Harem Scarem,
Let Them Eat Fishcake
(Vertical, 2002)

Let Them Eat Fishcake is a lively debut album from a group of young, very talented musicians. It is ambitious, too, with a surprisingly wide range of musical styles for a debut. Although there are a few arrangements of traditional tunes, the majority of the music consists of new compositions.

The musicians come from far and wide: Fair Isle (Inge Thomson), Hoy (Sarah McFadyen), Arisaig (Ross Martin), Taynuilt (Eilidh Shaw) and Dundalk (Nuala Kennedy). The home islands of Thomson and McFadyen in particular give a clue to the origins of a certain Nordic influence on the music alongside the more obvious Gaelic one. All four women provide the vocals with Martin on guitars. Additionally Shaw and McFadyen play fiddles, Kennedy flute and whistle, and Thomson accordion, flute and percussion. Guest musicians are Kris Drever (double bass) and Jonathan Ritch (piano) who contribute to the overall musical breadth.

The album is equally divided between instrumental and vocal numbers. The instrumentals start with the first track, "Finnish," which grabs the listener's attention from the outset with three upbeat tunes capturing the Nordic strain. "Frenchie" is a good example of the band's originality -- and quirkiness. The track starts with a traditional French-style tune on accordion with a scratchy record sound in the background cleverly evoking a French cafe!

By the third tune, the band is in full flow in characteristic Gaelic mode. "Ode to Otis" introduces a more Irish ambience while "Predrag the Macedonian" is an intriguing tune played on the flute with a good double bass accompaniment. "Wrigley Heeed" [sic] and "Scary Neeps" are both very enjoyable and accessible with the latter even bringing in an Asturian sound in the second tune titled "Alborada Asturiana." The penultimate track, "Du's Daein' Dat Aa Wrang," is the climax of the album with four fine tunes full of subtlety and emotional power. It includes the familiar "Willie Smith's Reel" by Capercaillie's Donald Shaw. This track is a great party number; surely everyone would be up and dancing to this!

The first vocal track, "Never," is one of the highlights of the album with its powerful main and backing vocals that build up in intensity throughout the song. "Is Truagh Nach Robh Mi Chomhla Riut" is lyrical and memorable with music by Charlie McKerron, a.k.a. Tearlach MacPharlain. "Me Me Me" is a lovely and upbeat song with a real contemporary feel. "Pray," "Heery Cheery" and "Mal Bhan Ni Chuilleannain" are simple songs with genuine emotion. The final track, "Human Metronome," provides a pleasing conclusion to the album with its impressive modernity. It is a song that points to some more really exciting things to come from this youthful and enthusiastic band.

- Rambles
written by Andy Jurgis
published 5 June 2004