Nordic Fiddlers Bloc blends northern fiddle traditions into one

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The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc — Bonfrost (NFB Records)

“There's just always been a lot of fiddle players in Shetland,” said Scottish fiddler Kevin Henderson and member of the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc. “My grandfather was a huge fan of fiddle music. That's how I got the bug.”

Shetland is a small community with a rich fiddling tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The rest of the band, Norwegian fiddler Olav Luksengård Mjelva and Swedish fiddler Anders Hall represent a blending of the world’s richest fiddling traditions in their latest recording, Bonfrost, a Shetland word meaning “a hard frost.”

“It's a beautiful sight when the ground is frozen and you get the smoke effect going through the valley,” Henderson said. “We call it trowie. The trow are little people that live under the ground in Shetland. They are a close relative to the Norwegian troll.”

Can you both talk about the different Scandinavian fiddle traditions you bring to the trio and what makes them unique?

Kevin: “Historically, Shetland has a lot of links to Norway because we used to belong to them at one point. In the middle 1400’s the Shetland and Orkney Islands were loaned to Scotland, as part of a dowry. They were never given back. But we've kept a lot of the culture. Scottish and Irish music came and changed the tradition a bit in Shetland. The early music has a lot of similarities to some of the old Norwegian music.”

Olav: “Norwegian and Swedish music are quite similar, and you will find a lot of local variations in traditions within both countries. The most challenging thing for us is the Shetland music, which is different with more reels and jigs. We don't really have that in Norway and Sweden.”

What sets the Hardanger fiddle apart from other fiddles?

Olav: “The main difference is that it has sympathetic strings, which you don't play, but they are under the fingerboard. It's usually four or five sympathetic strings and it creates a nice reverberation. The fiddle is also tuned a bit higher. In Hardanger fiddle music, the fiddle is a solo instrument and it's up to the fiddler to make their own version of the tune. It becomes an art to make a good tune.”

Can you tell me about the original song Adam’s' Nightmare?

Kevin: “Adam Sutherland is one of Scotland's top fiddle players and composers. I play in a band called Session A9 with him. He sent me a text message one day with an audio file attached. He wanted to know if the tune in the audio file was a tune that I taught him because he'd had a dream that I had taught him this tune and we were playing it, but I didn't recognize it at all. So, I decided to write this tune in response called Adam's Nightmare.”

What is the story behind Don't Drink and Dance?

Olav: “The real story behind the name is that the fiddle tuning is quite specialized in the piece. The strings are D-D-A-D. I wanted a name to play with those letters, so “Don't Drink and Dance” was the best thing I could produce. There is some truth in it as well. It's a bad idea to drink and dance.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc — Bonfrost (NFB Records)

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc — Bonfrost (Amazon Digital)

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc (Official site)

290 episodes