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skyhook - at the stringsmith's forge

debut CD album
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SonglinesOctober 2014

Folk Radio UKAugust 2014

FATEAAugust 2014

Irish music magazineDec 2014

Stirrings magazineSept-Nov 2014

Fiddle On magazineMarch 2015
Awarded Best album of the issue

Taplas magazineIssue 177

Musician magazineAutumn 2014

Living Tradition magazineOctober 2014

Sleeping hedgehogOctober 2014

R2 magazineOctober 2014

CD review, Songlines

(4 stars) Cracking trad string trio

The traditional reels, jigs and strathspeys from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia that informed Skyhook's first album are all still very much in evidence on their exhilarating second release. Fiddlers Cath James and Martin Harwood, with guitarist Eoin Teather, make up Skyhook and this new collection expands their repertoire to shine their northern lights on oft-performed songs such as 'Bonny Light Horseman' (sung by Eoin in memory of Sheffield's Hugh Waller, who taught him the song) and Bill Staines' lovely country-folk wedding song 'Roseville Fair'.

At the Stringsmith's Forge takes its name from the workers in South Yorkshire's medieval iron forges who operated a water-powered hammer and finds the trio supplemented in the studio by producer Andy Seward on double bass, Ciarán Boyle on bodhrán and Sue Cain on backing vocals. It's a terrific collection and a bracing breath of fresh air from one of the UK's most promising young bands.

Kevin Bourke

TRACK TO TRY Roseville Fair/Kissing is the Best of A'

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CD review, Folk Radio UK

"There are a great many bands and artists out there who, for one reason or another, have yet to enjoy the kind of widespread attention their music merits. Skyhook are one of these bands and their latest album, At the Stringsmith’s Forge, is an attention-grabbing collection of favourites that feature in their live shows, given a studio makeover, and presented in a collection that must surely result in some wider recognition.
Skyhook are Cath James, Martin Harwood and Eoin Teather. Together they deploy a brace of fiddles and guitar combination that can take your breath away, to deliver their own songs and tunes along with traditional and contemporary fayre from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton. Their eponymous 2008 debut album offered the best of a band that had been wowing audiences since 2005.

At the Stringsmith’s Forge is their second release and takes its name from the workers in South Yorkshire’s medieval iron forges who operated the water-powered hammers. In addition to fiddle and guitar; Cath, Martin and Eoin add viola, bouzouki and vocals to the album and have been joined in the studio by Andy Seward in the producer’s chair and on double bass, Ciarán Boyle playing bodhran and Sue Cain on backing vocals.

The opening set, Snowing Up the Hill, is immediately enlivening, and typical of the warm, appealing style for which Skyhook are best loved. Miller Of Drone has been variously attributed to Nathaniel Gow and James Scott Skinner, but sings straight out of Perthshire whatever its origins. It’s followed by two tunes from Cath James that should be enough to tempt anyone to the dance floor.

These sets of tunes form the back bone of the album and are delivered with a, seemingly, effortless precision and professionalism that makes every one a thing of joy and wonder:

Caber Feidh includes a pair of reels from the late Jerry Holland of Cape Breton, a sensational outing for the fiddle pairing of Cath and Martin, with Eoin’s bouzouki providing the flawless structure. In One Brown Trout, three tunes by Cath bring a wedding celebration, some fine fishing and, in Stringsmith’s Reel, the skill of the eponymous craftsmen.

It’s not all fire and fury of course. Eoin sings a clear and spine-tingling Bonny Light Horseman in memory of Sheffield’s Hugh Waller. With Cath’s viola in plaintive response, this can take a proud place among the countless renditions of this immensely popular song. Later, Eoin sings Bill Staines’ wedding celebration, Roseville Fair, with passion and joy in a number that Skyhook’s live audiences have been enjoying for some time. The reel on the end, Kissing is the Best of A’, is a perfect choice for a wedding reel.

Indeed, as well as a compelling vocal ability, Eoin seems to have an endless capacity for fascinating arrangements – Taylor Ryan takes a Cape Breton reel on a short, gentle stroll for just under two minutes of stringed serenity. And instrumental arrangements, whether of their own music or from traditional and contemporary sources, seem to be the strongest of the many impressive strings to Skyhook’s bow.

Bothy Reels is a fantastic set that make the most of Cath & Martin’s fiddle pairing. Celebrating, and written in, bothies in the West of Scotland this set’s as lively and refreshing as a coastal breeze. Featuring masterful bodhran from Ciarán Boyle. In a fitting follow-up, New Year’s Day brings more coastal inspiration. Opening with a rich cocktail of viola/bass/bouzouki for a hangover cure, and closing with a bright and breezy return to the waters off Ardnamurchan (and who wouldn’t!).

