Itâs been a wee while since my last blog but 2014 has been a busy year so far. After the festivities of December, January would socially be a very quiet month for many but for me January is generally very busy; the 25th of January is of course the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotlandâs national bard. Itâs said that the only country in the world where there is not a Burns Supper held is North Korea and for almost a month between the middle of January and the middle of February there are Burns Suppers held the length and breadth of Scotland and further afield and the finest of these which I attend are for the Peterhead Burns Club and the Chester Caledonian Association.
One of the major projects Iâve been working on this year is the composition of a âsymphonyâ for Deveron Arts in Huntly. The work has been inspired by the network of old drove roads criss-crossing Aberdeenshire and in especial the âHeilanâ road which leaves Huntly. There are three movements to the piece which is around 25 minutes in length and it is currently being orchestrated by renowned orchestrator and arranger Paul Campbell in Belfast. During the period Iâve been working on the piece Iâve travelled many old drove roads between Huntly and Tarland with notable sections over the Clashmach, the Clashindarroch, Mytice, Tap oâ Noth, the Cabrach, Glenkindie and the Howe oâ Cromar. At the end of March I headed to the old cottage of Cotmore for three days to finish up the work and with no access road, and no TV it was certainly an inspiring spot. The piece is due to be premiered at a concert in the Stewarts Hall in Huntly on the 30th of August.
Also in March we had a visit from top Danish folk group Rannok. Winners of Danish folk music awards, Thais Langlands and Michael Graubeck are two of Denmarkâs most accomplished and most respected musicians and I was fortunate to tour Denmark last year with them. There were concerts in Tarland, Braemar and Huntly and although they certainly couldâve been busier they were wonderful events and the boys were very well received. Theyâll be back at the end of the year for the Hogmanay show at the Music Hall in Aberdeen.
At the beginning of April I headed down to Glasgow for the Scottish Tourism Expo at the SECC, performing regularly over the two days of the event at the Aberdeen City and Shire Pavilion. With exhibitors from the length and breadth of Scotland and visitors from all over the World, it was a big event and very interesting one to be part of. Later that month I headed to Dublin in Ireland with a small group of musicians for a weekend of music and great craic. Based in Howth, a picturesque fishing village on the edge of Dublin we took part in a number of sessions round Dublin and also visited the National Traditional Music Archive of Ireland. The highlight of the trip was the âFiddle Busâ which travelled from Howth via a couple of pubs, to the Seamus Ennis Centre and then onto Oâ Connellâs bar which looked across to the historic hill of Tara, seat of the high kings of Ireland. As well as all the superb sessions we were treated to several wonderful presentations on the different regional fiddle styles from Ireland. A great trip and special thanks to Francy Devine and Anne Riordan for their hospitality in Howth.
At the end of April I took part in the sell-out Buchan Heritage Societyâs 30th anniversary concert at the Ritchie Hall in Strichen. Hosted by Robert Lovie and BBC Radio Scotlandâs legendary presenter Robbie Shepherd. The Buchan Heritage have actively supported and promoted the unique language, music and song of the North-East of Scotland.
Richard Jobson who originally hails from Dunfermline in Fife was the singer with Scotlandâs first punk band âThe Skidsâ, a group who had a number of International hits with memorable numbers like âInto the Valleyâ and âThe Saints are Comingâ. Today however, Richard is a respected film director and I was delighted to host him along with a couple of his friends for a weekend of walking in the Cairngorms where he was researching locations for two possible movies. After an amazing day on Ben Avon and a visit to the Coilacriech Inn on Deeside we had a cracking session in the Aberdeen Arms, Tarland where Richard was persuaded to sing a couple of songs. Heâll be back for a go at Ben Macdui and Cairngorm in the near future. Funnily enough a couple of weeks later Iâd a visit from Scottish actor Kevin McKidd who came along after finishing filming for the day near Ballater for the new production of Lewis Grassic Gibbonâs novel âSunset Songâ. It was good to see him again and have a tune although it did turn out to be a very late night. As it happens I acted as musical advisor for Chris Guthrieâs wedding scene in Sunset Song and despite only three daysâ notice managed to get hold of three top class musicians to perform on set; Jonny Hardie, Frances Wilkins and Sara Reith.
Along with my wife Shona we performed once again at the Speyside Whisky Festival in Dufftown and I think it was probably the most enjoyable of the four events there that Iâve been involved with. Great acoustics in the hall and a great audience from all over the world.
Iâve done quite a lot in addition to these events mentioned such as teaching, playing at sessions and some instructing work at the Deeside Outdoor Activity Park (4 by 4 off roading, quad bikes, archery etc) but I guess these have been the most notable musical moments of 2014 so far. Iâll try to update the blog more frequently from now on as itâs going to be a busy summer; watch this space!