Folk Wales

Ímar are an amazing Scottish-Irish-Manx alliance with deep roots extending into the now-dispersed Welsh band Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Talisk, Rura, Manran and Isle of Man musicians Mec Lir and Barrule – and now they have released their third album in a long-awaited five years. The personnel consists of irrepressible concertina ace Mohsen Amini, fiery fiddler Tomás Callister, rock-solid bouzouki player Adam Rhodes, Irishman and uilleann piper Ryan Murphy, who doubles on whistle and flute, and Norfolk-born Adam Brown on bodhrán and guitar. The band takes their name from a Norse king who was leader of Scotland and Ireland in the late ninth century; his descendants went on to rule the Irish Sea for hundreds of years. The cover artwork, by Bruno Cavellec, shows the becrowned hero with sword in hand, gazing out upon a sunlit loch.

The five band members met as teenagers through the Irish traditional network Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which also stages the famous Fleadh contests. The trophy cabinet must be groaning now; as well as the BBC Folk Awards, they have stacked up nine All-Ireland and eight All-Britain titles between them, while Ryan is also a double winner at the prestigious Oireachtas competion.

Mohsen, Tomás and Ryan composed all the slides, jigs, reels and polkas, which are pretty tornado-like and played as only Ímar can. The only exceptions are the traditional reels ‘Maids of Mitcheltown’ and the Manx stormer ‘Jerrey yn Teihll’, ‘Paddy Kelly’s’ and ‘Rose In The Garden’, the last reel in the album – but surely nobody could dance to tunes played this fast! You begin to suspect that some gleeful prankster has speeded up the recordings to a very-high degree – but no, the band are unquestionably masters of their art and absolute world-class vituosos, and their performance is so teeth-grittingly tight and razor-sharp that it’s really impossible see the join. Andrea Gobbi laid the tracks down at GloWorm Studios in Glasgow city centre, and Alan Douches mastered the tracks in New York; and it’s a roaring whirlwind of a jaw-dropper.

Awakening kicks off with the three-tune ‘Bangers’; Mohsen and Tomás write the lion’s share and Ryan contributes three to the album. The percussive ‘Splinter O’Neill’ is dedicated to sound engineer Kevin O’Neill, also flautist with Treacherous Orchestra, and Tomas’s delicate ‘Waterhorse’ (also known as a glashtyn in Manx folklore) brings Ryan’s flute and pipes to the fore. ‘Eoghainn’s’ is dedicated to fellow musician Eoghainn Beaton, who suffered a road accident; Ryan created the tune, and his pipes steer the melody with a melancholy atmosphere. Tomàs creates a heartachingly beautiful air, called ‘Fenella’s’; and the band finally wrap up with a trio of written tunes (‘Legal Tǿnder’) and the roaring ‘The Tree of Life’, in which Callister and Amini swop exhilarating self-written material before the band climax with the sizzling ‘Rose In The Garden’.

If you’re looking for Ímar: file under Exceptional Celtic Music, cross-referencing with Leading Inspiring Innovators, and you won’t go far wrong!