SFO thrilled by the prospect of Northern Nights of Music and Song

Shetland road verge in Summer

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s Northern Nights Tour will see us visit Moray, Orkney and Shetland over the course of a week in July 2018.

For details of ticket sales and prices, please scroll to the bottom of this article.

The tour commences with a concert in Elgin Town Hall on Saturday 21 July 2018 at 7.30pm.

After spending that night in Moray, our tour bus will then take us west along the A96 and north up the A9 to Scrabster for the ferry transfer to Stromness in Orkney on 22 July.

The following evening, we play a concert at the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall (Monday, 23 July at 7.30pm). Tuesday evening – 24 July at 7.30pm – sees us perform in the town’s St Magnus Cathedral and we’ll then catch the 11pm ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick.

Arriving in Shetland at breakfast time on 25 July, our concert at Clickimin Complex Main Hall is at 7.30pm that (Wednesday) evening.

We depart Shetland on the evening ferry on 26 July and head back to mainland Scotland at Aberdeen. We plan to play a free concert on board the MV Hjaltland on this return journey, partly as a “thank you” to NorthLink for sponsoring our tour. [Read more…]

When you discover you have a personal connection to a historic fiddle tune

Mansion House Hotel (formerly The Haugh), Elgin, Moray, viewed across the River Lossie

(SFO Member, Peter Brash, explains how he discovered he had a surprising “personal” connection to a tune by Scottish Fiddle Music legend, James Scott Skinner).

Though it’s a few years since it featured in the SFO’s regular programme, Scott Skinner’s Cradle Song has often been played at SFO concerts.

Here’s what one concert programme said about the melody:

“James Scott Skinner was arguably the greatest Scottish Violinist / composer of all time.

Classically trained from an early age, he was conscious of the wealth of Scottish music and its popularity. He taught violin and dance throughout the north-east of Scotland and as a performer shared the stage with our greatest entertainers. Both he and Sir Harry Lauder took part in the opening of the London Pavilion Theatre.

His excellent compositions are a lasting testimony to his creative abilities.

Whilst teaching in Forres and staying in the local hotel he was returning to his room when he heard and saw a lovely young lady endeavouring to console to sleep her young child. The experience so moved him to write this simple and yet beautifully formed melody which has been used not only by performers but also as the music for more than one set of charming lyrics.”

When John Mason used to introduce the Cradle Song to audiences, he told an interesting story about it.

He would explain that the “young child” in the story had grown up to have a child of her own and he now played in the First Violin section of the orchestra – retired SFO member, Gordon MacGregor.

Gordon provides an interesting link back to a Scott Skinner tune which was first published in his Logie Collection of 1888.

Another of Skinner’s over-600 published tunes is Talisker, named after the distillery on the Isle of Skye.

Of course, the vast majority of fiddle tunes are named after people, places and events.

The tune, Talisker, appears as a reel and then a Strathspey, both published around 1882.  The link here is to the wonderfully stereotypical artwork which accompanied one published version of the tune. [Read more…]

Scots Fiddle Festival 2017

Fiddle, bow and player's left hand

The Scots Fiddle Festival (17 – 19 November 2017) is over for another year but what a fantastic weekend of music, workshops and sessions the 21st festival proved to be.

Given that some of the musicians now appearing on the main stage originally attended the festival as children along with their parents, it’s understandable that the event has a real “family” feel to it.

Newspaper reviews in The Scotsman and The Times had glowing praise for the concerts, artists and organisers.

Much of the talent on display was home-grown.

However, the Festival continued its mission to bring the best international exponents of fiddle music to the Scottish stage. [Read more…]

Campbell Smith

Campbell Smith of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, Edinburgh, 2015

As set out in the SFO Newsletter for August 2017, we’re very sad to report that, on 4th August 2017, Campbell lost his battle with what he had characteristically described as “a wee touch of cancer”, something with which he had several run-ins over many years.

Campbell never seemed to let anything get him down. He always had a positive outlook, which he communicated to everyone with whom he came in contact. He always had words of reassurance or encouragement.

In the context of the SFO, Campbell was a larger-than-life character.

On stage, he was literally “larger” because, as the orchestra’s only left-handed fiddler, he immediately stood out to audiences. [Read more…]

The Niel Gow Scottish Fiddle Awards 2017

Fiddle - "F" hole, bridge and strings

Niel Gow is arguably the father of Scottish fiddle music.

The first Niel Gow Scottish Fiddle Awards will take place at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, on Sunday, 26 March 2017 from 10am until 5pm.

As a worthy successor to the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship, for the first time, the occasion will also feature a junior competition.

The junior competition is open to young people aged 15 and under. The requirement is to play a Slow Air, March, Strathspey and Reel.

The afternoon session from 2pm until 5pm (including an interval) features the senior competition. The requirements are rather more demanding for the seniors. They must each play 3 selections: [Read more…]

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 quoteinvestigator.com, 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 - Unsplash.com

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…]