Rising star of Manx folk scene

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A rising star of the Manx folk scene is set to release a new album next Saturday (February 15).

Ruth Keggin, aged 25 and from Port Erin, will unveil her first solo effort, Sheear, at the Centenary Centre, Peel.

Ruth Keggin's new album, Sheear. Picture: Phil Kneen

Ruth Keggin's new album, Sheear. Picture: Phil Kneen

A singer primarily, Ruth has created 12 songs, all new arrangements based on and inspired by traditional Manx folk tunes and songs.

And even before the album has been released, industry insiders have been heaping praise on Ruth, with Mary-Ann Stewart from BBC Radio 3 claiming: ‘Ruth Keggin is the pure and passionate Gaelic voice of the Manx music renaissance. Sheear is a thing of beauty which makes the circle of British folk music tradition whole.’

Ruth has already become quite an established figure within the close-knit music scene in the island, and has been involved in many different folk projects and concerts over the past few years.

She released an album with a group of university friends under the group name Nish As Rish, who took the Lorient festival by storm in 2011.

Singer songwriter Ruth Keggin

Singer songwriter Ruth Keggin

She also performed with the acclaimed Norway Project, which saw Manx and Norwegian folk artists join forces in a series of concerts last year.

However, Sheear – the Manx word for Westward – is a platform for Ruth to shine on her own. Although she is backed by some well-known performers, such as Manx fiddle player Tomas Callister and Irish flautist Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, it is the purity and effortless grace of Ruth’s singing that brings the album to life, and also breathes new life into familiar folk standards.

‘The 12 songs on the album are both traditional and contemporary Manx songs,’ said Ruth. ‘There are a couple in English, but most are in the Manx language. Songs like Fin As Oshin, Oikan anys Bethlehem, Tree Eeasteyryn Boghtey, Arrane ny Skeddan, and Graih Folsey – I’d say they are classed as very traditional.

‘But there are contemporary songs in the Manx idiom, by Annie Kissack and Bob Carswell, so its a nice mixture.’

Asked whether she put her own slant on the classic Manx tunes, Ruth said: ‘Definitely, in so much as how the chord progressions that have been used. Also in how the instrumentation has been used, things like lots of harmonics on the guitar, or the double bass, bowed sections, taking other tunes that may not usually be heard with those songs and using them as an instrumental somewhere. For example, in She’neen Aeg Mish as Aalin, by Bob Carswell, there’s an instrumental tune by Greg Joughin and Sarah Hewson, and that’s in the middle, and it comes back in the end too. Just putting my own spin on things.’

Soon after the official release in Peel, Ruth is heading out on tour to Ireland, playing in Belfast, Donegal and Dublin, alongside Scottish folk giants Daimh. This gives her the opportunity to take her songs and many other aspects of Manx music and culture to a wider audience, something that Ruth is very keen to do.

‘It’s a bit daunting,’ she said. ‘I do know a few people in Ireland, but it’s relatively uncharted territory for me. I’m just hoping it’ll go down well, and they’ll just like the songs, and they’ll be interested in Manx Gaelic. I think they will. I think people haven’t heard as much Manx music, so it is interesting for people to hear about.

‘Generally, I think there is a very positive attitude towards Manx music.’

Sheear is released on February 15. For more information visit www.ruthkeggin.com

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