A quarter of a century of ago, Scotland was a wasteland when it came to showcasing its own traditional music…. then Blazin’ Fiddles lit the fuse that saw the genre burst into glorious life.
So it’s only fitting the iconic band is ready to set the heather alight again with a new album and tour to celebrate their 25th anniversary at a time when the musical landscape is rich with established and rising folk talent.
And founding member Bruce MacGregor is beyond excited at showcasing Blazin’ Fiddles album – XXV – at venues across the north and north-east, including Aberdeen and their “spiritual home” of Inverness.
“We’ve done two festivals now where we’ve played the new material since we’ve recorded it and the reaction has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “One guy, who I respect and has watched us many times, said it looks and sounds like the most vibrant the band has been since day one.”
New album is just how Blazin’ Fiddles sound playing live
Bruce concedes the new album – due for release as the tour gets underway on August 13 – was a long time coming. He said the band tend to work on new material when they are touring together but the pandemic “got in the way of stuff like that.”
But a tour of England in February gave them a chance to write, refine and hone the material for their anniversary album.
“We actually sat down and worked on stuff constantly. It was a hard tour because there was no time for yourself. But that really worked because we were able to take a new set, work on it all through the day and that evening just for it.”
The graft paid off, though, because at the end of the tour the band were ready to go straight into Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios to create the new album.
“By that stage, everything was just clicking and we recorded it in a completely different way as well,” said Bruce.
A true sound
“Instead of each one of us going in individually to record our parts, we played it as live, as if there was a crowd. There was no room for error as we only had two days in the studio, so we had no fallback.
“There was a fair bit of pressure to get everything absolutely right and I think that has worked better than anything we have done before. It was the pleasure of having the material as tight as possible so you can play it live, rather than in bits.”
And the sound of XXV –a heady mix of high energy reels and jig alongside haunting slow airs and waltzes – is an exciting departure from Blazin’ Fiddles’ previous studio albums, said Bruce.
“I think this is the first album – apart from the live album – that you’ve got the true sound of what we sound like live.”
Blazin’ Fiddles on tour for seven nights from Stornoway to Birnam
And now Bruce and the band can’t wait to get on the road to play XXV – and their old favourites – to fans in a seven-date tour that takes in some of the venues where Blazin’ Fiddles first cut their musical teeth.
“We looked at some of the gigs we did in our very first tour and we haven’t been able to go to them for quite some time because financially it wasn’t possible. But we thought for this one we will just bite the bullet and go for it,” he said.
“So we love going up to Stornoway, Birnam has always been one of our favourite venues and Glenuig is where we recorded the live album, 15 years ago. Aberdeen and Inverness are two of our favourite venues as well. Inverness is the spiritual home of the Highlands and Islands music we play.”
All of which is not bad for a band that was meant to be a one-off project to put the spotlight on traditional Scottish fiddle music when it had fallen off the map in Scotland.
‘It snowballed from there’
Bruce said it came about at a time when BBC Radio Scotland was playing the traditional music of places like Ireland and Cape Breton, but very little from Scotland itself. He was working for Radio Scotland at the time and had travelled to the US for a show on fiddle music and was horrified to find interviewees declaring Scottish fiddle music “was dead”.
“I thought that was just absolutely wrong. There were so many people playing Scottish fiddle music, but they hadn’t heard of Duncan Chisholm or Catriona Macdonald or Iain MacFarlane – the ones that were to be the first members of Blazin’ Fiddles.
“I thought, as usual, we are not promoting ourselves very well across the world as Scottish fiddle music, so I thought we would do this as a one-off show and at least people in the Highlands can get excited about it. But the reaction was just so good, we got another tour and it just snowballed from there.”
Come along and be prepared to party with Blazin’ Fiddles on tour
From that first gig in Strathy Village Hall – with the avowed aim of bringing Scottish fiddle music into “this century” – Bruce is delighted to see how rich, vibrant and popular traditional music truly is in Scotland today since Blazin’ Fiddles pushed the door open.
“It has changed enormously. When I first started playing there were about four or five bands. Now it’s really difficult to keep tabs on them and they have become so media savvy. If you look at Manran, for instance, taking on the Hydor, or Skippinish taking on 5,000-seater venues, or Talisk going right around the world, it’s absolutely incredible.”
And he hopes fans will turn out in their droves to not only enjoy their music but celebrate their 25 years with them.
“Be prepared to have a party, we want people just to have an absolute ball. That’s the most important thing when you come to a Blazin’ Fiddles gig.”
Dates for Blazin’ Fiddles 25th Anniversary Tour are: August 13, Fresh Ayr Folk Festival; August 14, Corran Halls, Oban; August 15, Glenuig Hall; August 16, Birnam Arts; August 17, Ann Lanntair, Stornoway; August 18, Aberdeen Music Hall and August 19 Eden Court, Inverness.
For more information visit blazinfiddles.com