FOR piper, whistle player and songwriter Jarlath Henderson, time is always of the essence. As a practising doctor as well as a professional musician, life remains something of a juggling act. Finding time to record and play live is something Henderson has to work around his medical career making everything he does a balancing act. Despite this he remains adept at confounding expectations.

His first solo album Hearts Broken, Heads Turned was a revelation. Expecting an album of piping from one of the best uilleann pipers around, we were instead treated to a beautiful soundscape of songs and tunes that wowed critics and listeners alike.

His latest release, however, is perhaps more the album that was expected all along. Raw, so called because of the nature of the recording, is no less revelatory, however. While the post-production tricks are eschewed, the record nonetheless is a journey through genres, with Henderson’s piping talent the cornerstone upon which everything else is constructed.

“The title is really a reflection of how the album is treated,” says Henderson. “This is kind of the album people would have expected me to record about 15 years ago. The last album was very produced and arranged and the idea with this one was to show that it doesn’t need to be like that. And to make totally different type of music.

“It’s much more raw. The idea was just to get four musicians in the studio and see what happens. We’ve been playing the material for years but I wanted to show that good music doesn’t need any extra treatment.

“In terms of the recording, there is nothing we play on the album which we couldn’t play live – there’s no layering of parts where people are playing four or five instruments at one time. It is as you would expect to hear, in a fairly raw form.

“And then it’s been a fairly raw year for people, politically and so there’s a wee inference there, too.”

As a doctor, Henderson is more than aware of the travails that may lie ahead. There is always a dedication to the NHS in the sleeve notes of any Henderson release, and on Raw he has written a lament - First - to four doctors of Medicine Sans Frontiers who were slain in Syria. Whether writing tunes, singing songs or simply reinterpreting traditional pieces, Henderson’s humanity is always in evidence.

And while Raw does indeed feel like a prequel in some ways to Hearts Broken. Heads Turned, it is more than that. While there is a sense of the piper returning to his roots on the album, there

remains an attitude and ability which sees Henderson playing pipes yet flirting with different styles and genres. It is an album of supreme self-confidence from a musician comfortable with his varied talents but who is always open to exploration.

“There will obviously be that inference, that I’m going back to my roots but I guess for me it’s kind of saying that this is what trad music is all about,” says Henderson. “Getting friends together to make some music.It doesn’t have to be fully arranged and produced. It is what it is in that way.”

To realise Henderson’s vision, he has turned to the same group who worked with him on Hearts Broken, Heads Turned.

“It’s the same tight wee unit as did Hearts Broken,” says Henderson. “We’ve got Hamish Napier on keys, Innes Watson on guitar and Duncan Lyall on bass and synthesisers and that’s it. Just those guys and me.

“There’s never any big drama working with these guys, it transcends words now. Some of this music we’ve already been gigging – using it as a bit of a tonic when we’ve been touring Hearts Broken. So whenever it feels like there’s too much death and destruction we’d slip in a set of these tunes to lighten the mood a bit.”

Although, Raw does indeed feel like a return to his piping roots, for Henderson piping is something that he has never felt that he’s left behind. His commitment to innovation is evident in his playing, however. There’s not many pipers can play the lowland pipes in a jazz style yet Henderson pulls it off and it feels entirely natural and never gimmicky.

“There are lots of pipe albums out there,” says Henderson. “And a lot of them are very traditional. That’s not the case with this album. The idea was to look forward, avoid the safe tunes and if you are going to play a traditional tune then do it in a way it’s never been done before.

“There’s an awful lot of music in the world so there’s no point putting out something that’s the same as everything else. I don’t think I’d be doing myself justice if I made something that was 100% squeaky clean and it wouldn’t really appeal to me anyway.”

What does appeal, though, is being in control. And for Henderson that means finding a way to balance his musical career with his medical one.

“I’m returning to a formal training scenario come February which will allow me more structure, explains Henderson. “I’ve had a busy summer in the hospital but the next few months are going to be looking at new recording projects. I’m in Grantown on Spey just now recording Hamish Napiers new album – The Woods – and after that I’ve a few ideas. I discovered an ancient set of uilleann pipes recently, they’re about 17 years old, and I want to do an album showcasing the instrument with sleeve notes that show the restoration of the pipes. And then there’s a project with Innes Watson that we’re looking into. And I’m also going to do a series of uilleann teaching videos that will be available online. So it’s looking busy.”

For inspiration, Henderson listens to a variety of music, including his sister Alana and Four Tet.

“Alan played in Hozier and she’s been signed to a label so I’ve been listening to that.”

As for gigs, he remains as busy as ever touring with the Jarlath Henderson Band.

“We’re playing Montrose tomorrow and then we’re off to Belgium and then Morocco.

And then in November we’re playing as part of the Small Halls Tour, so that’ll be cool. And then we’re headed into Celtic Connections.”

Life remains something of whirlwind for Henderson, but it’s the way he likes it. He thrives on the constant movement as it prevents his mind from becoming restless. His energy is never unchanneled.

And while Henderson’s talent is now far too refined to be described as raw, his enthusiasm – for piping, for music and for innovation – remains as raw as ever. And for that we should be thankful.

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The Small Halls Festival takes place in November in Skye and Lochalsh. For info go to