The Duplets
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The Duplets


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"August 2008 Feature: The Duplets Branching Out in Style"

BARRY GORDON welcomes the imminent launch of the debut album from clarsach duo Gillian Fleetwood and Freya Thomsen

DUOS. The Scottish folk music scene is packed to the gunnels with them – and it’s easy to see why. Two-piece bands are easy to handle; manageable and economic to run. Yet how often is it we see two young women armed with just clarsachs instead of a fiddle, guitar, or an accordion? Rarely ever. And rarely do they sound so beautifully ethereal, either. Welcome, everyone, to The Duplets.

Officially formed in 2005 by pals Gillian Fleetwood (25) and Fraya Thomsen (26), and originally hailing from Inverness, the duo’s debut album, Tree of Strings, is to be officially launched at at Eden Court’s Bishop's Palace on 25 August. Have you got your ticket yet? (see below for details).

“We hope that our album will bring us some much needed attention and help to make gigging more viable,” says Thomsen, who, like Fleetwood, has to balance her teaching work with composing and touring.

“Tree of Strings is a translation of Croabh nan Teud, the last track on the album, which is a very old harp tune. We liked it because a tree with its roots, trunk, branches, leaves and buds seemed like a beautiful analogy for the way the Scottish harp scene has grown in the last fifty years. We owe a lot to those who have taught us. The tradition has only recently been revived and so every player and teacher is very important.”

Indeed. Just like their peers, not since Patsy Seddon and Mary Macmaster’s Delighted With Harps album was released in 1986 has harp-led music been so warmly embraced. At Celtic Connections earlier this year, Thomsen and Fleetwood justifiably earned their five-star review in The Scotsman whilst performing alongside their luminaries - twelve of the best harp players in the world - in Harp Heaven.

So, what really makes The Duplets’ harp-dominated music stand out from the rest of their peers, then?

“I have been pleasantly surprised by the reactions we have received from some of our peers who have claimed that they didn't always rate the harp,” admits Thomsen. “Apparently we have turned a few heads and made it more appealing to those hardened bagpipers. It’s also a challenge because, as the line up is unusual, we have to work hard to convince people it is a good idea sometimes. The harp is such a visual instrument, so I suppose having two on stage is quite striking.”

Fleetwood concurs: “The harp is a funny instrument as it has a lot of limitations, such as the diatonic tuning. It’s also in a state of revival, so the repertoire isn't as big as, say, the pipes.”

Produced by upcoming producer and in-demand bassist Duncan Lyall, Tree of Strings is a stark contrast to the girls’ live show. For a start there’s more instrumentation on record. Is it only a matter of time before the duo enlarges into a trio, a quartet or a five-piece band?

“The duo is still where our head space is at musically as there is so much to be done and discovered,” maintains Fleetwood. “We love playing with a bigger band and that brings other opportunities.”

Not to mention new dimensions. “The percussion (courtesy of Donald Hay) gives rhythmic variation and groove, the bass adds the extra octave and warmth, the fiddle (Gabe McVarish) has so much drive, and Tam (Kinsella) gets a fantastic twang on the ol' banjo. We love a bit of twang.”

The girls also love a bit of fooling around in front of the video camera, too, it seems, as anyone who has seen their first foray into pop videos (Andy M. Stewart’s ‘Queen of All Argyll’) will attest. A psychedelic mash-up of Britney Spears dance moves, period dress and computer-generated imagery, it’s certainly a world away from the days of Capercaillie’s deep, meaningful videos featuring black and white images of Scottish mountains.

“We couldn't come up with a story line for ages and had some funny fall out moments,” reveals Thomsen, whose video was directed by Evanton-based John McGeoch. “So we decided to do what we love – put on some leg warmers and hot pants, and made up a dance routine in the living room. It was thanks to John's production skills that we avoided the wet T-shirt scene.”

Gillian Fleetwood: “John McGeoch was just the person to take our quite ridiculous ideas and make them look as vivid as they do. We think keeping entertainment entertaining is important. While that may sound obvious, I do think that in order to engage new audiences in folk music and thus, keep us all in a job while preserving a vital part of our culture, you might as well have fun.”

Here’s Cheers! to that.

(The Duplets launch Tree of Strings on 25 August at Eden Court’s Bishop’s Palace at 8pm. Tickets are free. E-mail to be included on the guest list; limited tickets will be available on the door.)

