A BAROQUE harp with its own built-in amplification device will feature in a concert by a leading Scottish harp player in West Kilbride.

The bray harp was designed to cut through the noise of dances and gatherings in castles and the houses of the landed gentry in Scotland during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

It’s one of three harps that leading Scottish harp player Karen Marshalsay will be bringing to the Barony Centre at West Kilbride Village Hall on Sunday, November 5 for the Vertex Festival along with the more familiar modern gut-strung clarsach and the wire-strung harp from the Gaelic tradition.

“Harp players were the ceilidh band leaders of the day back in Renaissance times,” said Karen.

She continued: “And the bray harp was the instrument they played. Each string has a 'bray' – a small piece of wood – that creates a buzzing effect, not unlike the sitar. If you put that together with a crumhorn and a tabor, or hand drum, that would have been the band that people danced to.”

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Karen will be playing at West Kilbride Village Hall on Sunday, November 5Karen will be playing at West Kilbride Village Hall on Sunday, November 5 (Image: Rob Adams)

Karen has worked with some of folk and traditional music’s foremost musicians, including the founder of the internationally regarded group Boys of the Lough, singer-flautist Cathal McConnell.

She is a member of the long-established Scottish group the Whistlebinkies and will be playing traditional tunes and original compositions from her album, The Road to Kennacraig, which she released just before the Covid pandemic.

“Even now, I still see the concerts I’m playing currently as the promotional tour because the pandemic meant the tour I had booked had to be rearranged and then rearranged again, which has been the case for many musicians,” she added.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Karen will be playing the bray harp at the eventKaren will be playing the bray harp at the event (Image: Rob Adams)

The album was produced by Robin Morton, who oversaw classic albums including Scottish folk music hero Dick Gaughan’s definitive recording, Handful of Earth.

Unfortunately, Morton has since died, meaning that The Road to Kennacraig was his final production.

So his contribution, says Karen, has become all the more special. As well as playing harp music she will talk informally about the tunes and the harps.

She continued: “Robin was great to work with because he was such a stickler for melody and clarity. He really made me work and I think the album sounds better due to his input.

“The harp has associations with angels, of course, although the bray harp isn’t quite so angelic. It often comes as quite a surprise to audiences because it looks as you might expect a harp to look but it sounds entirely different from the other two.”

For more information about the event and tickets visit Eventbrite at eventbrite.co.uk/e/karen-marshalsay-with-fraser-fifield-and-graeme-stephen-tickets.