Take four indecently talented young musicians. Combine myriad skills sharpened at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Stand back and be beguiled.
The impact of Scottish quartet Gnoss has been instant and well-deserved. Created in Scotland’s northern isles by Orcadians Aidan Moodie (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin, electric tenor guitar) in 2015, the duo quickly upped the ante to a four-piece with the addition of Perthshire’s Connor Sinclair on flute and whistles and Clackmannanshire’s Craig Baxter on bodhran and percussion.
Joined on this album by Braebach’s James Lindsay on double bass, their signature sound is a rich tapestry of acoustic layers and textures, mixing outstanding musicianship with captivating songs conjured and led by the arresting voice of Aidan Moodie.
The sound may be rooted in the tradition but those roots spread widely and confidently into contemporary compositions that manage to be both poignant and powerful, sensitive and savvy.
With an average age of just 23 the foursome’s dynamic debut album Drawn from Deep Water was nominated for 2019 Album of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards and that year they also gave a sell-out performance in their home city of Glasgow at the world-renowned Celtic Connections, hosting Orkney Folk: The Gathering and then a headline debut at the festival in 2020.
Now they are set to unveil their second studio album. The Light of the Moon, to be released on May 7, is their first recording of all-original material – 7 instrumentals and 4 songs.
Showcasing how swiftly they are developing their craft, it was recorded and co-produced with Skerryvore’s Scott Wood at his Oak Ridge Studios and took most of 2020 to complete.
Says Aidan: “The creative process spanned the strangest period in our lives. Most of the writing was done in isolation, with us finally coming together to arrange and carve the album’s sound in the autumn. We set out to create a record that was distinctly Gnoss not only by writing all-original material but looking more closely at blending the sonic textures of our instruments.”
“The album was recorded at the end of a year that should have been filled with career highlights and instead became quite the opposite – and I think all the emotion connected with that was channelled into the creative process of the release and we pushed ourselves into new spaces musically.”
The Light of the Moon is threaded through with several honorary tunes for friends and family that the band jokingly say has saved them a lot on presents!
Kicking off the album Gordon’s, written by Graham for his uncle’s 60th birthday, starts as a whistle-led tune that picks up pace and builds into a full-blooded, bright ‘n’ breezy number.
Further into the album is Alister & Katrina’s, a tune Connor has gifted to his parents as a thank-you for all their past support running him to piping practice and competitions all over Scotland! Gentle guitar and a bodhran beat open the number which gathers momentum and energy through its catchy refrain and ends with a multi-instrumental, all hands on deck, flourish.
A wistful fiddle weaves through Becky’s- a beautiful tune composed by Graham for his Celtic harpist girlfriend’s birthday while the one-minute Prelude then segues into Adelaide’s, another of Connor’s compositions, this one penned for his late grandmother –this is no sad tune but a spirited, flute-driven celebration of a life.
The first song on the album, The River, stands out as a mainstream-nudging track – an atmospheric, upbeat number encompassing a sunflower-growing girl, nocturnal forest visits and moonlit islands that prove hard to reach. Slickly produced it ends with pizzicato notes hanging in a hopeful air – the lyrics concluding ‘there’s always next year’.
Moodie’s impressive song writing has also produced the ethereal Honey Dew. Though the lyrics might not necessarily reveal it, this is essentially a song about temptation – wanting to leave your work and head out for liquid refreshment!
Elsewhere, Moodie’s Cold Clay uses the simile of digging deep and hitting cold clay where you had aimed for diamonds. The lyrics of frustration are partnered here by a relentlessly cheerful arrangement, with Sinclair’s whistles dancing merrily through the agitated tale.
The penultimate track on the album is the fourth song, Sun That Hugs the Ocean. With a deliciously dreamy soundscape and a certain ruefulness in the lyrics Moodie says it is partly about love and partly about doubt – inspired by various Scottish and Appalachian ballads.
The album goes full throttle for Connor’s frenetic tune Good Crieff inspired by the Perthshire market town where he has lived for most of his life while Tuction is penned by Graham – a duck and diving fiddle-led number with a percussive finale. The tune has humorous origins, ’tuction’ being a name Graham has used for 20 years and no-one else understood! In fact it is apparently an Orcadian word for ‘wear and tear’ and you won’t find it in any English dictionary!
Aptly concluding the 12-track album is That’s Me – another of Graham’s tunes, this time written for his Dad’s 60th birthday and named after one of his father’s famous catchphrases. The fiddle drives through the percussive tune and all four musicians jump enthusiastically on board in a number that proves a perfect sign-off, focusing on the tight fusion of this hugely talented young line-up.
This is bright, young, box-fresh folk, veering from musical pyrotechnics to emotive, subtle songs – a band belying their years and brimming over with promise.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Gnoss, (3) Graham Rorie, (4) Scott Wood, (5) James Lindsay (unknown/website).