Album and Concert Reviews

What some people have said about Cantrip

Cantrip easily has one of the most intriguing sounds in Celtic music today. An instrumental sound that travels from the darkness to the light, with vocals that sometimes make you laugh, and at other times creep you out. With these two albums out on the market Boneshaker and Piping the Fish, Cantrip both has an unmistakable style and is enormously versatile.


Boneshaker is easily the darker end of Cantrip’s range. With members who have a massive command of the array of instruments they play, from fiddle (Gavin Marwick and Jon Bews), to mandolin and jaws harp (Cammy Robson), to pipes  small and piob mhor, whistles and flute (Dan Houghton), sometimes you feel like you are in the innards of some huge hurdy-gurdy. If there is a visual equivalent to much of this music, it is the famous print of a huge dungeon with an array of stairs by Prranesi. It is intense and overwhelming.

The first cut Zito is just a door opener to what else Cantrip has here. And that is pretty dynamic by itself. Beg Ar Vann is easily the strongest performance ever by a Scottish band of anything Breton. McDonald’s continues in the vein of Zito. And Scandie Tunes is a powerful play on the Norse part of the tradition. Witch is beguiling and yes, bewitching, and draws you in. And Airs is a beautiful expression of that part of the legacy including Jon Bews’s composition The End of The Tour which also points out how seamlessly Cantrip’s members both in composition and performance meld with the time honored material. And in Boneshaker there seems to be not a corner of the tradition that Cantrip doesn’t use to the fullest and make their own.

And the range of expression is completed by the vocals, from Dan Houghton’s singing of both Richard Thompson’s macabre Sam Jones (the title cut?) - which will leave you laughing for its matter of fact and fixated horror, and that riotous and non-supernatural slice of life from the streets of Glasgow 37 Bus.

Living in the innards of a huge-hurdy gurdy could be unbearable. But not this hurdy-gurdy. If you love skill, artistry, and Celtic music that really is Celtic and music you will gladly be imprisoned in this dungeon.

Piping the Fish:

Piping The Fish is lighter, less menacing than Boneshaker and for fans of Scottish music, including Silly Wizard; there is much that is slightly familiar here. I say slightly, because Cantrip really does their own thing with the music. This is apparent from the first with the first set and title cut: The 11/16th Hour/Piping The Fish/Hogties Reel with its integration of tunes from Cantrip members Jon Bews and Cammy Robson, with a refreshing new interpretation of Phil Cunningham’s great reel. Another set of Scottish tunes arranged by Cantrip members, and integrated with original Cantrip pieces is MacKinnon’s Brook/Mrs. Stewart of Grantully/ Kissin’ is Best of A’/Dr. Ross’s 50th Welcome to the Argyllshire Gathering which gives the piping of Dan Houghton a fine exposition. Both The Embezzler/Albaterua/Fionn the Hunter/The Braes of Melnish and Finnish Tune/L’Ogre aux Quartres Bras/Fear nam Meur Sleamhna continue in this versatile vein, reaching out to the musical traditions of other Celtic and Scandinavian lands.

One of the strongest cuts here, and one which I played over and over again, is War Hent Kerrigouarc’h/The Bear Dance. The strident powerful performance again underscores the truth that this is one Scots band that can play Breton music.

Dan Houghton sings a forceful The Queen of Argyll doing real justice to Andy M. Stewart’s song, as well as The Bonniest Lass which of course, is immediately familiar to anyone who knows that better known song in Rabbie Burns’ repertoire.

In Piping The Fish Cantrip both has its feet solidly in tradition, and sees innovation clearly from where it is standing.

