Scottish fiddle player Mike Vass is no stranger to the traditional Scottish music circuit having performed as a duo with his twin sister Ali for more than ten years. He has also, amongst his many collaborations, performed with Malinky and Fiddle Rendezvous (featuring Bruce Molsky, Maryann Kennedy and Gerry O’Connor). His latest big bit of news is that he is joining The Paul McKenna Band, he will be joining them in time to make his band début at Celtic Connections, a festival we are looking forward to covering in January 2012. We caught up with Mike to talk about how he got into traditional music, his latest project ‘December Well’ and more…
Beginnings in Traditional Music
My Dad got me into traditional music, he had found folk music when he was a student. I think the Corries visited his student union. So when I showed an interest in the fiddle, he encouraged it, and organised lessons at school for me. So I did school violin lessons and he’d teach me tunes by ear at home.
When I was a bit older, I did work experience at Balnain House (known as the home of Highland Music) in Inverness. I helped put gig posters up, and worked in the shop selling CDs. I just listened to new music all day every day in the shop, and that opened my eyes to a whole new world of traditional music and players. Around that time I met Ian Hardie (of Jock Tamson’s Bairns, the Occassionals etc) and he gave me sporadic lessons for a year or so, and he really put me in the right direction with technique specific to Scottish Fiddling.
so there we go, 3 big influences, My Dad, Balnain House and Ian Hardie.
December Well Project
December Well was a project I had the idea for earlier in the year. I teach 3 days a week at the Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop in Argyll, and last year, due to the snow, found myself with two unexpected weeks off in December, and filled my time sitting on the sofa watching re-runs of CSI and other drivel on the tele. This year they re-scheduled my LFW schools programme so as I wouldn’t be driving up in the snow, predicting that there would of course be some! (there has been a wee bit).
So knowing that I had most of December off (albeit with a few rehearsals with other projects) I decided I would use the time to continue writing, and learn a bit more about recording. So I set myself up with a small amount of studio gear in the spare bedroom and began work on the 1st of December. The idea was to write, record and (hopefully) release an album of Music inspired by the Scottish Winter month of December. No pre-written stuff, no pre-conceived ideas, it all had to be done in December. Oh and I also have to play all the instruments myself, so some instruments are purely being used for sounds and textures, as I’m fairly novice!
I’m doing a short video-log each day which I post to the website just giving a wee insight into the process and an update on progress.
Looking Forward to:
Mike has a lot to look forward over the next few months…a new album with Ali Vass titled ‘Waiting to Fly’, joining The Paul McKenna Band, a tour and a new arrival…
The Album with Ali ‘Waiting to Fly’ Was recorded in June. Ali actually lives in New York with her husband, and she was over for a family wedding in June and stayed on an extra week to record the album. She is now expecting her first child, so there won’t be a whole lot of touring going on next year with Ali!
We did a tour in April which saw us take in (amongst others) Colchester Arts Centre, the Ram Folk Club, Edinburgh Folk Club, the Star Folk Club Glasgow.
My first gig with the Paul McKenna band is January 26th at Celtic Connections and we’ve already put in a couple of rehearsals. The first proper tour will be in February which will see us visit Florida and Colorado in the States. The tour coincides with Ali’s due date, so in the event that we have a day off, I hope to make a quick trip to New York to visit the new arrival!
So an exciting year next year in many ways. Still I have to get the December Well project wrapped up before that…..
John Doyle, Alasdair White and Mike Vass @ Ullapool, Feis Rois 2011
Short Clip: Calum MacCrimmon, Mike Vass and Innes Watson – Unst2Arran/Some Boy John
Read our other interview in The Tradition Series.
Photo Credit: Archie MacFarlane