Friday, 22 July 2016


CD Review

Alone With History

This fourth album from Alastair Savage, who is an absolute master of the fiddle, is his first of fiddle solos and he straddles and blurs the lines between what could be considered classical music and folk, but do you know what? the quality of the playing is so high there comes a point where you don't care.

Alastair Savage. Pic Simon Butterworth
Savage, from Ayrshire, opens with the suite Scenes From Gow (Seven pictures for solo fiddle) the first part of which is The Publishers' Tea/Nathaniel's Birthday. The Gow's were a family who started publishing music in the 19th century and it's because of them we can enjoy Savage's work on this album.
The Scottish musician's playing has a feel of the Lark Ascending to begin with but then develops a more highland and jaunty feel to it. It slides into The Plaid Weaver's Son/The Duke of Atholl's Catch/Sunday By The Tay. The first part of the trilogy has a more sombre feeling than the previous track but the precision of Savage's playing is evident. He cranks it up a couple of gears for the middle section before bringing it back down for the slightly lesser-paced final act which he still keeps light even as his fiddle growls out the notes.
The final part of the suite is From Ayrshire to Perthshire/Chasin' The Lassies. The first part is a slow, thoughtful air which moves on to a more playful tune, as the title would suggest, which is dedicated to Robert (Rabbie) Burns. Once again the precision of Savage's playing comes through as he interchanges between the strong louder notes and the gentler softer notes with such grace.
The next suite, Dear Poet, starts with Ae Fond Kiss which Savage has arranged from a traditional tune and is simply exquisite in the way he rolls and pitches the sound to give the piece real character and emotion.
Savage follows this with another of his incredible adaptations, this time of the tune most associated with Burns' famous song My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose. The traditional tune is just recognisable within the fiddler's gorgeous notes.
James Scott Skinner
Savage moves on to the third suite of tunes, which is dedicated to James Scott Skinner,  with The Strathspey King, Tribute to James Scott Skinner. The Queen's Welcome to Invercauld/The Glenlivet/Spey In Spate opens with a definite Gaelic pedigree as Savage makes the tune dance before it gives way to the more fractured sound of the second movement and ending with a light and definite dance tune.
The Bonnie Lass O'Bon Accord is a very lilting and thoughtful piece which has both a classical edge and yet you can still imagine the ordinary folk dancing en masse to the wafting sound as it soars up into the sky.
One of the most beautiful pieces on the album is The Cradle Song as you can imagine it's a very gentle, tender piece of music which would calm any troubled child.
The tune is made all the sweeter through Savage's expert execution. It fades into the more traditionally Scottish sounding The Iron Man. Dedicated to an engineer it has steel in its notes which gives it a strength character, this eventually gives way to the reel, Sandy Grant. Savage makes the notes dance as much as the lassies following the tune would do.
The penultimate suite is The Gow Family Tree which begins with Niel Gow's Lament for The Death of His 2nd Wife. Savage captures the mournful tune perfectly and if you listen carefully there is more than a hint of Will Ye Go Lassie Go sprinkled among the notes. The second movement is another triplet starting with Major Graham of Inchbrakie which is a slow air with beautifully languid strokes of the bow from Savage.
This gives way to the quicker pace of Duke of Gordon with undulating notes feeling almost like they are being blown into a dance like a leaf in the wind.
The new album
The triplet ends with the toe-tapping General McDonald's Reel which is far too short for such a light piece of enjoyable playing. The Countess of Selkirk's Favourite is the sophisticated first part of the next triplet which soon gives way to the lovely light and traditional sound of Largo's Fairy Dance, you can almost see the sprites having a ball in the depths of some woods far away from prying mortal eyes. Savage picks up the tempo for Major Molle the shortest of the three pieces.
The final suite is Three Reflections which begins with the solemn sounding Hymn For The Masters, the shortest piece on the album. The title track follows and is another quiet and thoughtful piece dedicated to the composers who have given Scotland so much music.
The gentle high notes do carry a reverence as they leave Savage's fiddle to bow before those who have gone before. Your Light Will Shine On is the final track and is again far too short for such an enjoyable and pensive piece of music which slowly wafts over you like the scented mist from an incense stick.
Savage is an undoubted master of his instrument and this album of pure fiddle music is a brave move but when you have the talent in your fingers as he does then anything seems possible.
If you love good fiddle music; you have an ear for the classical and you enjoy traditional folk with a real touch of class then this album will tick all the boxes.
The album is available now through Birnam CD as well as Savage's website and the usual download sites.

You can catch Savage live on Sunday, August 14 at Alastair Savage and Friends, Scots Fiddle Old And New at Canongate Kirk, 153 Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8BN. Doors open 7.30pm and the show starts 8pm. Tickets range from £10 to £24 for a family ticket.
Then on Monday, August 15, 2016 you can see him with Tom Rathbone, Scotland And Beyond at St. Cuthbert's Church, 5 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH1 2EP, Times and ticket prices are as above.
Then on Thursday, August 18/19/20/25 he is at the Arthur Conan Doyle Centre with Alone With History the venue is at 25 Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, EH12 5AP. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets range from £8 to £20 for family ticket.

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