In 2004 Lauren MacColl, from Fortrose on the Moray Firth won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award as a fiddle soloist; by 2009 she’d recorded two acclaimed solo albums and was named Instrumentalist of the Year at The MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards. Lauren’s fiddle playing is a delightful blend of outstanding technique and a heartfelt love of Scottish fiddle traditions. Lauren currently makes use of her remarkable talents as a member of fiddle quartet RANT and the highly acclaimed Salt House. She’s also worked alongside, among many others, Siobhan Miller, Rachel Newton and as a member of Jim Sutherland’s trad/classical crossover project, The True North Orchestra. In one of a number of appearances at Celtic connections this year, Lauren was joined by pianist Mhairi Hall in the resplendent surroundings of The Glasgow Art Club to perform a set of tunes entirely new to Lauren’s audience.
Mhairi’s piano opened the set with a gentle air from Skye, a prelude to a pair of reels – North of the Grampians/Miss Jean of Aberdeen, that epitomize the engaging sound of highland fiddle music. The sound is also a timely reminder, of course, of the even more engaging sound of Lauren’s playing. In the pair of marches that followed, her peerless ability was even more in evidence as Mr & Mrs Ross moved on to The Dysart Volunteers March which was simple and exquisite. No adornments, just perfection as Lauren and Mhairi together brought out the sheer joy in the melody, lighting up the room and setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
As well as marches, dances featured strongly, with a sweeping Swedish Polska giving way to a more lively reel with a decidedly contemporary edge to it. Strathspeys paired with as merry a Cape Breton reel as you could hope to discover (learned from Cape Breton fiddle legend Dan MacIsaac), kept the feet tapping while Lauren’s own tune, Neist Point, took us through a gentle Atlantic swell to the north-west coast of Skye for a fairy dance. The melody for Neist Point also features in another of Lauren’s projects. In a move that’s sure to delight many fiddlers, Lauren has complied 28 of her own tunes and released them as a downloadable tune book. Available through Laura’s web site, the book has audio to accompany each tune and a selection of videos.
Both Mhairi and Lauren have brought a wealth of new material to the set, with one of Mhari’s most significant and moving contributions being a beautiful air from St Kilda, Song for the Girls. A haunting arrangement that can’t help but evoke those sweeping cliffs, and moves on to weave sheer delight from a simple melody, and a fragment of history.
Lauren and Mhairi were joined on mandolin by Ewan MacPherson (Salt House, Shooglenifty and fresh from rehearsals with Afro Celt Sound System) to close the evening with a rousing selection that ended in a full pelt Gallop To Kinross, and then a smooth set of reels. As a final treat, Tim Edey joined in with guitar improvisations for the title track from Lauren’s first album, When Leaves Fall.
The tune selections for Lauren MacColl’s Celtic Connections performance fitted the occasion perfectly – an ideal balance of peaceful, sombre and enlivening. Those melodies, however, are the raw material, the real art lay in the performance. Lauren plays traditional music with an unmatched elegance. Whether presenting a soft, fluid air or a dynamic reel, precision and tone are everything. This skill, in partnership with Mhairi Hall’s ability to provide exquisitely balanced accompaniment or an emotionally charged air, resulted in an evening of the finest possible traditional music.
Review by: Neil McFadyen