Art Ketchen, Celtic Beat Magazine, Autumn 2008

“Have you seen the film Serenity? You should. Then you could be reminded of it by this album. It’s the combination of beauty, grit, power and love, the combination of low-tech instruments (pipes and fiddles on Boneshaker, axes and revolvers in Serenity) and high aspirations (enhancing the tradition, exposing the truth, making an almost honest buck). It’s also the natural cultural eclecticism: Cantrip pulls together Breton, Scandic, a touch of the Balkans, and several strands of Scottish music to produce a rich and savoury feast from what is basically four lads having fun. Okay, so these lads happen to be excellent multi-talented musicians and composers with the best part of a centurys experience between them. I remember Gavin Marwick as a callow pre-teen fiddler with Spootiskerry, and I dare say there are similar stories behind Jon Bews, Dan Houghton and Cammy Robson. All of them write a mean tune too: from the stately Beg Ar Vann by Houghton, through Marwick’s Grey Smoke from the Mountain and Robson’s El Gribo to the air The Tail End of the Tour by Bews, there isn’t a bad tune in sight. Cantrip also have a good eye for other people’s tunes: Zito the Bubbleman and Opinions are amongst the borrowings from contemporary composers, along with fine old reels such as Marion’s and Kitty Kelly’s. Cantrip’s sparce approach to instrumentation, with fiddle and pipes over a fretted backing and minimal overdubbing, projects a raw honesty and a striking sound which is quite compelling. The two songs are a further example of combining power and grit in a low-tech arrangement: Richard Thompson and Matt McGinn may seem unlikely bedfellows, but Sam Jones and The 37 Bus both fit perfectly into the Cantrip mix. The singing isn’t pretty, but nor are the songs. With flawless production and excellent musicianship, Boneshaker will still jolt you out of your rut. I like it, and I like Serenity. Check them out at and”

Alex Monaghan, Irish Music Review

“Whiskey Garlic Fried Rice is not the most likely song title to trip off the tongue of a DJ, but it does illustrate the eclectic tastes and slightly off-the-wall stance of Cantrip, a new band fronted by fiddlers Gavin Marwick and Jon Bews, aided and abetted by Dan Houghton on bagpipes and whistles, Cammy Robson with an assortment of largely guitar-derived strings, and Ian Willis on percussion. Silver, the collection of sizzling instrumentals, takes us to Hardanger in Norway, Irish graveyards, Finland – a track called Pirsta, meaning Silver – to Jewish weddings in Romania, dances from Brittany, and much much more. It’s nice to find a band with a twin sense of humour and entertainment so well developed.”

The Scots Magazine, March 2003

“Finnish, Yiddish, Swedish, Irish, Basque and Breton tunes are all grist to their mill, played with much skill and a touch of mischief - the album opening with Whiskey Garlic Fried Rice. The five-strong band comprises members of Malinky, Sandy Brechin Band, Iron Horse and other outfits.
“The varied all-instrumental music, both traditional and self-penned, is propelled by the djembe and other hand-percussion of Ian Willis and Cameron Robson’s guitar, banjo and bouzouki. The melodies jink and roll off the interweaving fiddle styles of Gavin Marwick and Jon Bews, and take off under the outstanding fingers and phrasing of piper Dan Houghton.”

Norman Chalmers, Scotalnd on Sunday, Jan 2003

“Fiddlers Gavin Marwick and John Bews are likely to be the most familiar names in the line-up of this new Edinburgh band. They’re joined by piper Dan Houghton, guitarist Cammy Robson and percussionist Ian Willis on a confident debut disc. Scottish tunes are the backbone of their material but, like most young bands these days, their reach is eclectic, taking in tunes and styles from Ireland, Brittany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Basque country and even a Yiddish wedding reel...”

Kenny Mathieson, The Scotsman, Jan 2002

Fiddle 2002 Festival
After a splendid album-launch performance at the recent Fiddle 2002 festival -- in addition to this very fine debut CD -- Edinburgh-based quintet Cantrip are certainly an outfit to watch. Fronted by fiddlers Gavin Marwick (ex-Iron Horse) and Jon Bews (also of Malinky), along with piper/whistle-player Dan Houghton, their line-up also includes percussionist Ian Willis, and Cammy Robson on guitar, bouzouki and banjo.

“Cantrip’s unique selling point is the international mix of their material,from Scandinavia, Brittany, eastern Europe and the Basque country as well as Scotland and Ireland -- alloyed with rhythmic nuances borrowed from funk, jazz and blues. Such is their fluency across these various traditions that there’s no hint of contrivance about their sound.

