BY ADAM GORDON
Described as a “piping virtuoso” by ‘The Scotsman’ in its review of his 2009 album ‘Outlands’, acclaimed musician Fred Morrison will take to the stage in Portree this Wednesday as he embarks on a tour of Scotland ahead of the release of his new album next year.
From the great Highland bagpipes to the Irish uileann pipes, Morrison has cultivated a reputation as an accomplished instrumentalist over the past three decades since the release of his debut solo album — ‘Broken Chanter’ — in 1993.
Although born and raised near Glasgow, Morrison attributes his father’s native home of South Uist as the “bedrock” of his “uniquely adventurous” playing style. As well as his three solo albums to date, the nine-times winner of the Macrimmon Trophy at the Inter-Celtic Festival of Lorient has also played as part of Capercaillie and Clan Alba.
Ahead of his new 20-date Scottish tour, which includes shows in Ullapool, Glengarry and Barra as well as Skye, Morrison spoke to the Free Press about performing with the Isle of Skye Pipe Band, bluegrass influences and his love of playing in Uist:
Next year sees the release of your fourth solo album, what can fans expect from the new material?
Fred Morrison (FM): “I’ve been working for a good few years on the material for the album, so it will be like my last album, ‘Outlands’, in that the vast majority, if not all of the material, will be written by myself. I want to follow the bluegrass-influenced route again – I love this style and I think it gives a great marriage to our own Scottish music. There are some fantastic bluegrass musicians to play with!”
“Performing on Skye has always been a fantastic experience”
What have your experiences of playing on Skye been like, and are you looking forward to playing with the Skye Pipe Band? How does the touring experience compare now to when you first started out?
FM: “Performing on Skye has always been a fantastic experience. There’s always a good attendance and the audiences are always warm, appreciative and knowledgeable. The Skye Pipe Band are fantastic, and the standard of playing is very high. Some of these players have gone on to develop their musical careers and, hopefully, some of these young people will too. It’s always a pleasure to be in any way encouraging to young pipers or traditional musicians in general, so I really hope that the young players of the pipe band can have an enjoyable time and gain some experience.”
Given your father’s connection, how would you describe the experience of playing in South Uist? Is there more pressure or expectation? How does the touring experience compare now to when you first started out?
FM: “The connection of my father being from Uist means everything to me and I always love playing there. The music of Uist has a very unique and particular style and feel and this is what I was taught by my father. This is the source of the music I play today. I always notice a very discerning but encouraging audience in Uist!”
How does the touring experience compare now to when you first started out?
FM: “Over the years, it’s been a learning process, particularly in the organisation and the planning side of things — publicity and being completely prepared — which helps everything to go smoothly. On the artistic side, you refine your craft with each performance and you really get to know what works and suits the audience as well as yourself. When both elements are in place, the result is that the venues are always well attended and that really allows you to look forward to the tour.
“Dedication will always lead to greater things”
Although the tradition of piping still appears popular across Scotland, the costs of competing often mean many bands and individuals are reliant on support from their local community. Was this the case when you were first starting out, and what advice would you give the young pipers of today?
FM: “Believe it or not, I’ve never actually played in a pipe band. I think it’s the most fantastic environment for young people – both socially and musically. Costs are always an issue. My advice is to keep playing and to believe that piping and traditional music in general can give young people a focus and, in fact, a way of life. Dedication will always lead to greater things.”
If someone was thinking of going to see you play for the first time, what should they expect and how would you describe the experience at your gigs?
FM: “For those considering coming to one of my gigs, I would hope that they would enjoy the all-round experience. I suppose I like to take the audience on a journey – there are uplifting tunes, emotional slow airs and many stories and always a bit of banter!”
Fred Morrison’s tour begins this Wednesday (15 November) at Aros in Portree. To purchase tickets, visit :http://www.fredmorrison.com/