Ciarán makes a few welcome appearances on the album; in the opening jig for Tom’s Thumb he sets a pace to stir the soul and that soaring, joyful fiddle pairing once again lifts the heart.

In Skyhook’s return to the scene, At the Stringsmith’s Forge, we’re treated once again to a musical collection that delights the listener and generously rewards their attention. A selection of the very finest reels, jigs, strathspeys and songs from both sides of the Atlantic, delivered through musicianship of the highest standard and given arrangements that result in a sound as rich and authentic as anything you’ll find on offer. Go on, treat yourself!

Neil McFadyen

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CD review, FATEA
August 2014

"It was with great surprise and delight that I spotted this CD on my doormat along with the significantly less delightful junk mail and bills. Reports of a new Skyhook CD had reached me from Sheffield and these missives had already resulted in a state of almost Pavlovian anticipation. On looking back through my files I was astounded to find that all of six years had elapsed since I reviewed their previous offering and yet I still remember the excitement that I felt on first hearing the trio's début. Such enthusiasm was, however, not entirely unexpected as I had seen the band live several times and knew very well the high standard of their musicianship.

Time has moved on but, given the evidence of this latest CD, my love of the band's music remains as intense as it ever was. The thrilling dual fiddles of Martin Harwood and Cath James and Eoin Teather's rich guitar tone and, quite simply beautiful voice are the primary elements to the sound with a sprinkling of other instruments, most prominently bodhran, adding to the texture where appropriate.

The eight tune sets and one solo guitar tune - each a virtuosic showcase - that make up the bulk of the tracks never outstay their welcome as can sometimes happen with instrumentals in less skilful hands. The sets juxtapose traditional and contemporary material with many of their components being written by Cath James. All are either Celtic in origin or inspiration - including a smattering of Cape Breton pieces. Despite the predominance of tunes, as with the first CD the songs were real high points - once again Eoin has taken familiar songs ('Bonny Light Horseman' and 'Roseville Fair') and made the listener appreciate them anew. The one unfamiliar song to me, 'The Turtle and The Asp' by Martin Simpson (not the one from Scunthorpe!), is based on an old fable and is also a beauty.

Finally, as if the music wasn't enough the production values throughout are of the highest order - sound quality is pristine and the lovely fold out jacket that contains the CD features evocative photos of Wortley Top Forge and concise but interesting notes.

I can safely say that anyone who has the first Skyhook CD can purchase this one without any fear of being disappointed. Those who don't have the first should buy both!

FATEA (Joe Grint)

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CD review, Irish music magazine

"Skyhook is a group encompassing Cath James, Martin Harwood and Eoin Teather, line–up two fiddles, a Foley zook and guitar. This album also features Andy Seward on Double bass Ciaran Boyle on bodhrán and Sue Cain on backing vocals. This collection commemorates Jerry Holland (hard to believe it’s five full years since he died – what happened the famous fiddle?), Nigel West and singer Hugh Waller from Sheffield.

I listened to this just before the Referendum, and the Scottish flavour of the tunes seemed very apposite, such as Calum Breugach / Miller of Drone / Midgefest / Snowing up the Hill, with the first tune dating back to 1887, the latter two are very recent compositions. There is distinctive North of England flavour to their songs, The Turtle and the Asp left a dark shadow. I enjoyed a Cape Breton et of treats on Caber Feidh / Mutt’s Favourite / Miss E. MacLeod / Aoife’s reel.

The music, like those referendums arguments, will carry on regardless and hopefully we’ll hear more of this precision playing regardless of political outcomes. And of course there is one of the most surreal titles in the traditional repertoire Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. You might have felt short changed by the bluff and bluster of the Scottish referendum, not so with the manifesto here, it gets my single transferable vote."

John Brophy

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CD review, Stirrings magazine
Issue 160, Sept - Nov 2014

"Here's the long-awaited second album from this trio who, though based here in Stirrings' fair city, have their members' individual origins in Hampshire, Edinburgh and Mull respectively. What sets Skyhook apart from other folk threesomes is their special and unusual instrumental complement of twin fiddles (Cath James and Martin Harwood) - often playing in gleeful harmony - with bouzouki and/or guitar (Eoin Teather or Martin Harwood).

As you might expect given the members' backgrounds, the trio's repertoire ranges widely over various traditional musics - here principally those of Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton. Having said that, a goodly proportion of the tunes played on this disc are from the talented, award-winning pen of fiddler Cath James - and the album's title is doubly apt, for it was named in honour of the workers (sometimes known as stringsmiths) who manned the water-powered hammers in the early iron forges of South Yorkshire. The trio's craftsman-like approach to their music is evident all through the disc, with an attractively lyrical tone and thoughtful use of dynamics, while they're also unafraid to display a genial virtuosity that sits equally well with the spirit of the bothy session and the home-listening experience.

