The Scotsman Sessions #394: Bruce MacGregor
For his Scotsman Sesion, fiddler, broadcaster and bandleader Bruce MacGregor plays his composition Doddie’s Dream in the very spot where the tune first came to him – in his multi-award-winning bar, MacGregor’s, in Inverness.
Since then Doddie’s Dream has led an eventful life. MacGregor, who is looking forward to his band Blazin’ Fiddles’ 25th anniversary concert at Celtic Connections on 27 January, recalls how on Hogmanay 2020, during lockdown, he had just finished giving a fiddle lesson via Zoom: “I suppose the tune came out as something quite hopeful, that things were going to get better. It felt like a hymn.”
A few days later, he came off his bike while cycling on the challenge to raise funds for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, established by the late rugby legend Doddie Weir OBE to fund research into the motor neuron disease which had crippled him. “As I was sitting there, I realised I could probably do more for the charity through music that skiting about on me bike.”
MacGregor enlisted his fellow “Blazers” and many more besides, including such folk notables as Sharon Shannon and Aly Bain, and classical star Nicola Benedetti. They recorded their versions remotely: the resulting ingeniously assembled single and video has made to date some £5,000 for the charity.
Blazin’ Fiddles was born 25 years ago, out of frustration, he recounts, as a one-off project, and he couldn’t have imagined it lasting so long. He first assembled this collective of masterly fiddle players following a trip to the USA when he was making a BBC documentary about Californian-based Scots fiddler Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon camp. “I found a load of Americans thought that Scottish music was virtually dead in Scotland. This upset me because I knew we had so many great players, but we were useless at promoting ourselves.”
“I’d always wanted to promote Highland and Island fiddle styles, but it was never meant to be a band.” He assembled some of his many fiddle acquaintances including Iain MacFarlane, Duncan Chisholm, Aidan O’Rourke, Alan Henderson and Catriona McKay, some of whom, like himself, had been taught by the great Highland fiddler and tradition bearer Donald Riddell. The band name came, in fact, from Riddell’s heartbreaking tales of instruments being burned on the Isle of Skye by order of religious zealots.
Over the past quarter century, the supposedly one-off project has performed internationally, powering up in venues ranging from village halls to the Albert version. Recently releasing their anniversary album Blazin’ Fiddles XXV, the current line-up consists of MacGregor with fellow fiddlers Jenna Reid, Kristan Harvey and Rua MacMillan, plus fiddler-guitarist Anna Massey and keyboard player Angus Lyon.
“It was just madness for the first ten years,” MacGregor recalls. “It far exceeded anything I’d ever thought of, then it kind of evolved into the new format we have these days.”
In the meantime, Doddie’s Dream continues to raise money for MND research and was played by “the Blazers” at an emotional memorial service for Weir in Melrose last December, ever a tune of hope.