Hailing from Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland is Culann, a talented five-piece comprised of brothers PJ (vocals, guitar) and Sean (drums) Kelly, Greg Irish (guitar), Ross McCluskie (keyboards) and Calum Davis (bass). Formed in 2008 while still in their teens, they’ve managed to stay together as a band all these years, rather unusual for a group with five members. Skillfully blending elements of folk, Celtic-rock, alt-rock, prog rock and even a bit of reggae, as well as largely ignoring the norms of conventional songwriting and structures, they employ complex melodies, frequent time changes and an unlikely fusion of traditional Scottish music with a contemporary rock approach to create their own distinct and colorful sound. They’re also proud of their Scottish heritage, and sing it’s praises on a lot of their songs.
They’ve released music rather sporadically over the years, beginning with their self-titled debut album Culann in 2012. They followed with a few singles, finally dropping their beautiful second album The Great Ecumene seven years later, in 2019 (which I reviewed). Now, Culann are back with a fantastic new single “Rovers”. Released in September, it’s their first new music in three and a half years. The time off hasn’t diminished their dynamic sound one bit. The guys effortlessly deliver driving rhythms, fueled by Calum’s powerful chugging bass line and Sean’s explosive drums, and fortified by PJ and Greg’s dual intertwining guitars and Ross’s sparkling keyboards. The music is alternately raging and delicate, serving to heighten the tension as the song progresses, and keeping a firm grasp on our attention from start to finish. “Rovers” is another superb song from this remarkable band.
As to the song’s meaning, PJ explained: “It’s based on an old myth from our area in Scotland called ‘Rovers Doom on the Carrick Shore’. The two main characters, pirates consisting of a captain known as the ‘rover’, and his shipman, used to take their ship and raid the coastal towns. The younger of the two men hears a voice one night, an enchanting mermaid’s song beckoning them to come closer. He tells his captain, who immediately is defiant of any supernatural occurrence. He ignores the younger man’s advice and hits full steam ahead, causing the ship to crash into the rocks, whereupon the crew meet their doom. Lyrically we wanted to show both men’s point of view; the younger man laments the song and speaks of how he hears the mermaids song in his dreams. The older captain is bullish, in the lyrics he says things like ‘ignore the heathen’s lore’.”
‘Row out to me my love’ Came the gorgeous sunset cry A force, a voice of comfort With no danger & no lie It’s you, when I close my eyes No others see you in their dreams and your voice that haunts me only Are things not what they seem SAIL! It’s springtime in the harbour. Fuck the cries, the mermaid’s lies. Ignore the heathen's lore. SAIL! It’s your time in the harbour. There’s no Red Head, alive or dead, that can whip winds off the shore So now, from the burning sea We watch, as the waves turn wild and I beg don’t call another to leave one more orphan child, tonight. SAIL! It’s springtime in the harbour. Fuck the cries, the mermaid’s lies. Ignore the heathen's lore. SAIL! It’s your time in the harbour. There’s no Red Head, alive or dead, that can whip winds off the shore So why, why take me blindly I’ll never comprehend Cause you, you curse the bounty and sent me to my end Below the ocean waves across the thunder sea Below the ocean waves You sleep with me
The dramatic video, shot in black and white by Stuart Alexander, was filmed in and around the historic coastal hamlet of Portencross, and features Scottish actor Rab Affleck, who’s also starred in six other Culann videos, as well as actor Brian Blakeley. The two are seen acting out their conflict, interspersed with scenes of the band performing the song near a raging fire.