddle player Tomas Callister, Jamie Smith on accordion, and Adam Rhodes on bouzouki make up a core sound which with instrument, voice, and language evoke past, present, and even future of this island’s distinct landscape and life through song and tune both contemporary and from the tradition. There is a song (in the Manx language) which translates as High Net Worth Individuals and certainly speaks to contemporary concerns. There’s a lively set with more than a touch of Irish that’s called To Dingle with Love. Illam Boght tells a tale of false love found in many folk traditions and offered here with a Manx flavor, while King of the Sea and the Laxey Reels, in differing ways, bring together varied strands of history and present day in the island. Whether you have been to the Isle of Man or not, chances are that after listening to Manannan’s Cloak you will come away knowing more about it, and wanting to explore further.

celtic music isle of man barrule

Looking to explore further in Celtic music?
Learn about Ireland in Four Voices and Gaelic music from Nova Scotia along with Acadian music from PEI and English language songs from the prairies.

Photographs of Windy Corner Road which runs between Laxey (of the reel set by Barrule) and Snaefell Mountain Road and of Maughold Head lighthouse, both on the Isle of Man, are by and courtesy of Andy Radcliffe. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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