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Talisk: Two's Company, Three's a Concert

It’s hard to believe that three people, with three instruments, can create the sound and energy presented at a Talisk concert. Using only a fuse concertina, a guitar and a fiddle, the three musicians in the band bring a depth that keeps audiences mesmerized. Their multi-layered signature sound makes them one of the most in-demand folk-based groups to come out of Scotland in the last decade.

Mohsen Amini, an Anglo-Iranian musical prodigy, founded the trio in Glasgow in 2014. The original members were Mohsen on concertina, guitarist Craig Irving, and fiddler Hayley Keenan. “It was supposed to be a one-time gig,” he says. But the band’s chemistry and unique sound was undeniable. Talisk won the Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections two months after their formation. Their self-released debut album, Abyss, was shortlisted at the MG Alba Trad Awards as Album of the Year in 2016, the same award that Talisk named the 2017 Band of the Year.

The band began touring Europe, and audiences responded well to the high-energy performances of songs that were modern, accessible, and somewhat faintly pop-oriented. Soon they were touring internationally, playing at some of the world’s largest festivals.

Craig and Hayley eventually left Talisk to pursue personal projects. Current Talisk members include Mohsen, Graeme Armstrong, and Benedict Morris. The three band members are more than musicians. They have been described as “three master craftsmen with one unmistakable, bold sound and captivating live show.”

The instrument Mohsen plays is an unusual one. “I played the concertina because no one else wanted it,” he recalls. “I took lessons in Scotland and have been playing it for twenty years now.” Mohsen makes the concertina hip, and it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he plays it. While he did not grow up in a musical family, Mohsen says his family took him and his siblings to Irish dance classes.

Benedict is the group’s fiddle player. He grew up in an arts organization in Scotland. “I also had some music in my extended family, particularly the fiddle. I got into classical music and studied privately with a violin teacher. I attended the Royal Conservatory’s Saturday classes for six years.” All in with classical music, Benedict studied classical violin at university. His talent was recognized early on when he won the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, and he has made numerous television appearances.

“I grew up listening to great bands but have always used classical music to inform my musical aesthetic.”

Graeme Armstrong rounds out the group on guitar. “I always liked the guitar,” he says. “I really liked Jimi Hendrix when I was younger but I also enjoyed national and traditional music. It seems that I was always surrounded by music when I was growing up, mostly in pubs.”

Talisk has played around the world. “We have found there are ex-pats all over the world, and because of that, we have been generally well-received wherever we go,” Mohsen says. There is no singing. While the performances are acoustic, the music is enhanced with synthesizer and electric guitar recordings. Mohsen describes the band’s music as ‘Celtic punk’; however, he says he resists putting the band in a box. “Nowadays, bands aren’t described by one genre.” He cites Hans Zimmer and Ludovico Einaudi as his main musical influences. Talisk is probably best categorized as alternative folk.

The band released their next album, Beyond, in 2018. Experimenting with a different sound, the album has a tranquil feel - a sort of pensiveness not heard on the first album. They released a single, “Aura,” in July 2021; in February 2022, they released their third album, Dawn.

After completing a United States tour in early spring, Talisk returned to Scotland, where they toured the U.K., Spain and France. “Our first trip to America was to play at the Folk Alliance International conference five years ago,” Mohsen says. “We loved it and hope to do more tours in the United States.”

Benedict states that he feels very fortunate to play music that is well-received by audiences around the world. “We just continue to grow and grow,” he says. Mohsen adds, “We continue to pay attention to what works on stage. We kind of feel that our first two albums were practice. We have written a lot of music since Covid, and we have a lot of exciting things in store.” The energy is there, and the high-decibel volume encourages plenty of foot-stomping during their concerts. A Talisk concert is anything but tame.

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