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On the Edge CD – Extended Liner Notes

Track 7, third tune is Gordon Castle (by Wm. Marshall)
Track 9, second tune is Troll Polska; the last tune is Tom & Jerry.
Track 10, tune is spelled Ruthven Market, by Iain Duncan of Pitlochry (not the pipe major)
Extended Notes: these are additions to the regular notes on the CD

Track 1 – Paddy O’Rafferty is a popular Irish jig but I took this version from the playing of highland piper, so it’s not in the key or version normally played by Irish fiddlers.  Having played it for some time, I must have changed it a little because my current version would not fit on the pipes any more.  The Shepherdess is from the Simon Fraser collection, though I play it in a different key.


This is a set our family band, Highland Soles, has played a lot, with Laura Scott dancing a high-flying jig.  She starts and ends the set with the taps of her jig shoes while Lilly beats out the opening heartbeat with foot beats and hand claps.


Track 2 – I first heard the 24th Guards Brigade at Anzio on a Battlefield Band album, though only the first two parts are played there.  I was glad to find the full tune with all four parts because the last two parts are especially sweet.  K.G. Roe was a pipe major of a pipe band in the Scots Guards, and I recently learned from a friend of his that he was apparently at the battle of Anzio.  This was a bloody battle in Italy during WWII, something like the Normandy beach landing but worse because the Scots were even more exposed.


The second tune came about when Neil and Lilly started jamming at home and I sat down to play along with some beautiful chords Neil was playing.  Out came this tune.  It was shortly before Neil left for New York for his first year at college; hence the title.


Track 3 – Long ago I got an LP of the great Scots fiddler Hector MacAndrew and was particularly taken by his playing of this first strathspey.  The second tune is a long-time favorite of mine.  High Road to Linton is popular and this version highlights why–the tune just has great energy.  For two and half years of Mondays I used to play at John Harvard Brewhouse with Nancy and Jerry Bell and we often messed around with the C part of this tune, so it was natural for me to develop something with Neil in that part of the tune; the solo tradeoffs mirror the jazz style of trading fours.


Track 4 – One summer Neil sat at the piano and pulled out some old Boston Scottish Fiddle Club tunebooks.  “Willie Fernie” was one of two slow tunes he gravitated toward and played beautifully on the piano.  Thanks to Alasdair Fraser for his kind permission.  He recently recorded it with Natalie Haas on their album In the Moment.


The strathspeys and reels were developed with Laura Scott for a choreography she made, originally for 9 dancers, comparing striking similarities and differences between Highland and Cape Breton stepdancing.  Laura was inspired by a set played by Howie MacDonald, from which we used the first two tunes, although my version of Lady Doune is a combination of Howie’s version and the one printed originally by the composer, Nathaniel Gow, in his Gow Collection.  We performed the choreography at a Scottish Fiddle Rally concert with Jerry Holland playing the first few tunes with me, while the Fiddle Club joined in on the last tune, by John Morris Rankin.  John Morris faxed me his handwritten version of the tune for inclusion in the Fiddle Club book so that we could do this, and I remember an interesting discussion with him about how he wrote the tune and wanted some of the notes to vary from one playing to the next.  This was in 1998.  I wrote the Black Hat to follow Lennoxlove, in an unheated hall (couldn’t have done it without my black hat) while a ceilidh was going on downstairs.


Track 5 – Everyone was shocked and moved by the tragic death of John Morris Rankin, so perhaps this explains how Mairi Rankin came to write such a beautiful tune for her cousin even though she had never written a tune before.  Mairi and I spent four summers teaching the weeklong Scottish/Cape Breton fiddle course at the Ohio Scottish Arts School, most of them along with Scottish fiddler Bruce MacGregor of the Blazin Fiddles.  It was a great trio for good music and laughs.


Track 6 – I wrote Neils with the idea of leaving space in a jig for Neil to come up with possible jazz interpretations of it; he went farther and improvised a jazz solo introduction to the tune.  Maybe we’ll put the out-takes on this site some time; they’re all good.  The second tune is old, from the Simon Fraser collection, but Neil puts some great harmonic and rhythmic ideas into it.  The third tune I learned from Ruthie Dornfeld; she thought it was French Canadian but I later discovered it was written by a Scot from Elgin who died in 1974.  My version combines what I learned from Ruthie with the version by the composer as published by J. Murray Neil (vol 2 of his The Scots Fiddle book is now available).


