Tag Archives: fiddle

Artist Profiles: Altan

Altan in 2010 – Photo by Angel Romero

Irish traditional band Altan has had a tremendous effect on audiences and music lovers throughout the world. With their beautifully crafted award-winning recordings, ranging dynamically from the most tender old Irish songs all the way to vibrant reels and jigs, Altan have taken Irish music to some of the best concert halls and festivals throughout the world.

During all this time, there has been the resolute commitment of the band to delivering the beauty of traditional music, particularly that of the Donegal fiddlers and singers, to a wide-range of audiences.

Altan have always believed that Irish traditional music is modern-day music. “Ireland isn’t known for its opera or classical music. What we are known for is our traditional music, our language, our culture. That’s what we can give the world,” says acclaimed fiddler and lead vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh in 2010 – Photo by Angel Romero

The History

The roots of the band begin with the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal where masterful music was heard in an environment of appreciation and intimacy; this is the foundation of the band.

The real essence of the band was the music and personality of band founders, Belfast flute-player, Frankie Kennedy, and Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.

As soon as anyone met them and heard their unique music in the early 1980s, whether in a large noisy festival session, or in the small traditional clubs of Dublin and Belfast, it was immediately clear there was synergy at work.

Mairead and Frankie played a mix of old Donegal fiddle music and rare Northern flute tunes. Steadily, the duo grew organically into a band in the mid-1980s. They chose the name Altan, which is a deep and mysterious lake behind Errigal Mountain in Donegal.

Altan was committed to musical excellence and good-natured fun. The band members were some of the best players in the contemporary folk music scene. Altan has always been a band featuring virtuoso musicians. One of the first was bouzouki-player, Ciaran Curran from Co. Fermanagh, a well-respected session and festival musician, nephew of fiddler, Ned Curran. Like all accompanists of the time, Ciaran had created his own style on the bouzouki, and his playing is an essential part of the Altan sound.

Ciaran Curran – Photo by Angel Romero

With the inclusion of guitarist Mark Kelly in the mid-1980s Altan truly became a band. Mark had played other musical styles, and from the very beginning he showed a talent for stylishly incorporating fresh rhythms and chordings to the band’s arrangements. Mark and Ciaran appeared on the 1987 album “Altan”, which, even though not officially a band album, unveiled the Altan’s studio sound.

Mark Kelly – Photo by Angel Romero

The increasing amount of live performances in 1984 and 1985 led Frankie and Mairead to quit their teaching jobs and go professional. Especially influential were short trips to the United States in those years when Altan played concerts in New York, Minnesota, Madison, Portland and Seattle with Derry guitarist, Daithi Sproule, a Minnesota resident, and like Ciaran and Mark, an old friend.

Daithi was one of the first musicians to adapt the guitar to old Gaelic songs (many of which he learned in the Gaeltacht of Rannafast, just a few miles from Mairead’s home in Gweedore). These US concerts, played in clubs and sometimes in noisy Irish pubs, where people were expecting a very different sort of music, convinced Frankie and Mairead that no-compromise traditional music played with passion and vitality could win over any audience anywhere.

In subsequent years, Altan recorded albums for American independent record label Green Linnet, all of which won praises and awards and appeared in the Billboard charts. Alytan’s collaborators on these albums were first-rate: Donal Lunny, Brian Masterson and Steve Cooney in particular made oustanding contributions over the years.

Another friend played with Altan for several years, fiddle maestro Paul O’Shaughnessey, a stunning player with a deep knowledge of Donegal music. The two-fiddle sound became popular, so as Altan toured more and more widely, Paul had to leave due to pressure of work. His place was taken by another great young Donegal fiddler, Ciaran Tourish, a musician with a special love for the weaving of spontaneous harmony and counterpoint around the melodies of the other lead players.

Ciaran Tourish – Photo by Angel Romero

A final element was added to Altan’s sound in the early 1990s. It was another old friend, accordion-player Dermot Byrne, another Donegal musician, who grew up listening to an older generation of Donegal fiddlers, the Doherty’s, the Byrne’s and the Cassidy’s.

