Press & Promo for Border Fiddles

Brian McNeill (Head of Scottish Music RSAMD), Album Review

Once in a while a recording pulls you up short. The realisation hits you; a whole area of tradition has been clarified. This album does exactly that. My first impulse was to ask why no one had done it before, but the question's irrelevant; it has been done now and brilliantly.

This is an important landmark in music from the Scottish Borders. You can enjoy it for that, but I'd just like you to enjoy it for even more important reasons - because it's intricate, joyous and wonderful.

Catriona McDonald (Blazin’ Fiddles), Album Review

One of Scotland's rich musical traditions is awoken from its slumbers by the vibrancy of youth. The Borders Young Fiddles play traditional and self-penned tunes with great thought and skill. This debut CD oozes musicality from start to finish and belies the fiddlers' tender years.

Kris Drever, Live Review

Border Fiddles is a unique musical experience. It’s not only their prodigious skills which set them apart, but a much rarer originality exuberantly evident within their arrangements. Add to this an advanced understanding of timing which flows and harmony that's expressive and cultured and the picture becomes joyfully clear.

This is not an ordinary fiddle band.

Netrhythms, Album Review

Stating the blindingly obvious at the start - Borders Young Fiddles are five young fiddle players from the Scottish Borders: Lori Watson, Shona Mooney, Allan Hyslop, Rachel Cross and Innes Watson (who also plays guitar). They originally came together to support Jimmy Nagle at a recital of Borders fiddle music at the 1999 Scots Fiddle Festival, and shortly thereafter, spurred on by Lori's long-term research into Borders fiddle playing - a style which compared to other Scottish (and further afield) styles has been surprisingly neglected - they decided to produce a recording that would bring together tunes from that tradition alongside some of their own original music.

At the time of making the CD, all but Lori were in their late teens, but no special pleading needs to be made on that account, for the musicality and maturity - and sensitivity - of their playing is in every way a match for many players twice their age. Four of the five youngsters have been long-term members of the Small Hall Band (which provides a learning and playing platform for traditional music for many young Borders musicians). It's only fair to mention that since recording this CD, Allan has departed the lineup to pursue his other musical interests, his place having been taken by fellow SHB member Carly Blain. Together the young musicians bow forth a supercharged, wonderfully full-bodied sound that's almost overpowering at times but incredibly addictive and (to me at any rate) virtually impossible to tire of (even for the 68 minutes of this CD, which whizz by like a fiddler's elbow).

Singling out any of the 16 tracks for special mention would be almost a heresy, for there's not a weak moment, but you certainly need to sample the opening self-titled set at least to get a feel for the vibrant, supercharged sound of the ensemble. After which, even when things settle down a tad, as for Lori's solo air (The First Set), or on The Souter's Return (track 11) or the sweet waltz that introduces the enterprising Swedes And Bagies set (track 9), there's invariably plenty of delectable internal intricacies for both listeners and players to enjoy. The jaunty syncopations of the polkas making up Bob's Favourites (track 10) provide a further instance of the "moreishness" of the BYF sound.

The youngsters' playing is energetic but never forces the pace, and the spirit of Borders fiddlers Tom Hughes and Bob Hopkirk looms large in terms of influence these players bring the music to life in a thoroughly contemporary way - it never feels anything less than relevant to present-day music-making when it's played as fetchingly as it is here. Their sense of internal balance and rhythmic timing is faultless, like a well-oiled machine, but there's no sense of merely going through the mechanical motions when the playing’s so joyously on fire as it is here. Somewhat confusingly, this CD is marketed as volume 3 of the Borders Traditions series (which began with generic Sangsters and Fiddles releases and continues with Boxes, to be reviewed shortly).

But it's one of the best fiddle albums I've heard in a long time, and well worth seeking out. And by the way, it's an enhanced CD, containing features on the Borders fiddle style, band members' biogs, music notation, and details and samples of other recordings - excellent value at £12.50, a valuable educational tool as well as great listening.

Living Tradition, Album Review

…BYF presents five young fiddlers from the Scottish borders, whose musical abilities are well ahead of their years. Most of the album is ensemble pieces, with a tight and full sound, similar to Fiddlers Bid or the Bowhouse Quintet - and equally polished. Young doesn't mean unprofessional or inexperienced here: these fiddlers would give most older musicians a run for their money in that respect…

There's a hidden agenda here, and I suppose a justification for the band's name. The borders style of fiddling is close to extinction, despite previous attempts to revive it, and these young players have learnt from some of the last players in the old borders tradition. Part of the reason for this recording is to rekindle interest in the borders style, and to provide a benchmark for younger players. So what is the borders style? Like the repertoire, it's a cross-over between the Scottish and English traditions: the raw, rhythmic, sparsely ornamented style of Northumberland meets the snap and roll of dominant Scottish fiddling. This marriage of convenience produces some marvelous music, as The Eildon Hills are stripped bare of their fripperies, or The Duke of Roxburgh benefits from added bite.

There are other influences at work here too. You can't produce great young fiddlers in a vacuum - although I can think of many a session where putting the fiddlers in a vacuum would have improved things - so these rising stars are familiar with the music of Scotland, Ireland and beyond. This comes through in the score of own compositions here: slow airs such as Leaving Mull or the American-tinged Lori's Waltz, off-beat reels like Treelights and The Commentator, and jigs with names like Summer on the Tweed and What's All That About? They've also adopted some Scandinavian tunes, and the ringing open strings which go with them: Slow March and Auld Graden Kirn owe more to Sweden than to Scotland.

This CD also contains a multimedia presentation of the music and musicians, with history, notes, and written music for all the tunes here. It will be fabulous if their efforts contribute to a revival of borders fiddling, but in any case Lori and Innes Watson, Rachel Cross, Allan Hyslop and Shona Mooney are names to watch out for. BYF is long on quality and quantity, and speaks of great things to come.

Buy the CD online at ISLE Music Scotland


Border Fiddles - Band Biography [PDF]


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Pictures by Derek Lunn


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