'Quintessentially' is a hugely over-used word, a veritable adverbial cliché, but yesterday I had a quintessentially Scottish day: a train journey from Helensburgh to the fair city of Perth via Stirling and Gleneagles; Queen Street station in Glasgow flooded with rival Aberdeen and Hibernian football fans heading for the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden (Aberdeen won); a convocation of the Scottish Association of Writers in Perth, a sort of gathering of the writing clans from as far apart as Elgin and Ayr; and on return to Glasgow, the annual concert of the Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra.
The fiddle orchestra is uniquely Scottish but remains below the tourist's radar (another cliché). It is the orchestral version of a Scottish country dance band. Forty fiddlers from all over Scotland had assembled plus twenty other musicians. The music ranged from wonderful Scottish slow airs through waltzes and hornpipes to marches; all strict tempo, foot-tapping, hand-clapping stuff. The fascinating thing is that much of this popular music is very old. Neil Gow, fiddler to the Dukes of Atholl, wrote his slow airs in the middle of the eighteenth century - such was his fame that Robert Burns, also a fiddler, journeyed to meet him. Pipe Major Willie Ross joined the Scots Guards in the late nineteenth century and fought in the First World War. Yet, one of the most moving slow airs of the evening was written to commemorate the Panam 103 aircraft disaster at Lockerbie in 1988. This is truly ancient and modern music to a common recipe.
A particularly uplifting moment was the guest appearance of the virtuoso young traditional fiddler, Ryan Young, from Cardross. As compere for the Helensburgh and Lomond Fiddle Orchestra, I have introduced Ryan as a soloist since he was eleven. He is now in his early twenties, has graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has twice been a finalist in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year awards and is now carving out a successful career in the traditional music world. He is the Nicola Benedetti of trad music. If you want to hear traditional Scottish fiddle music at its best, you can contact him at www.ryanyoung.scot