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Promoting the Bagpipe Revival since 1986

The Bagpipe Society

CD Review - Marvara - High On Life

Belgian piper Marieke Van Ransbeeck is well known to readers of Chanter. A great piper with a crisp style and a sense of fun and adventure in her playing and compositions. In many ways this album is the soundtrack to her travels and studies in Scandinavia from 2017-19 (see her article ‘Expedition in the North - Logbook of a Belgian piper’, Chanter, Vol.35, No.2, Summer 2021) a sonic travelogue that hangs together as a complete story with a beginning, middle and end.

Marieke plays Flemish/French bagpipes made by Olle Geris, a musette by Remy Dubois (an early one of his, I think, and very beautiful) and a set of Swedish bagpipes by Max Persson. Three high quality instruments that any piper would covet. She has put together an excellent band to breathe life and spontaneity into her compositions and arrangements – Hilke Bauweraerts (Belgium) – diatonic accordion; Villads Hoffmann (Denmark) – cittern, violin, guitar; Frederik Mensink (Denmark) – double bass and Marten Hillbom (Sweden) – percussion. They all sing too. The band is impeccable throughout and it feels as though you’re being transported along through the different moods and inspirations of the tunes. Arranging music for any group of folk musicians and folk instruments can fall into stylistic cliches – little tricks you’ve heard many times before – but clearly work has gone into making each piece tell its own story, and the band’s energy and talent ensure the inspiration for each piece is respected and sounds fresh.

For example, Chokolade Pandekage uses rhythmic spoken voices, from a whisper to a shout, to great effect with a simple party tune/riff that pushes you to dance; Devil’s Polska and the following track Snowscooter evoke, in very different ways, travelling through a northern landscape in Winter; and Polka Battle recalls a cracking pub session. The album ends quietly and reflectively with Slow Tune, a beautifully constructed piece that finally converted me to the sound of the musette.

The sleeve art deserves a mention here. Marieke has collaborated with flower artist Elien Allaer, visual artist Wouter Medaer and photographer Alexander Popelier to create headdresses of flowers and evocative images that are joyful and compliment the overall feeling of positive creativity about this album and project. If I may say so, musicians should work with visual artists more often. They can, of course, add extra layers of richness and texture that complement the music.

As I was listening to this a few thoughts came to mind in no particular order …. As long as people have existed there has been a difference between art and craft and they don’t always co-exist harmoniously. The technical ability to deliver supports the creative inspiration very well here. Albums that tell a story, have a theme, bring together experiences linked by people, time and places, are often way more satisfying to listen to than albums of disparate tracks. Full marks to Marieke Van Ransbeeck for developing a project that is more than the sum of the parts. Thirdly, one of the challenges for any composer of ‘folk’ tunes - and particularly for pipers, due to the inherent peculiarities of the instrument - is how to (re-) arrange the same notes, and relationships between notes, that crop up in a thousand other tunes into something even vaguely original. Well, she has composed some great tunes for this album which I’m sure other people will want to learn and play for themselves.

You can listen to the album on Spotify and order direct from the band at Go Danish Folk Music. Catalogue number: GO2121