Marwick reminds us of true meaning of ‘journeyman’

Gavin Marwick in action. Picture: Contributed
Gavin Marwick in action. Picture: Contributed
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Back in the late 1970s, the French folk-rock band Malicorne released a concept album, L’Extraordinaire Tour de France d’Adélard Rousseau.

It chronicled the adventures of a young apprentice carpenter as he roams the country from master to master, gaining experience, as was once the custom.

These peregrinating apprentices were known as compagnons. They were journeymen.

And “journeyman” is the term of convenience employed by Scots fiddler Gavin Marwick, a well-travelled craftsman in his own right, for a range of projects: his band Bellevue Rendezvous has issued albums on his Journeyman label, his warmly received “New Voices” commission a few Celtic Connections ago was titled Journeyman, and now, most ambitiously, he’s putting a ten-piece band on the road in association with a new double album and tunebook, all under the Journeyman name.

“It’s the default term I run to if I need a name for something,” Marwick tells me, and a nicely resonant one. “In terms of travel it covers the geography on the outside and the journey inside as well, but the other aspect of it is learning a trade. I’m a very firm believer that you never actually get to the end of that journey if you’re playing music.”

Now 44, Marwick has come a long way since the days when I used to see him, still in short trousers, rattling out fiddle tunes with older members of his family in the stairwell of the students’ union at Teviot Row House when it acted as Edinburgh Folk Festival Club.

One of six musically inclined siblings (doing your homework could be difficult, he recalls, when a couple of others were practising two-four pipe marches at the other end of the kitchen table), he went on to establish himself with bands such as Iron Horse, Burach, Cantrip, Old Blind Dogs and others.

Marwick is an inveterate tunesmith, honing his craft over the past three decades, and the Journeyman project, with support from Creative Scotland, is giving him a unique chance to air his compositions in audio, print and live performance. He launched his double album The Long Road And The Far Horizons at Celtic Connections in January; now he follows it up with an associated tunebook, Horizons, which puts into print some 200 tunes of the 3,000 or so he says he’s written over the past three decades.

“I’m not going to pretend that they’re all good,” he remarks candidly. As to how many of them will endure and enter into the tradition, “That’s in the hands of everyone else, really,” he says, pointing out that some are already in circulation, with his jig Sandy Broon’s particularly favoured.

Listening to the 27 tracks on The Long Road And The Far Horizons, one becomes conscious of a roving imagination as much as a peregrinating musician.

They’re played here by Marwick in the estimable company of a dozen other musicians, many of them regular collaborators, such as his partner Ruth Morris on nyckelharpa (the Swedish bowed fiddle), Cameron Robson on cittern and guitar, 
Gregor Lowrey on accordion and Fraser Fifield on whistle, Border pipes and saxophone, and his fellow fiddler from Old Blind Dogs, Jonny Hardie.

The elegant opener, Firedance 1 & 2, fanfared by Fifield’s sax, is an auspicious start to a mercurial collection which veers engagingly between the familiar and the eclectic, with tunes such as the manic Balkan Red, the slow, sad and Sephardic sounding Desert Reel, or the tremulously dreaming Valley Of Stairs and its Breton-sounding companion piece, Rêves de St Chartier, while touching base with Scots-accented tunes such as The Breadalbane Reel and Perth Races.

“I’m aware that I’m a very Scottish-based player, but I’m really interested in all these other inspirations,” he says, adding that writing music for theatre, such as Firedance, is also something he enjoys greatly.

Now he’s hitting the road with a formidable ten-strong distillate of the 13 musicians on the album. They opened last night in the Corsock Hall near where he lives, in Kirkcudbrightshire, play tomorrow night at Eden Court, Inverness, then Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on the 12th before heading north for Aberdeen, Skye and Stornoway (for full details of the tour, CD and tune book, visit www.gavinmarwick.co.uk).

Marwick’s other current band, Bellevue Rendezvous, has necessarily taken a back seat, but they intend to return to the recording studio soon.

In the meantime, the current tour is a rare chance to catch Marwick live in superb company, and he promises more recordings and tunebooks to come from this “dream project” – a continuing job of journeywork.