Track 7 – I started playing the Forglen House tune with Mrs Gordon of Gight back in the early 1980s with my band “Paddledoo”, which included Ruthie Dornfeld, Beth Murray, Barbara Russell, a Scottish smallpiper and self-proclaimed expert in Gaelic and Scottish costuming, named Jamie MacDonald Reid, and a singer who was learning Gaelic back then, named Talitha Nelson, who later moved to Scotland, married, and is now known as Talitha Mackenzie, a fairly well known Gaelic singer.  Note that the third tune’s correct title is “Gordon Castle”.  The last time I looked it up I discovered that I have developed my own version of the tune over the years.  I first heard Kohler’s Hornpipe played by Buddy MacMaster (haven't heard Buddy?), and as mentioned in the regular liner notes, made a big arrangement for the Scottish Fiddle Rally in 1994, with Alasdair Fraser playing a solo part in it.


Track 8 – I first learned Mull of the Mountains from Alasdair Fraser in the mid 1980s as a slow air; Tony Cuffe played it faster with the band Ossian but didn’t mind slowing it down a bit when we played it together.  I learned Mr Murray from a Cape Bretoner at a ceilidh at the Canadian-American Club in Boston.  Daldowny’s came to me from Highland fiddler Angus Grant Sr., via Joe Samsen, who gave me one of the best gifts I ever got--a big collection tapes of all sorts of Scottish and Cape Breton fiddling styles often from totally unheard-of players, drawn from his stay at the 2d Sterling fiddle school back in the early 1980s, plus some handwritten sheet music.  Joe was an early member of the Boston Scottish Fiddle Club and learned fiddle while in the army with NATO, from watching orchestra players on TV!


Uist Regatta has been made into a pipe tune with minor changes, and published by Nova Scotian piper Barry Shears in his Gathering of the Clans Vol. 2 piping book.  The tune was also recorded by Simon Thoumire’s band Keep It Up on their album On Safari.   I first heard about this recording after playing the tune for a faculty performance at the Blazin-in-Beauly fiddle camp near Inverness, Scotland.  Eilidh Shaw was curious where I knew the tune from.  I told her I had written it, and she said she had just recorded it with Simon’s band!  (If you want, you can download the first track, Edward, of their CD, which finishes with my tune.)


Track 9 – I learned the klezmer tune from Deborah Strauss at KlezKanada, the Troll Polska and Beatrice from Ruthie Dornfeld, and La Valse des Jeunes Filles makes me think of Paul Milde who convinced me to direct Roaring Jelly, the open contra dance band in Boston, which I did for 3 years.  The waltz was in their repertoire.  The final bluegrass tune is called Tom & Jerry.  I always thought I got it from an old Kenny Baker LP but when I listened to the LP looking for the title, the tune wasn’t there and no one seemed to know it.  Recently I played in a pickup band opening for the legendary guitarist Steve Kaufman.  He’s published over 100 guitar books so, sure enough, he helped me out with the title.


Track 10 – This hornpipe is catchy and I have often over the years found myself humming it as I mention in the regular liner notes.  I knew I had to record it some day and I’m glad we had such fun with it, because the tune shines with a bit of playfulness.


Track 11 – This starts with a kind of pibroch sound that’s abstracted from the B part of the first tune.  I found this tune in the Gow Collection, a treasury of great tunes.  I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the original from Isolde Lamont.  The original is fascinating for the order of tunes and the notations added to them or as footnotes, material that was removed for the new paperback version of the Gow Collection, though all the tunes are there, at least.  When not playing for dancing, I love to play with tempo and expression, and Neil is right there with me.  The second tune is a beauty, and took second place in a piping competition called the Spitfire Competition some years ago, but has become more popular and better appreciated than the first place tune.  Still, the composer, Jim McGillivray is happy with the result because if the tune had won it would have been called The Spitfire, whereas taking second meant he could name it for his dad, who pioneered the essential job of Chief Steward at eastern Canadian piping competitions.  Jim is one of the world’s best pipers, and I appreciate his kind permission for us to record his tune.  We like to use it for the Highland dance, Blue Bonnets o’er the Border.


Track 12 – The original tune selected by Robert Burns was a great one; we blend it in with the traditional tune, and then go into a similar melody--William MacPherson’s Lament, which he wrote in 1703 for his own hanging (Burns wrote a song about it using the melody also) before smashing his fiddle and tossing it into the viewing audience.  His cousin collected the pieces and it is now on view at the Kingussie Highland Folk museum.  The tune seemed to morph well into Jerry Holland’s march, which Laura made a dance for, and danced it with Jerry playing, at a Scottish Fiddle Rally concert; we also played part of this medley for the Concert for Jerry in September 2007 after it was learned Jerry was laid low with cancer and an uncertain prognosis.


King George IV is here played with a Cape Breton-style B part and the second time with the great Skye Collection B part.  The Gaelic song tune is one of two tunes of the same name (in English, “Reel of the Blackcocks”) which I play for a folkdance of the same name.  The story of the last tune is in the regular liner notes.


Track 13 – Neil’s words in the liner notes say it all.