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Saturday November 23rd 2002

Fiddle 2002

I only had a brief visit to Edinburgh's annual fiddle festival this year, but it was memorable. The concert on Saturday night kicked off with Aonghas Grant senior, and it was good to hear him in the flesh. I have admired his playing since I first heard him at the Kinross Folk festival in the 1970s, and if anything, his set was simply too short.

Next on was John McCusker and his stellar friends. John is a young fiddler with almost a lifetime's experience behind him already, and although I'd heard him before, I'd never paid too much attention. This was an eye-opener; I thought he was terrific. He played mostly his own compositions in accessible and exciting arrangements, and it sounded as if the quartet - McCusker, Andy Cutting on melodeon, Kris Drever on double bass, Ian Carr on guitar - had enjoyed playing with each other for years. A couple of the tunes were played at so-fast-because-I-can speed, but overall I felt I was looking at an artist who'll be at the forefront of Scottish music for a while to come. Afterwards I spoke to my friend, and octogenarian fiddler and fiddle maker, who said he'd been least impressed by the young un, so I'm sure that's an indication of a wider divided opinion.

I was less impressed by the third artist, Brian McNeill, whose place John McCusker filled after he left The Battlefield Band. After his first tune he put down his fiddle and said "I thought I should play that because this is a fiddle festival..." and blasted out one of his songs. I thought "What arrogance!" However, he did play a fair amount of fiddle throughout his set. There's no doubt he's a good fiddler, and some of his music was wonderful, especially when he introduced some of his students (McNeill teaches traditional music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) onto the stage: two clarsach players and a fiddler, but he didn't make such an impression on me as McCusker. I still enjoyed it, though.

Next morning I managed to catch Stuart Eydmann's talk, "Every Scottish Fiddle Record Ever Made." A jokey title for what was, essentially, a dip into Stuart's considerable collection of Scots fiddle music. And a great deal of it consisted of 'spot the fiddler' with the small but knowledgeable audience invited to shout out who might be playing. One of the few I recognised instantly was Ron Gonnella of Crieff, but I was too shy to shout out! This was highly pleasurable for me. I don't know what I expected from this, but the informal shared listening and sharing of information was just up my street. The highlights, for me, were a snatch of Scott Skinner (more of that in another thread), Ian McLachlan (a well-known accordionist who played a mean fiddle), and James Cameron of the Cameron Men.

Immediately following Stuart's talk was Jack Campin's talk about the how, where and why of his remarkable collection of Edinburgh music and song, with some musical examples played by a youngster from Edinburgh's Youth Gaitherin. Access to more than 750 tunes and 250 songs is available from one CD-rom, with a thorough exploration of the history, stories and characters behind them. Contact Jack for copies.

Jack's talk was notable for another reason. Four prominent contributors to the Scots-L mailing list were gathered in the one room: Ted Hastings over from Spain, Stuart Eydmann, who stayed on to introduce and listen to Jack's talk, Jack himself, and me. Ted, Stuart and I adjourned for a cup of tea and a natter. Unfortunately I then had to high-tail it up to Perth, but all in all it was an enjoyable, if far too brief, dip into Fiddle 2002.