Fall In Love With TALISK Scot/Trad/Folk at The Ellen for Valentine’s Show

Kathleen Johns

When approached about doing a write up on the Scottish Trad/Folk band Talisk, I did a quick Internet lookup before agreeing. I was unfamiliar with the genre and it sounded a little, well, less than exciting. My Internet search piqued my curiosity to learn more after viewing just thirty seconds of a Talisk YouTube video. My mind, along with its preconceived notions of Scot/Trad/Folk consisting of boring ballads and blaring bagpipes, was blown away! Described by media as “Ground-breaking, chart-topping, genre-bending, globetrotting, instantly enthralling…” with a “driving, fiery sound,” I found myself falling in love with their distinctive and energetic vibe. I now became most willing to interview one of three band members, concertinist Mohsen Amini, in anticipation of their February 14th Bozeman show to learn what magical, musical forces conspired to create this one-of-a-kind music.

From the instant our Zoom interview starts, Amini struggles to control his soulful joy for Talisk; his enthusiasm radiates throughout his being. His entire face lights up as he begins to speak about his experiences with music and how Talisk came to be. Largely self-taught, his musicality revealed itself early in his youth. Amini started playing concertina intently at the age of 10. He tells me it was either that or martial arts lessons and he chose the former. “I can play concertina but I can in no way defend myself,” he jokes. His quick wit and good humor is evident as he expands more on the group’s musical backgrounds. “Musical training I learned through a place called Comhaltas, an Irish organization in Scotland; they just teach music. It only costs about a pound a night to wear an instrument. It’s cheap as chips and it’s brilliant. But not particularly for concertina, they don’t have a concertina. So I basically am self- taught on concertina with the help of YouTube videos. And that is why I have such a strange style, and I am glad for that. Whereas Benedict (fiddle), ended up going to the Conservatoire in Glasgow and studied music there. And then Graeme (guitar) went to Newcastle.”

In a monotone voice, I joke with Amini that being a concertinist must be a real conversation starter. He quickly jests back in his thick Scottish brogue; “It is usually a conversation ender. No, really, there are not many of us around, concertinists. In fact, there are so few that it can be a real problem for instrument repairs. I have a concertina that is 120 years old and a few that are just a couple of years old because my one that is 120 years old is getting, well…old. I can fix a lot of it myself, but there are only four concertina-makers in the world, and no one in Scotland that can repair them. There are a couple people in England that repair them, so if I ever have a problem I have to call around for someone to hopefully come and help me out.”

While the concertina world may be a tiny one, the impact of Amini’s concertina playing (he also plays effects) and energetic performance style is massive, and perhaps one of the main drivers that makes Talisk a lively and refreshing listen. Reluctant to take more than an equal measure of praise for his playing over that of his band mates, Graeme Armstrong on guitar and Benedict Morris on fiddle, Amini maintains a humble balance regarding his musical influence in this chart topping group. “Synergy. That’s when you’ve got a band, though, isn’t it? We have an understanding; we are not here to massage one person’s ego. We are here to make people have a great time. Also, there are only three of us, so if you are playing against each other it is hard to make a massive sound, whereas with Talisk the live sound is humongous. It is absolutely huge. If we don’t do it like that it would be an absolute nightmare.”

“Talisk exists by accident,” Amini continues. “We started six years ago when we got offered a gig at a place that wanted four bands to do twenty minutes each. We first fell together as a five-piece. By the second rehearsal it was a four-piece. By the third rehearsal it was a three-piece; then, we formally organized to see if we could collectively gig, because there was no point in playing and not having any band to play with and just wasting the audience’s time. The club owner said; ‘You are too late to pull out of the gig now, you have to make something happen.’ So we put some sets together and played the gig and it went off really well. Then, we entered and won a folk award. We also won another award at the same time just after a couple months of playing together. With that win we got into the Cambridge Folk Festival and Celtic Connections. That was really our baptism of fire, where we had to really cut our teeth into the Trad/Folk scene. And we went for it. Now here we are, six years later, still playing away and having the best time of our lives,” beams Amini.

Talisk has continued to amass many awards not only collectively (Folk Band of the Year at the BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award, the Belhaven Bursary for Innovation, etc.), but also individually, with Amini capturing the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of The Year and Morris earning 2019’s BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year.

All three musicians have such strong formal and classical musical training that I am curious to know about how Talisk identifies within a musical genre. “We are trying to figure out what to call our genre of music because we are definitely not traditional folk,” Amini begins. “We always say we are a folk band, because folk covers everything from Crosby Stills and Nash to The Chieftains. It just covers everything, it is just music for folk, music for everyone. But we really are essentially like a cross between Traditional Scottish Music and Electronic Dance Music; we are in that beautiful place. So we are still figuring out which genre we’ve got. If you can come up with it then tell us,” he laughs.

No matter the genre, Amini is confident that Talisk inspires and will continue to deeply move audiences that come to their shows from all across the globe, from Borneo to Bozeman. What inspires Talisk? “I would say that the biggest inspiration we would have for our music is the Glasgow music scene,” says Amini. “We have such an amazing palette of music in Glasgow. It is home to some of the best traditional musicians in the world. They are unbelievable. We are influenced by everyone we play music with. We play music with them every day, every weekend. Whenever we go we play sessions, and honestly, listening to them makes you try to be better, try to do more. The Scottish scene has Celtic Connections, which is the biggest music festival in Europe. We have the best in the world on our doorstep, and every year we’ve seen them, opened for them… until eventually, this year, actually headlining the festival. It’s this that pushes every musician in Glasgow to try and be the best versions of themselves.”

Transitioning into 2022, Talisk has a lot to be excited about. “We did the Hogmanay Show on BBC1, with over a million viewers. “Hogmanay” is what we call New Year’s in Scotland. We did three sets of music, ringing in the bells and getting everyone to party! It was amazing.” It seems fitting that Talisk would be featured on a major New Year’s broadcast, seeing as how 2022 is sure to be a huge year for them. “We have our third album coming out February 11, just a few days before our Bozeman gig. The album is more representative of our band at this time than any album we have done yet. We are the best we have ever been right now. It is as close to the live show as we have ever done. It is like a refined taste of what you would hear at the live show,” says Amini. He continues; “This year we have our big tour coming up. We started touring the States a few years ago, playing festivals; 2020 was supposed to be our big tour of the States and it hasn’t happened yet, so this will be our Cutting Our Teeth In America Tour, and we are really looking forward to it. It’s going to be BIG.” Amini is also looking forward to visiting Bozeman for the first time, adding; “I really hope it snows when we get there. Seasons! I love that.” When asked what is in store for those who take in the Bozeman show, Amini remarks heartily; “Everyone should come for the time of their life. Be guaranteed that by the end of the show every single person will be standing up, at least for the last three numbers.”

From the sound of it, Talisk’s evening at The Ellen is bound to turn into a ceilidh. “We have plenty of energy to bring to Bozeman for Valentine’s Day. Music is the energy that everyone goes to, whether they are happy or sad, in love or a little broken-hearted. It is what people do, and if Talisk can’t fill that void, then I’m over it. We just want to make everyone feel happy.”

Talisk is set to perform at Downtown Bozeman’s Ellen Theatre on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 2022. Could this date be your chance to fall in love with the music of Talisk too?

For tickets please go to www.TheEllenTheatre.com or call the box office at 406-585-5885.

This was made by

Kathleen Johns

Kathleen Johns is the owner/founder of Mantra located in Bozeman, MT. Kathleen holds a degree in English Literature from MSU/Bozeman and is an avid high altitude gardener. You can connect with Kathleen through her website at www.KathleenJohns.com

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