KRIS DREVER-IF WISHES WERE HORSES.

KRIS DREVER-IF WISHES WERE HORSES.

For the last decade, Kris Drever has managed to combine his solo career, with being a member of Lau, who nowadays, are one of the most successful, respected and progressive British folk bands of their generation. However, to reach the heights Lau have, hasn’t been easy. Each of the three members of Lau have had to make sacrifices. 

In the case of Kris Drever, he’s had to put recording his third solo album on hold. This must have been frustrating for Kris Drever. His first two albums, 2006s Black Water and 2010s Mark The Hard Earth had been released to widespread critical acclaim. However, Lau were on the verge of making a big breakthrough. Everyone had to make a sacrifice. So Kris Drever’s solo career put recording his third solo album on hold. 

By 2015, Lau had established themselves as one of the premier British folk groups. They had just released their fourth studio album, The Bell That Never Rang in May 2015. The Joan Wasser produced album was released to critical acclaim, further cementing and enhancing Lau’s reputation as one of the most progressive and successful folk trios. All the hard work and constant touring had been worthwhile. Now Lau could enjoy the fruits of their labour; and Kris Drever could record his third studio album.

Eventually, Kris Drever had written eleven new songs, which he recorded with his band. These songs became If Wishes Were Horses, which will be released by Reveal Records on 25th March 2016. Not only does If Wishes Were Horses marks the return of Kris Drever, but finds him celebrating ten years as a solo artist. He’s come a long way in a short space of time.

The Kris Drever story began in 1978, in Kirkwall, on the beautiful island of Orkney. That’s where Kris Drever was born into a musical family.

Ivan Drever, Kris’ father, had been a folk musician since he was a teenager. By then, Ivan Drever had been winning talent shows all over Orkney. Then in 1974, Ivan Drever founded his first folk group, Knowe O’Deil. He would be a member right up until the late eighties, when Ivan Drever left and released his debut album Homeland in 1989. A year later, in 1990, Ivan Drever joined Celtic rockers Wolfstone. By then, his son was getting ready to follow in his footsteps.

Already, Kris Drever had learnt to play the guitar. Soon, he would become an active participant in Orkney’s folk scene. This was akin to the first part of a musical apprenticeship for Kris Drever. The highlight of Kris Drever’s nascent musical career came when he took part in the Orkney Folk Festival. However, by the time he was seventeen, Kris Drever decided to move to the mainland.

Having left home, Kris Drever settled in Edinburgh in 1995. Soon, he became a familiar face at the Tron Ceilidh House, where he played several nights a week. At one point, Kris played double bass, but soon, returned to his trusty guitar. By then,  as he had honed his own unique style, and was able to seamlessly, switch between musical genres. Kris was just as happy playing country, folk, jazz and rock. This made Kris an ideal candidate for session work.

Given his versatility and unique playing style, Kris Drever was constantly in demand for session work. He could come in learn a part, and lay it down. Soon, word was out that anyone looking for a guitarist should try this “young guy from Shetland.” However, Kris had set his sights higher than session work.

Towards the end of 2000, Kris Drever formed his first folk trio, Fine Friday with Nuala Kennedy and Anna-Wendy Stevenson. In the early days, they played a weekly gig in an Edinburgh pub. However, despite such humble beginnings, Fine Friday were destined for greater things.

They went on to release two albums, Mowing The Machair and Gone Dancing. Suddenly, the band that made its debut in an Edinburgh pub were touring Britain, Europe and even as far away as Australia. Eventually, though, Fine Friday ran its natural course and the group disbanded. However, as door closed, another opened.

No longer part of a band, Kris Drever was able to work with a variety of different musicians and bands. This included Cathy Ryan of Irish-American supergroup Cherish the Ladies. After this, Kris worked alongside two top Scottish fiddlers John McCusker and Bruce MacGregor. He also got the opportunity to work with Irish accordionist Leo McCann; Gaelic band Tannas. All this was good experience for the future, whatever it had in store for him. 

By 2005, Kris Drever had just co-founded Lau Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke. From the earliest days of Lau, the three men agreed that they should all be free to embark on other projects; as long as they came back to “the mothership.” Since then, the members of Lau have combined being a member of  “modern folk’s most innovative band,” with their various projects. In Kris Drever’s case, this has included various projects over the years.

In 2005, Kris Drever got the opportunity to play on Kate Rusby’s album The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly. It was released in October 2005. By then, Kris was working on his debut solo album.

