& Harp festivals preview
FOLK Natalie MacMaster!
Tracey Dares/ RSNO
Edinburgh: Usher Hall, Wed 26 Mar. The Edinburgh Folk Festival’s flagship event lies in the middle of the ten-day bash, a concert of traditional folk music with symphony orchestra.
In the past this format has rarely produced wholly satisfactory results, but there are some reasons to believe the Usher Hall combination of young, gifted Cape Breton fiddle-and-piano duo Natalie MacMaster and Tracy Dares with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra should be a success — the most important being that in this case the "folk' instrumentalists are leading; the whole evening is given over to arrangements of tunes in traditional form.
Conductor, arranger and fellow Nova Scotian Scott MacMillan is in his early 405, and originally from, of all things, a blues background. He is, as he explained from Halifax, no stranger to mixing a large musical palette.
’I’ve been working for some years now with the Symphony Orchestra of Nova Scotia, bringing in a lot of “pop” artists — including "celtic" singers and musicians — and making concerts that are accessible, that are varied, and that people can enjoy.
‘One of the pieces is a Celtic Mass For The Sea. There are solos, but it is essentially a choral piece - while later this year we'll be doing something quite different, and l've written myself into it; a blues show with the orchestra.’
A guitarist, emerging from the 605 and 705 blues scene, MacMillan later started writing for jazz groups, and finally, after some conducting lessons, wielded his first professional baton in 1987; and although it’s not mentioned in the advance publicity, he will be playing the guitar in the Edinburgh show. ’Flat picking a few tunes tunes with Tracy on the piano', is how he modestly puts it.
But how does he avoid the recurrent problem of orchestral players, glued to the notation, and a rigid
Natalie MacMaster: stringing the audience along
tempo, dragging the energy down to the level of your average Strathspey and Reel Society.
'Well, we'll have a kit drummer (Mike Travis of Caledon and Cauld Blast Orchestra) as well as percussion. And it's not all Cape Breton dance music. There’s a three movement suite, Songs Of The Cape. A setting of Carolan’s Concerto. Some Scottish slow airs. A Scott Skinner lament. A Maurice Lennon (Stockton's Wing) composition. Even some settings of melodies from Newfoundland, or as it's called around here, The Rock. But mainly I write parts that the players can get into. Syncopation that’s not too difficult, with as much variety in the tunes as possible. It's not too "modem" or dissonant. Pretty straight-ahead actually.’ (Norman Chalmers)
I See Fo/k and Harp festivals ﬁst/rigs.
Up In The Air Edinburgh: Teviot Union, Sat 22 Mar.
Up in The Air haven’t played since last year’s Mull of Kintyre Folk Festival, not because they want it that way, but because of the three members’ commitments to their other bands. From Iron Horse, fiddler GaVin Marv/ick joms The Old Blind Dogs' Davey Cattanach on percussion and guitai, and fiddler Jonny Hardie, in the occasional threesome which was
MarWick sees it as, 'really a fiddle music pr0ject, not necessarily totally Scottish. We’re now playing some Swedish music and some Cialician tunes. But they feel close to our own music, or closer, say, than bluegrass or country, so it isn’t, i suppose, just any fiddle thing, it's got to feel related.’
Hardie, whose background is in classical mUSIC (he still sometimes plays Viola) feels that ’GaVin's more versatile
originally formed to explore the poSSIbilities of a twin fiddle attack on SCottish music.
It's been a while since their eponymous and well-received first album, but the lack of live gigs hasn't dulled the public’s appetite for the ITIO.
'There's a demand fOr it, and it is upsetting to have to turn offers down, but when we’ve been asked we have to check With the others and, as you
“THE LIST 2i l.lar--3 Apr 1997
_ .u He comes from a folk background, He’s ' ', '_ , ‘ O ' not inhibited. But I've had benefits up 'n The mnp'd‘mg up f'ddl'w styles from the reading skills, and all the
from around the world
can imagine, most festivals or concerts take place at weekends, so if The Dogs aren’t playing then the Horse Will be, and that scuppers it.' A situation which Marwick describes as, ‘frustrating’.
But an imminent tour, taking in Edinburgh, sees the band and its expanding repertOire visiting Glasgow, the Borders, Yorkshire and the South of
counterpOirit and harmony i did. And playing with him has loosened me up.’ lvlarWick is equally enthusrastic. 'Playing fiddle With Jonny is really good fun, but he's also a great gunar accompanist — because he can play the tunes on the fiddle, he really knows them, their shape, and all those twiddly bits' (Norman Chalmers) I See Fo/k and Harp festi’va/s listings
Edinburgh: Queen's Hall, Fri 21 Mar. Opening the Edinburgh Harp Festival, and presented in conjunction with the Folk Festival, the festival's first night at the Queen’s Hall is dominated by women. Okay, there's the not inconsiderable presence of Steve Kettley’s sax and Brian Shiel's bass in Savourna Stevenson’s trio, but it is the latter’s virtuoso small harp that takes precedence. Joined for the night by young Shetland fiddle star Catriona MacDonald, Stevenson will be performing music from her Tus/ta/a suite, based on the life-journey of Robert Louis Stevens0ri.
Later, four women from Galway should lift a few eyebrows with their unique musical Synthesis. Although strongly featuring Mary Bergin, world- famous genius of the humble tin whistle, folk/baroque is a closer description of Dordan’s (drone/humming in lrish) 50und, but according to singer Martina Goggin, 'it just happened: we never decided on that approach. We all picked music that we liked, and it just reflected everyone’s particular bent. And I suppose, because there's harp, violin and flute, and that can be quite a “refined” sound — we don’t have accordions or anything — we’ve been perceived as being a bit arty, of perhaps falling between stools.’
Though singing in Irish and English, Goggin insists that she is not a ’sean nos’ singer —- that is, a singer in the old, decorated, very tiaditional style now found only in the more remote townships of the isolated West Coast.
On their new, Steve Cooney produced album, a good proportion of which is original material, she does, however, play the djembe, the African drum that, like the Greek bouzouki in the 70s, is infiltrating celtic mUSic groups in every country. She wanted, she says ’for Dordan, a rooted sound, and l didn’t want to play the bodhran. Then someone recommended the djembe, and I fell in love with the sound it made.
’We’re traditional in outlook. But not too traditional. it’s only when the music is moved around a bit that it becomes alive.’ (Norman Chalmers)
I See Folk and Harp Festi'va/s listing.
Dordan’s Mary Bergin and Martina Goggin: mixing and matching styles