February 22, 2022
]Scottish trio Talisk plays with so much power and presence, it's sometimes hard to believe there are only three of them. Their tight, propulsive, and often downright raucous instrumental sets have their basis in, but are by no means confined to, the traditional music framework – such as when they get hold of a riff or a phrase and fold it back unto itself, turning it into a rhythmic device that grows in intensity, setting the stage for improvisation or to launch into a whole other tune. Their honors include Folk Band of the Year (BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards), BBC Radio 2 Folk Award, and a number one placement for their 2018 album "Beyond" on the iTunes world music charts.
Undeniably, Talisk's sparkplug is the astonishingly fleet-fingered and dynamic concertina player Mohsen Amini (a BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year), but there’s no downplaying the canny guitar accompaniment of Graeme Armstrong and fiddle virtuosity of new member Benedict Morris (BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year). The trio recently embarked on a US tour that will bring them to Club Passim in Harvard Square for two shows on March 2 [tickets at passim.org], and Amini took some time to answer questions about not only the band's new line-up but its just-released album, "Dawn."
Q. Your gig at Passim falls almost exactly two years after the start of your ill-fated last US tour, right as the lockdown began in earnest. What do you remember about that time?
A. I remember it coming from absolutely nowhere. We were only four gigs deep into the tour of 20 and had shot off to Nashville for a festival that had already been cancelled due to a tornado, never mind Covid. We basically had a few days of wondering what we should do and then we just made the executive decision to fly home – we managed to get the second-to-last flight out of Nashville before the whole world closed down.
Q. One big change since 2020, of course, is that you have a new line-up, with Benedict Morris succeeding Hayley Keenan. Can you talk about how this transition came to be, and introduce us to Benedict?
A. Myself and Hayley created Talisk seven years ago and we never expected it to grow as big as it did. After so long in the band, Hayley was delighted with everything she had achieved and left on an absolute high to pursue her other dreams. Benedict had covered for the band a few times and he’s one of my best mates, so it was a really easy transition. We hit the studio straight away and got working on the new album. A seamless transition for everyone.
Q. Yes, that new album, “Dawn,” – it has a new, more expansive sound for the band, what with synthesizer, percussion, vocalizations, etc., and a sort of glossier feel to the recording. What was your thought process in going this direction? Do you see it as an "experiment," or as more of a long-term path for the band?
A. We have been slowly working toward the vibe we currently have and are in love with a heavily produced sound to the album. We basically just want to make the best music we can, and it just happens that this is where that lands.
Also, it might also surprise you that on stage we actually recreate the album pretty much exactly like it is recorded and play everything live – with no backing tracks! Graeme has octaves, vocal harmonizers, and stomps on his rig, whereas I play a synth pad and orchestra arrangements with my feet while also doing all the concertina parts and effects, and Benedict handles all the fiddle lines. So it’s a pretty intense set but incredibly fun to play.
Q. I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of Anglo concertina players in Scotland. So, how has your approach to playing evolved and developed?
A. To be honest, in Scotland I’m literally the only person who professionally plays the Anglo concertina, so there is a definite gap in the market to make your mark – and when I say that, I definitely mean that there is the gap to be different. I would look over to Ireland to all the concertina players and learn what I could from watching them, and then after exhausting everything, I’d try and listen to every instrument and recreate what they would do, but on the concertina. So I suppose my style is a result of that. I would be inspired by everything and anything and more often than not it would be by the people I played with, week in week out. In a nutshell, my inspiration comes from home.
Q. It’s been up and down for Boston's folk and trad music scene: Last summer, everything seemed to be trending the right way, then backslid late in the year; now, the concert and session venues are slowly, carefully trying to open back up yet again. How are things where you are?
A. Back home, the scene is absolutely booming at the moment. People in the trad scene have been doing everything they can to hold on to existing venues but also creating new ones and new ways to present music. After Covid, everyone is putting their best foot forward. From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty clear that we are going to end up with an even bigger scene than we had before. I will say that, on the flip side, we have been losing quite a lot of musicians to other jobs, just because it’s taking a while to come back – but the path is clear and coming back hard.
For more about Talisk, see taliskmusic.com. Interview by Boston Irish Contributor Sean Smith.