Scottish Fiddle Music versus Irish Fiddle Music (a non-competitive duel)

Window sign - "Unicorn this way" - at Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Ireland

In one of several well-known online variations on a theme, words attributed to the 16th President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln (who died in 1865), have him commenting that “The thing about quotes from the internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”

One music-related quote you can find on the internet has been variously linked to Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and Thelonius Monk. It is:

“Talking (or writing) about music is like dancing about architecture.”

An analysis on, suggests it was the humorist, Martin Mull, who originated that version of the statement. An alternative has it that it is “like singing about economics”.

The problem highlighted seems to be that talking about music is pointless because it is its own language. [Read more…]

The world’s largest ever fiddlers’ rally?

The Golden Fiddle Awards

Scottish traditions and culture feature in various ways in the Guinness World Records:

  • ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is one of the most frequently sung songs in English. Some of its words were written by Robert Burns himself.

The term “Fiddlers’ Rally” was coined in the early 1970s.

It was used to describe the public concert held during the annual Gaelic Mod for the competitors from the various fiddle societies from across Scotland. [Read more…]

How Willafjord Was Found

Icy Landscape, Greenland - Jan Erik Waider -

From the time that Columbus found the land mass of America barring his way westwards in 1492, many explorers braved the bleak Arctic regions in search of the elusive Northwest Passage.

It was believed that a navigable channel must exist which connected the North Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean.

Though this indeed turned out to be true, the search was lengthy. For hundreds of years, all expeditions ended in failure and some in tragedy – usually due to ships becoming trapped in the ice.

It was the mid-19th century before a feasible route for the Northwest Passage was identified.

This was in the wake of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated British expedition in 1845, all of whose members perished on the ice.

The Passage was not successfully navigated until the 20th century. It was future South Pole discoverer, Roald Amundsen, who made the first full transit by sea between 1903 and 1906. A link had finally been made between a name – ‘Northwest Passage’ – and a physical place (or, in this case, route), allowing it to be plotted on maps.

Fiddle music has a recent instance of a name finally finding a connection to a physical place in chilly climes. It is perhaps more a case of the rediscovery of a link which had become lost by the passage of time but considerable detective work was required nonetheless. [Read more…]

SFO “In the Fair City” DVD – 2016

SFO "In the Fair City" DVD Cover - 2016We’re very proud of our front of house team and we rely on them to keep us updated with audience and patrons/friends comments.

For some time they have been requesting new CDs and DVDs and we can now announce that their requests have been granted.

Recorded at our sell-out concert in Perth in February 2016, the latest DVD is entitled “In The Fair City” and has been produced containing a brand new programme which will surely enhance any music collection.

Effectively, we now have a DVD to offer our audience which reflects more or less each one of this year’s shows. This will of course enable enthusiasts to buy a close programme of the performance that they have attended this year, when the music is still fresh in their minds.

We are also completing a music CD, taken from the same concert but without any dialogue or extras. It was noted that there is still a demand for CDs and we are more than happy to fill that gap.

Recordings were also taken at Usher Hall, Edinburgh and the Alhambra in Dunfermline and the plan is that a selection of pieces from both these recordings will be combined into another CD.

All of this has has been set up by Bill Cook and Campbell Smith through Red Barn Studios who have proved to be a real find and these CDs will be on sale very soon.

On that note we also plan on releasing a DVD of our trip to the Waterfront in Belfast.

Under the stewardship of Jim Brodlie (who organised such a memorable trip to Nottingham earlier in the year) the Belfast concert turned out to be a real cracker. Stewart and Gill from Red Barn were with us on the bus and they recorded the orchestra, both on and off stage. So, with a bit of luck, we’ll have some truly memorable shots which we can use to make a great DVD. Nothing was too much trouble for these two and it turned out be a very successful exercise.

Watch this space for some exciting new material.

Note: This article first appeared in the SFO Newsletter of December 2016.

Why You Should Attend Edinburgh’s 20th Scots Fiddle Festival

Artwork for Fiddle 2016 - The 20th Scots Fiddle Festival

The Scots Fiddle Festival celebrates 20 years of sharing and promoting the Scottish fiddle tradition – in Edinburgh, over the weekend of 18-20 November 2016.

Since the first one in 1996, the festival has grown steadily in size and reputation.

It was crowned ‘Event of the Year’ at the BBC MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards in 2012. This year sees more than 40 musicians presenting 50 separate events.

