The Scottish Highland practice of using agricultural sheds as social venues during the summer – comparable to the English barn dance tradition, except with more whisky and less underwear – provides the inspiration for this album. Good time music, no holds barred, in a firmly Highland style, yet totally contemporary: Sketch have put together something special here. The core quintet comprises pipes and fiddle, guitar and percussion, with vocals from Maeve Mackinnon, augmented by several guests and various electronic weirdnesses. Names such as Alyth McCormack, Martyn Bennett, Paul Mounsey, Keltik Elektrik, and of course the Peatbog Faeries spring to mind, so this is not a new idea, but Shed Life has a fresh edge and a fiery energy which creates an instant party atmosphere.
There’s no information on the tunes – just the track titles, which suggest Sketch take a humorous approach to their work. The dry Bulgarian Shed, the visceral Eiggbound, and the classic medley of March, Strathspey and Really? – not a lot to go on (excuse my pun), but the music says it all. My review copy came with a cheat sheet which tells me these guys owe a lot to Adam Sutherland, Fraser Shaw, and Gordon Duncan of course, plus some contemporary Irish tunesmiths and a huge helping of traditional Gaelic music. Maeve sings her own songs and those of her ancestors, while Steven Blake and Neil Ewart pump out the tunes, ably supported by Chris Waite and Iain Copeland.
Ten varied tracks take us from an almost documentary collage of ’50s radio and Galician piping, through thumping dance tunes in Chilli Pipers vein, to hauntingly beautiful vocals. It’s impossible to pick favourites: every piece has its own appeal, the adrenalin rush of Oidhche Boogie or the cool vibes of The Earthship, ceilidh capers on ShedmauS or bagpipe berserkers on Fire Them Up. Definitely one of the best Scottish albums of 2012, Shed Life is packed with punch and guaranteed to please the party animals amongst us. It even has a tourist-friendly cover – check out www.totalsketch.com for a preview.