Musician, fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke spent a year writing daily musical responses to James Robertson’s short story collection 365: Stories.
By the end of the year he had written 365 new tunes, from which he selected 22 to record with Kit Downes on harmonium and piano. Aidan and Kit are now touring the album in the UK.
Where are you from?
I’m from Oban. We moved to Seil Island when I was 13. I moved away from Argyll when I was 18 but still think of it as home.
How were you first introduced to folk music?
My dad plays banjo and bits on other stringed instruments. He listened to a lot of traditional music through the late 60s and into the 70s. So my first musical memory is of Planxty and Silly Wizard. I guess it stuck.
What was your first instrument?
The fiddle, and only the fiddle!
Is anyone else in your family musical?
Yes, my dad plays banjo, mandolin, guitar and a little bit of fiddle. My sister Siubhan and brother Declan were both great fiddlers in their teens and then gave it up for a decade or so. They’re both getting back into it now. Declan’s very musical and can get a tune out of most things. My dad’s grandfather was a fiddler from Tyrone.
Why did you pick the fiddle to learn?
Initially because my dad could help me with the rudiments and because there was a great teacher near us in Oban. I had my first proper lessons with the late George McHardy, a fiddler and butcher from Oban. He was pretty old and gnarled by the time I came to him for lessons but he was a beautiful man who taught me so much about musical grace.
Is there a piece you have been particularly proud of?
I’ve been writing, or trying to write, ‘complex’ music for so long now that I’m really pleased with this recent tack in my writing. In my 365 project I have stripped right back to a more traditional idea of a tune. There are twists and turns which I think still make them sound like my writing, but I’ve concentrated fully on the melody rather than conjuring elaborate arrangements. For this project I have 365 new tunes – I wrote one per day for a year in response to James Robertson’s short story collection 365: Stories. As yet I haven’t gone back through them all so I can’t single out a favourite.
What are you looking forward to on your tour?
I’m looking forward to hearing James Robertson’s words and playing the music that was inspired by them. Also I love playing with Kit Downes. He’s one of the most emotionally intuitive musicians I’ve ever worked with. He’ll be mainly playing a beautiful old harmonium and his control of it is stunning.
Anything essential in your bag for the tour?
Headphones and a decent novel.
Do you have a pre-show routine?
At risk of sounding bit precious, I need some peace and quiet before I play. I need a moment of calm. If I can’t find it backstage I’ll go for a wander outside or sit in a stairwell or something. I admire players who can sit and joke and hold conversations and then breeze on to stage, but I just can’t do that without getting into a muddle.
Will you explore some of the places you visit?
I try to get a run in every day. It’s a great way of seeing the places we’re playing in.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
Kind of obvious but my parents, and the way they worked and brought me up and gently instilled decent morals.
What should people expect when coming to see your show?
Expect to be enthralled by Kit Downes’s harmonium and piano playing. His deep sense of harmony is mind-blowing. The show includes James Robertson reading some of his 365 short stories, sometimes underscored by our music, sometimes as standalone readings. He’s a masterful, poetic storyteller.