REVIEW: Nordic Fiddlers Bloc
REVIEW: Croy Life: Nordic Fiddlers Bloc
Croy Village Hall
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by Margaret Chrystall
MAYBE it was the good-natured island rivalry Orcadian-connected Croy Live organiser Alison Mackenzie exchanged with Nordic Fiddlers Bid Shetlander Kevin Henderson, but there was a real sense of neighbours coming together at Sunday night’s concert.
At the first of the series of concerts in Croy Village Hall, Alison thanked the crowd for their support and pointed out that it had been her dream to run a series of concerts in an intimate venue for a number of years.
“We can take world-renowned musicians into a small hall with a nice atmosphere rather than always being in big commercial theatres,” she said.
The night fell into two halves, introduced by songs from local trad singer Dougie Mackenzie and some singing along by the audience.
Alison had mentioned at the start that she wanted to support local musicians and that each Croy Live gig would have a local support act.
Dougie Mackenzie opened this one with ballad - The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow - where a ploughboy suitor of his high-born love is killed by her brother. Dougie was then joined on guitar by Brian Miller (also known now as the dad of award-winning singer Siobhan Miller, Dougie told us) for songs including Mike Waterson’s Jack Frost. Alison Mackenzie and one of her sons, Robbie, also joined them onstage for The Bonnie Wee Lassie’s Answer, a song Dougie told us he had first heard sung by Mirk’s Marjorie Sinclair.
Dougie had asked the crowd to join in from the beginning and though they were a bit shy at first, could be heard confidently singing along by the end of the set.
The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc’s first tune was a reminder of how international they are, with their blend of Swedish, Norwegian and Shetland fiddle styles now familiar across the world. The opening reel called Talons Trip To Thompson Island was composed by Kevin at a fiddlers’ school in Boston.
Throughout the night, with fiddles, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and viola, the three players took turns on lead.
They accompanied each other with harmonies and often included a drone-like bass note on Swedish polskas, Shetland tunes and – harder to define – almost classical compositions wound around trad such as Deliverance, written by Norwegian Olav Luksengard Mjelva.
The banter between Kevin, Olav and Swede Anders Hall was sparkling and often focused on their nationalities.
“I heard a story about a Shetland man so in love with his wife he almost told her!” Kevin said, getting one of the night’s biggest laughs.
But the passion for fiddle music there isn’t in question as he had earlier dedicated the second of a double bill of tunes – his own Tune For Lucas to his son with Up The Streets… to his former teacher in Shetland Trevor Hunter who was at the gig.
Later, Shetland reel, The Scallowa’ Lasses was partnered with Laura’s Reel by famous Shetland fiddler and Kevin’s other teacher Willie Hunter.
With the set combining tunes old and new ones created by the Nordics themselves, there were lovely contrasts.
One of the most beautiful tunes of the night was The Greenland Man’s Tune with some weird discordant notes, an Inuit tune brought back by Shetland whalermen, Kevin told us. It also had one of the most dramatic moments as it faded away in spectacularly diminishing volume so you almost ‘saw’ the tune disappearing out of view over a distant horizon.
And it contrasted with the more modern take, such as the one from Kevin when he revealed he had been texted one morning by the Highland fiddler and composer Adam Sutherland to ask if Kevin had taught him the tune Adam was sending through. He had experienced Kevin teaching him the tune he had woken up with from a dream the previous night!
“I hadn’t,” Kevin said, introducing the next number. “But I wrote him a tune called Adam’s Nightmare!”
Fascinating for fiddle fans to compare the different styles of tune and techniques. The Norwegian dance the ‘halling’ gave the structure of Olav’s Hjaltaren – the old Norse name for Shetland – with syncopated rhythm and almost loop-like repeated sections.
The Swedish polskas sometimes had an old-time feel, one sounded like Bach in parts, And in American tunes near the end of the set, the players seemed to be using something similar to the ‘cuckoo’ technique familiar to Scottish fiddlers, chiming the bow back and forth between a higher and lower string.
As well as the euphoria of fast reels impeccably played with the percussive thud of the feet of players – and audience – uniting us together, there were gentle, sweeter and more reflective pieces.
These included the little Swedish waltz introduced by Olav. This time Olav and Anders’ feet kept time like a muted heartbeat behind the tune. And in the last few bars, Olav and Anders whispered their bows across the strings to create some ghostly harmonics as Kevin took the tune.
The two American tunes of the final number skipped your imagination to somewhere like the Appalachians, but also came across as a mini melting pot of the Swedish, Norwegian and Shetland mix we had heard throughout the gig.
A showstopping show-off encore piece called The Anthill wound up to supersonic speed, rounding off the night with a sweet treat as delicious as the selection of cakes served with the interval teas.
Just before the end, the Nordics’ Kevin thanked everyone for the night, including organiser Alison.
“She’s no’ bad for an Orkney wifie,” the Shetlander - from what Alison had called ‘the other place’ - grinned, diplomatic relations restored.
Live international music dates may possibly be more of a challenge in future thanks to Brexit.
But a perfect antidote to that depressing thought was this Croy Live debut night, bursting with warmth and talent and powered by the Nordic Fiddlers’ unique treasure-box of sparkling music, fun and cross-cultural synergy.
The next Croy Live event in Croy Village Hall on Friday, March 22, at 7.30pm, sees an evening of traditional and contemporary Gaelic songs and piping with Calum Alex Macmillan accompanied by guitarist Ross Martin (Daimh). Support is from young ceilidh groups Clava and Cairdean. Tickets £12 (£6 for under 16s). Phone 01463 794823 or 07751 588395 for more details and to book.