Stretching Skyward is an exploration of change by Gnoss, a Scottish band that has taken the folk scene by storm. The band saw ’change’ as the common thread connecting their own experiences, the landscape of today’s world, and Scottish folk tales. Stretching Skyward embraces change in the stories Gnoss tells, and the ways they are told, using more electronic sounds and production techniques than in their previous two albums (both nominated for Album of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards).
The opening track, Stroma, is an instrumental tune written by Sinclair, whose dynamic woodwind playing dances alongside Rorie’s fiddle, and is driven by the rhythmic backbone of Moodie’s guitar and Baxter’s bodhran. The title commemorates the island of Stroma in northern Scotland which is now abandoned after being inhabited for at least a thousand years.
Hamnavoe bears witness to Moodie’s impassioned vocals as well as his gift for song writing, which here tell the story of Orkney’s past when it was ruled by the Norwegian Jarls who sailed there on Viking ships. Moodie’s song Honey Wine documents change in the lives of the Nawken, ancient Scottish travelling people who have been subject to discrimination and abuse in modern times. This song contrasts this experience with the simple travelling lives the Nawken chose to live in the past from the 9th century onwards.
Electronic samples add another dimension to Keefa Hill, a tune written by Rorie to mark another island recently abandoned, Swona. The soaring melody and build-up to a final triumphant round through the tune accompanied by ear-catching chords is a classic Gnoss trait, and one part of their distinctive style that has gained them popularity around the UK.
Written by Rorie, Audrey’s marks a different kind of change - becoming an uncle. Rorie wrote this tune for his niece’s first birthday. Audrey will undoubtedly grow to love and appreciate the tune as much as any connoisseur of good tunes surely does. The closing track is a moving cover of Gilliam Welch’s Hard Times.
This album is a remarkable continuation of Gnoss’s journey as they stretch skywards to new and exciting heights. Stretching Skyward honours and celebrates changes in different aspects of life across time, a fitting theme for an outstanding album that sees Gnoss give their distinguished style even more life.Elye Cuthbertson
Released on Blackfly Records on CD and digitally 12 May 2023. Produced, engineered, and mixed by Scott Wood at Oak Ridge Studios. Additional recording by Graham Rorie at Rumley Sounds.
4. Honey Wine
5. The Drovers
6. Keefa Hill
7. God’s Land
9. Vore Tullye
10. Dirt & Bone
11. Hard Times