Scotland is a country which produces her fair share of fiddle albums so when Iain MacFarlane decided to release a solo album he must have had a lot of hard thinking to do.
As one of Scotland’s leading folk musicians, a veteran of Blazin’ Fiddles, stalwart of The Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band and collaborator on myriad other projects Iain has a rightly earned reputation for bringing absolute joy to his live appearances. His task then was to bring this onto the relatively sterile medium of CD without losing the spontaneity characteristic of these live performances.
That he manages to achieve this so successfully is obviously no accident. The album features a who’s who of the Scottish folk scene, many of whom are Iain’s relations. There are four Hendersons on the album, one of whom is Iain’s wife Ingrid an acclaimed clarsach player and pianist, the other three all virtuoso fiddle players and multi-instrumentalists.
The album starts, as you might expect, with a solo fiddle piece accompanied by the superb Ewan Robertson (Breabach) on guitar. Gradually other instruments are introduced; second fiddle, piano and whistle. If I had one quibble, I would like to know the players on the individual tracks but then maybe it’s a quiz for the Scottish folk nerds? I would guess at Megan as second fiddle. Three lively jigs make for a great start.
Track two is an absolute masterclass in how to present fiddle music in a modern idiom. The recording is superb and the piano accompaniment is spare, leaving the fiddle to do the talking. There are no drums or bodhran to be found on Gallop to Callop so the percussion is provided by the guitar and piano. There was a time when all the piano player had to do was vamp more or less in time, occasionally changing key if push came to shove! Ingrid and Hamish instead complement the playing with intuitive insight adding colour but never overshadowing the lead instrument. As the set progresses Ewan appears again adding a solid guitar rhythm to finish a fine set.
One of Iain MacFarlane’s many gifts is his ability to draw the music out of a single note; the haunting Isobel’s tune with clarsach and the atmospheric bowed double bass of James Lindsay is one of the masterpieces on the album. Second fiddle(s) harmonising with the lead fiddle and double bass; it’s absolutely beautiful.
Hornpipes, reels, jigs and airs; everything you could hope for on a fiddle album and as an added bonus we are treated to a set of pipe tunes composed by Iain and played by Ewan Henderson on pipes. Iain’s affinity with pipe music is apparent throughout the album. His fiddle style echoes that of the pipes, have a listen to Mrs MacPherson of Inveran, and the pipe set is a fitting finale to an exceptional album.
However, if you’re now thinking “too much fiddle and pipes” think again. There is flute from Hamish Napier, whistle from Iain MacDonald and beautiful melodeon from Dermot Byrne. What more do you need?
It doesn’t seem correct to call this a ‘debut’ album, but that’s what it is! Iain has been around for a wee while, and is experienced as a recording artist and producer but this is his first solo project. The recording, mixing and mastering are faultless (to me anyway) capturing an exceptional group of musicians who are friends, playing a very well chosen selection of music. The fact that it is very much a family affair surely adds to the incredible warmth of the album.
If, in your life, you only listen to one album of Scottish fiddle music this is the one.
Review by: Donal MacNeill