THE new year is shaping up to be a busy year for Black Isle fiddler Lauren MacColl.
As well as working on a third solo album, she will also be releasing a second album from RANT, the four-strong fiddle collective where she plays alongside Inverness fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers and Shetland sisters Bethany and Jenna Reid.
It is RANT which brings her back to the Highlands this weekend, with a lunchtime concert at Inverness’s Spectrum Centre on Friday.
You are working towards your third solo album. What can we look forward to?
LM: It’s five years since my last solo album, during which I made a very conscious departure from solo playing. I love the process of recording and sourcing my own material, but my heart doesn’t lie in being a front-person. Over the last few years my work has been mainly collaborative and I’ve gained so much from that, learning much from my fellow musicians. I feel now like I have the material ready to make another recording but will take my time with this next one.
And what if the second album from RANT? Can we expect some new musical ventures for the band and some special guests?
RANT have had a ball since we launched our first album in 2013. I think i can speak for us all in saying it’s a very satisfying venture making the music with just the fiddles. It’s been a challenge, there is no doubt about that, but one we relish and we too feel ready for our next recording.
We are going into the studio early January and for the first time will have two guests on this album. We were delighted to be asked by our good friend Julie Fowlis to record strings on her last album. It was a process we greatly enjoyed and Julie will join us for a song on this record along with the brilliant Scots singer Ewan Mclennan.
The album will be previewed at Celtic Connections and released in Spring with a Scottish tour in April.
RANT has an interesting pairing at Celtic Connections with Mongolian band AnDa Union (who also visit Eden Court in January), which I'm guessing is up there with one of more unusual musical pairings yiou have had. How much are you looking forward to that show ?
What’s brilliant about Celtic Connections is the vision of it’s director Donald Shaw. We’re so chuffed to be paired with AnDa Union, bringing their indigenous string-playing tradition on 2-stringed bowed instruments combined with their amazing throat singing, to Glasgow.
RANT is a collective of talented fiddle players, but does each individual have a particular talent or bring something special to the mix that the other three do not?
I think the strength in RANT lies in a shared goal to create a unified sound. That’s why we thrive in acoustic and intimate settings, where the resonance of our instruments is allowed to mesh together. Everyone in RANT can be a strong solo player and brings their own style and personality to the group, but we’re at our best when all four fiddles are ringing together, whether it’s layering up harmonies or rhythms.
You were obviously brought up in the Highland fiddle tradition, thanks in part to the feis movement. Are you still a Highland fiddle player at heart?
I will always be, in that I learnt my first music in the highlands, but the truth is Ive been playing the fiddle now for longer away from the highlands than there. I feel in many ways just at the beginning of my musical path, with, fingers-crossed, a good few-decades of learning to go.
Who knows what skills and sounds I will pick up along the way but yes I struggle to imagine a time I wouldn’t return to an old gaelic air or a pipe march when I pick up the fiddle to have a tune.
The Black Isle Fiddle Weekend marked its fifth anniversary this year. You must be pleased with the way it has developed, but do you also have future ambitions for the event?
I could never have foreseen the success of the Black Isle Fiddle Weekend. Each year i take a complete punt on booking the tutors and the venues etc, commit to paying their fees and just hope to goodness people sign up. I think it;s a testament to the great tutors that have been a part of it, and to the amazing village of Cromarty and it’s community for underpinning the event with enthusiasm and fun.
The event itself can’t get any bigger as it makes the accom situation in the village full to capacity, but that’s how it is and always will be sold. It’s still intimate, we all get to know each other by the end of the weekend. The most satrifiying part of it for me has been growing the reputation of East Church through the concerts there and bringing people to hear music in that special place.
Any future collaborations outside of RANT and your solo work you can tell us about?
I’m currently in the studio as we speak with the fantastic singer and harpist Rachel Newton who’ve I’ve known for all of my musical life through Feis Rois. She’s launching a new album in the spring which I’m playing viola and fiddle on.
I was also over the moon to play fiddle on the new Blue Rose Code album, out in spring too. I’m a big fan!
But for now it’s back to arranging RANT music and looking forward to our winter concerts!