Dermot Byrne – Photo by Angel Romero

Sadly, in the early 1990s Altan suffered a devastating blow, when band leader and manager, Frankie Kennedy, at the height of his career as a brilliant and innovative flute-player and just when his and Mairead’s musical dreams were being realized, was diagnosed with cancer.

Through a long illness, Altan, at Frankie’s insistence, continued to tour and perform with Frankie’s participation whenever possible. Frankie died on September 19, 1994. He continues to be a presence and inspiration in Altan’s life and music.

In 1996 Altan was signed to Virgin Records, the first Irish band of their kind to be signed by a major label. Altan achieved gold and platinum albums in Ireland and toured larger venues, throughout the globe, with tours in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe as well as regular successful U.S. tours.

In recent years Altan has experimented with traditional music, using orchestral arrangements of its most popular pieces. The arrangements have been scored by the highly respected arranger Fiachra Trench and performed with the Ulster Orchestra, The RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish Opera Orchestra.

In March of 2010 Altan released Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration album with the RTE Concert Orchestra, and embarked on an international tour.

In 2012, Altan released Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen inspired by a region around Dún Lúiche, in County Donegal, made of deep glens and lakes. The album featured Martin Tourish who would later replace Dermot Byrne.

The Widening Gyre, released in 2015, was recorded in Nashville and explored the influence of Appalachian music on Irish music.

The Band in 2013-2016

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – lead vocals, fiddle
Ciaran Tourish – fiddle, tin whistle, backing vocals
Mark Kelly – guitars, bouzouki, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran – bouzouki, mandolin
Dáithí Sproule – guitar, vocals
Martin Tourish – accordion


* Altan (Green Linnet, 1987)
* Horse with a Heart (Green Linnet 1095, 1992)
* The Red Crow (Green Linnet 1109, 1992)
* Harvest Storm (Green Linnet 1117, 1992)
* Island Angel (Green Linnet 1137, 1993)
* The First Ten Years, 1986-1895 (Green Linnet 1153, 1995)
* Blackwater (Virgin 41381, 1996)
* The Best of Altan (Green Linnet 1177, 1997)
* Another Sky (Narada 48838, 2000)
* The Blue Idol (Narada 11955, 2002)
* The Best of Altan – The Songs (Virgin, 2003)
* Local Ground (Narada70876-19196-2 2, 2005)
* Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration (Compass Records, 2010)
* Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen (Compass Records, 2012)
* The Widening Gyre (Compass Records, 2015)

Website www.altan.ie


Artist Profiles: Barbara Lamb

Barbara Lamb at Folk Alliance in Vancouver – Photo by Angel Romero

Barbara Lamb, featured soloist with The Laura Love Band, former member of The John Cowan Band, Asleep At The Wheel and founding member of Ranch Romance, is off on a new tear. Babs released a CD in the fall of 2000 and her new sound was a departure from her bluegrass and western swing roots.

Backed by a rockin’ rhythm combo, Ms. Lamb takes the violin to a new rhythmic realm that weaves together funk, world beat, blues and jazz. Babs has a legion of fans across North America from her many years of touring with top national artists. She is a consummate performer and a skilled workshop presenter.


Twin Sisters, with Vivian Williams (Voyager Recordings, 1975)
Western Dream, with Ranch Romance (Sugar Hill, 1992)
Blue Blazes, with Ranch Romance (Sugar Hill, 1991)
Flip City, with Ranch Romance (Sugar Hill, 1993)
Fiddle Fatale (Sugar Hill, 1993)
Tonight I Feel Like Texas (Sugar Hill, 1996)
Blue On Dakota (Lots Of Coffee Records, 2000)
Fiddle Piggy (Lots Of Coffee Records, 2003)
Bootsy Met a Bank Robber (Lots of Coffee Records, 2006)
Swedish Design, with David Lamb (Lots Of Coffee Records, 2007)
Twisty Girl (Lots Of Coffee Records, 2009)


Artist Profiles: Brian McNeill

Brian McNeill – Photo by Jacqueline France

Brian McNeill was born in Falkirk, Scotland, in 195. He began his musical training in his early teens with formal violin lessons, but soon forsook that instrument for the electric guitar. A comprehensive musical education and a mildly misspent youth were the result – until his student years brought him to Celtic music. He knew immediately that this was a music he had to play and as a direct consequence, in 1969 he picked up his fiddle again and formed The Battlefield Band, which has since become one of Scotland’s best-known ensembles.

