Folk Stars Join Jazz Orchestra to Share Tales of the Tribe

Top traditional musicians Phil Cunningham, Julie Fowlis, John McCusker, and Michael McGoldrick join the internationally acclaimed Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in an exciting new adventure bringing Scotland’s myths and legends to vibrant musical life.

Dragons, mermaids, fairy queens, ghosts, giants, goblins and sorcerers roam the Scottish soil and seas to a soundtrack composed by the orchestra’s director, saxophonist Tommy Smith and drawing on Scotland’s rich musical traditions.

Inspired by ancient Scottish folklore, Tales of the Tribe will magnify and reveal creatures of mythic proportion and explore Scotland’s soul through music and newly written poetry by four of Scotland’s foremost poets, Meg Bateman, Christine De Luca, Peter MacKay, and Tom Pow.

“Scotland’s traditions are full of fascinating stories that capture the imaginations of people of all ages,” says Smith, who has worked on musical ideas with the popular Gaelic singer and musician Julie Fowlis, star of the Disney Pixar adventure soundtrack, the multi-million-dollar grossing Brave.

“I wanted to present these tales in a way that made strong use of Scotland’s musical heritage as well as the narratives to present the characters and creatures realistically while appealing to families and lovers of traditional music and big band jazz alike,” Smith adds.

Having worked extensively with Scotland’s first makar, the late Edwin Morgan and Morgan’s successor, Liz Lochhead, Smith has experience in merging music and poetry. His Beasts of Scotland commission for Glasgow Jazz Festival in 1996 received wide acclaim and a later project with Morgan’s work, Planet Wave was successfully presented with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in 2020.

Smith also has a track record of working with traditional music. His solo saxophone concerts draw on the songs of Robert Burns and the Gaelic psalm singing tradition which he has experienced first-hand during numerous family visits to the Isle of Lewis.

“The traditional musicians we’re working with are among the leaders in their field,” says Smith. “They are incredibly skilful, and we’ll be highlighting their skills and spontaneity on accordion, whistle, fiddle, flute and more to create a natural bond between traditional music and jazz.”    

 Julie Fowlis said: “I’ve always had a fascination for creatures of the otherworld. These characters and belief systems reveal a lot about our past and those who have gone before. The Gaelic songs concerned with the supernatural so often have outstanding melodies and stories, and so it’s no wonder they have lasted the test of time. It’s an absolute pleasure to create a programme of music with Tommy, the SNJO and my old friends Phil, Mike and John and I’m really excited to bring this project to the stage.”

Tales of the Tribe tours to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on May 12, Aberdeen Music Hall on May 13 and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on May 14. 

Adam Roberts

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