Iron Age war horns and 21st-century tenor saxes, 300-year-old Lowland beer and Islay single malt, oh my… We’re just emerging from Edinburgh Festival mayhem, and September’s folk and jazz festival calendar offers further enticing if diverse attractions.
Looking north-east for starters, we find the Fiddler of Strathspey Festival, now in its fifth year, running from 20-22 September in the area’s heartland of Grantown-on-Spey. As one might expect, the weekend promotes the area’s fiddle-rich culture with numerous competitions including the prestigious Fiddler of Strathspey and Chieftain’s Fiddler competitions, as well as ceilidhs and concerts, including one in Boat of Garten Community Hall which involves the Cairngorms Orchestra with Paul Anderson, doyen of North-East fiddle stylists, performing his Heilan Symphony, a musical journey down the old drove roads of the Highlands.
Perhaps less expectedly, the concert will also feature trombonist and early music specialist John Kenny with his son, Patrick, in the duo Dragon Voices, performing on the ancient carnyx, the formidable boar-headed war horn depicted in Celtic imagery, as well as two other reconstructed early horns, the Tintignac carnyx from France and the curved Irish Loughnashade horn.
The Greek historian Polybius, in his account of the Battle of Telamon in the second century BC, described how the Romans were “terrified by the fine order of the Celtic army and the dreadful din, for there were innumerable horn-blowers and trumpeters.” Proceedings at Boat of Garten should be less traumatic but fascinating nonetheless.
We don’t know whether the fired-up horn blowers of ancient Celtic times fuelled themselves with early ale – evidence for brewing in Scotland does go back to Neolithic times – but down in East Lothian (unfortunately in a calendar clash with the Strathspey hooley), Scotland’s oldest working brewery, Belhaven is marking its 300th anniversary on Saturday the 21st, with an all-day programme featuring a compendious bill of Scottish folk talent.
Guests include such seasoned performers as Dougie MacLean and Capercaillie, as well as the current new generation of contemporary groups including the fiddle-driven Kinnaris Quintet, the Gaelic electronica of Niteworks, high-energy Elephant Sessions and Talisk, and Highland bands Breabach and Tide Lines. Beers on tap (naturally) will include a specially brewed 1719 pale ale.
If island single malt is more your tipple, however, there can hardly be a more extraordinary combination of music, whisky and spectacular scenery than the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival, the 21st edition of which takes place over the weekend of 13-15 September. Islay is of course the Inner Hebridean island that is virtually sinking under the weight of its nine renowned distilleries, and the festival concerts are held in some of these distilleries as well as in village halls, the local Gaelic college, an RSPB bird reserve visitor centre and the 18th-century Islay House Hotel.
Guests performing in these unorthodox but atmospheric venues include the Canadian trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg, and Scots blues singer Maggie Bell, the latter making her Islay festival debut with a programme of songs and stories charting her 50 years in the blues business. Meanwhile Jacqui Dankworth and Charlie Wood make a welcome return to the island with their programme celebrating a century of jazz song.
The programme also highlights Scotland’s currently burgeoning contemporary jazz scene, with such respected artists as pianist Brian Kellock, saxophonist Laura MacDonald, trumpeter Colin Steele (with Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis programmes) and gypsy jazzers Rose Room. Double bassist Mario Caribe brings his latest outfit, Fret, featuring guitarists Graeme Stephen and Kevin Mackenzie, while Stephen also gets together with two other Islay regulars, reedsman Martin Kershaw and trumpeter Steele.
Young stars from the bubbling Glasgow scene also feature, including drummer Graham Costello’s Strata, and bassist David Bowden’s Mezcla, while award-winning pianist Fergus McCreadie and his trio share a bill with the acclaimed young English trumpeter Laura Jurd. There will be horns aplenty, if not the boar-headed kind. Jim Gilchrist
For more information, visit www.fiddlerofstrathspey.co.uk, www.belhaven.co.uk/birthday-bash and www.islayjazzfestival.co.uk