This year, it was decided to hold a special concert in his honour, alongside the usual activities over the weekend. With the eventual plan being to publish a book of Fraser's compositions and record a CD, this weekend would be the starting point of the project. It was going to be a weekend of intensive rehearsals for both the Islay Sessions concert, and for a performance at Celtic Connections in January, to be part of a big evening showcasing local Islay and Jura talent.
Musicians playing the Islay Sessions this year were all close friends of Fraser; Lori Watson, Adam Sutherland, Duncan Lyall, Laura-Beth Salter, Eilidh Shaw, Ross Martin, Angus MacKenzie, John Somerville, Innes Watson, Kevin O'Neill, Tina Jordan Rees and myself. Also on the bill was Maeve MacKinnon (Gaelic song) and Deoch 'n' Doras who played the ceilidh Saturday night after the concert.
After meeting up with everyone, all musicians made their way to one of the flats for a rehearsal. The plan for the Saturday night concert was for four smaller groups to perform separately throughout the concert, and then for all musicians to join up at the end for a few sets. The groups were G&T, Adam & LB, Eilidh, Ross & Angus and The Maverick Angels. Each group was to perform a mixture of their own material and some of Fraser's tunes.
The aim of the weekend was to get the bones of a few arrangements of Fraser's tunes, for the ending sets of the concert. These arrangements were also to be the starting point for material for the performance as part of the "Islay Night" at Celtic Connections. This music will eventually be recorded on a CD, to accompany the release of a Fraser's tune book.
We spent the first rehearsal learning a couple of Fraser's jigs; The Machrie and Force 10. Innes had a few chord ideas already and so went through them with Ross, Duncan and Tina. Once the tunes were learned we played over them a few times and exchanged a few ideas for variations and turns. At about 5pm we broke for dinner, so went back to the hotel where we were joined by Maeve who had just arrived from the ferry.
The next day we got up bright and early for practice in the hotel conservatory. This got off to a flying start with an arrangement of Lori's: Murmuration, a tune by Fraser and Aurora, written by Lori. Murmuration was inspired by the awesome bird formations Fraser would see around his home in Bruichladdich. Lori paired this with her own piece, named Aurora - Fraser and Lori often spoke of going to see the northern lights. The result of her work is a spectacular piece of music, beginning with Fraser's lovely tune, leading into Aurora, the feel of which perfectly captures the spectacular light shows in the sky.
After working on Murmuration/Aurora for a few hours, we started on a set of two reels of Fraser's; Slumberland's and K's. The two worked perfectly together and we done a fairly straightforward arrangement of them, with the individual melody players adding harmonies and embellishments here and there.
After lunch, we broke up into our individual groups to run over our own sets. Tina and I spent the hour practicing in the hotel lobby with the upright piano. Ross joined us briefly as he was to accompany us on two of Fraser's tunes we planned on doing on fiddle and flute - Abandon Ship and Octomore.
During the interval all the fiddlers (Adam, Eilidh, Innes, Lori and I) and Duncan congregated in the back room for a quick run through of a beautiful piece that Innes arranged of a tune Fraser wrote Air Chall (Lost). Innes played the melody while the other fiddles played layered harmonies underneath it. This was all happening while the raffle was taking place out in the hall!
We all piled into the hotel afterwards for more tunes and a few drinks. This continued well into the early hours again!
Sunday was very much a chill-out day for me so I spent a good while at the cottage relaxing. After dinner some of the musicians sat down for tunes. I however, was completely worn out after a busy, emotional, but lovely weekend and so hit the hay early!
The next day Tina and I drove back to Glasgow. Although the weekend had been a lot of hard work, we really enjoyed seeing everyone, remembering Fraser and playing his tunes. Tina has even included Abandon Ship as her latest tune in her tune of the week project, and can be heard here.
We are really looking forward to putting some more work into his tunes in anticipation for the CD, and for the "Islay Night" concert at Celtic Connections. Tickets can be purchased here.