Black Water.

This was the first time that Kris Drever had left “the mothership” since he cofounded Lau. However, he was determined that his solo career could coexist with life as a member of Lau.

For his debut album Black Water, Kris Drever had penned eleven new songs. They were recorded in Pure Records Studio, Yorkshire. Producing the album, was another Scottish folk musician John McClusker. Once the album was complete, it was scheduled for release on Reveal Records on October 23rd 2006.

Prior to the release of Black Water, critics had their say. This can be a nervous time for artists, especially new artists. Bad reviews can derail a career. However, Black Water was released to widespread critical acclaim. Critics forecast that Kris Drever was a rising star of the folk scene. 

That proved to be the case. When the BBC 2 Radio Folk Awards were announced in 2007, Kris Drever had been shortlisted. He went one further, and won his first BBC 2 Radio Folk Award; the Horizon Award For Best Newcomer. By then, Lau were preparing release their debut album. However, Kris beat them to it, with his collaboration with Éamonn Coyne.

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Honk Toot Suite.

As 2007 dawned, Kris Drever and Éamonn Coyne released their first collaboration Honk Toot Suite. It was an album that featured both new songs and traditional songs. On Honk Toot Suite, had been recorded in Edinburgh, where Kris Drever and Éamonn Coyne were joined by the great and good of British folk. Kate Rusby, Eddie Reader, Roddy Woomble and Ian Carr all featured on Honk Toot Suite. It was an impressive lineup for Kris Drever and Éamonn Coyne’s first collaboration.

When Honk Toot Suite was released, the reviews were positive. Critics hoped that Kris Drever and Éamonn Coyne would repeat the exercise, and that a followup to Honk Toot Suite would followup. However, that would be if Kris could find time. He would be busy for the next few years with Lau.

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Lightweights and Gentlemen,

Nearly two years after Lau were first formed, they released their debut album Lightweights and Gentlemen in March 2007. It had been recorded at Castle Sound in Edinburgh. Producing Lightweights and Gentlemen was Callum Malcolm, who had previously, had worked with The Blue Nile. 

Since then, he had worked with a wide variety of artists. Now he was an experienced producer, and the perfect person to produce Lau’s debut album. He could and would bring out the best in Lau.

Before the release of Lightweights and Gentlemen, critics received a copy of Lau’s debut album. Critics were excited by what they heard, and soon, were calling Lau one of the most exciting modern folk bands of recent years. Lau it seemed had come a long way in a short space of time. They didn’t know how far though.

Despite, Lightweights and Gentlemen being Lau’s debut album, Lau were and won their first BBC 2 Radio Folk Award. Lau won the award for the Best Group. By then, Lau were about to release another album.

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Live.

By then, Lau had established a reputation as one of Scotland’s best live bands. Whether it was festivals or small intimate venues, Lau were guaranteed to lift the roof with their unique brand of folk music. So it made sense that Lau released a live album.

Live was released in 2008, and was a tantalising taste of Lau live. The album featured Lau at their very best, as they combine electronic and traditional instruments, and take folk a new direction. Lau, who had already  garnered a large, loyal following, were being hailed as musical pioneers. 

Again, the judges of the BBC 2 Radio Folk Awards realised this. For the second time, Lau won the award for the Best Group. Meanwhile, Lau’s fans awaited their next studio album with baited breath.

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Arc Light

Two years after their debut album Lightweights and Gentlemen, Lau released their sophomore studio album Arc Light in March 2009. Again, Arc Light had been produced by Callum Malcolm at various Edinburgh studios during December 2008. Once Arc Light was complete, the spotlight would shine in Lau’s direction again.

Arc Light caught the attention of critics. They hailed the album Lau’s finest album. Superlatives aplenty were expounded in critically acclaimed reviews of Arc Light. It was further proof that Lau were the future of folk music. However, Kris Drever was ready to leave “the mothership” again.

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Mark The Hard Earth.

Ever since the release of Black Water in 2006, Kris Drever had mainly concentrated on Lau. Granted, he had made the occasional appearance on other artists’ albums. This included Kate Rusby’s Awkward Annie in 2007. Then in 2008, Kris played on Heidi Talbot’s In Love and Light and Duncan Chisholm’s Farrar. Later in 2008, Kris’ collaboration with Roddy Woomble and John McCusker Before The Ruin was released in September. What was hailed as an album from three of Scotland’s finest folk musicians was well received by critics. However, after the release of Before The Ruin, Kris returned to “the mothership.” A year later, he left again.