“With tracks ranging from bagpipe and guitar solos (Highland Pipe Set and All The Seasons In One Day) to several brilliantly effervescent ensemble romps, the arrangements, too, are as diverse as the calibre of musicianship is consistent.”

Sue Wilson, Sunday Herald, Dec 2002

“Thàinig Harem Scarem a-mach á càirdeasan a chaidh a dhèanamh ann an seiseanan an Dùn Éideann, agus thachair an aon rud do Chantrip, a thòisich mar cho-chruinneachadh de luchd-ciùil a bha coinneachadh anns an Ensign Ewart. Ged is e ceòl Gaidhealach (le pìob agus fidheall) a tha am bàrr, tha ùidh air leth aca mar chòmhlan ann an culturan eile - mar sin gheibhear puirt á Lochlainn, á Bulgàiria, á Dùthaich nam Basgach ’s ás a’ Bhreatainn Bhig air an clàr, Silver.
Thug e faisg air cóig bliadhna on thòisich Cantrip a’ dèanamh Silver ( Chan e rud idir dona tha sin - anns an ùine sin chaidh aig a’ chóignear air tòrr smuaineachaidh, cruinneachaidh ’s gnàthachaidh a dhèanamh gus clàr fìnealta, abaich a chruthachadh. Chanainn gum faicear tòrr a bharrachd de Chantrip san àm ri teachd.”

Catriona Black, The Scotsman, Nov 2002

“Please pass on my best wishes to Cantrip for the launch of their album next week. I heard them on Travelling Folk this week. I like the arrangement they have of my tune Good of the best to date.”

Regards R S MacDonald. Osaka, Japan, Nov 2002

Orkney Folk Festival 2002

“Cantrip must have one of the strongest group personalities on the folk circuit. Their presentation is all energy as they channel modern swoops & slides of sound into the traditional repertoire. Their music comes from wild landscapes & wild places of the spirit, incorporating evocations of the ’drone’ mode of central European & Scandinavian folk music, and tunes from northern Spain. They give us another reminder that folk music should not be something parochial set in stone, though the tradition remains the bedrock.”

The Orcadian, May 2002

“Enterprising Scottish label Footstompin’ Records never lets us down! Their latest release comes from a new five-strong outfit arising from the Edinburgh session scene, Cantrip, which comprises John Bews and Gavin Marwick (fiddles), Dan Houghton (Border and Highland pipes, flutes, whistles, bouzouki), Cameron Robson (guitar, bouzouki, banjo) and Ian Willis (percussion). Names that will be familiar in other contexts too I’m sure - think Iron Horse and Sandy Brechin, while John’s also appeared on Malinky’s latest album Three Ravens - so their personal credentials aren’t in any doubt. Silver is a spirited and sprightly collection of tracks gathering up sources and influences ranging from trad Scottish and Irish through to Scandinavian and Breton, blended together really naturally and with buckets of wit and skill much in evidence in both the playing and the arranging. The aptness of the group name is everywhere conveyed on Cantrip’s disc - it’s a Scots word meaning an antic or piece of mischief, as the insert puckishly mentions in the notes to track ten. Compositions mix self-penned with traditional, as you might expect from such an eclectic display of musicianship. And what musicianship! - the weaving of the twa fiddles is a particular delight, while Ian’s drumming syncopates delightfully yet fair keeps the listener’s feet a-stompin’, and the well-judged rhythmic and melodic input of the stringed instruments perfectly counterpoints the agile whistles and pipes. And even when the pace gets quite fast the playing is lyrical rather than frenetic. Three of the tracks are solo performances - All The Seasons In A Day pairs together two delicate guitar pieces by Cameron, while Dan’s pipes provide the focus for the lament Cumha Gun Ainm and (naturally) the Highland Pipe Set. It’s hard not to fall for Cantrip’s infectious and individual brand of folk and roots music.”

David Kidman, Netrhythms, March 2003

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