Somewhere along the line this music got tagged with the label “Scottish Baroque”. Of course Baroque music it isn’t but the label is a convenient way to distinguish it from the usual run-of-the-mill Celtic pub music. Mind you, it would not be out of place in some low-ceiling inn in the old country. In the ambience of the dance studio in Centre 64 it was right at home. The musicians are from all over the map. Radio broadcaster Bruce MacGregor is from Inverness Scotland and is reputed to be one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players. After hearing him it is not a reputation I would care to dispute. I have added his name to my list of favorite fiddlers that includes the Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and the Irish American Liz Carrol. With them he shares a clean, clear, solid, almost classical tone, a great sense of musical dynamics and a wonderful choice of tunes. Christine Hanson is originally from Edmonton, Alberta but has been resident in Glasgow for the past 15 years. Her prairie roots come though from time to time in her choice of country waltzes. Christine’s instrument of choice at the moment is a handcrafted Carbon Fibre Cello. This came about when an airline company carelessly “dropped kicked” and nearly destroyed her traditional wooden instrument during one of her tours. The Carbon Fibre instrument she is using was probably built by Luis and Clark in Boston – check the link Luis and Clark Carbon Fibre instruments . There are other manufacturers out there. The German company Mezzo Forte comes to mind but Christine’s instrument has the look of a Luis and Clark. Conservative musicians and patrons may shudder at the concept of a “plastic” instrument but I guess the proof is in “the pudding”. The instruments look and sound wonderful and I suspect as the supply of endangered tone woods become scarce we will see more of them. Beside looking and sounding good Carbon Fibre instruments are more robust than their traditional wooden counter part. For travelling musicians this is a definite plus.The vocalist/guitarist Andy Hillhouse is from Vancouver where he is the manager of the music festival at Harrison Hot Springs. His instrument is a Lowden Guitar from Belfast Ireland. Hand made Lowdens are the instrument of choice of a number of top performers and are pretty rare in North America. Andy only managed to get together with the other musicians for the first time at 4:30 that same afternoon. With that in mind his performance was pretty astounding.
The Fiddle / Cello / Guitar combination turned out to be a wonderful vehicle for their selections of Strathspeys, Airs, Laments, Reels and Waltzes. The guitar provided the rhythm foundation, the cello the bass lines, rhythm and counterpoint to Bruce MacGregor’s fiddle that was over the top of it all. My personal favorites of the evening was the traditional Her Mantle so Green, a tune that Christine picked up in a wee back bar in Ullapool Scotland from the playing of Cathal MacConnell of Boys of the Loch fame. Andy Hillhouse chose some traditional songs to sing and play but the standout was the great narrative song Beeswing by Richard Thompson. This is a song that defines what a great song should be – good melody, a great, great story line and very appropriate accompaniment. From the many, many tunes that Bruce played though out the evening the standout for me was the final set of the evening that included Miss Lyalls Strathspey and The Kings Reel. I have been thoroughly indoctrinated into these tunes by young local fiddle player Angus MacDonald. It is a pity that Angus has gone away to college. He would have enjoyed Bruce’s performance. Besides the wonderful selection of tunes Bruce came to fore with his story telling. His “real job” as a radio broadcaster obviously comes in handy when he launches into tales of J. Scott Skinner. For those that do not know J.Scott Skinner (1843-1927) was the preeminent Scottish Fiddler of the late nineteenth century. The other story of note was the one about his father’s revenge on a local firm of lawyers. Here are some images from the evening. Sorry about the less than satisfactory quality – the lighting was awful. To get rid of the horrible green tint I had to Photoshop the images down to greytones