In the last few years he has toured extensively with the eight-strong Scottish supergroup Clan Alba, with his old friend Iain MacKintosh, with the Scottish-Irish line-up of Kavana, McNeill, Lynch and Lupari and with Ireland’s Martin Hayes and Cape Breton’s Natalie MacMaster in the highly rated US Celtic Fiddle Festival series. The success of the landmark Scots Women concert at Celtic Connections, of which he was musical director, and his recent appointment as Head of Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, have reinforced Brian’s position as one of today’s great forces in Scotland’s music.

Brian is a multi instrumentalist who plays fiddle, bouzouki, mandocello, guitars and concertina.

Discography with Battlefield Band

Battlefield Band (1977)
At the Front (Temple Records, 1978)
Stand Easy (Temple Records, 1979)
Preview (Temple Records, 198)
Home is Where the Van Is (Temple Records, 198)
The Story So Far (Temple Records, 1982)
There’s a Buzz (Temple Records, 1982)
Anthem for the Common Man (Temple Records, 1984)
On the Rise (Temple Records, 1986)
Music in Trust Vol 1 (Temple Records, 1986)
After Hours: Forward to Scotland’s Past (1987)
Celtic Hotel (Temple Records, 1987)
Music in Trust Vol 2 (1988)
Home Ground – Live From Scotland (1989)
New Spring (Temple Records, 1991)
Quiet Days (Temple Records, 1992)
Opening Moves (Topic Records, 1993)
Farewell to Nova Scotia (Escalibur, 1996)
Threads (Temple Records, 1995)
Across the Borders (Temple Records, 1997)
Live Celtic Folk Music (Munich, 1998)

Solo albums:

Monksgate (1978)
Unstrung Hero (Greentrax, 1985)
The Busker and the Devil’s Only daughter (Temple Records, 1985)
The Back O’ The North Wind (1991)
Horses for Courses, with Tom McDonagh (Greentrax, 1994)
No Gods (Greentrax, 1995)
Stage By Stage, with Iain MacKintosh (1995)
To Answer the Peacock (1999)
Live and Kicking, with Iain MacKintosh (2000)
The Baltic tae Byzantium (2009)
The Crew o’ the Copenhagen, with Drones & Bellows (2010)
The Falkirk Music Pot (2015)


Artist Profiles: Blazin’ Fiddles

Blazin’ Fiddles

Take five of the hottest young contemporary fiddle players from the various regions of the highlands and islands of Scotland and you’ve got Blazin’ Fiddles on your hands. Having grown from a showcase tour of individual fiddlers highlighting the distinctive flavors of Highlands and Islands fiddle music, the Blazers have gone on to become a fully fledged band with a world-wide following.

With the original fiddlers in the band hailing from Mallaig (Allan Henderson) Shetland (Catriona Macdonald), Glenfinnan (Iain MacFarlane), Inverness (Bruce MacGregor) and Oban (Aidan O’Rourke), it’s fair to say that Blazin’ Fiddles embodies the spirit of today’s Highland fiddle music. Add to the mix, inventive guitar and piano (Marc Clement and Andy Thorburn) accompaniment underpinning the fiddle melodies with exhilarating drive and vigor. Since their inception in 1998, the band has thrilled audiences from Canada and the US, through Europe, to the Middle East.

The current line-up features Bruce MacGregor from Inverness on fiddle; Allan Henderson from Mallaig on fiddle; Iain MacFarlane from Glenfinnan on fiddle; Jenna Reid from Shetland on fiddle; Anna Massie from Fortrose on guitar and fiddle; and Angus Lyon on piano.


