Fred Morrison


Outlands Release Date Confirmed

We’re very happy to announce that Fred’s new album, Outlands, will be released in the UK on 5th November.

The album explores the connections between celtic and bluegrass music and features Fred on Highland pipes, Reelpipes, uilleann pipes and whistle. Playing alongside Fred are some fantastic guests from Scotland and the USA – Grammy winner Tim O’Brien on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, Ron Block of Alison Krauss and Union Station on 5-string banjo, bodhran champion Martin O’Neill and the superb young guitarist, Matheu Watson.

The album will be launched at the Piping Centre, Glasgow at 7pm on 5th November. This event is open to the public, so please do come along and join Fred and the band if you can.

Album Tour

To coincide with the release of Outlands, Fred and his band will be playing some dates in Scotland and Spain. Be great to see you!

3rd November – 7.30pm, Brunton Theatre, Ladywell Way, Musselburgh, Tickets £13.50/£11.50, Box Office 0131 665 2240

4th November – 8pm, Edinburgh Folk Club, 60 The Pleasance, Edinburgh, 0131 650 2349, Tickets on the door

5th November – 7pm, Outlands Album Launch, The Piping Centre, Glasgow

6th November – 8pm, Tolbooth Theatre, Jail Wynd, Stirling, Tickets 01786 27 4000

7th November – Festival el Joyu, Coo de Buelna, Cantrabria

Celtic Connections

Very shortly we’ll have news of an exciting performance planned for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival in January.

Ask any young Scottish piper to name their musical heroes, and it’s odds-on that Fred Morrison will rank high on the list. Ask their counterparts in Brittany, Galicia, Asturias, Cape Breton and other bastions of the bagpipe world, and he’ll be cited almost as often. Morrison’s playing transcends boundaries of technique or tradition, speaking directly from his own to the listener’s soul, in music of extraordinary virtuosity and power. A record-breaking champion on the international competitive piping circuit, he has also featured in the seminal Scottish bands Clan Alba and Capercaillie, and since focusing on his solo career has affirmed his place among Celtic music’s most profoundly skilled and audaciously inventive exponents.

Equally at home playing the familiar Highland bagpipes, the bellows-blown Scottish smallpipes, the Irish uilleann pipes and a variety of whistles, Morrison is also a highly regarded composer, and has worked in recent years across formats ranging from solo recital to full symphony orchestra. His latest album, Outlands, unites these unique talents and experience behind his most exciting project yet: a transatlantic marriage between bagpipes and bluegrass, featuring such top Americana luminaries as Nashville producer Gary Paczosa (Dolly Parton, Dixie Chicks, Nickel Creek), banjo and guitar ace Ron Block (Alison Krauss & Union Station) and multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien.

“It’s not a concept,” Morrison insists, “It’s just what I hear. It goes back to when I started learning the uilleann pipes, ten or twelve years ago. I’d always been inspired by the Irish travelling pipers’ style, people like Paddy Keenan and Finbar Furey, and once I was playing the same instrument I found a really strong affinity between that and my own South Uist style – and also between both those and bluegrass. Everyone these days knows about Celtic and country music being related, but this was much more immediate, some kind of deep-down rhythmic thing. For me it’s as if South Uist piping, the Irish travellers’ style and bluegrass music are all one and the same.”

This bone-deep, passionately instinctual relationship with music is a key element in Morrison’s artistry, rooted as it is in the famous piping heartland of his father’s native South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides. It’s a place where ancient Gaelic traditions proved particularly resistant to later military influences on Scottish piping, as reflected in its lack of any significant pipe-band tradition, despite the prevalence of celebrated piping dynasties like Morrison’s own Clann Seonaidh Aonghais Ruaidh.

“South Uist and piping is a bit like Brazil and football,” Morrison explains. “Or Shetland and fiddling. The sheer quantity and quality of pipers who’ve come from such a small island is just colossal. Uist piping has its own distinctive character, too, a particular swing and an earthy musicality that gives it a real ‘wow’ factor, with a lot of emphasis on individual expression.”

