New touring show features the life and music of Thomas Fraser

The Lone Star Swing Band (from left) Iain Tait, Graham Simpson, Fiona Driver, Duncan McLean and Dick Levens.
The Lone Star Swing Band (from left): Iain Tait, Graham Simpson, Fiona Driver, Duncan McLean and Dick Levens. Click on photo to enlarge.

A new show featuring the story of the late Thomas Fraser of Burra, who has achieved great posthumous fame with the release of CDs featuring his brand of country music, will be touring Scotland from next week.

Long Gone Lonesome, performed by the National Theatre of Scotland, begins in Orkney on Tuesday before heading to various parts of the Highlands. The Shetland premiere will be on Wednesday, 11th November, the night before the annual three-day Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival at the Hamnavoe Hall in Burra.

The show has been created by Duncan Mclean and his Lone Star Swing Band and directed by Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland. Karl Simpson, Mr Fraser’s grandson, helped the company with the production.

Mr Fraser, a fisherman and crofter, died in 1978 aged 50, following an accident at sea. He was dedicated to his art, mastering the styles of his heroes – especially pioneering country singer Jimmie Rodgers, America’s “Blue Yodeller” – and making the songs his own.

He was also an intensely private man, avoiding public performance and preferring to play in the privacy of his own croft. During his life he recorded thousands of songs at home using a reel-to-reel recorder. The tapes were only discovered 25 years later by his grandson who compiled and released them as the album Long Gone Lonesome Blues in 2002. The critics called it “one of the most remarkable stories in recording history” and “some of the greatest American music you will hear”.

Three further compilations have subsequently been released: You and My Old Guitar (2003), Treasure Untold (2005) and That Far Away Land (2008).

Mr Fraser is now acknowledged as a country music legend and in December last year his life was the subject of a BBC television documentary Shetland Lone Star. A fifth and final posthumous CD is due for release in 2010.

Through the use of live music and storytelling, Duncan Mclean and his band The Lone Star Swing Band will explore Mr Fraser’s life.

Mr McLean said: “I’ve written a script that aims to tell Thomas’s story, and to convey the essence of the music he loved and performed with so much passion. It’s not a play as such. Instead, the show will be a mix of storytelling, music and what you might call dramatic jam sessions with games, improvisations, tall tales, exaggerations, musical explorations and heartfelt personal confessions disguised as jaunty novelty numbers.”

The Lone Star Swing Band have been together for over 12 years and have played at many events and festivals and have supported Hayseed Dixie and Albert Lee. Duncan McLean on vocals and guitar is joined by Fiona Driver on fiddle, Graham Simpson on drums, Iain Tait on electric bass and Dick Levens on lap steel guitar and mandolin.

After the shows Duncan McLean invites the audiences to “bop, hop, dance, stomp, or just sit around and yarn about Thomas Fraser”. In venues featuring intimate cabaret style seating there will be a swinging shindig with the band playing their unique mix of western swing and traditional Scottish fiddle music.

After Orkney the production will visit Dornoch, Lochinver, Thurso, Applecross, Tarbert, Craignish, Stirling, Perth, Boat of Garten, Fraserburgh, Aberdeen, Lossiemouth, Dingwall and Ullapool.

For tickets to the performance in Hamnavoe on 11th November contact the Shetland Box Office on (01595) 745555.


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