Fire On! (2002)
The Old Style (2004)
Magnificent Seven (2005)
Blazin’ Fiddles Live (2007)
Thursday Night in the Caley (2011)
Six (2014)
North (2015)



Virtuoso Fiddler’s Vision

Michael Cleveland – Fiddler’s Dream (Compass Records, 2016)

Fiddler’s Dream is a great opportunity to discover one of the finest fiddlers in the current bluegrass music scene. On this solo recordings, the award-winning musician and composer Michael Cleveland showcases his talent as an acclaimed fiddler and also a mandolinist and guitarist.

On the new album, Cleveland presents a superb mix of self-penned instrumental contemporary bluegrass musical pieces, country songs, and fascinating improvisations.

Michael Cleveland is joined by his band and an impressive list of guest musicians from the American roots music scene. This obviously adds and enrichment to the tunes and songs but Cleveland is definitely the highlight of this album.

Michael Cleveland attracted a lot of attention at the age of 13 when he performed in the influential venue known as the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Since then, Cleveland has won 10 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Fiddle Player of the Year awards and 4 Instrumental Group of the Year awards.

The lineup on Fiddler’s Dream includes Michael Cleveland on fiddle, mandolin and lead guitar; Jeff White on guitar and vocals; Jeff Guernsey on lead guitar; Sam Bush on mandolin and vocals; Lloyd Douglas on banjo; Barry Bales on bass; Jason Carter on fiddle; Jerry Douglas on dobro; Paul Franklin on steel guitar; Vince Gill on vocals; and Andy Stattman on mandolin.



Fiddler’s Dream is an extraordinary album by the sensational fiddler Michael Cleveland.

Buy Fiddler’s Dream in the Americas

Buy Fiddler’s Dream in Europe


Enthralling Fiddle Traditions of the North

Nordic Fiddlers Bloc – Deliverance (Nordic Fiddlers Bloc NFBCD001, 2016)

Northern Europe is a land with a great fiddling tradition. The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc brings together three virtuoso musicians representing three of these traditions. In this case, it’s the music of Norway, Sweden and Shetland (Scotland). Ancient routes connected these territories and the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is developing new connections.

On their new album, titled Deliverance, the trio play a couple of traditional pieces from Sweden and Finland and the rest are original compositions by Kevin Henderson and Olav L. Mjelva, members of The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, and composer Jon-Erik Hall.

Deliverance features a fascinating mix of instruments that are part of the fiddle family, including the violin, viola, hardanger fiddle, and the rare octave violin.

The lineup includes Anders Hall (Sweden) on violin and viola; Olav Luksengård Mjelva (Norway) on hardanger fiddle and octave violin; and Kevin Henderson (Shetland) on violin.

Together, The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc delivers masterful performances with beautifully crafted arrangements and interplay, mixing ageless traditions and instruments seamlessly.

Buy Deliverance in the Americas

Buy Deliverance in Europe


Artist Profiles: Aidan O’Rourke

Aidan O’Rourke - Photo by Peter McNally
Aidan O’Rourke – Photo by Peter McNally

Aidan O’Rourke is a fiddle player and composer from Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. He has toured extensively in Europe and North America from the age of 15 and has made his name as one of Scotland’s most expressive and dynamic musicians.

At 19, Aidan formed Tabache with Claire Mann and went on to record the internationally acclaimed album Waves of Rush. Aidan now performs with the hugely successful Blazin’ Fiddles (Live Act of the Year 2004) and is a much sought after session musician, having performed on over dozens of albums ranging from Runrig to Michael McGoldrick and Karen Matheson.

Commissions have included a piece titled Mantra Alba which welcomed the Dalai Lama to Scotland.

Sirius is his first solo album which evolved from a commission by Celtic Connections in 2003.