Kris had returned to the studio with producer John McCusker during 2009. With a band that included, Phil Cunningham and Karine Polwart, another eleven new songs were recorded. These songs became Mark The Hard Earth which was premiered at a concert Celtic Connections in Glasgow, during January 2010. 

The premiere of Mark The Hard Earth received rave reviews. This augured well for the release of Kris Drever’s sophomore album. It was released two months later, on 8th March 2010. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Mark The Hard Earth, which was regarded as Kris’ finest album. His fans hoped that it wouldn’t be four years until Kris returned with his third album. It wasn’t. Instead, six years passed before Kris released If Wishes Were Horses. However, he had a good excuse. Lau were about to become one of the biggest, and most progressive British folk bands of their generation.

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Race The Loser.

Three years after the release of Arc Light, Lau reyturned Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland. This time, there was no sign of Callum Malcolm. Instead, Grammy Award nominated producer Tucker Martine would produce the nine tracks that became Race The Loser.

When Race The Loser was released in 2012, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Critics hailed Race The Loser as Lau’s most ambitious, and eclectic album of Lau’s career. Tucker Martine had taken Lau right out of their comfort zone. 

Although it would’ve been easy to describe Race The Loser as a folk album, it was much more than that. Granted folk is the most predominant influence, but there’s elements of jazz, rock, electronica and soul. The soul comes in the shape of Kris’ world-weary, all-knowing vocal. It plays an important part in what was a career-defining album from Lau. 

Following the release of Race The Loser, “the mothership” took off, and Lau’s star was in the ascendancy. They were regarded as one of the leading lights and pioneers of British modern folk. For the next three years, Lau would spend much of their time touring. There was little time for Kris Drever to even contemplate recording his third album.

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Storymap.

The only album Kris found time to record was Storymap, the long-awaited followup to Honk Toot Suite, his 2007 collaboration with Éamonn Coyne. Just like Honk Toot Suite, Storymap was a mixture of old and new songs. A total of nine songs were recorded by Kris Drever and Éamonn Coyne, with a tight, talented band. Once the album was complete, it was released in 2013.

When Storymap was released, the reviews of the album were positive. Critics noted that the music on Storymap was quite different to that on Kris’ solo albums, and Lau’s four studio albums. It seemed that his collaborations with Éamonn Coyne, allowed Kris to record and release a different style of music. However, soon, Kris would return to “the mothership” once more.

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The Bell That Never Rang.

Race The Loser had been the most successful album of Lau’s seven year career. Now they were faced with following up what had been a career defining album. However, rather than record another album with producer Tucker Martine, a decision was made to change producer. For The Bell That Never Rang, Joan Wasser was chosen to record what was the most important album of Lau’s career.

Their profile had never been higher, and they were one of the most successful, respected and progressive British folk bands of their generation. So when Lau returned to Castlesound Studio, in Edinburgh, it was with a degree of trepidation. They devoted  ten years of their life to Lau. However, Joan Wasser was an experienced producer who would ensure that Lau picked up where they left off on Race The Loser.

That proved to the case. The Bell That Never Rang featured  a triumphant return from musical alchemists Lau. They’re at their at their innovative best, seamlessly combining disparate musical genres. Everything from  Celtic, electronica, electro, folk, indie rock and rock is thrown into Lau’s melting pot on The Bell That Never Rang. Producer Joan Wasser sprinkles some sonic seasoning, and the result is a dish that’s fit for a King or Queen.

Critics agreed. The Bell That Never Rang was regarded as Lau’s greatest album. It surpassed everything that had gone before.  Lau had released a musical Magnus Opus, that saw them cement their place at British folk’s top table. Suddenly, all the hard work and sacrifices the members of Lau had made seemed worthwhile. 

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After touring The Bell That Never Rang, the three members of Lau left ”the mothership.” For the last six years, they had been working seemingly non stop. It was time for some R&R. However, R&R for Kris Drever meant recording his long-awaited third album If Wishes Were Horses.

If Wishes Were Horses.

When Kris Drever began to work on his third album, five years had passed since he released Mark The Hard Earth. Kris had only released two albums in nine years. However, Lau had kept him busy. In a way, Kris had the perfect excuse. However, it didn’t stop people asking when he would be releasing his next album. Soon, he would be able to say.

