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SCOTS FIDDLE FESTIVAL - Edinburgh - 16-18 November 2018

I caught the Saturday and Sunday concerts, both sold out, and soaked up some of the sessions, smaller performances, and spilt champagne before and after. The Friday concert was a smashing performance by all accounts, but Saturday’s gig looked set to outdo it for glitter, glamour, and sheer rock’n’roll excitement.

First up was Youth Engagement Project, a dozen or so young players who had been working with Loch Ness monster fiddler Adam Sutherland to perfect some arrangements of new and old music. Their playing and stagecraft were a credit to all involved and showed the high standard of fiddlers coming through the thriving fiddle courses across Scotland. Youth outreach is one of the main objectives of the Scots Fiddle Festival, and this year there were impressive groups of young fiddlers attending and performing from Glasgow, Ross-shire, Tyneside and Southport. Several young cellists too, which was interesting to see.

The first of Saturday’s main acts was the Kinnaris Quintet, a new grouping of five fiddlers based in Glasgow with a fascinating album recently released: I hadn’t seen these ladies live, and they burst onto the stage in a range of colourful costumes which were only outshone by their musical performance. With influences from traditional and contemporary music, eclectic with a Scottish core, their music is exciting and varied: all new, mostly their own compositions, with plenty of movement. A feast for eyes and ears, gliding around the stage on a patina of rouge, the live act added extra dimensions to their fine CD, and they are certainly a band to watch.

Follow that? Well, that’s exactly what Saltfishforty did. These snappy dressers all the way from Orkney stole the show with their hipster looks and their laid-back cool delivery. Close your eyes and you could be in the presence of Clements, or Grappelli, or Anderson, or any number of great players as Douglas Montgomery’s fiddle dripped blues and swing, reels and jigs, slow airs and sultry sambas. There was a strong Orcadian accent on many of the tunes, with older compositions by the likes of Hugh Inkster, as well as some by Montgomery and his Saltfishforty partner, Brian Cromarty. Brian’s guitar provided all the accompaniment needed, picking out the tune at times, playing delicate harmonies and powerful chords; his strong mellow voice coaxed every emotion out of songs such as his own Jack Snipe and the more optimistic Tender Is The Night by Old Man Luedecke. The big finale brought back the Kinnaris Quintet and the lads and lasses of the Youth Engagement Project for a romp through classic fiddle tunes on a very crowded stage, a big sound, and a big moment for the youngsters.

Sunday’s concert was the final event in the 2018 Scots Fiddle Festival, but everyone had stayed late to see a superb double bill of Sarah-Jane Summers and The Poozies. Sarah-Jane is a fiddler from Inverness, now living in Norway with her partner-in-everything guitarist Juhani Silvola from Finland. Summers and Silvola are both outstanding players, winning multiple awards and releasing what seems like a dozen albums this year between them, from jazz guitar solos to experimental viola, as well as Scottish, Finnish and Norwegian traditional music. Their performance was a masterclass in control, delicate Finnish polskas and stunning slow airs, old Scottish reels and Donald Riddell strathspeys, plus several of their own compositions. The audience was captivated by the slow air Vaajakosken Maija, Juhani’s stomping Silver Spring Reel, and Sarah-Jane’s quirky Spike On A Bike among others.

It took the combined talents of four Poozies and their sartorial psychedelica to raise the bar. Originally a harp-led band, this quartet has become more fiddle-focused with the addition of Orcadian Sarah McFadyen alongside seasoned Poozie fiddler Eilidh Shaw. Founder Mary Macmaster is still underpinning the crew on electroharp, its visceral notes sending a shudder through the room, while the fourth spot has been claimed by guitarist and all-round good time girl, Tia Files. Resplendent in garb from the Paris fashion houses and the souks of old Dalry, this shimmering quartet proceeded to rock the kasbah with their inimitable mix of folk, funk and fiendish humour. Nordic, Celtic, Balkan, Americana – you name it, they’ve got it, from Liz Carroll's Form Your Circle to Eilidh’s Punch In The Feis, Sarah’s sweet sentimental suicide ballad Soaking In The Bathtub to Tia’s poignant Pleckthumb. Easy banter, expert insouciance and exhilarating performances have always been Poozies hallmarks, and it seems they are set to continue. With Tia switching to fiddle for the delicate encore, Easily Led, this is a band that can mix and match its sound like those legendary lizards of the Inner Hebrides – a real Canna chameleon. As sated fiddle fans faded into the warm Edinburgh night, one big question remains: how can next year’s festival improve on 2018s amazing performances? Watch this space!

Scots Fiddle Festival 2019 dates: 17-19 November