The Sound Cafe
'Thawcrook' The Highly-Anticipated Debut Album From Harp & Fiddle Duo Rebecca Hill & Charlie Stewart
By Stevie Connor. Photo Credit: Euan Robertson.
Thawcrook is the highly-anticipated debut album from harp and fiddle duo Rebecca Hill and Charlie Stewart, set for release on Friday 28th April. The record takes its name from a tool used by crofting communities in the 19th century to make rope and twine from local natural materials, such as marram grass, heather or reeds.
Much like the thawcrook, Rebecca and Charlie’s album weaves the traditions and music from their own local communities with contemporary material from across Scotland to create a sound which is creative, cohesive and entirely original.
With Rebecca on lever harp and Charlie on fiddle and octave fiddle, the duo have drawn on a wide range of sources to create the album, from detailed traditional arrangements to self-composed tunes featuring components with links to their heritage.
The pair also experimented with contemporary compositional techniques, creating hypnotic themes through repeated riffs on the harp, and integrating large sections of improvisation within arrangements, which brings an off-the-cuff, conversational feel to tracks such On the Mountain.
Originally from Connel on the west coast, Rebecca met Perthshire native Charlie at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2013, and the pair have been playing together informally for the past decade. Now based in Glasgow, the duo came up with the concept of Thawcrook in 2022 and began arranging material last spring.
Charlie Stewart said: “This is our first album as a duo and, compared to other albums we’ve worked on individually, this recording integrates elements of improvisation and interaction between us both as musicians. It’s a body of work that builds on existing material, merging the traditional with the contemporary to create something that is reflective of both our musical pasts whilst also setting out a creative path for the future.”
Rebecca Hill said: “We love the diverse range of traditional material on this album, and hope that its release will help the tunes reach more people. When people listen to the melodies, I really hope they can relate to the emotions behind them, and find a sense of familiarity within the new material.
“The opportunity to explore improvisation and more contemporary arrangement concepts when recording Thawcrook was fantastic. As artists who are always looking to adapt and improve on our skills, we can’t wait to continue to explore these concepts when performing the music live.”
All instrumental arrangements on the record are by Rebecca and Charlie, with award winning Gaelic singer Mischa Macpherson helping to arrange the one song on the otherwise instrumental album, Aonghais Oig.
Another stand out track from the album is Cailleach a' Ghobhainn, which provides a perfect example of Rebecca and Charlie’s ability to seamlessly marry the old with the new. The track is a set of two tunes, the first a reel named Scotty O’Neil’s which was written by the late Bob McQuillen and later covered by Owen Marshall. In Marshall's new setting, the melody is completely reimagined, swapping between beats of three and four. The duo opted to pair the contemporary take on the reel with the well-known traditional pipe tune Cailleach a' Ghobhainn to create a playful contrast of new and old between the melodies.
Before embarking on this collaborative journey, both Rebecca and Charlie have enjoyed successful solo careers. Rebecca reached the final of the Princess Margaret of the Isles senior clársach competition in 2019, and released her debut EP The Airing at Glasgow's Celtic Connections in January 2020. The West Coast native was also voted Up and Coming Artist of the Year at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards that same year.
An undeniable talent on the traditional music scene, Charlie was voted BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2017. He has worked on recordings with over 30 artists to date, performing regularly with a variety of notable musicians including Siobhan Miller, Matt Carmichael and Mischa MacPherson. He is a founding member of the bands Naad-Hara, Dosca and Snuffbox.
Thawcrook was recorded by Kevin Burleigh and Matthew Boyle at Gorbal Sounds, mixed by Euan Burton at GloWorm Recording Studio and mastered by Peter Beckmann at TechnologyWorks Mastering.
The album artwork was created by Orla Stevens and is an impressionist map of Scotland featuring a golden thread reaching from Argyll to Perthshire, Rebecca and Charlie’s home regions.
Thawcrook will be available to download and stream on all major platforms on Friday 28th April 2023.