Music review: Scots Fiddle Festival

Jeremy Kittel flanked by Josh Pinkham, left, and Quinn Bachand
Jeremy Kittel flanked by Josh Pinkham, left, and Quinn Bachand
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As part of a festival celebrating the glories of Scots fiddle music, Saturday’s recitals at Summerhall couldn’t have kicked off in more apposite and bar-raising form than the performance by the renowned Campbeltown fiddler Archie McAllister. Accompanied expertly by guitarist Ron Pirrie, McAllister was an imposing presence, hunched over his fiddle with serious intent as strathspeys, reels, jigs and pipe marches emerged with dart and fire, but also with affection and respect, as he scrupulously credited not only their composers but often their dedicatees, invoking generations. There was a wonderful moment when Pirrie dramatically broke off, allowing the solo fiddler to release G S MacLennan’s classic Little Cascade like a greyhound out of a trap.

Scots Fiddle Festival, Summerhall & Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

Subsequent recitals included the muscular and frequently droll trio OBT, comprising fiddlers Daniel Thorpe and Jon Bews and guitarist Tom Oakes, who worked up quite a stomp in what might be termed the heidbangin’ school of strathspey-playing, while, from Kelso, Carly Blain, after some initial nerves (she and accompanist Harris Playfair had got lost in the bewildering warren that is Summerhall), gave a vivacious recital combining compositions from her newly published tune book with some skeely hornpipes from her native Border country. Given Playfair’s exuberant accompaniment, it was no surprise when they broke into ragtime, which metamorphosed into a manic reel.

A group from the festival’s Outreach Project opened the evening’s Queen’s Hall concert with impressive youthful panache. Patsy Reid’s set which followed, with Alistair Paterson on keyboards, guitarist Ewan MacPherson and percussionist Signy Jakobsdóttir, took in lissome strathspey and reel sets from her native Perthshire, as well as her own compositions and one by Scandinavian mandocello player Marit Fält, who joined them for some elegant cascades of bowed and plucked strings – although whether it really requires a percussion undertow may be debatable.

Bringing migratory Scots music and much else back across the Atlantic, the Jeremy Kittel Trio played a mercurial set, the Brooklyn-based fiddler, guitarist Quinn Bachand and mandolinist Joshua Pinkham ranging though some “strange” strathspeys and reels, as they termed them, and flitted fleetly from a Bach prelude to the appropriately punchy Boxing Reels.

In contrast, At Home in the World was a tender slow strathspey in memory of the murdered US journalist (and fiddle player) Daniel Pearl, before Reid joined them for a fiery, twin-fiddle strathspey and reel set, bringing the day nicely full circle.