Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Scotland's Music: Bruce MacGregor: The Road to Tyranny

Highland landscape, history, story, family, friendship -- those are things on which Bruce MacGregor draws for the tunes he has composed for his album The Road to Tyranny. A touch of politics, too, as the title would suggest.

You may know MacGregor as founder and driving force of the top band Blazin’ Fiddles, as presenter of BBC Scotland’s Travelling Folk, as book author, as partner in MacGregor’s Bar in Inverness, as co-host of the ongoing online sessions Live at Five, and from other projects.

All that goes to explain why it has taken a while for MacGregor to get around to making his second solo album. Twenty years, in fact.

That may also explain why the first track on The Road to Tyranny is anchored in family. The tunes are called Josh’s 2 Secs/ Jo De Sylva --a force of nature/ Short and Simple/Roddy MacGregor. It’s a lively set which references MacGregor’s son Josh, his wife Jo, a joking comment from a friend about the fiddler himself, and his son Roddy’s football career.

The lively tunes allow MacGregor to show off his skill and love for the fast paced aspects of fiddle music, and to bring in equally lively contributions from musical friends who will join in elsewhere on the album as well. Anna Massie and Angus Lyon, who are also part of Blazin’ Fiddles, bring in guitar and keyboards, respectively. Duncan Lyall and Ian Sandilands hold down the rhythm section with double bass and percussion, and Ali Levack adds his whistle to the mix.

As much as MacGregor can write blazing and engaging fast pieces, he well knows how to create moving airs and waltzes as well. One such piece of music is called Essich. It is inspired, MacGregor says, by the beauty fo the area in the Highlands near Inverness where he was brought up. Another Blazin’ Fiddler, Jenna Reid, wrote the string parts, which she performs along with renown cellist Su-a Lee, with Lyon, Sandilands, and Lyall returning for the piece as well.

There’s a fine variation between faster and slower pieces through the recording. Co-producers Massie and Lyon no doubt had a hand in that sequencing.

Annie’s Waltz, written to help a fan mark her 80th birthday, is also on the album. MacGregor along with Anna Massie and Jenna Reid, play the tune at Celtic Connections. On The Road to Tyranny, Tim Edy takes the guitar part.

“The tunes have been inspired by the people, the places, and the adventures I’ve been lucky enough to experience over the years,” MacGregor says. “There’s airs, jigs, strathspeys, reels, and marches as you’d expect, but then there’s other tunes...which don’t really fit into any of the usual categories -- they’re just catchy tunes.”

That ability to hear, understand, compose, and play catchy tunes of many sorts was honed as MacGregor was growing up by study with the late Highland fiddle master player and maker Donald Riddell. MacGrgegor’s time touring, travelling, and teaching across the world with Blazin’ Fiddles and researching the varied music he presents on radio have likely played a part in those abilities as well.

On the fourteen track album one of those catchy tunes is Doddie’s Dream. It is dedicated to former Scottish rugby champion Doddie Weir, who is living with motor neurone disease, for which there is as yet no cure. The tune was recorded by Blazin’ Fiddles along with Aly Bain, Nicola Benedetti, Phil Cunningham, Sharon Shannon, and Julie Fowlis joining in for a track that was released to raise money for MND research. It raised thousands of pounds while rising to number nine rank in the UK charts. On this recording, It appears as a paired back version with just fiddle and piano, a quiet piece that evokes the beauty of the Highlands.

There are other gems to enjoy on the fourteen track album. as MacGregor and his musical companions lead what one might think of as a journey through those Highlands, from fast paced ceilidh to quiet star filled night, from jig to strathspey to waltz to air. Tom Gibbs adds clarinet on two tracks. Tim Edey brings in both box and guitar in several places, and the players named above each return to add their gifts to more tunes along the way.

It is Bruce McGregor’s presence and creativity as composer and as player which anchor the recording. As both of those, and as collaborator with gifted musical friends , he has created a project to remember and to enjoy with repeated listenings.

Photograph of moor;and above Essich by Jennifer Jones; photography of Bruce MacGregor courtey of the artist; photograph of Blazin' Fiddles at Celtic Connections by Kerry Dexter, made with permission

You may also wish to see
Bruce MacGregor website
Blazin’ Fiddles website
Learn about an album from another Scottish fiddle player and composer who also studied with Donald Riddell Solo from Sarah-Jane Summers
More fiddle music to explore: Now More Than Ever from the Katie McNally Trio,

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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