Review by Kevin Bryan
Brian McNeill, ‘No Silence’ (Greentrax) - This multi-talented character must be one of the most gifted and influential performers that the Scottish roots music scene has ever produced, and this veteran performer has marked half a century’s worth of critically acclaimed work by releasing ‘No Silence’. This splendid new Greentrax offering was recorded in the Falkirk born artist’s own home studio, capturing McNeill’s rare versatility as he wields a vast array of instruments including guitar, fiddle, concertina and bouzouki to underpin arresting ditties such as ‘Prince Of Darkness’, ‘Two Minutes Silence’ and his heartfelt tribute to the 18th century of the marine chronometer, ‘John Harrison’s Hands’.
Kevin Bryan’s reviews appear in many UK newspapers, including The Morning Star, Sale, Messenger, Keswick Reminder and several publications published by Johnston Press in Northern Ireland.
Neil King at Fatea
Before I start the review in earnest, first let me put a couple of disclaimers out there. First there are a couple of my images used in the accompanying booklet and that may be because I've known Brian for a good number of years, photographed him on many occasions and shared a number of good time with him.
As with classic cars, I rarely get the opportunity to review the music of an artist that I have delved so far under the bonnet of, mostly you get to admire the paintwork and the style, but rarely get into the tunings, excellent by the way, the power plant and the construction, so this has been quite the adventure.
Similarly many of you will know that if I find an album that I find to be exceptional I will try and play it to death, to ensure that I still feel the way after repeated playings, well this album has been on the highways and byways an awful lot. Any one that knows Brian knows that "No Silence" is what you get, as well as being a great musician and songwriter, he's an author and a great conversationalist and I guess the latter informs the former, I say conversationalist, because he's a man that also listens to what goes on around him and takes influence from it, he's also a great orator, but it's a two way flow that really inspires.
"No Silence" is an album that celebrates fifty years of Brian McNeill's music and somehow manages to distil it to ten tracks, no mean feat by itself. In addition to Brian, the album also features Tad Sargent, who Brian invited to play after hearing him on Matt Tighe's album, which Brian produced, Tad hadn't realised that he was to be the only guest on the album.
This is an album that celebrates song, composition and instrumentation as it revisits a series of Brian McNeill classics. "No Silence" is exceptional delivery, particularly as it manages to deliver to of my favourite live tracks back to back, namely "The Yew Tree" and "Sell Your Labour, Not Your Soul", a song known to many, including myself for a while, as "Join The Union". It's a song with a real passion that many haver joined Brian with on the chorus at many a festival.
It's also a song for me that sums up Brian and his music, it's a song about community, togetherness and doing the right thing, it's also about freedom of spirit and doing what's right, don't be brow beaten.
I've always said that a good folk album should be history, geography, a bit of politics, a bit of philosophy and some great tunes thrown in, well that's those boxes ticked and a few more beside.
There's a couple of sets on the album, "The Coilsfield House Set" and the sign off track, "The Modest Miss France Set", a tribute to his wife, both of which give you the chance to hear his virtuosity on a number of instruments.
"No Silence" is an exemplary introduction to both the world of folk and to Brian McNeill as well as being a tribute to fifty years of music, it simply is a stunning album and one that will be accompanying regular motorway journeys for years to come.
The Living Tradition - John Waltham
Brian is undoubtedly a fine example of those who have formed and shaped the image of Scots music as it stands today, as musician, singer and songsmith. This musical tour de force celebrates his 50 years in the music business and shows us a man at the top of his game in every respect.
Aside from the high standard of composition and performance displayed in nearly every track, the most remarkable feature of No Silence is the fact that, besides singing all the songs, nearly all of the many instruments were played (and recorded) by Brian. This really is as near as you’ll get to a solo CD that sounds like a band.
There’s plenty of variety in the subject matter of the songs, reflecting Brian’s wide-ranging interests and beliefs, and some will be familiar to the listener – many of his compositions have been taken up by others. I especially enjoyed The Yew Tree which was, for me, reminiscent of Bryan Bowers’ version of Hugh Prestwood’s Bristlecone Pine – both are songs reflecting on the transience of mankind; a subject on all our minds as I write. There are also some beautifully turned instrumental compositions, of which I would single out the pieces for fiddle for the sensitivity with which they’re played.
This recording should not only confirm Brian’s standing within the music world, it should also enhance his reputation. And make sure you read the sleeve notes – there’s as much food for thought in them as there is in the CD.
This review will appear in the June magazine as well as on the website: The Living Tradition
Around Kent Folk - Vic Smith
He is a man of many talents; a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bouzouki, fiddle, octave fiddle, concertina, mandocello and baritone guitar, leaving only the bodhran to Tad Sergeant; he is a fine singer and all the songs that show such fine tunes and well-constructed, forceful and committed lyrics are written by him.
Then we need to consider his performing career which now extends over fifty years.
He first came to prominence at the end of the 1960s as a founder member of the Battle- field Band and after many years in which they became Scotland's top folk band, this was followed by a successful solo career and other bands including Clan Alba and Feast of Fiddles, before he changed direction to be appointed head of Scottish music at the RSAMD, that was to become the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow - whew!
He has also been responsible for recording the many aspects that go into making up this album. Much care has been taken with each of the multi-tracked elements. At times there is the suggestion that a little too much has been put into the mix and too many electronic effects added to instruments so that the simplicity of one of the instrumentals, "The Burning of Auchendoon" on baritone guitar, stands out.
The outstanding parts of this many-faceted album are the wonderful tone and clarity of his fiddle playing and the power of words in songs like "Two Minutes Silence", "Prince of Darkness" and "Sell Your Labour, Not Your Soul".