Full tilt band

Elite musicianship at Full Tilt

Full Tilt has released “Live.”

By Daniel Neely

I want to lead this week by recognizing Louise Mulcahy on being a 2021 recipient of the Decade of Centenaries Markievicz Award. The award, which offers financial support to artists from all backgrounds and genres “to develop new work that reflects on the role of women in the period covered by the decade of centenaries,” was established to honor Constance de Markievicz, an artist and in 1918 the first woman to be elected to Parliament, though she refused to take her seat and then became to first woman to be appointed to the Irish Cabinet. This was a competitive funding opportunity and a big deal as far as grants go. Congratulations, Louise, on the high honor!

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In ye olde media player this week is “Live” by the band Full Tilt. Readers might remember that I mentioned the band, which features Manus McGuire (fiddle), Alan Small (accordion), Brian Nicholson (guitar), and Gemma Donald (fiddle), back in December and teased this then-upcoming release. Welp, the album’s finally “dropped” (as the kids would say) and traditional music fans everywhere should take note, as it’s a delightful, joyous selection of music.


If you’re not yet acquainted with the band, it’s a powerhouse with each player bringing their own influences to bear on the overall sound. Born and bred in Sligo, McGuire is a player who needs little introduction to the Echo’s readers – he was a founding member of Buttons and Bows, Moving Cloud and the Brock McGuire Band, and continues to be something of a household name in Irish music. From Dunshalt, Fife, in Scotland, Small is an accomplished player with several awards, including an All-Scotland Senior Accordion title (2018), and he’s known for his abilities in a variety of playing styles, including classical, continental and jazz. Nicholson is from the island of Yell, Shetland and has staked his reputation in a variety of different styles, including country, rock, blues, swing and jazz. He’s considered one of Shetland’s finest guitar players. Donald, who grew up in Whiteness, Shetland, but is now based in Cupar, Fife, was the 2006 Glenfiddich Fiddle Champion, a 2015 finalist for the BBC’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year award, and in 2020, the All Scotland Senior Fiddle champ. The band’s got a lot of musical might at its disposal, and they make great use of it.

Again, the band’s sound reflects a range of influences, including the musics of Shetland, Scotland, and Ireland. Tunes from each of these locales (including many originals) are juxtaposed in the different sets with great success.


It’s hard to be critical of the jigs, reels, and hornpipes here – they’re the bread and butter for these players and are delivered in stunning fashion here. I especially like “Maudabawn Chapel,” “Cadean’s Jig,” “Howling at the Moon” (which features three McGuire originals), and “Johnny Barton’s Fiddle” (which features three Donald originals). The playing is incredibly tight and there’s great lift throughout. The standout for me, though, is the barndance track “Chaffpool Post,” which is quite memorable.

But there are several tracks of other tune types that give this album lovely character. “Taylor's Joy” consists of a pair of very lovely waltzes (McGuire composed the first, April Verch the second), set in a light, elegant arrangement at a perfect tempo for dancing. The fiddle interplay here is gorgeous. "Walking With Angels” is a touching, introspective piece that swells with emotion. “Lios Na Banriona (Fort Of The Fairy Queen),” a tune composed by Nollaig Casey, is another standout track. The tune itself has a baroque feel to it that is reminiscent of Carolan’s work, but once again the arrangement brings it to stunning life. A beautiful piece of music.

Nicholson is given the spotlight for a few songs. I’m particularly drawn to “Farewell Tae Yell” and “The Isles O' Gletness,” both of which are upbeat and inviting. Nicholson’s voice is distinct and his phrasing is perfect, which – once again – is enhanced further by superior arrangements.

“Live” is a stellar album. The music has a very “live before an audience” feel about it, which gives the album an energy that enhances the elite musicianship of the band’s members as well as their shared chemistry. It’d be a shame to miss out on this one – definitely one for traditional music fans to keep an ear open for! Additional information about Full Tilt’s music can be had at their website fulltilt.band.