The Skyhook sound is exciting, and yet refreshingly unhurried: unlike with many folk outfits (especially those with a strong instrumental bias), one doesn't feel their overriding concern is to Make An Impression; theirs is a relaxed virtuosity, and all the more enjoyable for that. Sets like New Year's Day (track 7) build nicely and naturally, and don't need larger-than-life playing to convince or involve the listener and are more satisfyingly exciting as a result, as is the intriguing mixed set (track 9) which has as its centrepiece a sprightly strathspey. Just occasionally, the trio's sense of necessary understatement errs a touch on the side of cautiousness, but the act of pulling back is compensated for by the introduction of contributions from guest musicians Ciaran Boyle (bodhran) and Andy Seward (double bass), the latter gent also being responsible for the clean, sensibly detailed production. There are three vocal tracks, where Eoin proves himself a capable and contemporary-stylish interpreter of song on Bonny Light Horseman, Roseville Fair and Martin Simpson's Turtle and the Asp; these provide accommodating interludes between the tune-sets. And as for the final medley, well I'm so glad Cath's viola survived the "bum note" when it almost got sat on...

Skyhook's second CD is a delicious one, for sure, and well worth waiting for.

Dave Kidman

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CD review, Fiddle On magazine
March 2015

Awarded Best album of the issue

"This brand new album from Skyhook features fiddles, guitar, bouzouki, viola and voice and is a collection of new and traditional tunes and songs rooted in the traditions of Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, very much inspired by the great outdoors and forces of nature.

From the very first note of the first track, the listener is launched into a feast of music which is lively and varied, moving seamlessly from rhythmically precise instrumental arrangements of jigs, strathspeys and reels to songs performed with heart and passion. Tunes written by Cath James sit comfortably alongside much older tunes from Ireland and 19th century Scottish collections and more modern tunes from Cape Breton Island.

The quality and blend of instruments and voices is exceptional and reveals more and more of the group’s playing and harmonising expertise each time you listen. You couldn’t fail to be impressed by this second album from Skyhook. Indulge yourself; it is well worth it."

Rita E Sawrey-Woodwards

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CD review, Taplas magazine

"The second recording from the young Sheffield-based trio who play essentially Scots and Cape Breton music with a dash of Irish on a brace of fiddles, bouzouki and guitar, should consolidate Skyhook’s popular appeal. A good number of tracks feature compositions by fiddler Cath James and these sit comfortably amidst Neil Gow tunes and traditional jigs, strathspeys and reels.
Three songs - the well-known Bonny Light Horseman, Roseville Fair and Martin Simpson’s curious Turtle and Asp fable - are interspersed amongst the tunes, the lastnamed taken mostly solo by Eoin Teather before sympathetic backing fiddles from his two companions follow through to the finish.

Twin fiddles atop a bouzouki or guitar rhythm is the norm, although the flexibility provided by having two accomplished guitar/bouzouki players is occasionally exploited. The trio is occasionally augmented by the bodhran of Ciaran Boyle while Andy Seward provides double bass as well as faultless production duties."

Mike Greenwood

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CD review, Musician magazine

Autumn 2014

"The acoustic trio treat us to another album of exceptional airs, dances and ballads. Opener Snowing up the hill sets an ear-catching high standard, before Bonny Light Horseman (sic) has feet a-tapping and any chairbound listeners heading to the dance floor"

Website editor:"looks like there has been some confusion over track titles in this one?"

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CD review, Living tradition magazine
October 2014

"Two years ago, my nephew and I attended the Worrall Folk & Ale Festival near Sheffield. The keen north wind turned May to February and the audience rubbed shoulders with brass monkeys. The ale cheered us, but so did the performance of Skyhook who defied the conditions with a stirring set. Cath James (fiddle, viola), Martin Harwood (fiddle, guitar, bouzouki) and Eoin Teather (vocals, guitar, bouzouki) won me over that day. They are from Hampshire, Edinburgh and Mull respectively, but live in Sheffield which is home to one of our most thriving folk communities. At The Stringsmith’s Forge is their second album.

