Beauty during pandemic: Rachel Newton’s harp

The Edinburgh-born harpist, fiddle player and singer Rachel Newton was Radio 2’s Musician of the Year in 2017. She sings in both English and Gaelic and is a member of The Shee, The Furrow Collective and the Lost Words Spell Songs. We walked with her on the Isle of Skye in November 2019 where she was taking part in the wonderful Festival of Small Halls, in which top Scottish musicians come together to tour the community halls of the island. So, as well as our walk by the Fairy Pools, where Rachel plays and sings with the water bubbling behind her, you’ll hear extracts from packed gigs in the village hall at Glendale and the Old Inn at Carbost. And there’s even a cameo appearance by our old friend the fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm.

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Review: Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita “Soar”

Even before the first notes of harp and kora play out from this excellent second disc by Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese Kora player Seckou Keita, there is a lovely piece of romance surrounding it that mirrors the two musics that this duo have put together so very successfully. The main star of Soar is the Osprey, a raptor that has begun breeding again in Wales after a four hundred year absence when it was effectively persecuted to extinction in the country as vermin. The bond between Wales and West Africa has been re-established for the bird, with the first to remake the several thousand mile round journey being christened ‘Clarach’, which also provides the title of the opening track.

As was clear from the duo’s debut Clychau Dibon from 2013, the music produced from this pairing seems to be more a re-establishing of sound and musical cultures, rather than an introduction, which of course ties in well with the story of our eponymous bird, flying the flag for the species in Wales. ‘Clarach’ begins spacious, with a long bass note and phonetics playing alongside the picked kora, before the harp line begins to set a pace and rhythm that grows in strength and urgency as the track develops. At six minutes, there is time to allow the music to unfold here and switch from a minor to major key, which adds to the drama of the bird’s journey, so skilfully illustrated through the duo’s playing. Just before we are two thirds through, there is a subtle shift where the energy calms and Keita’s kora line jumps away from the harp, as if being carried off on a breeze, before rejoining for a rousing end. It’s examples like this running through the whole set that displays the trust the pair have in each other’s ability and the relationship they have built through collaborating this past six years. Continue reading

Harpist Catrin Finch being treated for breast cancer

The renowned Welsh harpist Catrin Finch has revealed she is being treated for breast cancer.

BBC February 28, 2018

The 37-year-old musician said her condition “has fortunately been caught early” and was treatable.

She issued a statement confirming that she was about to undergo treatment after being diagnosed with grade three breast cancer.

She said she would be cancelling current overseas concert commitments, but wanted to play UK engagements.

The harpist said that while she was cancelling overseas engagements, she remained committed to playing as many UK concerts as she could, including spring dates with Seckou Keita, the kora player and drummer from Senegal.

She added: “It is very important to me to keep playing and my music will no doubt help to give me focus over the coming months.”

“I am currently under the care of the excellent NHS team at Velindre Cancer Centre, Cardiff, who are supporting me as I go through treatment,” she said.

“I know that there are many others out there who will identify with my situation either personally or through the experiences of loved ones.”

Finch said she would be “taking a back seat” from posting on social media for the time being, but would be back “in the near future”.