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…]

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…]

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.

Aly Bain – Take a Bow

Boys of the Lough Concert Ticket - 1984

Aly Bain helped get me through my Highers.

A cassette recording of the album “Open Road” by Boys of the Lough was the soundtrack to much of my revision.

At that time, the Boys were a four-piece band, featuring Irishman Cathal McConnell and Northumbrian brothers, Dave and Tich Richardson, alongside Aly.

Though Aly’s Shetland music certainly featured, the bulk of the Boys’ repertoire was (and still is, today) Irish music. The album includes sets of driving reels and jigs, including the first recording of Dave Richardson’s ‘Calliope House’ (first and last tune in the set), these days a staple of sessions all over the world – and part of a set of jigs in this year’s SFO programme. [Read more…]

Macpherson’s Farewell

Fiddle

One of the highlights of this year’s SFO programme is “Macpherson’s Farewell” (also known as “Macpherson’s Rant”), which our conductor and musical director, Blair Parham, has arranged for orchestra and bagpipes.

This famous air was written by the infamous James Macpherson (1675 – 1700), freebooter (pirate) and fiddler, in the final hours before his death, by hanging, at the Market Cross of Banff on 16 November 1700. Macpherson reputedly played the melody at the scaffold, before offering his fiddle to anyone in the crowd who would take it. [Read more…]

Willie Hunter – SFO Pays Tribute 20 Years On From His Untimely Death

The SFO’s concert programme for 2014 includes a tribute to Shetland fiddler, Willie Hunter, who died in 1994 at the age of 60.

Yla Steven plays probably Willie’s best-known composition – the Slow Air “Leaving Lerwick Harbour” – in an arrangement by the SFO’s late Musical Director, John Mason.

Leaving Lerwick Harbour

The tune was written after the return of his aunt Babsie to New Zealand following a holiday in her native Shetland. Willie always recalled her departure on the ferry and it inspired him to compose this beautiful melody. It is thought to have been Willie’s favourite among all his compositions. [Read more…]