LAU are taking Scottish folk to the music to the world. But their success is causing some consternation among the traditionalists in Scotland.
The Edinburgh-based three-piece add “loopheads, distortion and other electronic tools” to their core instruments of fiddle, accordian and guitar.
The trio of Aidan O’Rourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green have just played two sessions at WOMAD in New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, which followed their appearance at the same, global festival in Adelaide, South Australia.
Speaking before their first performance, O’Rourke said their style hasn’t always been welcomed, with various online forums describing their music as a betrayal of traditional music styles.
“When we started what we are doing we knew some people would disagree and certainly there’s people who don’t like what we’re doing. And they make that clear online. But we expected that and we appreciate that some people want the traditional form to remain as it was in the 1960s and 70s.”
Green – from hails from Cambridge – says there is room for the purism of the long-established traditional artists such as Kenneth McKellar and Jim MacLeod.
“None of us mind the traditionalists, we all have a great love and respect for tradition and you need a certain number of people that want to continue a certain idiomatic way of playing this music otherwise you’ll lose some of that style, so in a way we’re grateful there are people who aren’t doing what we are doing. What we’re doing suits the WOMAD festivals and other such events,” says the accordionist, who now lives in Pathhead, Lothian.
“As an outsider I find the Scots extremely confident about their music and therefore free with what people are prepared for people to do what they want with it. There doesn’t appear to be a particularly preservationist society, it seems to be quite forward-thinking.”
Lau, who released their third album Race the Loser at the end of last year, have worked with Karine Polwart, and Cream’s Jack Bruce; have appeared on Later … with Jools Holland and performed at many diverse festivals in Britain and Europe. Their love of the tradition is matched by their inventiveness, and they focus on writing their own songs rather than play a series of standard Scottish folk songs and reels.
“There’s a whole set of different things, I suppose songs that I write tend to have a humanist element but then Aiden uses landscape a lot as an inspiration,” says Orcadian Drever.
At WOMAD New Zealand their set list included the abrasive Save the Bees, containing a fairly obvious environmental message and Horizontigo, a song written by Green that explores his fear of mountains.
The first night sees Lau play to an audience that stretches from teenagers at the front to the Over 65s seating area tens of metres back. On the second night of WOMAD they find new friends, and an equally rapturous reception. They head to Japan in June, for their fifth visit to the country. Lau say the people there have no trouble understanding them.
“The language thing doesn’t appear to be a barrier, not in the way that, say a Japanese artist signing in their own language might experience in the UK,” says Green.
“People think our music is quite filmic so we don’t really need to explain what it’s about to the audience. They can make up their own minds,” adds O’Rourke.