All Dressed in Yellow, CD by Fiddlers’ Bid.
It’s a far musical cry from the group of “would be” musicians, mostly barely out of school, who released their first full commercial album Around the World in 1994. Now, five albums and 15 years later, Fiddlers’ Bid have evolved into a much respected band both locally and internationally.
The line-up is that of the previous five years. Andrew Gifford, Christopher Stout, Kevin Henderson and Maurice Henderson provide a unity on fiddles that is exceptional. The rhythm and dexterity of Catriona McKay (clarsach and piano) and Fionan de Barra (guitar) is immense. Almost unnoticed, due to its perfection, is Jonathan Ritch on bass.
Their latest release All Dressed in Yellow is an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary styles, both in melody and arrangement, played by a mature, innovative band combining outstanding musicianship.
On the face of it the album seems short – only six tracks – until you realise this is yet another progressive musical step for the band. The tunes are generally the expected mix of Shetland traditional and Scandinavian, which have been given a modern delivery, and self-penned material which has been blended to bring this album light years on from the early days. The album could be described as a suite of music lasting almost 45 minutes where the arrangements border on orchestration.
The opening track almost describes the evolution of the band. The first tune, Garden Johnson’s Da Boys o’ da Lounge, almost lures the listener into thinking we’re back 10 years and the Bid haven’t moved on at all. This thought is more than dispelled by the end of the track with two Christopher Stout compositions delivered in the now trade mark Bid style. Here Fionan’s guitar playing could easily be mistaken for a drummer with brushes but in fact it is that right hand. This sets the tone for the album which from here on in will push and pull on the listener’s ability to connect with the diversity of the arrangements.
Next we are plunged into a set of energetic jigs featuring the guitar playing of de Barra with his own composition Slur adding a new dynamic to the band. McKay leads the charge on clarsach in an improvised section before the final tune of the set Skerryholm.
And then the delicacy of the Scandinavian Astrid’s Waltz settles the mood. This brings the concept of octave playing to a new level, almost giving the impression of the key fiddle, but it is the pump organ which inspired the arrangement.
Staying abroad, the full band swing into the uneven pattern of the Estonian tune Aamer August. Just when the inability to tap your foot has become a frustration, a medley of tunes follow and one of most interesting joins on the album with the over lay of Sigurd o’ Gord’s Spring and Da Skeklers.
The penultimate track is described as the band’s interpretation of an old Shetland traditional manuscript titled Midnight. The unusual entry from pizzicato strings lead up to the melody from clarsach. The use of pizzicato haunts throughout the track and concludes it. Midnight is given a subtle approach making it one of the most powerful parts of the album.
The last track accounts for a third of the running time of the recording. The gentle start with Simon’s Wart by Willie Hunter Snr gives way to the power of the full band and another Stout tune Lowrie’s Reel. What follows is a fusion of folk and rock before the emergence of fiddle playing in its oldest form, unaccompanied, for the Cross Reel.
Cascou brings the music to a frenzy of rolling strings underpinned by the solid back line. But this is not the end of the track. What follows is a Swedish air of anthem quality before we finally hear the title All Dressed in Yellow or in dialect “Aa dressed in Yallo”. It’s not difficult, and actually quite moving, to visualise an elderly man with a slightly broken voice singing a melody from his childhood. That man is the late Jeemsie Laurenson of Fetlar whose photograph is the front cover of the CD. There is a poignancy and melancholy about this which lingers long after the CD has ended.
It is true that anyone looking for a traditionally-played CD will not find what they seek in this album. However, traditions must be allowed to progress and this album has brought fiddling to a new height. Nor will we hear much of it on radio as the tracks are too long and at best will be faded out. However, this is a ground-breaking recording and a must for all enthusiasts. The CD will be launched at the final Fiddle Frenzy concert in the Clickimin Centre tomorrow night and I can’t wait to see this live.