With Gavin Marwick, there’s a sense of a man on a mission and as I type, this weekend will see the first of a series of concert spectaculars featuring at least 10 of the 13 musicians who play on the new CD. Naturally enough, Celtic Connections is the perfect launching pad for such ambition, but the story behind it and the accompanying The Long Road And The Far Horizons, brings a new focus to an extraordinary career and ties together the multiple strands of music that course through Gavin’s veins.
His name may already be familiar to some of you, perhaps the regular festival attendees, ceilidh devotees and just the lovers of great music, but almost certainly amongst the fiddle players out there. He’s a master of his chosen instrument and much in demand as an active contributor to the likes of Burach, Iron Horse, Cantrip, Up In The Air and Bellevue Rendezvous, or The Unusual Suspects, Ceilidh Minogue, Old Blind Dogs and even Session A9 and Malinky. You start to get the picture of bands too numerous to list in full and that’s before we get to the teaching, theatre, film and TV work. He’s naturally a prolific composer too, having a number of manuscript books containing some 3,000 tunes, give or take, which is ultimately the driving force behind The Long Road And The Far Horizons, a release that marks the start of what is being billed the Journeyman Collection.
There’s a nice line from Gavin himself in the CD notes. He’s thanking Creative Scotland for their backing but also his partner Ruth Morris and the other musicians involved and says, “I’ve been writing tunes since 1988, composing for bands, theatre, shows and for fun. The more I wrote, the more I had a pipe dream of making albums of self penned material and recording them with musician friends I’ve made over the years.” The Long Road And The Far Horizons is the start of realising that dream and with the accompanying tune book, also the start of making the fruits of Gavin’s astonishing creativity available in the public domain.
Given all of this it won’t surprise you to learn that Gavin grew up in a musical environment, but he was also tutored by some of the greats of Scottish fiddle playing including Tom Anderson, Angus Grant, Davy Tulloch and Alastair Hardie. The latter was a founder of The Hardie Press and someone else who realised ambitions to develop resources to promote Scottish music, albeit with a more historical rather than compositional slant. Gavin also had lessons form Michael Rigg, who is part of RSNO, introducing some classical elements and disciplines. But his tuition didn’t end there and through touring internationally, Gavin has continued to pick up the music of other countries and cultures and absorb it into his own.
That last element probably finds it’s most obvious expression through Gavin’s involvement in the Yiddish Song Project, but also through Bellevue Rendezvous. That name is of course an affectionate reference to the Sylvain Chomet Film and Gavin’s native Edinburgh in one hit, although the trio of Gavin, partner Ruth on nychelharpa and Cameron Robson on cittern cast their net wider than the film’s French setting, sweeping up influences from Serbia, Macedonia, Poland, Canada, France and Finland to create the quirky, good humoured world fusion. Their second CD release Salamander (read the FRUK review here), another more obscure Edinburgh reference, was particularly well received and critically acclaimed.
Something else, given the above that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, is that The Long Road And The Far Horizons is a double disc set. Gavin after all has a wealth of material to call upon, but it is a brave decision and bold statement of intent none the less. There is an awful lot to get your head around here and some of the material surrounding the release suggest a litany of different musical style from airs, jigs, reels and marches, through waltzes and the more exotic polskas, munieras, horas, mazurkas and lång dances. Whilst of infinite fascination to musicologists and probably anyone with the musical chops to pick up on Gavin’s work and fiddle away for themselves, thankfully, however, this is not an exclusive club. In that respect Gavin’s sleeve notes are again helpful and he eschews a simple classification by style or chronology, grouping the tunes instead by the source of their inspiration, or in some cases according to the commission at their point of origin.
Whilst there is plenty to serve the intellect, this is very much about feel and the playing form the 13 strong musical cast is sublime and sparky by turn. The different styles serve to ring the changes and keep things moving along, changing the emotional focus and making the Journeyman Collection title seem entirely apposite.
With both CDs clocking over an hour of music this set may be on the long side for a single sitting, although patience as always will have its own special rewards. That title, however, could be written as The Long Road and The Far Horizons, as each of the CDs is separately labelled. Although it may be hard to pinpoint any specific difference between the two as they are entirely complementary, each disc also makes a satisfying listen in its own right.
[pullquote]The Long Road then opens with Firedance Parts 1 & 2…let’s just say it’s jumped straight into the list of the most beautiful pieces of music to delight my ears… Ever![/pullquote]The Long Road then opens with Firedance Parts 1 & 2, originally composed for the score of a play by Nicola McCartney called Heritage. Straight away it has an unusual musical voice with Fraser Fifield’s sax in the mix. In searching for a way to describe this, let’s just say it’s jumped straight into the list of the most beautiful pieces of music to delight my ears… Ever! Roy Marchbank’s / Vodka by contrast is brisk and light headed, giddy with drink perhaps. Those unusual instrumental voices crop up here and there. The sax, the sudden focus of low whistle on Marsten / Longmuire, the surprising effective Jew’s harp on Samarkand / The Plate Smasher and some lovely and purposeful piano.
But it’s the constantly changing mood that proves to be one of the disc’s highlights. It happens throughout the disc, track to track, but sometimes within the tune sets. It can be as simple as changing from minor to major key, a rhythmic shift, but more markedly between an eastern exoticism and more homely feel. The shifts between say, Dusk – almost like a chamber orchestra, elegiac and reflective, through The Minotaur / Scented Grove – tricky shifting rhythms, into The Pyranean Jig set – a memorable tune which breaks out into a musical cartoon-caper with a huge sense of fun, are simply breathtaking.
Perhaps it’s appropriate The Far Horizons opens with a slightly weightier feel to it. Certainly through the first three tracks, which seem more outwardly orchestral, reflective, dramatic even and perhaps that’s the distinction. It’s almost like The Long Road has been our journey to the sea shore and we are now setting sail with the ocean’s expanse giving wide, featureless yet constantly shifting horizon. Even when the tempo quickens as it does on the Lowrey’s set or The Foot Of Ben Newe set, somehow the gravitas lingers. Perhaps rather than a journey in miles and leagues, its one of time and years, with The Far Horizon’s heading towards the end of life’s passage. The presence of the track Pallbearers at the end of the disc may support that notion, but you will doubtless form your own interpretation.
This is after all music that will make you think, dream a little and conjure images from deep within the subconscious. It’s music that will offer surprises in it’s constantly shifting moods, delight in its vivacity, but above all will make you feel. There is an abundance of joy, but also misty eyed melancholy to be found within. It is like an internal journey with a constantly emotional landscape. Let your mind wander its course, because when measured against the journey of The Long Road And The Far Horizons, two hours is but a sliver of time to give. After all, they do say that travel broadens the mind and herein lies the proof of that.
Review by: Simon Holland
04/4 CORSOCK HALL, DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY £10 8.00pm 01556 503 649
06/4 EDEN COURT, INVERNESS £16/14 7.30pm 01463 234 234
12/4 QUEENS HALL, EDINBURGH £15/12 8.00pm 0131 668 2019
19/4 THE LEMON TREE, ABERDEEN £13.20 7.30pm 01224 641 122
25/4 SABHAL MOR OSTAIG, SKYE £15/12/5 7.30pm 01471 844 207
Photo’s from Gavin Marwick’s ‘Journeyman Spectacular’ – Celtic Connections Album Launch (Photos by Steve Niblock)