Hands Up for Trad’s Ignition Award is an award for musicians and bands who put the charge into the tradition. At Hands Up for Trad we like to celebrate innovation so we have brought forward this award to celebrate those musicians who take chances and in doing so make Scottish trad music an exciting place to be. Fraser Fifield has been awarded the Ignition because of his commitment to innovation in Scottish music. For many years he has performed with Scotland’s top musicians on pipes, whistle and sax and has also recorded 5 innovative CDs in his own name.
We asked Fraser Fifield the following questions.
When did you first start playing music?
Almost as soon as the chanter arrived in the post aged 9, got to playing the pipes around 10, taken to Germany by the British army for indoctrination at this time, dabbling in tin whistle and music generally perhaps as a counter measure, started at 11 or 12, then I took an additional interest in the alto saxophone and girls, and began weekly lessons aged 14.
Did you make a conscious decision to be innovative with your music?
No, in fact I think if someone did decide to be ‘innovative’ the chances are it’s not going to turn out quite so. Innovation happens anyway when you can have fun while mastering your instrument, from curiosity and from a desire to make music which tells your own story, which is maybe a less conscious factor. If building nuclear bombs is your thing I’m not sure how innovation takes place, money/greed I suppose, but in terms of music I think having fun while creating is key, and if too afraid of making mistakes nothing new is going to happen.
Pipes/whistles and sax is an unusual set of instruments, When you’ve figured out sufficient technical stuff you can tip all you’ve developed, the ceol mor, jigs, sonatas, the improvising, …everything that’s gone through the experiential filter, that’s very important, into the one pot and simmer indefinitely, as of course you would. Whatever strange and beautiful soup comes out will likely have at least a taste of authenticity this way.
What are your main influences?
Initially, a variety of music teachers: Ian Grant, Jack Taylor, Louis Barclay, Bill Farren and Ken Hossick, Colin Hunter, Lawrence Gill, Josef Pacewicz, Bobby Wishart and Tommy Smith between them covered a lot of bases for me between the age of about 9 and 20 (and all free of charge one way or another, incredible really, all individually brilliant teachers). After that point it gets a bit more tricky to pin down. I do believe I’m turning 39, I’m a musician and as such I’m influenced by my emotions primarily so..if ever a predominance of negative ones rest at the surface the music making will suffer, that much I’ve learned. Therefore make it not so! no TV news! Happiness is really good for making music.
Up till my early 20s I was mad keen on getting new music, was like I was searching for the holy grail, of course I never found it in audio form, but did gather beautiful sounds along the way. I recall a penny dropped one day, I was looking and looking for some tune/recording from a central Asian ‘stan…’what am I doing?’ Since then I’ve just got on with it more, realising slowly that if I wanted to hear certain sounds I’d best figure out how to make them happen.
If music can be like water coming out of us like a spring, like thoughts or emotions but in sound, then it’s about finding the people and situations to help it flow more easily, but even more so, figure out how to create the conditions yourself for that to happen. This process is generally not without set-backs. I’m lucky, and not unusual I don’t think, in that generally I don’t have to wait too long for someone to come along with some fuel for the fire, there’s a lot of creative musicians crossing paths regularly, like our own Eco-system, and most are inspiring, on similar journeys, trying to evolve our music and species in a positive direction, with good humour, dedication and kindness on the most part. You become more aware of a part you play in a positive evolving organism and less concerned with dastardly plans for career, and then your career becomes better…
Also, I think in relation to innovation as a by-product, having issues with unjustified and imposed authority or convention, like the one I developed in my teens, probably helps a lot.
What music excites you that we should be listening to?
I go through phases, sometimes just comfort listening, the packet of biscuits/duvet type, sometimes because you get fascinated by a particular person for whatever reason but I’m quite happy making it most of the time at the moment. I don’t know if anyone should be listening to anything specifically, there’s no compulsion in love, religion, music, gardening and other areas.
By chance two pieces of music played simultaneously on youtube, in two separate browser pages a week or so ago, it was the night before the Grit rehearsal for the Celtic Connections opening concert. Karabach by Martyn Bennett and then an unknown man singing, parts of the Qu’ran I assume, both videos in beautiful chance harmony,each time, no matter how and when you were to start each track, making each performance unique, the levels naturally balanced.
Inge Thomson’s ‘Da Fishin Hands’, Graeme Stephen’s collab with Zapp 4 (I haven’t heard it yet either), Misha Alperin, Brian Blade, Phil Bancroft, Dave Milligan, Kris Drever, Duncan Chisholm, Adam Holmes, Catriona McKay, 100’s of great artists in these parts alone, or perhaps an upcoming gig by me is what you need? Trouble is we’re all spoiled for choice which makes concentration difficult, most folk have a copy of the new U2 album so one need never be without music of some description, it’s only a question of taste surely. If you want to eat chips every day well, good luck with that but I’d have to ask, with greatest respect, why?
What are your plans for the future?
I’m at the start of a project which will involve me composing for a variety of musicians in a variety of places, going to these places and recording the results of our meetings, in Argentina, West Africa location tbc and in India. I’m excited to be working with a great bandoneon player in Buenos Airies, we’re discussing the project at the moment on Skype, it’s summer there, I’ll go in the winter I think. Follow my website news or social media posts for this project in the meantime if interested, and thanks Creative Scotland.
I like the variety of work that I do, compose, play, learn and hopefully inspire some others along the way and through recordings. Somehow it feels all loosely connected to an effort to put more good into the world than bad, maybe open some people to new experience? It (the future) is going to unfold in the present moment, I’m beginning to get that hopefully, so I’d best try and not let it slip by.
How will you celebrate receiving Hands Up for Trad’s Ignition Award?
I have to admit, my guitarist colleage Graeme Stephen and I actually used this Ignition award already on our Christmas night out of 2014, 17-19 Dec. You get told in advance yes, and yes, it was a waste, but Graeme does suffer premature congratulations, it’s a shame. We were running low on reasons to continue our debacle at the time. The award got misplaced at some point, I think Graeme has it. It’s not easy to talk about, we haven’t talked since, but the concept I will cherish, once it’s returned. I’ll try to continue innovating in small ways as and when I can of course, even if temporarily sans award. We may even desire further more dignified celebration, the option is open, it’s our awar, it’s my award! Thank you.