Traditional Irish Music
Commercial Feature : It’s a life on the road, and they love it. For the last decade the members of the Celtic band Outside Track have spent six months of every year on tour, covering the globe from Europe to the Americas, and Australia to India. It’s a hectic, dizzying schedule, but they wouldn’t be without it; playing to audiences is what they enjoy most. And now the band is returning to the UK on a two-week trek from January 14 to 30 in support of their fourth album, Light in the Dark.
“We travel with our best friends, we love what we do,” say electric harpist Ailie Robertson. “What could be better than that? Even when things go wrong out there, we’re happy. We honestly believe in the music and what we’re doing.” And it’s payed off, with the band being named ‘Group of the Year’ by Live Ireland and winning the German Radio Critics Prize for their latest album.
The Outside Track came together 10 years ago, when Scots-born Robertson and accordion player Fiona Black were both studying in Ireland. Playing at a session in a bar one night “we heard another Scots accent. We all started talking and it just grew from there.”
These days the five-piece is a multi-national affair. Alongside Roberston and Black there’s Irish flautist/lead singer Teresa Horgan and fiddler Mairi Rankin, a member of Canada’s first family of folk music, plus Michael Ferrie on guitar. The music they play reflects their different heritages, a mix of Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton song and dance.
“The blend is very organic. Whoever’s leading a tune influences the sound of it. We play original music as well as traditional pieces. When we’re not touring we spend hours going through archives trying to find good tunes that aren’t well-known.”
That love they have for their separate traditions comes across on stage. It’s music from across the Celtic spectrum, performed with real passion. The mix of tunes from cultures that share a common past captures the ear, but they offer much more – good songs and plenty of step dancing to shake up the crowds. There are no shrinking violets in the Outside Track.
“The biggest comment we get is that we look like we’re having so much fun when we play,” Robertson says. “It’s true – we are. There’s always a high energy level from the moment we start. People think it’s going to be delicate since women front the band, but it’s definitely not. We love to defy assumptions about the way we’ll sound.”
With the geographical distance that separates the members, getting together can prove complicated. But they’ve learned to overcome it.
“We call it our long distance relationship,” Robertson laughs. “We’re all committed to this band, we want to make it work. We Skype pretty much every day, and we probably end up seeing more of each other than we do of our partners. Really, each tour is a few very intensive weeks, then a break. But when we’re out there we have the chance to refine the arrangements for new material and make sure they work for audiences before we go into the studio to make a new album.”
A decade on the road has taught the members a great deal. They’ve worked hard to build a strong following, and they keep pushing; there’s never any complacency.
“The longevity we’ve managed is something,” Robertson agrees. “People respect that – it’s rare in our industry these days. But for us this is a full-time job. We can be in other bands, but the Outside Track remains the main thing. We have the love and belief in what we’re all doing together with this music. When we started out we were making about $25 dollars a day on the road. It’s better now, but you have to really love it to keep going.”
Audiences in the UK have been especially appreciative of the band, one important reason the members are glad to be returning, especially with an increasing number of girls in the audience.
“Hopefully we’re good role models to aspiring musicians out there,” Robertson says. “We all play to a very high level, and with the harp we’re visually quite different. But above all we have that energy and that passion. That’s what we want to put across.”
Sometimes it’s well worth taking the Outside Track.
UK Tour Dates:
Jan 14 - The Live Room at Saltaire
Jan 15 - Gwaenysgor Village Hall
Jan 16 - Square and Compass, Swanage
Jan 17 - Green Note London Folkonmonday
Jan 18 - Brixham Theatre, Brixham
Jan 21 - Jersey Arts Centre, St Helier
Jan 25 - Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
Jan 26 - The Buccleuch Centre, Langholm
Jan 29 - Glenfarg Village Folk Club, Glefarg
Jan 30 - Imbolc International Music Festival, Derry, N. Ireland
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