© Barry Gordon, 2008
- Hi Arts

"SOUND OF RUM MUSIC FESTIVAL (Isle of Rum, 11-13 May 2007)"

Saying that, spare a thought for the fragile-as-crystal harp-duo, The Duplets. Regal in their pseudo-Victorian dresses, two of Scotland’s most promising clarsch players - Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen - showcased the instrument’s versatility to spellbinding effect, proving the festival wasn’t all about playing loud, fast and hard.
- Hi Arts


THE first thing I noticed were the angels, resplendent in their saintly white robes. The next thing I heard was the sound of a dozen harps, notes hanging in the air like snowdrops dangling from a tree. Where were we? Heaven, of course.

Gathered together to deliver one of the most unique aural experiences ever heard, 12 of the most amazing harpists on the planet ensured those fortunate enough to be in the crowd left this rare Celtic Connections concert certain they had witnessed a small slice of Paradise.

Conversions of bagpipe tunes were nothing short of dramatic, the varying types of nylon, wire and electric-stringed harps creating a compelling never-heard-before sound. Germany's Jochen Vogel (one of only two men onstage) showed off his ability to bend his harp's strings, while one of the women took great delight in using a case of an accordion (the harp's nemesis) to prop up her own harp. Having performed "open harp surgery" on a broken string backstage, Mary MacMaster returned for a heartfelt ode to Kristen Nogues, a leading innovator of the Celtic harp who passed away last year.

If there was a gripe, it was that distorted microphones plagued the occasional song or two. Other than that, the only real disappointment was this ethereal gathering of enchanting harp players left the stage without receiving the standing ovation they deserved.
- The Scotsman

"THE DUPLETS - Tree of Strings Pond Chicken Music CHIK001"

This is an auspicious debut album from Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen, two young Scottish ladies who began learning and playing together at the Balnain House Harp Group in Inverness some ten years ago. Since then they’ve graduated from music courses at RSAMD and Strathclyde University, started on the concert and teaching circuits, and found many supporters in Scotland. In a crowded market place for traditional music graduates, this harp duo should stand out. It’s been done before (Patsy Seddon and Mary McMaster of Sileas are listed as inspirations) but not often.

The seven tune tracks on this 46-minute CD are mostly traditional and self-written material - nicely arranged, deftly played with evident enjoyment, while falling short of virtuosity just yet. Good harp playing is a rippling stream that can’t fail to raise the spirits, and there’s delight to be had from lively three-tune sets like Lillian’s, The Boys, Polkas and The Bendy Set. They get good support from a backing band of percussion, banjo, double bass and fiddle. The Green Set (tunes by Angus MacDonald, Diarmuid Moynihan and Kinnon Beaton) is the best example of the ensemble feel, with Gabe McVarish of Daimh and Tam Kinsella of The Unusual Suspects making strong contributions on fiddle and banjo.

There are also five songs on the album. Ca’ The Yowes, The Twa Corbies and The Rigs of Rye will be familiar to most listeners. Love is a song by their friend Claire Campbell with whom they play in the band Abagail Grey. And there’s a funky version of Andy M Stewart’s The Queen of All Argyll. Gillian’s voice is breathily expressive but there is nothing distinctive enough to make the songs more than interludes between the harping.

The final track shows what they’re about. It’s a serene old Gaelic air Croabh Nan Teud, which translates to the album’s title Tree of Strings. This is their statement of respect for the growing harp tradition in Scotland and a metaphor for the infrastructure, which has allowed them to learn and play this beautiful instrument.

Tony Hendry - Living Tradition

"THE DUPLETS - ‘Tree of Strings’ Album Review Scotland on Sunday Article Published: 21st of September 2008 4 stars - ****"

Pond Chicken Music CHIK001, £11.99
A musical term meaning two in the space of three, the Duplets have 20
?ngers playing two harps, and sometimes there is singing, too. These
enthusiastic young women, proselytisers of the revived Scottish small
harp, don't pretend to be traditional (it never was a 'folk' instrument
anyway) but sing and play old and new music with imagination,
referencing contemporary sounds more than any Scots musical
museum. Listen to the drum and bass underpinning 'Green Set' or
'Queen Of All Argyll', all funked up.
- Norman Chalmers - The Scotland on Sunday

"THE DUPLETS Tree of Strings Pond Chicken CHIK 001 (46m)"

BURGEONING Scottish youthful talent continues apace with harp and song duo, Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen. Their list of 'Inspirational Folks' reads like a Who's Who of Scottish harpies. It's headed by Corrina Hewat, and it's easy to see her influence not only in the harping style but, more particularly, in Gillian's vocal technique with its delicate breathiness in the higher registers. Tune sets such as The Green Set are given an extra dimension with some fine guest musicians.

