Rapturous reception for the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra – Londonderry

Londonderry 1992

The Scottish Fiddle orchestra paid their first ever visit to Derry on Saturday and, if the rapturous reception they received counts for anything, they will be back. The SFO is well used o standing ovations but the warmth of the Derry reception took even the veterans of the orchestra by surprise.

“Ah thought the buggers would nay let us awae at al” said conductor John Mason MBE afterwards.

And although he feigned annoyance at the continued applause and even offered to leave, he was genuinely delighted with the warmth of the reception and says he would love to come back to Derry.

We always get enthusiastic and appreciative audiences but generally when we play one or two encores they are ready to go home. It was as if the audience here had no home to go to. It took at least three encores followed by a full-blooded rendering of “Auld Lang Syne” before some people eventually started to drift, albeit reluctantly, towards the exits. Others had no notion of going anywhere and their stubbornness was rewarded with yet another “final” encore.

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra was formed back in 1980 when a group of enthusiasts met a one of the frequent Fiddlers Rallies to consider the formation of an orchestra which would draw its members from “a’ the airts”. Its aim was, and still is, to create a high standard of orchestral fiddle playing without compromising traditional Scottish music. The inaugural concert in Aberdeen was a huge success and since then the SFO has settled in to a sequence of six major concerts annually in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Aberdeen, Dundee and London with a number of special concerts slotted in between. The members of the SFO give freely of their time and since inception a wide range of charities have benefited.

The Derry concert in the Rialto Entertainment Centre, was a “special” and the nominated charity for the evening was the Foyle Hospice. The evening got off to a rousing start with piper John Shepherd whetting the audience’s appetite for what was to follow. As he walked the short distance to the stage piping a medley of well known Scottish tunes, the audience was already clapping and in fine tune.

With such an enjoyable and entertaining programme it would be difficult to select a highlight from the evening. Included were many old tune favourites as well as some lesser known tunes, all of them given the SFO special treatment. Soloists for the evening were tenor James Nicol who included in his repertoire what he described as one of his all-time favourites, appropriately enough “The Londonderry Air”, and mezzo soprano, Mary Sandeman. Some may remember her as the Scots lass who reached number one in the charts some years ago with “Japanese Boy” which she sang using the stage name “Aneka”.

The “Glee Club”, made up of the more mature members of the SFO, had the audience dancing in the aisles with their selection of sing-along waltzes and Irish Two-Steps. While their younger counterparts, SFO Folk-Symphony, took centre stage with their boisterous hoe-down music played “as it has never been played before”.

Another soloist was Alistair McCulloch, a Scottish fiddle champion who was accompanied by Douglas Whyte on piano, gave the “Orange Blossom Special” a special touch displaying, like all the other fiddlers, amazing manual dexterity.

John Mason has been principal conductor and musical director of the SFO since its foundation. His strong and forceful personality comes through in the musical arrangements which are all stamped with his own distinctive style and tempo. Stewart McCreath, the orchestral leader and one of the founder members of the SFO, is an orthopaedic surgeon. He says that having to play hornpipes and reels at John Mason’s tempo has helped reduce the complication rate for orthopaedic operations at the Glasgow hospital he works in. No doubt it has also worked wonders for the waiting list.

The concert, one of the many events being promoted as part of IMPACT ’92 was a complete sell-out and brought many people who would not otherwise have visited Derry to the city.

According to Mr Johnny Murray, manager of the Rialto, SFO concerts sell themselves with minimal advertising, such is the demand for tickets.

A lot of people were disappointed not to get tickets for Saturday’s concert and they will be hoping that it will not be too long before the SFO returns to Derry.

One thing we can be sure of is that the strains of the SFO will be filling the Derry air for some time to come. Who knows, maybe the SFO will even settle down into a routine of seven annual concerts by including Derry on their established itinerary. They could do a lot worse!
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