Are You Willing?, with Tabache (1996)
Waves of Rush, with Tabache (1999)
Live in Scotland, with The Unusual Suspects (2005)
Sirius (2006)
Lightweights and Gentlemen, with Lau (2007)
Live, with Lau (2008)
Arc Light, with Lau (2009)
An Tobar (Navigator Records, 2011)
Big Like This, with The Unusual Suspects (2011)
Race the Loser, with Lau (2012)
Hotline (2013)
The Bell That Never Rang, with Lau (2015)
Sleeper, with Kan (2015)


Dan MacDonald to Perform at World Fiddle Day 2016 in Toronto

Dan MacDonald
Dan MacDonald

Canadian fiddler Dan MacDonald will showcase the Cape Breton fiddle style at the 4th Annual World Fiddle Day that will take place on Saturday, May 21st at Historic Fort York, in Toronto. MacDonald and other special guests will lead morning workshops, play an afternoon concert, followed by the giant community “Around-the-World” Fiddle Jam. All activities from noon on free.

Dan MacDonald is from a family of musicians from the small village of Ironville, Cape Breton and began playing fiddle at a very early age. His fiddle education came mostly from his father, Lloyd MacDonald, and from the surrounding musical culture of Cape Breton Island. In the late 1980s, MacDonald, and his family formed Scumalash, a traditional Cape Breton band, with whom he toured throughout the United Kingdom between 1988 and 1992, culminating in the release of a self-titled album. Scumalash recently returned from a reunion tour of England.

Dan moved to Toronto in 2003, where he became a co-host at the Irish music session at Dora Keogh Irish pub and later became a member of the traditional Irish group Spraoi, who performed at the Tranzac Club, Hugh’s Room and the Brampton Folk Festival. In 2006, MacDonald became music director of The Magic of Ireland, an Irish dance and music show, with which he toured the UK, Canada, the USA and Europe.

An active freelance performer and teacher, MacDonald currently plays with North Atlantic Drift, with Brian Tahaney and Ross Grifithes, with whom he has released two CDs.

For more information go to www.worldfiddleday.ca


Toronto to Host 4th Annual World Fiddle Day

World Fiddle Day
World Fiddle Day

The 4th Annual World Fiddle Day will take place on Saturday, May 21st at Historic Fort York, in Toronto. The event will feature 100 fiddlers, playing 40 tunes from 25 different countries. Accompanying them is an excellent back-up band consisting of world percussion, clarinet, and keyboards, all celebrating world music.

Special guest artists Dan MacDonald, Mark Marczyk, Rosalyn Dennett, and Yosvani Castaneda will lead morning workshops, play an afternoon concert, followed by the giant community “Around-the-World” Fiddle Jam. All activities from noon on free.

World Fiddle Day celebrates world music traditions with a mission to provide opportunities for string players of all backgrounds to come together and create great music with some of Toronto’s best professional musicians.

Each year there are special guests for the workshop and performance portions of the event and then the high point, led by fiddler Anne Lederman, is the “Around-the-World Jam.”

Tunes from Canadian folk traditions take their place alongside superb music from the Caribbean, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This year’s theme, in honor of the Syrian refugees, will showcase the beautiful Arabic song, “Alhamdoulillah,” as sung by the Ottawa children’s choir, adapted for World Fiddle Day Toronto.

For more information please visit www.worldfiddleday.ca


Fiddler Trevor Stuart Dies at 47

American fiddler Trevor Stuart passed away suddenly at his home on March 2, 2016 at the age of forty-seven. Trevor Stuart was a member of the celebrated Stuart Brothers, performers of traditional Appalachian fiddle and banjo music.

Trevor Stuart was born and raised in Bethel, a rural farming community in Haywood County, in western North Carolina.

Trevor ad his brother Travis toured extensively throughout the United States and abroad, performing at major festivals and teaching workshops and master classes at music camps.

For over ten years, the Stuart Brothers led the Haywood County JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) an after-school program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Stuart brothers released two albums: Pretty Little Widow, (Yodel-Ay-Hee), and Mountaineer (Old 97 Wrecords) and appeared on numerous recordings.