WITH the benefit of hindsight, the decision to take 2020 off might feel like a fortuitous one. For Niteworks, who announced at the close of 2019 that they would be taking a hiatus from performing, it proved a double-edged sword.

Certainly, there were no gigs to be cancelled but the virus which ravaged the world, including the band’s home ­island of Skye, resulted in a very different kind of sabbatical to the one they were ­planning.

“We took that year off with the aim of spending it writing, so while it may seem ‘fortuitous’ that really isn’t the word ­given the gravity of what happened and also how it affected the industry,” says drummer Ruairidh Graham.

“It did allow us the time to start ­writing the new album and we were able to really take our time with it. But that in itself can cause issues as when you feel you have all the time in the world then you sometimes don’t use it perhaps as well as you could.

“To be honest, the new album was mostly written in summer to autumn 2021. All the  recording happened around then, too.”

Listening to the band’s latest album,

A’ Ghrian (The Sun), however, the time seems to have been well spent.

The band’s trademark fusion of ­modern electronica with traditional tunes and  instruments remains but, if the previous album Air Fàir An Là (At Dawn Of Day) marked their coming of age, A’ Ghrian sees them mature even further.

They have evolved from the club-driven basslines of early releases to a broader more ­cinematic and ethereally ­atmospheric sound while retaining the essence of what makes them unique.

The maturing sound of the band is a reflection of both their longevity and the path their career has taken. Formed as schoolboys on Skye, Allan MacDonald, Innes Strachan, Christopher Nicholson and

Graham found their niche after ­exposure to Glasgow’s club scene. Since then, their approach to traditional tunes and songs has seen them work on a ­variety of projects, from VisitScotland adverts to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay in 2017, where they collaborated with composer Dan Jones to rework some of their tracks into a nine-minute accompaniment for the traditional new year firework display.

That partnership led to them being asked to provide the music for the 2020 Hogmanay drone display Fare Well, which featured Niteworks music over Jackie Kay’s spoken word poetry.

The National: Niteworks' live shows are not to be missedNiteworks' live shows are not to be missed

“The organisers approached us to say they wanted to do a drone display with poetic narration with Jackie Kay and asked if we’d like to be involved.

“It was a different affair as in 2017 we were working with Dan and he kind of took our tracks and did his thing with them, whereas this time around we were creating all the music and directing it ourselves. We had to work with the ­poetic elements so dynamically we’d need to know when there was going to be a big moment so we’d try to reflect that in the music,” says Graham.

“The nature of the project required broad expansive sounds, and that led to us going further in that direction through the writing and recording of the album.

“With this album we’ve sought to create a more expansive sound that’s cinematic in its nature.”

This approach can be heard in the new album, and their stated aim of creating something more cinematic is certainly realised. From the opening track, Each-Uisge (Water Horse), the sweeping soundscape envelopes the listener, with the clever use of sampled birdsong, ­emergency vehicle sirens and coruscating percussion, setting up the album to come. As ever with Niteworks there are guest vocalists from the Gaelic tradition, including trio Sian – ­Ellen MacDonald, Eilidh Cormack and Ceitlin Lilidh –

Alasdair Whyte and Kathleen MacInnes.

HOWEVER, complementing the band’s decision to create a wider, more complete sound, is their decision for the first time to include Scots singers in Hannah Rarity and Beth Malcolm, and indeed to cover an English folk song John Riley.

“We always want to work with a ­different variety and array of singers,” says Graham. “It keeps that excitement in what we do.

“Obviously we have our regular ­collaborations with Sian and bringing Kathleen and Alasdair back, but we ­always want to be looking for new experiences as well.

“Looking more broadly, in terms of ­doing Scots stuff you can’t ignore the ­political landscape is changing in terms of Scots. There’s a lot more focus and ­activism, especially in the traditional music world.

“There’s a lot more of a joined-up ­approach between Scots and Gaelic promotion now. These issues definitely play into the music making.

“What we’ve attempted to do for ­Gaelic we’d like to do for Scots as well.

“Gaelic is part of our story of growing up and we’ll always have that, but Scots is also part of Scotland’s language and ­identity and we are Scottish after all.”

Niteworks are unashamedly Scottish but they have grown up with a cultural confidence denied many of their predecessors. That confidence allows them to take an English folk song in John Riley and recast it with Malcolm’s Scots voice. It is one of the album highlights.

“We didn’t want to go down the route of having just your typical ­English folk voice with it so we chose Beth ­Malcolm, which is a bit more of an alternative choice for that type of song,” says ­Graham.

“We were looking for songs to cover and saw Joan Baez on YouTube singing John Riley and the melody just grabbed us somehow. We wanted to do it but didn’t know who could sing it. Then we came across a video of Beth singing with Fat Suit and knew she was the one.”

A’ Ghrian also sees the return of ­MacInnes, who last featured on ­Maraiche on the band’s first album NW. As one of the finest Gaelic singers anywhere, her stunning vocals on the title track provide the perfect ending to the album, and hopefully soundtrack the beginning of the end for the times we’ve been livng through.

“We had came across a version of her singing this song A’ Ghrian live,” says Graham. “Her voice is just ridiculous. Genre aside, her voice is one of my all-time favourite voices.

“When she came in to record the track and there’s this bit at the end where the music just trails off and she’s left singing acapella and she absolutely nailed it and me and Innes just looked at each other in awe.”

With a Celtic Connections gig – hopefully – upcoming, Niteworks are desperate to get back on stage. They will be ­appearing at SkyeLive in May and have a tour before that. And hopefully by that time the pandemic will have eased.

“You can’t deny the effect the whole pandemic has had and A’ Ghrian means the sun, so obviously it has connotations of light and coming out of the dark as the the sun rises. But it’s also reflective.”

A’Ghrian is available to buy now on CD and stream and download on all digital platforms. Niteworks’ Celtic Connections gig with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra scheduled for January 21 will now be held at the Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday, June 22