25 November 2018

A Review of Scots Fiddle Festival 2018

The Scots Fiddle Festival (SFF) took place in Edinburgh on the weekend of 16-18 November 2018.

I’ve been at every SFF since 2008 and have seen it go through venues from the Assembly Rooms, Queen’s Hall / King’s Hall, Queen’s Hall / Summerhall and on to a new venue this year at the Pleasance.

The Assembly Rooms worked well because workshops, recitals, sessions and concerts were all under one roof. The Pleasance seems to represent an excellent change of venue primarily for the same reason – everything in one location. It also has a congenial café bar area which seemed to work well for the sessions and stalls.

As I was only able to be present on Saturday, this review is limited to that extent. However, I have to make mention of Friday night’s concert.

It featured the premiere of a piece of music specially commissioned by SFF.

Mike Vass’s composition, The Four Pillars, featured four solo fiddlers (Vass, Lauren McColl, Patsy Reid and Jenna Reid), a string quartet and percussion. The Four Pillars celebrated were the four “basic” forms of Scottish fiddle music: Slow Air, March, Strathspey and Reel.

Though I did not hear the concert itself – which featured additional archive recordings of interviews with fiddlers and, apparently, the ceremonial smashing of a fiddle – I bought the CD of the music and have enjoyed listening to it since. There are some lovely tunes, beautifully arranged and played. It’s especially impressive that that the ensemble managed to record the whole album in the course of a single day (21 October 2018).

The Saturday (and Sunday) saw the SFO with a stall.

It was in the café bar area, along with music sellers and various craftspeople, including luthiers.

The session space was adjacent to us and many players sat there for most of the day.

As usual, Graham Dolan from Ayton was the mainstay, providing able guitar accompaniment to just about everything. He was delighted to be joined by Shetland guitar legend, Brian Nicholson, for some of the time. Glasgow’s Southside Fiddlers led the session for part of the time and they fairly kept the skill and energy levels up and the average age of the session down.

Saturday night’s concert began with a set by this year’s SFF Outreach Project.

This is a group of young fiddlers brought together specially for this concert who had been tutored by well-known fiddler and composer, Adam Sutherland (Session A9). He has a flair for creating complex arrangements out of ideas from within a group of players and this was no exception. The slow air they played was particularly well executed.

Kinnaris Quintet were on next. They are an all-female group from Glasgow, with three fiddlers, mandolin and guitar. The 5-piece were promoting their recently released debut CD “Free One”. Mixing in tunes composed by members of the band – most of whom had contributed at least one tune – they are dynamic and compelling, with many of the arrangements leaving space for a bit of improvisational playing. Maybe because it’s one that’s a slightly slower tempo and featuring the mandolin higher in the mix than in many of the sets, June’s Garden, was especially memorable. It was also fine to see a nod to the wonderful Irish fiddler (and banjo player), Cathal Hayden, via Gortavale Rock (a “pure sexy tune”, according to Kinnaris Quintet – as this video demonstrates).

Given that they brought the house down with their performance and must be the most versatile fiddle/guitar duo in the world, I can’t agree with The Scotsman review that Orkney’s Saltfishforty “seemed a slightly odd choice to follow” Kinnaris Quintet.

Douglas Montgomery (fiddle) and Brian Cromarty (guitar/vocals) can make their instruments sing sweetly or rock irresistibly – sometimes within the same song/set – and everything in between. The reflective Miss Eileen Linklater, from their latest CD “Bere“, began their set and  I was delighted that (my favourite Saltfishforty set) The Creelman was their encore which saw them joined on stage by the Outreach players and Kinnaris for a final blast, ending with The Reconciliation.

As SFF tweeted later in the weekend, Saltfishforty were a highlight for young Michael Murdoch (partly because they played his request, Tabasco Twist) and this seems a great way to sum up a fantastic weekend of tunes and laughs:

The SFO contingent at this year’s festival comprised Bob, Catriona, Di, Isla, Susie and Peter. We’re already looking forward to next year 🙂 and hoping even more of our colleagues will manage to get along and join in the fun.

A big thanks to the SFF Artistic Director, Rosie Munro, her committee and all the volunteers who give so much time and put in so much effort to make the festival (which is a charity) such a great success each year.

(Peter, SFO member).