rm:— lleeling in the Isles
Top fiddle players from around the world will be gathering in Edinburgh for a three-day fiddle fest. Norman Chalmers listens to the keening of the catgut.
Born in Italy. but living in Scotland for three centuries now. the violin can claim to speak with as strong a Scottish accent as any other instrument, with the obvious exception of the Highland bagpipe. a device not too suited to social or domestic music making. The ﬁddle (being a violin used to play folk music) is easily and cheaply made. relatively easy to play. and with a fretless ﬁngerboard and the singing sustain produced by the use of a bow. capable of tonal and timbral nuances which. famously, have drawn comparison to the human voice. The variety of national, regional and even local dialects are as well preserved in speech as in the ﬁddle music ofa community and it is this ﬂexibility which has shaped ﬁddle music in myriad ways. and made it the folk instrument par excellence.
‘Fiddle 96‘ celebrates the four
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an evening with voice & guitar
THE TRAVERSE THEATRE EDINBURGH
Sunday 17 November 1996
b/O : 0131 2281404
Getting in the swing: Fiddle 96 brings musicians from all over the world to Edinburgh
stringed scraper. and the Scottish dimension of its music. with a weekend of concerts, workshops. exhibitions. talks. sessions. ceilidhs. dancing and general partying. and brings some of the ﬁnest exponents of the various Scottish styles to Edinburgh.
Two women. an ocean apart. feature strongly over the weekend. Not exactly
‘It was looking like the fiddle was dying out until a few years ago when the young Ashley Maclsaac came along. He opened a lot of doors in Cape Breton. lie just blew the whole thing wide open. Now every second person wants to play fiddle.’
a household name. the great Nova Scotian player Brenda Stubbert is known wherever players gather for a session. an eponymous reel composed in her honour by Jerry Holland being a staple of every fiddler‘s repertoire.
I talked to her at home in Cape Breton: ‘It was piano I started with. when l was seven. and later my father taught me the ﬁddle. He played lrish music. There were some great lrish- style players then. men like Johnny Wilmot and Joe Conﬁant. Cape Breton fiddle music is not just from Scotland. lt's between the Irish and the Scottish.
‘But the biggest inﬂuence was Winston Scotty Fitzgerald. He was a regular visitor at our house in the 60s. and I used to play piano for him. Words cannot describe that man. He was wonderful just to watch. he had such grace when he was playing. When Winston Scotty passed away. it was like when Elvis died. The King was gone. Everybody felt that.
‘()ver the years since then it was looking like the ﬁddle was dying out. until a few years ago when the young Ashley Maclsaac came along. He opened a lot of doors in (Tape Breton. He just blew the whole thing wide open. Now every second person wants to play fiddle.‘
Maelsaac‘s ultra-modernist band approach has elevated him to platinum status in Canada. and a New York
musical life among the likes of Philip Glass and Paul Simon. And Stubbert. She flew down recently to take part in Maclsaac‘s latest video. shot in Mexico City.
Another island famous among ﬁddlers is Shetland. The youthful Catriona MacDonald. performing at ‘Fiddle 96' in company with virtuoso accordionist lan Lowthian. remembers her early experience ofthe violin: ‘At school in Lerwick I got classical lessons. and I hated it. Then I saw Aly Bain on TV. I'd never heard traditional music before that. People have this image that the ﬁddle's in every house in Shetland. but a TV in every house is the reality. I started getting lessons from the great traditional ﬁddler and collector Tom Anderson, and that was it! I was obsessed.‘
Five years at London's Royal Academy (where she met Lowthian). and winning Radio 2‘s Young Tradition awardrealised a long-cherished ambition ‘l'm lucky. It was when l was thirteen. ljust knew that music was what I wanted to do with my life. and it's happened.‘
Fiddle 96. Assembly Rooms. Iz‘rlinlmrg/r. Fri 22—Sroi 24 Nov. See Folk listings.
Brenda Stubbert: knocking Cape Breton reeling
Jan Garbarek: ancient to modern
The evocative, haunting saxophone of Jan Garbarek is one of the most immediately recognisable (and imitated) sounds in contemporary music. His early infatuation with the dense iazz styles of Coltrane and Ayler gradually gave way to a very different musical philosophy, one which has seen him through some till-odd albums for Manfred Eicher’s ECM label.
The saxophonist began to refine and simplify his approach in the early 70s, stripping away layer after layer of complexity, and moving toward a spare, starkly-etched melodic beauty which emphasised the sheer glacial granduer of his tone on both tenor and soprano saxophones.
‘It seemed to me that modern music was getting too cluttered and too abstract. There were too many elements going on at the same time, and on too many levels. Instead, I wanted clarity, with fewer notes but more information. The ideal thing for me is to create music which has the qualities of folk music, but is newly composed. That is still an ideal which I am trying to achieve.’
The music at his native Norway has provided the most crucial stimulation, both in his projects with singer Agnes Buen Garnas, and in the evolution of his own pared-down style. It has led in turn to a number of collaborations with musicians rooted in more distant folk and ethnic sources, including Mari Boine, listed Fateh Ali Khan, Anouar Brahem, and Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou, who hears a distinct Balkan sound in the icy, keening purity of his playing.
‘I suppose you might say I live in a spiritual neighbourhood which is scattered geographically around the world. A lot of our music has survived unchanged for centuries, and you can still find extremely old melodies and archaic ways of singing in the rural valleys, but with all these echoes of the music of the Middle East or the Balkans or India in them. That really fascinates me, finding all this really exotic music in my own backyard.’ (Kenny Mathieson)
Jan Barbarek Group, The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 20 Nov.
48 The List l5-28 Nov 1996