Alasdair Fraser: new horizons
Alasdair Fraser's Skyedance Band is the latest step in a lengthy musical journey for the California-based Scottish fiddler and viola player. Fraser gave up his job as a petrophysicist to become a full-time musician in l985. and describes the move. which took him to the USA. as ‘completely accidental‘. There is nothing accidental about the development of his eclectic band. however — that has been the result of much thoughtful searching.
‘The line-up is pretty settled now. but it was a slow process. I was trying to cover a lot of angles with this band — l‘d been playing in a lot of different genres. and I needed people who would be interested in roaming over the same spectrum. from early music to traditional Scottish music to more contemporary variations. They turned out to be incredibly difficult to find!
'What I have ended tip with is a hybrid of a band which meets all these different requirements. and can explore new harmonic and rhythmic possibilities. As a fiddler. one of my main challenges is not to play the tune all the time. I'm interested in arrangements. and finding ‘ other roles for myself within the ensemble.’
The band‘s personnel combines specialisations as diverse as Baroque music. African music. and jazz. but the core of their inspiration remains firmly in Scottish traditional music. What they then do with that music. however. is less predictable.
'My writing is now tailored for these instruments and. even more importantly. these musicians. I like to think there is an essence there that is Scottish. but I‘m also interested in messing around with different forms and structures. different time signatures. or whatever. That is very stimulating. and. because this band is covering such a wide range of styles. everyone in it is in a learning process. which is a position that I like to be in.‘ (Kenny Mathieson)
'I'lie Alasdair Fraser Skvr/ancc Band. Main Auditorium. Fri 24, 7.30pm.
ma:— Common ground sound
The Quincy Jones of Irish music; the most admired musician in Ireland; the man whose luminous reputation has steadily increased over three decades as Ireland’s traditional music becomes world-popular. Donal lunny remains at the cutting edge, from the astonishineg talented, innovative and influential Planxty (with school pal Christy Moore, Andy Irvine and Liam D’Flynn) through The Bothy Band to the folk/funky Moving Hearts and various other musical involvements, some his own, and many, many more as producer/guru for groups and soloists.
His latest project is a touring band based on the Common Ground album released last year which featured the cream of Irish, or Irish-connected singers performing mainly traditional songs set in typically rhythmic and imaginative lunny productions. Bono, Sinead O’Connor, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Paul Brady - that sort of thing. It’s a great album, though not the huge success it could have been, due perhaps to the wide variety of styles it manages to fit onto the one disc.
Coming to Glasgow with him are some
Donal Lunny: a man with fingers in more musical pies than most
of lntemational Celtia’s most respected names - Clannad’s Maire Brennan, Liam D’Maonlai from Hothouse Flowers, Sharon Shannon, Hollaig Casey - and the rest are musicians of at least as high a standard.
‘lt’s the beginning of a new departure,’ he says. ‘lt’s in the spirit of Common Ground, so there are always guests. We’ve got a good deal of new music which I‘m really looking forward to playing live. That’s what it’s all about. I mean, you can do an arrangement, work at it, and it sounds great. You can take a lot of care in the studio and record it — and you think it’s really good. Then you play it on stage and realise there’s a hole in the middle. You discover that from the audience - that’s when it all makes sense.’ (Norman Chalmers)
Donal lunny’s Wheel 0! The World Band plays Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat 1 Feb.
Add it up
South-west England’s precocious Lakeman Brothers are already finding the ‘folk’ tag, even in its current, all- encompassing definition, too restricting. Their band Equation has been through a few personnel changes (Kate Busby is now with the Poozies, Carla Dillon has gone) and is now emerging as a pushy young pop band. lead singer Kathryn Roberts explains how far it goes: ‘Well I don’t think we’re ever going to have stage dancers. When the thought takes us, we still might throw in a tune on the fiddle, so we haven’t abandoned the folk thing, but we’re very much heading towards the
\ Equation: solving the pop/folk division
pop world - but taking a lot of influences with us. We’ve all been about, done degrees, studied jazz, sung ballads, all that stuff, but the line-up now is basic bass, drums, guitar, with the fiddle playing lines through the songs.’ How in the process of singing to WEA’s Blanco Hegra label, the band has been spending more time in the studio than on the road.
‘Hobody’s heard us play for over a year, and things have evolved - the music’s always changing,’ says Roberts before admitting, ‘We have done some local gigs down here in Devon and in Plymouth. And did a few in london. But the Glasgow gigs (the one with Brian Kennedy is nearly sold-out) will be, I suppose, our debut.’ (Norman Chalmers)
Equation play Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sun ZG/Mon 27 Jan.
The List’s guide to Glasgow’s traditional music festival
Imm- Gaita gala
The final concert of the festival is the pairing of The Chieftains with Spain‘s Carlos Nunez. Band. From the Celtic nation ofGalicia. Nunez. is the Madrid conservatory-tramed classical musician who. at the age of eighteen. rediscovered a passion for his native traditional music. Several years after his musical r'e- awakenirtg. his first album continues to sell in vast numbers and. following on from his involvement with The (.‘hieftain's recent Spanish-flavoured Santiago alburtr. the two groups have been touring this spectacular combined show of musicians. singers (Xirdela) and dancers. over the last year.
Along with touring. Nunez. a world- class performer on the gaita. the (ialician bagpipe. has found the time to record his second. as yet unreleased. album. ‘Within the album. we are making new connections with Cuba and Mexico. It‘s like you in Scotland r'e-connecting with Canada and Cape Breton. The music moved with the emigrants and the language. and then began to change. I found Celtic music in the (‘arribean and in Cuba. so I play with ('uban rrrusiciarrs. And l've done some tracks with Ry Cooder' hence the Mexican influences. Then there is the connection with the south of Spain and flamenco music. that's. there too.‘
l-‘iddle. accordion. bouzouki. piano. mandolin. guitar and traditional (ialician drums and percussion all feature in the Nunez group. while the leader rtrainly plays flute/whistle and his beloved bagpipes — including the Scottish Highland version. 'We always say that our pipes are in the middle between the mm and the Scottish. With the lr'ish pipes. it's too easy. you don‘t have to blow at all. With the Scottish bagpipe it's so difficult. you have to blow too rrrtrch. ()ur gaita is perfect. it’sjust right.‘ (Norman Chalmds)
(hr/us Nufa': (Hill The (life/turns play Glasgow Rava/ Concert Hall, Sun 2 Feb.
Carlos Hunez: opening the gaita to Gallcia
The List 24 Jan-6 l’cb I997 19