The familiar Burns song Ca' the Yowes has a fresh and original interpretation. Catch them on YouTube with their brilliant version of The Queen of All Argyle and its amusing video. The song Love with its powerful yet fragile emotion puts me in mind of a Scottish version of The Be Good Tanyas, but taking pride of place is the final track Craobh nan Teud (Tree of Strings) where the two harps entrance with their poise and beauty.

Delyth Jenkins
- Taplas

"The Duplets "Tree of Strings" Label: Pond Chicken Music; CHIK001; 2008; 12 tracks; 46 min"

Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen play harps in the modern style: silken melodies, brazen arrangements and gutsy accompaniments. It's hard to tell exactly what their strings are made of, but they certainly produce good vibrations. In seven instrumental sets, these talented young ladies span traditions from Scandinavia to Canada, melodies from the 17th century to the 21st. The five songs are led by Gillian in a low dusky voice. Ca' the Yowes, Twa Corbies and Rigs of Rye come from the heart of the folk song tradition. Andy M Stewart's Queen of All Argyll is only a couple of decades old, and Love by Claire Campbell is a mere toddler.
Starting with a tune I know as Lord Mayo, the harp duets sparkle and stir by turns. There are eight of Gillian and Fraya's own compositions here, ranging from the frankly funky Bendy Tune to the straight strathspey Lillian Ross of Inverness: all are well worth hearing, The Boys groups three of them into a rich and varied medley. The Duplets also have a good ear for other people's compositions: Steve Cooney, Diarmuid Moynihan, Jarlath Henderson and Angus MacDonald are among the contemporary composers credited. Gillian and Fraya are joined on a few tracks by Duncan Lyall and Donald Hay on bass and drums, and on a couple of sets by the fiddle of Gabe McVarish and the banjo of Tam Kinsella.
The strength of this CD is definitely in the instrumental tracks. My favourites are Donald Blue, The Up Downey, Good Man in the Kitchen and that bendy tune. Tree of Strings is not a highly-polished or over-produced album, and it's all the more refreshing as a result. The atmosphere is more like a small informal concert than a studio recording, full of spirit and spontaneity. A very creditable first album, and a great name for a record label.
Alex Monaghan
- Folk World


Demo 2006

"Tree of Strings" - The Duplets. Pond Chicken Music 2008.

Radio airplay includes:

BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, Celtic Music Radio, BBC Radio Shropshire, Footstompin' Celtic Music Podcast, Leith FM and The Garden Sessions.

For more information regarding our work as session musicians out-with our work as The Duplets you are welcome to email us.



The Duplets - Scottish Harp & Song Duo
Brought up in the Highlands of Scotland, Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen first met in musical workshops at Balnain House, Inverness. Both went on to study in Glasgow where their friendship and musical partnership continued to develop and resulted in the formation of The Duplets, who debuted with a sell-out concert at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival in 2005. They have since played, and often taught, at many other festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe, Celtic Connections, the Green Man Festival, the West End Festival, Blas, Solfest, The Giant’s Footstep, and the Dinan Harp Gathering.

The Duplets specialise in harp, song, and group music for all ages. As well as their engaging performances at concerts and festivals across the UK and Europe, they have run workshops for, among others, The Clarsach Society, The Edinburgh International Harp Festival, and Celtic Connections. They have written for the Journal of the American Harp Society of America and in an exciting new departure composed the soundtrack for a film by Sam Firth, "The Worm Inside".
"Tree of Strings" , the Duplets debut album, featured many of their own compositions nestling between the ancient and the contemporary with musical support from Duncan Lyall, Gabe McVarish, Tam Kinsella and Donald Hay. It was highlighted as album of the month on Celtic Music Radio, and album of the week on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal. Robbie Shepherd featured them on his 'Travelling Folk' show, Mary Ann Kennedy chose their song 'Love' as a favourite on her 'Global Gathering' BBC Radio Scotland programme, while their music video, "The Queen of All Argyll" (2008) won an Albert Award. In 2009 their drive and enthusiasm to perform and promote their music took them to the finals of the Prince's Trust Award for Young Highland Entrepreneur of the Year. They have been hailed as "leading lights of Scottish music" in Scotland on Sunday.
Their intertwined harps and vocals can also be heard on 'Long Case Clock Suspension" the debut album of Inverness singer/songwriter Claire Campbell's band, Abagail Grey, produced by Chris Geddes of Belle and Sebastian.
The future looks bright for the Duplets with upcoming concerts in the USA, UK and Europe. They'll be appearing with Abagail Gray at Celtic Connections 2011 and at a showcase in Los Angeles, enchanting new audiences with their undoubted talent and passion for the harp and its music, ancient and modern.