FolkWorld #77 03/2022
© Richard Penguin Press & Promotion

A Force of Nature

Karen Tweed & Margaret Robertson

Karen Tweed is a multi-faceted Piano Accordionist, Artist, Teacher, Musician and Creative and Composer who lives her inspiration through living in Orkney. Margaret Robertson is a multi-award winning Fiddle player and Pianist, Teacher, and recipient of the MBE who is inspired by her native Shetland and its people. Together they are Island Girls, who are about to release their debut album, and they most certainly are a force of Nature.

Margaret Robertson & Karen Tweed

Island Girls - Beach Daze (Margaret Robertson & Karen Tweed)", Own label, 2022

They first met some 38 years ago but due to their busy lives and for many years locations it has taken until now for them to finally be able to join forces and record an album together, and what an album it is. Chock full of original compositions if this album doesn’t become the go to album for musicians seeking new session tunes from the West Coast of Ireland to the East Coast of Scotland then there truly is no justice in the folk world for sure.

Karen took up the accordion at the age of 11, won numerous competitions for her playing, studied Graphic Design, and became a teacher of Art and Design before becoming a full time professional musician in the late 80s. Her career has seen her working initially with Roger Wilson, Ian Carr, Andy Cutting and Chris Wood, Kathryn Tickell, Karen Street, The Poozies and Swap before moving on to her own projects in the form of May Monday with Timo Alakotila, The Number One Ladies Accordion Club, and the 21 strong Circa Compania, among others.

To date she has appeared on over 70 albums, and had 5 books of tunes published. She has been a musical director for Parrabola theatre productions, taught music at Limerick and Newcastle universities, and at the Sibelius Academy. Recently, due to the pandemic, she has been teaching the Accordion via Zoom, and was commissioned this year to write a new piece of music entitled ‘Visitors’ for the St Magnus festival in her adopted, and much beloved home of the Orkney Islands.

Margaret Robertson, MBE, is a native Shetlander who grew up in Yell. Learning to play both the Piano and Violin at a young age she became Shetland’s first young fiddle player of the year in 1982. She went on to study Music and the Environment to Masters level, teach the Fiddle and Piano, bring Fiddle music to the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo, have many of her own compositions released and published, and be inducted into the Hands up for Trad Hall of Fame in 2018 for services to the community. In 2020 she was awarded the MBE for services to Scottish Traditional Music in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

The album contains 12 sets of tunes written by both Karen and Margaret largely inspired by their respective islands and its inhabitants, both human and animal.

Margaret Robertson

Karen Tweed

Artist Video Karen Tweed

The album could almost be divided into the jaunty and the emotive, and indeed it is the former set of tunes that open the album in the form of ‘The Coupers of Delunna’ written by Margaret that are so joyous that it somehow feels like it should be made compulsory for every Ceilidh band in Scotland to have to play them at new year. The jauntiness and joyousness continues on Karen’s ‘Happy Cake Break’ set of tunes written for respectively the Wrigley sister’s who welcomed her move to Orkney and a Northumbrian pipe playing friend who scoffed at the idea of one of Karen’s recipes. Upbeat tunes they would not sound out of place in a re-make of the film ‘Local Hero’.

The album contains many more jaunty cheery and happy tunes guaranteed to put a smile on your face and propel you to your feet.

The subtle, yet elegant and breezy set of tunes ‘St Kilda’s Beach’ takes us from tunes by Margaret for the Edinburgh Tattoo to swimming in Shetland via a tune of Karen’s about a friend’s birdsong house, while ‘Pam’ is written about and as a tribute to one of her musical heroes who she finally got to play piano for towards the end of Pam’s life. While Margaret’s ‘Rigs and Rollers’ begins on a sombre note it soon opens out into upbeat tunes inspired by togetherness, a former pupil and the founder of a school in the Shetland islands. Margaret’s love of writing tunes for people’s Wedding’s surfaces on the opening tune in the ‘Dancing in Dairsie’ set of tunes and is followed by Karen’s tribute to her agent Lorraine, while Karen follow’s suit on ‘Lighthouse Lover’s’ in writing a tune for a couple who got married in, not surprisingly a lighthouse, leading into a ‘perky polka’ about a friendly cat.

The subtle, yet jaunty ‘Daylight’ by Karen, written about her father’s pet name for someone who lit up a room every time she walked into it, builds and encompasses jazz chords, and more free form playing reflecting their personality, while the delightfully cheery ‘St Alban’s Columcilles’ set of tunes open with a march by Karen to celebrate her early years as an Accordionist and leads into 2 tunes by Margaret written for the Marriages of friends in Shetland. Margaret it would seem is the person to go to when it comes to writing tunes for the happiest day of people’s live in the Shetlands.

Equally there are many subtle, reflective and emotive moments on the album too. The gentle and emotive piano led ‘Air For Gordon’ written by Margaret reflects a work colleague leaving Shetland on the ferry to start a new life and job on the mainland, while her tune ‘Mother’s Love’ with its sense of yearning takes us through the birth to the loss of a child. The album concludes with ‘Steele The Show’ dedicated to the memory of late lamented singer songwriter Davy Steele before the album ends in vivacious style in the form of Margaret’s ‘Shaela’ written for her son and daughter who had been in a band of that name, and an upbeat tune by Karen written for a Swedish couple whose kitchen became her second home while on tour in the country.

A joyous album composed and recorded by 2 long standing and talented friends inspired by a shared love of nature, life, love, music, islands and people. Put quite simply these two forces of nature have made the first great album of 2022 that already deserves to be the first addition to the best of the year lists for sure.

Photo Credits: (1)-(4) Margaret Robertson & Karen Tweed (unknown/website).

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