We all appreciate that music is of vital importance in
keeping a culture alive. For some musicians the contribution is easier
than others. Take the fiddle for example. In 1969 in Glasgow there were
no teachers of the Scottish fiddle technique. This made it very difficult
for students and those that wanted to keep the traditional music alive.
Accordianists had it even worse! For a start there aren't many of them
around and it has never been as fashionable as fiddle or bagpipes.
Now consider the task undertaken by the founders of The
Scottish Fiddle Orchestra in 1980 when they met to form an organisation
that would recruit about 150 members to play in the style of the great
Fiddlers' Rallies that were once so common in Scotland. What a challenge
that must have been.
Of course Fiddlers' Rallies were not just about the
music. These events, often held in remote parts of the country, were
great social occasions too. Can't you just picture in your mind's eye
what wonderful parties there must have been before, during and after a
Fiddlers' Rally? Highlanders getting together to socialise and play
music. Learning from new influences and teaching beginners at the same
time. Music and tradition were synonymous. We had hundreds of years of
this before the onslaught of popular music took it's toll during the 50s,
60s and 70s.
Today, the SFO, under the leadership of John Mason
M.B.E. as musical director, has succeeded in preserving this unique form
of entertainment. Each year the orchestra travels the length and breadth
of the United Kingdom and Ireland performing at concerts closely
resembling a Fiddlers' Rally. The music from the massed fiddles blazes an
exhilerating cultural ride while audiences can barely contain
The SFO offers an alternative to the Scottish music
associated with the Music Hall performers of the early 20th Century, such
as Harry Lauder, and that Scottish music normally associated with the Folk
Revival period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Corries being one of
the most recognisable. In a way it is "popular" Scottish traditional
Having said that, this orchestra is as effective at
spreading folklore as any of the current "traditional" performers. The
repetoire is devised with traditional values in mind. Soloists Mary
Sandeman and James Nicol pay particular attention to songs as old as
the Highlands themselves, while making sure that "Flower of Scotland",
penned in the early 70s by The Corries, is never far behind. The music
harks back to a time when music and invited guests were the essential
ingredients for a good time. It is the dance music of old and it would
appear to be growing in strength as baby boomers embrace their heritage
and a return to the days when getting together was raw, yet safe and fun.
This is energetic dance music with high-octane levels of enjoyment.
Some of the SFO recordings will surely one day be
recognised as historically important. It would be my pleasure to write
some more about these recordings and others that we have managed to
collect at REL and R2.