Morrison himself was born in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, just outside Glasgow – where he’s now living again, with his wife and two young children. The latter will presumably share Morrison’s early memories of falling asleep to the sound of Daddy’s pipes, with Fred Morrison Sr – a regular judge of major piping competitions, as well as a noted player – apparently favouring 2/4 marches at that time of night. Morrison Jr’s childhood holidays, meanwhile, were routinely spent on Uist, where the traditional house ceilidh - gatherings of friends and neighbours to swap songs, tunes and stories – was still a staple mode of entertainment.

In this environment, Morrison says, he grew up simply knowing, without question, that the bagpipes would be central to his life. He began actual lessons with his father aged eight, supplemented by tuition initially from the late Pipe-Major Norman Gillies, a key figure in the revival of bagpipe instruction throughout Scotland, and later from piobaireachd legend Andrew Wright. The renowned Pipe-Major Iain Morrison, from Lewis, was another key inspiration, regularly visited by his protégé during those trips to neighbouring Uist.

Without question, though, Morrison’s most important mentor remained his father, who passed on his wealth of knowledge via the time-honoured Gaelic method of canntaireachd, a pre-notation system of sung vocables used by pipers to exchange tunes and techniques. By the time he reached his teens, Morrison was a regular winner at junior piping competitions around Scotland – despite the double life this involved. “I never mentioned about playing the pipes to anybody at school,” he says. “It just wasn’t socially acceptable back then - not like it is today, with hordes of kids playing – and I kept it a closely guarded secret: I was forever having to make up cover stories about what I was up to at weekends.”

I remember being totally inspired by the Tannahill Weavers, too, when I was quite young, at the City Halls in Glasgow. They had Alan MacLeod on the pipes back then, this way-out kind of character with bike-chains hanging off his drones. Hearing people like him playing the Scottish pipes in an exciting way, and people like Keenan improvising, made me decide I wanted to do a bit of both – to be exciting and subtle, which is what I hope I still do.”

After leaving school, Morrison embarked on a teaching degree in Glasgow, but absconded to Amsterdam halfway through, seduced by the busking culture he discovered there. “That was a great scene,” he says, having arrived as a solo piper before joining the Irish band Kelly’s Company, then based in the Dutch capital. “It was very professionally worked, and you’d get huge crowds, hundreds of people. That whole time, with the band as well, was really my apprenticeship – through playing with other people I found out about different keys and chords and so on, the way things worked together musically. It was a real learning curve, but great fun.”

It was also during this troubadour period that Morrison first encountered the kindred yet foreign Celtic piping traditions of Brittany and north-west Spain. It was the start of a long and fruitful relationship with both territories, which continues to this day, Morrison being among the earliest Scottish artists to forge dynamic links with his Breton, Asturian and Galician contemporaries. “I didn’t really understand their music to begin with,” he says, “but I loved their freedom with the pipes - they weren’t constricted; even on the pipe-band scene they were much more open to different ideas and influences. Again, it just started me thinking - wouldn’t it be great to do things like that with our music?”

Returning to Glasgow a couple of years later, Morrison eventually qualified as a primary teacher, but despite landing a post as a piping instructor across several of the city’s schools, the lure of his own muse ultimately proved too strong. Striking out on the then rare and seemingly reckless course of a full-time professional career, Morrison released his debut album, The Broken Chanter, to glowing reviews in 1993. That same year, he was invited to join the short-lived but pioneering Scottish supergroup Clan Alba, alongside such luminaries as Dick Gaughan, Brian McNeill, the late Davy Steele, and harpers Mary MacMaster and Patsy Seddon.