Traditional tunes from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton are married happily to tunes from Cath, which feature on 7 of the 12 tracks. She is a gifted composer in the traditional style. I loved Stringsmith’s Reel (named for the workers who manned the water-powered hammers in South Yorkshire’s iron forges), A Tune For Jerry Holland (sic), Tom’s Thumb (for her baby nephew) and New Year’s Day. The last is one of several tunes written in Highland bothies and she takes much of her inspiration from the oudoors and nature. Eoin sings well on the three songs. Bonny Light Horseman was learned from the singing of Hugh Waller, a stalwart of the Sheffield folk scene who died this year. Roseville Fair is followed by an appropriate reel, Kissing Is The Best Of A’. Turtle And The Asp is Martin Simpson’s animal fable.

The trio has played together for long enough to develop a potent chemistry. Eoin is a skilled accompanist, while the twin fiddles of Cath and Martin combine drive and subtlety. The pace is measured, with reflective interludes. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a bum note in one of Cath’s tunes, but it’s deliberate – to commemorate the time someone nearly destroyed her viola by sitting on it. More power to Skyhook, and warmer weather for the next time I see them.

Tony Hendry

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CD review of both albums, Sleeping hedgehog
October 2014

"Skyhook is a three-piece band from Northern England. Both Cath James and Martin Harwood play fiddles, with Cath doubling on viola , and Martin doing the same on guitar and bouzouki. Eoin Teather is the third member, playing guitar and bouzouki and singing. Their debut album, the self-titled Skyhook, was released in 2008, and the second one, At the Stringsmith’s Forge, came in 2013. In spite of the five years between the recordings they are very close in sound and choice of material. Both are mainly focused on the group’s instrumental work, with each containing nine instrumental sets and three songs.

With all three members playing two instruments, Skyhook have the possibility of varying their sound, and they use it wisely. I especially like it when they let the fiddles harmonize with each other, which is done to a great effect on some tracks. Backing wise they tend to go for the bouzouki on the faster tracks, and the guitar on the slower and softer ones.

As with all groups playing mostly instrumental music you get a lot of fast tunes, but I must admit I like them the most when they slow down a bit, or play something unexpected. ”Away again/Memories of Father Angus McConnell/Post-it-Jig” from the first album is an example of the first. Starting with a slow fiddle tune by Cath, back by finger picking guitar, it turns into a half tempo guitar duet, to finish of with a quick jig with fiddles and bouzouki.

“Eyre on a C-string/Lady Gordon of Gordonstown/Archie Menzies” is an example of both. It starts with a slow air, sounding almost classical or something Turlough Carolan would have come up with. It also contains a note that seems out of place when you hear it for the first time. I should point out that both “Away again” and “Eyre on a C-string” are written by Cath James, as are a number of other tunes on the albums.

There is also a short instrumental on the second one, where Eoin turns a reel by Branda Stubbert into a slow contemplative air. Less than two minutes but absolutely lovely.

The songs may be few, but they have selected them well. On the first album you get a nice, rather unusual reworking of “Arthur McBride”, Ewan MacColl’s mighty “A Father’s Song” and “Green Grass grows Bonny”. On the second there is a lovely version of “Bonny Light Horseman”, a rousing “Roseville Fair” and a fine reading of Martin Simpson’s “The Turtle and the Asp”.

All in all Skyhook are a trio to watch out for. Their instrumental work is superb, both with the quicker tunes and the slower airs, and their singer is second to none, but I would like them to let him sing a bit more on the next album. And if you have to choose just one of the albums take “At the Stringsmith’s Forge”, in my book it is just a little tiny bit better than the debut, just as it should be. I mean, groups are bound to develop over the years, are they not?

There is more information and a chance to listen and watch on the Skyhook’s own web page."

Lars Nilsson

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CD review, R2 Volume 2 issue 47

I heard Skyhook at a festival a year or two back and thought then that they were a name to watch. At the Stringsmith's Forge is their second album. Skyhook are from the north of England but are doing what Scottish bands do in mixing Celtic tunes from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton with original compositions, by Cath James, and stirring a few songs into the pot. They perform on combinations of violin, viola, guitar and bouzouki with guest appearances from producer Andy Seward on double bass, Ciarán Boyle on bodhrán and Sue Cain providing backing vocals.

The album builds its twelve tracks beginning with two strathspeys from Skye paired with two of Cath's tunes. The pressure doesn't really build up until after Eoin Teather's soft solo guitar interpretation of Brenda Stubbert's 'Taylor Ryan' with 'Bothy Reels'. 'In Memory of Jerry' is a gorgeous tune and 'Eyre on a C String' is a good finisher. The songs following a similar pattern. 'Bonny Light Horseman' doesn't add anything to existing versions; 'Roseville Fair' is really good and 'Turtle and the Asp' almost equals Martin Simpson's original.

At the Stringsmith's Forge should give Skyhook's career a boost. I hope it does.

Dai Jeffries

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