Town Hall, Moffat

A return visit to Moffat Music Society – in a new venue! This what was written for the Moffat News:



Moffat Town Hall was alive with the music of Scotland on Friday night. The Whistlebinkies were back in town with a programme ranging from eighteenth century fiddle music and Gaelic mouth music to Eddie McGuire’s Moffat Suite, a work commissioned by Moffat Music Society in 2008.

Two lively introductory quicksteps had feet tapping before piper Rab Wallace introduced the other members of the group: Stuart Eydmann (concertina, violin and the wooden equivalent of spoons), Alastair Savage (violin), Peter Anderson (bodhran and Scottish side drum), Rhona Mackay (clarsach and vocals), Eddie McGuire (flutes) and Iain Crawford (double bass). After talking about his Lowland pipes Rab led the ensemble into a Strathspey and hornpipe; bittersweet leading to elation. Catriona McKay’s Swan LK234 made an excellent contrast. It was easy to picture sailing gently to the sound of water broken by a dinghy’s progress. Farewell to Sicily, harking back to military events of 1942-3, featured the pipes again, and then fiddle and bass played two reels by William Marshall, an eighteenth century Jock-of-all-Trades. A gifted fiddler and composer, he was also a mathematician, clock maker, surveyor, architect and astronomer, amongst other things.

Inner Sound by Eddie McGuire conjured up watery images again. Seeds rolling in a bodhran became waves lapping on a beach, before harp, concertina and violin took us out to sea. A plaintive, yet serene flute melody led to a lively tune joined by double bass and pianissimo concertina. Then, after a crescendo and side-drumming, a flute cadenza took us beach-wards till breathy sounds and rolling seeds set us ashore. Rab Wallace’s Wee Eddie Reels had hands clapping, and feet tapping until it was time for the two jigs of Loch Ness Monster to herald an interval.

The second half of the concert opened with the spirited Fiddlers’ Rally, followed by a revised Moffat Suite. The addition of harp and double bass added to the atmospheric impressionism of the Loch Skene episode, and the extended use of percussion added a touch of drama in the more discordant `troubled past’ section. Undoubtedly the music touched the hearts of local listeners. Lady Elizabeth Cole’s Air and Jig took us back to the poised elegance of the eighteenth century. Farewell to St Kilda which followed also used tunes of that period, but to very different effect and ending with a melancholic flute and harp adieu. After this Rhona sang Mouth Music, dance music in which tunes are often more important than words and in which the tempo usually increases. Her lovely voice and the sensitive backing made this a delightful interlude. The lament of Bonnie at Morn, begun by clarsach and concertina and joined by other melodic instruments, followed. It was linked with the Earl of Dunmore’s Jig in which bass and bohdran pointed the rhythm until a reprise of the opening lament brought the music to a satisfying close. Another of Eddie’s suites followed, The Albannach. It traced the progress of a young man from Lewis to the mainland in search of work, and his misfortunes and eventual salvation. Here lyrical sadness moved though anger to work-songs, and culminating in a jig. Two hornpipes led by Rab Wallace’s Lowland pipes ended the concert, a rousing and fitting end to an excellent evening’s music-making.

There is an intimacy and clarity of line in the Whistlebinkies music-making, stemming in part from the instruments used and in part from the way in which they are played. Often one felt one was at a homely gathering where music-making was part of everyday life. There was an especial sensitivity to the spirit and tradition of the art that was very persuasive. It was this, as much as the incisive rhythms, infectious dances, eloquent melodies, and felicitous introductions that made the evening such a joy.

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