Just like his two previous albums, Kris wrote the eleven songs on that became If Wishes Were Horses He then began to record the album with his tight, talented band. 

The rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Louis Abbott; bassist Euan Burton, who played piano and Wurlitzer; while guitarist Ian Carr also added trumpet. Yolanda Quartey added backing vocals. Kris played guitar, added vocals and produced If Wishes Were Horses. Stuart Hamilton took charge of engineering at Castlesound Studio, while Tim Matthew looked after engineering duties at Mareel Studio, Shetland. Once the album was recorded, all that was left was mixing and mastering.

If Wishes Were Horses was mixed in Glasgow, by Mark Freegard, at Kyoti Studio. Then the album was mastered in London, by Nick Watson at Fluid Mastering. Now all that was left was Reveal Records to set a release date for If Wishes Were Horses. Eventually, they settled on 23rd March 2016, just over six years since Kris Drever released Mark The Hard Earth. However, If Wishes Were Horses is definitely well worth the six year wait.

Opening If Wishes Were Horses is I Didn’t Try Hard Enough. Just a firmly strummed, crystalline guitar is joined by a ponderous bass. They set the scene for Kris’ hurt-filled. It’s tinged with regret and guilt, as he rues “I Didn’t Try Hard Enough.” Then Kris realises its really his “factory job” and “the repetition” that he misses. He confesses: “I miss it more than I miss you.” When his vocal drops out, just guitars combine. Soon, the arrangement builds, and Kris admits: “I couldn’t see the road ahead for tears.” Ruefully, he sings “oh well,” as the arrangement to this confusional reaches a thoughtful crescendo.

When We Roll in the Morning deals with subject of a broken relationship, and new love. Carefully, Kris strums the his guitar which was been close miked. A slow, thoughtful drum plays, Kris remembers breaking up with his former parter. There’s guilt in his voice as he sings “though she’s still alive, we don’t talk anymore.” Soon, there’s a change in his tone. “I thought that was as good as it got, but now I’m with a girl whose beautiful and wise.” In an instant, the guilt is gone, to be replaced by happiness and joy. Deep down though, he can’t quite believe his relationship will last, as he he’s loved and lost before. However, having: “fallen in love for the third time,” Kris hopes it’s third time lucky in this beautiful paean.

Capernaum the only song on the album not penned by Kris. He’s responsible for the fuller, jauntier arrangement. Guitars and bass combine before Kris’ vocal enters. He follows the lead of the guitars and rhythm section. Soon, he’s singing of old Edinburgh. The lyrics were written in  traditional Scots. Despite this, Kris almost makes them swing as he reels off local landmarks, including The Tron, kirks, mills, wynd and braes are all mentioned. Behind Kris, his band enjoy the opportunity to change direction, and like Kris showcase their versatility.

There’s a degree of urgency and drama as the band play on Shipwrecked. They ensure the arrangement almost gallops along. Drums are caressed with brushes and guitars strummed and picked. A weary Kris sings to his lover, as prepares to set sail for home. His lyrics have a cinematic quality. As the bass walks the arrangement along, and a piano adds a melancholy hue, Kris longs to be home. Deep down he’s worried. Especially when he sings: “if our boat hits the rock below, we’ll swim for shore.” Worriedly he wonders and asks “nobody gets shipwrecked any more” on this powerful, cinematic song.

Firmly and confidently Kris strums his guitar on If Wishes Were Horses. Soon, galloping percussion and another guitar accompany Kris’ vocal as wistfully he sings: “I wish that we were made of gold, I wish we would never grow old.” Later, frustration and anger fill Kris’ voice as he sings: “I wish that politicians ties, would tighten when they tell lies.” Sadness fills Kris’ vocal when he delivers the line: “when you get what you want, and it’s not what it seems.” One can’t help but wonder if this is a comment on the fame that’s come Lau’s way? After all, it’s come at a cost. The band are away from home for long periods of time. However, throughout the song, Kris seems to be wishing and longing for change, proving that rock stars are no different from everyone else.

Carefully and slowly, Kris strums his guitar on The Longest Day. Its crystalline sound chimes, adding a melancholy hue to. This is perfect for Kris’ vocal, as memories come flooding back. To him “it was The Longest Day, the air was still and I was too.” He seems to remember everything as it was. Especially, “and when I kissed you then.” That seems: “a million years ago. Soon, some of the most beautiful lyrics on the album unfold: “Thomas Wolfe says we can never go home, it’s okay I need the right to roam, we’re all wondering this world, looking for paradise, you can never set foot in same town twice.” All the time, the understated arrangement compliments the lyrics to what’s one of the highlights of If Wishes Were Horses.

