Monday, May 17, 2021

Scotland's Music: Ross and Ryan Couper

Ross and Ryan Couper grew up in Shetland off the north coast of Scotland, a place with distinct ways of life, music traditions, connections to history, and to the sea.

Theirs was and is a musical family. Ross chose the fiddle as his main instrument, while Ryan went for guitar. Ross follows music full time as a member of the Peatbog Fairies and in a duo with Tom Oakes, while Ryan works in his playing in the band Vair and other gigs around other career commitments.

The brothers had long had the idea of making an album together, but they never could quite work out the time. Then, when the pandemic came, they decided to make use scheduel chnages which opened up.

The result is their album And Den Dey Made Tae.

It’s a fine gathering of original tunes, traditional ones, contemporary music from traditional artists, and a cover of a Billy Joel tune that the brothers love playing together added in for good measure.

It’s evident that they really love playing all these tunes together, in fact. They recorded the album sitting in a room together and playing the programme from start to finish, not unlike, one might imagine, they’ve done in their homes in the past.

The music itself, and Ross and Ryan’s playing of it, resonates with family, friendship, landscape, and creativity.

The set Called The Dance, for example, includes a tune commissioned for a wedding paired with a reel written by the duo’s mother Margaret Robertson, a music educator well known in Shetland and beyond.

There is a set of waltzes which sees a tune by friend and well known Shetland fiddler and composer Chris Stout paired with a piece Ross wrote for the brothers’ nephew.

The tune Sandy Lell Stephen Couper, which manages to be both gentle a lively at the same time, was written by Ryan for his son.

Da Sixty Fathom Reel, a tune by Alex Couper, the brothers’ dad, is part of The Lucky Child set. The brothers frame it with a reel Ross notes as “one of his favourite reels of all time” The Cape Breton Fiddler’s Welcome to Shetland fromm Willie Hunter.

As much as they draw inspiration from family ties, Ross and Ryan learn from others as well. The set Marie Claire’s has “tunes from all over” they say, all over in this case being pieces composed by Jerry Holland, Willie Hunter, and Tommy Peoples. The Falling with Style set includes tunes from other places as well as it begins with a traditional Shetland tune, then moves to tunes by Ireland’s Brian Finnegan and Manchester based Michael McGoldrick.

Ross and Ryan are, as you might expect from Shetland musicians, adept at fast flying tunes. You’ll hear that in many fo the aforementioned sets, as well as in Cara’s Reel, which Ross wrote for his girlfriend Cara Sandison.

The brothers can slow things down gracefully, tool. Ryan’s piece for his daughter Jessi is one place to hear that. So is their take on that Billy Joel tune, And So It Goes.

To bring things to a close, Ross and Ryan invited their sister, Mariann Couper Allan, to join in on piano. Da Foula Reel set comprises tunes their mother learnt from her father, and opens with a bit of archive recording of his playing. These are also the tunes Ross and Ryan played as Mariann came down the aisle at her wedding.

A family circle indeed; top class, creative playing, excellent selection of tunes, original music and arrangement along with respect for tradition, and musicians who clearly love creating music together.

...and, as is said and done often in Shetland, And Den Dey Made Tae, And Den Dey Made Tae. Fix yourself some, and enjoy Ross and Ryan Couper’s music.

You may also wish to see
String Sisters Live
Travels in music: Alasdair Fraser, Natalie Haas, Hanneke Cassel
Katie McNally Trio: The Boston States
Exploring Ireland through fiddle, flute, and guitar, at Perceptive Travel

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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