Top contemporary Celtic outfit Capercaillie were the next to showcase Morrison’s talents, for a three-year spell which saw him featuring with them in the hit movie Rob Roy, as well as on their 1995 album To the Moon. “Both those bands were another big education for me,” he says. “Dick Gaughan in particular was a really key influence, I learned so much from him about taste in music, and communicating with an audience - and about the right to rebel. It was Dick that started me on the writing path as well, showing me how I could use my own creativity to point things whichever way I wanted to go. After that it became addictive – I just started writing all the time.”

It was also through working with Capercaillie, in particular, that Morrison began developing his skills on the Scottish smallpipes, or reelpipes, whose softer tone and volume are more amenable than their larger Highland cousin to ensemble arrangements. His adoption of this then rarely-played instrument was crucial in paving the way for its widespread popularity among younger pipers today; while Morrison himself went on to add the uilleann pipes to his repertoire.

Both original tunes and smallpipes featured prominently on Morrison’s second solo album, The Sound of the Sun, released in 2000 and hailed by Living Tradition as having “immediately joined the rare pantheon of essential piping recordings”. It was followed three years later by Up South, a dazzling duo set with Irish bouzouki ace Jamie McMenemy, vividly capturing the chemistry of their fruitful live partnership during this time. A return to the competition circuit in 2004 saw Morrison lifting the elite Macallan Trophy at Brittany’s Lorient Festival for a record-breaking seventh time, thereby earning the accolade ‘Champion of Champions’, an achievement crowned a few months later when he was named Instrumentalist of the Year - by public vote - at the Scots Trad Music Awards.

In January 2005, Glasgow’s renowned Celtic Connections festival opened with the world premiere of Morrison’s first orchestral work, Paracas: Rhapsody of the Gael, performed by around 100 musicians and singers, including the Scottish Opera Orchestra and Chorus alongside an array of top traditional talent. Written in collaboration with contemporary classical composer Mark Sheridan, and incorporating original text by Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail, the 90-minute piece represented a cyclical journey through Gaelic history and culture, from ancient bardic roots via the Clearances and emigration to present-day revival.

Celtic Connections 2006 saw the launch of Morrison’s very own signature instrument: the Fred Morrison Reelpipes, designed by him in partnership with the highly respected McCallum bagpipe makers, which have swiftly becoming a popular choice among today’s leading players. Later that year, Morrison also published his first book of tunes, The Fred Morrison Collection, containing over 50 original compositions.

Morrison maintains a busy performance schedule, touring regularly on both sides of the Atlantic, working with a hand-picked pool of leading instrumentalists, including Ed Boyd, John Joe Kelly, Steve Byrne, Paul Jennings and Matheu Watson. Between these various collaborators, the new bluegrass-inclined compositions on Outlands have been thoroughly road-tested and fine-tuned.

“It was a new experience for me, having virtually all the material gigged before I started recording – with my other albums, everything was mostly decided in the studio,” Morrison says. “But there was still the leap in the dark of recording all my parts solo, then sending them over to Nashville to see what Gary and the others would make of them – see if it would match what I heard in my head. I gave them some suggestions about arrangements and so on, but I didn’t write parts for them – I wasn’t about to start telling these guys how to play bluegrass!”

While most of the tracks are Morrison originals, he’s also included a very old Gaelic tune from Lewis, and a French-Canadian jig. “It’s got that kind of cajun feel to it,” he says of the latter, “so it kind of fits in with the Americana elements. But even with my own tunes, I didn’t just want to write a whole load of bluegrass stuff on the pipes, and then take that to Nashville – I also wanted to include some really good Scottish music, and to hear what happens when bluegrass comes to us.”

The results, as heard on Outlands, do indeed sound as though some primal or ancestral connection between Uist and Appalachia – via the rural highways of Ireland – has been rekindled among Morrison and his stellar cohorts. At the same time, though, the album’s boldness of vision and sublime breadth of artistry render it utterly fresh and contemporary - a synthesis of ancient and modern, home-grown and far-flung, that only Morrison’s mind and talents could have forged.

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New album launch at The Piping Centre, Glasgow on Monday 5 Novemebr 2009