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… And along came two in quick succession! – by Iain Fraser

📷 by Somhairle MacDonald

Kōterana

When the Rev. Norman McLeod set sail on the Barque Frances Ann from Ullapool heading to Cape Breton in 1817, he couldn’t have known that he would end his long life in New Zealand having led one of the nineteenth century’s largest privately organised emigrations. I came across his story while visiting Waipu museum in New Zealand’s north island and was struck not only by the scale of the endeavour but also by the commitment of this Gaelic speaking community of some 800 people. They had already spent 33 years in Cape Breton when they invested immense time and money building 6 ships to follow McLeod to New Zealand. The full story of the journey and the eventual settlement of the community in Waipu is full of adventure and some tragedy. For me, seeing the objects and artefacts that came with them, such as a pair of moccasins, or a Gaelic Hymn book, created a lasting impression and I left the museum in Waipu with the vague idea that it would be great to write some new music inspired by McLeod, his followers, their lives and their culture. 

When the 150th anniversary of the death of McLeod was reached in 2016, these thoughts, which had been rumbling around in my head for some years, took more shape and I started work composing new music which also incorporated some older melodies such as Chagair, Chagair a’ Ghruaghach, found in the Rev Patrick MacDonald’s collection of Highland Vocal airs, My Brother’s Letter transcribed from one of the earliest Cape Breton Fiddle recordings and a couple of older pipe tunes composed in New Zealand. Working with the Auckland Scottish Fiddle Club, we performed this new piece, named Kōterana, which is the Māori word for Scotland, in Waipu in December 2016 and in 2018 it was also performed at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Aberdeen, in partnership with the Scottish Culture and Traditions organisation. However, it always felt to me that there was a more developed version lurking somewhere in my head and in January 2022 I successfully applied to Creative Scotland for funding to extend and record a full album with musicians contributing from Canada and New Zealand as well as here in Scotland. 

Although there is a chronological aspect to the re-telling of the story in that the 4 named sections (movements?): Scotland, Canada, Australia & New Zealand reflect their actual migration route, much of the music on this recording came from considering how they might have felt as they experienced new landscapes and tholed the repeated upheaval as they moved from unsettled to settled. Their feelings of belonging, of culture and land being linked, of dùthchas, would have been woven into their hearts and it must have been utterly heart-wrenching for them to have to break these links. 

I’ve been exploring a number of musical ideas over the last few years, for instance, featuring instruments traditionally thought of as being in a supporting role, such as the viola, by giving them the tune sometimes, and breaking the convention of writing only 8 bar sections. I also love adding in irregular bars every so often and setting music in less common keys. Call me radical! 

With 18 musicians involved, Kōterana is certainly the biggest recording project I’ve been involved with and I’m very grateful to Barry Reid for not only his amazing studio engineering skills, but also for managing to make sense of and bring together multiple takes from 5 different studios in 3 different countries! 

Gneiss

Album releases are a bit like waiting for a bus for me – nothing for ages then along come two in quick succession! Last year my album Gneiss was released by Fèis Rois to celebrate 30 years of The Adult Fèis – an annual teaching festival which I have been fortunate to have been involved with since the first year. The music of Gneiss similarly touches on notions of landscape and place and takes as a theme the idea that our lives are lived on the rocks upon which we stand. 

Both albums are available as a CD+ booklet package and digital download from Bandcamp. You can also find me on the following social media pages…

Bandcamp: https://iainfraser.bandcamp.com
https://feisrois.bandcamp.com/album/gneiss
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Capontreemusic
Twitter: @iphraser
Instagram: @iphraser
Youtube: @IainFraser