The Castalia

‘Quite the best debut album that has come this way in a long time’ – The Living Tradition

Isla Ratcliff’s debut album The Castalia (November 2021) is inspired by the 4 months that she spent in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 2019. Featuring traditional and self-composed tunes, Isla’s album expresses her love for the tradition, its ethos of community, and the power of music to bring people together. Buy The Castalia here.

In 2019, Isla spent four wonderful months in Cape Breton, an island on the east coast of Canada with a rich traditional music culture. Studying on international exchange at Cape Breton University and immersing herself in the local culture, she fell in love with the music, the people and the place. She particularly fell in love with the sense of community and inclusivity that is integral to Cape Breton traditional music.

Isla also travelled to New Brunswick to meet her 3rd and 4th cousins, Hugh, Judy and Lynn. They are the descendants of her great-great-granny’s brother, who emigrated with his family from Glen Clova to South Tilley, New Brunswick in 1873 on the Castalia.

This album is an expression of what Isla collected during her time in Canada: new repertoire, inspiration for new compositions, deep friendships, a fresh approach to interpreting tunes, realisations about herself as a musician, and an appreciation for kindness and community. 

The Castalia is a remote recording project. Isla and cellist Ellen Gira recorded at Castlesound Studios in Scotland, pianist Adam Young recorded at Lakewind Sound Studios in Cape Breton, and stepdancer Annabelle Bugay recorded at Tonal Park in the USA. The album was produced by Marie Fielding, and was mixed and mastered by Marie and Stuart Hamilton at Castlesound Studios. Elly Lucas designed the beautiful artwork.

Isla has created a podcast to accompany the album, ‘The Castalia Podcast’. In each episode, she introduces us to a musician whom she met in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, some of whom were involved in the making of her album. Guests include Dawn and Margie Beaton, Chrissy Crowley, Kyle MacNeil, Paul Cranford and Mairi Rankin. Listen to the podcast here.

Thank you to Creative Scotland, the Alan Surtees Trust and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for their financial support.

Album Reviews

  • ‘A fine debut album … showcasing her bright, articulate playing’ – The Scotsman, ****
  • ‘Quite the best debut album that has come this way in a long time. … Isla’s playing here echoes much of past masters like Jerry Holland and Buddy MacMaster.’ – The Living Tradition
  • ‘A refreshingly lively new take on trad’ – At The Barrier
  • The Castalia should ensure that Isla Ratcliff is held in equally high regard on this side of the ocean.’ – Folk World
  • ‘This recording is a vigorous new interpretation of the sometimes overly worthy school of (largely) solo fiddle recordings.’ – At The Barrier
  • ‘Ms Ratcliff has assembled almost an hour of excellent hard core fiddle music, most of it bearing the energetic stamp of Cape Breton Island.’ – Folk World
  • ‘The crunchy triplets and driven bow of Cape Breton fiddling are to the fore here, but Ratcliff’s skills extend far beyond that.’ – Folk World
  • ‘A beautifully crafted debut’ – Shire Folk