One of Scotland’s most accomplished fiddlers and composers, Duncan Chisholm is currently celebrating the release of Affric, the third work in his Strathglass Trilogy in which he evokes the wild landscape that has been home to his family for 700 years. The fiddler told Celtic Life that he takes inspiration from many family stories, including his great grandmother’s account of the time when her house was surrounded by threateningly lovely flood water.
“She and my great grandfather lived in one of the remotest areas of theHighlands, a place called Athnamullach, which lies west of Loch Affric on the old drove road to Kintail,” Chisholm said. “In 1900, there was a heavy snow and then a very quick thaw with heavy rain. The river Affric broke its banks and flooded over the meadow. The house in which the family lived was completely surrounded by flood water. Miles from anywhere and anybody, they were marooned. My great grandmother used to say that when she looked out of the house in the moonlight the water was very frightening but very beautiful.”
The story inspired the tune The Flooded Meadow, one of the tracks on the Affric album, which follows the earlier parts of the trilogy, Farrar and Canaich. In all three, the music blends traditional tunes with contemporary sounds. Finishing the trilogy is a career highlight for Chisholm, who spent six years on the project.
“Landscape and history have inspired all the recordings in The Strathglass Trilogy,” Chisholm explained. “Overall, I wanted to give a flavour of this beautiful part of the world.”
Since its September release, Affric has received much praise, including being named one of Songlines magazine’s Best Albums of 2012. Chisholm has also been nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year by the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.
The sought-after composer is also known for his collaborations, notably with the award-wining trad/rock fusion band, Wolfstone, which he co-founded in 1989. He has been playing the fiddle since the age of eight when he took lessons from Donald Riddell, a great exponent ofHighlandfiddle music. Chisholm thinks that all children should get the chance to express themselves musically and feels fortunate to have started his career early. He advises other musicians to get experience before family commitments arrive.
“It would be a huge challenge to do that with a family to support and I always encourage good young musicians to take the plunge early to at least experience being a musician for a while.”
He said he likes to write songs that allow listeners to escape and enjoy a few moments peace. As he gets older, he feels that life’s experiences make him a better fiddler.
“I understand now the ability of music to lift the soul and to connect with people. For me it is a cathartic experience, I can share my emotions and feel better as a result. It is a true representation of who I am and where I come from and to be able to express myself in such a way means the world to me.
“I am working on a few projects at the moment,” he continued. “Foremost in my mind is touring the Affric album and looking at creating an orchestral piece set around The Strathglass Trilogy, the future is full of possibility.”
The third and final component in Chisholm’s acclaimed Strathglass Trilogy, Affric expands on themes previously explored in both Farrar and Canaich; longing, family, home, tradition, history and heritage. The beautiful yearning of An Ribhinn Donn opens the work, setting mood and tone for the remaining 10 tracks, including the warm and welcoming Night In That Land, which closes the recording. The gentle lull of Rubha Nam Marbh takes us home to the rolling Highlands, while the rollicking The Flooded Meadow lets its hair down and kicks its feet up. Chisholm’s skill comes to full-force, however, on Running the Cross, where he lets loose overtop a lean and muscular backing band. Sometimes tender, sometimes tough, Affric is a fine and fitting closure to a sweeping trilogy.
Is it correct that Duncan Chisholm gets inspiration for his music from the works of Norman MacCaig and Seamus Heaney.