“Far better days I trust will come again;
For my bonnie laddie’s young, but he’s growin yet”
(Robert Burns, “Lady Mary Ann”)
In summer 2014, under the guidance of producer and long-time friend of the band, Donald Shaw of Capercaillie, Malinky took to the studio to record their fifth release, Far Better Days, this time on their own label, with support from Creative Scotland, after a decade with Greentrax Recordings.
The album features songs from Scotland’s north-east including Tarves Parish and Term Time from the landmark Greig-Duncan Folksong Collection, as well as songs from the classic ballad repertoire, flexing the band’s trad credentials with Fiona Hunter having learned the ballad Son David from Andy Hunter (no relation), a pupil of the acclaimed Traveller singer Jeannie Robertson.
The album further demonstrates Fiona’s commitment to and expertise in the songs of Scotland’s Travellers, with Lady Mary Ann from the singing of Lizzie Higgins and The Bonnie Hoose o Airlie from Belle Stewart. Fiona played a major role in the recent orchestration of Martyn Bennett’s GRIT at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections, broadcast on BBC 2, singing the songs of Lizzie Higgins and Sheila Stewart. Now a Malinky member for 10 years, having originally been brought in to replace Karine Polwart, Hunter has surely established her place as a natural heir to the tradition of clear-voiced, authoritative singers in the same vein.
Steve Byrne’s work as an archivist in recent years has unearthed gems such as Edzell’s Bonnie Braes, a relatively unknown song in the tradition from his native Angus, via his work as a song cataloguer for the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches archive digitisation project. Byrne’s song-craft is again to the fore in his Scots-language translation of a Swedish version of the Twa Sisters ballad. Mark Dunlop‘s Antrim roots are given voice in his choice of material from the Sam Henry Collection, with The Fairy King’s Courtship and Long Cookstown making a mark for his Ulster song heritage.
With his recent work In the Wake of Neil Gunn garnering rave reviews, Mike Vass‘ ascending reputation as composer and arranger – in the The Guardian’s words, “a classy, thoughtful musician” with “a great ear for atmosphere” – is showcased through his contribution of original tunes and delicate orchestration underpinning the songs with characteristic charm and expression, both on fiddle and tenor guitar, introduced to the Malinky mix for the first time, alongside Hunter’s cello, Byrne’s bouzouki, guitars, harmonica and jew’s harp, and Dunlop’s flute, whistles and bodhrán.
All the while a sense of place exudes, resonating with the individual and collective backgrounds of a band at home with itself, none more so than in Byrne’s rendition of the Angus classic The Wild Geese, from the pen of Violet Jacob and Jim Reid, rounding off a thoroughly modern take on the Scots song tradition – in rude health in Malinky’s hands.