Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham – April 2013

Experience: 9/10

Venue: Hawth Studio

Date: Monday 8th April 2013

This was another great concert in the Hawth’s studio, fast becoming a favourite venue. We hadn’t seen this duo live before – I saw Silly Wizard many years ago at the Edinburgh Folk Festival – but the Transatlantic Sessions on the Beeb certainly whetted our appetite, as well as introducing us to a much wider range of folk musicians. The evening went well beyond any expectations; despite the apparently limited range of instruments – Aly used two different fiddles, to accommodate different tuning – the music was very enjoyable, with the fiddle and accordion blending beautifully as well as working well on their own at times. What really made the concert a superb experience was the chat and stories from the two men. We laughed as much as we applauded, and we did plenty of both. And I don’t just mean me and Steve – the whole audience was involved and very appreciative of these two talented and experienced musicians.

I didn’t catch or remember all the names of the tunes, so I’ll stick to commenting on the ones I can remember. The first half included Valse Des Jouets, Sheenagh’s Air, Castle Dangerous, Herr Roloff’s Farewell and Charlie Hunter’s Jig/The Mouse in the Cupboard/Rosewood, with other tunes as well. The second half started with Dr. Donaldson /The Anvil and then they played some lovely Swedish tunes: the first one was called The Father (I didn’t catch the Swedish name clearly) and the other two were from a remote place in Sweden called Orsa(?). The remoteness was relevant because this isolated group of people had developed their own style of playing which involved a different emphasis – I won’t try to explain it here – making it much harder to play the tunes. But they did, of course, and probably did it very well, though I’ve nothing to compare it with.

The set continued with The Light That Gently Wakes Me, and included a couple of tunes from America about Napoleon – the Americans were unhappy about his defeat for some reason, and tended to write sad songs about the event. If I understood correctly, it was actually the same tune in two different versions, with the second version meant to represent the sound of horses’ hooves and the like. Either way, Aly played it brilliantly, and despite Phil’s contribution we were happy to acknowledge this as Aly’s solo spot. (This was also the tune on which Aaron Copeland based Hoedown, apparently.)

Phil’s ‘solo’ spot followed, and after a long explanation of why they no longer do solos (involving a hand-in-door incident too painful to relate here) they gave us a tune called something like Loch Katriona Lady, which Phil has recorded for the next Transatlantic Sessions series. It was a lovely tune – catch the series if you can.

Kimberley’s Waltz and Da Herra Boys/The Barrowburn Reel completed the set, and for the encore they did The Gentle Maiden/The Fairy Dance. We were invited to hum along to The Gentle Maiden; it’s a Jimmy Shand number and familiar to a lot of us, although these two play it a lot slower than I’ve heard before. We were very appreciative at the end, and left feeling very uplifted by our evening’s entertainment, having snaffled our CDs at the interval. It was their first time at the Hawth and they hoped to be back sometime – you and us both, mate.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

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