A lone chiming guitar plays, before a guitar is strummed slowly and Kris whistles on When the Shouting Is Over. When his vocal enters, his delivery is impassioned. His lyrics have a cinematic quality, and his delivery bring them to life. Soon, the scenes are unfolding before the listener’s eyes.The other noticeable thing, is how melodic the song is. Even after one listen, you’re hooked and for the rest of the day will find yourself singing When the Shouting Is Over.

The tempo to Don’t Tell Me That (Human Nature) is slow, and Kris’ delivery of the lyrics is almost deliberate. It tells the story of two men from the same place, who come from the same background. One is Kris, an other someone whose unemployed. Accompanied by guitars, disbelief fills his voice as he sings “don’t tell me that because of dumb luck, you can’t see the flip side.” Nor is he willing to accept “that it’s just human nature, to grasp and keep grasping.” There’s an alternative to benefits Kris believes..,self-employment. His advice is: “if the lifeboats are rotten, and so is the ship, you better slip your shoes on, or learn how to swim.” 

There’s a change of style and tempo on Hard Year. Straightg away, the rhythm section lock into a groove, joining the guitars in accompanying Kris’ vocal. Adding backing vocals is Yolanda Quartey, whose vocal sits just bellows Kris. He’s trying to remain positive; I know it’s been a Hard Year, we’ve cried a thousand tears.” By then, a Wurlitzer has been added. Just like the addition of a backing vocalist, it takes the song in a new direction. Later, Kris suggests: “so bring things to the fore and let them know, voice your doubts and call them to the sky, grab your chances before you go, you probably won’t choose the day you die.” Just like When the Shouting Is Over, this is another song that’s melodic, memorable and hugely catchy.

The guitars on Five Past Two ring out, chiming as Kris’ forlorn, melancholy vocal delivers the lyrics. They’re about a man whose given up on life. He’s locked away in his flat, and no longer even bothers to clean his flat. As he sits alone “I cant seem to open this document.” Soon, he’s pouring his heart out. When he delivers the line: “my MU bills are still unpaid,” one can’t help but wonder if the worry of being unable to pay for his education is the cause of this despair? 

Going To The North is a homecoming song, that closes If Wishes Were Horses. Just galloping percussion, bass and guitars combine with Kris’ vocal. He’s travelling home to see his parents in “this old frozen railway car, we’re only going to the North to see our parents there, they’ll always find a bed for us, though there is no space to spare.” There’s a sense of anticipation as the train makes its way North. Kris sings “there’s a magnet in the north, you’re never really gone, the Lodestone it can’t but spin, and it knows where you belong.” As he delivers the lyrics, Kris seems happy to be back where he belongs.

That’s where it all began for Kris Drever. He left a long time ago, 1995 to be precise. Since then, he’s spent the last twenty-one years making music. He’s come a long way from his days as a session guitarist. Now he’s a member of one of the  successful, respected and progressive British folk bands of their generation, Lau.  That’s not all. Kris Drever also celebrates ten years as a solo artist during 2016. What better way to do this, than with the release of his long-awaited third album, If Wishes Were Horses. It will be released by Reveal Records on 25th March 2016, and is without doubt, the best of Kris Drever’s trio of solo albums.

With its understated, and sometimes sparse arrangements, Kris Drever’s vocal takes centre-stage. Other times, the understated arrangements showcase catchy, melodic and memorable tracks where hooks haven’t been rationed. Always, though, the arrangements allow the listener to concentrate on the lyrics. Kris tackles a variety of subjects, from education and social migration to politics, self-employment and Shetland where Kris Drever now lives. There’s also songs about love and sex. No subject is off-limits, on what’s a semi-autobiographical album from Kris Drever. He’s matured as singer and songwriter since his sophomore album Mark The Hard Earth.

That’s not surprising, as it’s six years since Mark The Hard Earth was released. However,  If Wishes Were Horses has been well worth the wait.  If Wishes Were Horses is a cerebral, career defining album from Orkney born troubadour Kris Drever. He ponders and philosophises on a variety of subjects on If Wishes Were Horses,  and in the process, breathes life and meaning into his cerebral, insightful lyrics.

KRIS DREVER-IF WISHES WERE HORSES.

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