After recent, gloom-laden forecasts about the decline of Gaelic – and what can be done about it – a catch up with Niteworks seems like the perfect antidote.
For the pioneering four-piece group from Skye, Gaelic is central to what they do – but don’t call them standard bearers for the language. They prefer instead to view Gaelic as a natural medium for their music – a not atypical outlook for their island generation raised with the language as part of their education during the 1990s.
And this should be encouraging, for the key to the future survival of the language will lie not in its exceptionalism, but in its ordinariness.
While Gaelic may be natural to Niteworks, what sets them apart is how they use it. Their trademark sound is forged from the rich Hebridean song tradition of their native communities, and the dance music they listened to in their bedrooms, and later in Glasgow nightclubs.
They have just released their third album – A’ Ghrian, (The Sun) – which follows the eponymous debut album of 2015 and Air Fàir An Là (at the dawn of the day) which came out in 2018.
In what should have been one of the marquee events of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, last Friday Niteworks should have been on stage with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. But to immense frustration and disappointment, Covid restrictions were not been lifted in time and the concert has been rescheduled for the summer.
Unsurprisingly, lockdown and the pandemic are themes that have influenced the new album, says band member Allan MacDonald.
“We were discussing how ‘out of the loop’ we have become with what is going on in the club world, “ he told the Free Press. “It has been over two years since I have been to a club as a punter.
“That was a huge part of our lives. I wouldn’t say it has changed our musical tastes, but what we listen to at home now is different to what we would listen to in a club.
“That has influenced us and the direction we are going as a band. We’re also getting a bit older, there’s two in the band that have young families now and this album is perhaps a bit more reflective than the others.”
It is approaching 15 years since the quartet put on their first gig – at Braes Hall as part of the year of Highland culture celebrations in 2007. Their first EP followed in 2011, and Niteworks have since become regulars on the festival circuit – including annual appearances at SkyeLive in Portree.
They aren’t full time as a band, however, and online rehearsing was a familiar process to them long before the outset of the pandemic.
Allan, who is from Braes and from a family of pipers, works in renewable energy and is based in London. Synth and keyboard player Innes Strachan from Breakish works in sound production in Glasgow; drummer Ruaraidh Graham, also from Breakish, works in Edinburgh for Historic Environment Scotland and bass player Chris Nicolson, from Braes, is with the BBC in Inverness.
One of their ‘lockdown projects’ included writing the music to mark Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, and in turn this led to the orchestral collaboration and the more ‘expansive and cinematic’ sound of the new album, says Ruairidh Graham.
“We were partly inspired by our work writing the music for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Fare Well film that reflected on what 2020 had been like for many during the pandemic,” he adds. “The nature of the project required broad expansive sounds, and that led to us going further in that direction through the writing and recording of the album.
“Our upcoming orchestral concert for Celtic Connections further reinforced our desire to keep down that path.”
There is an abundance of vocal talent to be found on A’ Ghrian, including from long-time collaborators Sian (Eilidh Cormack, Ceitlin Lilidh and Ellen MacDonald). Celebrated Scottish singers Kathleen MacInnes, Beth Malcolm, Hannah Rarity and Alasdair Whyte also feature, and Niteworks have incorporated English folk and Scots songs into their repertoire for the first time.
The album, which was funded by Creative Scotland and recorded in autumn 2021, also features Fiona MacAskill, Aileen Reid and Laura Wilkie of Kinnaris Quintet alongside Susan Appelbe on strings.
A’ Ghrian is available to buy on CD and stream and download on all digital platforms, and the band will tour the until the end of 2022. A documentary on the band is also due to be aired on BBC Alba soon.
To order the album visit: niteworksband.com
Article by KEITH MACKENZIE