Monthly news summary of all the happenings and up and coming events in the Scottish Traditional Music scene.
Fine Friday just how many pleasurable, even delicious, associations do those two words conjure up? Now imagine the sweetest, the merriest and the mellowest of those memories distilled into a silkily integrated partnership of fiddle, flute, whistles, guitar and vocals: that’s Fine Friday the band.
Bringing together three young but seasoned leading lights of Edinburgh’s renowned contemporary roots scene, Fine Friday emerged organically from a longstanding and still-running - weekly session at Sandy Bell’s, the city’s most famous folk pub. The band proper was born in late 2000, after Orcadian guitarist and singer Kris Drever began sitting in with regular co-hosts Nuala Kennedy, from Dundalk, on flute and whistles, and Edinburgh-born fiddler Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
Kris is the son of singer-songwriter Ivan Drever, formerly lead vocalist with Celtic rock supremos Wolfstone. Having self-confessedly spent his adolescence listening to Metallica and Pantera, meanwhile learning the guitar and ruining other people’s sessions at the Orkney Folk Festival by playing all the wrong chords, he left home for the mainland at seventeen, eventually gravitating towards Edinburgh’s burgeoning session scene. The Tron Ceilidh House was then, in the latter 1990s, the place to be, a haven for musicians from across all manner of genres, and Kris was soon playing there several nights a week.
Having temporarily switched instruments to the double bass, he subsequently returned to the guitar (when I eventually got a good one), and began honing the style - a highly individual blend of rhythm and harmony, folk, jazz, rock and country inflections - that now finds him in near-constant demand as a session player, as well as lending such original shades and textures to the Fine Friday sound. A guitar’s like a portable piano, in terms of its range, he says. I like to try always to use interesting colours in the chords and harmonies I play, rather than just doing the obvious. With this band, too, we do a lot of mid-tempo stuff, nothing totally hell-for-leather, so we can really make the arrangements count.
Kris’s earlier live and recorded work includes collaborations with Cathy Ryan of Irish-American supergroup Cherish the Ladies, Scottish fiddlers John McCusker and Bruce MacGregor, Irish accordionist Leo McCann and Gaelic band Tannas, well as tours of the US and South America with the Irish dance show Celtic Fusion.
More recently, Kris has increasingly been attracting plaudits for his singing as well as his playing, with his warm, soulfully resonant vocals featuring in five of the thirteen tracks on Fine Friday’s debut album. His choice of songs ranges from the traditional Cold Blow and the Rainy Night to Steve Tilston’s Slip-Jigs and Reels; from Boo Hewerdine’s Hummingbird to the classic Scots ballad The Selkie. I like either to do songs that haven’t been covered much before, he says, or folky standards that are open to a different interpretation. I try to steer clear of that kind of typical folk-singer sound, and put my own mark on things. Kris also plays with The Kate Rusby Band and Session A9 Nuala was also born into a musical family, and grew up surrounded by traditional influences her native Dundalk, Co. Louth, is home to many leading musicians, including such illustrious figures as Siobhan Kennedy and Gerry O’Connor. Having taken up the whistle aged nine, she soon graduated to the flute, and by her early teens was playing regularly with the celebrated local ceilidh band Ceoltori Oga Oghrialla [sp?]. That was a mad, brilliant time, she recalls. We were playing in competitions and winning all these under-21 prizes, and most of us in the band were only about thirteen.
After a foundation year in Belfast, Nuala moved to Edinburgh to attend art college in 1995 - just in time to catch the wave of young players and proliferating sessions then hitting the Scottish capital. I hadn’t actually played myself in ages there weren’t many sessions around in Belfast but one Saturday afternoon I happened upon the Tron, and then that led on to all these other sessions, she says. I just got totally immersed in it all, meeting all these other amazing musicians who were around, and then after a couple of years or so, I got asked to do the Friday night at Sandy Bell’s. Other ongoing projects include the up-and-coming folk-pop five-piece Harem Scarem, and the recently-convened Marvellous Magic Ceilidh Band, a collective of seven or eight rising instrumental stars, accompanied by a pub magician.
Nuala’s airily supple yet muscular, percussively accented playing forms a closely intertwined melody double-act with Anna-Wendy’s agile, elegantly articulated fiddle. Ever since we started playing together, says Nuala, we’ve just immediately clicked on to the same wavelength: whenever we sit down to work out tunes, it’s just so easy. In addition to their instrumental talents, Nuala and Anna-Wendy both contribute many arresting original compositions to Fine Friday’s repertoire. Nuala also plays with Harem Scarem
Further expanding the band’s collective breadth of background, Anna-Wendy began her musical career following in the classical footsteps of her grandfather, the pianist and composer Ronald Stevenson. A diploma from the London College of Music was followed by a year-long scholarship to Lubbock, Texas where her extra-curricular activities included accompanying the legendary crooner Tony Bennett. She’d often heard traditional music while growing up, however, with a connection also through her aunt, the acclaimed harpist Savourna Stevenson, and on her return to Edinburgh, Anna-Wendy too found herself drawn in to that Tron-centred session circuit, and set about re-learning the violin as the fiddle.
As well as Fine Friday, she currently plays with the all-female quartet Calluna, and in 1999 was invited to join the internationally successful Celtic band Anam, with whom she undertook several major-venue tours of the US and Canada. Combining the expressive vitality and rhythmic pliancy of traditional music with a classical breadth of technique, Anna-Wendy completes the Fine Friday triangle, within which Scottish, Irish, Scandinavian and French-Canadian melodies mingle seamlessly with jazz, ragtime and American old-time stylings, in artfully wrought arrangements where never a note seems wasted or out of place.
With just the three of us, there’s lots of room for everyone’s individual ideas, says Nuala. And yet I think our sound often comes across as bigger than you’d expect from a trio.
Committed musicianship, discerning choice of material, imagination to spare and, above all, that vital stamp of a distinct, highly evolved group personality qualities solidly underlined by their sparkling first album all mark them out as a band whose star is firmly in the ascendant.
Fine Friday's second CD release on the Foot Stompin' label is Mowing the Machair.
Live performance review: Fine Friday The Village, South Fort Street, Edinburgh.
NAMED after their popular Friday night sessions in folk bar Sandy Bells, Fine Friday - Anna-Wendy Stevenson (fiddle), Kris Drever (guitar) and Nuala Kennedy (flute) - rarely waste a note or miss a cue. First up, "a song not about Scotland", When I First Came to Caledonia, had everyone tapping their toes furiously to its frisky rhythms. Next, full of killer key changes and impressive tempo switches, the percussive-sounding Lisa Giles proved you don’t need a drum or a bodhran to get a good beat going.
However, inspired by one of Nairn songwriter Ian Hardy’s favourite walks, Drever’s jazzy guitar chords and Steven’s melting violin notes brought Jupiter Hill - an otherwise humdrum waltz - to a new, higher level. An Irish version of a Gaelic song was sung with poise and intelligent phrasing, The Village’s wooden interior providing a natural resonance to the acoustic instruments - a reminder of days when folk bands played village halls before electronic amplification was invented. But that was before the band rounded things off with a stramash of heavy, pulsating jigs (influenced by Deep Sea World, of all things).
Modern, unpredictable folk music that demands your attention, this impressive threesome give a new meaning to the term TFI Friday.........BARRY GORDON...Evening News....28/07/04.
Gone Dancing By Fine Friday
To Download this album for £4.99 via PayPal click on album title and follow link. Five songs and eight instrumental tracks make up the 50 minutes of this delightful Scots/Irish collaboration featuring three young but seasoned leading lights of Edinburgh’s renowned celtic scene.
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