If you are wondering why should attend Edinburgh’s 20th Scots Fiddle Festival, here are some excellent reasons. [Read more…]

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra Returns to Northern Ireland

SFO at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall - September 2015

It is almost exactly 25 years ago that the SFO played its first concert in Northern Ireland.

“Belfast gripped by fiddle fever”

That was the headline for the occasion as reported by the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday, 31 August 1991. [Read more…]

Fiddle Orchestra Classes In Aberdeen

Scottish Fiddle Orchestra 2nd Violin Section at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall - 08 September 2012

The SFO is delighted to feature in the photo introducing a video about a new course offered by Scottish Culture & Traditions (SC&T) in Aberdeen from 19 September 2016.

Ronnie Gibson will be tutoring the new “Fiddle Orchestra” course at SC&T, on Monday nights.

In the video, Ronnie explains that he idea of an orchestra might seem at odds with everything else that SC&T does. He points to a perception that “orchestras” are quite snobbish institutions that play classical music and are defined by competitiveness – which isn’t really a part of what SC&T stands for.

There is a rich history in Scotland of fiddle orchestras.

Ronnie explains that that history stretches back to the 19th century. The (professional) Reel Players of Scotland (1856) are thought to have been among the first to perform Scottish dance music in concert halls. From 1869, the first amateur group was established in Dundee: the Dundee Scottish Musical Society. In 1881, the Edinburgh Highland Reel & Strathspey Society was formed. [Read more…]

The SFO’s Most Popular Recording

Cover Art for SFO's CD "Highland Cathedral"

Most people know or have heard of the Beatles’ song, Yesterday. As with the majority of the Fab Four’s output, the composition is credited to Lennon and McCartney.

In fact, the song is thought to be largely, if not entirely, the work of Paul McCartney. He says the melody came to him in a dream he had one night in late 1963.

This was a unique experience for McCartney in the context of the Beatles, though John Lennon has said that ideas for the songs Nowhere Man and Across the Universe came to him in similar fashion.

Yesterday took a long time to complete

The time from original concept to final recording of the song was about 2 years.

McCartney had a number of hurdles to overcome

  • He was initially doubtful whether the melody was original.
  • He struggled to find an appropriate title and lyrics to go with the tune, the 3 syllable title evolving from a first-draft of ‘Scrambled Eggs’.
  • Having named the song ‘Yesterday’, he needed to be persuaded that it was not too staid a title (Beatles producer, George Martin, assured him it wasn’t).
  • There were wrangles about the song within the band, not helped by its recording for the album ‘Help’ as essentially a solo piece: Paul strumming acoustic guitar and singing, backed by a string quartet.

Yesterday’s subsequent impact is well known

Over 4,000 cover versions have been recorded, by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Daffy Duck. Bob Dylan recorded it even after making disparaging remarks about the quality of the song.

In 1997, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Two years later, a BBC poll saw it voted best song of the 20th century.

In the field of pop music, at least up to the turn of the century, Yesterday’s popularity is arguably unsurpassed. Turning to look at the music played and recorded by the SFO since its inception in 1980, which one of our recordings has proved to be the most popular? [Read more…]

It’s Bill and Aly!

Aly Bain being presented with a tune composed by Bill Cook of the SFO, Findhorn, 25 May 2016

The SFO’s Bill Cook caught up with Aly Bain at Phil and Aly’s Findhorn Concert on 25 May 2016.

Bill took the opportunity at half time to present Aly with a framed copy of Bill’s tune “The SFO’s Compliments to Aly Bain”, composed for the occasion of Aly’s 70th birthday.

Referring to the SFO’s recording of the tune on YouTube / Facebook, which he had seen, Aly said he was “over the moon” that we should think about him for his birthday and that there was a tune recording the occasion.

We would like to express our thanks to Universal Hall, Findhorn, for their permission in allowing us to use their photo of Bill and Aly – and the tune.

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s Compliments To Aly Bain

To wish Aly Bain a happy 70th birthday (15 May 2016), our Leader and President, Bill Cook, has composed a Highland Barndance – ‘The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s Compliments to Aly Bain’ – and here is a recording of it from the SFO’s rehearsal before our Nottingham concert on 09 April 2016.

Aly is currently on his ‘Le Grand Anniversaire’ tour of Scotland with Phil Cunningham.

Happy Birthday to you, Aly! We wish you many more years of music-making and laughs.