The resurgence of the Celtic languages and musics of these islands over the past few decades has seen the blossoming of much vibrant creative artistry. The path has not been easy and there is still much to be done, but it’s fair to say that the music of Gaelic Scotland and Ireland is more widely known than that of fellow Q-Celt, the Isle of Man. Despite being declared officially ‘extinct’ by UNESCO in 2009 (a classification which was reversed after protests from Manx speakers!), Manx Gaelic (Gailge) is experiencing a cultural resurgence with language and music at its heart. As someone who has long been impatient for the island’s richly gorgeous music to reach a wider audience, Ruth Keggin appeared like a beacon of light on my horizon. A fine interpreter of Manx Gaelic song, Keggin also gives lecture-recitals about Manx culture and its place within a wider Celtic context. Released on Keggin’s own label, with the support of Culture Vannin, Sheear is a finely realised and mature work.
As might be expected, Manx culture shares with its Irish and Scottish relations a certain amount of linguistic, melodic and mythological elements, the latter of which is displayed in Sheear’s title track, Fin As Oshin, about the legendary figures which appear throughout various Celtic nations. Importantly however, the strongly individual identity of Manx music is proudly illuminated, such as on the three Carvals (vernacular religious songs) and the tragic song of three fishermen drowned at sea, Tree Eeasteyryn Boghtey, which haunts and discomposes with its eerily thrumming drone effects. The historically central role of fishing to the island is continued on Arrane y Skeddan (Song of the Herring), a variation on the stunning tune usually associated with one of Mann’s best-known songs, the sheep-tragedy Kirree Fo Niaghtey, made popular by Horslips among others. The living tradition is also well represented with recently composed songs and tunes from Manx writers and there is also a stunning translation of She Moves Through The Fair. Throughout, Keggin’s strong and true voice is underpinned by warm musicianship and judicious arrangements.
My only quibble would be with the two English-language tracks, which somewhat unsettle the album’s atmospheric coherence and arguably have the least aesthetic power. But no matter – I look forward to discovering many more Manx cultural riches from Ruth in years to come. If you haven’t already done so, begin your journey here.