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Early summer visitors to the Highlands and Islands in the past three years may have bumped into Blazin' Fiddles. A prime attraction of the Highland Festival, they have played everywhere from the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness to the village halls of Laggan and Lochcarron. They have also wintered at Celtic Connections and, as I write, are between appearances at Cambridge and Sidmouth Festivals.

Red hot, then. Not surprising, considering that the incendiarists are Aidan O' Rourke (Tabache), Allan Henderson, Catriona MacDonald, Duncan Chisholm (Wolfstone), Iain MacFarlane and founder Bruce MacGregor (Cliar), accompanied by Andy Thorburn (keyboards) and Marc Clement (guitar). Each of this young octet has a thriving career, whether playing solo, in other bands, tutoring or producing. The fact that they have kept going - presumably for little material reward, with big-band economics being so dire - indicates either a commendable determination to sustain and promote the tradition that has nurtured them, or a mighty pleasure in each other's music and company. Probably both.

And now a grand 50-minute studio album has come out of all that birling around. Perhaps they have missed a trick by not following the format of the live shows where, apparently, there are solo spots for each fiddler as well as the twosomes, threesomes and ensemble playing which we hear on the twelve tracks. This would have allowed their different regional and personal styles to show through more clearly. You can detect Aidan's rhythmic attack, Catriona's Shetland swing and so on, but it takes some doing. Never mind. It is all beautifully played and lovingly buffed, with intelligent dynamics and nice harmony lines behind the melodies. This is alpha Scottish fiddle music, strong but subtle, with neither the rigidity of a Strathspey and Reel Society bash, nor the roughness of a pub session. I particularly liked 'The Midge Factory', with tunes by Aidan, Allan and Iain; the 'Cascade Set' of pipe tunes; a set of tunes from Gaelic waulking songs; and the closing 'Mouseskin Set'.

A good debut album makes you want to go and see the band as soon as possible. Am I too late for Sidmouth?

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.