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Allen Water – Kalos

US folk trio, Kalos, introduce their new video - a recording of a 300-year-old traditional Scottish tune celebrating the landscape.

‘Allen Water’ is a mesmerising tune that dates back at least 300 years, originating in Scotland. Recorded by the US trio, Kalos, as part of their new album, Headland (which they are currently crowdfunding for here, if you’d like to help them out), theirs is a beautiful, lilting three-part arrangement for fiddle, accordion and acoustic guitar. The accompanying video gets its debut here on Tradfolk today, so we took the chance to ask them a few questions about the tune’s history and their relationship with it.

About ‘Allen Water’

Kalos, a folk trio, stand in thick woodland next to a rusting truck, playing violin, accordion and acoustic guitar. They are wearing jeans and thick sweaters and two of them have thick beards.
Kalos. Photo credit: Winsome Bye

How did you come across ‘Allen Water’?

During the early days of pandemic isolation, Ryan, our fiddle/viola player, discovered this tune while doing a deep dive into the Henry Playford collection of 1700, which is one of the earliest known publications of traditional Scottish fiddle tunes. The full title of the collection is A Collection of Original Scotch-Tunes (Full of the Highland Humours) for the Violin: being first of the kind yet printed: Most of them being in the Compass of the Flute.

Catchy. Did your research uncover anything more about its history?

We don’t know much about the history of this tune, other than its existence in Playford, but it takes its name from a river in the Ochil Hills that is just beautiful, so we’re taking a leap and assuming it relates to some time spent there. The spot is so gorgeous and relaxing that in the 18th century, they set up a small town there that is pretty much just a spa. It was frequented by many celebrity writers and literary types such as Charles Dickens. This tune predates all of that, but it does lend credence to the unique beauty and tranquility of the place, which the melody expresses quite well.

What does it mean to you to play a 300-year-old piece of music like this?

All three of us have seen iconic (sometimes just to us) places of natural beauty wither, or be replaced by industry, at an alarming rate in recent years. As we get older and we see places that held specific memories to us go away, we feel the loss more harshly. For us, this tune is a bit like a hymn to the pastoral beauty of the Scottish landscape, and more broadly to nature itself. During the times we live in, with the existential threats facing the planet, we find this tune both comforting and important as an ode to the peace found only in nature.

Did you do much to the original piece in order to find your arrangement?

In all honesty, we purposefully did very little. This is one of those tunes that stands tall after hundreds of years. We feel it says everything it needs to say. We approached it with a stately mindset and tried not to overthink it. Giving each of us a chance to play the tune on our own was part of that. Most of our arrangements are more complex and intertwined, which we touch on at the end here, but we really tried not to go too far. This is really just each of our interpretations of a very old tune, for which we had heard zero recordings prior to arranging.

About Kalos

US folk trio, Kalos, perform on stage in a beautiful concert hall with the lights shining down above them.
Kalos on stage. Photo credit: Dylan Ladds

Kalos features Ryan McKasson (fiddle, viola, vocals), Eric McDonald (guitar, mandolin, lead vocals), and Jeremiah McLane (accordion, piano, vocals). All three are long-standing touring artists who, as part of their development, learned from masters of traditional music (Ryan with Alasdair Fraser, Eric with John McGann, Jeremiah with Jimmy Keane). Their individual artistry springs from these strong traditional roots. As a trio, Kalos moves beyond this foundation, creating music that is compelling enough to transcend boundaries and appeal to music lovers of all stripes. 

While much of Kalos’ material is rooted in traditional forms, this does not limit the trio’s scope and collective imagination is the primary expression in its music. Kalos’ new album, Headland, does not shy away from anything in favor of a certain direction. Rather, it is a body of music that, even if sometimes in the abstract, creates an emotional narrative. The name Headland, which refers to a point where land meets sea, is representative of the exploratory space Kalos seeks in its arrangements and live performances. All of the various elements at play gather together into a collective mood, creating an environment of Kalos’ design and a memorable live music experience. As a critic for the UK’s Folkwords wrote: “There’s a certain spontaneity at work as the three musicians alternately contest and duel, combine and coalesce to bring their talents together.”

Find out more about Kalos and Headland at kalosband.com.