TWO women, half a dozen instruments and a formidable musical empathy which has been described as near-telepathic: that’s Mairearad Green and Anna Massie, who start a 14-date UK tour tomorrow to launch their third duo album, Best Day.
Taking its title from a jig by Lau fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, Best Day of My Life, which they deliver, with characteristic virr, the album features Green on accordion, Highland pipes and keyboard while Anna plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin and tenor banjo. The duo make full and effective use of the possible instrumental permutations at their disposal. “People talk about our intuitive playing,” says Green. “We’ve been friends for a long time and I suppose the more you play together... it’s not easy to explain.
“It’s good, though, that we’ve got a variety of instrumentation between us and that feeds into the style of our playing.” She laughs. “I think we’ve shocked a few people with our Highland pipes and fiddle combination, but it seems to go down well.”
Green, 31, is talking from Ullapool where she recently moved after living in Glasgow for the past 15 years – “So I’m edging my way back home,” she says, referring to her native Achiltibuie, tucked away on the Coigach peninsula to the north-west of Ullapool. She grew up there surrounded by Highland music – not least that of her next-door neighbour, accordionist Ali “Beag” MacLeod, one of whose tunes Musical Flowers, features on the new album, and she was taught piping at Ullapool High School by Pipe Major Norman Gillies.
Massie, a Young Scottish Traditional Musician winner in 2003, grew up on the other side of the Highlands, in Fortrose on the Black Isle. They may have been gigging together for more than a decade now, but they first met when they were still at high school through a Highland schools music project that had them performing at the Millennium Dome.
Green is an acknowledged composer of fine tunes, her Passing Places project, written for Celtic Connections in 2009, winning the PRS Composer of the Year category in the Scots Trad Music Awards. The new album, however, sees the pair airing their first joint composition, intriguingly titled A Lovely Bottle of Botanist, which celebrates a certain Islay-distilled gin.
Another departure is the inclusion of two plaintively delivered songs, Dougie Maclean’s She Loves Me When I Try and Nanci Griffith’s Always Will, although Green says they have been singing during stage performances for the last couple of years. “We always used to tell stories between tunes and thought that would be enough of a dialogue, but promoters encouraged us to include a few songs and it feels like it’s been the right decision.”
The tour kicks off in the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, tomorrow night, the pair moving on to the Cresset Hall, Beeswing, Dumfries-shire, then Leith Folk Club, before heading south of the Border, to return mid-November for further Scottish gigs.
Scheduling tours, as well as studio time, can be problematic to say the least, considering that both are heavily in demand, Green playing with the Poozies and the Tune Book Trio (with Ross Ainslie and Simon Bradley), while Massie plays regularly with Blazin’ Fiddles and is currently touring with Bella Hardy.
Green has also been putting the finishing touches to her own Summer Isles album, inspired by these islands off Coigach, where she runs the award-winning Summer Isles Festival, and due for launch at the beginning of next year.
“I’m not going lie,” says Green. “The logistics are a nightmare. We started recording in January, at Angus Lyons’s Granny’s House studio in Lamington, and we just had to grab days there as and when we could. It is a bit of a juggling act.”
• For a full list of live dates visit www.mairearadandanna.com